Tour of Murcia Stage One
Story and photos (except where noted) by Kelly Fowler
I love Spain. Green terraced hillsides covered in pink, flowering almond
trees and framed by borders of yellow wildflowers. The Mediterranean sea shining
a hundred colors of blue. The Moorish castles that dot the landscape. Spanish
towns with Spanish grannies. The food. The people. And, of course, the racing!
As I drove into Murcia today to jump headfirst into their Vuelta, it occurred
to me that I might be one of the luckiest people I know. For a cycling fanatic
like myself to have a backstage pass, uh, make that "Official Press
Accreditation," ranks right up there in my mind with recordable compact discs
and microwave ovens - move over Def Leppard, there's a new game in town.
At various times in my life I've had the opportunity to meet and work with a
lot of different somewhat famous (or infamous as the case may be) people.
Actors, writers, politicians - people from Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex
educator, to President Bush the sequel. You'd think meeting a bunch of men in
tights would be no biggie for me.
However, I found myself saying things like "Dude, you OWNED that mountain!"
or worse, "You ROCK, man, seriously!" What was happening to me? I had this all
planned out! I'd been on every major rider's web site, getting to "know" them a
little better. I had diligently prepared myself to be ready to ask their opinion
on American unilateralism or how they felt about socialized health care. No
mundane "who's your favorite band" stuff from me. P-lease! Instead I was reduced
to a fumbling, caricature of my former self. I'm hoping it's just opening day
Zubeldia and Fernandez in the Euskaltel-Euskadi team car. Click
for larger image.
Thankfully, the first riders I talked to were the Euskaltel Euskadi guys.
They should all just tattoo "Don't worry, be happy" across their chests. These
guys ride hard and they're built like beef jerky, but they don't take it all too
seriously and they're always smiling. And what smiles. I remember one time in
the Pyrenees telling a bunch of Basque boys that I felt like I was back in Italy
with all the wavy black hair and good looks they were sportin'. Note to self:
NEVER tell a Basco they look Italian. Note to guys: That was a COMPLIMENT!
So I glance over at the team bus and there's Iban Mayo just hangin' out,
fiddling with something on his shoe. So I ask him how he's feeling so far this
year - yes, I FORGOT that this was his first race, aargh! He smiles, raises his
shades and tells me he's feeling great, happy to be back in Murcia (he loves the
scenery), and ready to get it on. I tell him I love watching him in the time
trials and he tells me he loves riding them. Cycling Nirvana - a fan and a racer
in perfect harmony. We exchange a few pleasantries, I give him a big UPAH! and
I'm off. I think I'm starting to relax a little.
Iban Mayo. Click for larger image.
Next up I wander over to the Posties' bus - along with every other person
with a press pass. I decide it might be better to save them 'til later so I head
on over to where the riders are supposed to sign in. As I make my way through
the gates, this big burly guy wearing fatigues, and possessing NO sense of humor
at all, stops to inform me that I'm in the VIP only area and I'll have to leave.
"Fuera!" he says. "Out!"
You wouldn't think the guy would get so upset over a little joke about his
fashion sense! A jungle print scarf really WOULD look great with army green! Out
comes the pass - turns out it's a "get outta jail free" card too! Woo Hoo!
Danilo DiLuca. Click for larger image.
So I'm standing there with all the other VIPs when I start to hear this
faintest of sounds - I think it might be the sound of angels singing, or
maybe it's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I can't tell which...
I turn to look and all around me are pro racers. They're everywhere! And they
all have their bikes! Their beautiful, trusty steeds. They're chatting it up
about this race or that, and I can understand them! They're all speaking "bike".
Now all I hear is the rhythm of my heart.
Jan Ullrich. Click for larger image.
The rest of the press pack are still over at the Postal van and I'm virtually
alone in this strange, new world. I start breathing deeply. Is this what Zen is?
There's David and Haimar, Erik and Jan. Then I see Danilo and Javier and
I ask "Alex" how he is feeling today and what his plans are for the race.
Since he's been chewing up the asphalt already this season AND he's a local boy,
I figure he'll be screamin' to go. He tells me he's thrilled with his results so
far and that he's been working really hard to reach his goals. He strikes me as
a really nice guy - I think Kelme breeds them. And then he tells me that yes,
it's his tierra, but today he will work for his compañero, Javier. Too cool. I
Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme. Click for larger image.
There was one Postie in particular I really wanted to talk to. Yesterday was
Max Van Heeswijk's 31st birthday. Mad Max has been tearin' up the turf lately
and I really wanted to wish him a happy one since he's on the road. I got my
chance as he came down from signing in and stopped right in front of me.
You know, I used to think it was a major drag that you never got much of a
chance to see the big stars, but now I'm kinda glad they're there to take the
attention away from everyone else. These guys aren't so jaded from all the
attention and are still happy and flattered to have it. So after congratulating
him on his insane season so far, I popped out with it - "Feliz Cumpleanos,"
I said. "Happy Birthday!"
Max van Heeswijk. Click for larger image.
He looked at me in shock and for a minute I thought I was talking to the
wrong guy. Then he said, "How did you know? Nobody knows, not even the team. They
all forgot!" I told him I'd seen it on his web site (ain't the internet grand).
I couldn't believe his TEAM didn't know, so I told him I'd make sure they found
out. Birthdays are not allowed to pass unnoticed where I'm from.
A few minutes later everyone had finished signing in and we all headed to the
start line. All us important press types were jockeying for position to catch
one last photo of the stars of the show - while the other guys rolled their eyes
and waited out yet another press barrage that wasn't about them.
As they finally started to roll by I could see Max, Chechu and a few other
Posties starting to come forward. I stood off to the side and quietly started
singing - happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you - happy birthday dear
Ma-ax - happy birthday to you. Chechu looked at me like I was nuts, looked back
at Max and slapped him on the back. Mission accomplished.
Lance and Alejandro. Click for larger image.
After taking the long way on purpose - did I mention I love Spain? - I
arrived at the finish line feeling great. Not as great as Max felt when he came
through, I'm sure! What an incredible finish to an incredible day! Mad Max does
it again! I raced over to the podium and surprisingly enough, the other photogs
let me in. Being the only girl there has its perks.
As they were getting ready for the presentations I spoke to the announcer and
let him in on Max's little secret. Within minutes everyone there knew it as
well. After several times on the podium - fastest guy to the finish line,
biggest bad ass, etc. Max the gentleman came down the steps and gave ME his big
bouquet of flowers. How cool is that! Hmmm, did he ever ride for Kelme?
See you at the races!
Alejandro and Jan. Click for larger image.
Here they come. Click for larger image.
The Stage 1 finish. Photo by Kevin Reardon. Click for larger
Van Heeswijk on the podium. Click for larger image.
Crowded podium with Van Heeswijk in the leader's jersey. Click
for larger image.