What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro Di Pez: Going Up To Grossglockner!

Roadside St. 13:No one who had to race them would argue that stages 7 and 9 weren’t hard, but Lucky 13 today signaled the start or three ultra-tough days of back to back climbing starting with a foray across the border to climb Austria’s tallest mountain, the Grossglockner.

Stage 13 was a day of contrasts on many fronts, especially the difference between the hot and humid weather at the start in Spilimbergo in Italy, in comparison to the finish, where we received a cold, damp Austrian greeting at 2100m. With the departure in a town made famous by its mosaic school, we were off to see what kind of picture we could put together from the various pieces of today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia.

Realxing before the start in Spilimbergo.

Getting The Day Under-way
As my driver Marco and I were taking over from Ed and Ale today, the first job of the morning was to collect our press credentials. While waiting in line, we met a young man who was holding a very distinctively painted Pinarello road frame. Alessandro Bortolin, who is in his first year of high school, had taken just under a week to decorate the frame with the profile map of the whole of this year’s Giro d’Italia.

His uncle, who supplied the frame from his bike shop near to the start of Sunday’s 15th stage in Conegliano, explained to us that following the tragic events of stage three, Alessandro wanted to do something to help both the family of Wouter Weylandt and also to overcome his own feelings of sadness. As someone who loves to draw and paint and who is also was a very passionate cycling supporter, the idea of this Giro themed tribute seemed spot on. The family were at the stage start to present the bike to representatives of the Pinarello company and the intention is to auction the bike online, with proceeds being donated to Wouter Weylandt’s family.

As the first of three very big days in the mountains, there was a lot of talk that a group would probably be allowed to get away. The question the assembled local experts were split upon, was; Would The Bigs allow the group to stay in front to the finish? Or, would Contador and Scarponi battle it out head to head at the front of the race?

All would be revealed following four significant climbs and 167km of racing.

For those, like Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski, who had chosen to bring the stage guide with them, it would be right there in front of them there in pink and black, throughout the stage.

A Change Of Scene
With a stage profile like that, it was no wonder double stage winner Mark Cavendish took his leave (and his lead-out man Mark Renshaw) from the Giro to prepare for other objectives later in the year. In the teams area at the start, we asked HTC HighRoad director Valerio Piva, how the team would reorganise for the remainder of the race?

“It’s true we’ve already had a very good tour. Winning the team time trial and Mark winning two stages is a very satisfying result for us, so whatever happens from now we can still be happy. But, we have Sivtsov going well in the GC and we will do what we can to support him until the finish. He is also still young and has more time to develop.”

Piva, left, was more than happy with the team’s results so far.

The climb – or more importantly the descent – of Monte Crostis was also something we asked Piva about. Late yesterday it was reported that they were completing last minute asphalting of the descent to overcome at least some of the potential safety problems with the twisting, narrow, unsealed road.

“The riders are very unhappy with the descent, even though they have made improvements with the netting. They are still trying to get the course changed, but maybe it is too late for that,” Piva said. “We saw the stage profiles late last year, but it wasn’t really until last month that some riders and teams really started thinking about it and seeing the problems there could be. At this late point, I worry that it is now too late for a change to come. But, we will try and speak to the organisers. There are lots of interested parties, but it is the riders who have to race it.

One rider who did try out the descent of the Crostis last month was the current wearer of the race leader’s maglia rosa, Alberto Contador.

We waited at the Saxo bank team bus for as long as we could to garb a snap or two of the Gior favourite, but as our departure deadline approached and still no sign of Bert, we had to make a dash for the car. We were quite sure we would see the Spaniard later in the day.

Lars Bak and Alex Rasmussen take the opportunity to hide from the sun before the stage start.

Austria Bound
One thing that you quickly notice when driving the course of a Grand Tour, is how much effort the local authorities go to, to accommodate the race. The trek from Spilimbergo up to the Austrian border took us along quite a few roads that Marco and I normally ride over, only this time, almost everywhere we drove was brand new asphalt. One of the newly paved sections near Lago Cavazzo, took us past the memorial to Ottavio Bottecchia.

In 1924, Bottecchia was the first Italian to win the Tour de France and returned the following year to claim the title again.

On the 7th of June, 1927, Bottecchia was discovered lying unconscious on the roadside where he regularly trained, with a skull fracture and several other broken bones. The Italian was taken to hospital in nearby Gemona del Friuli, but died two weeks later. The cause of how he came to have been injured, when there were no obvious signs that he had crashed his bike, still remains a mystery.

The section of road is named for the Italian champion and with the Giro making regular visits to the area, he is certainly not forgotten.

