What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro’11 Redux: Matt Looks Back

It’s no secret that for many of the crew here at PEZ, the Giro comes in at number 1 for their favourite race of the year and that is definitely true for me as well. This year’s Giro experience was very brief in comparison to my PEZ duties of recent years, but I still feel lucky that I was able to sneak off work, leave the kids at home with the ever-understanding better half and hang out at the Corsa Rosa for what were three very tough days for the boys on the bikes.

The Roadside Rationale
If you are a regular follower of PEZ – or possibly even if you are a recent addition to our crew – you will have probably noticed that we all do our Roadside reports just a little bit differently. When people ask me what it is that I’ll be doing at the Giro, I normally reply with something along the lines of “I’ll be trying to give an insight into what a fan would or could see if they went along to watch the race from the roadside for themselves.”

Ok, so it was my press credentials that got me up on top of the mobile VIP bar that doubles as the stage for the sign-on each day, but this is the sort of thing that you see each and every day on the Giro.

It isn’t always about the result or the ride of the day that makes the story. Sometimes you might pass six or eight hours doing “stuff” and only see the riders pass by once. Other times you speak to the riders at the start but have no idea who won the stage until long after it has finished. The race is the reason for being here, but it isn’t the only thing to see while you are here.

For anyone who has ever thought that the view is better from your living room on your TV, I hope that the PEZ Roadsides not only give you a better insight into all the magic of the race, but inspire you to come along and be part of it one of these years in the not too distant future.

So here are a few more things that I saw along the way and some general thoughts on the 2011 race.

A Race Of Different Parts
Watching the opening stages of the race on television, I was immediately reminded of what is so great about this race. There were the sprints, the controversy, the Italian favourites and each and every afternoon there is the post stage show, Processo alla Tappa.

The TV viewing is never the same as the road side show but it is always a good warm up and with the Twitter feed running flat out, the information, the pictures and the interviews as the riders catch their breath after the stage just makes you want to be there.

That is, until Stage 3.

Ed Hood & Alastair covered the tragedy that was the death of Wouter Weylandt. There isn’t any more I can add to what they brought us and for a few days I completely disengaged with the race. It was one time I could honestly say I was glad I wasn’t at the Giro d’Italia.

The race went on and throughout my brief stint there in person and also while watching on television to the finish in Milan, it was touching to see just how many roadside tributes there were to a young man who lost his life while working in a job that so many people go along to watch with a sense of awe.

If ever there was a moment when the excitement of the racing pushed the memories of Stage 3 to the back of your mind, there was always a reminder just around the next corner, or from the top of a house, or even across the finish line in Milan… WW #108 Sempre Con Noi

The Locals And The Travellers
It is the locals that really make the race what it is with their shop decorations, house decorations and general ‘shut it all down and have a festival for the Giro’ kind of attitude. It’s also great to see the travellers from all over the world who come to the race to follow a favourite or to just see what it is that the Italian Grand Tour is all about. Sometimes it’s the flag that gives them away, sometimes it’s the accent (or the swearing!) and other times it is the fact that you get a “Hey PEZ!” shouted at you as you walk down the road.

There are always a lot of shop decorations and every year, every town seems to come up with a different and original variation on the same theme. Namely, “If it’s pink or has wheels, put it in the window!”

I’m not sure if this was just putting the products that you had in stock to good use, or was someone with a sense of humour, but this offering in the stage start town of Spilimbergo took the prize for me this time around.

Once again this year I met up and chatted to a wide range of PEZ fans. There were two different groups from the States along the road at the finish of the Grossglockner stage, the three Italian based servicemen who had ridden up the climb of Piancavallo and even two ladies from Israel who said “Hi” as I was making my way down off the Zoncolan, soaked to the skin and a little bit sore from having fallen over so many times.

Chatting to fans of the race who are also fans of the site is one of the great things about completing the Roadside assignment.

Some people even dress up for the occasion. Whether it is unknown folk who put on familiar clothing to stand out from the crowd…

Or, well know “Roadsiders” like Didi Senft, who had a change of colour for a stage or two.

Everybody’s Working
The pictures of the police motorbikes lined up at the start of each stage, or the sheer volume of trucks and machinery that go into setting up the stage start or finish area, give an insight into how many people are actually working at the Giro in addition to the cyclists that we are all there to see.

While there are some more serious than others bashing at laptops and checking photos in the press room every day (and don’t worry, I know which end of that continuum I normally work), the service staff from race organisers RCS are always on hand to help out.

Matteo, Federico and Federica have always been fantastic at helping sort things out when I’ve had questions, needed help or wanted to talk to someone in particular or get access to somewhere different for a photo.

Last year they helped me get some time with the Giro tailor Claudio Castellano , whose job it is to print the leaders’ jerseys every day.

