We were under the podium with many other photographers waiting for him. After the tears, after the triumph we were waiting for the champion and the beaten. Only a few minutes earlier I was on the top of the Civiglio to witness the magic passage of the race and then I raced back to Como in my car to see the podium.
Giro di Lombardia, Como; a warm October evening beside the lake. All the people around me are screaming for something. The tifosi, behind the barriers, are anxious to see Bettini after his great win. We are all conscious of the importance of this victory for him. Bettini is still sitting on a chair for the TV interviews and the reporters are trying to catch his words when someone from behind says that there will be no podium ceremony.
Thanks to the ongoing political squable between the UCI and the race organizers, there was no podium ceremony at the Giro do Lombardia. Nice way to honor the 100th edition of the race.
No Podium Ceremony?
Bettini eyes are still red from his tears and two policemen cover my view with their helmets. I complain. During this moment the confusion is total. While you try to keep a pic of Bettini you lose many other opportunities and it’s difficult to maintain the quiet. Finally I catch the shot I need and I move under the podium. The rumors about the podium ceremony continue through the press and the photographers. Someone asks me and I ask someone else.
While Bettini moves to the antidoping quarter the official speaker finally announces that “no podium ceremony will be take part for this event”. Some tifosi start to cry against the UCI, someone else against everybody. Most of them remain in silence with their delusion. It’s a moment of total confusion. The photographers don’t know where to look.
Fans waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for a podium ceremony that never came.
There remains in front of us an empty podium. Someone from the press pushes the RCS official to explain the situation. Frankly it has been a dark chapter of a perfect day. I see Valverde going away; he is pursued by the journalists. He speaks about the podium matter. He says that the RCS didn’t allow the awarding of his Pro Tour jersey and it’s necessary to protest. He looks as confused as we are.
It’s a long and dirty story of money, politics and power between the UCI, the grand tour organizers and the teams. Something very far from the cycling, something very far from this afternoon. The official speaker comes again on the matter: “ We don’t want to leave you without a reason… the podium ceremony has been deleted due to problems between the RCS organization and the pro teams corporation”. [Ed. note: The RCS claimed it did not want to ‘advertise’ for the ProTour by acknowledging it with a presentation.] Now the anger of the tifosi grows louder. Someone shouts that nobody cares about their quarrels. The crowd agrees and someone starts to whistle.
Alejandro Valverde: No podium for you today.
The journalists find the way to the press room. Most of them must complete and send their work as soon as possible. Also the photographers have a lot of work. I don’t want to miss anything so I remain with a few officials under the stage. The podium girls look lost too – empty handed on an empty stage – a chance to show a perfect smile for this evening. I convince one to give us a last smile and then she disappears disappointed.
Bettini is inside the anti doping motorhome but hundreds of people are still waiting for him. Someone says that he will proceed to the podium in any case without the team jersey to thank so many people for their affection. The time is going so fast, and I still have to send the pics to PEZ hq, and then drive 500km to my home near Rimini.
Beside me two elderly people and a boy with an helmet. I realize that it’s Bettini’s family. His parents and his nephew, Sauro’s son. I would like to say a word to them, something that can fit to their situation, but I prefer to ask just a pic because I’m sure they’re tired of words. I think of this boy who lost his father so suddenly a few days ago and now is near his uncle on such a strange day on the lake.
I remember Bettini’s words during the press conference on Friday… the importance of the family. The shadows of the mountains covers Como and us. Still many people are present when Bettini emerges from anti-doping. He stops for a while then he greets and shows the rainbow: this is the podium ceremony for today. The crowd screams.
Someone asks for another autograph. He stops and satisfies them. After few words with a TV and proceeds to the press room. When I arrive there the press conference is over but Bettini is still surrounded by the journalists. He meets Zomegnan, the director of RCS organization, and he reaches him. The arms on his shoulders and he tries to explain the reason of the riders’ protest.
It’s late, in a deserted press room. The incoming night will finally cover the haze of a great day. Now the gorgeous villas on the lake will start to be partially closed for the winter time and the lake will find again its stillness and reflect the high mountains around.
I will leave with my car and drive through the night. Through the winter, dreaming of a new season and of new challenges; a long trip which will be a long way out of this dark. The way of a tradition that start to take place one hundred years ago on the same roads. But it will renew during my dreams every time I need it.