Well that was an interesting Monday.
Without going into a lot of background, Brad needed to go to a hospital in Benalmadena for a check-up on the surgery he’d had on his left knee. I was pretty familiar with the route to that place, having had my taxi services called upon on several occasions. One of the things I knew was that there is often up to a kilometre of stop-start traffic on the hard shoulder leading to the off-ramp we needed to take from the motorway.
So out of curiosity I’d checked out an alternative route on google maps to come in from the opposite direction, with hopefully less traffic. But I found that this route ideally meant me taking a mountain road from our town to the said motorway. Having travelled it several times I don’t particularly like that road as it’s full of bends with very few overtaking spots if you got stuck behind something slow, like a horse and trap, or a couple of bloody cyclists.
We stuck to our original route and as we drove the normal roads leading to the Xanet hospital noticed a few banners along one section of road, but thought nothing of it.
Brad’s appointment with his surgeon went extremely well. She was delighted with his progress and on seeing how well his leg was doing, even suggested that he could start putting weight on it two weeks sooner than would normally be allowed, accompanied by appropriate physiotherapy. But she went a bit too far for me when she said that she was happy to take this unusual step because Brad was clearly a very responsible person.
How I kept quiet I do not know. I bit down on my tongue and tightly sealed my lips to stop myself from making any comment which might dispel her trust in her patient. How I stopped myself from bursting out laughing I do not know. Thank goodness my almost exploding face was hidden from her view by her computer screen, which she’d turned to one side when she showed Brad a video of the surgery on his knee. (Can’t wait to watch that! She gave him a dvd of it!!).
If I’d have told her all the things Brad was ‘responsible’ for she might have changed her mind about his proposed progress, which would then likely result in extra taxi services being required, so I kept ‘mum’.
We left the hospital in good spirits and headed for the car. With air con on and refreshments suitably distributed we drove away from the parking area to the roundabout which led onto the road heading back towards the motorway. Except some idiot had strung a shitload of tape across it. “Road Closed”
“Just follow that car going straight.” Was Brad’s advice. The bloke in front looked like he knew where he was going, so I did.
Brad soon managed to google a map and told me which way to go to head from then onwards. It was pretty much part of the route that I had looked at, but coming from the opposite direction.
We drove through a villagey type suburb which was well festooned with colourful bunting and streamers and as we drove on to a more formal bit of road found barriers and taped areas, and progressively more people, in particular, police type people. It was only then that Brad said,
“Oh, it must be for the Vuelta España.”
“Wonderful. What the hell is that?”
“It’s a cycle race. A biggy! I’d forgotten it was today. It must be coming along this route.”
As we drove along there were loads of barriers and police cars, police motor bikes, and police men. I made a point of not looking at them in case they tried to direct me off down any other strange roads. I was so busy trying to appear like I was determined in my route that I completely missed the turn which would have taken us up onto the motorway heading back the way we’d come. Still that was now quite a long route from this point, so I wasn’t bothered.
Driving under the motorway we reached the spot we’d have come in at if I’d taken the way I’d Googled earlier. So off we drove up ‘the pretty way’ to Mijas pueblo. It looked like it was going to be a long drive as the mountain, which Mijas sat on the other side of, looked ages away.
As we drove along this unfamiliar mountain road I asked Brad if he’d noticed how there seemed to be quite a few people ‘just standing around’ outside buildings for no apparent reason. There weren’t many settlements along the way, but what there were had bodies outside. (Not dead bodies, you understand!)
As we rounded one bend we came across a crowd of people standing on a wide verge which sat beside a sharp bend that traversed a gully. I was about 20 metres away from reaching and taking this bend when all of a sudden a cavalcade of vehicles rounded a bend coming from the other side and they would reach the gully section before me. It would have been too tight a squeeze for us to pass so I quickly pulled over to let them through.
There were loads of them and they were clearly all involved with the cycle race. There were cars and vans with people packed in ‘em or on ‘em, shouting and waving at the crowd, who reciprocated similarly as they got bombarded with leaflets and flags and dog-knows-what other promotional material.
So we waited. And waited. It was only when an ambulance and a police car had gone past that we figured that was the end of ‘em and continued with our journey.
A few kilometres further on, as we rounded another bend, I could see the junction which entered Mijas pueblo (a beautiful touristy town) and it was seething with police and race vehicles and personnel.
But at least I was now in familiar territory
Another issue I have not mentioned thus far is that at the beginning of our excursion Brad had queried a condition with my vehicle, a Renault Kangoo. Our conversation concluded with the realisation that the clutch on the vehicle was reaching the end of its lifespan. As the journey progressed I could feel that I was becoming dangerously close to being clutchless.
As we reached the Mijas roundabout I hung a right to take the road back home where we were immediately faced with climbing a rather steep slope. I drove up the initial section in second gear and only when the gradient decreased a little was I able to risk changing into third gear and eventually fourth. This stretch of inclination running along the side of the mountain lasted for over a kilometre and wherever feasible was lined along the none-rock-face side with yet more people.
One thing which had long become apparent was that the route we were taking was remarkably free from other traffic. After passing Mijas we didn’t come across anything in front (which was hardly surprising, given our speed) but similarly neither were we creating a build-up of traffic behind us. In fact not one vehicle came up behind us. And we had only encountered four vehicles coming from the opposite direction, which included the Alhaurin to Fuengirola bus which almost took me out on a shallow bend. Thank goodness I was on the mountain side of the road!
I was actually a little concerned that when we’d met the cavalcade of promotional vehicles earlier, one of their banners had plastered itself to the front grid of the Kangoo, and the officials and police we had encountered since had thought we were part of the ‘crew’.
There were long stretches where there were no spectators, which wasn’t surprising since the road was lined by the rock face of the mountain on our right side and a steep drop to hell and beyond to our left. But it seemed that the organisers didn’t want the cyclists to be despondent from lack of support, so had colourful banners lining the road instead.
As the road snaked its way along the side of the Sierra de Mijas it consisted of many sharp, blind bends between the banners. Brad and I became increasingly concerned that on one of them we would suddenly come face to face with out-rider motorbikes carrying backward and forward facing cameramen, followed very closely by over two hundred speeding cyclists, who would be none too happy about our presence.
We both breathed a huge sigh of relief when we reached the main pivotal “BP roundabout” on the outskirts of our home town of Alhaurin el Grande, where the Vuelta España paraphernalia turned onto the A-7053 heading towards Mijas Costa, which we later discovered was the starting point of the race.
We did a very quick shop before I dropped Brad off at his home which is only ten minutes’ drive from mine and by the time I had reached my wi-fi he had already sent me snap shots taken from his television, where he was watching the Vuelta España cyclists already hurtling halfway along the exact same mountain road we had oh so very recently vacated.
Talk about a close call.