Our investigation took us into the darkest corners of cyclist culture, there where pedestrians and even car drivers fear to thread, into the lair of the roughest, toughest Lycra-clad two-wheeled road warriors.
This is a secretive world where few have gone and returned to tell the tale. A world of furtive rendezvouses at the side of remote country roads, of handle-bars polished and sharpened, where Redbull is consumed with abandon and where the creed of pitiless disregard for other road users is widely practised.
At first our enquiries met only with stony looks and blanket denials. A group of cyclists we approached near Burgos. They were as burly and uncivilised a bunch of two-wheeled pirates as you'll ever be unlucky enough to run into (or - more likely - to be run into by). Despite this they feigned surprise at being asked if they had ever deliberately harmed a walking pilgrim and denied point blank coldbloodedly hunting them down on lonely stretches of the Spanish Meseta.
Another group, drinking "Coke" outside a Camino bar near Najera were at first happy to talk. They openly admitting to finding pilgrims on foot a 'massive pain in the ass', but again the cult of Omertà, the deadly code of silence of the Camino cyclist, took over when we ask how many pilgrims they had 'taken down' recently. Immediately the facade of friendliness was replaced by sneering contempt, implausible denials, and even threats to report us to the police. All the time while we spoke their eyes flashed bright beneath their helmets eying up passing pilgrims like an eagle eyes its prey.
Everywhere we went and every cycling gang we spoke to denied any involvement in recent incidents where pilgrims have been waylaid by cyclist on remote stretches of the Camino.
Until... After several days of extensive investigation we finally found a group of cyclists willing to talk. Through a mutual acquaintance with Camino underworld contacts we were able to get in contact with the members of a rootless band of cycle-pirates (bicipiratas) operating out of the small Camino village of Jongla.
We met "Juan" (he would not reveal his real name) and several members of his gang near the playground on the outskirts of the village from where they had a clear view of innocent unsuspecting pilgrims peacefully passing on the Camino.
Juan, hard-eyed and cynical despite his obvious youth, claims to have 'taken down' more than a hundred pilgrims and gleefully shows off the scars he has acquired in the process, on his right arm and another one on his left knee.
Boasting joyfully of their exploits they are entirely devoid of compassion for their victims or regret for their crimes.
"We cycle out of town, taking secret paths parallel to the Camino, known only to local people and the banditos who roam the wilderness."
Juan informed us, indicating a track leading down the side of the golf-course.
"When we locate a suitable victim we silently stalk them like those lions do on wildlife programs on the television."
Juan's voice is ice cold as he continues.
"We wait until they're in a quiet spot with poor visibility before we strike."
Juan describes their modus operandi to bone-chilling guffaws of laughter from his homies.
"It's important to take them by surprise, that way they never know what happened."
He describes their technique of "approaching stealthily" on their surprisingly small bicycles.
"Afternoons are the best time, they're tired and not paying attention, plus they're more spread out along the Camino so it's easier to get one on its own, separated from the herd."
Juan's posse laughs bloodcurdlingly at this, slapping each other on the back in glee.
"If they're listening to music it's even better, then you can sneak up behind them and clip them. They don't even hear you coming! By the time they manage to pull themselves out of the dust you're already a couple of hundred metres away lost in a cloud of dust."
Juan describes leaving their victims sprawling in the dust as they peddle away screaming like cannibals. His mouth is deformed into a viscous snarl as he continues.
"We have competitions to see who can take down the most in a day!"
At this moment a mobile phone rings and one of the gang members answers. There follows a brief cryptic conversation obviously in some kind of coded gang speak which goes something like.
"We're at the playground, OK mama no problem, we won't be late for dinner, and we won't forget to get you tomatoes in the shop this time."
The tension is palpable and it's obvious that something big is going down. This reporter considers it prudent to withdraw.
As I'm leaving Juan takes me to one side and asked me for a cigarette. It's clear this isn't a simple request. When told that I didn't have one he replies.
"OK, so give me five euros instead."
In fear for my life I throw the contents of my wallet at him and beat a hasty retreat towards the village bus-stop.
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