Needing a family break we decided to book a short trip to Barcelona. A chance to drink some beer, eat some tapas and probably most importantly get some much needed sunshine.
It was mere coincidence that our first day there would also coincide with the final stage of the Volta Catolunya, an important race in the build-up to the grand tours and I was certainly keen to experience my first proper world tour race in the flesh. I was watching one of the early season classics on Eurosport when they were previewing the upcoming races and I was actually initially disappointed to see that there was racing on when I would be on holiday.
Inevitably slept in after arriving late in the night to our apartment so already we were up against it to catch the racing. The original plan was to take the cable car across the harbour to shorten the walk but by the time we got to the cable cars the queue was just ridiculous so an executive decision was made to go by foot and hope that we made it. I have to say that, at this point, it was probably more my partners urge to go that stopped us from simply diving into the first bar and having the first beer of the trip. So armed with Google Maps we headed to what we assumed was the finish of the circuit.
It was a long, hot walk not helped by the fact that our son didn’t want to go in his pram for most of it but as we got closer to the finish you could sense the increase in excitement just around the corner. As we turned the corner, all the team buses were neatly lined up running the length of the street and at the top of the street we could see the crowds gathered at the barriers. As we walked passed one of the riders was coming down the road having clearly abandoned the race and was surrounded by kids trying to get his bidon.
We made our way up to the action and as I literally got to the barrier the first riders in the small breakaway crossed the line to start the last lap and the rest of the peloton passed in a blurry kaleidoscope of lycra. In that blur I managed to pick out a few famous faces; Froome, Valverde, Martin. We decided to take up a position closer to the finish line and wait for the riders to finish.
We watched the action taking place out on the circuit on a big screen near the line and listened for the excitement to ripple down the line at the riders approached and began their sprint for the line where it was to be taken convincingly by Valverde to cap off his overall victory in the race.
As the riders meandered back down the road to the team buses they would acknowledge the crowds and generally seemed to be in quite a relaxed mood. I even managed to shake hands with Roman Bardet as he went passed which was actually pretty cool.
We left the race as the circus that is involved with such things began packing up and we went in search of a much needed beer and ice cream to reflect on our first morning in the Barcelona.
I can understand why people wouldn’t understand the appeal of watching bike racing basically because the action is over in a split second and to a point I agree that it is not the most spectator-friendly sport but it is also a sport so steeped in history and tradition that it doesn’t fail to impress when you get the chance to witness it first-hand. As an analogy, American football always left me cold and I could never bring myself to actually watching it. That all changed when I was in Texas for work and decided that it was a Saturday and I had nothing better to do than go watch a college football game with one of my colleagues who just happened to be a fan of the game. This is a cycling blog so I am not going to dwell too much on the experience I had that day except to say that I had to keep reminding myself that this was a college game. The stadium, the professionalism, the atmosphere, the fans combined to make a mockery of some football teams in Scotland that claim to be professional. As I watched the game unfold my colleague educated me on the intricacies of the game and as he did my enjoyment grew exponentially.
The same is true of my experience of cycling. It was not until I watched a stage of the Tour de France with a good friend that everything started to make sense and I was starting on the path to becoming a cycling-geek.
With even just a little understanding of the rules (written and unwritten) of the peloton, the sport becomes a very deep well ready to be tapped.