First things first, when it comes to following the race, you gotta get in front of the race. That was the law set down by Mr. Pez and PEZ-man in Italy, Alessandro. I left a solid 30 minutes before the race started, but spent a solid 20 of those driving in circles through the cluster of twisty roads known as Varese, and then out of nowhere I pop onto the road to Como and I’m right in the middle of the caravan of mad dashing to get to Como – team cars, press cars, you name it – they were all driving not one mph south of insane.
Traffic all backed up on both sides? Don’t worry about it – we go right up the middle. Cars not moving quick enough througn a traffic cirle? Pass em on the inside and top it off with a few honks. And so it went for about 30 minutes to get to Como. Walkers crossing the road? Don’t even think about putting a toe on that crosswalk, it’ll be your last move, pedestrian.
Then the real fun started as we arrived to the lake hugging road that would be the site for much of the days kilometers. Now, the rally action was confined to narrow, winding streets and impossibly gorgeous views – so of course we went faster.
It was pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had in a car. Hands down.
And then it was time to check out the bike race, because there was a bike race going on. I had a brilliant idea (I have very few of these) on the drive down to Como on Thursday – what about doing a combo drive/ride to cover the race better? I could drive to a certain spot on the course, park, pull out my bike, hop on, and head to a good viewing point that would not otherwise be possible. It sounded good in my head, and for once, it actually was good.
My Seigler ALR waiting for the ferry the day before.
The Race Passes, Part I
I headed up the first climb of the day to Intelvi from the gorgeous lakeside town of Argegno. I chatted with some guys riding up and told them what I was doing and everyone looked askance at my little camera – and then I heard my first jeer: campione fotograf! I’d hear it again later.
The numerous switchbacks allowed for a lot of viewing time as the race moved slowly up the climb.
Giovanni Visconti’s fan club was in attendance – perhaps their cheering helped the young Italian to 4th on the day. Or maybe it was the fact that Paolo Bettini has taken him under his wing for the past few seasons. Probably the former.
The early break rolls on by…
The field passes almost ten minutes later with Silence firmly entrenched at the front of affairs.
After the field passed, I jumped on my bike, descended a couple kilometers and got in the car to meet the race again in Menaggio. This drive was less fun, as it was open to normal traffic and was godawful slow considering the rally speeds I had been spoiled with just a little while ago.
The Race Passes, Part II
I parked a little ways down from the race and once more started climbing – this time I’d see the race descending down to Lago di Como. I started looking around for my picture-takin’ spot and once again I heard that irritating – campione fotografo! I’d show them. I can take good pictures. I can.
And then a photographer from L’Equipe showed up and took up residence next to me. I scowled over at him with upturned lip. He scowled back and took to conversating with his motorbike driver – probably malicious things about me. Or maybe they were just discussing where to shoot the field descending. Probably the former.
This family gave me some food. They are my friends.
The race was soon upon us and we began clicking away feverishly. I won the contest because my picture of the break descending was clearly superior to anything that he shot.
Once again, the field followed about 10 minutes in arrears of the popular breakaway which contained two apparent Italian faves: Gasporotto and Paolini.
I had given up shooting halfway through the immense field, wasted from the effort of taking on a pro photographer when I heard the frenzied cries of Dai Ballan Dai! Apparently that means GO! in Italian, so I looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of the World Champ…
After the thrill of another passing of the race, it was back to my two-wheeled steed and down the mountain. For some reason I got lots of cheers as I rode by. Maybe they thought I was Bettini in disguise.
I even got a sweet souvenir on this descent. The final car in the race caravan is responsible for taking down all of the directional markers set out earlier in the week.
As the guy was snipping off the marker I held out my hand, said per favore, and voila into my hand the sign went and I’m looking at it on my wall as I write this right now.
To The Ferry!
After the second passing of the race, a transfer to the opposite side of the lake was in order, as the race was now headed north and around the top end of the lake to the other side and the oft-used term: business end of the race. I headed to the ferry in Cantabbia and met a PEZ-favorite, Velo Classic Tours’ Peter Easton. We chatted for awhile, and then got on to the ferry, but not before I saw the famous Carerra kit.
I took a moment to eat a couple of rolls as we crossed the lake and enjoyed the spectacular views.
I’m not much of a spectacular view…
…but Bellagio sure is.
Upward To The Madonna Del Ghisallo
I had a ton of time on my hands at this point, and not more than 10k away was the chapel of chapels and a great museum, so I figured a trip to the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo would be a nice way to spend the early afternoon. There was plenty of parking at the top and plenty of picnics, vino, and bikes.
The view inside never gets old…and I never miss a chance to take a peek.
The cycling museum adjacent the chapel is great, but the one thing that interests me the most: what is that hanging out of his mouth?
Back To Business, Or, The Race Passes, Part III
I drove back down, past what must have been thousands of eager fans, just waiting to scream and run next to their favorite rider (everyone has a favorite it seems), and parked at the base of the climb, so I could skedaddle on back to Como after the race passed.
I jumped back on the velocipede and headed back up the climb. I only got a few kilometers up before the race was nipping at my heels, but I had made it just far enough: the 14% sign…the steepest part of the climb.
Silence had given way to Lampre, and Lampre had their big hands around the collective throat of the peloton.
…which was still surprisingly big. That wouldn’t last too long though.
Riders in the caravan weren’t getting much drafting help through the super steep section.
Behind, the misery of a tough day was apparent. Riders rolled by in ones, twos, and threes, faces drawn, ready to get back to the team car, some food, and a shower.
What’s the quickest way home?
On your own of course! These two dropped riders took the road from Bellagio to Como to finish off their day and season.
Como: The Race Passes One Last Time
I was back in Como after a slow, anxious 30k, and ready to cap off a perfect day of race pursuit. I jumped on my bike again and headed off in the direction of the Civiglio – I wanted to get some shots of the insane descent, but then…
Pssssssst, thud thud thud.
Ah hell. I got off, fixed it, got back up to speed, PSSSSSST, thud thud thud. Flat again.
Methinks the gods are telling me something: no more biking for you, son. So I took their advice, didn’t ride the flat up the climb, and took up residence in front of the big screen next to the finish.
I got there just in time to see Chris Horner light a big ol stick of dynamite and stick it hard to what was left of the field. In the process of ripping and shredding and trying to win, Horner wrested away the winning move, which had a certain Cunego in it.
Unfortunately for everyone but Cunego, the winning move was to number just one and Cunego left them behind on the frightening descent of the Civiglio – much to the great happiness of the guy standing next to me.
Dai Cunego Dai!
A few minutes later, after trying to find a spot to see the finish from (I forgot that I was a photographer and could have simply walked into the finishing area), Cunego roared through to win #3 in Como and all I saw was a small fleck from the top of his helmet.
The fun was just getting started at this point, but we’ll save that for installment #2 – we’ll take a closer look at the pre and post-race festivities surrounding the Giro Di Lombardia.
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