Cue the Corones

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Four years ago, John Gadret was slaying it on perhaps the most climber-friendly ‘cross course in Europe: the Koppenbergcross, which, yes, takes in a chunk of the cobbled Koppenberg each lap. The problem was, what goes up must come down. And Gadret doesn’t really do down. Not when you weigh maybe 128 lbs. So he’d light up the Koppenberg, and then get schooled on the descent until finally the elastic snapped at the hands of the Rabobank tag-team of Sven Nys and Richard Groenendaal.

I’m sure Gadret was thinking, “Damn, what’s a dude gotta do to get a ‘cross course that’s uphill the whole way.”

Cue the Plan de Corones.

John Gadret flattens the Plan de Corones. Photo by Sirotti.
John Gadret flattens the Plan de Corones. Photo by Sirotti.

Only former Giro champ Stefano Garzelli and world champion Cadel Evans rode it faster today.

Just for shits and giggles, Angelo Zomegnan should have tossed in a few barriers and carved steps into the upper slopes when it hit 24%. Gadret would have killed it.

Gadret, currently in 17th overall at the Giro and steadily moving up GC as the mountains get scarier, is a rare breed indeed: a world class ‘cross rider who can hold his own in Grand Tour mountain stages.

The last man who proved his mettle in both realms was Switzerland’s Pascal Richard. In 1988 at the age of 23, Richard won the pro ‘cross world championship and then set his sites on the road. At the 1994 Giro Richard won the climber’s classification, one stage and finished 15th overall. The next year Richard won two stages and improved his GC finish to 13th.

It’s doubtful Gadret will ever come close to matching Richard’s palmares, which also includes two Monuments (Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia), an Olympic road race gold medal (the first of the pro era), 2 Tours de Romandie, a Tour de Suisse and a Tour de France stage. But let’s see if Gadret can at least match, or top, Richard’s Giro-best 13th overall.

And it should come as no surprise that the all time king of kings when it comes to combining ‘cross and road palmares is Belgium’s Roger de Vlaeminck. Just look at what he did in 1975: Belgian ‘cross champion, world ‘cross champion, three stages and overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Roubaix champion, seven stage wins/points jersey/4th overall at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Suisse champion, Championship of Zürich champion and a few other wins thrown in for good measure in some Italian one-day races.

Unreal. And all with a pair of sideburns that weigh as much as John Gadret.

Appetite for destruction

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Since John Gadret let the world know today that he’s still amongst the living, I figured I should follow suit from my lengthy exile from the interwebs. For all the talk about how Cadel Evans felt at home on dirt, JG loves him some Tuscan slime just as much. Gadret is the only Giro rider who also rocked ‘cross worlds this year in Tabor, and if the freaky one had his way today I’m sure he’d have preferred an additional dash of uber cold and ice to really make everyone weep.

John Gadret flanked by a pair of Giro champs, Damiano Cunego and Stefano Garzelli. Photo by Sirotti.
John Gadret flanked by a pair of Giro champs, Damiano Cunego and Stefano Garzelli. Photo by Sirotti.

The last time Gadret rode the Giro was in 2006, and after showing some brilliant results in the mountains he unfortunately left in an ambulance after crashing out in stage 18. Perhaps he should heed the commentary of stage six winner Matt Lloyd who, when describing the destruction of the Giro’s opening week said with a laugh, “The beauty of this race is that even if you’re one and half hours behind at the end of the first week, you can still be in top five at the end.”

JG’s currently in 30th overall, 12:00 back. Let’s see how he does tomorrow after the Giro’s first summit finish…

Giro Minutiae

1. Northern Dominance
The last time I laid eyes (in person) on Danilo Di Luca, he was approximately 350 meters from the summit of Passo Lanciano in the 2006 Giro d’Italia. The collective groan which rippled upwards to the summit when Di Luca was dropped from the Basso express several kilometers from the finish line belies the adoration of his native Abruzzo tifosi. And how wrong I was to right him off as “merely” a man for the one-day Classics. Bravo, Danilo! What’s also remarkable is that Di Luca is the first Italian from the southern half of Italy to ever emerge victorious in the Giro. Check out the complete domination by pros from the northern regions:

The 20 Regions of Italy
Image source:

Region # of Giro Champions
Lombardia 29
Piemonte 17
Toscana 8
Emilia-Romagna 4
Trentino-Alto Adige 3
Veneto 2
Abruzzo 1 (Danilo Di Luca, 2007)
Liguria 1

Di Luca is well aware of his place in history, and he spoke of his terrone heritage with pride.

