One from the vaults: Postcard from the Giro d’Italia Part II

Here’s Part II of our trip in May 2016 to watch part of the Giro d’Italia.

At the start of Tuesday’s stage, in a suburb of Florence, we caught up with staff we know at team Bardiani-CSF and evaluated their riders’ chances of a stage win. My parting comment was “I’ll keep my fingers crossed, who knows, today could be the one!” Prophetic or what? One of their promising neo-pros, Giulio Ciccone, won the stage.

Impressed by my cakes, one of the Sky boys challenged me to come up with a bar for their musettes. They gave me one prepared by the wife of one of soigneurs. It was okay but rather dry and tasteless. I promised to work on it the following week and will return to the final few stages with a much improved product, along with some of my brownies.

Go, Joe, go!
The King of Utah, Joe Dombrowski
Cannondale's chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!
Cannondale’s chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!

After watching the peloton depart, we headed to a town we’d never before visited. Yes, this was our maiden trip to Bologna, a town about which I had little or no expectations but it blew me away. We stayed in a delightful, modern, three-roomed bed and breakfast in the old town, just a short stroll from the main attractions. Before checking in, we had lunch in a restaurant nearby which had been in situ since 1957. If it’s lasted that long it’s got to be good – right? Absolutely! We enjoyed yet another magnificent meal in a family run neighbourhood institution. The owner had passed away in 2007 but his widow still helps out while the three children now run the restaurant.

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Much to my delight, the restaurant featured an old childhood favourite, the sweet trolley. I couldn’t indulge but my beloved had the house speciality Zuppa Inglesi. He proclaimed it “nice” but a pale imitation of my and my late mother’s rum soaked trifles. Then it was time to walk off those calories around the magnificent old town whose monuments are built almost exclusively of brick, many dating from the 14th century. Some of them are very tall, underlining how wealthy the city was in former times.  The shops are under attractive stone porticoes which have beautiful frescoed ceilings and wrought iron lights, clocks and shop signs. This is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Italy and deserves to feature more prominently on tourists’ itineraries. I shall return particularly now I know how close it is to Mugello, home to last week-end’s Italian MotoGP.

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The following day we headed directly to the Giro stage finish in Asolo, the Pearl of Veneto, where one of my dearest friends lives. A fabulous cook, she whipped up a delicious feast for lunch which we enjoyed before watching the peloton stream through Asolo’s beautiful old town in dribs and drabs. Dinner at a local restaurant followed, before we headed to our hotel for the next few days in Pordenone.

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From time to time my beloved works with a company based here. We know the town well but haven’t visited for a while so it was good to renew our acquaintance with our favourite restaurants and watering holes. Thursday’s stage hugged the Venetian coastline though Wednesday’s warm sunshine had retreated behind clouds and heavy rain. We went to the stage start but when it’s pouring down with rain, it’s difficult to do much more than wave at the riders one knows. Understandably, no one wants to spend a moment longer than necessary in the inclement conditions.

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Friday’s stage started close to Udine in a medieval border town and fared better weather wise, though the boys were looking nervous as the stage heralded a triptych in the mountains before another difficult week ahead of the finish in Turin. I promised to return in the Southern Alps with more baked goods to see them through the penultimate day of climbing.

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Saturday we headed to Trieste to meet with potential clients from Slovenia. We’d briefly visited the city when the Giro d’Italia finished there in 2014 but hadn’t time to have a good look around as we needed to get back for Cannondale’s farewell Giro party. It was great to get another opportunity to visit this fascinating town which still bears the influence of its former occupiers, the Austrians, on its buildings and cuisine. Sadly, I couldn’t find a cake shop doing vegan equivalents of any of those delicious Austrian cakes.

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It was a great trip. The Giro is a beautiful race and I love the way the Italians embrace it by decking themselves, their children, pets and shops in pink. It’s much more of an individual and not a community effort and, as you might expect, it’s generally done with great style, panache and much reverence for the Giro’s history. I consider myself fortunate to live only 45 minutes from the Italian border.

Jumping for joy

I was at the Tour de France, specifically the last three days and got to see Bradley Wiggins crowned the first British winner – historic or what? I was there thanks to a girlfriend who was working for Eurosport, interviewing the riders pre- and post-race. What a brill job? Indeed, she’s an old hand at this and not only is she a gifted linguist, her other half’s a professional cyclist, so she knows many in the professional peloton and, as you can see from the photograph, she’s very attractive –  it doesn’t hurt. In fact, and deservedly so, she’s built quite a following on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re interested, you can read about my experience over on VeloVoices.

