What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro di Pez: A Plan (de Corones) Comes Together!

Roadside Stage 16: It took the whole day for the Giro d’Italia peloton to ride one at a time up the 12.9km climb to Plan de Corones. The good part for the fans was they had all day to bask in the sunshine and soak up the atmosphere of one of the best days of the Giro d’Italia of 2010.

The location of the press room in any big race is usually governed by the availability of buildings close to the finish like that have enough space for the everyone who needs to be in there. On the Zoncolan on Sunday, the press room was a hike and cable car ride from the finish, on the rest day yesterday, the press room was at the bottom of the hill in San Vigilio di Marebbe, but today, this was to be the view from the computer keyboard as the organisers had us sitting on top of the mountain.

Up and Down
The logistics of organising a day like today take more than a bit of thinking through. Last night while working on another story for next week, I was with the Androni directors while they went through the organisation of today. Working back from the riders start time, they sorted out how the riders would be getting to the start (they, like me this morning, would take the long way around via Brunico) and who would be following them up the mountain and how they would be getting back down.

I arrived in the start village around 9.30am and the whole place had been taken over by the Giro d’Italia. As a ski-town in the winter, the village is full of hotels and guest houses and it seemed every one of their car parks was filled with team buses.

Up at the start, the man who finished 153rd out of 157 on the Monte Zoncolan, Cameron Meyer, was preparing for his early start.

The near 13km of uphill was not the sort of course the Australian national time trial champ had a chance at wining a stage on, so he paced himself to live to fight another day, losing 5.26 and finishing 86th overall.

There were a few outfit changes in the time trial with the national (and world) road champs putting their normal team kits back on while the time trial champs got the chance to break out their national colours. All that is except Garmin’s Svein Tuft. He wore his normal Garmin strip instead of his Canadian champions skin-suit and the UCI fined him 2,500 Swiss Francs. Ouch.

Speaking of the UCI, the gentlemen from Switzerland were busy at the start making sure that the mechanic had undone the work of the designers and attached the correct amount of weight to the ever lightening bikes, to keep them above the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight.

I wondered if they were checking for motors at the time, but later in the day when UCI president Pat McQuaid addressed the press room, he dispelled the reports that there was a committee or special group looking into the allegations that some riders had been using miniaturised motors to assist them in the early parts of stages.

Every day the Police Force adopts a local school group, puts them in one of the transport buses and takes them along the route of the Giro for the day.

Today’s guests were the San Virgilio di Marebbe Elementary School, under the watchful eye of teachers, Verena, Irene and Michela.

To enable to organisers to clear the top of the mountain and also to save the need of having 157 motor bikes to follow the individual riders, the time trial would be run in three sections, in an almost-reverse order of the general classification.

Rabobank sprinter Graeme Brown starts his 12.9km of pain.

Getting To The Top
To make the trip to the top of the course, I had to drive back out of San Vigilio thee long way around, through Brunico, where tomorrow’s 17th stage will start, and then drive up the back of the mountain to get to the Passo Furcia without driving on the course.

After parking the car next to the TV broadcast trucks at the turn off to the gravel road leading up to the Plan de Corones, I walked over to the gondola and hitched a ride to the top the easy way.

This was the easy way to get a look down on the course!

Up at the top, we had our first view of the upper sections of the road. The gravel, unlike the sandy surface you might expect from strade bianche is very well compacted and there isnt much dust being blown up, despite the wind at the top.

The last obstacle before the pain is over.

After finding the press room, saying a few hellos and organising my work space for the day, it was time to head out and see how different the riders looked once they had dragged themselves up the 1000m in just 12.9km

We saw Craig Lewis’ bike on the work stand yesterday at the HTC Columbia hotel. Here it is being put to good use on the climb. Lewis finished the day in 97th position.

The drop down the hill to even just the 250m to go sign was quite incredible. I’m sure Matteo Bono of Lampre is thinking the same thing as he riders back up it.

Even for the first two groups, the crowds were filling the barrier space along the route. Here, Sylvester Szmyd makes his way between the fans.

The cyclo-cross racer would have the fastest time so far when all of the first two groups were finished. His 43.40 would be good enough to take 15th overall on the stage.

BBox’s William Bonnet putting the effort in.

SaxoBank Swede, Erik Gustav Larsson

There were a group of fans that really stood out from up the hill and it was all to do with the colour. As I dodged the rivers of ice cold water that were flowing down the grassy slopes of the still partly snow covered mountain, I kept reminding myself not to go to far as I would need to turn around and walk back up very soon.

No prizes for guessing who this group were here to support, although in the 5 minutes I stopped with them to take a couple of pictures, there were about 10 fans who walked past and called out “Contador!” You don’t turn up to the Giro at the last minute and win it without making a few fans in the host country along the way.

While I was hanging with my Kazakh Crew, Sky’s Steven Cummings blasted past on his way to a very respectable 41st place on the stage.

