Giro Redux

The previous 2 entries of images were from my wee digital camera. Here are a few selections from the Giro summit finish at Passo Lanciano and the stage start at Francavilla al Mare taken with my wife’s 35mm camera.

May 14. Giro d’Italia Stage 8. Passo Lanciano summit finish.

Giro caravan
Jacuzzi-sized ESTATHE’ containers make their way to the summit of Passo Lanciano.

Passo Lanciano tifosi
A mountain-top chock full of Danilo Di Luca tifosi eagerly await his arrival.

Gonchar and Pena at 350 meters to go
A better photo of Gonchar and Pena 350 meters from the Passo Lanciano summit.

One of the gruppettos near the summit
At 19:33 behind Ivan Basso, the first large gruppetto makes its way to the summit with Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis) resplendent in the Giro’s green climber’s jersey at the far right. Scheirlinckx would surrender the climber’s jersey to Basso at this stage’s conclusion. In fact, Basso may already have donned the jersey on the podium prior to Scheirlinckx’s arrival.

Super-sized Danilo Di Luca
A super-sized Di Luca looms over Passo Lanciano via jumbo-tron.

I keep an eye on Di Luca's bike while he's talking to RAI tv
Amidst the post-stage tifosi, I cast a glance at Danilo Di Luca’s Bianchi atop a Liquigas vehicle.

Elvis has left the building
Bjarne Riis drives Ivan Basso (visible in the passenger seat) off Passo Lanciano.

The glorious life of a ProTour domestique
The glorious life of a ProTour domestique. “It’s pissing down rain…My sneakers are buried god-knows-where beneath all this crap…I’m cold, I’m miserable…This car has no leg room…The mechanic has been and continues to chain smoke…Kill me now, please.”

May 15. Giro d’Italia Stage 9. Francavilla al Mare stage start.

Giovanni Lombardi
Giovanni Lombardi signs-in at Francavilla al Mare.

Preben Van Hecke
Davitamon-Lotto Belgian Preben Van Hecke (who are you???) signs in at Francavilla al Mare.

Gilberto Simoni
Gilberto Simoni exits the sign-in stage. “Yeah, I’m not gonna win this Giro. But at least me and old man Piepoli are kicking the crap out of that punk Cunego.”

Paolo Savoldelli
Paolo Savoldelli gestures to the tifosi amassed in Francavilla al Mare.

Zelig Hymasini
Pietro “Zelig” Hymasini signs-in at Francavilla al Mare. Don’t laugh too hard, I have a hunch quite a few 2007 ProTour squads will be looking to supplement their rosters. Like their entire rosters.

Paolo Savoldelli in a sea of people
Everybody wants a piece of Paolo Savoldelli on his way to the start line.

The Giro d'Italia and the Adriatic
Palms, Adriatic, and Giro d’Italia: A still life.

Francavilla al Mare…The Full Story

May 15, 2006: Giro d’Italia Stage 9
The start of the Giro’s stage 9 in Francavilla al Mare, a seaside town on the Adriatic, occurred only about a 15 minute drive away from where we were staying in Pescara (the city immediately to the north of Francavilla al Mare). I knew the stage started right on the water and stayed in close proximity to the Adriatic for quite a few kilometers as the Giro headed to its southern most point in Italy. Our hosts in Pescara dropped us off at the first sign of blocked streets and we strolled a couple of kilometers along the tree-lined seafront boulevard passing team buses, Giro staff cars, and the early gatherings of the promotional caravan. After a few hundred more meters the snow fencing began and we were forced off the streets since we didn’t have the magic pink Giro passes on lanyards around our necks. The announcer at the sign-in stage was already revving the crowd up as we arrived at Giro central about 2 hours prior to the stage’s 2:15pm commencement.

We got the lay of the land after wandering about for about 25 minutes. All of the prime viewing surrounding the sign-in stage was long since gone with autograph/photo seeking tifosi stacked about 5-deep. I figured out that the riders had to come in on the same road we walked along. The VIP/rider village was totally sealed except for one access corridor directly across from the sign-in paddock so I knew the riders couldn’t sneak in there. I figured it was highly unlikely if not impossible logistically for the riders to approach along the beachfront drive from the opposite direction of the race course. There was space along the barriers about 150 meters before the sign in arch and from here I staked out my turf. My plans for unfettered access to the riders dawdling along to sign in was all going according to plan until all the team vehicles rolled up and parked on my side of the street. Doh! The French Bouygues Telecom and Italian Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni squads were directly in front of me, but there seemed to be just enough of a gap between their cars that a rider could pull up to the fence if he felt so inclined.

