I drove out to Avila, a city about an hour outside of Madrid to see the start of Stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana. Avila is surrounded by a medieval wall constructed in 1090. The newer part of the modern city is outside the walls. With the Vuelta in town, this small city probably hasn’t seen so many people in ages.
Down the cobblestone road from the walled city was the staging area for the team busses and media for the Vuelta. I had no press pass, so I milled around the fenced perimeter of the compound. I wanted to get up close with the teams and riders and I wasn’t going to be happy standing behind a fence to watch all the opening festivities. Must get in…somehow!
The compound was completely surrounded by a fence brought in for the Vuelta. There were two openings in the fence, one on the side guarded by two police officers, and a main entrance on the road guarded by six police officers–all heavily armed. I decided to plan my assault on the main entrance, where they’d least be expecting it.
I walked up the road a bit and inconspicuously stood behind a building, watching members of the media walk down the road and into the compound, all with press passes dangling around their necks. I was covered with camera gear, so I figured at least I could act like I belonged there. The perfect opportunity arose when a group of three guys walking in a wedge formation came down the hill. I quietly slipped in tightly behind them, put my head down and acted like I was fiddling with the buttons on my camera, and just continued walking, head down. Don’t make eye contact I said to myself. When I looked up, I was in!
There were all sorts of pre-race events going on inside the compound. The team buses arrived one by one. Race leader Denis Menchov and Spanish superhero Carlos Sastre were over at the main stage doing some sort of appearance Next thing I knew, a helicopter landed nearby and a figure emerged. A woman shrieked “El Presidente!” and I moved in for a closer look. Next thing I knew I was standing right in front of this guy and backpedaling while taking some pictures. I didn’t recognize him as the president of Spain, but I could tell he was a big deal. Turned out he was Mariano Rajoy, President of Spain’s Popular Party (formerly Minister of Spain), and he was pretty much as influential as the official president of Spain.
I was really getting burnt out on struggling with my rusty Spanish, and it was nice running into English speakers like Chris Horner and Graham Watson.
As the stage was getting ready to start, I headed back up towards the walled city and got a few shots of the peleton going by.