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Giro d'Italia: On the scene at stage 17

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I haven't had a chance to post anything for the past few days, so I'll try to post two stage reports today.

The stage start in Sondrio seemed a lot more chaotic than the one in Urbania.  Sondrio is a bigger town, for one thing, so there were a lot more people around.  On my way to the start area, I passed this group of school kids with their teacher, taping their signs to a fence that the riders would pass by.

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I spent a little time near the team buses, where I saw Bennati posing for pictures with some fans.  A few days ago, I wrote that Bennati seemed to take to the limelight more than any other rider I've seen.  Someone asked about Bettini, and he, too, seems to enjoy being a star.  Bennati, though, is like a movie star on the red carpet.  He seems perfectly comfortable with being constantly ogled, and whenever a camera is pointed in his direction, he flashes his beautiful smile, even if it's just a mom or dad taking a snapshot of him with their kids.

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The sign-in area was smaller than in Urbania, and the announcer's sound system was painfully loud, so none of the riders were lingering there.  Instead, they all headed for the "village," where the race sponsors had little hospitality areas set up.  Most riders sat down and chatted with each other or read the paper, some having a snack or a coffee.

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Di Luca, restless as ever, circulated around on his bike, even though there was no room to do anything but push along slowly with one foot on the ground.  This meant having to accomodate near-constant requests for photos and autographs.  He acquiesced gracefully to all of the requests, as most of the Italian stars seem to do.  I wouldn't say he seemed to enjoy the attention, but he didn't really seem to mind it.

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I was determined to get at least one rider interview, but I hesitated to break into the conversations of the riders who were hanging out with each other, and I didn't really see any other press people talking to them. 

Finally, I spotted a likely candidate.  I'd seen Nick Gates earlier, taking with some fans who were displaying an Australian flag on the side of the road.  A bit later, I'd seen him helping his family, including three kids all in Lotto jerseys, over the barricades, and walking with them into the village.  Now they were sitting at an outside table.  I saw several people approach Nick for a photo or a chat, and he seemed to receive all the attention with good cheer.

On the day of the Fedaia stage, before riding up the back (easier) side of the Fedaia to watch the stage finish, I'd ridden a few kilometers up toward Passo Pordoi, to see the riders descending.  My Aussie tour group roomate was with me, and she put out her flag as we waited on one of the hairpin turns.  When the riders came by, Gates called out, "Hey, Aussies!"

So now, I went over and introduced myself and mentioned the flag on the Pordoi.  He said, "Aw, yeah," with a big smile, so I asked if I could do a brief interview.  Here it is:

Susie: Crazy hard Giro this year, huh, Nick?

Nick Gates: Oh, it's been really hard the first two weeks.  We're in the home straight now; there are four hard days to go.

S: Do you think it's even harder than last year, with the Zoncolan and Tre Cime?

NG: It's been hard from day one.  We've only had four sprints over all.  It's just been a really tough race.  But, we've still got two big mountain days to go, so it should be all right.

S: What do you think about today, a little bit easier?

NG: Yeah, today normally should be a sprint.

S: You think so?

NG: Yeah, I think it's going to be a bunch sprint.  After a time trial and a rest day, it'll be a bunch sprint.  Then, three hard days before the finish in Milan.

S: Is this your family here with you?

NG: Yeah, with the kids.

S: Are they traveling with you at the Giro?

NG: They've come to have a look.  They're here for three days.  They're going to go to Lake Garda today, then meet me in Milan on Sunday.

S: Well, they hit a little bit of the good weather, finally, huh?

NG: Yeah, it's true.  It's true.

S: You must have been getting sick of all that rain.

NG: Yeah, I was.

S: All right, thanks so much.  Have a great race today!

NG: Bye.

           Susie Hartigan for Podium Cafe