What's Cool In Road Cycling

Inside Lombardia: Race Day

Anyone familiar with the PEZCycling philosophy knows we believe that attitude is 9/10ths of the law. Which is why we salute PEZ-fan Nick O’Brien’s amazing adventure at the 04 Giro di Lombardia – rubbing shoulders with burned-out media hacks has never been more fun!…

The Big Day Arrives
The next morning I got to the start area about 3 hours too early as the barriers were being put up – hardly the time keeping of a ‘seen it all before’ Photojournalist, but I was determined to get everything out of the day and soon found myself discussing the race outcome over coffee with a couple of officials who seemed perfectly happy for me to be strolling around the start area, with (although I didn’t know it at the time) the most amateur looking camera equipment slung over my shoulder.

Paolo, Paolo this way….!

As the start time got nearer large crowds gathered on each side of the barriers and although there was no sign of any riders, I was definitely blending in well. I wandered around the inner VIP areas just trying to take my cues from the rather weary looking photogs & journos – if anything was going to give me away it was my ‘happy to be here’ smile.

All of a sudden there was a stirring in the crowd and a couple lesser known riders came through the crowd and climbed the steps to sign on. Taking my cue from the guys around me I stayed back and let them get on with it –unless you’re ranked top 20 in the world I’m not taking my lens cap off.

Minutes later all hell broke loose as the commentator announced in quick succession the arrival of Bettini, Basso and Rebellin I found myself in a scrum of fat Italians all clammering to get their shot. At this point nobody would have noticed if I’d casually slipped to the back and let the pro’s get on with it, but that little fan inside me was having none of it and I soon found myself elbows out like a Belgian sprinter fighting my way to the front of the pack and screaming for Paulo, Ivan & Davide to look my way. I really believe I would have got some cracking shots if I’d just put film in the camera!!

“I know I’m from down under but you might want to turn your camera the right way up mate”

I crawled out from under them and quickly loaded my 35 exposures which I’d brought in a special offer pack at Luton airport – 5 Kodak films for the price of 4 – very slick.

Snapping Bjarne
By now most of the riders were back in the line of team cars so with the cream of international cycling to choose from I wondered freely down the line like a kid in a sweet shop, snapping away. Most of the riders were more than happy to be photographed so when I got to the CSC car I was delighted to see Bjarne Riis leaning on the door, a genuine Tour de France legend. What an opportunity! My request for a quick shot was met by the presentation of Michele Bartoli emerging from the car. Obviously, Bjarne, ever the pro, with his sponsors in mind, would want his riders photographed and stepped back.

The stalker inside me was having none of this and as I thrust my camera at Mr. Bartoli. I grabbed Mr. Riis in what can only be described as a wrestling head lock, after which a terrified Bjarne straightened up put on a smile and allowed his shot to be taken. Delighted I continued down the line grinning to myself but I can only guess at the confused reaction of these 2 cycling greats to this mad man with a camera!!

As the race neutral zone started up I ran back to my car – resplendent with its official press number on the windscreen and my bike jammed into the passenger seat. My plan was rather than drive round at the tail of the entourage all day I was going to catch the race at the main points including the Madonna di Ghisallo – which I was intending to ride up just to remind myself I was still a diehard bike fan and not some soft journalist poncing around lake Como.

In order to achieve this I needed to get parked up at the finish area sharpish, so I was not happy to find myself sitting in a 2 mile tailback across the Swiss-Italian border caused some bike race. As the patient crowds got out of their cars and hung over the flyover to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that would fly past any minute I decided to test the power of the laminated pass once again, I slowly edged up the outside of the cars until I got to the Carabineri blocking the slip road.

Alex buddy – longtime no see….

Go! O.J. Go!
As he motioned for me to go back I nonchalantly flicked him the pass and magically a smile appeared and I was waved through onto a completely closed off & empty motorway heading for Como town. I say empty, but infact every bridge and side turn was heaving with expectant fans and it wasn’t until I took a roundabout in my little yellow smart car that I realized I was being cheered every step of the way “O.J. Simpson Style”! Was I some kind of mutant Mavic service vehicle? As I glanced in my mirror I soon realized that the police motorbike on my bumper suggested that my schoolboy dreams of leading this great race where nearing reality and if I didn’t put my foot down I’d be swallowed by the now de-neutralized race.

