For two days in late March the sun shone and the wind blew through the Catalonia region of Spain. On these days were stages three and four of the Volta a Catalunya, a weeklong bicycle race I visited while on a Barcelona layover. I arranged my work schedule to briefly follow the race (the third time for me) renting a car on this occasion and making it to both starts and finishes. As a photographer, who’s added writing and podcasting to my journalistic talents (debatable) I think first about getting that iconic shot or capturing the victory celebration. As I’ve expanded into interviewing the racers, my focus has shifted to seeking out the riders who will spend a few moments to talk to me, while making sure I am still at the finish line for the winning photo.
I work as a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline, which enables me to travel to as many bicycle races as possible. This also means I arrive in Europe after working all night, jump in a car or on a train and go straight to the event. Fortunately the adrenaline and excitement of going to see the top players of the sport I follow and report on keeps me more than awake during a day of sleep depravity.
I made contact with LottoNL-Jumbo’s Alexey Vermeulen a few weeks prior to my trip to Spain, and he graciously spoke with me in an interview for the Warren Cycling Podcast for episode 2. Stage 3 started in Girona which lies east of Barcelona, about an hour and a half drive from the airport. A huge number of Americans as well as other European based riders reside in Girona, a great place to live and train as a cyclist. I hadn’t done my homework properly to map out exactly where the race started that day, but vaguely remembered from the year before what part of town the race staged. Honestly, I had originally planned to drive straight to the finish at La Molina, but decided I had enough time to get to the start, then drive to the finish. I’ve discovered that before races is when riders are more likely to grant interviews.
I drove into Girona arriving forty minutes before the noon start, but was unsure exactly where to go. I spotted a Katusha team car a few vehicles ahead of me and hoped I could follow it to the start. Unfortunately I lost the Katusha car and knew when I reached the town of Salt city sign, I had to turn around. I eventually found a policeman and spoke my best “Donde esta Volta a Catalunya” phrase and he directed me just ahead to the start area. Fortunately quickly I found a parking spot for my Fiat 500 rental and jumped out with a voice recorder in one had and my Nikon around my neck.
As I made my way toward the team busses, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) rolled by and stopped. After a moment, Team Sky’s Ian Boswell approached Tejay and van Garderen handed Ian a couple of small round aluminum foil wrapped sandwiches, explaining that one had peanut butter. I paused to marvel how cycling is sport where opponents share food before competition. Later I found out from my son, Taylor Warren (Cat 1 racer) that Boswell has documented on Twitter his quest to try different team’s ride food. I got a short interview from Tejay (you can hear it in Episode 4) as he spoke to me about how he and new teammate Richie Porte would race together as two GC contenders. Most teams have one designated team leader, but Team BMC plans to approach this year’s Tour de France with the dual leadership of Porte and van Garderen.
Next I found the LottoNL-Jumbo’s big yellow bus to find Alexey, and even though the race would start in less than fifteen minutes, Vermeulen took time to say “hi” and answer a few questions. I interviewed Alexey before and after stages 3 and 4, which can also be heard in Episode 4 of the Warren Cycling Podcast. Alexey writes a blog and gives a great account of his first World Tour race here: Alexey Vermeulen blog. As the 5th youngest rider on the World Tour, Vermeulen, 21, exudes a maturity beyond his years but at the same time approaches his first year at the highest level with excitement and youthful exuberance.
Buoyed by finding the race start and logging a couple of interviews, I climbed back into my Fiat and headed to La Molina, a ski resort a little more than 2 hours away by car. The racers would take five hours to get to the finish, but would pass near the finish twice before their final ascent to the line. I made it there in plenty of time to check in with the media office and walk back down to the course to see the breakaway group, then the peloton fly by.
The wind continued to blow cold air from the nearby snow packed mountains and the racers passed by a second time.
After they zoomed by I walked back up the hill and positioned myself within the other photographers at the finish line. Each race places a tape on the road beyond the finish line where the photo media can stand and kneel, usually on one side or the other depending on how wide the finishing area is and whether the road curves or not. Placement of the photographers is presupposed by television coverage which is paramount and therefor the photo personal must not be in the way of the tv cameras. Photographers are generally courteous to each other and will indicate whether they will crouch or duck so that those behind can also get a clear angle for the finish line shot. Understanding the local language would have been a huge asset to follow the announcer calling the race, but soon enough I could feel the approach of the racers and position myself for the finish. Dan Martin of Etixx-Quick Step had jumped clear of the favorites and claimed the stage win.
After taking photos of the top finishers, I switched to interview mode, and sought out some of the other racers to speak with. In total this year twenty Americans are a part of the World Tour peloton spread throughout 7 of the 18 top teams. Eleven of those were there at the Catalunya race. By the end of the two stages I had interviews, mostly quick ones, with seven of those and set up another for later.
It was cold on top of La Molina as the sun dropped behind the mountains, so I made my interviews brief, and even jogged alongside Cannondale’s Ben King as I spoke to him (Episode 5). I packed up my belongings, and drove then an hour or so to my overnight accommodations in Andorra. Day 1 of my 2 days at the Volta was in the books.