I haven’t been keeping up with the big cycling events lately – I didn’t even watch the live coverage of the Tour de France this year – so I was surprised to discover La Vuelta a Espana was passing very close to my house yesterday. Very close, as in about 150 metres away.
It would have been rude not to go and watch them ride by so, just before half past one, I headed off across the finca, camera in hand, to find a good spot by the road. It takes longer to walk across the finca than I imagined – every time I’ve done it before, I’ve been running around in panic, looking for escaped dogs – and I could hear people shouting and cheering at the road side, and the honking of horns. I started to worry that I was taking too long, and the race would have passed by before I got there, but I needn’t have worried.
I’ve always known a grand tour has a lot of support vehicles following it. There are the team support cars, the doctor’s car, and the main race car, as well as some media vehicles and cameramen on motorbikes. What I didn’t expect was the number of vehicles that passed through before the peloton arrived. Some must have already passed by the time I got there, and that was what all the shouting and cheering was about, but I counted more than a hundred cars and motorbikes before I saw a single cyclist. The Guardia Civil Trafico division was there in force, in cars and on motorbikes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d pulled in every unit from the surrounding area. You could have done whatever you wanted on the roads yesterday! And there were lots of other unmarked Skodas that just seemed to be part of the main procession of vehicles. I stood there for ten minutes, just watching motor vehicles go by.
Then there were the helicopters. Of course, there are TV helicopters following a grand tour. How else would you get those amazing overhead views of the peloton snaking along the road? But three of them? Really? The first two helicopters were ahead of the riders, so I’m not sure if they were doing anything other than making sure the road was clear. The third helicopter was dropping down low to get the perfect camera angles, and you could tell exactly where the main field was long before it appeared.
Finally, some cyclists appeared, and I got to see the first attempted break away of the day, as three riders put some distance between themselves and the main group. (I learned later than nothing came of it.) They were past me in a few seconds, and that was it. Several minutes spent trekking across the finca, scratching my legs on the weeds, ten minutes waiting at the side of the road, and a few seconds watching some actual cycling. No wonder most people say it’s far better to watch sport on TV!
I’m glad they passed close by, and I didn’t have to go further to watch them. I would have been disappointed to have taken time out of my day for the sake of a few seconds.
But the thing that really shocked me was the waste. When I do everything I can to limit my energy usage, standing there and watching all those vehicles go by because of a cycle race made me question my enthusiasm and support for the grand tours. I understand that a cycle race needs vehicle support … but so many vehicles? Is that really necessary? Many of us who make cycling a lifestyle choice do it for environmental as well as for health reasons, and knowing that the efforts we make can be undone so easily for the sake of the “sport” is quite upsetting.
In a way, it’s made me quite glad I didn’t watch the Tour de France this year.