24 August 2014

La Vuelta Ciclista - on yer bike, Alcalá!

Spain's international cycling road-race, La Vuelta a España, kicked off yesterday in Jerez de la Frontera.  Over the next three weeks nearly two hundred men on wheels will punish their bodies relentlessly over some of Spain's hairiest mountain passes, ending up in Santiago de Compostela. 

There is much local excitement because the first three stages are taking place in Cádiz province.Today they are touring the Costa de la Luz, from Algeciras to San Fernando, and tomorrow's stage sets off from a Spanish aircraft carrier moored in the port of Cádiz. (This is ostensibly to honour Spain's former monarch, who abdicated recently after a series of scandals.  He's kept his job as head of the armed forces, but his relationship with cycling is unclear.)

Stage 2 - a nice flat bit

The third stage was supposed to come through Alcalá de los Gazules, on the way to Arcos de la Frontera via the daunting crags of the Sierra de Grazalema.  Cycling fans and local hostelries have been looking forward to 25 August for months.  Yet just a few days ago we learned it had been re-routed further north.  The big question on everyone's lips is - why?

Sierra de Grazalema on a bike? Rather you than me
The first rumours to hit the Facebook gossip-mill, on 19 August, inferred that the local councillors were squarely to blame, because they hadn't got their act together and taken the necessary measures to host this major event.  (Indeed, you would hardly know Alcalá had any elected representatives these days;  they only seem to come out after dark, or when there is a press photographer present.)

Three days later (22 August) a statement from the Mayor, Julio Toscano, refuting these accusations was published on the Ayuntamiento's own Facebook page and in the local press:
El Ayuntamiento de Alcalá de los Gazules lamenta que la vuelta no recorra la localidad

The reason for the re-routing, according to Toscano, was that a stretch of the A-2304, which goes from Alcalá up through the mountains towards Puerto Galis, was in a very bad condition after the winter rains and would have been too dangerous.  The road belongs to the Junta de Andalucia, therefore it was their responsibility to mend it, not Alcalá's, and neither the Junta nor the organisers had bothered to tell the Mayor until six days before the event that it wasn't going to happen.  Buck duly passed.

A rare public sighting of Alcalá's mayor Julio Toscano (left)

Javier Pizarro, Secretary General of the opposition party (PSOE), then issued a statement on his own Facebook page expressing indignation and regret that the townspeople should be deprived of such a prestigious opportunity.  Why, he asked, was neither the mayor nor the deputy mayor in regular contact with the Junta?  How come the opposition councillors knew about the re-routing more than a week before the Mayor, as did the provincial government and even the residents of San José del Valle up the road, through which the race would now pass?

The road between Puerto Galis and Algar, Pizarro points out, is in a much worse state than that between Puerto Galis and Alcalá, which is in daily use by both motorists and cyclists.  It was, in his opinion, persistent lobbying by the San José council, rather than public safety concerns, which led the organisers to change the route.  The Alcalá administration simply hadn't bothered, and the Mayor was too cowardly to admit responsibility.

Municipal elections take place next May.  Expect more, much more, of this sort of sniping.  Meanwhile, the voters will have to content themselves with watching the race on TV.