A lone Liquigas rider was the first to roll by on his way to sign in, soon followed by Bouygues Telecom’s giant Andy Flickinger, with most of AG2R arriving moments after Flickinger. My ultimate goal was to convince John Gadret, Mark Scanlon, Pat McCarty, Aaron Olson, Jason McCartney, Bobby Julich, Giovanni Lombardi, and Charlie Wegelius to stop for a photo. Here’s how it played out:

Charlie Wegelius: He came by relatively early and I belted out a booming “Charlie!” I think I caught him off guard and it appeared that he almost hopped out of his kit in shock. He immediately did a 180 and rolled right up to the fence to see what was up. We said hi, he posed for a photo, shook hands, and then rode off to sign in.

Mark Scanlon: Same modus operandi as Wegelius–booming “Mark!…Mark Scanlon!”. His head shot around, I held up my camera, he slowed down wondering what he should do, but then he continued pedalling around the corner to sign in. I thought that was the last I’d see of Scanlon. About a minute later I could hear the sign-in announcer in Italian, “AG2R…blah blah blah blah…Mark Scanlon…blah blah blah”. Amazingly, a couple of minutes after he signed in, I looked up to see him rolling back down the road looking for my position by the fence so he could pose for a photo. I was impressed, what a class act.

Aaron Olson and Pat McCarty: Those two came by together late, only about 10 minutes prior to the race starting. They posed together out in the middle of the street and wouldn’t get any closer to the fence. I even dropped the all powerful name of Joe Papp to Aaron Olson, maybe convincing him to roll up a bit closer, but no dice. He looked at me, kind of shrugged, then they split.

All of the non-native English speakers I shouted out to didn’t even look at me. I did get a smile out of Paolo Bettini, but that was about it. Henk Vogels did look back over his shoulder and smile, but he kept on rolling. Bobby Julich rolled by about 4 times but never cracked his race face. He must be pissed about dredging up his 1992 Performance cover shoot photo. I know you heard me, Bobby. In the words of Screaming Jay Hawkins, “Bobby, I put a spell on you”. Freaky John Gadret did slow down, smile, and wave, but he didn’t stop. He must have known I was coming and steered clear. I saw pretty much all of the riders up close, saw the start, and that was it. There was the same scrum for free crap 1 hour before the start. I talked briefly with an older Italian man who told us he lived in NYC many years ago and was sorry his English was rather rusty. It seemed fine to me, certainly a better option than my limited Italian.

The start was a pretty big prodution, very organized and efficient. There were perhaps about 10,000 people in attendence, not bad for a Monday afternoon. Within about an hour of the Giro leaving town there was virtually no trace that the race ever set foot in Francavilla al Mare. We strolled back down the street the way we walked in, had a beer at a small bar, and then headed off to the train station so we could make our way north to Venice. That’s the beauty of efficient public transportation: you can get a buzz on and still get around just fine since you don’t have to drive.

Francavilla al Mare photos:
The dreaded broom wagon
The sight every rider fears in a Grand Tour: the broom wagon.

Free pasta
Trying to pilfer some Jolly Green Giant sized pasta from the promotional caravan.

Fiberglass Di Luca
A fiberglass rendition of Danilo Di Luca atop the Liquigas-mobile. In the background is another Liquigas truck with a gigantic broccoli on the roof, I think Liquigas’s attempt to convey their “green” power message.

Giro start line in Francavilla al Mare
Giro start line in Francavilla al Mare, about 2 hours before the scheduled departure.

stage
The rider sign-in stage appears in the background. Not more than 200 meters behind the stage is the Adriatic Sea.

Promotional caravan
The promotional caravan arrives to dole out the goodies.

Saunier Duval-Prodir hottie
One of the Saunier Duval-Prodir ladies deemed a prostitute by more austere, elderly Italian women atop Passo Lanciano the day before.

Bouygues Telecom team vehicles roll in
The Bouygues Telecom team vehicles roll in from their hotels.

Selle Italia spare bikes
Columbian Jose Serpa’s bike atop the Selle Italia team vehicle.

Patrick Calcagni
The first rider to sign in, the Swiss Patrick Calcagni of Liquigas.

Andy Flickinger
“I know you hear me, Andy. Come on, I’m 20′ behind you and you’re totally ignoring me? Who else but your immediate family has ever asked for a photo at a race?” It sure looks like he’s sizing up the weight of his bike, doing some mental calculus, and wondering how best to fling it at me with ninja quickness.

Selle Italia riders
Selle Italia riders Raffaele Illiano (foreground) and Jose Rujano (obscured in the background to the right) mingle with staff members and people lucky enough to score VIP access.

Charlie Wegelius
Yours truly and Charlie Wegelius. Since he was gracious enough to stop by, I didn’t ask him to eat a sandwich. Although he could use one. Or five.