As I swung off the motorway the riders flew past at such a speed that even if I new how to use a camera I’m sure it would have still been a blur. The same VIP treatment greeted me as I drove through the closed town centre streets and I was soon parked up outside the Como yacht Club which was being used for the Press centre. I jumped out of the car, put my bike together pulled on my kit (no mean feet in a rented Smart) and started riding out through all the team buses in the direction of Bellagio & Ghisallo.

It was a great feeling riding down the closed off final km which only a few hours later would witness the first classic win of cycling’s latest wonder boy and I was soon winding along the lakeside on a sunny autumn morning towards one of the legendary climbs of Italian bike racing.

I’d ridden the Ghisallo before but this time I was feeling cocky – why the fact that I had a press pass should turn me into Iban Mayo is anyone’s guess, but I was on a role. The climb was busy as it always is on race day and I soon found myself in the company of a couple of club riders. Immaculate on matching De Rosas we started chatting and in pigeon Italian, for some unknown reason, I so convincingly convinced them of my Press credentials that as we shared a capuccino in the bar at the top they were trying to tap me for an invite to the after race party! I was beginning to worry that my grasp of reality was fading – but still delighting in the power of the laminated pass.

Do you reckon they would be interested in putting my bike in the chapel…?

As the race flew by on the big ring I knew it was easier to bluff being a photo-journalist than a rider, because after my ride up the climb in 39×23 you can really appreciate how good these guys are.

The race was about 90 minutes from finishing so I flew back down the climb into Bellagio with the idea of getting a fast ferry back down the lake to Como
No such luck my calculations were out and even my press pass couldn’t help as the ferry had left 20 mins earlier.

Full Tilt TT To Como
If I was to get to the finish on time I would have to ride the 30Km back full tilt. With the race taking the Lecco road (about 65km plus climb) I reckoned I was just about capable and so I found myself head down cutting every corner back to Como. I screeched to a halt back at the car and quickly got changed back into my Photo-journalist alter ego complete with official green tabbard which enabled me to line up with the best of them 30 metres past the finishing line.

As we waited me and my new found colleagues started chatting about the race, and more importantly next years world cup organization, of which word was out, that we’d have to pay to cover races (or at least that’s what I understood) which was obviously of great concern to them. Being so knowledgeable on such matters (NOT!) I chucked in that the new world cup was going to create a Bernie Ecclestone – F1 type situation whereby “us” the humble gentlemen of the press were well and trully shafted, even though it was down to our stunning hard work and reporting skills that this commercial sport even existed in the first place. This seemed to touch the right note and I reckoned if I’d have pushed it I could have led a journalistic revolt.

The proof is sadly in this pudding, as our “Photographer” apparently forgot to get the bikes in the frame.

As more and more photographers joined the scrum I realized just how pathetic my camera was & the only way I would get a half decent shot was if I was on Cunegos handlebars. Anyway no one seemed to notice and the atmosphere was fantastic as the winner crossed the line the home crowd went mad. Immediately everyone rushed after the riders and the police closed off the area around the podium, once again I was the right side of the barriers and as the presentations were made I felt my shoulder being tapped by an old Italian bike fan desperate for me to get him into the inner sanctum – if only he knew.

Twenty minutes later, after Cunego had collected his trophy and Bettini received his crowning UCI Rainbow jersey, I found myself back in the Como Yacht Club in front of a Lap top in the press room with the post race conference about to begin next door. At this point when I realized that most of the guys would be downloading their images instantly via the net and that I would have to wait a week for my film to come back from Happy Snaps, I felt it was the right time to slip back into reality and sneak off.

My pass had done me proud and with Gazzetta della Sport organizing the Milan San Remo and the Italian Beach Volley Ball Championships I’m sure I’ll visit the mother in law again soon….!!!!

Now THAT is a great story! Thanks Nick for a most PEZ-Worthy account of an awesome day.

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.