What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro Di PEZ: Wonderful Week One!

Post-Giro Roadside: The Centenary Giro has only been over for a few days, but my personal trip to the Corsa Rosa ended back on Stage 5. With two and a bit weeks back in the real world of ‘work’, that first week of fun could just as easily been last year. When The Pez asked the crew for a “Look Back” piece over our time on the race, I went digging back through the photos, notebooks and memories for a few more Giro stories that I didn’t share with you at the time.

I’ve covered different pro races in various countries before, but the 2009 Giro was to be my first working Grand Tour. Having previously played fan at three Tours de France, being on the other side of the fence for the Giro was certainly an eye opening experience and being part of this reasonably sized mobile city, was a great way to spend a week.

I lived in Padova for over a year and always wanted to ring a bell and ask to take a picture from the rooftops. With my Giro race creds, it took just 5 minutes to get it done!

The funny thing about the Roadside Reporting game is that while sometimes you think you have a great idea for the day and it just fizzles out for whatever reason, but most of the time, a great tale that you just feel the need to share jumps out in front of you. The biggest problem is which ones to tell now and which ones to leave “for later”.

Over the five stages that I chased the 2009 Giro d’Italia, there were a lot of really interesting people that I met, and most you have already seen on Pez. There were also some seriously bad rookie mistakes that I made with things like hotel bookings, directions to hotels, ensuring I had the correct island for team press functions, shoe choice, uploading of stories and files, scheduling time to eat between 8.00am and midnight, etc etc. While Matt’s Rookies Guide To Grand Tour Coverage could very well be a story all on its own, for the sake of my own self respect, I think we’ll meet a few more people who make the Giro what it is.

Walking the TTT course on Lido di Venezia, I considered asking one of the locals if I could borrow a bike so that I could check out the course and save my legs a bit. The reality is that I just kept walking around which was, of course, a much better way to meet people.

I came across these three guys who were taking it in turns photographing themselves with the finish line in the background. I offered to take a picture of them all together with their camera and after a bit of a chat, Roberto explained the very interesting way that they would be watching the race today.

Marcello, Roberto and Gabrielle would soon be taking to the high seas on their mountain bikes.

Roberto is an inventor and had devised a system with a set of inflatable pontoons that when unpacked and pumped up, attach to a standard mountain bike. Then, with a mechanism like you possibly used to use to power your bike lights, your pedalling action turns a propeller, giving you a human powered amphibious vehicle that collapses down and fits into a back pack. Crazy stuff!

Roberto gave me a brochure on the Shuttle Bike , but the real test of any invention like this is “does it stay afloat.”

Later in the day I saw the boys checking out the TTT course. That’s them under the bridge. I’ve a great idea if the Giro ever comes back to Venice!

Italian clothing company Kappa had the contract to kit out all of the helpers on the race in 2009, meaning that there was a uniform of sorts for all of those working behind the scenes. While trying to organise a particular ‘piece’ that I wanted to write about (what did I say earlier about dead ends?), I approached a couple of guys who were more than happy to chat, but were not actually able to help me with my original mission.

Giulio (l) and Nando(r) help set up the stage finish every day.

Both the guys were wearing dust jackets while setting up, but quickly left what they were doing and threw their jackets off for a picture and a chat. Nando (on the right) was working his 15th Giro in 2009 and if he looks familiar to you, he gets a bit of TV airtime whenever there is a finishing circuit as one of his jobs is to ring the bell signalling one lap to go.

In order get everything running smoothly during the day, there are plenty of Giro workers who do their thing at night. As well as the TV trucks driving through the night to set up at the day’s stage finish (and then the workers stretching out under the finish straight tribunes to sleep during the day) the guys putting out the barriers don’t have your average 9-5 office job.

I was finished for the day and looking for food, while these guys had plenty of work still to do at 10.30pm

One advantage of being on at the Giro is that while you might be doing the same job every day, at least you get to do it somewhere different.

Each of the banners that you see announcing the distance to the finish, has a crew of workers who drive to the same marked spot on every stage, set up their banner, wait until the last rider passes, dismantle the banner and head to the next stage.

Luca and Alfredo are the “30km to go” men and while giving Luca the Pez address so he could check us out, he gave me the address of his own website that showcases his work as a photographer. The Pez crew aren’t the only guys working on the Giro who have ‘day jobs’ it seems.

In this mobile community, there are also groups within groups and even over the few short days I was on the race, I got to know a few of the other guys in the press room. The Dutch and Belgian guys were working their backsides off in the first week doing double duty covering the opening of the Giro as well as the revelations about Tom Boonen’s “extracurricular activities” that were dominating the headlines back home in their respective cycling mad countries.

