My second day at the Tour of Catalonia began with the decision to drive first to the start in Baga, then to the mountain top finish at Port-Aine. My goal was to talk to Michigan native Larry Warbasse of Team IAM Cycling. Warbasse has shown up on the upper end of the results table at the races he’s done to start the year. He rides for a Swiss based team and is the sole American on that squad. Baga is a much smaller town than Girona, so I had no problem finding the start and location of the team busses. IAM Cycling’s media director kindly agreed to ask Larry to step off of the bus for an interview. Teams generally meet in their team busses an hour or less before the race start, and then the riders make their way to sign in then come back to the bus before going to line up for the beginning of the race. Larry exited the bus with tape on his hands and a little piece of paper marking the important points of the race to be alerted of such as the big climbs and feed zones. After he taped his crib sheet to his stem, he greeted me in a friendly manner and was happy to talk to me a few minutes. That interview can be heard on the Warren Cycling Podcast episode 4.
As I wandered down the team bus line I noticed a fair number of riders on trainers. Stage four finished with two above category climbs in succession, but also began that day with a steady uphill grind which necessitated proper warming up ahead of the start. Alexey Vermuelen (Podcast episode 4) told me that sometimes that warm up on the trainer hurt worse than the actual race. After taking to Alexey I made my way to the start where I grabbed a couple photos of a smiling Alberto Contador and a more serious looking Tejay van Garderen. Around 12:30 the race began and off they went. I knew traffic would be backed up leaving Baga as the way the race went was also the way I would have to go to get to the finish.
I perhaps took a little too much time getting in my car and heading out. As I approached the three mile long tunnel traffic came to a stand still, which I had expected. After about fifteen to twenty minutes the cue of cars began to move and then the traffic flowed steadily all the way through the tunnel. I figured I was in good shape to get ahead of the race as it veered east for a loop before heading back west. Wrong. I came to a juncture where the police had stopped traffic and I could see the lead motorcycles zipping past. I tried to take a different route, but ended up in the same position just a few miles further west. I typed into my gps an alternate route only to find out that the next quickest way to the finish took an extra four hours. The race would be long over by then. With no other alternative I had to follow the race with the hope that somewhere along the route I could find a short cut to get ahead of the caravan, peloton, breakaway and lead vehicles. After awhile I had worked my way up to just a couple car links behind the last race vehicle. I could only once in awhile catch a far off glimpse of the actual racers, but kept on all the while kicking myself for not having left earlier.
The vehicles crawled along up the climbs, then sped down the other side. Cars in front of me and some just behind stopped along the way to jump out and grab discarded musette bags and team bottles. I pressed on not wanting to waste even a few moments to grab a souvenir for myself. Eventually with only the final climb remaining, a hors category 18 km slog to Port-Aine (another ski area) the race turned left and the team cars went straight – a chance to make it to the finish after all. As I sped along sandwiched between an Etixx Quick Step vehicle and Lotto Soudal car I made my way up the hairpin turns. Police taped off side roads all the way up as I made my way to the summit. At about 3K to the finish an official slowed me to check my credentials which I waved from my lanyard and was allowed to continue on up. Pleased not to miss the finish, I let out a sigh of relief and found a parking spot near the press room.
The racers made their way up to the top of the mountain, chasing the break which they would never catch. Thomas DeGent of Lotto Soudal crossed the line first, then Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. Quintana put enough time into his gc competitors to take the overall lead which he held to the end of the stage race. BMC’s Richie Porte took the final bonus seconds by pipping Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) for third place and Tejay van Garderen along with a small chase group was just behind. The podium ceremonies commenced before a great number of riders had made it in as Quintana donned the white leaders jersey. From in front of the stage I could swivel to catch the stragglers limping in and kept watch for anyone I could ask for a quick interview. I went after Trek Segafredo’s Peter Stetina and found him sitting on the ground with his soigneur taking off shoes, and putting on leg warmers. Peter agreed to answer a few questions as he began his recovery from the day’s efforts. This interview is in Episode 4 and Stetina detailed his progress coming back from a horrific injury sustained a year ago at the Pais Vasco race in the Basque region of Spain. Pete graciously spoke to me after a hard day in the saddle and apologized even for not being able to give me any more than he did. I found Alexey one last time for a few words and thanked him for making time to speak to me each day before and after stages 3 and 4. Satisfied with the interviews I got and the photos I took, I retreated to the media room to send off a couple tweets and waited for the congestion back down the mountain to clear. I checked on the time it would take me to get back to Barcelona to turn in the rental car before the place closed and saw I had to leave at that moment. Two full days of following the Volta a Catalunya wore me out, but in a good way. For me mountain summit finishes are the best places to view a bicycle race and I managed to see two in a row.