Monte della Serra isn’t classified, but it’s six kilometres to the top; maybe they’ll have a ‘truce?’ Or maybe not, there are a lot of teams here with worried DS’s – no stage wins, no jerseys, not even TV time – “just do something guys, anything!” The descent is tricky, open bends which tighten, hairpins, ramps to 16% – a good descender could make whoopy down here. Into the valley and the road drops, well surfaced with open, sweeping curves with the countryside rolling soft and green.
The riders were late at the signing-on today; waiting late in the buses before venturing out into the heat. We managed a quick chat with stage 14 break hero, Rubens Bertogliati; “the legs were a little sore, yesterday. Today? it will be a hard stage, especially with this heat.”
We’re 25 K into the stage at the top of the sharp snap into Sant’Ippolito and Ale sends us an SMS from the first climb, “They are moving fast. Trying the break” – no truce then. Barci at elevation 319 metres and the hog is roasting nicely, I don’t think any of the riders will stop for a slice though – it’s a pig of a climb (sorry!)
There’s not a breath of wind, and the air is heavy as the road rolls, twists and turns, offering no ‘easy bits’ for tired legs. Orciano Pesaro, 37 K and the local builders have taken the day off, painted the hydraulic arm pink and are having a picnic – good idea, guys.
There’s no flat, snap follows drag, then technical little descent and it’s time to chase the skyline again. Ale is in touch again; “20 ahead and Quick Step working in the bunch.” We stop for a ‘comfort break’ and jump out of our little air conditioned bubble; jeez it’s hot – 36 degrees and airless.
The first GPM of the day, Monte delle Cesane, seven kilometres – Ale is up there already. And, talk of the Devil, there he is, wilting a little in the heat – he tells us that Scarponi was on the attack from the start – it’s going to be a hard day. Ale continues; “For me, today is the Queen Stage, the race may be decided, today.”
We leave Ale and climb; Dave has to take the Peugeot down to first gear on the hairpins – it’s that steep. There are false flats, just to wreck your rhythm and then it kicks again, narrower, through the trees, badly surfaced and steep.
The gradient eases at the top and the crowd is sparse; the descent starts immediately, technical but not too steep. With the pine trees, it reminds us of Glen Tarkie in Scotland; we get home sick – for three seconds, until we remember the wind and rain, back there.
Another SMS from Ale; “Also Cunego in the break. They passed me” – the Little Prince is 15th at 9:43; he’s not going to retrieve that, but a stage win would go a long way to salvaging his Giro.
The descent is long, long, long becoming ever more dangerous as it drops to the valley floor – Sean Yates and Phil Anderson would have liked this one. Ale let’s us know that the break is six minutes clear and Rabobank are riding tempo at the front of the bunch.
It’s much less hilly now – for the first time today – and there’s the feed, at Acqualagna as the car computer says 37 degrees but there’s a breeze now, that helps. It’s time to quit the valley floor as we hang a left on to the unclassified Rocca Leonella; steep, twisting but not too long. The descent is long, dangerous – hair pinned, narrow but thankfully, well surfaced – blow outs could be a worry on this one, roasting tar, combined with constant braking makes for very hot tyres.
Monte Nerone, 13 kilometres and even the breeze is hot here, 37 degrees and the glare of the chippings on the road is blinding. They’ve taken a leaf out of l’Alpe D’Huez book and each hairpin is dedicated to a rider; Guerra, Koblet, Nencini – and there’s our Ale; on the bike this time, that dude is keen.
Maybe they’ll dedicate a hairpin to him?
Adorni, Motta, Battaglin, Bugno and the views get ever more spectacular – despite the altitude, It’s still 34 degrees.
Pantani, Girardengo, Indurain, Brunero, Gimondi…Gimondi – nine times on the Giro podium; three wins, two seconds and four thirds. Hinault, Bartali, Binda, Merckx; we miss the Coppi one among the throng.
At the GPM line there’s a memorial to today’s stage of this historic 100th Giro; the views remind me of the Angliru.
Ale updates us; the escape is 13 strong, they have seven minutes on a bunch which is down to 30, with Rabobank riding tempo. Time to descend, but this one is well engineered and fast.
A little time in the valley and the road kicks right onto Moria, short, steep and horrible. Catiano, the TV sprint – the break will just ride through it – cobbles, narrow roads.
The third GPM is just along the road, Monte Catria, all 11 kilometres of it. It’s not as savage as Nerone and the surface is good but it ramps up as the top gets closer – just what tired legs need. Ale is in touch; “Scarponi and Cunego attack at Moria,” with two major climbs to come – if that comes off, we’ve got an epic on our hands.
It’s hectic at the top, big crowds, police, race officials – we have to worry about the time now; leave it too late and we won’t get up the finish climb to Monte Petrano. The descent is dirty, lots of gravel and no crash barriers – straight into the trees, if you lose it.
As the descent goes on, the surface gets better, but the bends get tighter and tighter and there’s no straight – just bends. Cagli, the last climb, the 10 K banner and the black ribbon of tar slices across the hillside. Club cyclists pretend it’s the finale and there’s nine to go; eight and the fans use the shadows to shelter from that burning sun – 34 degrees. Seven K no respite – and there’s Ale on his Viner again – wow!
Six K, it’s cooler in the trees; five K and we exit the tree line; the valley floor is a patchwork as above us the road zig zags across the hill. It’s windy now, they’ll get tailwind then headwind, depending on whether they’re zigging or zagging. Four K, three K and the crowds are thick here because you can see down off the bends; two K and the gradient hasn’t eased at all.
Red kite, big crowds as it levels off a little at 400 to go; 75 and we’re run off to the right. We’re fans now, just like everyone else; we pick our spot at the barriers.
The PA blasts the information, some we can make out, some we can’t; before we know it, Carlos Sastre is upon us – what a ride!
The gap is around half-a-minute to Di Luca, Menchov and Basso.
Di Luca jumps, but Menchov’s counter is much stronger. (pic)
Garzelli has given his all, as usual.
Lance drags Levi past.
Cunego gets big applause, the hero of the day.
The first finishers are on their way down the hill, to the buses – Lance is bored and yawns.
There’s Scarponi, another hero, he gets big respect – his face is weary and disappointed.
He has every right to be, that was 7:25 he spent in the saddle today, for 34th place, 13 minutes of the pace. Rest day tomorrow – he’s earned it.
And who’ll win on GC? Menchov looks solid to us.