Grappa di PEZ: One Last Glass
The thing about chasing Grand Tours is that there is never just ‘one’ thing that makes them special. They’re an incredible series of incredible events, compressed into a small window in time. In witnessing the lives of others, you also think about your own. If you’re lucky enough to join the fray like I did for the final week, you better be ready for an exhilarating, exhausting adventure…
Flying home from Italy I can’t help but reflect on what made this Giro special…
People tell me a lot that I’m “living the dream”. Believe me, the fantasy that is my reality is not lost on me. Chasing a Grand Tour is the epitome of what so many of us fans want to do… and it’s still good to be going home.
Bjarne is smiling a lot more these days… Nice work guys!
BASSO’S BIG DAY
Good on him! He deserved this win and he stepped up and grabbed it for his own with both hands – and legs. In this post-Lance season, many fans I’ve talked to are keen for a new era of racing – one that is more open, less pre-determined, and just more fun to watch. Sure we’ve seen a few great races in the past few years – Le Tour 2003 and last year’s Giro are the closest racing cycling has seen in years, but as a fan, nothing bums me more than a three week race that is over in the first week…
So we made much bally-hoo about how great this Giro would be – trading on last year’s example – and the fiery desire of so many Italians ready to fight for the maglia rosa. But it never turned into the race we’d hoped for. Basso was so good, he sealed this deal on stage 7 to Saltara, and took time from his rivals on every other hard stage. The challengers never stood a chance, and it was as amazing to watch them wither, fade, or even disintegrate as it was to witness Basso’s superior superiority.
But the style of racing was calculated, defensive, and delivered with Bjarne’s impressive precision. At times it was bloody boring. Maybe the course was too hard, or the riders’ spirit was gone.
Even other journos I talked to were peeved that Basso wouldn’t give ‘em anything good in the press conferences… His responses to questions were just like his riding style – sincere, well-thought out, even repetitive, but nothing exciting. Even when Simoni stirred the pot in Aprica by whining about not getting the gift win, Ivan stayed the high ground. He’s a class act, but his racing style lacks the panache of a true “Italian-style” champion. Killing your rivals in the TT’s and riding them off your wheels in the mountains is not what the tifosi want in their heroes – Chiappucci, Pantani, Bettini, Cipollini – the Italian fans LOVE ‘em because they’re examples of exciting, attacking racers, with big personalities… the frenzy around Bettini when he won in Brescia was only slightly more frenzied than when he signed in…
Even at the CSC after party, Basso reportedly stayed the course… no cutting loose for him… although you gotta credit the guy with doing more time with the team when his 4 day old son is at home waiting to see papa for the first time.
Full congrats to Ivan, Bjarne and the CSC team – it’s been a long time coming but they got their first Grand Tour win, and now have all the momentum leading into July… let’s just hope the other guys up their games.
No trip to Italy is complete without a sampling of grappa (I recommend as much as you can stand), and any barman worth his stripes will be more than happy to suggest his favorite.
ROCK WHEN YOU’RE ALIVE
The thing about chasing a big tour is that after the 14-18 hours of travel to get there, and 9 hour time difference, trying to get rested can be your biggest obstacle. You can run on adrenaline for a few days, but changing locations each day, riding (you don’t want to miss that -), tapping into the race, writing and posting stories (2-3 hours per), chasing down opportunities for bonus stories (like my visit to the Bianchi factory, or waiting around the Liquigas hotel for an hour after the race to say hello to Dario Cioni), and battling Factor X – like getting your car towed – basically you never get rested… you just fight off exhaustion as long as possible.
Hours become the most precious unit of time –
The day starts around 7AM, out of the hotel by 830, and on with the day, which almost always lasts until 1 AM tomorrow.
The main part of the day involves one (or any combination) of:
• riding (3-7 hours)
• getting to the start (1-3hours)
• getting to the finish (1-7 hours)
• transferring to tomorrow’s town (3-7 hours)
• finding the hotel (1-2 hours)
• getting internet and writing story, editing pics, answering a few emails (1-3 hours)
• find & eat dinner (1-2 hours)
• unwind and lights out
And don’t forget to add in time for the stuff you never expect… which basically happens every day.
My travel rules for Grand Tours have evolved since I first covered Le Tour in 2003, into these, which I’ve come to accept as part of Grand Tour life:
1. everything takes longer than you want,
2. every trip takes at least one hour,
3. add one hour to every trip longer than one hour
4. driving anywhere takes you about 1 minute per km when you add in stops, directions, loading bikes etc. Getting through the mountains takes even longer – tour busses and moto warriors clog the roads.
You never get rested. You just ignore the exhaustion. Hey, you can always do like Bon Jovi and “rock when you’re alive, sleep when you’re dead”.
My unprecedented sighting on the Gavia of PEZ jerseys worn by actual PEZ fans (like Don) was cause for photos and much celebration.
PEZ PEPPERS THE GAVIA
Our day riding stage 20 over the Passo Gavia and Mortirolo was one my best on the bike… ever. The riding was unsurpassed in its epic-ocity. Huge climbs, spine tingling descents (taken at safe speeds!), high-speed drafting under the Giro banners in those little towns you see on the race coverage, the hardest climb of my life and empty roads as we churned out the final kms back into Aprica just ahead of the race… If that was the cake, then the cherry on top was thanks to you guys – the PEZ fans I met along the way.
Somewhere on the top half of the Gavia, as I struggled up another 10% pitch in my 34×25, I spied ahead a sight I’d never before seen…. It was a PEZ jersey worn by a rider I didn’t know!
