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.

Postcard from Giro 2018: part I

We kicked off our Giro adverture in NE Italy, staying in Pordenone, which has a beautiful Old Town surrounded by a river and plenty of greenery. It’s a place and area we both know well as my beloved has clients here and I have a dear friend living nearby in Asolo. It’s our first visit since the Giro 2016 and we’ve enjoyed visiting old haunts and finding new ones.

Conveniently we arrived at Apero’clock and headed straight into the bar opposite the hotel for an Aperol Spritz. It was superior to those we’d recently drunk in Paris. We’re beginning to think that they’re like coffee, better and cheaper in Italy. It was easily as good as the one I recently drank at the Carlton in Cannes which was 10 times the price!

I’d elected to dine in my favourite restaurant but “shock, horror” we found it was closed and undergoing renovation. So we went to my second favourite. We fortunately arrived there ahead of a large party who’d laid on some entertainment, a chap at an organ singing. It was truly dreadful and we were grateful we were seated at the other end of the restaurant. The dog on the table next to us started howling, whether in protest or to drown out the singing I have no idea but………In any event, dinner was delicious and we quickly departed for an early night.

Prosecco!

 

Next morning we headed to our first stage – no 13, unlucky for some – from Ferrarra to Nervesa della Battaglia. The finish town was in Prosecco country, so hopes were high that it would be one of those delightful historic towns with plenty of Baroque architecture set around a chaming town square lined with cafes, bars and restaurants. Sadly, our hopes were cruelly dashed.

They had bicycle regiments in WW1

The finish town had absolutely nothing to commend it. The locals had done their best, festooning it with pink flowers, bunting and balloons. Its claim to fame is only as the site of an important WWI battle – the Giro was celebrating 100 years since it ended. Otherwise, the town is totally unremarkable.

After a quick walk around town, we ate at the only place serving meals rather than just panini. Chaos reigned within. We waited 40 mins for a drink, a further 20 mins for our starter and, after another 75 minutes, gave up on our main course. However, I do believe one of the members of staff may have provided Julie Walters with inspiration for Mrs Overall. Though even she melted when ladies’ fave Bernie Eisel sat down at the next table with the Eurosport crew. She served them in record time! Though, to be fair, the restaurant was now practically empty.  It took me a further 15 minutes to pay and even that was only thanks to the timely intervention of the Rai crew.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates graced the leader’s jersey for 13 days

On the upside, a local producer of Prosecco distributed bottles of same in the press room so we picked up one each – result. The race passed through the town once before the finish on what was a rare day for the sprinters, ahead of Saturday’s fearsome stage to Monte Zoncolan. The last of the four-man break was sucked back in within sight of the line and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)  took his third stage, tightening his grip on the puce jersey – a colour, I should add, that suits no one, at any time, anywhere.

See what I mean about the colour?

We hung back to watch Alessandro di Stefano’s Rai TV show Processo alla Tappa (After the Stage). A consummate professional from her finger tips to her toes, she asks all the right questions and rapidly summarises the key points. Sadly we missed Apero’clock due to the huge traffic jam as everyone fled the town.

Once back at base, we ate at one of the newer restaurants in town which has now gone on “The List”. Dessert was an ice cream from the shop in the town square which is owned by a former professional cyclist who still looks pretty trim. He obviously doesn’t over-indulge on his products.

The stage start on Saturday in San Vito al Tagliamento was just down the road from where we were staying. I hung around the buses to drop off some cakes that I’m sure would be appreciated after the day’s tough stage which finished on the iconic Monte Zoncolan. It took me a while to locate everyone, as the parking was so disorganised. As usual the space allocated for the buses was far too small so they were spread all over the place.

20 consecutive Grand Tours for Adam Hansen and he’s still smiling!
All roads lead to…………..

