With the race stopping yesterday half way up a climb, in San Martino di Castrozza, going the rest of the way up to the Passo Rolle was always going to be a nasty way to start stage 5. While tucking into my “one meal to get me through the whole day” style breakfast, I sat and watched some of the team trucks slowly make their way up the first hairpins out of San Martino and a whole heap of cyclist doing the same. I decided that with only (hey, I had a car remember) 7km up to the top and plenty of hours before the 1.30pm roll out, I was going to head up and see what the boys had in store.
Nope, not a left over holiday snap from my ski trip in February, this is the view back down the road from the top of the fist KOM.
The climb up out of San Martino is not exactly legendary Zoncolan style stuff with 22%gradients, but it would be a tough little pull to start the day, before nearly 25km of descending down to Ziano di Fiemme, followed a short time later by another 20k drop down to Ora. All in all, a loss of 1700 vertical metres over 50km. But first, comes the climb.
After pulling over to let one of the Astana cars pass us by, we snapped a quick pic in the snow at the side of the road, not knowing just how much there would be further up.
Snow, you call that snow?
Talking about the climb later in the start village, Steve Smith from clothing company Castelli, who lives in Bassano del Grappa, informed me that over the winter there had been around 6m of snow covering the Passo Rollo. I guess we should be thankful it’s a hot spring day then.
Before losing sight of our host town from the night before, we stopped again near some Marzio Bruseghin fans to have a look back down the hill.
You can just make out San Martino in the right of the shot, about half way up.
Up on top, the Guardia di Finanzia (basically the tax police) were doing some drills with their helicopter, lowering someone down and then up, just off to the side of the road. I’m not sure what having your own helicopter has to do with tax, but just make sure if you ever come skiing here, you keep your receipts for your hot chocolate. The wump wump wump of the helicopter may just be them coming to check up on you.
”There! That one. He got a discount for paying cash…”
One advantage of having the chopper buzzing about, is that it momentarily deadened the noise that every Giro follower will come to know and dread. The pre-recorded loop of a high pitched woman’s voice encouraging us to part with “dieci euro” for a Giro goody bag. These white vans head out on the course ahead of the race in a convoy that leapfrogs each other, selling to fans on the side of the road.
Snow is no obstacle to these hard core sellers.
Thinking back now, when I parted with my Ђ10 euro for a hat, bag, t-shirt and some magnets for my daughter, they didn’t give me a receipt. Maybe the Guardia di Financia were planning a raid after all.
After a quick “HI” to a couple of Aussies from Victoria, who are following the Giro in a campervan, it was time to go against the flow of team trucks, and head back down to the village for a look about.
Back in 1909 when Luigi Ganna won the inaugural Giro d’Italia over a distance of 2447.9km, the first of the race’s eight stages was held on May 13. That meant that today was the Giro’s 100th birthday and what better way to celebrate than with a cake.
10 minutes after this shot was taken, the uneaten cake was still sitting alone in the same spot. Thanks to the nice gold trophy off to the right, however, it was being well guarded1
One of the most interesting guys to chat to in the start finish is Franco Ballerini and over the first five stages of the race, I’ve done that a couple of times.
The thing about Ballerini is that as well as being an ex-cyclist with a pretty solid pedigree, he is still involved in the sport on a very regular basis with his job as National Team coach. Also, because he is not being paid by any one team to do PR or consulting, it’s possible to ask him about all of the riders in the race and not just expect to be told how the ones in his team are doing.
Like Davide Cassani, Franco Ballerini has a hard time moving through the start village without having to stop for interviews, autographs of photos.
We asked Balleri what he thought about the race so far and also what he thought about the favourites.
“It’s interesting, and difficult as it’s the first time that one of the Grand Tours has had mountains in the first week. Prior to the Giro, Ivan Basso was in very good form so he will ride well this week.”
What about the two years Basso has had out? A problem?
“It could be a problem when we arrive at the third week, But, in that two years, he was a guy who really worked a lot. For the others, I think Leipheimer. In the climbs he is very good and he has a very good team. I also think Sastre will be one to watch too.
That very man, Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, has kept a fairly low profile over the course of the first four days. There has been a lot of talk about him as a potential winner, but away from the sign-on, he gets left alone in the village.
With sprinter Alessandro Petacchi back in the much darker shade of pink (or ciclamino) of the race’s points competition leader, it was time for the race’s new Maglia Rosa to be the centre of attention at the sign on. Swede Thomas Lovkvist, had brought the jersey back to Team Highroad-Columbia with his finish in San Martino, so it was him who had the honour of releasing the balloons to get the day’s festivities underway.
We had an appointment in the Village to catch up with Team Garmin Slipstream’s Cam Meyer again and while waiting for the Garmin boys to complete the sign on (with an uphill ride from their hotel, the cruiser bikes stayed in the truck), we showed the SaxoBank boys the shots taken earlier of the snow at the top of the first KOM.
One of the key jobs when designing a cycling jersey, is that it has to stand out. This is especially true when it is used as a symbol of your company so fans can identify it easily. Luckily, with only a sideways glance necessary, I caught sight of the famous jersey of PEZ wandering around the start village!
Was it Jered, ridden over the Austrian Alps to follow the race by bike? Was it Corey, recovered from his prosecco hangover, sweating out the toxins on a ride up from Bolzano? Nope, neither. It was Justin, from Phoenix who was over at the Giro with some friends and had ridden up this morning to see the start and was proudly wearing the PEZ jersey around the village. Now that’s what we like to see.
Justin flashing the stripes with Matt Goss of Team SaxoBank.
Cam Meyer arrived and we sat down for a quick chat and I asked him about yesterday’s stage, the feeling in the team and what he expects for the coming days.
“Yesterday was OK as I just took it easy on the climb at the finish. In the middle part of the race, between the two KOM’s I had to service Bradley Wiggins and David Millar so they had drinks for the final part. Then, I just took it easy and came up in the group in front of the ‘grupetto’.”
“The plan for me again today is to look after myself. I’ve got no chance on GC so all of the other guys in the same position have to try and ride easy so that when there is a chance to help out Tyler Farrar, we are as fresh as we can be. Both in Milan and another stage we have targeted next week, which has a long down-hill run to the finish, the team want to give Tyler as much help as possible to try and get him the win.”
Felt Carbon replaces Felt Cruiser to help get over that first hill.
Normally at this time I would be making a run for the car to make sure I beat the race out of town, but as I was heading in the opposite direction today, there was the opportunity to hang about a bit and see the bunch roll out.
After the sign-on and a bit of village time, the riders wearing the leaders’ jerseys are called up front to the start to pose for some pics. Barloworld’s John Lee Augustyn, in the white of best young rider thanks to the fact that Lovkvist was wearing the pink, looked as relaxed with all of the attention as the man on his far left, who had lined up in this position wearing one colour or another, dozens of times in his career.
The only man missing was Di Luca. When he did show up, he ‘bopped’ along to the kids chanting “Di-Lu-ca, Di-Lu-ca, Di-Lu-Ca” which sent the young fans into hysterics.
With a little under a minute before the riders were sent up the road to Kilometre Zero and the official race start, the officials brought the rest of the group up behind the four jersey wearers and with a few jokes from the riders, a few flying water bottles (who wants to carry extra weight up that first hill!), they were off on the fifth stage, for the trip via Bolzano, to the finish atop the 25km climb of Alpe di Siusi.
Happy 100th Birthday, Giro d’Italia!
See you guys somewhere soon!
Stay tuned for more roadside reports along with all of the other interviews, stage reports, Pez Fans and Daily Distractions, right here on the Giro Di PEZ!