Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Greve-in-Chianti -- Day Five

Brother-in-law Steve, wife Karen, sister Molly -- and me, doing my best George Hincapie

We ended up catching just one stage of the Giro, but it was a good one: the long time trial along the Cinque Terre, which it looks like is going to end up being this Giro's deciding stage.

The Giro's organizers clearly took some risks -- and some liberties -- in developing a route that they hoped would show Italy in all its glory. From unsafely gerrymandered laps around Milan to a stage starting on the spectacular Amalfi coast and ending at the world's most famous volcano, their emphases clearly are scenery and history, and not necessarily spectator access or cyclist's safety.

Consensus around the Cinque Terre stage, though, is that it was a success on virtually all fronts. Spectator access was indeed limited; to get there, we took the train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore and then hoofed it up about 800 steps to the finish. But cycling fans are famously willing to exert effort for fleeting glimpses of their favorite riders, and we were indeed rewarded for our exertion, with close views of the race on one side and sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean on the other. Meanwhile, over 60 kilometers of sinuous road over two major climbs proved to be the eye candy the organisers were hoping it would be, and also shook up the race's standings considerably -- though not to the satisfaction of the Italian hosts.

It was a very long day, one that began with a lack of coffee back in Greve -- we'd run out at home and then discovered that even in the birthplace of espresso, one can't rely on Starbucks-like access, 24/7 -- and a long drive to La Spezia. It was hot, and far more humid than any of us non-Mediterraneanites were accustomed to; before long we'd soaked through our decidedly touristy garb. And we stood in the sun for a good four hours before the top riders came through.

Earlier we'd walked around the cliffside village of Riomaggiore, climbed those 800 steps to catch our first views of the finishing riders, and then dropped back down to town for a bite to eat and some shade. After climbing back up to the road, we stood in a cooling wind on a bridge about 400 meters before the finish, cheering one rider after another, the first fifty of whom were clearly phoning it in; some didn't even have clip-on aero bars for this hilly, twisty course, though a number did think to put on a show for us spectators, abruptly but earnestly standing and stomping the pedals through the final stretch.

Like I said, the Cult of Pantani is alive and well.

Eager to get a sense for how the stage was unfolding, we walked towards the finish, but the crowd had swelled, and even turned just slightly snarly, as shirtless, sweaty and overweight tifosi jockeyed for space behind the barriers lining the course. We spent some neck-craning time watching second-and-third-ten riders come through, including Lance himself, and then decided to retreat to the area beyond the finish, the up-close-and-personal land of team cars and exhausted riders.

For a truely devoted cycling fan (or as I've heard it crudely put, a "chamois-suck") it was a great place to hang out. Walking amid the team vans and campers we could see bizarrely, seemingly unhealthily gaunt racers with their jerseys off and bibs pulled down, with their sharply two-toned legs and arms on display. I recognized a few riders, including Dave Zabriskie, to whom I called out, "Dave Z! How'd it go?" (He responded with a big thumbs-down.). Lance had disappeared quickly, but we followed Johan Bruyneel as he yukked it up -- likely with potential Astana replacement sponsors.

When the final racers started coming through the finishing area, things got exciting. Italian bad-guy (and crowd favorite) Danilo DiLuca had started the day in first position, 1;20 ahead of Denis Menchov, and thus would ride last. We found a TV and watched one rider after another put up fast times -- earlier David Millar had posted the day's fastest, but soon many rode faster, including Valjavec, Armstrong, and then Bruseghin and Wiggins. On TV it was clear that the podium hopefuls were taking risks, flying down sinuous descents and through unlit tunnels. Garzelli (who won the Giro in 2000) came through with the day's best ride -- but then was beaten by Leipheimer, and the crowd seemed aware that the day would not the Italians'. Soon was Menchov, besting Levi's seemingly unbeatable time by 20 seconds, and the clock began to tick. I started my watch at the moment that Menchov crossed the line, and after a couple of minutes -- the interval between starting times -- I saw DiLuca not even to the final tunnel, before the bridge where we'd stood earlier. He finally crossed the line nearly four minutes after Menchov, and thus nearly two minutes slower -- good enough for sixth on the day, but far enough behind to knock him into second place. The press and LPR team staff mobbed DiLuca at the line, and we were getting awfully hungry, so we never saw him emerge.

In all, a great day, but not the kind of cycling fan's dream-day that I've been fortunate enough to enjoy at other races. This was due, I think, to the surprisingly low level of interest in the Giro here in Italy. Far from France, where during the Tour's three weeks cycling graces the front pages of most newspapers, or back home, where the Amgen Tour of California garners more attention every year, Italy's home Grand Tour runs a distant third to football (soccer) and Formula One racing -- even while it's going on. In Riomaggiore, just 400 (mostly vertical) meters from the race itself, most tourists and shopkeepers seemed oblivious to the Giro; back in Greve and Panzano, when we'd mentioned to locals that we'd be visiting a Giro stage, they asked, "Oh, is that happening?"

But in the pits -- around the team RVs and among riders, directeurs sportives, soigneurs, mechanics and, yes, chamois-sucks -- we still found a devotion that I've not seen elsewhere.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home