2. Is Andy Hampsten really the first American Giro winner?
While I was investigating which region each Italian Giro winner came from, I came across this interesting tidbit about the 1924 champion Giuseppe Enrici. If Italian Wikipedia is to be trusted, it appears that Enrici was born in Pittsburgh, PA. Now I’m not much of a legal scholar, but I believe that birth on American soil automatically confers U.S. citizenship. I haven’t the faintest idea about the length of Enrici’s stateside stint before he hopped a boat to Italy (where as best I can tell, he resided in the Piemonte region), I’m equally as clueless about whether dual-citizenship was ever embraced or if he only ever considered himself Italian, but maybe USA Cycling can retro-actively claim him as one of our own (just like the Mormons) to boost our country’s Grand Tour palmares. He would also be the first American to start the Tour de France (1924 [DNF on 4th stage] and 1925 [DNF on 11th stage]), but it looks like Jonathan Boyer still has dibs on the first American to finish.

3. Conventional Wisdom
Unless your physique is Jose Rujano-sized, I thought it a given that every pro cyclist sports at least 172.5mm cranks. With that in mind, I was somewhat surprised to see that Robbie McEwen has been winning Grand Tour stages on 170mm cranks. Specs on pro bikes aren’t too plentiful, at least when it comes to crank arm length, but here’s some other sprinters for comparison:

Name Crank length
Tom Boonen 177.5mm
Allan Davis 172.5mm
Gord Fraser 172.5mm
Oscar Freire 172.5mm
Thor Hushovd 175mm
Giovanni Lombardi 172.5mm
Alessandro Petacchi 175mm
Fred Rodriguez 175mm
Erik Zabel 172.5mm

Of course, Oscar Freire and Allan Davis are the only riders listed who’re approximately the same size as McEwen, but McEwen seems to roll to the beat of a different drummer with his slightly stubbier cranks. And just for comparison’s sake, I looked at 2 Giro riders who are definitely tinier than McEwen (Di Luca and Simoni) and both of them have 172.5mm cranks. I don’t know if this means anything or not, it’s just the random kind of factoid that gets my mind revved up.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

When I was 19 years old, my biggest concern cycling-wise was staying upright and simply finishing East Coast Cat 3 races. I was a pavement magnet in crits, and road races over 50 miles were dicey affairs for my fledgling diesel endurance capacities. 1987 was largely spent generating scar tissue and getting shelled…what a great introduction to Senior racing.

I’ve only made a cursory perusal of cycling lore and legend, and as best I can tell the youngest Grand Tour finisher is Frenchman Henri Cornet who finished the 1904 Tour de France just shy of 20 years old (19 years, 354 days to be exact). Of course, Cornet did more than simply finish the Tour in 1904, he won it. Thanks to some nefarious and dastardly deeds out on the open roads of France, the first four finishers of the 1904 Tour were DQed, and fifth place Cornet was elevated to the top spot on the podium.

Fast forward 103 years…and witness the exploits of another teen wunderkind, Russian Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff Credit Systems), who’s just getting his feet wet in this year’s Giro d’Italia. If (and that’s one mighty generous if) Rovny perseveres and arrives in Milan on June 3rd, he’ll be about 4 months shy of his 20th birthday and will likely lay claim to being the youngest Grand Tour finisher. I’d say the odds are 50-50 that he’ll make it, and I’m only being that magnanimous because he’s Russian and likely tough as nails. Besides the likelihood of some old school Eastern Bloc genetic manipulation shennanigans under the hood, he’s probably been doing 600 mile weeks since he was 13. And take a look at this photo taken one day prior to the Giro’s first stage. Teenager my ass…Rovny looks rough. If I had to wager on who was the DS and who was riding the Giro just based on this photo, I’d have Konyshev kitted up and Rovny driving the team car, no question. Kids, just be glad that supplying your family with meager supplies of cabbage, beets, vodka, and a marginally functional Lada wasn’t dependent on riding your bike 30,000 miles a year and winning world titles while you’re still in high school.

Italy…The Final Word

Fact: If you want to wander around Italy and never be identified as an American by mere looks, grow some Elvis-esque sideburns. Evidently, a substantial set of lamb chops is routinely associated with the English. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that at multiple periods of my life I’ve been told “You have the map of Ireland on your face” which likely cements my Anglo/Irish identity and yields no clues about America until I open my mouth. It worked like a charm during my six month stint in Ireland way back when. Just check out the similar mugs of myself and AG2R’s lone Irishman, Mark Scanlon. Generations of fair-skinned, Irish pastiness are flowing unchecked and unabashed throughout our respective DNA structures. And what really throws people for a loop is when you bust out the La Gazzetta dello Sport to check out the daily 6+ pages of Giro d’Italia coverage.

