Ah, the first mountain stage. The pain, the drama, the "crisi psicologiche" (psychological crises). And that was just me, reintroducing my legs to the Dolomites.
Unlike the racers, I had the luxury of taking it pretty easy on my first mountain day. The stage headquarters, including the press room, was in a hotel half way up the climb to Alpe di Pampeago, so that was my destination. After a short, flattish ride to the village of Tesero, I started the climb. Tesero is a charming place, but its steep, cobbled streets make for a cruel start to a long climb. Once I was off the cobbles, the climb wasn't too bad. Of course, I only did the first, easier half.
Only a short distance from Simoni's hometown near Trento, Alpe di Pampeago was obviously Simoni country. Most of the roadside signs were of the "Forza, Gibo!" variety. A Pantani fan club had had a bar set up along the road, complete with blaring hard-rock music.
As usual, there were a lot of people riding up, but not many of them were women. The few of us on the road were getting lots of cheers from the tifosi gathering on the sides of the road. My Lemond bike also got a few shout-outs: "Greg Lemond."
I reached the hotel pretty easily. As I stopped near the entrance to the car park, two smiling older men were walking down from the hotel, looking like they might have enjoyed a few beers with their lunch. One of them asked me, "E finita la benzina?" (Are you out of gas?) When I laughed and said yes, he pointed up the road and gave me some advice: "Dica, 'ho bisogno di spinta! Spinta!'" (Say, 'I need a push! A push!) Words of wisdom; I'll keep them in mind on my next climb.
Inside the hotel, I found some others from my tour group having a coffee, so I joined them, and when the RAI coverage started at 3:00, most people gathered around the lobby tv to watch the action. When Sella was in Cavalese, a few kilometers from the start of the climb, I went outside to find a spot on the road. It looked and felt like it was about to rain, but only a few, sporadic drops actually fell.
Before long we could hear the helicopter, then the police motorcycles roared past, and, finally, a rider. Sella came by first, fighting like a tiger. You could see on his face that he was going to win the stage or die trying.
After Sella came the remants of the breakaway, in various states. Rodriguez and the Tinkoff rider were still going balls to the wall, trying in vain to catch Sella. Bettini appeared to be suffering mightily, and Vande Velde and Voigt looked to be riding more within themselves, maintaining a solid pace to the finish.
Here's a picture for Nikki:
And one for Ruthann:
Next came the race favorites group. They were going visibly faster than the earlier riders, and were still all together.
After the favorites' group passed, I went back inside to watch the exciting finish on tv (Vai, Gibo!)
The ride back down to where our bus -- and the team buses -- were parked, was typical: throngs of people walking down, riders like me stopping and starting as cars pulled out and pedestrians spread across the road, and the pros screaming down helmetless to their buses at a spectacular pace, calling out, "occhio, occhio" (literally, "eye," but used like "look out.") A perfect end to a perfect first day in the Dolomites.
--- Susie Hartigan for Podium Cafe