We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Giro 2011, Stage 11 Finish at Castelfidardo

As soon as the Giro 2011 route was announced - and in a similar vein to the Tirreno-Adriatico, I'd be scouring Gazzetta dello Sport for news, any news, or even rumours for months beforehand - Kelda and I booked Ryanair flights to Ancona as usual, to stay in our caravan beside our guesthouse project in Sant'Angelo in Pontano. According to the map, the Giro was coming through our village! I could already see myself getting involved with our small 1400-person community, tying bunting between buildings, wrapping old bicycles in pink crêpe paper for display in shop windows, and making 'Forza Scarponi!' banners for local Lampre hero Michele.


So, whilst in Barcelona for work a few weeks before our trip, I bought a copy of Ciclismo a Fondo with its Guia al Giro, and on reading I'm sure they've made a mistake: now the route is the one detailed below, and there's nothing out on the web to say why there's been a change. I know that certain Giro stages had been changed (even up until the day before in the case of the stage over the Monte Crostis in 2011, and in dubious circumstances for the Stelvio in 1984), but I'm still struggling to find an explanation as to why the route suddenly changed to this:


For us the big difference is that the route doesn't make the originally planned move inland towards the Sibillini Mountains and through our village, but instead tends to shadow the Adriatic coastline on its journey towards the arrivo at Castelfidardo. OK, disappointed, but it's still not that far for us to go - 40 minutes? - and see the stage finish; it would still be great day out, and the weather provided us with a gloriously hot, cloud-free day. Walking up the rise from the valley to the hill-top town centre, it was clear that this would be no easy finish: I'd say the last 3km are all uphill at around 6%, with the final 400-metre ramp to the line somewhere around 15%. We found a spot and got exactly what we were hoping for: a place at the barriers at 125m to go, opposite a bar with a toilet (never underestimate the importance of this when you have a bladder as I do), so as to provide the required relief after downing a deliciously chilled large bottle of Birra Moretti. It hadn't even had its price inflated especially for the Giro - another pleasant surprise.

The finishing area was packed with good-natured fans who'd welcome any news as to what was happening out on the road from people inside their nearby houses and bars, or those with connection to the 'net.

I'm hoping the short bit of video I took on our mobile phone captures what I believe it is that makes going to see a bike race so enthralling. Most British non-cycling friends admit to having no idea what all the fuss is about; those who, as almost accidental spectators by dint of proximity, got to see the Tour's visit in 1994 or 2007 have all said that they loved it despite not really understanding what was happening. They might know that in the Tour the leader wears the yellow jumper (thanks Ned), that Sean Yates is local to the Ashdown Forest, and that Mark Cavendish is gonna win right?, but all of them, like me, state that they also love everything that goes on around the race.

There have been occasions where I've stood on a mountainside in the Alps for hours after a seemingly endless trek up to my chosen vantage point, to be rewarded by the ephemeral passing of a blur of brightly coloured riders, yet this still has the power to give me goosebumps, for me to lose a bit of self control, bellowing all manner of stream-of-consciousness shouts of encouragement, competing with the din of like-minded fans, the passing cacophony of team and race organiser cars, motorbikes and low-flying helicopters. To spend this much time waiting could rightly be considered an utter waste of time for very little reward, but this is to ignore what bike racing is all about. It's not just the much-anticipated arrival of the race and riders, but also the whole build-up to the race passing by that I think is so attractive, and the role it plays in the communities touched by its presence. It's The Jubilee Street Party, Carnival Time and The Big Lunch, all rolled into one. The 'think-global-act-local' Zeitgeist is very much alive here, being played out for free on the public roads that pass in front of our doorways. Communities, associations and schools coming together and preparing for weeks on end, organising street parties, hanging bunting, preparing food for cooking on BBQs - to create a true celebration of their town or village, the things that makes it unique and them proud, and a chance to meet, eat, drink and chat with people one doesn't ordinarily see. I can't think of many other free events that have the power to draw such a disparate crowd of people together in such a positive way. That's what also makes cycle racing such an awesome spectacle.

There are more pictures, commentary and analysis of the Stage 11 finish available at the rather excellent Podium Cafe website - far better than anything I managed to grab as I tried to soak in the aforementioned atmosphere rather than focussing behind a camera.

Post Scriptum: writing an update to this post in 2012, the ensuing Contador 'tainted steak' scandal meant that the UCI banned the Spaniard and stripped him of his wins, and 'our' Scarponi is now listed in the record books as the winner of the 2011 Giro. And that's probably about as much enjoyment as he'll get from it, as do we: his name in a book and a bunch more UCI World Tour points, rather than being able to enjoy the well-deserved accolades out on the road during and in the immediate aftermath of the race. Peccato.