“The dead leaves are waiting for you, on the road,” says the SMS from Ale.
Como, 08:00 and there are butterflies in our stomach, we started back at Het Volk, then there was the Primavera, the Giro, le Tour and all the rest; but this is the 103e Giro di Lombardia – special !
Coppi won here five times, Merckx, Simpson, Kelly, Gimondi; some of the greatest names – one of the five greatest single day races in the world.
The Gazzetta has Evans and Cunego as the two biggest poker players but Gilbert, Kolobnev, Visconti, Sanchez, Vinokourov, Gesink, Fuglsang and Rodriguez are also listed in the card school.
Varese 09:00, creds time and there’s former top roadman sprinter and six day man, Adriano Baffi; “Gilbert and Cunego today, I think.”
Even the signing on is beautiful for the “Classic of the falling leaves,” a lovely old villa, surrounded by parkland.
The buses start to arrive but the riders will leave it ’til late; it’s a nice morning, but too cool for posing.
There are only six BBox riders on the start sheet, but don’t put any money on them, when we popped into see Dan Fleeman last night, Tommy Voeckler and the boys were in the same hotel, on a ‘sesh’ – as we say in Scotland – I lost count after the seventh round arrived for them – Becks, then Peroni Gold.
The Lampre bus arrives and the throng gathers; there’s Cunego’s bike – Jim Morrison adorns the Garmin, hmmm !
On the subject of unusual imagery, over at Columbia, Maxine Montfort’s top tube displays a rampant hog!
There’s Vuelta and Worlds animator, Vacansoleil’s Johny Hoogerland; “today? I’ll be waiting – waiting until it explodes on the Ghisallo! Hoogerland’s picks? “Not Gilbert today; the Italians, Cunego, Visconti, Basso…”
We have to bolt pronto, to get to the Intelvi ahead of the race – how did we live without satnav?
11:30 and Lago di Como is beautiful; we’re heading north along it’s western shore to Argegno, where the race interrupts it’s progress along the beautiful lake side to rear up to the left – the Passo d’Intelvi. It’s cool up on the Intelvi, we’re not going all the way to the top, we have to leave time to get back down to the lakeside to catch the race at Menaggio, when it returns to the grey waters of Como, after its brief flirtation with Lago di Lugano, on the other side of the Passo.
There are four away; Irish champion, Roche (AG2R); long breakaway specialist Brutt (Katyusha); and in his 14th season, Marco Velo (QuickStep) plus one Vacansoleil. There’s no urgency, though – all are riding well within themselves, not surprising, with around five hours still to ride.
The bunch lines gutter to gutter, there’s a buzz of chatter; it’s ‘tranquilo.’
Dan was looking good in the field. The next time we saw him, he looked even happier..
Dan Fleeman gives us a; “hi!”
As the peloton heads for the skyline, Dave guides the Opel back to the lake side – we’re headed for Menaggio to meet them, further north. The lake road is slow, twisting, the views are stunning, but not for Dave, he has to guide us past the suicide jockeys heading south. Pez’s ‘man in Italia,’ Ale Federico can’t be at the race today, so I’m keeping him updated by SMS; he knows the parcours and race pattern so well and advises us; “Usually the max gap is reached in Menaggio, probably ten minutes.” Grazie, Ale.
13:00 Menaggio, the air is cool, as the cops quietly go about the business of shutting down the road; whilst a local blags a Lampre hat from the team car.
The break flows through, easy but quick, the Katyusha is actually Klimov – not Brutt; but we ID the Vacansoleil – Honig.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight minutes pass – and here’s the bunch, there’s no chat now, just the swish of rubber on tar and ‘clicks’ of gear changes. It’s lined out, a long, long line – with Cadel’s Belgian’s well to the fore.
It’s time for us to retrace our steps to Cadenabbia – south of Menaggio, back towards Argegno – and the ferry to Bellagio, which lies below the Madonna.
