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.

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