Meeting AIJC – Vuelta a España (Unipublic) 2018-2019

By Alasdair Fotheringham

On Thursday 8th November the AIJC held its annual meeting with Unipublic in Madrid to discuss improvements for the working conditions for the media in the Vuelta a España. Alasdair Fotheringham represented the AIJC, whilst Laura Cueto, Unipublic press officer, and Sergio Fernández from the Unipublic Production department, were present for the  Vuelta a España.

In general, from the AIJC point of view,  some areas still need working on, in particular concerning the finishes, the shuttle buses and the attitude of some – but by no means all – parts of the Spanish police towards the media at finishes. But that said, the Vuelta a España continues to have a lot of well-working areas, too,  such as the press rooms, zone mixte specifically for written press/internet at finishes, starts, media guide, wifi and press conferences.

Accreditation and general media handling: straightforward as ever. The Vuelta a España organisers continue to ask international and above all local media to respect the deadlines for accreditation, something which local media are notably lax at doing.

The introduction in 2018 of a  media Wattsapp group in English as well as in Spanish to keep press up to date with logistical changes and press releases/results was widely appreciated and will be continued.

Race website: generally good, and very fast at putting the results up. However, the history section is in need of a major overhaul – there are innumerable errors.

Police: this year from the AIJC’s point of view there was a notable worsening in the way the  Spanish national police –  with units present on the entire race, rather than any particular local police, or the Guardia Civil, or in Andorra –  handled the media (as well as the teams) at the finishes. There appeared to be a  failure at times to comprehend what the media’s role was there, what kind of access they should have and where they could or could not be. It was agreed that Unipublic’s press department would try to meet representatives of the Spanish national police force before the race to explain what the media’s role was and that in the event of direct issues arising during a finish – for example if a police officer refused to let a member of the press access to the finish – then a representative of Unipublic would be contactable by phone to try and clear up this situation.
There was also the problem in one zone mixte in Madrid where the police/security failed to stop members of the public getting in, and one journalist being robbed of his bag as a result. The situation remains pending of a resolution.

Internet: excellent.

Press conferences: generally good quality sound (with the notable exception of stage four, although there was zero phone coverage at the finish and a considerable effort was made by Unipublic’s press officer to try and get us a soundfile of the stage winner’s press conference). Excellent translations.

Zone mixte: a very welcome innovation in 2018 at the finishes for the written media/internet and one which worked well when  – and it is a big ‘when’ – the security guards allowed the press to get through to the zone mixte which was nearly always situated inside the finish area.

Press avant – press arriere at the start: clearly indicated and separated  presse avant and arriere at the Vuelta’s starts remains one of the AIJC’s longest standing requests  and one which Unipublic have promised to resolve.

Mobile press tent: one of the best examples of how the Vuelta a España is leading the field,  both practical in itself and which allows for a degree of access to difficult summit finishes for the media (on this Vuelta at Lagos de  Covadonga and Covatilla) which enabled us all to work more efficiently, and, therefore, produce more reports and photographs of the race. With a big increase in the number of tvs already in place, this year an effort was made to ensure the tvs weren’t placed in front of lights – which had made the images hard to see.

The one change here is that there should be more toilet facilities – a request we already made last year.

Buffet – food/drink: one of the highlights of any Vuelta a España is the consistently high quality of its buffets. Not to mention the free coffee in the press rooms.

Results: a very good service online, with this year – as requested by the AIJC – all the documents, including medical/UCI reports, all available. However we are still waiting for a fast distribution system for the stage results and overall classification in paper format.

Shuttles: some suffered from a serious breakdown in communication, with the worst issue arising on the last day up to Andorra when there weren’t enough places for all the media. It was agreed, at the AIJC’s suggestion,  that rather than wait for the second last day before taking names of journalists wishing to use the shuttle in question that the lists  for those wishing to use the shuttles would be open permanently, from the start of the race with registry possible online. This option would be explained and included in the media guide as well as the usual explanation 24 hours in advance.

Route book: generally pretty good. The media guide, in English and French, is a hugely useful addition that other bike races would do well to introduce.

Team buses at the finishes: Several journalists complained to the AIJC that their work was rendered hugely complicated by the frequently spread-out nature of the finishes, with team buses parked in one place, the press room in another and the finish itself in yet another, often at a big distance. The distances between the different places could be at times considerable, making for stressful, time-wasted evenings (with finishes already later than we’d like) and on top of that the bus parking for the teams was often not where indicated in the route book.
The Vuelta organisation explained that this spread out nature of the finishes was due to the race’s use of finishes which were often with very limited access and that their over-riding policy was to place the team bus parking area as close as possible to the finish. The AIJC asked – and Unipublic agreed  – that in future where bus parking areas can be placed in equally practical locations but which were closer to the press room, the organisation would go for the latter option to make it easier for journalists to reach the buses.

Signalling: generally very good, although the parking signs at the press room in Andorra were very poorly placed, this was the exception that proved the rule.

Transfers to finish: the AIJC asked, once again, that the route alternatif would have its own indicating arrows next year. Unipublic continued to agree to consider it.

Press room schedules were found to work, by and large, with opening times from 12 noon to 2100. It was agreed that as in 2018, when the mobile press room was used,  it would close at 2030 given the logistical complications of dismantling it. If however, there was an exceptional reason for the press room to remain open, such as a press conference or a breaking news story, then the mobile press room would remain open til 2100.

Finish areas: whilst there were some notable improvements, such as a much bigger tv in the media area at the finish, the continuing problem of an excessively high numbers of guests and VIPs in incorrect zones  was noted, as was the continued presence of team soigneurs in the press tent. Unipublic agreed to try to ‘clear’ the area of those people without a specific job to do in the finishes.


Changes for 2019:

An improved history section in the website

A detailed pre-race meeting between Unipublic, their press officers and the Spanish national police to try and resolve the problems over access at finishes.

More mobile toilets when the mobile press tent is used.

Zone mixte: more information to be passed to the security guards at the entrances to the finish area to ensure that the media can get through to it.

Press avant-press arriere: a solution will be found. We hope.

Results: paper results for stage/GC to be delivered faster in the press room.

Shuttles: It was agreed  that rather than wait for the second last day before taking names of journalists wishing to use the shuttle in question that the lists would be open permanently, from the start of the race with registry possible online. This option would be included in the media guide.

Finishing areas: it was agreed that in future, the  team bus parking at finishes would be placed as close as possible to finishes, as usual, but where various options were available, the one closest to the press room would be taken. Also that an effort would be made to ensure that press had access to the zone mixte and the number of invités blocking the finish area would be reduced.

Conclusion: It was agreed to keep open the lines of communication between the Vuelta and AIJC for what has become a very productive working relationship.