Giampaolo Caruso
Liberty Seguros rider Giampaolo Caruso, who put in a good ride on the previous day’s Passo Lanciano stage. Maybe that will score him a new job. That is if he’s not in jail.

Jose Rujano
Selle Italia’s mystery man, Venezuelan Jose Rujano, strikes a pose.

Mark Scanlon
Me and Mark Scanlon, equally fearful of that damned brilliant Italian sun scorching our Irish pastiness.

Pat McCarty and Aaron Olson
The only explanation for Pat McCarty’s mustache is that he’s supplementing his Phonak paycheck during the Giro by filming an adult feature film in his hotel room each evening. The working title is “Porno d’Italia: Riding Hard Day and Night”. Aaron Olson works the camera and supplies the Saunier Duval promo girl hottie talent.

Brad McGee
Brad McGee signs in. Not a particularly stellar Giro for McGee…

The sign-in paddock
In the background, Gonchar signs some autographs after signing in. In the foreground are FdJ’s Gustav Erik Larsson and Rabobank’s Marc De Maar. Some Pro Tour squads throw their young talent to the wolves in races they don’t care about too much.

Jose Luis Rubiera
Team Discovery’s Jose Luis Rubiera rolls around about 15 minutes before the start.

Paolo Savoldelli
2005 Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli rolls around about 15 minutes before the start.

Jan Ullrich
Jan Ullrich, looking for some Tour de France fitness.

Team cars
The long row of team cars waiting for the stage to start.

Giovanni Lombardi
Compared to most of the Giro riders, Giovanni Lombardi is built like a Mack truck.

Sylvester Szmyd
Lampre’s Polish rider Sylvester Szmyd.

Cunego and Tiralongo
Lampre pixie-men Damiano Cunego and Paolo Tiralongo pose for photos.

Ivan Basso
Ivan Basso is a man in motion and all my photos of him are blurry.

Davide Rebellin
Gerolsteiner’s Davide Rebellin is having a pretty quiet Giro d’Italia.

Gianni Savio
Selle Italia’s boss man Gianni Savio. I dare you to ask him how that Jose Rujano situation is going…

Francavilla al Mare start line
It’s funny how certain moments of bike races seem to be alike anywhere on the planet. This could be any race I’ve ever done, but in reality it’s a Grand Tour about to roll out of Francavilla al Mare.

Francavilla al Mare peloton
Another shot of the peloton ready to head south along the Adriatic. That’s AG2R’s John Gadret doing his best “Thinker” pose in the foreground just behind a French cyclocross nemesis, Bouygues Telecom’s Arnoud Labbe. He’s thinking about how much it would suck to break a collarbone and crash out of his first Grand Tour.

stage
A deserted sign-in stage about 10 minutes after the race started. About 1 hour later there would be no trace of the Giro in Francavilla al Mare.

Giro float
It’s not quite the Delta House’s “Death Mobile”.

The Adriatic Sea
The serene Adriatic Sea on a glorious May afternoon, just behind the sign-in stage.

Passo Lanciano…The Full Story

May 14, 2006: Giro d’Italia Stage 8
Locals in Pescara informed us that unless we were able to arrive prior to 8am, driving our rental car up Passo Lanciano would be impossible. However, we did find out that if we drove to Pretoro at the base of the eastern ascent of Passo Lanciano (the Giro peloton was ascending the northern face of the mountain) there would be shuttle buses to transport tifosi to the summit. Once we made our way out of the maze that is Pescara, signs soon appeared for Passo Lanciano along the approximate 80km drive to the mountain nestled within the Abruzzo National Park. I gather it’s a fairly popular ski area in the winter, so signage to the mountain was plentiful. We had been in Italy for a week, and during this drive was the first time we started to see cyclists (most likely many en route to ascend Passo Lanciano for the purpose of spectating, just like us). We arrived in Pretoro and found no sign of the Giro, so we just started driving up the east face thinking that maybe we were fed bogus information and perhaps we would be able to drive our way to the summit since we weren’t on the actual race route. Plenty of cyclists were already laboring heavily up the climb: local teams all decked out in matching kits, some old guys on steel bikes from yesteryear devoid of STI or Ergo shifting, and quite a few recreational cyclists on mountain bikes or cheap road bikes, all steadfastly determined to make their way up the approximate 15 km climb.

