Born in this very city of Messina in 1984, a Worlds medallist as a junior and U23, his ascent has been steady but remorseless.
Last year he was third in the Corsa Rosa then grabbed his first Grand Tour last autumn in Espana.
Sicilia expects . . . .
For us it’s a mixture of excitement and sadness.
Excitement that we have the honour of being on Etna on this special day; when a champion comes home.
Sadness because it’s our last day on the race.
The ferry journey across the Straigts of Messina, after yesterday’s stage, went smoothly – we even managed a chat with Paolo Bettini and dispensed a PEZ hat to a grateful trucker.
The guide book isn’t kind to Messina, but she was ravaged by natural disaster and Allied bombing during World War Two.
Some buildings still carry the scars of cannon shells.
Despite the greyness, the old girl still wears her jewels well – there are churches everywhere and in particular, the magnificent Duomo with its marvellous campanile containing the world’s largest astronomical clock.
We had our last look at the bus park; but not before we’d had a word with ’66 Giro winner, Gianni Motta.
Ale Jet and Scarponi’s ‘hi viz’ paint jobs; the Farnese Vini boys are on Lightweights, and Lotto’s Olivier Kaisen must have the longest head tube in the world.
It’s not a morning to bug riders, not with two cat 1 climbs to come, but we grab a shot of Dave Millar – a day in pink means it’s been no bad race for him, and that last chrono is one for the Scot.
Yesterday’s stage winner, Oscar Gatto doesn’t mind getting bugged though – yesterday was the biggest day of his life.
Let’s not worry about that !
The early percorso skirts the Straits of Messina and it’s hard to tease a good picture from the gravel beaches and concrete low ride villages.
There are pockets of fans but nothing special.
A little further south though, it gets a bit more scenic.
But the star of the show today is Etna; there was a little show of pique from her during the week in the form of an eruption; ‘don’t forget that I can stop your bike race any time I want !’
The cops and fans here aren’t used to the Giro and its ways – waves are few and far between and the police are edgy.
And there she is, a smoke cloud crown hovers above her summit and a cape of snow is draped over her broad shoulders – Etna, empress of Sicily.
As we get closer, her huge flanks grow ever larger in the windscreen.
Up, up, up we drag – this is tough, there are even big Roman style cobbles.
Inside 20 K to go it gets for real; not mega steep with a max of 11% but tough and unrelenting, winding ever upwards through the trees.
In the forest the trees have taken over ancient cultivated terraces – the old walls are still there.
A Nibali banner; but at the sight of a camera, Vincenzo fans – and a dog – appear from the woods to get in the pic.
Vai Vincenzo !
We pass the lava flow from the 2002 eruption – wow !
The first GPM sits among the lava flows – like a prime in the first race on Mars.
The drop from the top is fast, decent straights linked by gentle curves.
The black lava flows carve across the green of the trees like the Styx itself.
The descent is long and there aren’t too many scary bits – ideal for getting back on.
It was 21 degrees up on the GPM, it’s 29 down here and the crowds are better.
Acireale, the descent levels off and the climbing starts immediately.
The ascent to the finish is 20 kilometres with an altitude gain of 1,207 metres, an average gradient of 6% and a maximum gradient of 12% but that data is misleading because the percorso climbs all the way from the coast.
The GPM is from 149 to 169 kilometres but the trend is upward all the way from around the 125 kilometres mark, where we are now.
Whichever way you look at it – it’s going to be a hard, hard climb.
Nicolosi is colourful; and now we’re on the GPM with 20 K to the first big show down of the 2011 Giro.
And there’s Etna again, more jagged from this side and whilst there’s less snow and smoke, she’s still an impressive sight.
We’re back in the lava flows, older, greyer, – and still we grind upwards.
There’s a strong wind up here, because of the constant changes of direction, sometimes it will help, sometimes hinder.
The crowd isn’t massive, but it’s not bad – the break is just being caught as we find a TV.
The break is just being caught; around seven kilometres to go.
A familiar figure is asassinating the breakaways one by one – Contador.
Scarponi matches him for a little, but then has to drop back, his slogging of a big gear in marked contrast to the lightness of Contador’s touch on the pedals.
But Rujano doesn’t crumble, he grabs the Spaniard’s wheel.
Bert attacks again, but Rujano gets back – as soon as he does, Alberto indicates that he expects him to do his spell – he’ll have to stop attacking the man, then.
It’s time or us to find a spot – which we do at around 200 to go, so that strong sun is behind us.
They say that Bjarne Riis regards Alberto as his Golden Boy – he won’t be disappointed, today.
But Androni ‘honour the race’ again – as Boss Savio always says, as Rujano doggedly hangs on for second.
Garzelli is too quick for the rest and takes third.
It’s hard to catch all their jerseys but Kreuziger and Nibali are there and Scarponi isn’t too far away.
We didn’t spot Menchov; but it’s unlikely big Denis would get the chop on these climbs.
But the dream is over for the maglia rosa – he’s several minutes down.
The stragglers are in various states of disarray – some need a wee hand up the hill to the hotel, where they’ll change to begin the long freewheel down to the buses.
We watch BMC’s Matthias Frank get ready for the drop; he’s wrapped up like it was a winter’s day, right down to gloves – he’s a proper pro.
And Ale Jet still manages to look cool as he heads for the bus.
Well, time for us to battle off the hill – we hope you’ve enjoyed our words and pictures from the first nine days of the Giro.
Thanks to Richard Pestes for once again trusting me to do the job; Jim for doing all that damn driving; the Giro for being the Giro – and most important, thanks to you, our loyal readers.
Ciao, grazie !