The top of the first climb of the day at Monte Crocce also signalled a change of country as the Giro entered Austria headed for the climb of the Grossglockner Pass. The pass features regularly as part of the Tour of Austria in July. With the Giro using their climb this year, the Austrian race looks set to return the favour and will be coming to Italy to make use of the Zoncolan.

After arriving in the valley that will eventually take us to Lienz tomorrow for the start of stage 14, the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the worse and the sight of the black clouds rolling down the valley was certainly not a welcome one for cyclists, nor for men on Pez assignment who still had to get out and take some photos.

The other thing that we noticed through the valley was just how strong the wind was blowing. Following the relatively sheltered roads on both sides of Monte Crocce, the long valley road was being buffeted by the wind that was sure to cause problems for anyone who was not paying complete attention.

The rain greeted us at around the 40km to go point, but after a short shower, the clouds moved on and we had a clear view along the last remaining piece of flat(ish) road before the final 25km of climbing to the snow capped peaks above.

The Only Way Is Up
Aside from the fact that the final GPM of the day is 13.5km with sections as steep as 14%, the nasty kicker for stage 13 is that after the slight downhill section following the GPM, the remainder of the 7km to the finish is almost all uphill.

With the car eventually parked and out of the way, it was back down the road a little bit to see the riders arrive, but almost on cue, a light rain began falling just to add some more fun to go with the snow along the roadside.

These fans have come across from Slovenia for two days to ride some of the course and soak up the warm weather.

One of the interesting things about the spectators on the climb today, was that the majority seemed to have ridden up on their bikes. There was a amateur ride today from Lienz to the top of the Grossglockner pass for 1000 keen cyclists and many were visible standing (and shivering) along the roadside in their special edition pink jerseys.

After the GPM and a short down hill, the rest is going to hurt you just that little bit more.

One of the (many) great things about a big race, is the arrival of the helicopters signalling the action is on its way. Ahead of the riders, one of the organiser’s cars drove past announcing that Rujano and Contador were in the lead by 45 seconds. By the time the pair had ridden through and reached the finish, that 45 seconds had been extended out to 1minute 27seconds over the third placed rider, John Gadret.

There were plenty of riders putting on their best “go hard” expressions, but no matter how hard he tried and how many of his facial muscles he tried to employ to make himself go faster, Rujano couldn’t shake Contador from his wheel and when he rode past our post at 1.5km to go, the Spaniard actually looked quite comfortable.

A fast moving Scarponi just wasn’t going fast enough to avoid losing 1.36 to Contador.

When out and about doing roadside reports, it is always good to bump into Pez fans. When “Do you know Jered?” is their opener, it is just easier to say “Yes,” than try and explain quickly that despite working together for over four years, we’ve never actually met!

John and Lilli – who know Pez Man Jered from his various trips through Austria – were up on the climb catching the action.

As the smaller groups keep coming through, there was no change in the noise of the crowd, but the expressions on the faces of the riders gave a good indication as to who was trying to fight for their podium place, who was putting everything into limiting their losses and who had done their days work and was riding into the finish. Finally there were those who were clearly very uncomfortable and just wanted to hang on to fight another day.

After starting the day in second place on the general classification, HTC’s Kanstantsin Sivtsov lost 2min 42 to Contador and is now in 6th place overall. While certainly not an improvement on yesterday’s placing, as Valerio Piva pointed out this morning, “If we aren’t bringing a top GC rider to a race and basing our race around them, then anything that we achieve in regards to a high GC placing is satisfying.”

Peter Stetina and Cristophe LeMevel of Garmin-Cervйlo led home a group of 10 riders at 3mins 49 that included former maglia rosa Marco Pinotti.

Omega Pharma Lotto’s Francis DeGreef arrived at 6min 19sec.

David Millar

There is a change of role for last year’s maglia bianca winner, Richie Porte, in 2011. The Australian is supporting Contador this year, without worrying about his own time gaps at the stage finishes.

Also a change for The Killer this year. The former Giro Winner just doesn’t seem to have whatever it was that took him to victory in 2007. Must be age(?!) Di Luca finished over 16minutes off the pace.

The team buses were parked back down the mountain and so after the riders had executed a fast change at the top, it was a quick, cold and (mixed in with the descending tourists) potentially dangerous trip back to find some warmth.

For us it was off to the press room to send some photos and check in with the Pez who has just arrived in Italy, then back down the hill to conclude day one of our brief visit to the 2011 Giro d’Italia.

Late News: Crostis Out
Late Friday evening, the organisers of the Giro d’Italia announced that the climb and much talked bout descent of the Crostis, would not feature in Saturday’s 14th stage from Lienz in Austria to Monte Zoncolan.

I guess in the end it wasn’t too late to have the course changed after all.

We’ll see you up there tomorrow!

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