What's Cool In Road Cycling

Grappa d’Italia 7: One More Glass

The jetlag is slowly lifting after a full 24 hour travel day to bring me back to the reality of home, and I’m still sorting through the days, events, and adventures that were my life for the past two weeks at the Giro. I didn’t have time to write about everything, but here are a few final Grappa-worthy moments…

In a strange way, this sign symbolizes the essence of the Giro.


Spinaci al burro and bistecca con rucola – food as it should be.

Italy is famous for it’s food – and given that it’s so plentiful and so tastey, it’s a wonder Italians in general are so lean – overweight Italians are as rare as Italians who don’t like to talk. Our days were so long, that food became the start-gun and checkered flags of each. Breakfast was usually around 7:30, with a cup of the smoothest foamiest cappuccino, a brioche, a bun with jam and cheese, some cereal and yogurt, some fruit, and then another cappuccino “per favore”. The coffee was definitely meant to be enjoyed and lingered over for an extra minute, because once the day really started, it was 100 miles and hour until dinner time.

Cafй macchiato caldo – my dessert in a cup.

Lunch became part of the day, and not so much as sign post as simply a time to refuel. And authentic pizza, pasta, cutlets, big salads, and always ending with a cafй macchiato caldo beats power bars any day. Even the rest stops on the autostradi are a dining experience. The “AutoGrill” was a welcomed stop on our daily travels, as much for the great food as for a culinary experience that rivals the best restaurants in many parts of North America. Italians treat a simple highway rest stop with the proper respect – we could learn from them.

Dinner was the clear sign of the end of another epic day – traveling several hours and several hundred kms, catching the start of finish, seeing the race, doing an ride, writing a story and editing photos, then off to the next hotel and a shower. Dinner became the well-earned reward for a day’s work well done, and usually meant a little indulgence in more great food – and of course Italian drink. So what if we didn’t eat until 10:00 o’clock?

The Classic Italian cocktail – the Negroni.

Why more people don’t drink Negronis is beyond me – this drink is “La Dolce Vita” in a glass. I love these when it’s hot – the combo of gin, sweet vermouth, campari, with a slice of orange – is truly refreshing. Reportedly invented at Harry’s Bar in Florence in the 1950’s, I’m astounded by the lack of knowledge of this cocktail in North America. But in Italy, walk into any establishment serving a drink and they’ll set you up right. My only caution is that the Italians like to pour ‘em BIG – we’re talking 5-6 oz of booze here – so pacing is advised.


Basso flies by going for the solo win on Stage 17.

Our day to La Tenda on Stage 17 went un-documented due to an unexpected hotel change and long travel after our epic ride over the last two passes of the stage. After a 6-7 hour riding day, we didn’t get to our hotel until 9:30, so story writing lost out to food and sleep. But the day was an epic.

We rode about 25km to the bottom of the 940 meter Colletto del Moro, a 4km stinger with the last 2km at 20%!! Even in my 36×25, I was reduced to walking, but over the top was an easy recovery. But I had no idea the climb to Colle di Tenda would be so hard. It’s basically 30kmof going uphill. The ride up the valley was nice – wind at my back, gentle slopes of 3-4 % – no trouble. When I hit the lower slopes of the final 12km though, things began a rapid slide into hurtsville. Maybe it was a bad piece of tuna in my salad at lunch, or maybe I was just going too hard, but inspite of the sweat pouring off me, I was getting chilled and coughing – you know when you get the coughs on a long climb? – never a good sign. I began stopping frequently, and felt even worse when Francesco Moser blew by me out of the saddle charging for the top (he’s in awesome shape though, so being dropped by him is shame for no one.)

Giro05 Stg 17: On the slopes to La Tenda, CSC’s Andrea Peron (l) and teammate slap a high five upon hearing the news that Basso has won.

