There’s only one place you find a start ramp that wide – and this year it was the stage 4 TTT start in Savigliano.
Stage 4: Cuneo TTT
After transplanting la Famiglia Pez to Italy for 6 weeks this spring, strategically planned to coincide with the Giro, I was finally on my way to join the race at the stage 4 Team Time Trial from Savigliano to Cuneo. This would be my longest day – a 2+ hours drive each way, finally returning home at 11:00PM that night. But the exhaustion never really matters, what I remember was the gallery of people, images, and everything that happened as I went roadside for my first TTT.
Technically it was my second TTT – I’d first seen this most beautiful of races at the Giro start in Palermo in 2008, but due to the short circuit, press cars were not allowed on that course, and I was confined to the start & finish areas for photos.
I’ll wager these residents of Levaldigi had little idea who was wearing the maglia rosa, but they seemed happy to patiently wait for his arrival.
This year, the 33km mostly flat and non-technical run offered much better access to various vantage points along the way, but aside from the start & finish towns, the course offered up few of the interesting vistas I’ve come to love about the Giro.
My driver Mino and I first intersected the race at Levaldigi – pretty much a one street town experiencing the most excitement they’d seen in years. But on closer inspection, the main drag offered up the kind of Italian riches you only see if you look closely – people who’ve lived here all their lives, have seen more than I can imagine, and likely won’t be travelling to my side of the world, ever.
It’s said that the population of rural Italy is shrinking as more young people move to the bigger cities to find work (and a different life), and Levaldigi looks like a prime example of an aging town. I was struck by the perfect match of people and buildings seemingly from the same era.
Although the race course offered little in the way of the gorgeous TTT vistas I’d hoped for, the glimpses of everyday Italians waiting for a bike race were images I never expected.
Stage 6: ‘A Rule of the Centuries’
After a day to recuperate from the white knuckle, pitch black drive through the tunnels back to the coast after stage 4, I was primed and ready for action on stage 6 over the 172km from Fidenza to Carrara.
As I documented in my Roadside Report, my plan to ride the last hilly kms of the course was washed away by the torrential rains that swept in moments after I’d rolled out on the journey.
But like every other day, this one went from bad to great as quickly as the sun came out for the finish. Once the clouds had lifted and I could see beyond the next block, the natural geography of the area really stood up. The region is a true meeting of mountains and sea – look to the west and you’ll see miles of sandy beaches (plugged with tourists through July and August), look east and you’ll see the 2000+ meter peaks of the Apuan Alps.
No wonder us media types are lushes… this was just a small portion of the wines on offer to press at the stage 6 finish.
Back in the Quartierre Tappa, where the press were stationed, they’d also set up a fine buffet of local epicurean delights – cheeses, salamis and sausages, beans baked the Italian way, and of course wines.
I figured this looked like a perfect snack to tuck into while writing up my story, so I sampled a few of the wines, chose one I liked, then filled a plate with salamis, cheese, and some bread, and headed back to the press room to get to work.
You’d think I’d learn a few things after 6 years on this race, like for instance, if I’m the only guy to come up with this idea… there’s probably a pretty good reason why no one else is chowing down next to their laptops.
Sure enough – as I approach the press room door, I’m intercepted by this giant, very frowning man who looks like the grown son of Kojak and the Incredible Hulk. He gives me the look. I immediately know what’s coming and offer up a humble: “non e possibile?” Koja-Hulk responds with the wagging index finger.
Stage winner Matt Lloyd was long passed when the gc big boys rolled into Carrara.
Fair enough – I should have known better. So I proceed to tuck into my plate of goodies right there in the foyer, while my buddy disappears into the press room. A couple minutes later one of the Giro Press agents appears, and it turns out he’s been sent to ‘deal’ with me.
“Ah – Signor Pez!” exclaims Federico Meda – he’s been an invaluable resource since my first Giro back in 2005. Apparently it’s not cool for me to be eating anywhere other then the designated press ‘mess’. Federico explains in halting English that: “It’s a rule … of the centuries…”
Geez – who am I to mess with a ‘rule of the centuries’…? At least I avoided an international incident, but you can bet I won’t make that mistake next year.
Stage 7: PEZ Takes A Family Day
Let’s face it, most of our wives/ girlfriends regard a day at a bike race the same way we think of a day spent ‘shopping’. So regardless of how many times I’ve regaled Mrs. Pez with amazing stories of just how cool these Grand Tours are, I knew she’d have to see one for herself to truly appreciate what gets me so excited.
Another benefit of having your family together in Italy, is the close proximity to il Giro – and a perfect opportunity to get personal with the race. The stage 7 start in Carrara was my first chance to show it all to Teresa – and the rest of the family (we didn’t pack those Pez polos for nothing!)
With Ed & Martin taking over the Roadside duties, I packed my crew into the rental for the 1 hour drive from our base in Cavi di Lavagna, to join the fray at the start. This day would be special for another reason too – I’d finally meet Ed & Martin in person – after about 5 years of working together.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about travelling with the Famiglia Pez… it’s that getting around takes about twice as long as when I’m flying solo. But we peeled into Carrara just in time to get stuck behind the Footon team cars, who seemed to be arriving late too, and promptly started chewing up valuable minutes sitting in a non-moving line of cars. But soon enough we’d slotted into an empty space next to the Gazzetta dello Sport truck, had secured day-creds for everyone, and were on our way to the action.
