Sunday, March 7, 2010

Another day in Italy, another dream comes true.

That's right, another dream come true -- this one seeing in-person the famous "strade bianche" race in Tuscany. We're only about 50 miles from some of the best parts of Toscana so we rented a cute Fiat 500, stuck on the advertising and zoomed up to Firenze on Friday morning, hoping to visit the Gino Bartali museum before heading towards Pisa to dine and stay with our friends at Quattro Gigli, the HQ hotel for our self-guided Taste of Tuscany tour. Those Tuscans are not doing the memory of Gino much good these days - despite showing up on one of the few days the museum was claimed to be open AND at the right time - the place was locked up tight and we got a cranky response from the person who (finally) answered the phone call place to the contact number. One would think the Tuscans could do at least a good a job as the Piemontese (Museum of Champions in Novi Ligure) or the Lombards (Museo Ciclismo at Madonna del Ghisallo) but I guess not. We enjoyed a nice evening at Quattro Gigli and set off on Saturday morning to find the race start in Gaiole in Chianti which we figured would take us an hour. Well, more like 90 minutes but it was fun careening around the Tuscan backroads (some of the same enjoyed by those on our Taste of Tuscany tour) to get there. We parked the car next to some team vehicles and made our way to the start only to run into our good friend Antonio Mondonico! Actually HE ran into us and did the double-take when he saw the CycleItalia logo (and Mondonico logo!) on Larry's shirt. He was as surpised to see us as we were to see him -- Mauro (his son) is at a lot of RCS events as he drives one of the official cars in the race caravan, ferrying the race jury around the course but Antonio rarely joins him. After catching up a bit, Antonio rushed us to the start, bypassing all the credential checkpoints with a quick, "these are my friends" to the staff who recognized him instantly. In a few meters we were talking with Mauro at his official car and holding the route map. After a few minutes getting advice on where best to see the race, Antonio left us -- right in front of the stage as the riders signed in! You can see photos of Cadel Evans, Cavendish, some of the Italian stars and the Swedish kid who won last year's race. Soon enough we were back in the car, Heather navigating as we caught the race caravan, then skipped ahead to find a good viewing point on the dirt sections. We parked atop one climb next to the Katusha car (note to Santini the logo on OUR car was bigger than the one on theirs!) and within 5 minutes the riders came into view on this gorgeous, sunny day. Friday was drizzly and cold so we (and I'm sure a few others) feared muddy, wet conditions but by most accounts things were perfect with the rain keeping dust way down but not making things too soft. We next zoomed ahead and found a spot next to the BMC guys waiting with bottles and spare wheels. The said their team and most of the others were using nothing special except for Paris-Roubaix tires. We joked about racer's preferences and they told us none of their guys will race on a 23 c tire so many makers just mark them 22 c! At this point in the race Cadel Evans gave his wheel to a teammate right in front of us! So much for World Champion ego, eh? At this point it was again time to race ahead to get to Siena for the finale. We again caught the back of the race caravan at the feed zone where some tired riders were calling it a day - either catching a ride from their team's feed vehicle or just riding straight into Siena. Scavengers were active at the feed, collecting the discarded musettes and water bottles almost before they stopped rolling on the roadside. We were able to get to Siena with time to even for a caffe before making our way to the Piazza al Campo, the same place they run the famous palio horse races. Sadly there was no big screen TV and the race was not broadcast live -- but the announcer kept the small crowd (if they had the big screen we think there would a LOT more folks there) informed of the drama unfolding on the road. Next time we might skip the finale and stay at the final dirt section even though the race was won on the last corner by a daring move by the Astana rider Iglinsky. The race replay was scheduled for less than an hour later so we retired to a local bar, ordered Campari and soda and sat back to watch the whole thing again, even seeing Lorenzo on TV in the opening crowd shots! We were back home in time for dinner! We'll go up to see Milano-San Remo next, skipping Tirreno-Adriatico since they chose to skip US (the race usually comes through "our" area here but this time they're going up to Toscana.


  1. Bartali Museum is closed:

    Nice report from Eroica.

  2. Great post Larry - K and I are living all this through your words and photos; Toscana is our stomping ground, as you know. Keep 'em coming!

  3. Enjoying your blog and enjoying the pics of Montepaschi. Great of Evans to give a world champion wheel, what a guy!