What's Cool In Road Cycling

SanRemo Roadside: The Ale Report!

The duck with plums and apples was probably one of the reasons I didn’t sleep on Friday night. But not the only one. Hours and hours moving from one side to the other in a hot, dry room of a hotel in the south part of Milano waiting for the first light of the day. It’s not a day like any other. It’s something I’ve waited on since the moment the last Sanremo finished…

*** REPLAY the race action on CYCLING TV***

When I wake up it’s still dark. But through the window you can imagine the day’s coming. The sky is coloured by that kind of silver that you know will turn to light in a while. My wife thanks the fact that I leave the bed and I close the door behind me not without reminding her for the nth time – “be ready to leave no later than nine thirty!” – she doesn’t reply and I believe it’s better to say nothing more.

While I walk alone to the Metro station, I feel happy. “It’s my day”. I remember all the times I did it in the past. For Pez and before, just for me. I really can’t explain this joy I feel and I believe has no real sense. There has been a time, sometimes in the past, when I was convinced that these feelings were normal. Now, I know they are not. I know it’s a sort of illness and it’s clear to me that my wife is still sleeping and will enjoy a nice breakfast after a warm bath and I will run from one side to another roving through bikes and riders without any real reason…except an absolute and indescribable love for my sport.

The PEZ boys get together for a little photo-op.

The meeting point was decided after a fast exchange of phone messages. Bar Castello, in front of the Castello Sforzesco. Ed, Martin and Matt are already there enjoying the breakfast. I’m really happy to meet them and Ed in particular. This is the third or fourth race that we have chased together. He’s always very kind with me but his accent? It is always a very hard test for my English understanding. It looks like he’s got the same problem with my English. Good. Important to be on the same side. We will update with phone messages! Ciao guys, I will have a look around.

The assembled masses of racers.

I’m a solitary wolf and I need to move continuously to forget the anxiety growing inside me minute by minute. The Lampre motor-home is the first one to come and then the others. The road is congested in a few minutes. All the riders on and all the people waiting. Every departure is a sort of dйjа vu. The most wanted is Armstrong. The most ignored are the French teams. Nocentini is an Italian racing for a French team, the Ag2R. “Today everybody will wait for the battle, and I will wait too. Rebellin’s team will explode the race on the Manie climb, it’s just a matter to wait for that moment.”

Rinaldo Nocentini.

It’s nice to discover the organization of the Teams. The most surprising discovery is two washing machines that the Cervelo team carry at all times with them. What kind of hotels do they frequent? The first riders start to come out from the buses and I understand it’s not just me that is excited for the event. This is a special race, a unique one for many, and there’s not a relaxed atmosphere as I felt during Tirreno Adriatico just a week ago.

You gotta be ready to take care of those muddy kits at all times!

There are riders playing part of their season here. The one over there is a known face – “Eric” – he’s surrounded by many tifosi. He’s not Italian but he won four Sanremos; he’s loved by the Italian tifosi. Herr Sanremo, Erik Zabel. He’s busy near the Columbia Team cars. – How do you feel, Erik? This was your race!” – His smiles. An open smile. “True, was. It’s something that remains in the past” – We talk little bit.

Herr Sanremo: Erik Zabel.

He’s now working with Columbia and believes that will be hard for Cavendish to win at first approach. He doesn’t reveal to me the secret on how to win this race four times – “Good preparation and some luck” – and he gives no thought to a different solution than an eventual sprint in Sanremo. – How do you really feel today, Erik? – I insist. Sometimes people need just few minutes of talk to move a little from the official side.

Not far from Ete, stands the man that will try to usher Mark Cavendish to his first win: George Hincapie.

I can’t believe that Herr Sanremo has already filed away the good feelings linking him to his race. It cannot be something that belongs to the past. He smiles, but differently, now. It’s more a grimace, a reaction to something painful. – “Well, it’s strange, you know” – I cannot know, but I believe I cannot go further. His painful smile it’s a present to the cycling. In that moment I would like to thank him for his love for this race; still intact. But I shake his hand and I proceed.

Thomas Lovkvist.

I move to the start line and I meet one of the favourites. Loqvist. He looks very young; long hair, blue eyes. He smiles and is not shaken at all. Sit’s near a fountain and takes a minute of relax before proceed to the starting line. There’s also Hincapie over there, stretching legs on his bike.

That’s as close as Ale came.

Few meters farther, the hell. Hundreds of people, photographers and journalists are surrounding Lance Armstrong. You understand he’s there just from the fact that everybody is screaming his name. Few meters from him, there’s Simeoni, forgotten. He talks with a foreign journalist about his personal feelings to ride again elbow to elbow with Lance. He talks about divine justice and says that he will be glad to talk with him during the race, if possible.

The forgotten Italian Champion: Filippo Simeoni.

The riders start to move; it’s going to be a long day, and not just for them. I’ve got to be back at the hotel to pick up Natalia and the car. A fast race to the metro and a fast look at the pictures captured. Time crawls when you are in a hurry and five stops on the underground are eternal.

And they’re off!

My plan is to see the race as many times as possible. But I don’t want just see it, I want to enjoy. So, a plain passage, the Mаnie climb, a sea passage and the Poggio are the only targets that can satisfy my desires. I think to Ed, already bounding to Sanremo and I feel he really knows how to enjoy a race! The perfect passage (the Poggio) and a comfortable bar with TV (and beer). I really would like to go there with him (and Natalia also would prefer that choice) but my heart orders a stop for the plain passage.