Only a few kilometers up the slope the road was closed. After a few moments of indecision behind a few equally bewildered motorists, I did what any Italian driver would do: move out of the line, pass everybody, and see what was happening at the police roadblock. We discovered that, indeed, the road was closed to traffic, but a dirt road heading to who-knows-where to the right had a “P” logo which we assumed to be our cue to direct us to the shuttle bus parking. Thus started our off-road adventure in tiny Euro-cars. We just kept following the P signs on the dirt road which rapidly deteriorated into an entity no better than a washed out goat path. A very pricey looking Audi hot rod 2 cars in front of us was having second thoughts about the “road” conditions and proceeded to drive exceedingly slowly, much to the consternation of antsy tifosi in the caravan behind them. The Audi’s speed grew so slow that the car actually got stuck on a very steep section consisting of nothing more than loose rocks, spinning its wheels in futility. The guy in front of me hopped out, pushed the car, and got it moving. Then, I could see in the rear view mirror a crazed Smart car weaving through traffic behind us. He was truly 4-wheeling it, just careening over bushes, rocks, and saplings, and flew past me, roared around the Audi, and disappeared in a cloud of dust and a hail of kicked up rocks. The Audi got going and I floored our wee Fiat Panda to negotiate the rock scree. We soon found ourselves in a substantial mountain meadow and was directed to a place to park by Giro workers. We grabbed our backpack full of munchies and cold weather gear, then proceeded to the line of tour buses visible on the far side of the meadow waiting to drive us the remaining 10 km up to the summit. The last couple to board the bus were also Americans, the only other English speakers we were to encounter all day.

The bus driver expertly negotiated his full-size tour bus up the numerous hairpin switchbacks, all the while complaining loudly and gesticulating at the weaker cyclists who were forced to zig-zag along the road to negotiate the steep slope directly in front of our bumper. Amazingly, no flailing cyclists were flattened or jettisoned over the guardrail. We were dropped off near the summit and walked a few hundred meters further up the road to the finish area and Giro village. There were plenty of promotional booths, a booth to place bets on today’s stage, live acoustic music, and the Giro infrastructure all commandeering a tiny mountain village at the base of some downhill ski slopes. We arrived at the summit about 4 hours prior to the race finish. I didn’t really have any idea how crowded the mountain would be. Like L’Alpe d’Huez with maybe 600,000 people? Totally deserted? Somewhere in between? I predicted it wouldn’t be too crowded since I figured that most people eager to witness mountain finishes would wait until the Giro’s last week when the serious climbing would take place. Additionally, those climbs are much more centrally located to other nations north of Italy instead of the position we were at in Abruzzo, the southernmost stretch of the Giro. We found out later that evening that perhaps 100,000 people were on Passo Lanciano. At this point of the day it was crowded, but not crazy crowded, at the summit and we had no idea at all how many people were already postioned along the extent of the climb.

After wandering about the booths, checking out the jumbo-tron (tuned at this point to Formula 1 racing), and looking at the finish line being built, we started to walk down the north face looking for room along the road to set up camp. The road was rather narrow and steep (probably a steady 10% grade). After walking only 350 meters down from the finish line we stopped because at that juncture was the first wide open space free of spectators along the snow fencing. There was a huge crowd camped out with a view of the finish line and the final 100 meters, but the crowd was just now beginning to trickle down the slope to find viewing which guaranteed up close and personal glimpses of weary Giro participants.

So, we camped out exactly at the 350 meters to go sign and waited for the race to arrive. Loudspeakers wired in to the finish line announcer extended down the mountain approximately every 50 meters for the entire last kilometer of the climb providing us with an audio feed of the entire stage.

About 3 hours before the race arrived I proceeded to create my chalk masterpiece on the asphalt. It was quite a delicate art not getting run over by the countless Giro staff cars, police cars, and police motorcycles which continually trickled up the slope. Additionally, there was an endless stream of cyclists going both uphill and downhill and thousands of people heading downhill to claim roadside viewing spots of their own. The day before I ventured to the Italian version of Home Depot looking for graffiti implements. I was all set to purchase some quick drying spray paint, but noticed a bucket of chalk while waiting in line at the cashier and opted for the non-permanent option instead. While I believed I could get away with spray-painting the street in broad daylight, I didn’t want to push my luck and have to deal with The Man, so chalk it was. Since I was at the Giro deep in the heart of Italy, I didn’t want to upset the partisan crowd so I first drew a gigantic BASSO across the street. It was good practice with the chalk, and it was particularly funny listening to the crowd gathering to view my progress. This is what I heard:

“B… B… B… B… B-A… B-A… Bah… Bah… Bah… Bas… Bas… Bas… Bas… Basso!… Basso!… Basso!… Ivan Basso!… Bravo Ivan Basso!”

But how to draw Bobke Strut? The light bulb blinked into luminescence above my head: make it Scrabble-style off of BASSO. The B had a vertical BOBKE and the first S had a vertical STRUT extending down the slope. This is when the tifosi really got confused:

“Bob… Bob… Bob-ka?… Bob-ka?… Bob-ka St… Bob-ka Str… Bob-ka Stroot?… Bob-ka Stroot?”

