Maglia Rosa, Pauric's Italian surprise

The Maglia Rosa!
Northern Italy is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world and a cycling mecca! To get a last minute opportunity to see the Giro was not to be missed. Having originally booked a holiday in the Alps on spec and had a quick glance at the route of the Giro I had put hooking up with it out of my mind for the trip. Honestly!!! But upon realising that the roads in Italy are the brilliant for travelling on, I realised that despite being @360 km’s from the TT stage, I could easily get there in 3 hours. Great roads, no delays! And so the TT stage was to take place from a small east coast seaside town called Gabeche Mare to a town over 50K away called Saltara. My first thought was that trying to book a hotel at @3pm on the day the Giro was rolling into town would be impossible or extortionate but to my surprise there was no problem whatsoever in booking a room that was approx. 100 yards from the riders hotels, and for €50 for the room and breakfast!!. Outside the streets were closed off for the team lorries, buses and cars while the mechanics beavered away preparing the TT bikes for the day ahead.

Two things I probably expected prior to visiting the Giro before my arrival. 1 was that it was such a big event , similar to a premiership football match, no one would get anywhere near the riders or staff, and the second was that with this once every few years event rolling into town, hotel rooms, choc ices, and everything else in between would have tripled in price over night! Both these proved to be complete misconceptions.