By now the villagio was jammed, and riders were rolling in for sign-on, so we decided to set up camp at the village entrance to avoid the crush inside, which I’m sure would have prompted my 4 year-old Alessa to a “it’s too loud, Daddyyy!” meltdown.
This decision proved a good one, as we were on the good side of the barriers, and enjoyed unobstructed access to the riders as they rolled in. The whole thing rushes past in fast-forward, and you gotta be on your toes lest the big stars roll right on by in a whirlwind of tv cameras, flashes, and stumbling journos.
Gotta say it’s rewarding to see my daughter finally fitting into her PEZ jersey. Some of you might remember I ordered these about 5 years ago – before she was born.
And while our nanny took in the parade of handsome, well-coiffed pro riders (pretty much her first exposure to the sport), it was Mrs. Pez herself who spotted Cipollini gliding past. (She never misses a beat!)
In less than an hour we were joining the masses along the start route to watch the race roll out on its epic day to the strade bianca. For me, the pressure was on to show my loved ones an impressive day, and the Giro delivered – it was smiles all around as we relaxed over lunch, and watching the race finish later on tv was special since we’d seen the riders in person just hours before.
Of all my days at races – this was one of the coolest.
Stage 19: Base Camp Edolo
I’d set up camp for stages 19 & 20 in Edolo, after weeks of anticipation and almost not finding a room in this beautiful town. I’d first seen it in 2006, after completing the climbs of the Gavia and Mortirolo, and was coaxing the last bit of power from my legs as we ground out the final 15km to that stage finish in Aprica (a town of faceless ski-resort block buildings – most of which are closed in May).
Dropping off the Mortirolo, you hang a right at the town of Monno, and don’t touch your brakes for another 7km as you rip and tuck all the way to the piazza in Edolo. The town itself appears magically once you thread through an ancient tunnel/ bridge that’s about a car and a half wide.
The descent is a blast, and then blam! – you get this great reward of an awesome piazza in a beautiful little town. That day in 2006 I promised myself I’d stay here if I ever got another chance.
Fast forward to December of last year, and no later than the day the Giro route was revealed was I planning my stay in Edolo.
Entering Edolo through that archway reveals one of my favorite piazzas in Italy.
I’d sourced out the Albergo Angelo and was pleased to find it located just off the main piazza (literally), and very bike friendly. It’s run by Fabrizio and Roberta, who seem to do almost everything themselves like most family run inns do. Roberta actually walked into the main piazza to find me when I arrived late and misplaced my directions.
The place is modest, but the rooms are clean and the bar fully functional. Be warned though – their internet is primitive – even though they have wifi in the building, they only allow access to it through their one laptop. The only other drawback for me were the paper thin walls – I actually heard not one, not two, but three guys all snoring at the same time from different rooms one night.
But as a base for a couple days of bike riding, it’s a good choice. My room was 65 euros a night, including the small Italian breakfast, and Fabrizio was cool about scrambling me up some eggs with prosciutto and cheese the morning of our big ride (of course he charged me for it later).
The beauty of the town is its position at the bottom of three valleys, with expansive and breathtaking vistas to the surrounding snowing peaks, plus easy access to the climbs of the Gavia, Tonale, Mortirolo and more – each one ending with a descent if you ride back to town.
And in classic Italian form, the whole town turned out for the bike race, which would pass through town twice – once on its way up from Brescia where a left hand turn would signal the start of the final – and very brutal – 98km, and then again after the racers had flogged and flailed their way up – and back down – the Trivigno and Mortirolo climbs.
The decorations were hung days ago, and by 9:00AM the morning of the stage, the piazza was coming to life with expo tents, and the obligatory gaggle of town elders dressed in heavy wool pants and sweaters, ready to discuss all and sundry topics until well past race time (the race was due to arrive at 2:45PM and 5:00PM).
The piazza is lined with a number of bars and cafes, so watching the race action on tv was no problem, even right up to the last minute when you could join the locals who’d staked their roadside spots hours before.
And the beauty of this stage is that no matter how they slice it, the race is always broken up for the final pass through town, so the procession takes a lot longer than usual.
Thomas Voeckler looks as happy as the rest of the bunch with 15km still to go.
This year was classic – Nibali, Basso and Scarponi were alone off the front, followed in dribs and drabs by all the contenders, then the ‘also-rans’ in ones and twos, and finally various bunches of gruppetti. Forget about the autobus on this stage, is was more like a bunch of minivans filled with sunken-eyed zombified riders, praying they’d reach Aprica before nightfall.
Like most roadside viewing – the players ripped through at race speeds – and that means pretty much a blur for anyone watching. Forget about scoping out all your fave riders – you’re lucky to catch one or two at the speeds they’re going.
And if you’re shooting pics, you’ll see even less of the race until you sort though your shots later. It’s always a conundrum – I want to capture the racing on camera, in hopes that I’ve scored some amazing photo even Mrs. Pez would agree belongs hung above our bed (a pipe-dream, I know…), but I also lament not actually just seeing the race as it passes.
But that’s what watching pro bike racing is all about – we make no apologies for standing roadside for hours just to catch a few seconds (or lucky minutes) of the race – because somewhere in there is an image that gets burned into our memory – that not only defines the day, but sticks with us forever.
Thanks for reading –