This start town was much more to our liking and was absolutely packed to the rafters with both locals and visitors and, as usual, bedecked in pink. Because space was limited at the Monte Zoncolan finish, we elected to watch it on the television. We were somewhat surprised by Chris Froome’s (Sky) resurrection but he did say he’d reccied the stage beforehand. His planning and preparation was rewarded with a surprising stage win, although race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) managed to limit his losses. Saturday evening, we tried a well-known fish restaurant in Pordenone which was excellent and wondered why we’d never eaten there before. It too went on “The List.”

Defending champion Tom Dumoulin signing on
Thibaut Pinot: Is Tibbles now the French housewives favourite?

Again, Sunday’s start stage of Tolmezzo was not too far away though closer to the Austrian border. It was yet another charming Italian town albeit one with an Alpine feel. Unfortunately, the shops were open and I spotted a lovely handbag that I just had to acquire! If only the organisers had given me access to the sign-on, this would never have happened. Again, to avoid the traffic, we watched the stage conclusion on the television even though the finish town wasn’t too far away. Consequently, we were around for the all important aperotivo which preceeded a trip to our favourite pizza joint.

The Giro’s lovely podium girls

We spent Monday’s rest day in Ljubljana before heading to Lake Garda where we spent two nights at the same hotel we stayed in en route to Seefeld at Christmas. You can read all about it in part II.

Postcard from Pordenone

It’s May, I should’ve been watching the Giro d’Italia so here’s another blast from the past (May 2013) where we happily managed to combine business, a spot of vacation and watching cycling in NE Italy.

I know, I know I’ve been back a few days but oft cited pressure of work and my beloved’s accident has delayed its completion. Fortunately my beloved has a client in NE Italy, the location of a number of stages in this year’s Giro d’Italia. I do from time to time go with him on business trips and this one was no exception. It’s also a beautiful part of the world steeped in history, with gorgeous countryside – ideal for cycling – and it’s ringed by the Dolomites, equally good for cycling and skiing.

Staking out race leader Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana bus

After a pleasant drive over on Sunday afternoon, I spent most of Monday getting to know the area better by bike. Over the past few years, since I’ve taken up cycling as a hobby, the bike has taken me to many lovely spots which I’d have been unlikely to visit in the car. I like nothing better than heading off for a day in the saddle, revelling in the warm spring weather and investigating small towns and villages en route. I rode around here last July and now have a good idea in my head of the layout of the surrounding area and, as it’s well sign-posted, I’m most unlikely to get lost.

My husband’s clients have been very hospitable and only to happy to entertain us in various restaurants most evenings, you can’t beat local knowledge. But Italy’s the one place where I have never, ever had a bad meal or a even a bad cup of coffee. I used to say that about France but we have had one or two disastrous meals when we’ve been out cycling.

The advantage of a week in Italy is the effect it’s had on my spoken Italian. I don’t speak it often enough so a week of reading La Gazzetta dello Sport, watching RAI Sport and chatting in Italian brings it all flooding back. My beloved is making an effort to speak Italian though confuses it with Spanish with humorous results. However, we were both tasked with conversing in Italian when the client’s parents, who both only speak Italian, took us out one evening for dinner and a tour of the area. Amazingly, we had a most interesting evening and have learnt much about the area, particularly its history and viticulture.

The three days of the Giro d’Italia were planned with precision so that I could both see the start and finish each day. All went according to plan on the first two days. I happily snapped away with my beloved’s camera and I also managed to chat to a few of the riders to contribute to my article for VeloVoices.

Stage 13 before the start

On the last day, after three days of glorious sunshine, the heavens opened and the rain cascaded down. That, and high winds, made driving to the start quite perilous but it was ultimately a doomed effort as they’d closed the road well ahead of the departure time and Italy’s finest couldn’t be persuaded to let me through despite the proper credentials. Of course, it may have been that they were clearing rubble swept onto the road by the rain. I’ll never know. Feeling chilled to the bone, I drove directly to the finish to take shelter and warm up in the press room.

But my Giro adventure’s not yet over. A client meeting in Milan on Monday morning has paved the way for a trip to Brescia on Sunday to watch the final day.

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……………