Gillie and I arrived back in Basque Country on Wednesday 15th Aug after completing the 3 week Altitude Training block at Sierra Nevada. For the last time we awoke before 3am to start the journey. We hit Madrid at 8:00am smack bang in the middle of rush hour, the only thing was – no rush! no traffic, no people around. It was like driving through a ghost town. On our previous trip we saw plenty of traffic, this time no traffic! We stopped on the outskirts after we passed through Madrid for a coffee, not many people here either. What is going on? must be a holiday, that’s what it is, a holiday. The closer we got to Basque Country the more excited we got, it was like coming home. The desert of Southern Spain gives way to the green of Basque in a gradual transition, and Madrid seemed to be the dividing line. As you head south of Madrid the more arid it becomes, as you head North the greener it becomes.
We were itching to stop at some random Basque village and get something to eat and drink, and breath in the Basque’ness of it all. The random village we entered was Mendaro and what do you know, it was piccolo festival day! We felt very much like we were intruding on a private wedding, or function of sorts. Villagers were out in the finery and gathered in the square, feasting and drinking. Gillie and I headed towards a small bar for a drink. All of a sudden an elderly group of men entered the bar, lined up some glasses and started pouring cider in the Basque fashion, they drank, the town bell chimed and they left. One guy spotted us on the way out, pointed to his watch, spoke to us in Basque and motioned us to follow, which we did. Into the square we walked where the sports were beginning. Traditional Basque sports that is, wood cutting – chainsaw v two man long saw, stone lifting and running. It was fun, we laughed a lot with the villagers and the competitors alike!
We arrived back in St Jean de Luz to be greeted by Bruno and Ines at our home away from home! Thank you Bruno and Ines for your friendship, hospitality, warmth and humor. Meeting you has been a highlight of this adventure. The night after arriving we were treated to the spectacle that is Cesta Punta the Basque game played on a Pelota Court which is very fast moving, the ball can travel at 330km/h. It was a very entertaining night, watching highly skilled sportsmen preform at a very high level.
Several days after arriving back, Gillie and I parted company of sorts, (Gillie has since gone to Ireland before we catch up again in London) I moved into the Australian Para-cycling Staging Camp with fellow team members Nigel Barley (Handcycle H3), Carol Cooke (Trike T2), Alan Downes (Team Masseur), Jenni Banks (Handcycle Coordinator/Assistant Coach) , Dan Brent (Mechanic, Clarence Street Cyclery), this is where it all starts to take shape. The rest of the Para cycling team were staging in Cardiff, it was decided that we would stage here as the conditions were favorable to the Brands Hatch course and neither of us ride track which is in the early part of the games.
The cycling through Basque Country is special. The scenery is simply beautiful, very green, rolling hills. Basque farms and small villages. The way the cars treat you, wide berths, I haven’t had a toot in anger and the encouragements from people hanging out of cars has been phenomenal. On a couple of occasions people have come up to me after a ride while I am having coffee to tell me they saw me out on the road, and they were the ones hanging out of the car shouting encouragement! The other cyclist on the roads, mainly middle aged men, who speak French, Basque or Spanish – no English – no problem – we all speak the language of cycling -gesturing, pointing, nodding, handshake, smiling, laughing.
On Saturday I leave Basque Country with very fond memories and head to London, the Paralympic Village and competition! Wednesday 5th – Time Trial and Friday 7th – Road Race. It is my understanding the races or highlights will be telecast on ABC 1 or 2 I race in the Handcycle H4 Classification. More information on the games can be found here http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/ on the Australian Paralympic Team http://www.paralympic.org.au/ on the ABC coverage http://www.abc.net.au/news/sport/paralympics/ Until next time! Cheers Stu