I’d often wondered about this moment…. But I never expected it at the Giro on a climb this hard. I ride up behind the guy and commented on his cool jersey. As I pulled alongside, I could see he was struggling a bit more than me, but he was probably 10 years my senior, so I was doubly impressed. ‘Don’ looked over and did his own double take, after a few seconds and between breaths he asked if I’m that “Pez guy”. Wow… I was seriously flattered. Very cool.
I thanked Don for his show of support and rode on. Further up the climb I passed another PEZ fan named Jeff, and at the top still another PEZ jersey emerged from the crowd. I was blown away, and was genuinely thrilled to see guys wearing the PEZ colors. Thanks for the support everyone – I can honestly tell you that is what truly made the day for me.
The valley just below the Dolimite town of Arrabba is filled with views like this, and riding to match.
BACK TO REALITY
After a few days, though, you find a groove and things start to work with a certain rythm, and sometimes they actually seem to be going you’re way.
Then something happens to shock you back to reality, and give you some perspective on what’s really important in life. For us it was on the Friday of Stage 19. We’d chosen to skip attending the day’s brutal stage over the Fedaia, Pordoi and San Pellegrino, to instead drive the estimated 4 hours to Aprica so we’d be ready to ride the next day over the Gavia and Mortirolo. The trip actually took 5 hours (see – 1 hour more than expected! – not including two hours in the bar watching the stage) and that evening the first Giro crew we saw pulled into Aprica at 11PM – so you bet we were glad we made the call to pass on the stage.
The day was sunny, warm, gorgeous, and we were feeling pretty high from the trip so far. But along the way we passed a terrible motorcycle accident – the kind that stops all conversation in the car…
On the small road leading up to the Passo Tonale, 2 motos had collided with a camper, obviously at high speed. A helicopter waited in the middle of the road to take survivors to the hospital. The motos had disintegrated – but lay entangled on the pavement. At least one survivor was strapped onto a stretcher, the forks from one bike lay detached nearby, torn control cables dangled, reaching for something to grab on to.
In that instant I was reminded how quickly things can change. The people involved had, only minutes before, been enjoying this same beautifully sunny day in the Italian mountains, probably a vacation, a lot like us. I thought about my wife and baby girl and how much I wanted to see them again.
We snapped out of our Giro-daze and took the rest of the trip a little slower.
Basso on the run after his final press conference in Milan, while fans (ie: press) still clamour for one last autograph.
It’s a weird feeling in the press room as the digital circus of international journos tap out their final words of this race. Basso’s final press conference lasts only a few minutes and he’s rushed out to the next appointment. As he disappears down the stairs, the final curtain comes down on this Giro.
As international as it is, with press from across Europe, the Americas and Asia, it’s a small world, and most of the journos know each other, or at least recognize the faces, and it’s funny how you get to know guys over the race simply by meeting in the press room each day. This image struck me last year and was just as strong this year. The Giro staff, journos, logistics and support crews form a make-shift team each year, all working together to put on, report on, and move one of the greatest spectacles in cycling around the country, and this year around Europe. It’s a lot like any office, people with different jobs each a different spoke in a wheel, but all as important as the next. They work together, relax (a little) together, hang out at the water cooler together, and manage to pull the whole thing off with such precision, they dispel all stereotypes of Italian ‘organization’. Every day the whole operation changes offices, usually moving several hundred kms overnight, and the next day it’s business as usual – except you’re in a different town.
Back in the press room Sergio Meda – the chief credentials officer gets a huge ovation from the journos as he thanks everyone for their work telling the world about the race and signs off. It’s the ‘last day of school’. The job is almost done, lockers are being cleaned out. Many of the journos are clocking out to catch flights that night or drive several hundred more km home to a familiar bed. For many, goodbyes come before they could finally share that beer, cafй, or grappa that had been promised from stage 1 – but next year for sure. There’s an emptiness as the room clears out, and for me it’s still 8:30 before I’m done – but I’m not the last.
On the street outside, the barriers are already gone, most of the trailers and vip tents have vanished, street sweepers pick up garbage, and soon Corsa Venezia will be back to its traffic-jammed self – almost unaware of the history that was made today.
When planning a trip to chase the Giro, it’s a good idea to tack on an extra day or two to shop for your wife in Milan. And don’t forget to enjoy the coffee… it’ll be the last one you have for a while .
The thing about ‘living the dream’, is that after a few days, you start to remember where the real dream is… and how far away you might be from that place.
The best part of these trips, as awesome as they are, is how they rekindle my appreciation for what’s really important in life – and for me that’s at home, with Mrs. Pez and Baby Alessa.
Talking each day on the phone with my wife, I could hear my 5 month old daughter making all kinds of noise, her first word is coming soon and that’s a moment I don’t want to miss.
It’s good to be going home.
And A Big Round Of Applause For:
So thanks to all you readers who followed our coverage for the past three weeks. We tried to make it different and worth your time – and hope you found it entertaining and informative.
It was full team effort from our side, and thanks must go out to the dedicated PEZ-Crew for making this our most extensive Giro coverage yet:
• Race reports – Alastair Hamilton from Spain, Gord Cameron from Scotland, Dave Aldersebaes from the US
• Ed Hood in Scotland for his diligent and revealing interviews with Dario Cioni, and eye-witness reports from week 1
• Alessandro Federico for his super reports on the Stage 7 stage previews, for driving 500km after work across Italy to be our photog for Stage 20, and for that bottle of local hooch – I’ll let you know when I crack into it.
• Jered “G-Man” Gruber in Georgia for his words, and dedication to editing and posting stories and pics throughout the race.
• And of course my ‘driver’ Greg Scott, who earned his PEZ kit not only behind the wheel of the PEZ Giro Assault Vehicle, but for sitting on the front almost the whole way from Bormio to the base of the Mortirolo – at 50kph – while I sat in.