Some Italians asked me what it meant and I tried and tried in my meager Italian to explain myself, “Bob Roll? 7-11? Americano Sette Undieci squadra? OLN? OLN tv? Americano ex-pro? Americano ex-pro nickname?” Nickname was the only word they glommed onto. I think they interpreted my ramblings as Bobke Strut being some kind of American nickname for Basso. They just had no clue who Bob Roll is. Oh well, the confusion of thousands of people certainly provided entertaining street theatre.

I started to get worried when the weather proceeded to turn crappy. What was once a sunny, 60 degree day was rapidly deteriorating as the race approached. It drizzled for a few minutes about 2 hours before the Giro arrived and I was afraid my art work would wash away. Fortunately, the weather held although it was getting gloomier, colder, and exceedingly dismal as the afternoon progressed. At the end of the day we would find the whole summit engulfed inside a cloud. Chalk also proves to be rather resilient. I gave it a quick second application, particularly the red borders, and it endured through the onslaught of countless cars, bikes, and pedestrian traffic.

With about 2 hours until the Giro’s arrival, the entire roadside behind the barriers had filled up on both sides of the road as far as I could see down the mountain. About 1 hour prior to the race arriving the promotional caravan rolled up the slope, probably about 50 vehicles all together. They drove until the first vehicle hit the finish line, parked, and shut off their engines. Then all the people inside the vehicles got out and started walking up and down the last 500 meters of the course passing out promo crap. We got some cheap plastic flags, packaged salami, bandages, literature from Polar, hats, and some honey. When the Saunier Duval-Prodir hotties strutted by in hot pants, knee high go-go boots, and Saunier Duval jerseys the older women next to us sneered and kept repeating “prostituta” as long as they were in view. It’s this type of crowd reaction which made me glad I didn’t try to sketch out a 40 foot tall penis in addition to my Basso/Bobke Strut graffiti. I think this would have gone over as well as if I drew it within Vatican City for the Pope’s perusal. I would not have made it off the mountain alive.

Once the promo caravan cleared out with about 45 minutes to go, the police arrived. They walked down from the summit and spaced themselves about 2 every 50 meters for the entire last kilometer. I draped a jacket over the snow fence and was soon asked to move it. At first I thought this was a safety issue, nothing loose that a rider could snag while he passed close to the fencing, but it turned out the guy was a Giro publicity rep. He was making sure all of the logos afixed to the snow fencing would be unobstructed for the cameras following the riders. I saw the same guy make several people remove their Di Luca banners which were also concealing sponsor logos.

My Italian was sufficient to hear what was going on down the mountain as the riders began their approximate 30 minute ascent (at least for the fast guys). The mountain top let out a collective groan when Di Luca (the local boy) got shelled. The peloton had disintgrated rather quickly on the lower slopes of the climb. By the time riders reached me with 350 meters to go, they came by in ones or twos, then groups of maybe 4-6. I could recognize a fair amount of the riders, but not all by any means. Unfortunately I left my start list in the car and I was going from memory and visuals only.

Amazingly, after about 10 minutes and maybe about 1/3 of the peloton through to the finish, people started piling into the road so they could walk uphill to the podium presentations. It was a real clusterfuck, especially since riders started coasting back down the climb after only about 8 minutes. Anybody who finished high up and who didn’t have to make a podium appearance or anti-doping test simply donned their winter clothing, scored some Coke, and made a beeline down off the mountain immediately. Nobody had helmets, everyone was decked out in jackets, knee warmers, and warm hats, and many were slurping down Coke while coasting down the steep slope no-handed. Then the pros started to get exceedingly pissed when doofusses got in their way. The riders did not want to touch their brakes. Surprisingly, at least to me, most seemed remarkably fresh and composed. Some Quick-Step riders started losing their shit and screamed at several teenagers on mountain bikes who almost took them out. Then a bunch of spectators, especially old men, started ripping into the kids, too. After about 20 minutes we hopped the fence and started walking uphill to the finish as well. Jan Ullrich, on his way down, came to a stop about 1 foot behind my wife, just patiently waiting for the crowd to part. He looked damn lean, just with a gigantic head. Two pretty large gruppettos rolled by us on the way up to the finish line. At least each had a motorcycle escort to urge the crowds to part. The cops totally lost the ability to keep the road clear, although they didn’t really seem to care after about the first 25 riders came through.

We were directed off the course at 150 meters to go where the team cars were directed into the field at the base of the downhill ski slopes. The later riders stayed at the top to ride down in the cars. I came across Sylvain Calzati standing in front of an AG2R car examining his totally fucked up bike. Both Ergo levers were destroyed and his jacket had some tears by his elbow. He looked fine, and I bet he had some type of mishap after he finished since he surely wasn’t climbing with his heavy jacket and tights. It rained hard for a couple of minutes, but then thankfully stopped. At this point, the temperature dipped into the low 40s and a cloud engulfed the entire mountain-top. Amazingly, Simoni and Di Luca were still sitting outside in the RAI studio fielding questions from the announcers. They were bundled up, but stayed outside for a good 1/2 hour after the podium ceremonies.