I was ready to stop at the village with 6km to go, but was goaded into the final climb by my new Italian pal Mino whom I’d bump into each day. “You have to go to the top.” He said, and I knew he was right. So off I went, feeling even worse than before, and finally I pulled over and laid on the ground. Yup – it was a bad patch allright.

But I pressed on. My last hurdle was the local fuzz guarding the gate at 1100m to go. Course closed. But I flashed my press creds, and was soon on my way to the finish line around the last turn. This was a cool feeling – riding alone inside the barriers in the final meters of the epic stage. The race was about an hour away, so I had to motor. I was psyched to finally ride my bike over the finish line of a grand tour stage.

The fans’ eyes were upon me as I ticked down the meters: 900, 800, … 500. My pulse quickened as a fan snapped a pic and cheered. 400, 350, 300. Was I actually going to make it? 250… The line was in sight – but so was the last line of fuzz who were directing all traffic off the course. 100 meters… then STOP!

Stopped just meters short of my goal – there was no way I could convince that guy on the left to let me get to the finish line. He wouldn’t even take a photo of me.

Even my best praying hands and broken pleading in Italian was not going to get me past these guys – I was short of my goal by just a 75 meters – but it might as well have been 100km.

A quick glance around revealed no press room at the top – it was back down at the village, and by now there was no way I was getting back onto the course to descend. I was outnumbered, and my only hope was to outsmart the local security.

I’d smartly fitted my spd’s and was wearing my mtb shoes, so I could walk around and get photos, and I noticed a wide open grassy meadow meandering its way off the mountain. This could work… But would the Zipp 303 clinchers be up to it? Only one way to find out… So off I went – on a true off-road adventure – slowly descending the 500 meters back down the course to a spot where the barriers were open. The wheels and tires held – and soon I was back on course heading to my spot beside the stone farmhouse waiting for the race to come through.


Easily the hottest guy at the race was the bloke who took the job as the Giro mascot mouse. Not only were people laughing at him, but he’d spend the whle day in that furry sauna.

All the riders have several “official” and “unofficial” fan clubs. We’re not sure which this guy belonged to, or even what he actually doing.

As I struggled over the last 4 kms of the Finestre’s dirt road, the tifosi were happy to offer up cheers of encouragement. The lady behind me is Claudia. She was at first my rival, then became my teammate as we passed each other several times on the climb, finally riding together over the last switchbacks. She was in her 50’s and had ridden 30-40km more than us.

Seconds after snapping that last shot – Nick O’Brien jumped out of the crowd and introduced himself to me. Although we’d talked several times, we’d never met, and didn’t even know for sure if we’d both be on the Finestre. A very cool moment.

• Italians are great people – they love to talk and get to know you. One night at dinner, I was seated next to the lady on the left. We began chatting, and next thing I know, she’s calling her daughter to come down to the restaurant to meet me, because Mrs. Pez’s parents and the daughter’s boyfriend are both from Calabria. We kept on yapping – all in Italian (mine seemed to improve with the wine) until the owners kicked us out so they could close.

• The press rooms were really cool – each day the Giro would set up work stations and wireless internet connections for a few hundred of us. You’d see the same characters each day – just in different towns, and get to know some of ‘em. This was the final stage press room in Milano – and definitely the nicest one I saw – it was complete with huge chandeliers and painted frescos on high vaulted ceilings.

• “Solo cinque euros!” After hearing the blaring invitation to buy an official Giro t-shirt for the 400th time, I gave in to the urge, and spent the 5 euros.

• The Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper became a popular fashion accessory in the heat.

• Mission accomplished. My last night in Italy and best to toast the journey with one last Negroni in the huge mall at Piazza Vittoria Emmanuele II beside the duomo.

• Dinner with Dunc. The best way to get around these crammed cities is by moto – at least one of us is driving.

Thanks to everyone for reading – and let me know how the grappa and negroni tasting goes!
– The Pez.

• Read all our 2005 Giro Stories and Grappa D’Italia Features.

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

Comments are closed.