‘Alpini’ as in Alpine troops; it’s a huge reunion with parades, exhibitions, parties and drinking.
Drinking on a massive, uninhibited, mad and slightly scary – if you’re sober – scale.
As we piloted the Peugeot through the throng to fight on foot through the crowds up to the press room, out of those million revellers, a head popped in through the car window – Andreas Muller, six day star, having a bit of a break after the Worlds; ‘I was just thinking, “I wonder if Ed’s here ?” he told us.
File under; ‘it’s a small world !’
The start today was in the heart of wine country, Alba is near Asti – as in ‘Asti Spumante’ – no sampling by PEZ though.
Alba is also famous for it’s white truffles, the Holy Grail for ‘foodies’ and commanding crazy prices – it’s not unknown for truffle poachers to be shot for their troubles.
A day for the sprinters, long, flat straights; but with a few sticky bits thrown in so no one gets too comfortable – and the very first GPM of the race.
Jimmy was a mountain climber in his racing days so we decided that we’d stop and see who was going to bag those precious points.
But before that we had those endless plains with their fields of cereal crops and solar panels.
Back to those sprinters, or ‘velocisti’ as they say here; La Gazzetta Sportiva (the Sunday version of La Gazzetta dello Sport) sees today as straight show down between 25 year-old Mark Cavendish (HTC & Garmin) ‘Cav’ and 37 year-old Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre & Italy) ‘Ale Jet.’
Ale lives not too far from Parma, down on the coast in La Spezia and will be highly motivated to win.
Ale has 21 stages to his name – it’s actually 26 but he lost five due to ‘I’ll caso salbutomolo.’
He has one of the best lead-out men in the business – Germany’s Danilo Hondo at his disposal; but Lampre are serious about Michele Scarponi’s GC chances so Ale doesn’t have nearly as much horsepower at his disposal as Cav does.
Cav has five individual Giro stage wins and two TTT triumphs; and whilst it wouldn’t do the team any harm to get Pinotti top ten in Milano, if it’s that or a stage win for Cav then the stage win takes precedence.
So don’t be surprised if we see the maglia rosa on lead-out duty, today.
They’re the big two, but in the wings are Tyler Farrar (Garmin & USA) he took two stages last year; despite a flying start to 2011 in Majorca he’s not had the season he would perhaps have liked – but the nice weather makes big muscles work more efficiently and it’s 28 degrees in northern Italy, today.
Robbie McEwen (Radio Shack & Australia) gets a mention but his last Giro win was at Strasbourg in 2007. He won a stage in the Eneco Tour last year but I’d be really surprised to see him win here.
Also present is QuickStep’s Francesco Chicchi (Italy) the world U23 champion at Zolder in 2002 with thighs like Chris Hoy and a winning smile.
Manuel Belletti (Colnago & Italy) – don’t say ‘who?’ he won the Cesanatico stage last year – could surprise again.
Handsome Spaniard Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) was a man who promised great things a year or two ago – and won a Vuelta stage – but after a few wilderness years is back winning for Movistar.
He’s quick !
At the slip road to Castellania we passed the sign advertising the ‘Casa Coppi – a moment of silence was observed for the great man before we went on our way.
Fausto Coppi is joint ‘recordman’ for the Giro with five wins along with Eddy Merckx and Alfredo Binda. But Coppi lost some of the finest years of his career languishing in a British prisoner of war camp during World War 2; or there’s little doubt that he would hold the ultimate record for Giro wins.
Then we bumped into Bjorn Selander’s dad; his boy had a good day out with The Shack yesterday and is 9th on GC and leading best young rider.
At the feed we had a word with HTC’s soigneur, Aldis – who comes all the way from Latvia.
He was too busy for photo ops but happy to tell us about HTC’s TTT win; ‘the guys were very motivated and excited before the race, they were sitting on the bus discussing the lines for every corner – after it the guys were saying it was the smoothest TTT that had ever ridden.’
We asked why Alex Rasmussen had finished 1:54 down; ‘there was a touch of wheels and whilst Alex managed to avoid coming down, a gap opened and he couldn’t close it – the speed is so high; but he’s in good shape and rode well ’til that happened.’
Aldis also told us that the last he heard, there was a Lotto 19 (nineteen) minutes clear – wow!
More plains and very few photo opportunities – a stage for the commentators to scratch their heads.
Fiorenzuola d’Arda and the local factories have made the effort.
Terme and the photo op. on the steps isn’t as successful as we thought it would be, despite our best efforts we can’t generate any ‘Giro fever.’
The countryside begins to roll again and that GPM isn’t far away, now.
Park up on the descent, walk back up to the summit and there’s plenty of barrier space.
Is the Lotto still ahead ? and there’s Sebastian Lang, so that’s a “yes” – he’ll be on the podium tonight and have a nice green jersey to wear, in the morning.
His long day under the hot sun hasn’t been in vain.
And who’s leading the chase ?
Liquigas – and no messing; but why?
Surely it’s down to HTC, Lampre and Garmin ?
But maybe Vincenzo Nibali is intent on imposing his will on the race from the start ?
Contador was right there – on the Liquigas coat tails and with the ‘just cycled back from the paper shop’ face.
Scarponi too was well inside his comfort zone
Pinotti looked cool – but he always does; and so did Cav on his five grands worth of McLaren frame.
The bunch was still pretty much intact but the odd gap had opened; Alex Rasmussen was hurting and Adam Blythe too had slid backwards.
In time honoured fashion we scurried back to the car and jumped the back of the convoy.
The paradox of being at a big race is that unless you’re at the finish or sitting in front of a TV, you don’t who’s won.
We tuned to local radio and through the static heard; ‘Petacchi prima ! Cav-en-deesh maglia rosa !’
Dave texted to confirm, but reckoned that Ale Jet had also taken the points jersey but had taken the Manx Missile/Cannonball/Cav a tad too close to the fence and a declassed may follow.
Seeing as how Ale lives just down the road in La Spezia, I have my doubts about that.
Then the email came in from the organisation to fill in the blanks; Lang gets his green jersey, Selander keeps white and Belletti was third.
An Ale Jet stage win and Cav in pink – we can live with that.