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?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Milano-San Remo, 17th March 1990. Or The Day I Became a Kleptomaniac

Bugno Vincitore!
After a year spent in France in Aix-en-Provence as part of my degree (and racing for the ASPTT Aix) , I graduated from Uni with a hard-fought 2:1, and after dead-end stints in Halfords & Habitat finally managed to get a post as an English teacher in Turin in January 1990 with Inlingua Torino. As you'd imagine, after an année sabbatique in such a gorgeous Provencal town, I didn't think it could get much better, but it was here on the other side of the Alpes Maritimes that my love affair with Italy began. Slowly the language improved - it's not so different from French - and as before, the major reason was my enthusiastic and total linguistic immersion in the place, where I'd devour cycling magazines like BiciSport and La Gazzetta for news on anything to do with the sport I'm absolutely besotted with. Not long after I'd arrived in January, the weather warmed up from the single-digit icy winter lows, and the spring classics were on the way: the 81st edition of La Primavera - 'springtime' as Milano-Sanremo is affectionately known in Italy - took place exactly 24 years ago today, on Saturday 17th March, 1990, and I enthusiastically jumped on a train from Turin with a couple of fellow English teachers to watch the finish on the Via Roma in San Remo. I'd seen 'proper' bike races before - the Worlds in Goodwood '82, the Tour several times in France - but this time the whole feel was different. I'm not knocking the French at all, but they really don't have the warmth and passion of their transalpino cousins, and being a bit of an emotional type myself, the drama of their everyday lives is simply another facet of their national persona that I adore. Well, pehaps not while we're building our guest house out there, but certainly when it's finished ...
A Wonka Golden Ticket, for a collector like me.

The whole town of San Remo was decked out with bunting and flowers, mostly fragrant yellow mimosas, grown in abundance in the Ligurian coastal greenhouses, the Riviera dei Fiori, and traditionally given to grateful mothers on La Festa Della Mamma, Mother's Day, on the second Sunday in March. Everyone was busying themselves in some way, whether chatting, listening to commentary on the radio and relaying it to friends, or arguing as to who might be the winner that day; hopefully an Italian, after a 6-year drought since Francesco Moser's 1984 triumph. The shadows started to lengthen on the roads and pavements of the Riviera as the bunch ate up more and more of the 294-kilometre percorso, and we mooched from one coffee shop to another eager to learn what was going on. At Imperia with about 30 kilometres to go, Gianni Bugno jumped onto the wheel of Angelo Canzonieri as the Gis-Gelati-Benotto rider attacked, and then dropped him as the two tackled the climb of the 240 metre-high Cipressa; Bugno, cementing his reputation as a team leader after a couple of years of early promise, classily pushed on alone over the Poggio and on to victory on the Via Roma, holding off a select chasing group containing Jesper Skibby, Rolf Golz, Moreno Argentin, Gilles Delion, Jean-Claude Colotti and Maurizio Fondriest. 6 hours 25 minutes and 6 seconds, an average speed of 45.8km/h - a long day in the saddle.

Press Car Accreditation, liberated.
After the predicatable melee and euphoria around the finish had died down, as everyone who's been to a bike race knows, the situation rapidly turns to business as usual, as a logistical whirlwind hits the finish: tribunes to take down and pack away, VIP seating to collect, audio equipment to disconnect and store, barriers to move. It was at this point that I took my chance: no-one seemed to be overly precious, so I mingled amongst the RCS officials, smiling politely - and was even thanked for helping out as I removed a zip-tie with a small penknife and folded up a huge finish-line Gazzetta dello Sport banner - and instead of handing it over, I decided that I'd be able to tuck it under my arm and get away with keeping it. Flush with the confidence and nonchalence of the seasoned kleptomaniac, this venturous souvenir-hunting seemed like easy pickings, so I went on to additionally liberate an official press car's bumper plate, and blagged a lanyard from a smiling member of the TV contingent, visually delighted at a Bugno win that would undoubtedly boost viewing figures for not only today, but for all the celebratory repeats to come.

Out of Doctor D's mothballs for Cadence Performance's
'Italian Master Framebuilder Day' 
On my return to the UK at the end of the year, to pokey rented flats and with nowhere to realistically hang the thing, I decided to give the Gazzetta banner to long-time friend Rohan Dubash, who at that point was, we both thought, about to go it alone from Dauphin Sport and set up his own very Italian bike emporium, Prima Tappa. The years passed, Rohan moved on from Dauphin to Geoffrey Butlers, to Sigma Sport and eventually on his own as Doctor D, but never used the banner how either of us had envisaged. However, in 2012 I was lucky enough to be creating social media content and helping with event promotion for Cadence Performance in Crystal Palace, and it was at their 'Italian Master Framebuilder Day' that the aging pink banderole got to see the light of day - for the first time in over 20 years - as it helped to create a suitably celebratory atmosphere in shop to complement the array of stunning Italian workmanship on display. Did anyone notice? I don't know, and it doesn't matter, because for me it meant finally renewing an aquaintance with an object that had been hidden away for so long, affording me a little wry smile reminiscencing about how I'd been able to walk off with such a delightful souvenir of a memorable day.