The Best of PEZ 2011 – As the PEZ Crew hunkers down for the Holidays, we’re pleased to present for your viewing pleasure, what we think are some of our Best Stories of the Year. Sometimes a glance back helps clear the path ahead, and we hope you enjoy one more look as much we do. This story originally ran in March 2011.
Last week in Italy was cold and rainy. The fields are still very wet but the ancient white roads are doing their job properly. The water is well drained and the surface is very compact. No dust today. The plan is to get the creds in Gaiole, at the departure, then anticipate the race in some interesting passages. Without car credentials, it would be hard to suceed in some shortcuts.
At the departure, the weather is fine, but riders, as usual, are hidden inside motor homes while fans outside watch for them. I meet my friend Caccia and I tell him about white road conditions. Scinto, his director, tells how it was good for Farnese Vini to win in Quatar. A few meters behind there’s Damiani, Omega Pharma director telling how this race is strange and hoping Gilbert won’t puncture in a critical moment.
I leave Gaiole and I drive towards Siena to the first white road sector. I decide anyway to pass through the sixth sector, which is on the way. Better study every detail of the shortcuts I have in mind. The plan is to watch the race at least four times. Final kilometer included. The first watch is for the first sector; in fact I would like to see how the riders approach the white roads. The wind becomes strong and is coming from south, but is chilly, while I wait for the race.
The entrance to the first section of white roads.
The bunch is compact. All together. The Leopard guys are in front making the pace. There’s a bend one hundred meters before the white road and they don’t fear to keep this bend very fast, but afterwards there’s a big noise of brakes and some screams coming from the middle of the peloton.
Leopard Trek leads the way.
The race begins in earnest.
The next sector is the fourth. It’s quite hard and starts with a climb. The very interesting thing of this sector is that you can see quite well, on the other side of the valley, the race coming from sector 3. There’s a break of twelve people ahead, the info car says there’s nobody really important in, but I will recognize Stuart O’Grady.
Behind them, there are three riders in a counter attack; I recognize Caccia inside, and I scream his name. He turns the head while he passes in front of me, but is really focused in the action. The peloton is already selected and a few riders are suffering behind. Still Leopard guys to set the pace.
Caccia tries to bridge to the break.
Leopard Trek, still in control.
Once the race passed I move in the direction of Asciano. While I drive I’m distracted by the beautiful landscape. I stop a few times for a picture, because I have time: the lands create strange pictures and the autofocus of the camera loses control completely.
Waves of fields surround the roads and it’s special be here. I approach the fifth decisive sector at lunch time, but I have no time to buy even a sandwich. Monte Sante Marie is a white road climbing a couple of hills. There are no turns and the slopes are very hard. Here usually the group of the best is selected.
The sport’s best come out to play.
The break is still there: Van Avermaet and O’Grady are leading, and I think to Caccia’s words last year – “This is a race it’s better to take ahead. It’s not a surprise a long break could arrive at the end.” – behind Cancellara is making a strong move but Ballan and Evans are strongly marking him. Also Andy Schleck is with the firsts. Not a bad selection of names!
The selection is very hard and the lasts are trying to chase in clouds of dust. I’m already moving to the sector 6. It’s quite a risk, because there’s a long way and the time is not much, but at the end I arrive when roads are still open. The sixth sector is quite easy, all in descent but I love it for a hard turn at his end. It’s a perfect point to watch the bests of the world preparing the final 15 kilometres.
Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara.
Another run, and I come into Siena. Last year I was at the finish line but this time I come too late. There’s no chance to get with the car over there. Therefore I park the car at 1,5k to go and I run till the last 800 meters. When the race comes the group is selected to 10 or 15 not more. Gilbert is already making his pace and I immediately understand how it will be the final.
Philippe Gilbert in the lead – where he’d finish just moments later.
The motor homes are parked not far from my car therefore I go there to meet the riders coming back. Cancellara is very upset and also Schleck is. They worked hard all the day but they didn’t catch anything good. The Lampre director is very excited and is saying everybody that his team has made the race in the final kilometres. I think he’s very happy also because Cunego seems to be another rider compared to the one seen in the last years. I’m sure Damiano is preparing something for Sanremo.
I try to speak with my friend Caccia to understand his move at half race but he’s already inside motor home and it’s quite normal everybody is just looking for some rest after an hard race like this one.
So I keep the way to home. A call to my wife and many kilometres to drive. Starts the rain and I think we were lucky to see a wet race. Maybe a wet, muddy one could give more emotions as the Giro stage in Montalcino did. But I’m happy to be dry and full of emotions anyway.