We didn’t make it to our hotel last night – we worked all night at the Castelli apartment in Fonzaso, then fell asleep on the couch. We didn’t even have time to take an hour out to visit my favorite pizza place in the whole world. Instead, we bummed some oatmeal off our friend, Paul Whitfield, and just kept right on working.
We woke up to the town of Fonzaso in full Giro celebration mode. We had originally planned on shooting the race going through Fonzaso, but realized that it might be a bit risky, and we had to make it to the Passo Manghen – one of my favorite passes in the area.
We compromised and stopped for a quick lunch at our favorite little cafe in town. After that, it was on the road to the Manghen. The Manghen is a monster of a pass – it gains 1500 meters over 20 kilometers. The opening half is nice enough, but it’s the final ten kilometers, once you cross over the creek, where it becomes special. The road is barely a car and a half wide, perfect pavement, and truly excellent. It’s unlike any of the other passes in the area, and it’s well worth a visit. Listen to the Giro on this one, they’re right.
Unfortunately, our means of transportation – car – was not the ideal one for the day. Cars ruled the roost on the Manghen. It was a celebration of all things bike on the road, and we were just an irritating sideshow trying to get to the top. On the one hand, it’s painful to have to crawl up twenty kilometers of mountain road, but on the other hand – how mad can you really be when thousands of people are out on their bikes on a perfect day to watch the Giro?
We managed to squeeze into a spot between the road and a certain death drop off near the top, which was a plus. Spots were a definite commodity, and team cars hoping to feed weary riders found themselves with cars sticking into the road at odd angles.
The break was big, the gap was manageable, and the crowds were in ecstasy.
The main field was already hewn into a small, elite force, but even the forming gruppetto was moving rapidly on the 10+% slopes of the Manghen.
After the Manghen, we jumped in the team car train and enjoyed a good old fashioned rally down the mountain. It’s the only time we’ll ever get to do that. A typical drive on the Manghen is very, very slow, as the other side is just as narrow, just as twisty, and in a car, that equates to a very slow drive, because you can’t see around any curves. There isn’t much traffic on the mountain, but it’s enough to ensure that caution is exercised. What I mean to say is – we had fun hurtling down the mountain.
The speed of the descent quickly ended though, as we were right behind the race heading up the Pampeago. Needless to note, we went from 90-100kph to 9-12kph on the awkwardly upward tilting road to the ski resort. Traditionally, the Pampeago is a one trick pony – uphill finish, really steep, really hard, decisive. For Stage 19, however, it got double duty – the race went over the pass a bit beyond the ski resort, descended, came back over the Passo Lavaze, and then hit the Pampeago for a SECOND time. It was a great finishing circuit, and the fans turned out in the thousands for a rare chance to see the race twice without the hassle of racing down the Autostrada in search of the appropriate exit.
Parking was a nightmare, but an entertaining adventure nonetheless. We were soon en route to where the barriers began – about 1.3k from the finish. From there on down, the road was open, and the extremely excited fans had easy access to scream and wave their hands in the faces of their favorite riders. Fantastic!
Roman Kreuziger en route to stage glory.
Ryder Hesjedal looks better with each passing day.
Michele Scarponi is urged on by a very, very excited fan.
Basso loses precious time.
The lead cars and motos came, and the fans parted reluctantly. When Kreuziger came, it just wasn’t possible to keep them from swarming – no matter how close the lead cars and motos drove to the riders, they couldn’t keep the fans back. It was like shoveling sand with your hands at the beach.
The faces of the riders…it’s almost cliche at this point…but they were of that special variety – pain, suffering, anguish, agony, all smashed into ten seconds of viewing pleasure. It was like that for the first 30-40 riders, but after that there was a curious change – the fun began. Fans were given the room they so desired, and out came the push hands. Rider after rider was given the VIP trip over fifty or so meters, before another eager fan took up the task of escorting the happy recipient of their energy, the rider, a little bit further up the mountain.
Broken riders smiled, laughed, even talked with their ‘domestiques’.
The practice of the push is a nice one – typically, the fan will gesture to ask if the rider wants the big push, and then, the rider will either nod with a smile and a thanks, or say no. Some were so spent, all they could do was give a small, weary nod and enjoy a few moments of respite.
A hard earned sip of beer for Mr. Adam Hansen.
It was great. Did I mention that a stuffed fox made it on to the course? Yeah, that too.
The gruppetto approaches.
Andrea Guardini’s last three stages: last, first, last.
I bet you didn’t know that Riis was employing ninjas.
Ok, that’s all from me. More soon!
For LOTS more images from the Giro, please head over to Flickr.
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