We are not aware of the effort each rider puts in; being weighed each day, the kilometers in the legs and saddle hours outside the big events and the TV coverage.
It's all about perspective; when you, from the comfort of your armchairs, glance towards the Tour de France on your TV. That effort that you see is merely the tip of an iceberg.
That moment you spend watching any given rider is not long when you consider that up to that point, the rider wears about 25,000km on their legs since the start of the preseason, which is the same as about 60,000 minutes in the saddle at an average of 25 km / h. Shiver!
I have always I imagined myself as the protagonist of those epic battles I saw on television; admiring the ability of Perico or Miguel, or nowadays Contador or Nibali, with a twinkle in my eye.
Cycling is of the few sports you can practice almost 100% in the same conditions as professionals. We can buy the same material, dress like them and above all, we can pedal every kilometer of any stage we choose.
Who goes to play a match with friends in the Camp Nou? Or plays on the tennis court of Roland Garros or Wimbledon? And forget about taking a spin around the circuit of Monaco in an F1 car like Alonso? Anyone?
“Cycling, is the clear flag-bearer for the principal of: YOU CAN IF YOU WANT. It's a matter of dedication, effort, sacrifice and perseverance”
When Orbea proposed to me the project of reviving the fifth stage of the last Itzulia (Tour of the Basque Country), I did not hesitate for a second and immediately knew what I had to do: train!
The profile and route of the stage, (which ended in Aia in 2015’s edition) was swift and effervescent as few, but as beautiful as any. It was like a summer romance.
To find out who won that day is as easy as typing the question into an internet search engine, and ta-da! An immediate response: Mikel Landa.
Mikel arrived alone to the finish; its nature and vicious brutality in the final meters as heartbreaking as few others.
Eibar, out from Mallabia – the home and hub of Orbea was the start of our route. We started here as an offering to Orbea for its history, commitment and involvement in a sport like cycling, which remains alive in the heart of Basque Country.
Eibar was resplendent, decked out and hungover from its patron saint’s day and that Sunday morning, with the flags hanging everywhere; the only cyclists or pedestrians were us, and our shadows.
We took it fairly easy for the whole route, in the back of our minds we were preparing for that lethal last ‘wall’ at Aia
The route is spectacular and every pedal stroke made it even more so. Sunrise over the wilderness of Gipuzkoa, illuminating the way as if we were literally falling into the sea in Mutriku while we descended Kalbario port – it is difficult to describe in words. The climb goes by easy, the first challenge and we feel strong, but the view from the top, and especially the last part of the descent to the port, is pure wonder.
Mutriku is an absolutely beautiful fishing village and the lives of its people are focused on what they know and do – live by and for the sea.
And along the splendid coast road we are led to Deba to start the climb to Itziar; long, but bearable, knowing that this would not be the main memory of the journey; the stars of the day are still to come.
Zumaia and Getaria soon appear before us marking a turning point in the route. A lunch-stop and walk to the harbor – something tells us that the moment of truth will come.
Leaving the sea and Getaria behind us, among the vineyards of Txakoli begins the real buzz and sweat. Now, we become aware of how we are going, noticing kilometers and the road rising towards Urraki.
Urraki is one of those not very busy towns, but the climb in is hard and some would say – a bully. Start with a devastating 12%, a small break and some fireworks in the final meters, make this the perfect spot for making a mockery of yourself.
Reaching top is a victory in itself, but any celebrating is short lived as the thought of of Alkiza and Aia still to come, begins to turn the dream into a nightmare.
If not for the descent into the “heart” of Gipuzkoa being like a postcard at every curve, perhaps we would have ended the day right there, feeling defeated by the ghosts of the future, the “wall” of Aia.
After a break, we went towards Alkiza with renewed vigor and positive mindset. The shade of leafy trees protected us and kept us cool, inadvertently letting us know that the end is near.
The brief descent towards Aia seems like a kind of preamble to what will be one of the most indescribable sensations one can have on your bike.
I know not say who won the stage that day, no one will remember that I was there, feeling victorious. Still, there will always remain in my memory, which like Mikel Landa, a feeling of pride as I dismounted under the Church of Aia. As if the world had been conquered, knowing that summer romance, was to remain with me forever.