At the start of the stage today we spoke to prologue runner up, Brent Bookwalter (BMC & USA) perhaps he expressed it best; “I knew what was coming, I’ve ridden the Eroica and did a course reconnaissance with Cadel; but what I wasn’t prepared for was the speed and the total disregard for what was about to come,’ then he made a gesture like a man swinging a baseball bat, ‘whack, whack, whack!’
And now it’s Sunday, the rain has stopped, the skyline isn’t concealed by clouds, there are bigger crowds and – no dirt roads.
But before we talk Giro, we have to share the goings on at our hotel. When we arrived last night, there was a faintly disturbing tribal dance routine going on in the foyer and this morning there was some sort of New Age ‘sharing’ experience taking place whilst we worked on our pictures on the foyer wi-fi. ‘Whale’ music, speeches, tears, group hugs – finally, our curiosity got the better of us; ‘what’s going on?’ I asked our hostess.
She leaned forward, made one of those faces that the Italians are so good at and said simply; “crazies!”
Today’s stage is a toughie, rolling and twisting through the verdant Tuscan countryside – ideal for Astana to let a little shoal of minnows go – but with a manta ray sized sting in the tail.
Terminillo, rising to 1,668 metres from 500, that’s an altitude gain of 1,168 metres over 16 kilometres with an average gradient of 7.3% and a maximum of 12% – not a killer but tough enough; especially if your legs are dead from the cold and wet alabaster dust that plastered them yesterday. Not to mention the fact that there’s hardly a metre of flat road on the 173 kilometre lead in to the climb.
Up, down, left, right – a break could make time today, provided they could climb.
At the feed, the Astana guys have pink bandanas on – who says them Kakakhs don’t have a sense of fun?
Hill towns, green valleys, long drags, tricky descents and wishing we were on the Tour where the ‘civilian’ cars are kept off the roads hours, not minutes before the race arrives.
Terminillo appears on the sign boards, a nice warm, friendly name for a climb.
Rieti, the base of the climb and it’s dragging from 20 to go, through trees, the pros say that this isn’t too tough a climb because the grade is consistent but it’s remorseless.
There are hairpins, sweeping curves, ramps and at five K, low cloud, the temperature drops with each kilometre – at four to go, we’re down to eight degrees and the TV coverage doesn’t look like a good prospect as the mist and cloud envelope the tarmac strip.
There’ll be no wonderful scenic shots from us today, we’ve made camp at 1900 metres to go, any higher and you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
We can’t get a fix on a radio channel, there’s no one got a TV – time to SMS Dave.
“Live coverage just started. Break of about a dozen 1:48 up, including Froome and Cummings with 13 K to go” says Dave
The mist has cleared just a little – we can see the corner, again.
The audience is disappointing, maybe it’s better at the top but we can’t risk driving too far; get caught after the barriers start on both sides of the road and you have to go to the top, see very little and get trapped up there.
Dave updates us that the break has been away all day and it’s starting to fall apart but Stortoni (Colnago & Italy) along with Sorensen (Saxo & Denmark) have made a move.
One of the race cars comes up to confirm Dave’s info.
The fans rub their hands against the cold, ‘tempo brutto’ – ‘nasty weather’ says one to us.
I’m thinking about a large grappa whilst Martin is fantasizing about big bowls of steaming pasta.
Chris Anker Sorensen.
‘Sorensen, inseguiri Petrov, sei kilometri’ we think we’re telling our Italian chums, from Dave’s latest SMS, that it’s Sorensen with Petrov in pursuit at six to go.
‘Sorensen alone, three to go’ says Dave.
And there he is, suddenly out of the mist, the motorbike lights making it all look like some sort of 3D computer game.
He’s killing himself on a tiny gear, Stortoni next, his jersey vivid blue against the mist, Petrov trying hard to get on terms comes hustling past.
There’s a gap then a Cervelo, Tondo, we think, then an AG2R, Gadret?
Garzelli is catapulting out of a group – it’s the ‘heads’ Scarponi, Cunego, Cadel and Vino is there but a motorbike blocks my view.
Wiggins is on the pace – but looks like he’s being roasted alive.
The remnants of the break are going backwards through the groups, there’s Steve Cummings; ‘goan Stevie!’ I roar, he nods and smiles back – how can they manage to do that?
The first gruppo, Pippo leads; usually there’s chat, the cheeky young Italians banter away, but not today – it’s eerily quiet in the mist.
Ones, twos, fives, another gruppo – there’s a little chat in there, but not much.
Ted King spots Martin’s New York Yankees beanie hat; “Yankees! What kind of a hat is that to be wearing?”
An SMS comes in, the result from Dave? did Sorensen hold on?
It’s Marlene, an MMS picture of Ruaridh, her grandson – how can you do that to me, girl!
There’s the last gruppo, and there’s Michael Morkov; “vai! vai! Michael!” He spots me and waves; ‘hey Ed!’
Robbie McEwen is stone last; ‘vai! Robbie!’ but he doesn’t hear, he’s gone.
The SMS comes in; ‘Sorensen, Stortoni, Tondo’ we’re right, it was the Cervelo man.
The ‘Fine Gara Ciclista’ van passes, the mist closes in, the mountain is quiet.
It’s over – until tomorrow.