Roadside PEZ: The Strade Bianche
Roadside PEZ: I confess. I couldn’t wait to get there. It was snowing last Friday, on the Adriatic coast. A bad winter afternoon, probably one of the last. Where is the Primavera? It was snowing but I was looking forward to chase one of the most alluring races of the Pro calendar. It’s just four years old but smells of the good old times. Has not past, but finds on the dusty gravel its future. It’s the Strade Bianche or, if you prefer, the Eroica.
When we arrive in the old village of Radi it’s late in the evening. Radi: it’s an old tower, a crossroad and a couple of ancient villas. This small paradise lays in the middle of the first white road sector. There are 8 sectors of dirty roads for more than 60 km. The last three are quite short, and the first five are about 10 km each.
When I had to choose a good place to stay for the week end, I thought I was cool to sleep near one of the white road sectors. I decided that the best way to live the race was to live the dust of its route. So, was late in the evening and I was barely imagining the places around. I was barely imagining the roads feeling the vibrations of the car. All around was dark and the air was chilly. A thin anxiety was roving in my stomach; it’s the strong feeling of the eve.
A plate of Bruschetta, a good red wine (you’ve just to choose) and a warm Ribollita. Stefano, owner of the bed & breakfast “Il Pozzo di Radi” knows how to put to really ease the travellers.
He is an original “Senese” (from Siena) and can tell you a lot about the famous “Palio” and all the challenges related to this event. The “Palio”, famous in the World to be a horse race in a beautiful square is, in the reality, a raw rivalry between districts of Siena made of honour, fists and public fights. Something really far to understand for anyone except for them, the Senesi.
The winter is forgotten. The snow too. It’s early morning and the silence reigns. The country around the Pozzo di Radi is waking up right now. It’s the rooster giving the start, than the sun raises. I’m in the bed and beside me my wife and my daughter, drag here with the promise of something special.
I can’t wait anymore and I wake up. Start the engine and I’m already driving through the fist sector. What I didn’t see yesterday evening is now in front of me. Naked hills and kilometres of lonely white roads. I have the impression these roads are really well maintained. The rain of last days has been completely drained and the roads are already dry in the early morning. There’s just few gravel and the car safely rolls on. No bumps, no skids. The road is very nervous. On one meter flat and several bends.
The sector one is considered quite easy – a two star sector, if we like to use the same parameters of the Roubaix – and I can’t imagine what the sector number 5 is. The most difficult, the Monte Sante Marie white road.
On the way back to the room, for the great breakfast and for pick up the family, it’s the time of the “big meeting of the day”. A roe deer has stopped in front of me. Now I know Caccia was not cheating me. Was not exaggerating. I stop the car and I wait in front of it. He waits in front of me and these are precious seconds. With a fast jump he’s already behind the trees.
The winter is forgotten. The sun is warm even if the air is chilly. The Crete are green and on the top of those hills sometimes lays a tower, or an old farm. We are waiting the race and several people is coming to witness this passage. “All together” – informs the leading car.
The groups come and I watch it in a small descent because I remember the words Caccia told me – “In this race the difference can be made especially in descent” – but the speed is now controlled. Anyway I can see that many riders have problems to drive their bikes on these road especially because inside the bunch you can’t choose the way and you find whatever the road submits: graves, holes or craks.
The race has gone surrounded by dust and we have to reach the next sector: the terrible number 5, from Asciano to Torre a Castello for total 11,5 kilometres. This sector is a sad story for the riders. The road is not well paved as the one I found in the first one. There’s sometimes a quite amount of gravel especially in the middle of the road.
The slopes, either in the climbs and in the descents are extreme. It’s for sure a “five star sector”. It’s sort of Koppenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre mixed together. Usually here explodes the race (it’s 50 km to go) and while I drive (with some difficulties) I think this time won’t be different. I stop on the top of Sante Marie climb: one of the many in this sector, but probably the steepest.
Over there are also parking dome team cars and I stop with some mechanics to get some good info to reach the finish line in time. These mechanics are sent by the teams in strategic points to be prepared in case of mechanical problems and, anyway, to support riders with a fast feeding in this part of the race where it’s really impossible to get a drink from the team car behind the race. Simply because on this road there’s no way to overcome the bunch which is split in several groups.
The race comes and this time there’s a very selected group with the favourites inside. I can recognize Pozzato, Cancellara and Lovkvist inside but they’re rolling really fast. The great show come later. Tens of riders facing troubles with this roads. Someone try to climb out of bike but the aft wheel skids. Someone else messes up with the gear.
There’s also someone leaving the race for a comfortable car. Not Schleck who continues, despite he officially get out of the race. I then have the luck to follow him for some hundred meters. He’s out, but still he’s a podium man of last Tour de France.
We drive fast to Siena. The passage from the gravel road to the highway makes the difference. The finish line is settled in Piazza del Campo, one of the most famous squares of Italy. Instead of horses we will celebrate riders today.
We also have a bad experience with wrong and missing signalings for the press cars and we finish directly in front of the finish line. Someone from organization isn’t happy but at that time the best thing is just to move out of there with additional problems.
When Iglisky wins the race it’s 15:30 of a sunny afternoon in Siena, centre Italy. He doesn’t celebrate, but turns the head behind looking to Lovkvist – “Is it real? Am I really the winner?” – seems to ask. Just once among the arms of the masseur he leave to a relaxed celebration.
The other come tired and dirty. Same dirty of the winner, but the dirty of the winner is called glory. The loser are just dirty. While I stay in this square I feel strange. This race, passing through forgotten roads and lonely country houses finishes inside a clean, beautiful square full of tourists sit on the ground looking astonished for hours the “Mangia Tower” as well as the great Dome.
Doesn’t need to write in that square I was thinking to the white roads. Doesn’t need to write I will ride thousand times on those roads. Just pushing hard with my mind and feeling strong inside heart. This is the good moment to grow up a dream. The spring has started. The winter is really forgotten.