Sometimes when you least expect it you can have crazy surprises drop into your lap… Day 4 was supposed to be another casual start, some riding and then watching the stage 17 finish in Burgos. However, when I arrived at breakfast, Marcelino looked up and said:

“James, today, you spend the day with Garmin, yes?”

I sort of stared at him and mumbled, “What do you mean? I have a Garmin 800, yes, is that what you mean?”. Marcelino smiled patiently…

“No, you go in the team car to the start, then with them to the finish, si?”

SI your ass I will! WTF?! I took a few moments to clarify again, that I would be spending the day with a Protour team on a Grand Tour, correct?! FAAAAARKKKK! It didn’t take long for me to start shaking with excitement! Sure, they were down to 5 riders and I don’t own a Cervelo, but far the fuck out, this was going to be cool!!

I had the full on first day at school feeling as I waited by the team cars as I was instructed to… I had to make sure that I balanced getting some good PRO stalking in with not blowing out completely and making an epic cock of myself… Its always a fine line when managing cycling celebrity fever. What to do but take semi useful photos?

Assemble the fleet Admiral

Assemble the fleet Admiral

I also struck up a conversation with Richard, the team’s Chiropractor and a nice English dude. Finally the cool Danish Director Sportif came out, Johnny Weltz and told me to jump into car number 2 for the transfer to the start. Car 2 was driven by an even cooler Spanish Mechanic (At this point I should know his name, but I couldn’t get it an seem to be especially shit with capturing and then pronouncing Spanish names, so I shall just refer to him as Mr Spanners). Soon, we were off in a super tight convoy:

So excited there is a 90% chance I may pee my pants

So excited there is a 90% chance I may pee my pants

Spanners liked a few things… Firstly, silence, secondly driving the shit out of a Skoda Octavia team car whilst using Whatsapp (a man after my own heart), thank fuck Spanish roads are deserted due to their turd of an economy. Our Garmin convoy headed out on the highway and overhead Spanish Air Force F-18 fighters came in low over us to land. OMFG – Pro team action, Grand Tour race, in Spain and Jet Fighters?!! Seriously?! Is this MAN heaven? I had a very good case that it was indeed. Here is our Garmin road crew smashing Orica Greenedge:

Pro highway domination... Like Mad Max, but with cycling gear

Pro highway domination… Like Mad Max, but with cycling gear

I finally plucked up the courage to interrupt spanners to have a rap about pro cycling. I could see the look on his face initially when I got in the car, like “Ahhh, not another ride along…”, but he eventually loosened up. Turns out he had been with the team for 8 years, so back before it was even called Garmin. A few bits and pieces I gleaned from Spanners:

  • The Vuelta is the staffs favourite race as its so chilled out
  • No one wants to go and work at the Tour de France as its feverish
  • Yes, electronic drive trains make a pro mechanics life a lot easier
  • He replaces the bikes chains after about 2000km’s, usually on a rest day
  • The TTT is extremely stressful to prepare for and yes, the TT bikes can be a pain in the arse

We arrived at the start after a long transfer of about an hour and a half. Johnny told me that I would be going in the team bus today… I had hoped for a team car ride behind the race or in the feedzone as Marcelino had suggested this as a possibility, but whilst that didn’t pan out, I wasn’t about to turn my nose up at spending the day hanging in a Pro team bus! It takes a lot to get me on an MF bus, but I was on this one like a filthy rat into a wide drain pipe. First however, there was MUCH pro stalking to be done in the start area, deploy the Nomad and let the photos report on how I did!

Kents

Kents

I decided to head over and see my team mates… Crowds were a little thinner there, so I could get closer. Uncomfortably close:

"I ride a Cannondale to!"

“I ride a Cannondale to!”

A line up that would trigger a major Wolf kit melt down

A line up that would trigger a major Wolf kit melt down

Cam Wurf's Evo - HOT

Cam Wurf’s Evo – HOT

Then, as luck would have it, Cam Wurf came out… He’s been doing a great daily dairy on the Vuelta for Cyclingtips and so I casually approached him:

“Hey Cam, I love your Vuelta diary, its an awesome read!!!”