We arrived in G Mare at around 5pm. Already the team buses were rolling into town. It so happened that the Astana and Sky were almost right outside my hotel! With each team having the two big race favourites it was almost as if they were keeping an eye on each other, parked meters from each other and staying at the same hotel! There was a 3 hour transfer for the riders from finishing that days race which meant they weren't due in until between 8 to 9pm. It was the day that a lot of riders came off on a wet decent including Wiggins. A few people hung around the hotel, being a good Irishman on his holidays, I went right in for a few pints!! Soon a few of the riders started arriving and checking in and then heading for evening meal. Astana and Sky at 2 tables almost beside each other, each with their own food and chefs though! First to arrive and recognisable was Rigobertto Uran. Not as tall as he looks but extremely lean and light. He had waited for Wiggins after his fall along with Haeno and there was talk that maybe he didn't need to do that and could of kept himself up in the GC. There was also rumours that he was to leave next year. In all the 24 hours I was there I didn't see Wiggins interact with any of his other team members particularly Uran who watched a lot of the commotion outside the front of the hotel when Nibiali arrived from his balcony with a team mate.
After speaking with the Sky chef I found out that Wiggo had come in a side door, was fed and watered and tucked up in bed! I ran into David Walsh whom I talked to for a good while. A fellow Irishman he and Paul Kimmage were the two original whistle-blowers about Lance Armstrong and doping. They accused him for years and were ostracised and sued by Armstrong. So when the truth recently emerged after more than a decade of them making their claims (including writing many books), David Walsh’s hour had came and is now recognised as one of the principle cycling journalists particularly when it came to the subject of doping. Following Sky’s success at last years Tour there was a lot of speculation of doping in the French media and others. Sky took the unusual step of inviting Walsh into the team with open access to form his own opinion. He currently is the chief cycling correspondent for the Sunday Times. Kimmage lost his job there mainly through the litigation from Armstrong whereas Walsh managed to hang on to his. So it was nice to meet him. He described a lot of the bullying that went on by Armstrong against him and other journalists. His latest book btw is LA confidential (I have a copy if anyone wants a lend). One funny point that day was that Lance had tweeted he heard that the whole press room clapped when Wiggo came off, but Walsh was in the press room and was able to confirm (and tweeted) there was no such thing! Two old enemies locking horns again!!!
A few more beers followed in a few more bars in the locality! Walking back to my hotel passing by the Sky trucks that were still working flat out on the TT bikes for the next day who did we run into only Sir Dave Brailsford. I have to say one of the nicest, friendliest and likeable fellas you will ever meet. For the head of the team with so much pressure on him to produce results he had an undeniable aura of calm and control. There was no running around making sure everything was done, no panic, no hint of a man under pressure. He just knew everything was fine and he had a word and a smile for everyone. With so many staff around too, there was no jumping as the boss had just turned up! Everyone just carried on with their job, everything was under control with everyone knowing their job!
Quite a few of the team were foreign but there were a number of English. One we met and had a great chat with on many occasions was Martin Ayres from Coventry. Martin is a mechanic that works for Jaguar who sponsor the team with cars. One day one of his bosses came into the factory and asked if anyone wanted to work with the team and with no one interested he reluctantly obliged. He knew nothing about cycling then but in the last 3 years has grown to love it. While specifically the mechanic he was part of the team and put his hand to anything. I first met him while he was blow torching the decal ‘prototype’ off the carbon wheels, the wheels they were going to use the next day. He was still there at 1am washing the cars and when I went back down at 8am he was just heading for his breakfast having got to bed at 1am and back at work at 6am!! Everything had to be spotless. Hard work but he enjoyed every minute of it. I later met him driving the team car after the riders in the TT and was kicking myself I didn’t ask him if I could go with him as I’m sure he would of obliged! He also does the twitter feeds and live website updates! Nice guy!
I had asked SDB if Brad would be going out that am to do a recci of the course. He said he had it done several times and knew it inside out but he would go out at about 9.30am if I wanted to see him! After his disappearance in the side entrance the night before I was there at 8am!!! Pints, hangover and all!!! I wasn’t there 10 mins talking to Martin again and who comes strolling out of the hotel on his own only Wiggo! I was the only one there with a few of the mechanics. I said hello and wished him luck for the day. He looked and nodded at me as if he didn't want to be wished luck! As if it’s not something you do!! But in a nice sort of way! He was to try out a brand new bike today, the Bolide! A black frame with gold decals. It looked the biz! He had a chat with the chief mechanic, went through every detail of it for about 30 mins and then strolled back to the hotel! I had a chat to him on the way, said he wasn’t sore from the day before, looking forward to the TT etc. I asked would he mind a photo, no probs!! Great. Then one of those moments in your life that you just cannot believe happened…..twice. I held up my iphone to take a front pic of the 2 of us and……….it froze!!! It wouldn't take! I think the first time it ever happened in thousands of photos!!! He had a laugh at that! He said don’t worry he’d see me later! I quickly got my phone back working again, ran up, got him to pose again, and the feckin thing wouldn't take again!!! He had a right laugh at that! I was ready to put it through the wall! He said he’b be back in a few min and to hold on!!! I waited around for about an hour but no sign! It had suddenly got a lot busier with a few press and lots of little Italians on bikes everywhere!! My God they are a bike mad nation! I was cursing the phone for missing the opportunity as I thought it was just too busy now. There was a lot of attention around Nibali at the front of the hotel and the Astana team. There were riders going everywhere. The next thing I know there was a rush at the back and Wiggo was out! He was getting ready to go on his bike and I asked for the photo again, he laughed remembering me, posed for the photo and laughed ‘you’re gonna set this lot off now’!!! He moved then to his bike and he was gone! Job done!! I had noticed how light he was but it was only when looking at the photo I realised how tall he was. I’m 6’ 1 and he’s at least 3 inches taller! And to be that weight!!! @62kgs!!
We walked around the town which had been transformed that morning, the stages were built in a matter of hours and all the barriers etc. Everyone knew exactly what to do! All these people follow the Giro around from town to town and it’s just second nature! The locals it has to be said made such an effort! Pink balloons and bike everywhere, shop windows dressed etc, etc, it really was a credit to them all. And not one hint of over charging for anything! The amount of bikes and clubs and riders that had made their way into town was amazing! They love their cycling there. Perhaps the only thing they love more is their hero, the Pirate, Marco Pantani was remembered everywhere! Not sure if he was from the area but he certainly wasn’t forgotten!
The TT got under way. I discovered later on that all the team busses with warm up areas were about 1km away in a large car park. They were all there and it was so easy to get so close to everything including riders. In fact they just rode to the start out through the car park by you!!! It really was a bike racing mecca there!
Wiggo had fallen to 21st on the GC after his tumble the day before so it meant he was off with all the riders at 1 minute intervals. This was meant to be an advantage as he had lots of rabbits to catch as opposed to the top 15 who went off at 3 minute intervals! Riders were extremely focused. All bikes were weighed and measured before they started (and seats levels checked too!!). Met a group of riders that had come from Thunder Bay cycling club in Ontario, Canada to cheer on Ryder Hysdal! In fact they had made a 2 week riding holiday out of it!!! Phew!
Wiggo was red hot favourite but a puncture meant he lost time and came second! But an Englishman still won by 16 seconds, a man many of you met last year, at the Mersey tunnel dash (10 mins of hell) record holder Alex Dowsett! The real winner on the day was probably Nibali. He was expected to lose around 2 minutes to Wiggo but in the end he only lost @15 seconds. He did a great TT as did Cadel Evans who showed a return to form for the first time since he won the tour 2 years ago. The first sign of Hysdals problems showed up, loosing over 2 minutes in an event he is normally strong in.
So that was it, they finished in another town 50K away, Saltara, but we decided not to follow!
It really was an experience! I was surprised by how open and accessible it was. There were team bikes and wheels lying everywhere. I was amazed none of it was nicked!!! Top of the range stuff lying everywhere. Everyone was very relaxed and friendly. The Italians love their cycling! I wouldn’t rule out another trip next year or even to the Vuelta this year. A well panned 3 or 4 days with bikes and rides included would be a very enjoyable club trip indeed!!!

Pauric and Sir Bradley 

Pauric and Sir Dave

1 comment:

  1. A superb experience and a great read Pauric, well done!