Met Ed’s ‘autista’ for stages 1 – 9 – James Leslie.
The 23 ‘squadre’ in today’s 19.3 kilometre ‘cronosquadre’ will be in even more of a hurry later on this warm afternoon as they battle for the first ‘maglia rosa’ of this 95e Giro d’Italia. The Gazzetta Dello Sport sees the GC battle in a very similar light to PEZ; Contador on 5 stars, Nibali and Scarponi on 4, Menchov on 3, with Rodriguez and Kreuziger on 2.
But it’ll be three weeks tomorrow in Milano before we can brag – or quietly forget our predictions.
The stats for this Giro read like this: 21 stages, totaling 3,524.5 kilometres with 63.5 of those against the watch – including the TTT. There are 39 major climbs with eight mountain top finishes with the first coming on stage seven to Montevergine.
There are four jerseys up for grabs – rosa (pink) for GC leader; verde (green) for the mountains leader: rossa (red) for leader on points and bianca (white) for leading young rider – under 25.
Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx are ‘record men’ on five GC wins; but ‘E-dee’ has the most days in ‘rosa’ – 77. The man with the most stage wins is Mario Cipollini with 42; the best of the current generation is ‘Ale Jet’ Petacchi on 21 – he’ll be trying hard to add to that, tomorrow.
Riding the Giro is the boyhood dream of all young Italian cyclists; virtually every Italian rider is in the best shape of his year for this race.
The pressure is intense.
Let’s look at how the teams are preparing for their 20 minutes of pain, with the emphasis on the Home Boys.
If you like bicycles it’s hard not to notice the little touches on the ‘crono speciales.’
Short ‘TT specific’ saddles are necessary on the smaller riders bikes – to get round the UCI ‘distance of the saddle nose behind the centre line of the bottom bracket.’
Concealed brakes too are popular, neat on the Rabo Giants; beautiful on The Shack and Leopard Treks.
‘What are those little buttons on the top tube,’ I asked The Shacks’s Alan Buttler.
‘The main market for TT bikes is triathlon – those are for their little pouch for bars and gels.’
Best not let Viktor see those!
Over at Sky they’ve done away with handlebar tape on the TT bikes – they have ‘grit’ bonded direct to the paint on the bars so sweaty hands won’t slide.
The ‘warm up on the turbo’ ritual has now reached lengths where they have turbo specific rear wheels and tyres – it’s hard to keep up with it all.
But before the turbo ritual there’s the matter of a full distance try out of the course and then a ride back.
The try out rolled off the start ramp past beautiful fountains with Duffy asking for ‘Mercy!’ at mega volumes – but not before we’d had a demo from the veteran soldiers of the ‘Bicycle Battalion.’
Their TTT formation was a tad ragged, if you ask me.
We headed off to see how the ‘Capo’ were coping with the stress – but couldn’t help but notice Leopard’s Brian Nygard and Sky’s David Brailsford chatting conspiratorially in a doorway ~.
Astana’s ‘young pretender’ and podium possible, Kreuziger was showing the strain – but next door at Lampre, Danilo Hondo wasn’t.
The super cool ex-German champion was about as laid back as a man can be before 20 kilometres at wearing-on for team pursuit speed.
Next stop was the Katusha team to see Jouaquim Rodriguez – his hair severely cropped and the sweat dripping from him, he certainly looked serious.
Team mate Di Luca was topping up – water that is.
Lampre’s Michele Scarponi had a smile for the camera – he’s well known as a joker; but a little bit unprofessional with just a T-shirt on.
No such problems with Vini Farnese’s Giovanni Visconti – resplendent in tricolore gear but looking calm and focused.
The Liquigas machine was in full effect, nothing left to chance and Nibali reminded us of a young Gimondi – confident, aristocratic but not arrogant.
Bjarne Riis is back, more ‘hands on’ at Saxo and still looking lean and fit.
Meanwhile, his GC star, Alberto Contador gave orders to the mechanic as he mounted his Specialized.
Just ‘another day at the office’ for ‘Bert.’
As we scuttled over to see the last of the big favourites – Denis Menchov at Geox – our old chum, Dario Cioni had a smile for as at the Sky bus.
Big Denis was smiley too as he wiped the sweat from his brow – whether he’s smiling in three weeks is another story.
We had intended to follow a team but it just wasn’t happening due to the technical nature of the first few kilometres – we couldn’t get that car anywhere near the start.
Instead we repaired to the half way point.
We could see the teams round a right hander almost a kilometre away, then there was a long gently falling straight and a ‘big dipper’ up to where we were.
Vini Farnese were the first team we got a good look at – let’s just say ‘no maglia rosa for Visconti, today.’
Even given our brief look at the race, you could see who was ‘going’ – Garmin were laboured, Saxo were getting the job done, as were Lampre.
But HTC were flying – you could see it and our watch had them 10 seconds clear.
Some riders had to fight to get back on the tail of the string – but there are issues of honour at stake here and we watched a Liquigas rider turn himself inside out to get back on to the line.
The Shack were good; Movistar were last team to go – but HTC were too quick and it’s Pinotti in pink.
I can think of worse guys to wear the jersey.