It’s impossible to pass the race now, it’s heading north along Como side all the way round the head of the Lake to the opposite bank, where it heads south to Lecco at the southern extremity, before heading north again to tackle the Madonna. The Lake is shaped like an upside down ‘Y’ with the Madonna located at the tip of the triangle within the ‘Y’.
There’s no ferry at Cabenabbia for another hour, so it’s back to Menaggio for a longer crossing.
And there’s Rita and Wolfgang, long time Pez readers and race fans; we have time for a quick chat before it’s time to sail.
Giovanni Visconti’s dad is on the ferry, in the ISD car; their race radio tells us that the gap is down to six minutes for the break; we ask if ‘Junior’ is going to win – he makes a little gesture of prayer.
14:30 Bellagio, off the ferry, onto race route and the climb starts virtually right away.
It’s tough, and the club guys grovel; not helped by the fact that many of them are being caught and passed by the dude who is wheely-ing the entire climb – it takes all sorts, I guess!
The top, the chapel, the views, the mountains, the lake – and the sun is out. The last time I was here – 2007 – the crowds were much, much bigger – I can’t explain why; the weather is good and Cunego is hot favourite. “They are in Lecco, three minutes the gap,” Ale must be watching on TV. It’s nice when the sun pops out, cool when it hides behind the clouds. “They are on the Ghisallo, Roche alone” says the SMS; ‘grazie Ale !’
The sound effects prepare us; first the church bells, the helicopter and then the roar of the crowd, creeping up the hill.
The man who was talking about explosions at the start, Hoogerland, has erupted – he’s clear on a small gear, spinning up towards the summit.
A Lampre is chasing, small, chunky – Cunego ? No, Santambrogio.
The peloton isn’t ‘full gas’ – it’s not strung out enough.
Tommy Voeckler doesn’t look as chirpy as he did with that Becks, last night.
There are groups all over the mountain and in typical Italian fashion, the exodus has started before all of the race is through.
Not only do the tail enders have to contend with the gradient and the distance, there are idiot ‘wanabees’ all round them.
By the time we get to the cafй and the TV, to pick up the thread, a group has gelled around Hoogerland – Santambrogio, Dan Martin (Garmin), Larsson (Saxo) and we think, Barredo (QuickStep).
The break drives, hard; Rabobank, Euskaltel and Acqua & Sapone power the chase; the TV hovers on Cunego – a nation holds its breath.
The Civiglio – a Rabobank rider, Langeveld, takes a hairpin too tight and goes down. Up ahead, Hoogerland drives, Martin kills himself, Larsson cracks, Santambrogio watches – and the QuickStep is Devenyns, not Barredo.
Evans! In the right hand gutter, but he fades. Then Sanchez! At the top, not many can live with him on the descent. Fuglsang bridges to the break on the drop – he’s up and coming. Sanchez is rampant on the descent, Gilbert is with him, now. An old guy at the back of the caff is shouting out the riders’ names as they appear on the TV screen; to the general annoyance of all around – but he doesn’t care. “Ballan! Ballan!” He must like the Lampre man.
‘Testa della corsa’ says the caption on the screen – Santambrogio has jumped, Fuglsang counters, the rest of the break – history. And suddenly, Vino is with the leaders, he goes straight to the front and drives.
Evans, Gilbert, Basso, Paolini chase – Cunego has a free ride.
Vino is strong, strong but behind, still Evans chases hard for Gilbert.
The break is caught on the latter part of the San Firmo, Gilbert attacks at once – the gear is huge, the power apparent. But Sammy Sanchez is watching him, he counters, he’s on – two favourites clear, this may be it.
They work together well, they have the gap at the red kite, unless they really mess around, it’s theirs. Gilbert kicks first, he drifts right as he goes, Sammy tries to match him, the Spaniard starts to make ground, but too late as Gilbert eases right again, not a switch but enough to check the Olympic champion’s progress.
Gilbert! Sabatini, Paris-Tours, Piedmont – and now, Lombardy.
How long is it ’til Het Volk ?