Then the off-the-mountain clusterfuck commenced. VIP vehicles, team vehicles, Giro vehicles, and police vehicles got off first. Then people who drove up early in the morning in their cars/scooters/motorcycles made the descent. Last off were the thousands of us poor schmoes who utilized the shuttle buses. We saw some poor AG2R rider, stuck at the top with his team car, trying to change out of his wet clothes under the raised rear hatchback door of the station wagon. The car was stuffed to the gills with wheels, duffle bags, and coolers and the rider (I don’t know who) was perched on the edge of the bumper peeling off his cycling shoes and looking particularly miserable. Then, all of a sudden, Ivan Basso appears with Bjarne Riis and a police escort. He has to walk about 300-400 meters through the scrum to his team car. I was dumbfounded that the team car didn’t make its way to the podium to pick him up. I saw some cops breaking up a fight. All we could see was a crying young woman sitting on the ground and 2 guys in their mid-20s each screaming at police officers. Didn’t quite figure out what that was all about.

Then it was time to figure out what was up with the buses. There was absolutely no organization at the summit and the handful of police still with us didn’t care at all about an orderly procession. It was a total free-for-all. What happened was buses started to appear at the summit turn-around already full. People were walking down the mountain and intercepting the buses prior to them reaching the summit. So that’s what we did, too. We probably walked about 500-600 meters down and finally found a bus with room. Then we rode up to the summit, turned around, and then drove down to the makeshift pasture parking lot where we successfully found our rental car (thankfully with no flat tires from the earlier 4-wheeling escapade).

Passo Lanciano photos:
Passo Lanciano finish line
A view of the Passo Lanciano finish line. Hydraulic lifts just elevated the finish line apparatus up into the air. I believe the structures with open windows are where journalists are housed. The riders will be approaching the finish line from the right. And who knew that Kid Rock (red t-shirt) was a Giro fan.

The on-site RAI tv studio
Looking a few feet to my left, this is the on-site RAI tv studio on the Passo Lanciano summit. In the background you can see the downhill ski slopes, the chairlift, and the “Welcome to Passo Lanciano” spelled out in the grass.

The Giro podium
Looking just to the left of the RAI studio is the Giro podium. In years past, the Giro has continued upwards another 8 kilometers to a dead-end summit called the Block Haus. The road up this climb begins just to the right of the condo in the background. I think the logistics of negotiating a dead-end summit with very limited parking proved too unwieldy.

Post-race rider facilities: massage and anti-doping
A bit further past the finish line are these rider facilities for massage (I presume) and anti-doping. And yes, I believe that patch of white is the last snowy evidence of ski season.

The final 150 meters
I’m standing in the road at 150 meters to go looking upwards to the finish line, trying hard not to get crushed by a frisky police horse to my left. On the road is spray-painted “Vai Killer”, words of encouragement for local favorite Danilo Di Luca. The only killing done that day by Di Luca was the collective crushing of his fans’ spirit when he got dropped about half way up the finishing climb.

T-Mobile team car
A T-Mobile team car arrives at the summit well in advance of the peloton, perhaps to greet their team with post-race food and warm clothing.

Sign demarcating the Giro publicity village
This sign lets everyone know that the Giro publicity village is not far away.

Special Giro-edition Piaggio scooters with the requisite models
It just wouldn’t be a professional bike race without a few models as eye candy, in this case perched atop special Giro-edition Piaggio scooters.

Basso/Bobke Strut road graffiti
There it is, in all its glory: the Basso/Bobke Strut scrabble creation at 350 meters to go.

The Giro promotional caravan has arrived
The Giro promotional caravan arrives at the Passo Lanciano summit.

Basso/Bobke Strut road graffiti, one more time
My chalk masterpiece yet again, from my vantage point directly underneath the 350 meters to go sign. You can make out the “350″ spray painted on street indicating to the Giro crew where the sign needs to be situated.

Ivan Basso on his way to victory
A blurry Ivan Basso, only 350 meters from a commanding victory, undoubtedly pleased to see his name in print but surely wondering, “What the hell is Bobke Strut?”

Danilo Di Luca
Danilo Di Luca rolls through 1:32 after Basso in 8th place amidst a thunderous ovation. Danilo, repeat after me, you’re a man for the Classics not Grand Tours…2005 was a fluke.

Gonchar in pink for 350 more meters
Serguei Gonchar adorned in pink, but for only 350 more meters, with Victor Hugo Pena right behind the maglia rosa.