It’s Pontecurone, a small town lost in the North Italian plain. A long tree-lined road introducing the centre and the first wait for the riders. It’s sunny but still chilly, there’s a breeze blowing in front of us. This means it’s blowing on the riders’ backs. That’s the reason why they come a quarter of hour faster then expected. It’s great; someone attacks on the long avenue. The bunch passage: it’s something scary.

Off the front and the race is full-on.

Two hundred men riding over 50 km/h (much more than the maximum allowed in a town!) and passing a few meters from you. Natalia wakes up beside me – “This is really cool” – I cannot believe my ears, it’s the first time she comments on a race passage with good words.

A watchful peloton waits, looks for the next attack.

And at the back? Tom Boonen enjoys an easy roll-in to a day that is still very young.

It’s back to the road again and a fast call to Ed. “They’re trying to move the break, where are you?” – “Bounding to Genova, we are on the way of the sea” he answers. There’s time for another passage. I stop in Ovada. Ovada is the gate of the Apennines; there starts the Turchino. Usually the early breakaway is already organized.

And according to the tradition a group of braves arrives half an hour ahead of the scheduled time. There’s not much gap with the bunch where Cervelo is working hard. Too many ahead are dangerous, especially with the wind on their back. The wind… it’s stronger here. I know this valley and if the wind is blowing towards the sea, it will be again favourable once on the coast.

The large break howls by.

The Cervelo-led field is making a determined chase.

The last positions of the group are reserved to the Rabobank team. They have one teammate in the break and they can keep it easy! I update Ed with a phone message and I start to drive. Next stop will be on Le Mаnie climb. Ed replies with another message; he’s near Peitra Ligure. The highway on the sea is wonderful.

The Rabobank boys enjoy a relaxing passage through Ovada.

It’s a sunny, fantastic day. I stop in Voze, near the top of the climb. There’s a lot of people and it’s warm. We have some time spare to spend and we decide to enjoy the nice view on Noli town with its old tower and the magic Mediterranean in front. Natalia plays with a robotic rider and says that just a robot can ride for so long time.

A Tale Of Two Pictures: the gorgeous view to Noli and the Mediterranean…

… and Natalia’s robot cyclist friend.

The wind is stronger now and blows from the sea, same direction of the race. The break is split in three parts. There’s Ignatiev solo.

Mikhail Ignatiev has a painful go at it solo.

The remnants of the break chase the ever aggressive Ignatiev.

Then other three and five more just ahead of the “gruppo”. The tifosi are disappointed, they were looking for a big fight but the pace is quiet and just a few riders are dropping. So they call the names of the most combative riders – “Come on Rebellin” “Come on Basso” – But they don’t move. I’m disappointed too, they’re serving the race to the pure sprinters!

The field climbs the Le Manie – mostly intact.

A message to update Ed and I move forward to the next step. Andora. Fifty kilometres to go; it’s a risk to stop here as I could lose the Poggio. I try the luck and I stop. I want again feel the speed of the group preparing the “Capi”. Ed writes me. He’s already on the Poggio waiting for the live action on TV.

The break plows through Andora.

But I’m there “live” and I feel, for the first time of the entire day, quiet. There’s a quiet sea in front of me and I say to myself – “Hey, you’re here; this is your favourite race, this is your day. Enjoy it” – my wife is in the car (sleeping) and I spend the time listening to the people on the road. Some of them are just occasional and their questions are, sometimes, embarrassing – “Is Argentin going to win?” – or – “Last year they were coming from the other side”.

The field still chasing hard, but with QuickStep taking over the reins.

Here comes the break (but it’s another one) and then the main pack. Huge, fast, colourful. Bellissimo. Last run, I leave Andora and bound west to Sanremo. Ed sends me a message, the break has 1’50” and they’re on the Berta (first of the Capi). From the highway I can see the helicopter and I understand I have just few minutes to get to the Poggio in time. I’m lucky and I don’t find traffic. It’s the perfect day. This time Natalia comes with me, but we have to take a shortcut to get on top before the race. It’s a terrible climb.

I show to her some flowers just to distract her from her tiredness and, mostly, from the fact that she’s doing it for cycling! We are on the top and all the people are already anxious for the race passage. I choose my place and I wait. I would like to see a solo man. Preferrably Pozzato. The officials arrive. Cars, moto, Polizia, other moto, other Polizia, photo-moto; then the people on the corner cry. Pozzato. Pozzato. Pozzato.

Pippo! Pippo!

Garzelli driving hard right behind, trying desperately to get away from the field, and come to terms with Pippo.

Not far behind Garzelli, Hincapie is doing the opposite – tending to his man Cavendish, and trying to keep it together.

I tremble but I say to myself – “Remember, remember this moment for all the next year. This has to be enough for one whole year” – that’s the end. What else is there for me to say? I can only write about the Poggio road while the people disperse. I can only write about the tifosi’s disappointment when they realize a foreigner won again in Sanremo.

I can write about the satisfaction printed on my wife’s face after her terrible day has finished. I would like to close the eyes and come back to the early morning. The sky would be coloured by that kind of silver that you know will turn to light in a while. I would be alone in the chilly morning and full of hope. For a day I would be back to my most special place, where everything is a game, but at the end, a game has to end.

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