What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro di Pez: Did That Just Happen?

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Roadside St. 11: “Surreal” is a word that’s over used by journalists, but for the two of us to be standing in the cold rain beside the wet tarmac of the Capo di Valle climb on stage 11 of this Giro watching the favorites lose 15 minutes with not a fan in sight, the thunder roaring above us, the smell of the mountain herbs in our nostrils – I can’t think of a better word…

It was to be a ‘normal’ day for us, we felt that a break would go that suited all of the big guns and that would be that. We were going to drive the stage then try and get a contrast to yesterday’s ‘happy clappy’ Garmin pictures.

But let’s go back and start at the beginning.

In terms of distance, this is the ‘Daddy’ – 262 kilometres from the old Saracen town of Lucera in Puglia to L’Aquila in Abruzzi.

If you think the name rings a bell, L’Aquila was devastated by an earthquake in April 2009 and this stage is to tell the world that the Giro hasn’t forgotten that.

However, in terms of degree of difficulty it only rates three stars; there are still four stages to come which merit five stars in terms of pain factor – that last week is a killer.

Maybe Carlos Sastre can find some of those ten minutes he’s down on Vino?

Goal number one for today is to get some pictures of Saxo Bank’s Cameron Wurf – but he’s late to sign on and we have a schedule to keep.

But not before we’ve snapped the lovely who intros the riders.

The charming lady in the Gazzetta cabin.

The blonde distributing leaflets.

And the girls who present the jerseys – hey! someone has to take these pics!

And Martin grabs a quick shot of Andre Greipel’s calf – did he get that from Lou Ferigno?

The start is pan flat but it doesn’t take long before we’re weaving through those hill towns as the road drags away from the plains.

Fans are thin on the ground but it’s early days as the skies open, then close in a minute or two, the sun comes back out and Radio Gamma is still doing a job for us.

Campobasso at 66 K and there’s not much flat road, the Rough Guide isn’t impressed; ‘a modern rather faceless town,’ but the kiddies were cool.

Campobasso’s other claim to fame is that on 26 maggio 1966 Britain’s own Vin Denson – a man who helped Tom Simpson to the world title in 1965 and who was a loyal domestique to Van Looy and Anquetil – won the stage here; the first English rider to do so.

Respect, signore Denson.

He wasn’t the first English speaker to win a stage, though – that was the late, great Shay Elliot at Belluno in 1960.

The first African stage win was the late Alan Van Heerden in 1979 and the first American was Ron Keifel in 1985.

History lesson over, let’s talk about the natives for a moment – complicated folks, them Italians. Keep them waiting a nano second behind you at a junction and they’ll be hooting, gesticulating and generally going crazy – a three hour wait for the roads to open after a Giro passage; ‘no problem!’

After Campobasso it runs flat for a while – but only for a while; to the left wooded foot hills soon give way to the bare rock of the montagna. However, it’ll regroup, here.

The feed is around 90 k, soigneurs chat and munch rolls, the musettes in neat rows, hanging from the roof racks.

At half distance, the mountains get real and the picnickers are out in force – no time to stop, though. The first classified climb of the day is the first cat Rionero Sannitico – not the longest but pretty steep.

We’ve lingered too long though and the caravan has caught us. It’s not like the Tour caravan, just a convoy of painted cars rather than the special vehicles and madness of the French race. But some of the girls are rather lovely.

Over to our left, the peaks rear and snow still lies thick as overhead thunder rumbles and a shower makes the descent dangerous. Top of the second cat Roccaraso – not a particularly tough climb.

But we’re hearing dramatic news by SMS from Dan Fleeman, there’s a break of 50 plus riders “doing a 56 man TTT !” as Dan puts it, and they’re taking huge time out of Vino and Evans.

We were going to drive the stage today, go to the finish and catch the guys after the stage – but with this situation we’re going to stop on the last climb of the day; the Cappo di Valle.

Meanwhile, the caravan winds through the mountains blasting crass pop music into the quiet valleys. The descent off the Roccaroso, through densely wooded hills is long and fast, not many bends, well surfaced – the escapees will be drilling it down here.

Sulmona and the drama playing out a few kilometres away hasn’t tempted the fans out in any numbers.

Still the road drops, through the second feed, just outside the town.

The lightning is flashing overhead; the weather Gods are showing their displeasure at Basso, Cuddles, Nibali and Vino’s foolishness.

Capo di Valle; legs dulled by 40 K of big gears and rain have to find the rhythm of the climb, again. Once again we’re puzzled by how the organizers categorize the climbs – this second cat seems harder to us than the first cat.

And now we’re embedded on the climb, maybe 1200 metres from the top.

Settle down and wait time.

The rain is bouncing off the road, the wind carries a chill, there’s the smell of mountain herbs in the air and in between huge rolls of thunders a bird is singing for us, somewhere down the mountain side.

There’s not a fan in sight – hardly surprising, given the weather.

The odd police bike swishes past, the photographer’s bikes begin to appear – they’re close.

The thunder rumbles, the tyres swish, there are no air horns, no fans, just driven men given a second chance and grabbing it with both hands.

Caisse drive hard, Cervelo are up there, black capes obscure their numbers. It’s a big group, but not as big as it was, some of the original escapees have been ordered to sit up and wait.

Behind, even the cars seem nervous, closer than usual, desperate to be there for their born again Giro contenders. But there’s none of the usual peeping and blasting of air horns – just the sound of the car tyres on the wet tar and as chopper moves on and up, the thunder peels.

There are stragglers, Michael Barry, Matt Goss, Matt Lloyd and then – nothing.

Just the rain dripping from the trees, the thunder, the bird song – it’s 14 minutes by our timing before the next group hustles past.

Workmanlike, fast, efficient, there’s not an air of panic – perhaps they’re resigned to their fate? Rubens Bertogliati is on point, Scarponi tucked behind – another of the big losers.

Another three minutes to the next group, then ten minutes, then another ten minutes to the next.

We see guys we know, we shout, blank stares – they’re gone, wasted, riding on instinct.

Men like Inigo Cuesta and Chris Froome have lost chunks of time, that tells it’s own story.

Jack Bobridge and Svein Tuft were happy guys, yesterday – but not this afternoon.

Stone last is Eros Capelli – maybe just a little tow?

Then there’s just us and the rain and the bird with his song.

Gord sends an email to round the day off”

“Petrov wins.

Porte in pink.

‘Favorites’ came in @ +12′ 45”!!!

Who’s going to win overall now?

Lord only knows…

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