The US servicemen used to call it the ‘wedding cake,’ but its correct name is the Vittorio Emanuele Monument; and it was under its huge shadow that the final chrono of the 2009 Giro started.
Pez had a look down the start ramp and made sure that the UCI guys were setting the ‘permitted dimensions’ jig up properly – all the time trial bikes are checked on this.
If you could handle the queue, there was pasta on offer. We passed on that, we’ve got sites to show you.
Not far off the ‘corsa’ is the Trevi fountain,(*006) beautiful, overrun with tourists and tat, but unmissable on any trip around Rome.
Coffee was called for and a look at the race manual to make sure we were on track.
The parcours were 95% cobbled and by no means flat; Ian Stannard told us he was doing 73 kph through the tunnel.
Anonymous in his Rabobank strip, Denis warmed up on the course – four hours before he was due to start.
Tourists munched over-priced pasta as Rabobank tested the course.
Some riders were on tt bikes, some on road bikes; Cervelo pedalled by at the top of the Spanish Steps.
The Steps are one of Rome’s most famous tourist attractions, leading down to Via Condotti and its expensive shops.
We picked up the corsa again, shook our heads at the poor race security and walked over to Piazza Navona, the City’s most famous square.
Not far away is the famous Pantheon, almost untouched since Roman days.
The early starters were rattling over the cobbles as ISD’s Visconti whizzed by on his second recce lap – he’s serious today.
Dave Zee was on his road bike, without even clip ons, as we left the corsa again to photograph the ancient Roman bridge – Ponte Fabricio.
Back on the cobbles, ‘The Killer’ hammered by on his second familiarisation lap – nothing left to chance.
The rain came down hard and we headed for a bar to shelter – the cobbles were slick under our shoes, never mind narrow tubulars at race pressure.
Pez friend, Rubens Bertogliati had the worst of the rain but the cobbles dried quickly in the warm wind.
We stretched our beers ’til Phil Deignan pedalled past – we didn’t know it at the time, but he hit the deck twice, to go with his Blockhaus tar surfing adventure.
The wind was picking up as dust clouds scurried along the cobbled straights – in between the showers, that is.
By the time we reached the Colosseum, the big guns were firing and were enjoying a tail wind.
Lance was just going through the motions, Arroyo was up on him as was Valjavec.
Lance will be happy with his Giro, no point in going too deep today.
Bruz was ‘full gas’ and headed for 5th on the stage and. 10th on GC – fastest of the GC riders on the day.
Garzelli looked very smooth and focused; on a good one for a non tester – 9th on the stage and 7th on GC.
The rain was falling again as Levi rode past for 27th place, but not the same Levi who looked like a cruise missile in the 2007 Tour; 6th on GC for the Astana man.
Basso, smooth on the way to a top 20 on the stage and 5th on GC – maybe next year, Ivan.
Sastre next, he was never going to jump over Pellizotti into third, but he nearly lost fourth to Basso with his very ordinary 65th placed ride – with two stage wins himself and four for the team, he wouldn’t have been too bothered. His DS would have advised him not to take any chances on those wet cobbles.
Pello put in a ride on a par with Basso’s to stay third; 16th on the stage, at 40 seconds.
Then it was time for the big battle; Di Luca gave his all, but he’s no ‘tester’ – too small and busy on the bike. The time was there with Basso and Pello’s – 17th at 45 seconds.
We didn’t have long to wait on the final result of the 2009 Giro – Menchov was 20 seconds up on The Killer; in a huge gear, elbows wide to get the air into his lungs, the team car just inches from his back wheel.
The dream was over.
And what we didn’t know, until we saw the big screen near the finish, was that the Russian had been on the tarmac.
On the long straight, leading into the finishing curve around the Colosseum, his Giant’s front wheel had slid out from below him; looking like some alien ballet dancer, Menchov chased his still sliding bike along the road. He reached his matt black space craft just as the mechanic arrived with a new bike. The bike he’d picked up was thrown aside and he hopped on to the spare – it looked as if the mechanic was going to have to push him the whole last 900 metres as he struggled to regain his composure and get clipped in.
We could have left it at that; the Giro was won.
But no, we headed down into the human tide flowing to down to pay homage to the Gods of Rosa.
With elbows in our ribs and body odours in our nostrils, we fought through to the compound where the riders awaited their laps of honour.
Pello’s hair still looked great.
Denis hugged his men.
Di Luca was stoic and even directed the choir; “Di-Loo-ka ! Di-Loo-ka !”
Carlos was laid back.
Phil Deignan had a dinner with Cervelo to attend, Ignatas Konovalovas – a very under rated rider, says Phil – winning this chrono made it four stage wins for the Swiss/Canadian squad – it should be a good night!
Ian Stannard (ISD) was hooking up with Ben Swift; “for a few beers” and was “spending all day tomorrow on the beach!”
The riders headed off, and that really was the end.
We tried our best to bring you here with us, we hope you enjoyed it.