Today was my first full day in Italy. It was busy! I started the day by going to the SRM house in Lucca to pick up a bike so that I could ride on this trip. I had left it there a couple years ago when I had come to the Giro with friends, and lucky for me it was still there!
It is always good to see Uli (the owner/ founder of SRM) and so my day was starting out well. For anyone who doesn't know, SRM is the company that was first to make power meters to read power output on the bike. I have known Uli, the owner, since '93 when I first started using it for training. He is a dear friend and owns a beautiful villa in Tuscany. The US National team uses it off and on for training during the season.
After I picked up my bike, I headed to the race start in Campi Bisenzio. I had arranged to meet a woman to pick up some passes for the "village". First of all, the only other times I have been to the Giro and the Tour, I have been with people who knew their way around, and had already figured out how to get their credentials.
I, on the other hand, had credentials but no idea how to find them! Every time I thought I was close to the meeting point, I would realize that I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be, and had to try again.
I was frantically trying to find my way to the entrance of the village. It sounds easy in theory, until you are trying to squeeze your way through a million Italians who just want a glimpse of Mario Cipollini or Paolo Bettini, or any of the cycling stars who were soon to arrive at the sign-in stage. I suddenly realized that it was possible that I could miss the start because I was too busy wandering through the crowds.
Suddenly, from inside the fences, I hear "Ciao, Mari" and I am saved. My girlfriend spotted me and told me to wait. She grabbed Paolo Bettini and next thing you know, I am being pulled through the fence and I am inside with no credentials, no nothing except that Paulo said it was OK. Good to know people in high places!
My girlfriend Silvia (who was the Italian national road champion in 2005) and I spent some time in the village. I ran into Michael Barry and Tom Danielson. They were both in good spirits and I found out I had just missed seeing Dede (Michael's wife and 2004 Olympic Medalist).
Silvia (on the right) and I at the finish in San Luca
After the start, we drove a ways and then got on our bikes...OK, so we are two girls, but, between the two of us, neither had any Allen wrenches, and we both dropped our chains once. I could not even believe it: white shorts, tan, feeling good, and then voila -- black grease and a mess!
Anyway, we continued on...We decided to go up the finish climb. It turned out to be very steep. Silvia had a back pack and my excuse was jet lag, but we decided to venture to the top. The crowds were huge, and we were there an hour before the race finished!
Silvia at the base of the final climb.
We were riding up, and I noticed an old man having problems in front of us on a very steep section. Next thing you know, he fell into Silvia, and then continued on to me. I leaned into him and we didn't go down, but there was no possible way that I would be able to get going again. The crowds were awesome and cheering us on. They were going nuts -- making fun of the guy, telling us to try again, etc. etc. It was hilarious, so Silvia and I rode down a bit to a driveway. Got on the bikes, turned around and did it again. All we could do was laugh. All the crazy fans, and we were just soaking in the fun of our experience. It was "over the top..."
The start of the final climb starts under that arch.
As the race was ending, we jetted out of town to our hotel. It was a bed and breakfast, but there was no air-conditioning. Talk about insanely hot, I could not stop sweating, and I think that I lost 10 pounds. It is ironic because before I left home, I kept telling everyone that I was going to gain a bunch of weight here -- eating a ton of pizza and pasta -- but now I'm thinking that I might actually lose weight if things keep going this way. My trip theme has now gone from "Eat, Pray, Love" to Pray and Love...
Before hitting the hay, we went to the town square where there was a bicycling presentation about an upcoming race. I couldn't believe that the whole town was shut down, and that the Saturday night festivity was a bike race presentation. It was surreal because these Italian presentations go on forever, and they had lights, music, etc., and I was already running on fumes from jet lag. Finally, I couldn't stay up any longer and so we headed back to our hotel and I finally lay down to sleep.
In the race to San Luca, Simon Gerrans won after a long day in the break. It seemed like a lot of the riders underestimated the steepness of the climb, and I have to admit, even being fresh, I was really surprised by the second hard pitch to the climb which came after taking a turn. I can only imagine that it would be disheartening to see the 1K to go in the middle of that climb on a hot and humid day like today.