France was boring. Everything was closed. Nobody came to watch the race. We saw a castle on the side of the road. I almost fell 700 feet to my death into what looked like a glacial river—in Europe they will let you die by accident or stupidity. It’s refreshing, exhilarating really. “You want to go off-the-piste?” Europe says, “Be my guest.” We drove up a road (Mont Cenis) I would have preferred to ride up. Near the top we parked (where everyone else had parked) to wait for the race. Apparently we had inadvertently parked in some dude’s shot. As we got out of the car he started shouting at us in Italian (we shake our heads) then French (we shake our heads again) then Spanish (we shake our heads again), at which point he raised his voice, reverted back to Italian, and began swearing and gesturing wildly. We laughed because this scene, this loud spastic man, was so cute and ridiculous. Eventually I moved the car because yeah, sure, I don’t want this guy to miss his shot, especially considering he may have camped on his hill last night and/or purchased his zoom lense just for this shot.
After the race passed us we drove down the mountain and back into Italy where we stopped to drink cappuccinos, and where I decided that before the Giro is over I’m buying a felted wool Alpino hat, feather or no. Eventually we made it to somewhere near the top of Andrate (a hill in Piedmont) where the energy and mood was a bit Belgian. The road was Steep and Narrow and Short (considering). The crowd was drunk and partying and hanging from trees. Everyone was repping something or someone (Nibali, The Shark, something to do with oranges, etc.) via tee-shirts, chants, songs, bedsheets, cardboard signage, hats, and the like. When the race passed, the crowd got wild.11Dear Gang of College-Aged Dudes and your Drunk-Ass Uncle in the pink umbrella hat, thanks for the Party!, I hope your trip to Miami in July for the women, sun and motorcycles is as good as your last two trips! If the last two days were epic, today was just rad.
- Team Blanco and Team Lotto-Belisol racers often ride back down the course on their way home after a mountain-top finish. Other racers may/must do this as well at times but the Blanco (Dutch, formerly Rabobank) and Lotto-Belisol (Belgian) dudes can be regularly seen finishing, turning around, and descending past racers still rolling in.
- We are in the mountains, the Colombians are attacking, they are riding strong.
- Modane is still depressing. Today was our second visit. In fact, all of the France in Stage 16 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia was depressing. Vacant villages. Empty ski towns. Stores shut, bad/over-priced cafés, crowds conspicuously missing, etc. At best, France was simply closed.
- In a café bar in the apparently bankrupt town of Lanslebourg, a few elderly villagers and two out-of-work ski instructors were drinking beer mixed with grenadine. The time was 11:15am on Tuesday May 21st, 2013.
- In the same café in Lanslebourg, several Team Garmin-Sharp staff were drinking coffees and watching a football game on the TV mounted on the wall in the corner.
- Between Ian’s cigarettes (having run out of American Spirit Blues he is currently smoking Lucky Strikes), Raoul’s cologne and my Fragola Hubba Bubba,22Strawberry bubblegum, the kind that comes in that roll, like Scotch Tape. the rental car is starting to smell like a Discotheque.
- The whole way up Mont Cenis, in somewhat regular intervals (every ¼ mile), Gendarmerie guarded the wide, empty road which road was the course. Barricades were placed in front of ANY and ALL roads leading into and out-of the course, as is custom, but today, in France (EMPTY), it could not have been less necessary.
- An old Alpino (we see them everywhere here in the North) in red wool socks, green trousers, Norwegian welted hiking boots and a felted feather cap standing in the woods next to the course—alone and nowhere near any obvious vehicle (horse, bike, car, etc)—smiling, watching the day and maybe (?!) the race’s progress.
- It’s difficult (next to impossible) to find an open restaurant or restaurant-like place (Trattoria, Osteria, Ristorante) between 2:00pm and 7:00pm in Italy. If you do find a place that is open, it’s most likely open-closed, not open-open. Maybe, just maybe, they will offer you one dish (lasagne bolognese) and warm it (mostly but not entirely) if you promise everybody will eat the same thing and order nothing else.
- Swashbuckling/Pirate/Three Musketeer boots are in style. So are short wide-mouth boots.
- Metal Studs (80’s Punk Rock-style) are back in style and can be found applied to colorful handbags, Converse Chuck Taylors, cheap fake leather boots, etc.
- The “Sculpted Hawk,” with or without a thin shaved line demarcating the bottom horizontal(-ish) edge on one side of the head, asymmetrical-style; apparently this is in style.
- Graphical Tights and Aladdin Pants are still in style.
- American Flag scarves made from muslin or linen are big-time in style.
- Mont Cenis33Editor’s Note: Manual for Speed are not Alps Historians, but we do read Wikipedia: Mont Cenis: “Being a pass in the Alps, Mont Cenis was used in several notable incidents in history. One example is the descent of Constantine I to Italy, to fight against Maxentius. It was the site of a military victory by the French Army of the Alps, led by General-in-Chief Alex Dumas over Piedmontese forces in April 1794, a victory that enabled the French Army of Italy to invade and conquer the Italian peninsula. It was the principal route for crossing the Alps between France and Italy until the 19th century. It was also used as the main passage by which Charlemagne crossed with his army to invade Lombardy in 773.”
- I can’t eat anymore Pizza. Some days we eat Pizza twice a day. Pasta is hard to find. Something other than Pasta or Pizza is even harder to find. Maybe risotto or steak. More often than not Pizza is served “unsliced.” Peperone is a green pepper not a pepperoni.
- Within a square mile of our hotel (Pacific Hotel Forino) there are 41 Pizza Kebab shops.
- Based on the elaborate-but-haphazardly-installed track lighting, the disco balls, the semi-dormant karaoke machines, the tiled flooring and the number and size of ceiling mounted speakers, I think many Gelateria/Café Bars become clubs at night; at what point and on what nights, I’m not sure. More later.
The last two weeks have been an amazing experience for the guys. It’s a learning experience, and it’s been very tough because of the weather, with some of them getting sick which hampers their performance. We’ve had some difficult days but we came out of the second week pretty strong, and really, we’ve been looking forward to this week (the third week) since the beginning. High altitude definitely favors us. Fabio Duarte has recovered after some crashes in the beginning of the race, and if he finds the right moment on the right day he can do anything, he is such a classy rider. We are also looking forward to seeing what Atapuma can do.
The crashes have definitely been low points, they hamper performance but thankfully morale never went down. Stage 07 (Pescara) was very tough from a weather point of view, and because of the Wiggins crash; we got dropped thanks to the wreck and couldn’t recover. Guys kept sliding everywhere, it was a very messy day.
On the other hand I think one of the high points for us was the Team Time Trial. We’re not used to it, it’s not our specialty, and we were kinda worried that Team Sky would make it way worse, but we finished with under a minute delay and we had three Pro Tour teams finish below us. Also, in Stage 9 to Florence we had a pretty good day even though we finished only third: Pantano and Chalapud were in the thick of the action all day, they put on a pretty good show with Pantano getting third.