Claudio told me that as he didn’t have access to the Internet he wouldn’t be able to read the story, so this year I printed him out a copy and as luck would have it, I bumped into him while lining up to collect my credentials on my first day of the race.

It isn’t exactly the immediacy that the WWW is all about, but in the end, he was able to read the results of the 30minutes I hung out with him for last year.

The Zoncolan And The Crostis That Wasn’t.
“Non si fiscia la maglia rosa!” was the call from Alessandra de Stefano after Cavendish and Petacchi had their run in at the finish of the second stage into Parma. The host of the post race show Processo alla Tappa was telling the fans who were whistling and jeering Cavendish that they needed to show more respect for the jersey, even if they didn’t necessarily have it for the person.

Fast forward to stage 13 and there were more than a few people waiting for the arrival of the riders on top of the Zoncolan who could have (or should have?) heeded the same advice.

After the “will it – won’t it?” discussions about the inclusion of the climb and descent of the Crostis, the decision was made at the eleventh hour (actually at 9.00pm the night before) that the descent was out. The feeling amongst many Italian supporters was that it was a move by the UCI as a result of certain teams not wanting to risk a mechanical problem that might cost them the tour.

Contador and his team director Bjarne Riis were regarded by the locals as the villains of the piece, while local favourite Vincenzo Nibali was seen as the man who could have damaged the Spaniard’s chances by putting in some of his trademark moves on the dangerous descent.

It made for a good story and each and every time Contador’s name was mentioned over the speakers to the crowd waiting at the top, it was met with derisive whistles.

Of course, based upon the number of bike riders I spotted up there doing this…

Maybe it wasn’t whistling at all, merely a few cases of cigarette induced asthma giving that impression.

With the Crostis discussion long over, it was suggested by a few people that Nibali might well have put 1minute into Contador on the Crostis descent meaning the Spaniard would have had to put two minutes instead of one into the Italian on one of the climbs the following days.

The Zoncolan seemed to lack something in terms of atmosphere this year. Maybe it was not having the TV to get the crowd fully involved in the race, maybe it was the fact that Contador had already established himself as the outright favourite, or maybe, it was the booming thunder that was signalling yet another day of rain and misery for riders and fans alike.

Those fully equipped team busses that you hear so much about are great for hiding in at the start or making escapes in at the finish, but when they have to park several kilometres away, sometimes the press tent on the finish line becomes the next best thing as a place for the riders to try and warm up in. With the hail and rain well and truly arrived by the time everyone outside the top 20 on the stage had ridden in, it was a truly nasty way to end a long day in the saddle.

No such luck for those of us who came to watch. It was a long, slippery walk back down the hill before anything that resembled “warm” could be counted on. It certainly wasn’t a wasted walk, as I bumped into a few new friends and one old one along the way.

Former PEZ man Bob Cullinan started the descent with me, but I decided to cut and run and leave him out there alone.

The Mountains
While Etna was the big giant of the first part of the race, the final week of the race was just a succession of long hard days with a lot of climbing and for many on the race a lot of suffering. You don’t get to have views like this and this for ‘free’. Someone has to pay and it is usually the riders.

The view from the hotel before heading to the stage start in Lienz.

There was controversy throughout the early stages of the race with allegations (and even photo evidence) of riders hanging onto cars to avoid the time cut on the mountain top finishes.

By the late stages of the second week of the race, the climbs had become more spectacular and the riders more tired. Yes the views were great, but many of the riders were doing it tough and once the GC contenders and hopeful stage winners had raced each other through, there were plenty of riders who were racing themselves and racing the time cut just to be there for their team on the start line the next day.

No hanging on, but there were plenty after this who were only just hanging on.

Aussie Matt Wilson put the difficulty of this race in perspective for me. Fifteen or so years ago, Wilson was one of many young up and coming cyclists on the Australian scene who would hand be a kicking each and every time our paths crossed at races. Here he was now, a seasoned European professional, with all of the added strength, stamina and ability that the hard years in the sport had given him, doing it tough each and every day just to get to the end of the stage.

Garmin Cervelo’s Matt Wilson riding in with the “bus” on the Grossglockner

As he crossed the line at the top of the Grossglockner, Wilson simply made a U-turn and rode back down looking for the bus. No change of clothes, no jacket, no rub down with a towel, just “get me off the bike as quick as possible.”

And that, more than anything for me summed up my Giro. It wasn’t the champions off the front who put on a show that was (I’m sorry to say) more than a little predictable, but the champions who were sometimes off the back, but were still champions just the same.

It was a great Giro for many, many reasons.

Hopefully the race will be back in my corner of Italy next year. With so many great climbs it would be a shock if it wasn’t.

See you next time around!

Ciao from Marco, Matt and PEZ!

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.