The birds-eye shots of the Vuelta a España can be mesmerizing, even awe-inspiring, as dozens of riders weave their way through the Pyrenees and Spanish villas as part of the grueling, multi-stage cycling race. Those same shots, it turns out, can be incriminating.
Police in Spain say they seized 40 marijuana plants that were recorded by a helicopter that was tracking cyclists in the Vuelta on Saturday. The helicopter was hovering over participants as they completed the eighth stage of the race, which ran from Valls and culminated in the Catalonian town of Igualada, when the camera panned on the rooftop of an apartment, where cannabis could be seen growing in two separate plots.
The images quickly went viral online, ultimately prompting authorities to take action. A spokesperson for the Mossos, the police in Catalonia, confirmed to ESPN that the footage from the helicopter led to the confiscation of the plants.
“We received information thanks to the images that individuals posted on social media that had been taken from the helicopter of La Vuelta,” the spokesperson said. “That has helped us to seize 40 marijuana plants. No one has been arrested, but the investigation is still ongoing to find those responsible.”
Personal consumption of cannabis has been decriminalized in Spain, though cultivation remains illegal. And although law enforcement’s attitudes toward pot are relatively relaxed, recreational and medicinal use are still officially illegal. Last month, according to The Guardian, police there confiscated 22,000 marijuana plants and 281 kg of cannabis buds at a farm near Alcuéscar in the Cáceres province, representing the largest marijuana seizure in the western Spanish region.
Despite marijuana’s legal status there, Spain is home to hundreds of cannabis clubs that provide marijuana to registered members. Still, Spanish lawmakers have yet to show much interest in embracing outright legalization for recreational and medicinal use. In 2017, after the government of Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain that is home to Barcelona, legalized marijuana, the central Spanish government declared the statute unconstitutional.
Like the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España (translation: “tour of Spain”) is a premier cycling competition featuring some of the best riders in the world testing themselves in a rigorous, 21-day-long race through strenuous terrain. The Vuelta, which dates back to the 1930s, began on August 4 and will conclude in the Spanish capital of Madrid on September 15.