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Poetry Recaps for Week Three of La Vuelta 2023
Superheat (Stage 16 — Liencres Playa > Bejes) Clouds congregate. Coastal drizzle, then shower, then sun. The shine of blue water. The pop of green hills. The peloton is strung out on wet roads, bypassing beach villages as anxiety superheats the pace. The stage is mostly gentle until the last few Ks, where the riders stab upwards on a sharp climb toward a small mountain hamlet. They twist along the canyon, walls of rock leaning over the road as if selfie-taking fans. It’s an effort that sears both lung and muscle. The team that occupies the entire podium suddenly attacks itself. But by the line, the red jersey stays red, a teammate poised just behind, waiting to leap past in case of trouble. Faces of pain replaced by exhausted camaraderie and the relief of a stage win dedicated to the health of a fallen teammate.
Otherworldly (Stage 17 — Ribadesella > Altu de L’Angliru) Fog eats into the thickets early along the Angliru. Later, it shrouds everything beyond the narrow road. Nothing exists except the test of legs, lungs, and loyalty. Another team tries to score a hit against the podium trio. They come close but ultimately whiff as the otherworldly gradients clamp the jaws of gravity around their wheels. The riders that dissolve into the cool mountain mist are forgotten, while the three phantasms that round a corner at the head of race are revealed to be teammates, their podium positions solidifying with each pedal churn. Surely they will time trial together to the finish? Surely their strength lies in their combined talents? Surely the red jersey has nothing left to prove? Typically, as the days of a grand tour dwindle, there are less and less questions to ask. Not so this time.
A Night's Difference: Press Release Erasures (Stage 18 — Pola de Allande > La Cruz de Linares) Before Stage 18
After Stage 18
Blood and Balance (Stage 19 — La Bañeza > Íscar) The peloton flies through dry and quiet villages. Flat roads dive diagonally toward Madrid. Heat hazes the horizon. The clouds let sunlight fall on the plains as if they are curtains venting beams onto a green-and-reddish-brown carpet. It’s a day of high-speed vigilance for the race leaders. A day of spinning wheels, spinning legs, spinning turbines; the hypnosis of the road and sky. A day to turn the questions inward, let them silently jangle around while the legs and nerves prepare for one last trial. At the end of the day, it’s the sprinters who must face questions of speed and positioning. Questions of precarity, luck, and strength. Unexpected answers in blood and balance. Relief comes bellowing out of the throat of a team that had long searched for a stage victory. The finish line buzzes with a low evening hum that makes it feel like the Vuelta can sense the last few pages of its book are about to be flipped.
Rolling Embrace (Stage 20 — Manzanares El Real > Guardarrama) A sawtooth stage throws a few final hurdles in front of the riders. Roads roll over the sierra standing sentinel outside Madrid. A rollercoaster of a course, torture for tired legs. How much can possibly be left after three grand tours? The team of the red jersey manages the race well. The break is granted a big lead. National jerseys sustain A hard pace. Everything controlled. The tightness in the shoulders begins to evaporate. The year’s nonstop workload should lead to a miraculous victory. A weary thrash to the finish for the breakaway. A brief challenge on the cobbles that lead up the last climb among the GC group. A simple demonstration that the red jersey indeed fought to a worthy win. The strength of talent, the strength of a superstar team and its dedication, confirmed in a rolling embrace.
In the Warm Twilight (Stage 21 — Hipódromo de la Zarzuela > Madrid. Paisaje de la Luz) The race ends as the hours slip in Madrid from golden to blue. A last splash of sunlight squeezes through stone façades as a last gasp of havoc continues to scramble the perception of predictable racing. After the sprint win by a breakaway rider at the front of the fiercely charging peloton, final jerseys are handed out in the dying light. Atop the cherry red podium, three teammates are smiling in the easy way of the completely dominant. It’s difficult to accept that the three weeks are over. They are. Cava for the top three and their cloths, pizzas and beer for the rest of the field. Memories of this trip around Spain heard in the warm twilight, as laughter and cheers echo at the team buses.