“My fatherland is Sulmona, rich in cool water.” The words of Ovid, the famous poet and Sulmona’s most famous son, who lived here two thousand years ago. Ovid’s statue in the square had pink balloons on, for the day – he didn’t look too impressed about that.
We’re not sure about the water, but the air was certainly cool today, a nice change from the recent furnace like heat. Stage 18 of the 2009 Giro started in Sulmona and Pez decided to record the old town’s day in pink.
Our bed and breakfast was in Corso Ovidio; named after the great man himself and our first job was to check out the Gazzetta dello Sport; Pellizotti on 9 out of 10 and Di Luca on 8.5 – we’d have given him more.
Sulmona is a town of quiet alleys and teasing glimpses of the mountains which ring the town.
And today, most things were pink.
The Giro t-shirt guys were on the streets early, but business was slow.
The shops had made the effort, with bikes and racing kit well to the fore in their windows.
Even the dogs were in the Giro mode.
And the kids.
It’s a bike kinda of town, with old 50’s ‘sit up and beg’ bikes well to the fore – even the garbage guy uses a bike, albeit has only one pedal and a couple of the PR girls looked good, on a tandem.
There was a Giro photography exhibition, which featured a Gazzetta front page from 1969 with a photo of a tearful Merckx after he was evicted from the Giro for alleged doping – I hasten to add that it was subsequently confirmed that he’d been ‘stitched up,’ and in July of that year, he rode, and won le Tour.
Down at the Giro village, there were medieval flag waving displays going on.
And dudes in chain mail with axes, cross bows and swords – it reminded us of home, on a Saturday night.
The Giro caravan isn’t as cosmo or big as the Tour one, but what it lacks in diversity and size, it more than makes up for in disco volume and pretty girls.
As signing-on time approached, nuns tried to control hyper kids – but with little success.
As the band played we headed into the village, in search of free food and drink.
There were omelettes to be had and beautiful, rough bread with olive oil poured over it. Sweet, cool Italian pilsner too – although we had to wait ’til the cops had been served before we could get our hands on that.
Yesterday, we spied ‘Mo’ Fondriest, today, it was Francesco Moser; one can’t help but think that old ‘Cecco’ misses the limelight.
Rider time: Dan Lloyd (Cervelo & GB) had a moment for us; “that eight hour Monte Petrano stage was hard but I was on a good day, I wasn’t with the gruppetto, I was with a small group that came in about ten minutes before. Yesterday wasn’t long, hard or hot enough for Carlos; we drove it for him to try and set it up, but it didn’t work out.”
Marco Pinotti (Columbia & Italy) winner of the Giro’s closing time trial in 2008, is happy with his form; “On the Monte Petrano stage, I did my work for the team then joined the gruppetto – there was no point in wasting energy. Blockhaus was short and intense, I enjoy racing like that. The podium? I think that the top ten is decided, more or less, maybe Bruseghin and Armstrong will move up, but there will be no big changes.”
Menchov looked surprisingly cool for a man around whom a tropical storm is building; the crowd’s applause was polite.
Early maglia rosa, Tomas Lovkvist (Columbia & Sweden) wasn’t happy with his front brake.
Bruz was relaxed, as ever.
Mellow Johny was hard to snap, moving everywhere at a brisk pace; but I got most of him!
Jez Hunt (Cervelo & GB) was his usual laid back (verging on horizontal) self; “Today? It’s not certain it’ll be a sprint, a break will go on that first climb and we have to make sure that we cover it. Carlos? A little disappointed, yes – he’d have liked to make the podium but it just wasn’t long or tough enough for him, yesterday.”
Ale Jet was plain cool.
Ian Stannard (ISD & GB) had his birthday on the day of the Monte Petrano stage. We wished him a belated happy birthday; “Happy birthday! It was the worst day of my life! Ben Swift said to me on the rest day that we should go to the beach and have a beer but all I wanted to do was recover! I’m glad I got through it though – it makes you stronger, doesn’t it?”
It was ‘wagons roll’ time. And Gasparotto was late.
The throng began to disperse and by the time we got back to Ovid, the balloons had gone – did I say that legend has it he was a magician, too?
Ciao, ciao – Vesuvio tomorrow!