In effect, with the travel, that took out five whole days but I don’t regret a single moment! I was in two minds whether or not to go but my beloved, ever the voice of reason, said I might regret it if I didn’t and he was soooooooooooooo right. I made loads of great contacts for future VeloVoices interviews whom I’ll hopefully be able to catch up with either during the Vuelta or maybe the World Championships. My Tour highlight in truth wasn’t Wiggo’s win but rather Tommy Voeckler’s endorsement of my (in)famous pain d’epice! I also got to meet Maurice Greene who’ll be commentating during the Olympics for Eurosport and, while he knew nothing about cycling, really got caught up in the whole atmosphere.

I flew back from Paris at the crack of dawn on Monday morning, in truth it’s debatable whether it was worth getting a hotel room at all on Sunday evening. The plan was to head straight down to Pordenone, north-east of Venice, where my beloved was meeting one of his clients. I’d decided to go along because it’s close to where one of my dearest friends lives whom I don’t get to see as much as I’d really like. In the end, due to other commitments, we didn’t leave until after lunch by which time I was really flagging. You know how I need my eight hours a night.

Mindful of my commitment to racing an uphill time-trial, I took my bike because Pordenone is in the foothills of the Dolomites. On day one, Tuesday, I rode out to the base of the Dolomites and alongside of them on some strade bianche where I needed to fully concentrate in order to stay upright. I discovered that speed really was essential. I did a round trip of about 75km, nothing too demanding as it was all on the flat. On day two I decided to check out the route to Asolo as I really didn’t want to get lost en route and have to call my friend to come rescue me – too embarrassing to contemplate.

Another 75km round trip along country roads with nary a car in sight and plenty of picturesque villages to explore. Wednesday I rode over to Asolo. Again around 75km but it was made more difficult by the heat and a headwind.  It took me just three hours and I only really encountered traffic on the last 20km stretch where I was almost cut up by white van man on the exit out of Montebelluno. It was another relatively flat stretch apart from the climb up to the historic town centre.

All this cycling has been negated by delicious evening meals at charming family run Italian restaurants. Packed restaurants where we’d only gotten tables thanks to either reservations or contacts! Ecomonic crisis?

Today, I decided that there was nothing else for it, Dolomites here I come! While I chose my first climb more by luck, it looked as if it was one of the easier ones, even though it seemed to go on for ever. But, of course, at the pace I ride, it does. I saw nary a cyclist today although, in truth, I’ve not seen many all week and a quick search on the internet has only turned up the Octavia Botecchia Velodrome, so named in honour of the first Italian winner of the Tour. Will they rename the Manchester Velodrome after Brad? But no local cycling club. There must be one. I’ve located one for the railway employees but they wear a rather lurid red, yellow and blue kit. Those I’ve seen wearing a red and white kit could just as easily be a team from one of the town’s major manufacturing companies. My search continues, for my next visit……………

Normal service resumed

Today, I set off down the Var valley towards Castagniers for my Power Tap test. I was looking forward to seeing what, if any, progress I’d made since my first test. My coach promises a 5% improvement. Now, if I were an elite athlete, 5% improvement would sound like a good deal. However, since I’m not, I’m looking for around 20% improvement over 6 months.

I’m pleased to report that I’m on target with a 10% improvement over the last 3 months. I rode for 20 minutes along the D2202, easily one of my least favourite roads, on account of the very fast moving traffic and the amount of gravel and glass along its verges. The test was supposed to have taken place at the velodrome in La Bocca but it’s closed on account of this being a holiday week end. My trainer told me to stay at an average of 200 watts for the first 10 minutes and then give it my all. However, I barely managed to exceed 170 for the first 10 minutes. I did, fortunately, fare very much better on the way back. Though, I think it’s fair to say, Spartacus won’t be quaking in his Sidis any time soon.

I popped in to my LBS on the way back to say hello to the owner as, most unusually,  I’ve not been in for a couple of weeks. Then it was back home, shower, change into the fleecy tracksuit, lunch and onto the sofa for today’s stage of the Giro.

What did I say about buses? Yet another Italian win: third in a row. This time Vicenzo Nibali, largely thanks to some kamikaze descending off the Monte Grappa en route to Asolo. Today, it was the turn of the dethroned favourites to put the hurt on the rest of the peloton. Liquigas laid down a punishing pace on the ascent of the Monte Grappa, scattering GC contenders all over its steep slopes.

Finishing behind Nibali were (in order) Basso, Scarponi and Evans, with a gap to Vino, who now leads the points classification. David Arroyo is now in pink, 39 seconds ahead of former maglia rosa wearer, Ritchie Porte, with Tondo in 3rd place. Nibali is now 8th on GC, while Vino is 9th. I think we can expect further fireworks on tomorrow’s stage which includes the Monte Zoncolan: 10.1km with an average gradient of 11.9%. That’s going to hurt.