John Gadret on his way to 41st place
John Gadret (right) is about 350 meters from finishing 41st on the day, hot on the wheel of Colombian Leonardo Duque (Cofidis). Ivan Parra and Wim Van Huffel also rolled across the finish line credited with the same time for the day as Duque and Gadret. While Phonak’s Jose Enrique Gutierrez’s performance is likely the revelation of this year’s Giro, Gadret’s performance in the high mountains during the Giro’s final week also warrant a mention, particularly since this is his Grand Tour debut.

Passo Lanciano

Check out today’s (Sunday, May 14th) Giro d’Italia coverage on OLN. There’s a rather large BASSO across the road at exactly 350 meters to go. Vertically (Scrabble-style) from the B and first S is an equally large BOBKE STRUT. Some Gazzetto della Sporto journalists photographed me chalking the street (I wanted to be a bit more environmentally conscientious than using spray paint. Plus, the summit was swarmed with police and I didn’t want to push my luck and get arrested). All the Italians (and of the approximately 100,000 people on the climb, I think 99% were Italian) had no clue at all what Bobke Strut was. It was truly comical listening to the hundreds and hundreds of people walking over it and exclaiming “Bas-so!!!!” and then uttering a perplexed “Boob-ka Stroot?”. I tried to explain it in my uber-minimal Italian, but I don’t think anybody understood.

And how about how psychic I am. Basso kicked ass today. And I even snapped a photo of him right in front of my Basso sign. I got Rujano to look at me as he rode by inches away, and Gadret turned his head around. Probably not expecting an “Allez Gadret” deep in Italy. And damn, most of those guys out there were freaky skinny. The whole mountain top let out a collective moan of grief when the loudspeakers said that Di Luca (the local boy, he lives about 40km away and trains on Passo Lanciano frequently) fell off the pace. There was applause of respect for Basso, but not thunderous ovations.

More, much more when I get back in a week.



George Hincapie wants nothing more than to emerge victorious at Paris-Roubaix. This year, 2006, everything looked to be going Hincapie’s way. A major selection emerged after the Forest of Arenberg, and George appeared to be in the driver’s seat. Two strong teammates with him. Boonen isolated. Then, the inexplicable happened. As we all know, his steerer tube went “snappy snappy” leaving George in tears. A collective gasp spread through the cycling world…George is undoubtedly cursed. And he has been for some time.

1992(?): Georgeous George wins a stage of the Tour DuPont as an amateur, then is relegated to last for dangerous riding in the field sprint. Cursed.
1997: Hincapie wins the USPRO title…for 30 minutes. Then he’s disqualified for drafting a team vehicle following a flat tire late in the race. Cursed.
1998: Tour de France stage 3. Hincapie misses the yellow jersey by 2 seconds. Cursed.
2000: Sydney Olympic Games. Ullrich, Kloden, and Vinokourov TTT away from the field. Mysteriously, Hincapie and Armstrong do not realize the T-Mobile trio have rolled into the gold,silver, bronze sunset and think that their chase group is the gold medal group. Until Armstong looks on the Jumbo-tron and says, ” I saw that there were three riders in front of us and I said ‘George, who are those three?’” George’s reply was predictable and will not be printed here. Cursed.
2002: Hincapie initiates the winning break at Ghent-Wevelgem and looks to have it all wrapped up. Then Mario Cipollini, out of the blue, bridges to the break and torches everybody for victory. It is the only victory Cipo has ever taken which wasn’t a field sprint. Hincapie? Cursed.
2002: Hincapie eats it in a ditch at Paris-Roubaix, nearly drowns, and has to see his punk teammate Tom Boonen get on the podium. Yeah, George is cursed.
2005: Paris-Roubaix. The final three. Hincapie, Boonen, Flecha. George, “I can win…I can win…I can win…”. Nope. Cursed.

Bobby Julich may be flying high now with CSC, but things haven’t always been so peachy…
1991 and 1992 were spectacular seasons for the young, amateur Julich having twice finished in the Tour DuPont GC top-ten. Gatorade, the team of Gianni Bugno, came calling. Julich, not knowing a word of Italian and feeling a wee bit nervous about Europe at age 20, said no. His team for the 1993 season went belly up in January of that year. Oops. Say hello to a year of misery as a privateer in the US. Cursed.
1995: Julich given a no confidence vote by Motorola and is unable to ride the Tour DuPont. Instead of racing with the big boys, Julich shows up angry and fearsomely fit at Tour de Moore. Double curse. Julich?–denied his stage race, Me?–I get to feel his wrath first-hand for 105 miles.
1996: Julich has to undergo heart surgery at Duke University to remedy uncontrollable heart rate accelerations. Cursed.
1999: Tour de France. Lance wins. Julich crashes out in the time trial. Cursed.
2000: Tour de France. Smacked around by Jeroen Blijlevens after finishing in Paris. You should have squashed that goon. Cursed.
2004: Tour de France stage 13. Bobby goes back to the CSC car to fetch some bottles and is taken out by Bjarne. D’oh. Cursed.
2005: Fred-ly chainrings make their way on to Julich’s bike. Cursed.

