Sunday, March 6, 2016

Strade Bianche Eroica Pro 2016

We're living the dream as has become the usual recently. This was our 4th visit to see live this rapidly-becoming-legendary event. Read 2010, 2013 and 2015 blog posts on our previous visits by clicking on the links. Above is a video clip shot at Monte Sante Marie yesterday. And now, for the rest of the story....

We left the island of arancini and cannoli Friday via Catania, but not before a lunch of...well, arancini and (just 1) cannolo. It's hard to remember you're in the airport when the food is this good!! Only in Italy? After a quick Alitalia flight to Rome, where we picked up a nearly-new Fiat Panda and headed off for Tuscany.

Where we joined our friends at Quattro Gigli for dinner, including a wonderful bottle of Chianti...

...and a Fiorentina beefsteak, right? We weren't that far from Firenze!!

The next morning we set off for Siena, arriving a bit too late to wander around the start area, but since it was cold, windy and damp, we probably didn't miss much as the riders would have stayed in the bus until the last minute. Instead we wanted to get out on the course well in advance of the race.

Which we barely did, as you see them zoom by the Kilometer 0 mark here.

We jumped onto the race route but detoured quickly to get ahead of the race, but they caught us and since we were going the reverse direction, we pulled over quickly to see the break zoom past...

.....followed by a rather relaxed peloton, still wrapped up against the cold and wind. Weather forecasts were for rain all day, making us expect a real epic, but just a few drops fell, making it more dusty than rainy, but still cold and windy!!

But that didn't keep a few stragglers from falling off the back, even this early in the race. Our next task was to find something for lunch. Our friends at Quattro Gigli had gifted us (Grazie, Luigi!!) a bottle of the same wine we'd enjoyed at dinner, but a stop was needed for panini, cheese and fruit. Duly stocked up and with a wheel of Pecorino di Pienza to take home, it was back to the race.

Our first sterrata portion was the same one we'd watched from years ago. The Trek team car was parked here and a few more showed up while we waited. A LOT more spectators and their cars were up here compared to back then.

While we waited, we enjoyed our panini and checked out some of the spare wheels the team support guys had. Unlike our first time here, these tires were marked 25 mm and the guys laughed when Larry described back then how he was told the riders would turn up their noses at any tire marked with a size greater than 22 mm. How times change!! And in this case for the better as nowadays you can easily find fat tires vs the bad-old-daze when a 23 mm was about as fat as you could get on a lightweight tire with a flexible carcass. Anything bigger than this was likely a low TPI cheapie with a horrible ride, despite the lower pressures you could use.

Dust and wind rather than rain and wind, but plenty of WIND!

The Etixx squad was on the front all day while few other teams had more than one guy up there with a chance to win.

Standing around up there waiting and enjoying our pranzo, who should be see but our friend Charlie Hancock!!!  Last time was in Vicenza at the Giro d'Italia and the time before that was probably at the Torino Olympic Games in 2006. Small world, eh? Charlie worked with us back-in-our-daze with a different tour company and for a few years was the international media honcho at Campagnolo. These days he's the capo of Charlie Distribution, distributing interesting cycling products throughout Italy.

Once the riders passed, we said a quick arrivederci to Charlie and jumped back in the car to race off to the next interesting sterrata sector. Monte Sante Marie's 11.5 kms long and this is where the little video clip was shot.

You get a great panorama from up here, seeing the helicopters first, followed by the race vehicles and then the riders. The video clip shows the peloton going past and you get an idea of how chaotic it must be to ride in races like these. That's why these guys get paid!!

But sometimes you get dropped, as happened to Daniele Bennati despite his fan club having banners on the course here. He'd no doubt done his work for team leader Peter Sagan by this time.

It must be a bit lonely once that happens and of course you then have to worry about spectators walking in the road or driving on the course. There was a long line of traffic heading off Monte Sante Marie even though the entire race caravan had yet to pass. Most are quick to get over when racers or support vehicles need to get by, but there's always some clueless dolt who gets in the way. We had one behind us and Heather turned around in her seat and waved frantically to get the guy's attention as a small pack of stragglers bore down on us. Finally the cops stopped everyone without race credentials to bring a little order to the chaos. We were held up in the line, just making it into Siena in time to park, make an espresso and bathroom stop (and a quick check of the live TV coverage for an update on what was happening in the race) before racing into the Campo...

...where the tiny street led us to the RAI TV set, complete with Alessandra DiStefano, who yelled at the director in the TV truck almost constantly. We didn't know why until we saw the TV coverage later on replay. Too many times right when the action was heating up, this guy would cut away to promotional scenery shots, risking a miss of the crucial, race-winning move. We're happy it's not just us who gets wound up about this!

Above you can (sort of) see the finish line from our spot behind the TV set. The big screen TV was visible just below the gantry across the course so we could see the action unfold and see "Spartacus" cross the line for his 3rd win. 

The skies dumped on us once we hit the road back to Rome, but we lucked out race-wise. We were back "home" in Siracusa by midnight, dreaming of next time...maybe 2018?

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