Vuelta a Espana 2016

From: Alasdair Fotheringham
Country: Spain/UK

General: overall the Vuelta is usually one of the most enjoyable races to work on and that continues to be the case. Issues arising for the print media in 2016 were, for the most part, resolved quickly and we are seeing lots of progress in others.
Some operational areas, such as the signalling, translation service, food and drinks buffets and race website, continue to be run very well. Other pressing questions like the opening times and closing times for press rooms, after discussions with the AIJC, are now much improved and as of this year, we at last have a much improved press room in Madrid and very close to the finish, too.
Several ongoing questions raised by the AIJC, such as the results service or the creation of a press avant and press arriere at starts, need to be worked on, but in any case the situation is better than previous years. A
A few other areas, like the Vuelta history on the race website and – importantly – the distances between press rooms, finishes and team buses, continue to remain unresolved. On the plus side, we’ve been promised discussions in this area by race organisers.
The change of Vuelta head press officer this year, despite being shortly before the race began, has helped boost an already marked improvement in the race’s clear interest in resolving organisational problems overall.
Above all there is a continuing fluidity of communication in both directions from media to race staff and vice versa. As ever there will be a meeting between the AIJC, ASO and Unipublic over the winter to try and continue to clear up any outstanding issues and questions like the press rooms will be resolved, or at the least discussed, there.

Information available on the website/accreditation: Very straightforward and clear in both cases. The website is now very well run. However, I have been asking for the Vuelta’s history section to be restored to the website for years now. This was promised to us two years ago, one year ago, and still nothing has happened.

Signposting to the Gran Depart Accreditation centre: Good when you got close by but not before, which didn’t help much. This is the third year it’s been poor. An email indicating the precise location of the press room was not sent out well in advance.

Race live-ticker: Excellent. Plenty of information.

Routebook: Ok, but the format (too large) rather than the more convenient Giro size could be resolved. The alternative route from starts to finishes still needs to be indicated more clearly, as do press avants and press arrieres at starts.

Accreditation at the race: Most journalists went through the accreditation process very quickly, a few others painfully slowly. Needs revising.

Working conditions at the start: The introduction of a ‘press avant’ and ‘press arrierre’ is not indicated in the route book and at times seemed unclear at the start. On the other hand, the parking staff were generally friendly and helpful.
In the first week, the police force working at the start were at times extremely overenthusiastic about removing and manhandling the ‘wrong’ sort of people – including journalists with press passes – from areas where we could work. It would be good if the organisers could tell them to calm down and explain their job – and ours – to them.

Working conditions at the finish: overall, very good. The tendency for soigneurs to take over the journalists tv ‘pen’ needs resolving. On a few occasions the tvs didn’t work.

The one exception to this generally good work scenario was – in part – Aitana, with a complete breakdown in correct information about where to park your car and how to get to the top of the climb. Working conditions at the top, though, were excellent.
A lot of this, though, was due to incorrect information being provided to the race organisers by the finish host and we appreciate the huge efforts made by the Vuelta press officer to try and resolve it in the case of journalists who ended up in difficulties. It does highlight, though, the need for whoever is ‘scouting’ the day ahead of the race for the Vuelta to check things thoroughly – which doesn’t appear to have happened.

Signposting in general: normally, excellent, although in Bilbao, at the finish to reach the press room, it was a complete disaster. Once again and for another year running, by far the best of the three Grand Tours.

Parking at the finish: Excellent, apart from San Andres de Teixido, where it was handled very badly and staff were rude.

Pressroom: Very friendly, cooperative staff. Generally ok to good, but on some occasions – Aramon-Formigal and Aubisque in particular, too small. The ones used in Madrid was much, much better than previously, and the one in Peña Cabarga better than previously too.
Timetables for the press room on the rest day was indicated and timetables for the pressrooms have improved. For now, with attendance at a minimum on the rest day, it seems only necessary to open it on those days for three hours.
However, where was the security for the pressroom? Police officers or at least a member of the Vuelta staff supposed to be checking passes were, all too often, not there, meaning members of the public could – and did – wander in.

Results: The online service of results generally worked well, with the exception of Lugo, where Alejandro Valverde enjoyed half an hour as race leader online before somebody noticed that it was actually still Darwin Atapuma.
However, the results service on paper format, if much improved, still has a long way to go before being sorted out. Information like the commissaires report and medical bulletin is not provided regularly, results in paper format sometimes take ages to appear. The delays need resolving.

Buses to the finish: Satisfactory

Translations: excellent, and well organised in the press conferences, and in another big improvement for the Vuelta all information regardling buses and press conferences was translated into English and French. Other races take note.

Internet: apart from the first week, when there were some really bad days, it generally worked fine.

Distance Pressroom – Finish: All too often, not good – way too far. In 14 of the 21 finishes, the distances were only drivable. At Ourense, the distance of 20 kilometres on bad roads made a very late finish already even more difficult to report on. On occasions like Calp and Gandia, with the abundance of hotels nearer the finish, was there any real reason why we had to be a kilometre and a half away? Organisers are sometimes ‘given’ a location by the local authorities for the press room – but is it not possible to specify that the press centre has to be, at most, 500 metres from the finish on all but mountain stages? On top of this, we have finishes that are late.

Distance Finish – Teams buses: not ideal at all on too many stages, particularly in the mountain stages where on all of the ten summit finishes, the buses were several kilometres away. All too often the buses were in one place, the press rooms in another and the finishes in another, with a drive needed between each of them.
It’s clear that different journalists want different things and the organiser can’t satisfy everybody and at finishes like Aitana they made a big effort to try to sort things out. But in general, it’s fair to say the closer the three are together, the better. The closer they are, apart from safety issues, they also mean journalists have more time to write, which means more Vuelta coverage – in short, everybody benefits.

Information about the race in the Pressroom: Live ticker and tv. Generally good. More tvs supplied on most days – in another improvement – but it would be good if this was a regular phenomenon..

Food or drinks at or near the Pressroom: as ever really good. Overall the catering is one of the high points of the Vuelta, and particularly with a ‘second service’ at six o’clock, much appreciated by photographers. An example for other races to follow.

Press conference: in general these worked very well with very good translations. There were some major problems with the video tv link, particularly in the first week, but fortunately by the time we reached the second and third these were resolved.

Amount of professional and non-professional journalists: Yet again, too many journalists who are not dedicated professionals continue to be let into the race. It is already tough for us to get riders to come off buses, to attend to us at finishes and some of the Vuelta’s pressrooms, like at Aramón Formigal, were very small and space is at a premium. Is it really necessary to give press passes to semi-bloggers who a) take up space in the press room b) take up interview time at starts and finishes c) sometimes treat the whole event as if it was an extended holiday?

Conclusions: The question of press room locations, the bloggers, results service and the return of the history to the website are perhaps the four most urgent issues that need to be resolved in full, and press parking at starts remains in need of resolving. But across the board, the Vuelta works very well, and when aware that it needs to improve areas, they make a big effort to try do so.