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Travel

Worlds di Pez: Tourist Time!
worlds13-ponteed650 With another Worlds under his belt and an afternoon off before flying home Ed Hood had time to be a tourist in the lovely town of Florence to experience all that the town has to offer – in a biking sort of way of course.


An ‘infernal journey’ the Gazzetta called Sunday’s race, pointing out that it was the longest – in terms of time on the bike – at 7 hours and 25 minutes since Sallanches in 1980 which was 7:32. They award 9.5 out of 10 to Vincenzo Nibali for his fourth place ride.

The paper, the most significant voice in Italian sport, is fulsome in its praise of the Sicilian – how could they not be? He rode a man’s race – a medal would have been just reward, but there are few happy endings in pro cycling.

Scarponi gets 9.5, Paolini 8.5 – that’ll help with the pain of the brusing from his crash – Visconti 7, Vanotti 7, Santamorita and Ulissi 5.5 with Pippo and Nocentini on 5. Manager Paolo Bettini reckons he was punished by three of his boys – Nibali, Paolini and Scarponi – hitting the tar at a decisive moment.

But the Gazzetta points out that the nation’s second fourth place (after Pozzato’s in Geelong 2010) since 2008 – when Ballan won in Varese – is the longest medal ‘dry’ spell since 1937 – 1948; but then there was a war in between times on that occasion.

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A wet Monday morning in Florence, it took me four newsstands to get my Gazzetta – panic was setting in; but here I am awaiting my cappuccino and with the prospect of an afternoon as a tourist. Let’s hope the rain goes off – I had a year’s worth, yesterday.

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The sun is out and directly across the road from the cafe a poster catches my eye; where else in the world could you listen to and watch a symphony orchestra play, with the performance dedicated to the joys of the bike? The poster is cool, never mind the concert.

And for all the culture, history and beauty, in this town you can’t forget that Italy is the land of the scooter.

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But having sat in the traffic jams in the back of a cab and watched the meter climb, I can understand why.

The Uffizi gallery contains the world’s best collection of Renaissance art – Florence was at the heart of that rebirth – but much as I’d love to, there’s no time to join the queue.

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Behind the Uffizi stands a replica of the famous statue of David, carved from a solid 40 ton block of white marble down to it’s current 19 tons by Michelangelo when still in his early 20′s. If the hands look too big it’s because it was designed to sit high on a wall – which would have made them look in perspective. Those Renaissance geniuses thought of everything.

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Above him, the tower cranes clash with the beautiful old stone towers.

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The Ponte Vecchio is one of the world’s most famous bridges, built in 1354 it’s lined with expensive jeweller’s shops – but best viewed from a little further down the River Arno.

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Half way along it there’s a gap in the shops where stands a bust to son of Florence, Benvenuto Cellini who was a goldsmith, sculptor, writer, artist, warrior – one of the original ‘Renaissance Men.’

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In the San Spirito area, not far from the Ponte Vecchio, artisans exercise their skills in workshops set beside the road – and don’t mind too much as you stop and stare.

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There’s even a puppet workshop – pity some of those guys at the UCI don’t have Pinocchio noses.

Whilst the bicycle has always had a place in Italian society, lately it’s made a real comeback in the style stakes.

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There are a lot of aggressive fixies around town, but for the more conservative there’s little to beat a retro machine for cruising to your favourite wine bar or antique shop.

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Whilst many of the window displays are in honour of the Mondiali, the message seems to be that “bikes sell product” with wine shops getting in on the ‘Chianti Trail’ act.

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And many of the hippest clothes shops have bikes, or bits of bikes, as essential window dressing.

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The Piazza della Repubblica is at the heart of the city; a splendid arch towers above a carousel and a massive book tent pitched in the centre of the square.

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Again, bikes take centre stage as display items draw the buyer’s eye to volumes about Coppi and The Giro.

I have to take one last look at The Duomo, there are so many pictures you could take but I plump for one of the 28 bronze panels on the Baptistery North Doors.

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It took Lorenzo Ghiberti 21 years to make them.

An email arrives as I enjoy my last cheap, smooth, beautifully presented cappuccino before heading back to the hotel. I’d asked Ivan what the Belgian Media’s take on the Worlds was, he tells me;

“They’re impressed with Rui Costa, he rode well, a very good rider and a little bit underrated. The Belgians rode a decent but not special race, Van Summeren, Pauwels and Monfort were excellent; but the team leaders were just not good enough in the final reckoning. It wasn’t the Gilbert of last year; it was a pity about Leukemans who fell trying to avoid a crash even before they reached the finishing circuit, he hurt his back and abandoned.

Bakelants got caught up behind crashes, fell himself, breaking his shoe plate, had to wait ages on the team car, spent two laps chasing and was wasted, he told Gilbert that he wouldn’t make it to the last lap. Van Avermaet was just not up to it in the finale – the same as Gilbert. They simply couldn’t follow the four GC climbers on the final long climb; which for many riders was one kilometre too long on that last lap.

Nibali was very good, the Spaniards were solid. Carlo Bomans (Belgian manager) though, said that the Spaniards did nothing all day and he was glad Costa won. They think Sagan has raced too much, all over the place and that Cancellara should not have ridden the ITT. They also feel that many riders feared the distance, the Belgians think 240 K is long enough for the Worlds – but it depends on the parcours and how the race is ridden. The Italians rode well as a team, really only they and the Spanish had a plan. Overall they feel Costa is a very good winner – good for the sport.”

A horrible day but all part of what the Worlds are about . . .

The Italian ‘take’ to start, the Belgian ‘take’ to close – and one final thing. If you’d have bet a grand on Rui Costa to win, on Saturday, you’d now be 25 grand the richer.
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