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Monday, March 4, 2013

Dream weekend part 1 - Strade Bianche

Our dream weekend began with a quick flight Friday afternoon from Catania to Rome, where we picked up a spanking new Fiat 500 (ours is the black one) with only 18 kms on the clock! Little did the rental agency know that this little car would face a rather rude break-in!
After enjoying a wonderful dinner that night outside of Rome we stopped the next morning for provisions on our way to Tuscany, namely panini porchetta (roast pork sandwiches) as the northern Lazio region boasts some of the best, and we wanted to make sure we had something to eat in the car, as Larry's forgotten this at least once, as regular blog readers know.

 We made our way up into Toscana and entered the percorso on a gorgeous stretch of strada sterrata, as you can see here. We chose this spot to wait for the race as it offered a panoramic view - with plenty of warning before the race arrived. One of the great things about following these races is the roads are signposted but OPEN, only closed upon the imminent arrival of the race. This means one can drive out and find a great spot to watch, even if it's in the middle-of-nowhere (which is why we brought those panini!) and settle-in to await the race.

 You can see the pack thundering along this ridge (maybe you need to click on it to enlarge?) in pursuit of the fuggitivi (breakaway) who at this point had more than a 10 minute lead. The day was mostly sunny, but cold and WINDY and much drier than during our 2010 visit to this race, meaning a LOT more dust! Then again, we're spoiled down here in Sicilia.

 After seeing most of the race pass by, we jumped back into the car as we wanted to try to intersect the course ahead of the riders and wait again for them to pass by. This is always, well...interesting...as it requires sort of driving in the race caravan. We jumped in ahead of the race ambulance, but behind most of the team cars, including pulling over for the AG2R car, gaining an approving toot of the horn from the DS inside. It's a bit like a car rally, especially with the slippery surface and the dust, but most out there seem to know what they're doing, including the guy a car or two in front of us, who let one of the dropped riders hang onto his car on a few of the climbs. One great thing about this is you can see the peloton and the team cars ahead quite often, so you do get a bit of a feeling of being part of the event. As long as everyone behaves themselves and stays out of the way of the competitors and their helpers, it's not a big deal.
 As soon as the race turned off what was now pavement onto the next unpaved section, we continued on, now off the race route, along with most of the spectator cars in our little caravan. The speeds go way up once back on pavement, but one must be extra careful as the roads are no longer closed to oncoming traffic. We made it up to our next unpaved section, at the top of a very steep climb, where by this time the breakaway had only about 5 minutes lead.
 Once the last riders and ambulance has passed, it was "rally time" again, this time our goal simply to arrive in Siena in enough time to see the finish. The caravan was longer now as more spectator cars had joined in, keeping us from seeing the race progress ahead of us - we were just too far back.
 So, on to Siena at high speed, again watching out for traffic, as all of us now seem to have the same idea, though some try to intersect the course again on the outskirts of the famous city of the Palio. We choose to find an easier way in and score a parking place just big enough for the FIAT 500, with time to pop into Nannini for espresso and pastry and a look at the live TV coverage to see what'a been going on. This was a nice treat as in 2010 there was no live TV coverage.
 We arrived in the Campo with plenty of time to spare before Moreno Moser emerged from the tiny alley-way into the square with teammate Peter Sagan close behind.  As the first Italian to win this race, it was a popular victory. We really like this event, a throwback to a time when few roads were paved and riders had to be skilled bike riders as well as choosing equipment wisely. Races like these are decided by a lot more than who can simply produce the highest wattage of power for the longest time.
After quick photo of RAI TV commentators Davide Cassani and Francesco Pancani (those big coats tell you how cold it was in southern Tuscany this day) we headed off to find a place to dine and sleep before Sunday's Roma Maxima.  More about that in the next post.

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