Brace yourself: Italians don’t care too much about cycling. I know, words of such blasphemous magnitude have rarely been rendered here in print. I thought I was embarking on a magical voyage to a cycling Nirvanna, where each and every citizen is versed in the history, intricacies, and minutia of professional cycling. (That must be Belgium.) When we met my wife’s boss’s significant other (and family) native to Pescara, there were words of sheer astonishment about us driving to the summit of Passo Lanciano. “These Americans aren’t just idle spectators, they’re fanatics!” Pick up any edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport and it isn’t difficult to see what sport is king: calcio (or as we say here across the pond in the U.S. — “soccer”). If the trademark pink paper contains about 40 pages, then the first 30 or so pages deal with soccer. Amazing. Then comes Formula 1, fueled by the Schumacher/Ferrari firestorm. Then comes MotoGP motorcycle racing. I quickly became acquainted with young Italian phenom, Yamaha-sponsored Valentino Rossi. Still, tucked away near the back of a typical issue, the Giro garnered about 6 pages of coverage per day, which are about 6 more pages than American papers devote to the entire Giro d’Italia. There were multiple feature length articles dissecting the previous day’s stage, brief spotlights on one particular rider each day (usually someone out of the limelight), historical articles about Giro stages of yesteryear which traversed similar routes to the previous day’s stage, lots of photos (I was partial to the photo-essay sequence of shots dissecting finishing sprints or crashes, complete with superimposed arrows and running commentary to explain frame by frame just how Axel Merckx got schooled oh-so close to the finish line or the magic moment when Manuele Mori’s face made contact with a guardrail), daily commentary penned by Mario Cipollini, plus oodles of more cut-and-dried statistics which amass after each stage. Each day you could see each and every rider’s finishing order and GC position, find out daily and cumulative points accumulations for all the well-known and downright bewildering assortment of jersey and team competitions, and be provided with an entire start-list (complete with slash marks through riders’ names who have retired).

A little bit of Italian goes a long way to foster confusion…
This is how a typical conversation went while in Capri/Naples/Ercolano during our first week in Italy when we tried to ask random people involved in the tourist trade what was taking place in the Giro:

Me: Who won the Giro stage yesterday?
Befuddled Italian: ????????
Me: You know, the Giro?
B.I.: Giro???
Me: Yeah, the Giro d’Italia…
B.I.: (internally to himself, “Why is this Yank so insistent on talking about his tour of Italia? He’s mad…)
Me: (internally, “Oh shit, giro and Italia are magic words to Anglo cycling tifosi, but just benign words in Italian. I need to throw in something about cycling”)
Me: Giro d’Italia? Ciclismo? Petacchi? Di Luca? Savoldelli? Maglia rosa?
B.I.: Oh, si, si, si! The Giro d’Italia…Huh…You mean it already started?…What?…In Belgium????
B.I.: I prefer _______ (insert Formula 1, tennis, track & field, MotoGP, or soccer).

Fact: There are no sports bars in Italy. No Giro for you (in your best Soup Nazi voice) unless you’re at a home or luck into hotel rooms with televisions. While we were quizzing an employee at the tourist information office in Ercolano about the best venue nearby to grab some lunch and watch the Giro, we actually were invited to his home to watch the entire stage. We talked for some time about American pro cyclists, his love of watching stages in the mountains, how boring flat stages could be, and since he was leaving work for the day he kindly offered to bring us back to his house. Unfortunately, our schedule was action-packed for the rest of the day but we did convince the young men working in a nearby pizzeria to tune in the pre-stage Giro coverage while we gobbled down some pizza. We were able to watch lengthy interviews with numerous Italian stars (Basso, Bettini, Di Luca, Savoldelli, Cunego, and Simoni) who were just hanging out, biding their time in the rider VIP area, prior to putting in about 5 hours in the saddle that day.

No Madonna del Ghisallo for you…6 months! Denied. We could see the general location of the legendary chapel high on the ridge line above Lake Como, but unfortunately a general transit strike throughout the Lake District (wiping out ferry and bus travel) made our destination an impossibility. See, we were on the wrong side of the lake, in Varenna on the east shore of Lake Como, with no public transportation at our disposal. We were situated only about a 10 minute ferry ride from Bellagio, and then about another 15 minutes via rented scooters from Madonna del Ghisallo, but we were stranded on the eastern shore for the day. The only day we could see the chapel. And I didn’t feel like ponying up about 100 Euro for a taxi ride. My primal need to soak up the divine ambience of pro cycling’s Mecca nearly inspired me to become a triathlete for the day. I was fully prepared to swim across Lake Como, run around Bellagio until I found a sweet bike at a café with its Italian owner lost in thought, espresso, and sun-tanning, and steal (really…it’s more like borrowing…I had every intention to return the ride to its rightful owner) that machine and ride like a mofo up to the chapel. “Ride it like you stole it” said Lance Armstrong. Yes, indeedy.

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.



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.