The Gazzetta favours home boys Scarponi, Visconti, Ballan and Pozzato – but for us it’s hard to go past Gilbert.
09.00: Down town Milano, in the shadow of the famous Pirelli Tower. Curved glass sweeps around the start area in the Via Luigi Galvani and the hi-tech towers reach for the sky.
The Nibali fans are out in force but we’re too early for the team buses – breakfast time.
09.30: The buses arrive; the buzz is good, but not as intense as at the Primavera – it’s been a long season and F des J can only muster six riders out of a possible eight.
Famous names flash past, looking tense, Barredo, Wegmann, Pippo.
Others are more chilled, Oscar and Alessandro laugh whilst Kolobnev has time for those cute Italian girls.
The trend that Eddy Merckx started way back in the 70’s when he rode shiny white cloth handlebar tape whilst his team mates rode dull blue, continues with team leaders having their bikes that bit different – Nibali’s Cannondale sports a shark grey colour scheme whilst ISD leader Visconti eschews the fluo yellow on his Cipollini and goes for the ‘stealth’ look.
10.00: The start time draws near; favourites Martin and Gilbert try to get to the sign on without getting accosted for autographs – but there’s slim chance of that for world champ Thor Hushovd; his rainbow jersey sparkles like a scene from a washing powder commercial and draws fans like moths to a flame.
But good to note that Cervelo haven’t gone too OTT with the rainbow graphics.
Pozzovivo gives a late interview, looking all of 12 years-old.
We gotta go!
But there’s time to say ‘hello’ to Ernesto Colnago and big Adam Hansen, who’ll be one of ‘Greipel’s gang’ at Lotto for 2011.
And there’s always time to snap Marco Velo; if the break is still at two minutes with 15 K to go and you need it brought back – he’s your man.
12.00: Como, the traffic is grim and we miss getting on to the lake road before them – damn ! no Intelvi for us. Dave hustles the VW up the top lake road to try and head them off at the pass – but in vain.
Plan B – up the descent into Menaggio against race route. The race security is poor and we get to the top and Bar Emily.
It’s cool and damp now and we don’t have to wait too long for the race.
Six are away; an HTC, a Lampre, a Sky, a Cofidis and two ISDs – Visconti must be serious.
The ISD team car must have been unable to get past the bunch to get up the two fugitives; but now it hurtles past, it’s skinny tyres slicing across the rain soaked tar – we just hope he makes it down the descent alive.
It’s six minutes before the peloton appears, lined out in the rain – if Visconti is serious, so is Gilbert.
A lone BMC leads but with no less than six Lottos on his wheel.
Riders wrestle with rain capes as Brad Wiggins looks singularly unimpressed with the gig.
But Cadel looks attentive with wingman Santambrogio tucked neatly on the boss’s wheel.
Dario Cioni is a little off the back and so is Adam Hansen; they look equally miserable.
Ferry time for PEZ – whilst the race loops around the eastern leg of Lago di Como we take to the water to Bellagio on the point of the peninsula atop which sits the legendary Madonna del Ghisallo.
The weather is grim – cold and wet with low cloud and mist restricting visibility as we twist up through the trees towards the holy place.
The organisers may be right that the Ghisallo is now too far from the finish to be as influential as it once was but it’s still a hard climb.
15.30: The top of the Ghisallo, it’s cold, raining, the crowd is sparse and the race is behind schedule. Old fat guys get big cheers as they hobble up the climb – the rain cold and lack of a race is getting to everyone.
16.15: Tour of Britain winner Albasini fights the gradient, gets the applause and is gone.
Next up is local boy Caccia, he’s from Bergamo – and the crowd approves.
Gusev next, he’s as hard as nails.
Visconti had fled the bunch, we think it’s too far out but champions don’t follow, they lead.
The peloton is well depleted and quality guys like Bazayev, Dumoulin, Mori and Kashechkin have all been emptied – the distance, rain, gradient and time of year all to blame.
Little groups grovel by, well down – as are Pippo and Ballan.
‘Cadel’ says the poster – but not today.
Gilbert’s loyal lieutenant Christophe Brandt rides past, job done, for the final time in his career.
Time to take shelter from the storm; cappuccino, grappa – and a TV.
We get there with 49 K to go, Horner, Visconti and Mollema all show – but this is a race that only the best of the best can hope to win.
Nibali crashes – no one waits.
Gilbert and Scarponi are the stars but Gilbert isn’t ‘Super favourite’ for nothing.
Manager Savio screams at Scarponi from the car but over the last few metres of the San Fermo the Belgian is too strong.
Another year passes…Bartali and Coppi stand silent sentry in front of the Chapel.
Inside the last two K and Gilbert points to the #1 frame number on his Canyon – for sure, Phil
Scarponi is second, Lastras is third, Fuglsang fourth, and a disappointed Nibali fifth – maybe next year, Vincenzo.
Outside the cafe the rain pours; we wander over for a last look at the chapel and to say ‘ciao’ to Fausto and Gino – the Ghisallo is quiet, the legend goes on.