We’re in good company, tucked into the rear of the HTC convoy; Cav’s five figures worth of McLaren is flapping about on the roof rack in front of us – I hope it stays up there.
But even that value is dwarfed by the super yacht which passes in the other direction en route the fitting out yard.
Hovering out on the Ligure is the Isola d’Elba – Napoleon’s home away from home for a spell.
It’s tappa 5 from the seaside town of Piombino to Orvieto in the hills of Umbria.
We stayed in Cecina last night and were treated to a beautiful sunset, a wonderful mural on the local church wall and great value grappa for our nightcap.
First on our ‘start agenda’ is to gather a few quotes and have a look at the equipment for this day which takes in the ‘sterrato’ – gravel roads.
The Gazzetta has Lampre’s Michele Scarponi down as favourite for this technical day which encompasses three ‘settori sterrati’ – sectors of dirt road totalling 19 kilometres; 23 from start to finish but there are short stretches of tar road in between.
Maglia rosa David Millar is running 25mm FMB tubulars and three wraps of tape – but the Scotsman’s bum sits on a minimal carbon railed saddle.
Over at Liquigas, we ask PR Paolo Barbiere if it’s a day to follow or attack ?
‘Somewhere in between! – it’s a day where to have to watch but exploit any chances that may arise.’
Vincenzo Nibali is running Vittoria Pave Evo 24 mm tubulars on his Cannondale.
Max Sciandri and Fabio Baldato (the only pro cyclist in history ever to look cool with a beard) are sharing DS duties at BMC.
Max has a young team and a major part of his role is to shepherd them through their first Grand Tour.
I asked Max if it was a day to watch or attack ?
‘We’re here to race, not watch!
We’ve no one for the GC, we’re here for stage wins and to blood the guys at this level.
I remember my first Grand Tour; it was with Carrera, there was a 100 kilometre TTT and a stage of 300 kilometres.
I was a different rider after it, both mentally and physically – I remember looking down at my legs and thinking; “they look different !”
At Euskaltel there was the usual absence of fans, so talking to our old amigo, Tomas the mechanic was no problem;
‘All of the guys are on carbon rims today, except our leader, Igor Anton who prefers the better braking characteristics of an Aluminium front rim.
He’s on Shimano electronic – it’s excellent, we have no problems at all with it on unpaved roads or in the wet.
We’re using 24 mm Vittoria tubulars today, usually we run 23mm.’
As the riders began to drift from the buses to the start line we headed down to the start to take some snaps of the ‘Capi’ – the Main Men.
Alberto smiles for us.
Winner of that ill starred stage 3, Angel Vicioso looks sharp.
We asked Mark Renshaw if he noticed the difference with his McLaren;
‘Yeah,’ then a pause; ‘it’s better than the other one !’
One if the Vini Farnese riders has to look after the bambino for a minute – as if that sterrato wasn’t enough.
The jersey wearers all get a lovely to themselves.
Ale Jet Petacchi (Lampre) leads the ‘Punti.’
Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago) leads the ‘Montagna.’
Jan Bakelandts (Belgium & Lotto) leads the ‘Giovani’ – that’s young rider.
And our very own David Millar (Garmin) leads the ‘Classifica Generale’ for Scotland.
And we’re off – flat and bland to start; but soon we catch sight of the first hill top town and the olive groves and vineyards proliferate.
Wine country, it rolls gently and makes even a fat old guy like me wish he was on his bike.
The cat 3 GPM at Saragiolo, 120 K in doesn’t strike us as too hard – but then again, we’ve got a diesel engine underneath us.
It’s a long, long drop off the hill, with plenty of tricky corners but also ideal for those who’re not so good at the anti-gravity stuff.
Off the descent it’s flat along the valley floors but we have the feeling that it’s the calm before the storm as the kilometres click down to first ‘settori.’
And all of a sudden, we’re in the sterrati and the dust clouds rise from the cars in front.
There’s a GPM in here, the cat 3 Croce di Fighine; and screeeeech ! we’re stopped – it’s our T-shirt selling chums.
After all, that’s what the Giro is about – getting that pink merchandise out.
The descent is wild; there are potholes and ruts to complicate matters even further.
As a rider, you’ll love this – or hate it.
And, as with last year, the thought is in my mind; ‘does this really belong in a modern bike race ?’
Out of the first settori and we’re back on tar, smooth and black.
The Peugeot no longer looks black, more of a ghostly grey.
Settori 2 comes up with no warning – tar then dirt.
It’s flat, the leaders will just fly through here – then back onto tar again.
It drags up again and bang ! back on the dirt again, twisting through the olive groves.
Back on the tar, we drag up a little then drop towards the final sector – down, down we go on lose white dirt, then a stretch of tar before we go back on to the ‘strade bianche’ once more.
It bottoms out then rears – this is the spot !
We can see back over the road we just drove, it winds across the fields towards us.
There’s a stiff breeze to blow the riders across that part of the sector but it’ll be a cross wind up here.
Last year, when Martin and I were on the ‘white roads’ it was wet and miserable but today the sun is splitting the sky.
When we were talking to riders before the stage last year, some of them were saying that they prefer to ride it in the wet.
The reasons being that they don’t have the dust clouds and also the race vehicles traversing the course before the race compact the damp dirt into a more predictable surface.
Organiser Zomegnan says that ‘a very complete rider should win in Orvieto.’
They’ll also be very tired and dirty rider – and be down one pair of socks.
‘Nee-bal-ee, Skar-po-nay ee Garz-zeli !’ says the man in the red Alfa, the sound of helicopter blades churning the air drifts into our ears and there are lights on the horizon – not long now !
The chopper pops up from behind the skyline
And there’s the leader – it’s a BMC, Max wasn’t kidding !
I make it Kohler, from Switzerland, he’s riding steady and strong.
A Rabobank – it looks like Weening – and an AG2R are at 2:00 and hot on their heels is the bunch.
Astana drives; Kreuziger must feel good and recognise this as a day he can move up from 70th @ 59 seconds.
Contador, Menchov, Garzelli, Pinotti, Nibali – but where’s Millar ?
Just off the back, he doesn’t look wasted, more riding within himself.
Dario Cioni. – vai Dario !
Popo – that’s the end of his GC; Visconti and Di Luca too.
Brambilla – a new green jersey tonight.
Beppu, Michael Barry, Hondo – all just trying to get to the finish.
Cav, with Renshaw right behind; I can’t see then riding that last week.
Former white jersey Bjorn Selander has been on the deck – check out that brake lever.
Some guys need a little help.
Adam Blythe isn’t looking good.
Graeme Brown is stone last.
And then it’s time for our race, to get off the corsa before the civilians get on the course.
The email comes in from the organisers: Weening wins and goes top on the GC.
Ah well, Scotland ruled Italy for a day, at least.