Beer, flags and barbecues: a day on the maddest climb in the Basque Country

Once the Tour de France is done and dusted, the sight and sounds of screaming Basque fans on the slopes of the Jaizkibel lingered on

fans on the Jaizkibel
(Image credit: Tom Thewlis)

Long after the Tour de France has rolled out of Spain, the gargantuan noise generated by the vast hordes of Basque fans on the roads of stage two will be reverberating throughout my ears in the days to come.

I’ve sat and listened to riders like Tom Pidcock describe the feeling and sensation of riding through huge crowds of fans on the roads of some of the biggest bike races in the world, and often wondered to myself, what must that feel like? What kind of emotions, sensations and feelings are pounding through your body as you punish yourself on some of Europe’s steepest roads roared on by thousands of roadside spectators

Well, stage two of this year’s Tour was the closest I was ever going to get to experiencing that as I, like millions of other cyclists, will of course never get the chance to ride the Tour. Instead I got to join the race convoy for the day in the team Africa Rising press car, driving through the crowds bound for the slopes of the infamous Jaizkibel and the beautiful coastal town of San Sebastián and I really couldn’t have picked a better moment to experience it.

When each of the climbs on the route arrived, you could feel the energy and feel the sheer euphoria pulsating through the air as the vast seas of orange parted in front of the car, with the smells of barbecued steaks and other grilled meats wafting across.

A vegetarian’s nightmare, although even the most ardent of non-meat eaters may well have caved in to the smells of Basque roadside cooking in that particular moment.

Once the slopes of the Jaizkibel – made famous by the annual Clásica San Sebastián – arrived, it was something else altogether. I’ll admit it, at times it was genuinely slightly scary, even in the confines of a Mini convertible.

The Jaizkibel is just a bump in the road compared to the likes of the Col du Tourmalet or Alpe d’Huez, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with the atmosphere in the Klasikoa every year and it was no different yesterday.

As we moved through the masses - almost moving at walking pace at times - the noise was simply deafening. Grown men and women, many clad in the colours of Real Sociedad, lent into the car, roaring us on our way like a swarm of excited bees around an open jar of honey. 


(Image credit: Tom Thewlis)

My hair was ruffled, beer, water and who knows what else were thrown over the car and my hand was left ringing as I high-fived what felt like a thousand cheering and smiling people as we passed by, all getting set for the riders' arrival.

Of course, keeping well back once the riders arrive is paramount, but this is part of what the Tour’s all about. Singing, dancing, roadside picnics and the anticipation of that fleeting moment when your heroes flash past. They are all just some of the characteristics that define the carnivalesque atmosphere of the world’s greatest bike race.

If the atmosphere was exploding like this for us, it was going to be amplified in a matter of moments when Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard powered to the summit, going head to head for the bonus seconds on offer.

Minutes later when the broom wagon rolled through no one passed without a scream of encouragement as the sprinters went through their own personal battle just to make it over the summit of the climb. The party didn’t stop there as groups of fans bundled into camper vans desperate to catch the finale all together.

Fuelled by the adrenaline of the Jaizkibel we made our way back into town in search of Pintxos, ice cream and the cool breeze of the Bay of Biscay, amazed by the atmosphere generated by Basques of this year’s Grand Départ.

This was their moment, their time in the spotlight to further stake a climb to being the best fans in the cycling world and boy, they certainly delivered.

Gora Euskadi, vive Le Tour, and the road winds on to Bayonne. 

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Tom Thewlis

Tom is a News and Features Writer at Cycling Weekly, and previously worked in communications at Oxford Brookes University. He has reported from a wide range of races and events including the Tour de France and World Championships.