I decided that I should do my bit for press-Kazakh relations and send out some love to Alexandre Vinokourov. Here Vino, do you feel the love?

Down And Up
Once the last rider of the second group had passed, I jumped out onto the barricaded section and walked back up the hill with a photographer from La Gazzetta dello Sport and hit the press room so send off some pics and think through my plan for the final group.

The plan was to take the gondola back down to the bottom of the unpaved section, find a spot to take a few pictures and then, once I had seen the big guns go through, sprint to the gondola, ride back to the top and hopefully make it in time to see someone finish.

Getting down was no problem and I popped back out on the course at the last sweeping right hand turn before the the passage through the village and the left hand turn to the gravel. Just as I settled into my spot, Katusha’s Vladimir Karpets came through. There would be 12 more men to see.

When Linus Gerdemann came through, he didn’t look to be setting the world on fire (he was sick and finished 103rd) and without needing to wait for the three minutes that separated them at the start, Michele Scarponi blasted around the corner.

Scarponi was a lot of people’s pre-race favourite and his time up the first section of the climb was the second fastest of the day (4seconds behind Evans). It was surprising to see him only 5th in the stage standings, and a look at the splits showed he struggled over the final section, recording only the 8th fastest time for the gravel climb to Plan de Corones.

I asked before if Vino was feeling the love, but when he came around the corner, it really looked like all he was feeling was the pain.

It was around this time that the gondola behind me stopped moving. It was very windy as I had made the descent to my photo spot and I was worried that it might not start up again, or worse still, it might stop with em in it and leave me stranded part way up the mountain!

After doing a couple of trial runs, (a long shot down the straight from a higher point followed by a quick change of camera settings and position for the same rider coming around the corner) I drilled it for the last five men to pass me, and then, …

Fastest through the first check, fourth through the second, Evans was second on the stage.

… sprinted to the gondola to try and beat them to the finish.

On the way up, I could see Richie Porte making his way up the gravel and by the time I exited at the top and cut back to the finish, Vino was just riding over the finish line.

Carlos Sastre’s ride on the day wasn’t exactly electrifying (19th), but when you remember how much time he lost on a short mountain sprint last year, his position of 5th overall on GC with some tough days of racing to go is not too bad.

Cadel Evans zipped past at the bottom with the encouragement from the team car booming out of the speakers from behind him, and up at the top he had plenty more encouragement too. This group of family, friends and neighbours had travelled over from Barwon Heads in Victoria, where Evans spends his off season every year.

The encouragement must have been working for the world road champ as he did enough to take second on the stage and move up from 5th to fourth overall at the expense of Sastre.

The next man to finish was the white jersey clad Richie Porte. He told me after the stage that he paced himself and didn’t go over the top with his effort, as there were still big days to come. 17th on the stage meant that he dropped one second further behind Arroyo, but more importantly, Basso has taken over his second place on the podium and is now 9seconds ahead of the Australian.

Porte still holds the Best Young Rider’s white jersey and increased his lead over Robert Kiserlovski from 5.38 at the start, to 6.21.

While talking to Claudio Castellano on Saturday about the preparation of the prize jerseys, I asked if we could hang around and actually watch him do his thing. It didn’t really seem like they wanted people back stage while all of the action was happening, so I didn’t push it. On the Plan de Corones, there was very little space for anyone to be working and so we actually had the opportunity to see Claudio in action, just as he had described.

As Arroyo went through 400m to go, the maglia rosa was already stretched out on the press and Claudio had the Caisse d’Epargne logos in hand ready for confirmation of the result. Under the watchful eye of Giro boss Angelo Zomegnan, Claudio gets the info he needs, pulls the handle and the jersey is ready fro the Spaniard to recived it from Formula One driver, Fernando Alonso.

Arroyo’s arrival in 43.44 (16th) meant that no one was going to beat Garzelli’s time of 41.28 and so it was the Acqua & Sapone veteran who walked out onto the mini-presentation stage to receive the cheers.

Being crowned on the Plan de Corones of course meant that Garzelli was going to have to swap his team cap for something slightly more appropriate.

Garzelli also managed to catch me unawares as I had become to absorbed in checking my shots and forgotten about the spraying of the bubbly that comes next. A soaking to self and camera will serve as a reminder for next time.

Day Done
I would have to put the Plan de Corones time trial day down as my “Best Ever” at a bike race. After having been to National, and World Championships as well as Classics, Le Tour and last year’s Giro, whatever comes next will need to be pretty amazing to top this.

So, after all the craziness of rushing to the finish and getting the pictures I wanted, the only thing left to do was pack up my post in the press room and head off back down the mountain to find the car and hit the pizzeria.

With no bike to drop down the road with and no chance of walking it, I decided the best thing to do was take someone up on their offer and share their cable car back to the car park, while they admired the view and thought about what was still to come.

A domani!

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