Yeah… the famous Dirty Nomad ‘play it cool’ approach going sideways yet again. As luck would have it, Cam is a super cool dude and spent a solid 5 minutes having a rap about the race, bikes and racing a Grand Tour with a cracked rib, as hard as titanium reinforced nails!!! Given we were brand new BFF’s, he was cool to get a dirty photo shoot in:

"I love you Cam..."... "You promised me a hundred Euro for this photo right?"

“I love you Cam…”… “You promised me a hundred Euro for this photo right?”

Next I went hunting for some big PREY… Namely Mr Cancellara and Nibbles. Spartacus was easy to track down, just head for the feverish crowd:

"Yes Bambino, you come and see Sparticus later on after I have smashed the stage to pieces...."

“Yes Bambino, you come and see Sparticus later on after I have smashed the stage to pieces….”

He is one cool motherF that is for sure! Time for a montage of my PRO stalking efforts:

Santaromita didn't want a bar of this little kid fan running after him!

Santaromita didn’t want a bar of this little kid fan running after him!

One of the Orica boys

One of the Orica boys

Popovych ambushed post sign on

Popovych ambushed post sign on

"Wait Puerto, just one photo! Don't play hard to get"

“Wait Puerto, just one photo! Don’t play hard to get”

"If I just keep looking away will this guy leave me alone?"

“If I just keep looking away will this guy leave me alone?”

I was missing nibbles though… I knew he had to go and sign on at some point, so as I was walking back to the Garmin bus I was lucky enough to come across the race leader, not my best work, but it will do:

"Ei ei ei, not that fucking Dirty Nomad again... Pretend I haven't seen him"

“Ei ei ei, not that fucking Dirty Nomad again… Pretend I haven’t seen him”

I arrived back at the bus to find the Garmin boys chilling, so maximized on their moment of calm to get this awkward photo with Summy (as we call him), former Paris Roubaix winner no less. See how stoked he is? I have no shame:

"Smile Summy"... "This was my only peaceful 5 minutes before the stage start you cock..."

“Smile Summy”… “This was my only peaceful 5 minutes before the stage start you cock…”

There is no question that the Vuelta is way more chilled out than the Tour de France, you can feel it, but everyone says the same thing and it felt a lot more accessible. Ever wanted to know how the PRO laundry gets done? Ah, the bus reveals all (Suspect given this is the Astana bus that this compartment has previously had other uses):

Astana: Making sure its a clean sport

Astana: Making sure its a clean sport

So, it was time to hit the road and I jumped into the Garmin Team bus with Richard the Chiro and Matt the French bus driver. Richard gave me the inside tip from Tyler that Cancellara was planning on pulling out of the Vuelta tonight, so he was going to get on the front in the crosswinds and blow the race to pieces… Which is exactly what he did with 27km’s to go! I wish I had that intel before the stage start to adjust my Velotipper entry accordingly!

Seems a pre-req skill for being a team bus driver is to be able to drive with your elbows at 100kph, whilst reading a map (I thought it was ironic that the Garmin bus had paper maps? It also had 2 GPS devices to be fair) and talk on the radio to all the other bus drivers. Out of town and it was time to catch up with our good mates from Argos Shimano and to… Er… Flush the tank:

Time to drop shit off

Time to drop shit off

There is a whole Pro Team bus driver fraternity going down, which includes bus racing, radio chatter and the main game of the Vuelta – See who can get the most expensive fuel bill in one filling. Today was a land mark day when our driver Matt took the lead with a $708 Euro fill up bill! Epic:

Like a herd of beasts fuelling at the final water hole

Like a herd of beasts fuelling at the final water hole

The transfer took a couple of hours, so during that time I basically talked cycling non stop with the guys, which was awesome as they obviously had a few stories to tell! I was like a sponge soaking it up as I sat in Tyler Farrar’s seat. Cliff bar anyone?

French Alps horror flash backs started to melt my brain...

French Alps horror flash backs started to melt my brain…

I watched the finish with Rich the Chiro, it was exciting as Summy was doing a massive turn at the end to try and set Farrar up for the win, but the dirty dutchie ambushed them all to stay away for the stage 17 win. Unlike yesterday it was impossible to get close to the line today, so no good photo shots I’m afraid. I did use the Go Pro for some video, but its had a spaz tonight and I am having issues with getting footage off the fecker.

No ride today, but I was more than happy to trade that for a day of PROness… thank you to the lads at Garmin for putting up with a passenger and for the good times. An unexpected view into a day on a Grand Tour stage and very cool!

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