Santander airport, the queues are horrible and we’ll have another one for the Stansted to Prestwick flight, no doubt. After yesterday’s grim weather we’re bathed in beautiful sunshine today.

The stage start was in Gijón so we rattled up from Cangas de Onis for our last look at the 2010 Vuelta.

Gijón University hosts the start today.
Gijón University hosts the start today. (click for the full image)

We went for a ‘last words’ approach and trawled the bus park for quotable quotes – some of the buses were in ‘lock down’ mode, the riders only dashing out for the start.

Saxo, Columbia and Rabobank in particular were all very quiet…

The mood was light at QuickStep with friends and relatives on hand for Barredo, all proud as punch of ‘their’ boy.

Carlos himself was happy to chat and pose for pics.

Yesterday's hero Barredo greets his pal.
Yesterday's hero Barredo greets his pal.

QuickStep DS Rik Van Slycke had plenty of time to chat to us; I remember him from his days as a rider at the Gent six.

Rik and Martin.
Rik and Martin.

He was a strong road rider too, no huge wins but solid palmares and always there over the cobbles when the wind blew and the heavens opened.

Wouter Weylandt was our next ‘victim,’ and again, he was happy to chat – a stage win does that to a team.

Wouter Weylandt is sprinting well.
Wouter Weylandt is sprinting well.

Wouter was coy about his next team; word is that he’s headed for Luxembourg; ‘it’s possible!

We plucked up the courage to approach Gert-Jan Theunisse, former mountain king and still looking skinny and ‘well-ard.’

As Ed said, in a fight, you'd need to use a cattle prod on Gert.
As Ed said, in a fight, you'd need to use a cattle prod on Gert.

But appearances can lie and he’s actually soft spoken, polite and articulate – he was so nice I didn’t even mention Roy Sentjens.

Katusha DS and former Worlds medallist Dimitri Konyshev is a man who back in his racing days managed to escape disciplining from management by explaining that his being arrested in a brothel along with some new pros on the squad was an ‘exercise in team bonding’ – you have to respect the man.

Dima Konyshev was a little reticent at first.
Dima Konyshev was a little reticent at first.

He wasn’t saying much to start but we ribbed him a little, he laughed and gave us a few quotes, one of which was that Joaquin Rodriguez is a ‘terrible’ time trial rider.

The mood at Lotto was good too, with two men in the break and there at the death on Covadonga, not forgetting Gilbert’s stage win and stint in red, it’s a happy ship.

Ed chats to Greg.
Ed chats to Greg.

Greg Avermaet was happy to talk whilst Gilbert chatted and posed for pics in the background.

Johnnie Walker over at Footon has become a ‘regular’ with us and he’s very quotable, particularly his one about wanting to live up on Covadonga because it’s ‘so peaceful, with the lake and all.

We're turning into big fans of the Footon kit, but Johnnie and Martin still prefer the VeloVeritas design!
We're turning into big fans of the Footon kit, but Johnnie and Martin still prefer the VeloVeritas design!

Footon-Servetto get a hard time from some elements of the media – not us.

They put men in the breaks and race with bravura; more than could be said for some teams we could name.

Thor is quietly confident about the Worlds.
Thor is quietly confident about the Worlds.

Thor Hushovd wasn’t too chatty, but we were ‘locked on’ and eventually elicited a few words.

The last man we spoke to doesn’t need to be cajoled, he loves to talk, and to talk about Scotland in particular – Lotto DS Hendrik Redant is a big happy bear of a man but it’s not so long since he was winning pro races and the young riders all respect him.

Hendrik Redant always has a lot of time for us Scots.
Hendrik Redant always has a lot of time for us Scots.

Roll out time – as our Dave always says at this moment; ‘your creds are no good to you, now!’ Indeed.

We looked up the stage result on our BlackBerrys when we got to Stansted – another cracker of a race.

Euskaltel could have rolled up into a ball after Anton’s unfortunate exit – but not a bit of it.

Nibali will leapfrog Rodriguez in the Wednesday time trial and maybe Mosquera will too, but Ezequiel has Schleck and Roche to worry about doing the same to him.

The test will shuffle the pack but they’ll probably end up even closer together than they are now.

It will all come down to stage 20 from San Martin de Valdeiglesias 172.1 kilometres with a 3rd and two 1st category climbs en route to a massive mountain top finish at Bola del Mundo.

The stats? The finish climb distance is 22 kilometres, finish altitude is 2,247 metres, a rise of 1,352 metres, average gradient is 6.1% and maximum gradient is 20% – and that’s at the top.

It promises to be a memorable day – we’ll be in Belgium on that day for the Championship of Flanders, but we’ll find a bar with Eurosport, for sure – see you there?

We hope you enjoyed our ‘mad breenge‘ to Covadonga and back.

¡Hasta pronto!

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