But on the plus side we slept below the imposing and historic Abbey of Montecassino; founded in 592 and bombed flat in 1944 by the Allies as they fought north through Italy after the invasion.
It’s been rebuilt since and dominates the whole area.
Today is the first major mountain top finish, the cat 2 Montevergine Di Mercogliano and there’s another cat 2 – Serra Della Strada – around half distance.
It’s one of those stages where you can’t win the Giro, but you can lose it.
It’s also a stage which has instilled fear into the domestiques, if they get dropped on the Serra and don’t rejoin on the descent they’ll have no momentum into Montevergine and beating the time cut becomes a problem with it being such a short stage.
The game plan today is to drive the percorso well ahead of the race because, apart from team cars, no vehicles are allowed up the final climb – you have to take the funicular railway to the summit.
Dave and I had to observe that drill a year or two ago when the race last finished here – I recall trying to get off the hill as being something like stopping the barbarians from sacking Rome.
Maybe this year will be better ?
And whilst I’m not saying that the Italians don’t like foreigners winning Giro stages, yesterday’s winner, Fran Ventoso doesn’t get his face on the cover of Gazzetta but Mount Etna does.
Fran’s postage stamp sized pic on page 27 is almost an after thought.
However, Ale Jet – who Ventoso left well beaten – gets a half page; 37 years-old; 137 victories, 22 of those in the Giro and seven days in the maglia rosa – not to mention being the coolest cyclist on the planet.
Maddaloni – the start town isn’t gonna make the guide books, dusty, run down – but they’ve made the effort.
But before you ‘wiki’ it, yes, we know that it was the scene of an important battle in the Wars of Independence.
The early kilometres are uninspired ‘anytown Italia’ but soon we start to climb into the rolling hills.
We pass a shrine to Padre Pio; the saintly, late priest has a strong connection with our last port of call, Cassino.
During one of the US air raids on the monastery in 1944, when it was a German stronghold, the lead pilot in a formation of Liberator bombers said that the Padre appeared in the cockpit and told him not to carry out his mission.
The Padre’s likeness is everywhere in Italy.
The Serra Della Strada is steep from the start – bad news if you have time cuts in mind.
We’re on the percorso way early – to catch that funicular – so the fans aren’t out: I can’t help but think that if this was le Tour they’d be out in their thousands on a climb and day like this.
Wouter isn’t forgotten, though.
And here we are at the Funicolare; there’s a queue and the guy from Farnese Vini who has the riders’ capes in musettes for the drop off the summit, ain’t happy about having to wait, and now everyone knows that.
The team buses don’t get to go up the climb – I’m beginning to remember it all now, from last time.
Only last time it was cold and we’re which kept the crowds down, a little.
There’s no choice but to stand and wait; “68 K to go, five away, 3:17 clear” comes the SMS from Dave – Visconti, Pineau and Bak are there.
Eventually the funicular arrives and it’s even scarier than I remember – it lurches to a halt a time or two, but eventually we get to the top.
There’s not much up there, just the monastery; the pilgrims wonder about all this madness in such a holy place.
Meanwhile, the deejay works the crowd; ‘musica, maestro !’
Dave keeps the updates coming; ‘Break just one K from top of first GPM, gap 1:30 with Hoogerland trying to bridge.’
Out of the wind and shadows, it’s roasting up here – the riggers attach the advertising banner strips to the barriers; the last time Dave and I were up here, the fans were tearing it back off and wrapping themselves in it because of the cold.
“Johny is at 35 seconds, gap to bunch is back out to 2:30′ Dave tells us.
The local cycling club are lapping up Dave’s information; ‘Johny has made it up, makes it six, gap 2:15 with 23 K to go.’
The buzz is building, we’re at 600 to go, any further up and it’s too busy and the barriers get higher.
‘Saxo driving, Visconti and Pineau have blown’ then a minute later, ‘Geox, Lampre and Liquigas driving, now.’
We can hear the choppers, but we’ll actually be above them.
‘Break nearly finito, just Bak left, guys going off the back left right and centre,’ says Dave.
The police bikes begin to swarm up – some get silence, some get jeered, we can’t quite figure it out.
‘Quatro chilometro !’ shouts the guy with the radio ear plug.
Dave tells us; ‘Three to go, Bart De Clerq clear for Lotto !’
The chopper noise builds, the lead car screams past, then the photog bikes.
De Clerq, tall, skinny, revving – a rare bird, a Belgian climber !
He’s a first year pro and has picked a beauty for his first win – no problems with a contract for Bart, next season.
Scarponi has a domestique leading him through the bend – they’re charging.
All the other ‘Capi’ are there – Nibali, Contador, Menchov . . .
And young Kruuswijk; looking good in the jersey of best young rider.
Two riders not looking so good are Carlos Sastre and Danilo Di Luca; two years ago they were burning up the tar – now, they just make up the numbers.
Break hero Hoogerland doesn’t look too bad – and by now, riders are dropping back down to climb to the team buses.
Alberto is first, some wrap up warm and some don’t; some have a drink and some have a chat.
A lot of riders have ridden down before Peter Kennaugh rides up – he won’t be top 20, tonight.
We snap the first of the stragglers but can’t wait on the gruppetto – we’d never get off the hill.
Tomorrow’s stage is way south of here and we have to drive after the stage.
Whilst waiting on the funicular, we bump into Mamma, sorella and nonno Scarponi – they’re really nice folks.
Sis agrees that Hondo is cool, but not as cool as Ale . . .
But there were some strange dudes on that funicular.
The email comes in from the organisers;
“Belgian rider Bart De Clercq (Omega Pharma – Lotto) won the seventh stage of the 94th Giro d’Italia.
The winner completed the route in 2: 54’.47” at the average speed of 37,761 km/hour.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre – ISD) was second and Roman Kreuziger (Pro Team Astana) third.
Pieter Weening (Rabobank Cycling Team) is still the Maglia Rosa Estathй.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre – ISD) is the Maglia Rosso Passione Gruppo Saint-Gobain.
Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank Cycling Team) is the Maglia Bianca Adecco.
Bart De Clercq (Omega Pharma – Lotto) is the Maglia Verde Banca Mediolanum.”
And that’s it for another day.
We’re headed for Salerno, a pizza and a Peroni – after we’ve sent the pictures that is . . . .
Ciao – Ed