PEZ SEZ: For those of us stuck in the office – tuning in via cubicle – what follows is enough evidence to a)- be extremely jealous of Ed Hood, and/or b) get to the Giro asap. I’ll be doing the later next week – and I encourage you to do the same.
AC/DC wasn’t wrong: it IS a long way to the top.
We left the permanence around 1.00 pm to drive to the top – no-dice; the road was closed to all traffic except velos (of course).
Plan ‘B’ – the funicolare (funicular railway); three euros and ten rib-digging and toe-crushing minutes later we’re at the top.
It’s not warm up there and still three hours to go. The crowd isn’t huge, which isn’t surprising, given that there is nowhere to park a car; so it’s walk, cycle or funicolare.
However, the beer and wine is flowing and the banter is good. You can fill the time with eating – your own picnic, or use your creds to get into the Giro hospitality.
Apart from eating and drinking, you can play cards, sleep, listen to the race on the transistor; buy a Gazzetta or shout derogatory remarks at the cycle sportifs on their expensive bikes grovelling towards the next hairpin.
As the mist sweeps-in the crowd resort to ever-more desperate measures to keep warm – there are plenty of hats made from the Gazzetta and the famous pink paper is even used for leg-warmers.
There’s the smell of wood smoke too, as fires are started. But when the Weber banners on the crowd control barriers start to disappear for use as body-wraps a posee isn’t long in arriving down from the finish line.
Back in the hospitality tent we catch-sight of the monitors; there’s around an hour to the finish and Krivtsov (CA), Brutt (Tinkoff) and Aranbura (Euskaltel) have six minutes plus.
The TV switches between the break and Bettini chasing-back from a crash, the little world champion has most of the QuickStep squad back to help. As for the break, this is Brutt’s second big escape – he was away all-day on stage two – Tinkoff are desperate for a stage win and my guess is there will be handsome bonuses on offer from old Oleg.
Mr. Tinkoff himself: one of the few team owners to don team kit (ie: fit into) and cheer on his troops.
Meanwhile, the funicalore is slowly but surely building a much better crowd and atmosphere. The threat of rain seems to be fading and the TV is battling with a pumping PA – the 90’s disco is winning though. The Skoda girls have been round, and there are hats bearing the once-derided car manufacturer’s name, everywhere. Skoda are owned by VW now, but back in the bad old East European days they weren’t the most reliable. Question: What do you call a Skoda with a sun roof? Answer: A dumpster!
The crowd-control is much tighter now as the break aproach the last 30 K; Saunier are active at the head of the peloton – Simoni? Piepoli? Ricco? The central heating team certainly have no shortage of options for raising the temperature (sorry!)
A maniac wearing a sombrero and Italian tri-colore appears, tottin’ cymbals, which he bangs at every opportunity; “Olay!”
That rain I said was disappearing has started, so the hospitality tent, at 25 metres to go isn’t a bad place to be right now.
The crowd around the monitors groan as the screen shows Merckx, Joachim and a couple of others tasting the tar.
Space around the TV is at a premium now as the tension mounts; it’s Liquigas, particularly Charly Wegelius at the front and it’s for Di Luca because that look on maglia rosa, Gasparotto’s face doesn’t say: “comfortable” to me.
There’s a steady drizzle now, probably very welcome if you are fighting a bike up those hairpins and the sweat is pumping out of you.
Panaria’s Mexican ‘hair gel king’, Perez has bridged to the break – in the big ring – but that doesn’t cut much ice around here; we need Azzuri at the front.
The crowd behind the fence is silent, hanging on the speakers words.
Perez is alone in the lead now, this is bad, but the little guy is impressive – still in the big ring. There’s still a large group behind him and a bunch sprint isn’t impossible; it won’t be Bettini – he’s blown.
Piepoli leads the chase to raise home spirits and the cymbals guy is trying his best to help; “olay!”
The finale; abandon the TV, see it for real! It’s compatto; Perez has gone and it’s a sprint! Di Luca! This finish was made for him, he punches the air, Charly Wegelius does the same in a little group just behind; all that work wasn’t for nothing.
Everybody is happy, a home win: those Mexicans are OK for gallant failed victory bids. The time gaps between the front groups are big but not huge as the police and officials battle to keep hyper fans from jumping the barriers. Riders are on their way-back down already, the ‘old pros’ like Wegelius wrapped-up for winter, the younger guys just stick on a gillet, bare arms and legs for the long freewheel down.
A thief grabs Petacchi’s hat from his head, but Ale Jet has reflexes to match his sprint, he grabs it back and whacks the miscreant over the head for his cheek. Motor bikes try to clear the hill with horns blasting a single, deafening note. Scrambles for hats and bottles thrown by riders are just this side of violent. Meanwhile the Giro Show kicks-off in an open-sided truck just pass the finish; doesn’t Di Luca look good in pink?
For us it’s a battle to board the funicolare as a whole mountain top’s worth of people try to board two little carriages. It’s just part of the gig; we even did an interview with 1988 world pro road champion, Maurizio Fondriest while we all waited for the train – but that’s another story.