It’s 11.30 am Avellino and we’re on our way to drive one of the most beautiful roads in the world; The Amalfi coast, by way of Positano. But no matter how well surfaced the roads, beautiful the scenery or glamorous the spectators; that fire breathing monster is waiting at the end.
Positano; home of the superior sun worshipper and with prices to match.
La Gazzetta sees it like this –
Menchov: the head: 7, the legs: 8, tactics: 10
Di Luca: the head: 10, the legs: 8, tactics: 7.5
Pellizotti: the head: 7, the legs: 8.5, tactics: 6.5
They give Menchov a 60% chance of victory; Di Luca 35% and Pellizotti 5% – we’ll know for sure in around five hours.
Before we cleared Avellino and it’s grey suburbs, we had to stop and express a bit of solidarity with some protesters – the big organisation against the little guy; we all know how that feels.
The early kilometres are uninspiring, with the trend downward, out of the hills towards the sea. It’s not too hot today, 27 degrees with a good breeze. These early roads would suit an “out of sight, out of mind” breakaway attempt.
Salerno 33 K; roundabouts, apartments, shops, garages – it’s not pretty. Past the docks, there’s a left and it begins to climb; the Valico Costapiana is a steepy but the views over the Golfo di Salerno are spectacular.
And on the descent, we’ve even got cobbles – QuickStep will be right at home.
All of a sudden, we’re there – the Costiera Amalfitana, twisting along the cliff tops.
The villages nestle in clefts in the rock whilst gorgeous villas are built straight into the cliff face, below the road.
Far below, sun worshippers cluster around tiny beaches, oblivious to team cars scurrying along the cliff tops.
Splashes of turquoise give away the setting for private swimming pools. The coastal villages, are prim, bright, not like the grey, dusty hill villages.
The parcours unwinds like a piece of string gone mad; the villages become more and more impossibly picturesque.
The rock formations tower over us, seemingly defying gravity as they over hang the road, whilst below they jut from the glorious blue water.
As we head further out on to the peninsula, we catch glimpses of the Isle of Capri.
Past Positano, there are less villages and less people as the road cuts across to the north side of the peninsula; en route to the GPM – Pico Sant’Angelo where there’s a little crowd. The descent to Sorrento is technical and gives the first sight of Vesuvio.
Sorrento is neat and tidy, with English newspapers on sale, outside the stampas. The north side of the peninsula is nice, but not as beautiful as the Amalfi.
The roads don’t twist and turn quite so much – which is no bad thing given that with all our photo stops, the gap between us and the race has shrunk.
Lunch is bread, cheese, water and fruit, on the move. Into Torre, part of greater Naples, this sure is a stage of contrasts; rough roads, apartment blocks, parked cars by the thousand.
At around 25 K to go, the cops haven’t got a grip of route security and there’s an air of panic – we reckon the race is only 30 minutes away and there’s still traffic going against race direction and locals wandering about the road. We’re glad to put that behind us and hope it’s sorted out for the race.
Street follows street; photo opportunities don’t exist – although looking at some of the faces in this crowd, Interpol might be interested. Napoli!; Just like we heard it would be! The streets are long, straight and cobbled as the kilometres count down.
We hang a right, more cobbles and we’re climbing, to the right we see the volcano, filling the side window of the Peugeot. There are good crowds here, but there’ll be slim chance of the police controlling them. More traffic chaos before we hit the climb proper; the Giro guys who check the route, 10 minutes or so before the race, will go crazy – the police just don’t seem to understand the question.
The actual climb doesn’t start too savagely, but it’s a toughie, the gradient varies, there are hairpins and at seven to go it ramps. The Bay of Naples glistens as the top of the crater broods in the sunshine.
Fans ask us for a lift – sorry! There’s the man with the horns, ‘stop the car, Dave!’
“My name is Dory Holte outta Seattle, I first saw Lance when he was winning his second Tour, I’d just received my severance pay and with the motivation Lance gave me, I was able to take the bike and conquer Norway, where my family is originally from. The horns are my mojo for Lance, they’re from a Texas long horn, I got the idea from football where they use mojos – that voodoo stuff. Football and cycling are the best two sports in the world and I’m combining elements from both. My jersey combines Texan football – it’s the best – with cycling.”
I ask if those big horns aren’t a bit dangerous? “That’s why I always keep away from other people, when I run.” Thank’s Dory, now we know!
The press room is at five K to go, dump the car and walk. It’s other worldly up here, with solidified lava flows clearly visible.
We get to around four to go when they’re on us.
Carlos! This man is surprising us; he’s on a tiny gear, revving.
Basso is with him, but slipping back and looking pained; no matter how much training he did in those two years he was ‘away’ it’s no substitute for racing – next year, Ivan.
The gap is about 40 seconds back to the heads; Simoni is just off the front with Menchov, Di Luca, Pellizotti, Armstrong all there.
Menchov looks cool, not today Danilo, not today.
Bruz is off the pace a little; Rogers is struggling as Siutsou rides tempo for him.
Cunego is toiling, maybe the tests say that he still has physical attributes to be a stage race rider, but those result sheets we get in the press room every day don’t agree.
Lovkvist is hurting – he was in pink in this race, remember?
There’s Dario Cioni in a little group.
The gruppetto isn’t a million miles away – maybe 15 minutes.
The Italians are chatting as they twiddle up the climb; Scarponi looks relaxed – he’s taking two stage winner’s trophies home, why shouldn’t he?
By the time we forced march to the press room, Carlos is home and dry, Pellizotti has snaffled the bonus for second whilst Di Luca has taken the eight seconds for third and now lies just 18 seconds behind Menchov.
With 14.4 kilometres against the clock around the Eternal City on Sunday, that’s as close as Di Luca will get to Menchov.
For Menchov it’s the press conference, for us it’s the press room wi-fi and the Napoli traffic – wish us luck!