Lance Armstrong. Well, one can’t be more cursed than a cancer death sentence.

All of these calamities may seem random, unrelated, and just all-around, old-fashioned bad luck. Not so, I say. I have definitive proof that these 3 poor souls’ lives were forever altered by the Performance Bicycle cover curse. Forget Sports Illustrated, the Perf catalog is far more wicked mojo. George, Lance, Bobby–they’re all there (and some other random dude on the left who’s so cursed I don’t even know who he is. His mere existence has been stricken from all memory.) And they’re all cursed.

1992 Performance Bicycle Catalog Curse
Image source: Performance Bicycle

Just how does one neutralize the cover curse? Lance knows. Bobby didn’t quite know, but employed a pretty successful Plan B (the miracle man, Bjarne Riis). George? Well, George hasn’t figured it out yet.

The Lance Solution: In the closing stages of Lance’s 7th consecutive victory at the Tour de France, something rather peculiar began making public appearances in the Lance camp. Lots and lots of cryptic pictograms, creepy enought to make Proctor & Gamble conspiracy freaks blush. A rather nefarious looking responsible party emerged for interviews (”Lenny Futura”? How about “Louis Cyphre”).

The cat was out of the bag.

All of that miracle Tour de France luck on display since the ‘99 TdF can be traced back to Lance fighting fire with fire and conjuring up more potent juju to negate the Cover Curse. Says Lance, “Hey, you can’t test positive for voodoo. Suck on that, UCI.” Lance’s minions were constantly battling Armstrong in those final days of the Tour, insisting that seemingly benign arrangements of symbols such as these adorn his top tube:

Icons celebrating Lance's 5th TdF victory

Icons celebrating Lance's 6th TdF victory

However, what Lance really wanted to unveil to the world was this setup:

Photographer: Tim Maloney
Image source:

Lance says, “This particular arrangement is titled ‘Seething Rage’…Translation: ‘I hate Christian Vandevelde, I hate Filippo Simeoni, I hate Dave Zabriskie, I hate Floyd Landis, and I hate Roberto Heras.’ May you all break collarbones, crash into walls, crash in TTTs, put your arm through glass doors, adopt goofy time trial positions, forever suck in le Tour, and fail drug tests.” And now that Lance has gotten antsy and fidgety less than a year into his retirement, I’d watch myself if I happened to be a world-class marathoner. Lance has you in his crosshairs and he’s playing for keeps.


Exactly one week from today I will be boarding a plane for a two-week vacation in Italy. Not-so-coincidentally, a certain Italian grand tour will be taking place the entire time we’re overseas. However, since man cannot live on professional cycling alone the trip will not be dominated by tifosi-ism, but there will be two stages we’ll see in person. On May 14th, we’ll be at (or very near) the summit of the Giro’s first mountain top finish on stage 8’s Passo Lanciano. The next day, May 15th, we’ll partake in the start village festivities at Francavilla Al Mare for stage 9.

Here’s my action-packed agenda for those 2 days:

1. I will author Passo Lanciano road graffiti (most likely a very prominent

1a. If anybody has a particularly amusing suggestion for road graffiti, I will try to add your comments to Passo Lanciano as well (spray paint supply permitting…)

2. Phil Liggett will mention my road graffiti on OLN that evening.

3. I will stalk the freakiest man in cyclocross who’s making his grand tour debut: AG2R’s John Gadret.

4. I will shake Giovanni Lombardi’s hand and tell him he needs to ride all 3 Grand Tours this year, too, just to shore up his peloton badass rep.

5. I will shake Marino Lejaretta’s hand because he rode 9 grand tours in a row.

6. I will shake Allan Peiper’s hand because he was an inspiration for my early cycling days.

7. I will tell Michael Rasmussen to eat a sandwich.

8. I will tell Basque nutter Roberto Laiseka to eat a sandwich.

9. I will tell Charlie Wegelius to eat a sandwich.

10. I will make sure Jan Ullrich does not eat any sandwiches.

11. I will not be punched in the face by Wladimir Belli.

12. I will not get run over by a motorcycle on the Passo Lanciano.

13. I will “liberate” some Giro signs.

14. I will watch taciturn chain-smokers wash bikes (because I’m a cycling geek).

My other cycling-related venture will be a trip to Madonna del Ghisallo prior to our flight home out of Milan. After all, I must make my pilgrimage to Mecca.