la vuelta: week two in poems
Stage 10: Elche to Alicante A day of whiplash— trading mist-soaked green slopes for flat, palm-studded shores. The great whooshing rush of the pack, all shouts & gear shifts, traded for the solitary sawing of disc wheels. One by one, the riders stop atop the big ramp below the golden stone fortress before they’re sent to attack the walls of themselves. Going from rest to sheering away the sense of self as anything other than motor, perched aero over bars—becoming an extension of the bike. Passing one more test, along the coast this time, before red can be fully held at the end in Madrid. Stage 11: Elpozo Alimentación to Cabo de Gata Like a soft branch before the knife, the race is whittled down. Wheels are tugged by invisible hands of fate, airways stricken by unseen sickness, & the sun drives the desperation of the day. The race is changing along the dry, shrubby coast. The peloton roars into a desolate village, asphalt-heat as high as the riders’ anxiety. A sprinter takes his first grand tour win, fast against the sea-salt wind.
Stage 12: Salobreña to Peña Blancas. Estepona Geography as if terraformed Martian mountainside. Slopes of cleaved rock, red. A lava flow, cooled. The road. Up, up, up into pines. Otherworldly, the gold-helmeted, gold-striped rider. Engine hearted. Piston legged. Vindication sought & found. Stage 13: Ronda to Montilla The fog of the second week has thoroughly settled over the riders talk of legs & unknowns who’s going for the win breakaway / leaders / sprinters the peloton sluices through sun-drunk olive groves bright-kitted bunch like a fistful of jellybeans whipped down the road the orange dirt countryside / dusty blue September sky / white hilltop towns / feathery green trees sink into the infinite horizon even as the champagne spray evaporates beneath the shoes of the former world champ / current green jersey the race does not seem like it will have an end. Stage 14: Montoro to Sierra de la Pandera The helicopter can’t fly high enough to show what’s portrayed by the Ben-Day dot layout of the huge swaths of olive trees. Perhaps like the Lichtenstein painting Drowning Girl, the countryside is a swirling wave crashing upon the mountain where the rocky climb lifts above the sunny Andalusian land as if it were trying to breathe the sky, trying to survive the day’s suffocating heat. It’s a day of melodrama— the red jersey under siege but not defeated—a day that tries to sink those riders desperately treading water to keep their tenuous places in the rankings. There’s no calling for help in the closing kilometers—the domestiques have all peeled off, slowed to a crawl, or already flown home sick. Any hand the day’s protagonists reach out must be met by their other hand— they must pull themselves above the waves of pain. & so, when the digs launch, they each must search among the shrubs & sun for motivation. Sweat pours like tears down their cheeks. A sense of chaos grows between the boulders at the summit. Hairline cracks suddenly visible are pried open. The day belongs to gold again. But the race for red is on.
Stage 15: Martos to Sierra Nevada. Alto Hoya de la Mora. Monachil Another survival on the summit & a first-time win. The rest of the field scattered like sand over the serpentine climb. The peloton is chipping away at itself as if it were carving the final standings from a limestone block. It’s a general truth that the harder you strike the rock, the wider its fragments are thrown. The strongest issue hammer blows, others splitting off like glinting shards above the olive groves. There’s no hiding from the strikes under the hot sun. The seconds tick away.
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