What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro di PEZ: One Last Time

Roadside: I always thought that we’d be overjoyed to reach that final stage in Milano. It was somewhat disconcerting then when, despite sickness and exhaustion, we found ourselves leaving Milano at the end of another memorable day feeling a bit sad…

Richard has already taken care of the final stage in Milano perfectly. Normally, I’d say a second Roadside report for the same stage would be superfluous, but in this instance, please, bear with me, because I’d like to see our adventure through to its conclusion – Milano.

I remember a time almost three weeks ago when we had this stack of hotel vouchers. It was thick with locations and hotel names that sounded so foreign, so unbelievable. We looked through the twenty or so pieces of paper and couldn’t imagine that we’d be staying in all of these places. The night before the time trial finish in Milano, we handed over our final voucher.

Sunday morning, we collected our stuff out of the hotel one last time, checked under the bed, triple checked everywhere else, knowing that if we didn’t, something would be left behind. And of course, we found something we had left on the final check. If there’s one thing I learned this Giro, it’s that my memory cannot be trusted after a certain point. We left keys in the car, on top of the car, toiletries aplenty in numerous hotels. Then there were the things I assumed had been lost, but were only lost within our maelstrom – I just found my sunglasses within a bag that I also thought I had lost, five days after the Giro finished. I swear I’m not normally like this.

Back to the race – we arrived to the area near the start, which happened to be the Castello Sforzesco. It looked familiar. I felt like I had been there before. Of course – it’s the start of Milano-Sanremo. The only thing missing at the moment then was Mr. Ale Federico.

We got an excellent replacement quickly enough in none other than Pez himself. It’s always an enjoyable occasion when you see someone in person that you communicate with so much, but see maybe once a year. Once again, I felt bad for my sad excuse for a conversation. I can’t imagine I was much fun to talk with, but I tried. I swear I tried.

That’s the worst part – I never have to try to talk. Have you seen me, I mean, heard me? I talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. That’s what the Giro did to me – it made me quiet. First time in my life.

Enough about me – this piece isn’t supposed to be about me, however, it is about a bunch of people who were pretty much in the same place as I was – the riders.

As I watched and shot riders crossing the line, the overwhelming exhaustion from everyone started to become evident. The riders crossed the finish, most of the time without horrible faces, but something that looked far more painful – heads down, lips slack, eyes staring – the time trial finish line was just a small one. The bigger one was one hundred meters down the way when it really hit – the Giro was over.

Marco Pinotti looks back at his time.

One of the first riders we saw had a bit of a different experience though – Marco Pinotti. Pinotti crushed all the time checks and won the day going away. When he reached the welcoming arms of the BMC soigneur, his look was pure joy. There was a moment of quiet as the helmet came off, but as soon as it did, there was disbelief, then happiness, just pure, plain old great feelings.

And after the first wave of emotion, came that moment where you close your eyes and take a deep breath…

It was infectious. Marco’s smile and appreciation for that moment after so much time recovering from his awful crash at last year’s Giro left me smiling while I steadily clicked away. I ended up following him around for some reason. His smiles were magnetic in a sea of weary warriors resignedly answering questions for eager journalists before heading back to the bus.

I don’t want to sound too stalkerish, but I really did kinda sorta keep an eye out for Pinotti for the rest of the race, as he remained just beyond the finish, waiting to see if his time would hold up.

It was a good thirty minutes later when I walked by again and saw him with his wife and son, and I got without question the most emotional thing I’ve seen in a long time. Our goal this Giro was to shoot all that was beautiful in Italy. We looked for beautiful landscapes wherever we went, but I swear, these shots of a happy Pinotti family crouched low, just out of the line of sight from the throngs of people at the finish are some of my favorites. I almost felt bad shooting it, but like I said before, he was a happy magnet for me on Sunday, and it was so utterly refreshing to see that.

It spurred me forward. Where I once wearily snapped and hoped something would work out, I started pursuing the day’s shooting with some kind of excitement that I hadn’t felt since the first week. I realized that I had a chance to shoot the riders at a special time, and it would be silly to miss out on something like this for a reasons as small as being tired and lacking motivation.

Rabottini – this year’s Giro d’Italia King of the Mountains.

The tools of the trade.

Sky’s Sergio Henao barely slowed as he cruised through with soigneur chasing behind.

And so the riders rolled by. Some stopped in the midst of the crowd and answered questions, while others did everything they could to get through and onward to the bus as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t long before Peter Stetina was the next rider in my viewfinder. I’d be shooting Peter only a day later with Castelli, so he was already on my mind. He was the next victim of my finish line stalking. I talked with Peter later about this moment – I was right there in front of him, and he said he didn’t even see me. It was one of those times when you realize as much, so a hello was just not necessary. He didn’t want to talk, nor did I really.

Peter waited on Christian Vande Velde, before heading back to the team bus. While riders continued to trickle in.

When the helmet came off, the hat went on.

Behind every rider and interviewer, there was a soigneur, patiently waiting.

Some riders just leaned on their bikes and breathed.

The beverage of choice for most of the finishers? Sprite. I saw more Sprites in the hands of the riders than I ever have before.

Along with the journalists, the next group of people in line for the riders’ attention were the autograph seekers.

And then it was time for the leaders of the race to finish. The race was still to be decided.

Thomas De Gendt was the first of the ‘bigs’ to hit the line. He was suitably wrecked from the effort that netted him the last podium spot. He rolled through with both feet unclipped, freewheeling, before he was escorted to doping control. A few minutes later, he returned, still sporting the look of a rider who had given absolutely everything over the last two stages.

And then came Ryder. When Ryder Hesjedal crossed the line, the already frantic energy behind the finish line from the collected photographers and journalists exploded. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I’ve been assured by all who have followed the Tour de France – this was a normal, everyday thing for the Tour.

The winner.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to process the news of victory with what amounted to the atmosphere of a mosh pit.

And in the midst of all of that, there were those moments of raw emotion, with both his father and wife, where the cameras seemed to melt away, and it was just the two people embracing.

I think raw is the best word to describe that finish line. It was everyone stripped bare, just an exposed nerve for the world to see, photograph, film, interview.

And then there was Joaquim Rodriguez. He put forth a fantastic final time trial, but it wasn’t enough. He came through, and there were only the remnants of the collected press and handlers to give him a sad excuse for a media scrum. He was, for the most part, expressionless, stoic in his loss.

After, the awards ceremony began. I took a look over at the crowd of photographers in front of the stage, and I couldn’t bring myself to enter into it. Every conceivable picture was taken – there was no need for me to be there.

I found Ashley, we hugged, and then we waded through the crowd to get back to the press center one last time. We said good bye and thank you to all of our new friends. We had so many thank you’s to give. I’m so happy we got the chance to do this. I’m even happier that the Giro was happy with our work, happier still that the words – let’s talk about 2013 – were in that mix.

Thanks a lot for reading. Thanks for putting up with my slowness.


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