30 July 2009

BCN & TDF

Walking home from work during a rather warm afternoon a few weeks ago, I made a pivotal discovery. Strolling down Salem Al-Mubarak, I noticed a rather unassuming stretch of businesses for the first time. The branding of one business (which has since closed and reopened as a currency exchange) was particularly intriguing.

Assuming this to be more than simply a sign of retail offerings, I decided to travel to Barcelona. Coincidentally (as you may recall from my initial blog post), Carmen in spending her summer in Barcelona conducting research and enjoying all things Spanish (or, to be more precise, all things Catalan) with her twin sister Christa. Lucky for me, Barcelona was bustling with activity during early July.


First and foremost, our good friends Rex and Kim Hodgson were celebrating their 5 year wedding anniversary in and around Barcelona.

The five of us (Christa is operating the camera) spent the first night of our reunion in Barcelona with a few plates of patatas bravas, veggie croquettes, and some aceitunas (aka olives) not to mention numerous cañas of San Miguel at Bar Tomas.

Thanks to the kind support of my companions and their willingness to indulge my cycle-anity...

after a quick metro ride to Plaça d'Espanya early the next morning and I was able to fulfill the dream of every cycling fan...le Tour de France, live, up-close, and in truly high definition!


Stage 7's departure from Barcelona (arriving in Arcalis, Andora 224km later) was an amazing and jaw-dropping (if not somewhat overwhelming) experience. Due to the laws of gravity and realities of economics, the early part of our excursion was tainted by a rather inconvenient fence. Without sponsor tickets or press credentials, we were corralled behind this 7-foot tall metal fence.


Although the fence was initially an impediment, Carmen and I found a way to clear this hurdle. Literally. Racing to catch a glimpse of the Garmin Slipstream bus as it rumbled passed the viewing area, we happened upon a rather fortuitous waist-high section of fencing. Which, believe it or not, was adjacent to the recently arrived Astana bus. As a result, Carmen and I now found ourselves here:


Due to near riotous excitement of the crowd and his many Livestrong commitments, Lance and I did not have an opportunity to sit down for a pre-ride cup of coffee. However, I firmly believe that we had a brief moment of eye contact and mutual understanding (see next photo). Poor timing on my behalf; the day was simply too chaotic. I'll just have to catch him for a cup of java at Juan Pelota next time I'm in Austin.


Navigating (with some measure of difficulty given the exponentially growing number of people descending upon the Astana area hoping to catch a glimpse of the man, myth, and legend) our way through the throng of people near the Astana bus, it was amazing to see how lower the fan density was throughout the remainder of the rider area.

As a result of the Lance-mania, I was able to have "chat" with Tyler Farrar (above) and Dave Zabriskie (below) from Garmin Slipstream. Their friendliness and the accessibility of the entire squad was tremendously impressive. I can only imagine how nerve-racking it must be to have hordes of people rushing passed you right before the start of the world's greatest stage race. With finely-tuned, finicky, and pricey (priceless in many cases) cycling machinery within reach of fan(natics), there is always the opportunity for sabotage (intentional or otherwise). Not to mention the people who, without the slightest greeting or consideration, rush up to a rider and grab ahold while their camera-carrying friend is wildly snapping pictures of the unassuming cycling celebrity. During the few minutes I spent around the Garmin bus (talking with the team reps and politely asking permission to approach and photograph equipment and riders), David Millar, Julian Dean, and Martijn Maaskant were grabbed, tugged upon, photographed, and treated with general disregard by the supposedly adoring fans.


Wandering through the rider's area for a bit longer, it was time to find a place to see some racing. Working our way near the front, Carmen climbed atop my shoulders and snapped a few pics of the brief "racing" action at the start of the stage. If you look closely, you can see Tom Boonen near the middle of the peloton (sporting the Belgian National Champ kit). It pains me to say this, but, this is about the same spot he finished at the end of each stage until withdrawing due to illness before Stage 15.