When I approach the lobby of the Astoria in Fano beach it’s five past eight in the morning. Dave, Ed, and I are going to have a great day chasing the queen stage of the Giro. The madame at the reception recognizes me – “You’re looking for Hood!” – then she adds – “Ed Hood is very simpatico”. In that moment Ed comes down with Dave. “Hooood!” – cries the lady. Any man in this situation would ask to himself – what does he have that I don’t? – I did it, dear readers, I did it.
Pergola is located at the top of a long valley. The Marche region is in the centre of Italy looking to the Adriatic sea on the east. Westbound the Marche is closed by the Apennines. All of its valleys connect Apennines and sea. Today’s stage takes place along the Metauro valley, famous for its battles since the Roman age up until the second world war when the Gothic Line was traced exactly by this river. This is a memory the locals have of a time almost forgotten by the young generation, despite churchyards and memorials here to remind us of the events.
This valley, kissed by God, is a reservoir of hidden wonder. I have live here since my eighth year, and I’m sure I didn’t see most of them. At any corner, at any country roads, hidden by big oaks there are chapels and old “trattoria”. Here the people are divided by sacred and profane. The Romagna and its sinful folk are far off, but the same is for the Pope and Roma.
Yes, Roma is far, and this evening it’s so clear after a stage that didn’t clarify who, between Di Luca and Menchov is stronger. Roma is still far and the sun is now getting lower and lower touching the mountains that the Giro has climbed for the whole day. Nerone, Catria and Petrano. But not only. Many small but steep climbs and dangerous descents that Ed is going to describe to you in his report. I left Ed and Dave in Pergola, at the departure village. The riders were late and I was worried that I would be stopped by the traffic, so I went on the top of the first of these hills located just at the beginning. A way to say “good morning” to the bunch in the early going.
The big oaks were watching the gorgeous grain fields on the top of the hill. The group was moving fast while Scarponi was looking to the good break. A few minutes before Ed and Dave passed with their car. “Ciao, see you later” – since that moment we’ve been in touch at any half hour to update position and race knowledge. The race took the sea direction (without touching it) and I stop in Fossombrone waiting for it on the Cesane climb. That is a very steep road which was climbed already in 2006. Too far from the finish for an attack, but still you’ve to climb it!
While I’m walking to find a good place Ed and Dave pass by again. I feel wet, no, I feel like a sponge, and Ed highlights this – “34°C out Ale” – out means on the road where I’m walking…. It’s mid day and the people are coming out of the offices for lunch but, today there will be some delay – “hey Maria, I’m late, wait for the spaghetti” – “I’m late too, dear Giuseppe, we will have just a sandwich today”. They’re both at the Giro of course!
So the Giro comes and the break of Scarponi has built more than six minutes on the bunch. No big reaction by the Rabobank, which is conserving some energy; the day is still long. Now it’s the time of Monte Nerone. It’s the highest mountain in this area and has got three different roads to the top. The Cerreto side, climbed today is quite difficult but becomes especially hell-like, because there is no shade.
I planned to ride over there four or five kilometres. From the bottom I can see Cerreto village and the top. I would like to change plans, but… I proceed. There are many turns over there, I believe more than 24 but not many in the first part. I proceed, suffering, but keeping the speed under control, as I have planned two more climbs. It’s a small stage for me at least, but I can’t lose my few energies in one shot. I have no hurry, as the race is still far away. Ed must overtake me again before it comes!
I climb slowly, never above 9 km/h but with a nice frequency with my 36×29. I save my legs, but I’m sweating like a fountain. I would like to sit in a bar with an enormous iced beer in my hand. I can feel the taste, and while I’m getting higher and higher on the valley I think to Pez: Where is he now? And why was I thinking about him? Probably because I imagine him in the bar with a beer in his hand. This means I’m tired, and I stop. I’m quite far above Cerreto and I lay down beside the road. There’s nobody. It’s again one of my favourite moments. The race is coming, I’m laying on the Giro road and everything is perfect.
Here comes Ed. But this time I don’t see a car. I see a big glass of cold water coming to me. I forgot the water down in the car, and I’m sure when I return I will find just… steam. I take a couple of pictures, get an update and…the question “ do you have some water with you?” – Ed tries to find some, looks inside the luggage van – No there’s not. “It’s alright, I’m not really thirsty.”
Ed and Dave proceed and I stay. But the race is coming. I see the helicopter in front of me. Break, group. The road is selecting kilometre after kilometre. I descend and I proceed to the next climb. But, surprise of surprises I find the water! Better than the bar. A fountain with never ending cold water.
The risk is to get some stomach pain and I try to control myself with small sips. Ready for next climb. It’s the Moria climb. A small hill before the Catria. Small but still four kilometres. It is too much. I stop at the first one.
This time I don’t see Ed and Dave (where were they?) but I see a great race passage. Scarponi attacks with Cunego and the people go crazy for the Prince. Again descent and ready for the final climb. Monte Petrano. I hate this climb. Very difficult at the beginning then it becomes easier, but you’re already tired!
I proceed slowly as I have no more strength. But luckily the road is sometimes sheltered by big fresh oaks. This time I meet Ed and Dave while they’re driving to the finish. Dave drove for over two hundred kilometres before the race maintaining the same gap from her. How he did it? The race this time is a total satisfaction. There’s no group anymore. Just rider by rider. Suffering. Fighting. Any kind of show you can expect by great cycling.
It’s evening now. I ate. I drank (a lot). And I’m sitting in my house beside my wife waiting for me to finish this story. Yes, it’s just a story, but I still feel the call of the cuckoo repeating itself to the endless one on the road of the Nerone. I feel there, laying beside the Giro road, waiting for my favourite race, that I have dreamt of the whole year. I feel there and I don’t remember about the thirst. I remember just that I was happy.
My Giro finishes here. I will miss the moments I use to write to you all.