At the Team Columbia Highroad presentation, Cavendish was the centre of attention already. It would only get crazier when he started winning stages and wearing the Maglia Rosa

The press centre is set up everyday in close proximity to the finishing line (although your definition of close and the organiser’s definition of close is not always the same thing). It can be an interesting place to work. There’s the shared camaraderie of everyone doing the same job combined with the obvious, but unstated rivalry of trying to beat the others to the punch with an exclusive quote or interview. Sometimes, conversations floated about between other journo’s that in hindsight, they may not have wanted others to hear. But I guess that old adage about going away from home rings true here too. What happens in the press room, stays in the press room!

In Trieste, the pressroom overlooked the waterfront and by walking out onto the balcony, we could see the riders crossing the line.

Some of the other great guys I met on the Giro were the drivers of the official cars. There is a fleet of vehicles that ferry the organisers, the VIP’s, and a whole host of other (necessary) hangers-on that accompany the race.

As the official newspaper of the race (hey, there is a reason why the leader’s jersey is pink) La Gazzetta dello Sport have a number of official cars for their top reporters to get in amongst the action on every stage. I got to chatting to one of the drivers, GiGi, before the start in Jesolo and then saw him again most afternoons in the press centre. Just because the car is parked, doesn’t mean you get the afternoon off!

Many of the moto riders and car drivers pull double duty handing out the official communiquйs to the assembled masses in the press centre. Almost as soon as the first riders cross the line, the paper bombardment starts.
This army of Kappa-clad chaps circle the press room with reams of paper, dropping a single sheet of their particular information next to every journalist or unattended laptop in the press room.

And it’s not just the stage and the GC. They even helpfully provide a copy of the palmares for the winner of the stage, so there’s no need to get Ed Hood on the Blackberry to see how many career wins Cavendish had had prior to the TTT on the Lido!

Colour coded to make it easier to sort through. To be honest though, I mainly used Gazzetta’s webpage to look up results and placing. Ctrl-F is just so easy!

The beauty of doing the roadside reports is that sometimes we don’t actually have to do the Grand Tour Shuffle, which sometimes goes like this: Go to the start, chat to the riders, hit the road, follow the story, drive to the press centre, catch the finish, send off the photos, start the report write up, get kicked out of the press centre at 9.00, drive to the next town, find hotel, dump bags, find wi-fi, finish report, send report, look for food at 2.00am and then sleep.

The day that I spent with the Team Columbia soigneurs, I left the feed and headed straight for my hotel. Work smarter, not harder was the order of the day and it was the only time in six days covering the race that I ate before midnight.

My personal Padova press centre. No trees would die for my stage information handout tonight and unlike the Giro Press room, the wi-fi here was free, saving me 18euro to spend on a decent dinner for once!

Working on a Grand Tour was a real learning experience for me, and one of the (many) pieces of advice that The Pez gave me: When the race heads for the mountains, camp out in a spot with a great background, and shoot lots of pics.

After driving the stage and parking the car, I headed back down the mountain from the stage 4 finish at San Martino di Castrozza to do just that. Once again, the combination of the press pass on the pink lanyard and the experience so far on the race to “ask anyone for anything” got me into someone’s front yard, which overlooked the route.

After a few trials with passing cars, however, I decided that back down on the barriers with the rest of the crowd was going to be just as good for a shot. It must have been the right move as just before the front of the race arrived, the professional photographers joined me on the same corner.

After Soler led the group through, and Di Luca took the stage, Francesco Gavazzi and Mauricio Ardila were doing it that little bit tougher over the final kilometres.

It was almost a different race that I covered than the Giro that finished in Rome on Sunday. The first week was all about team Columbia High Road, and Alessandro Petacchi was the man making headlines for LPR. By the time I was back at home watching on TV, Cervelo were ticking off the stage wins, Menchov had assumed control and DiLuca was the only remaining hope from all of the Italian pre-race favourites to keep the victory on home soil.

It was a great Giro, a great (but sometimes very stressful) time for me working on the race, and if we have been able to share some of this fun and excitement with you along the way, then I guess we can say that we’ve all had a fantastic time on the Centenary Giro.

Thanks to The Pez, Jered, and the rest of the crew for their behind the scenes support in making the Roadside Reports appear online like they are supposed to and thanks to all of our readers who keep coming back to the site, which allows us to keep doing what we love to do here at Pez!

And now, like all good Giro fans, it is time to take a well earned rest.


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