It's been a long but glorious day at the Giro d'Italia here in fabulous Urbino. My first task this morning was to find the press office and see if they really would give me a press pass. Chris and I had applied for press credentials months ago, and I had an email from the Giro press office saying our application was approved, but I couldn't really believe it was true until I had the press pass in hand.
The press office for today is in Piazza Republica, where the riders did their 90-degree right-hand turn in the time trial, about 300 meters from the finish. So, after getting the pass, I headed to the finish area to see what was going on up there. Not much, as it turns out, two hours before the start of the stage. I got the lay of the land, though, so I'd know where to go once the race started.
Shortly after the first rider started at 1:00, I went back up to the press area at the finish line. The press corps didn't show up in force until the big names started to arrive, so I had the place pretty much to myself for a while. There was a tv monitor in the press tent with a feed from a camera at the stage start, and later, once it started, the RAI tv coverage. We could also walk around the area past the finish line, but we couldn't get closer than about 150 feet from the line.
Ignatiev was the first rider to cross the finish line, having passed the two who started in front of him. He had seriously left it all on the battlefield, and after crossing the finish line, he zigzagged up the remaining incline at a snail's pace, until a Tinkoff soigneur reached him and started half-pushing, half-carrying him. I don't think anyone else looked quite as spent as Ignatiev, but almost everyone looked knackered, and the theme of the day seemed to be surprise at just how hard the course was. As riders talked to soigneurs and each other, you didn't have to know all of their languages to get the gist of how up-and-down the course was; their hand signals said it all.
Most riders passed straight through the finish area and continued towards the road down to their team buses, but some hung out for a while, creating some nice photo ops. Here's Thomas Fothen chatting with an exhausted Robert Forster just after Forster finished:
The first rider who got any serious press attention was David Millar. Suddenly, Alessandra Di Stefano from RAI appeared out of nowhere, camera crew in tow. She must love Millar, or maybe she just loves speaking French, because she seems to interview him every day.
Once the big names started arriving, it was a press frenzy. The riders in the various race jerseys, like Bennati, and the really big stars, like Bettini and Di Luca, were diverted into a fenced-off area near the podium where only the tv crews were allowed. Simoni refused to be diverted, though, and continued to ride straight on after finishing his spectacular ride. Stampede! Reporters, camera crews, and photographers started running down the finish shute after him, yelling for him to stop. That looked like fun, so I joined in the rush. Eventually someone got him to stop, and he was instantly surrounded by tv cameras and reporters. He was all smiles, probably the happiest I've ever seen him look. I made a video of his various interviews with my camera, so I'll play it back tonight, and if it worked (my first try with video on this camera), I'll try to post it tomorrow.
The podium ceremony followed quickly after Visconti's finish. I'd never been able to get close to a podium ceremony before, so that was fun.
Here's a shot of Bennati in his new maglia ciclamina after the ceremony:
Well, it's eight o'clock, and I've got a very early bus tomorrow morning to get to the stage start in Urbania, so I'd better wrap this up and get some dinner. One final note on Urbino: wow, what a great town! I've done a fair amount of traveling in Italy, and this is easily one of the coolest small towns I've seen here. And of course, saying "best town in Italy" is like saying "best bike racer in Italy." It really means, "best in the world." I highly recommend that anyone who hasn't been here before put Urbino on your must-see-in-Italy list.
Susie Hartigan for Podium Cafe