To see the Giro in Italy is something. It is vibrant and passionate and embracing and beautiful and every cliché you’ve ever heard, and somehow more than that.
The streets of Marostica are flooded with the light of a beautiful spring morning as the race prepares for the fifteenth stage to Madonna di Campiglio, and while the sun is strong, a greater warmth comes from the people.
For an Italian rider, to race at the Giro is to be welcomed as a brother or son by every citizen in every town on the route. Fan and competitor are on familiar terms. The road to the Madonna di Campiglio is synonymous with the tragic brilliance of Marco Pantani. Perhaps the riders’ departure for the same summit has extra significance for the tifosi gathered within Marostica’s medieval walls.
Arms are flung around the rider’s shoulders. He is embraced, kissed and positioned at the centre of hastily convened photo calls, though there is nothing of the narcissism of the selfie: the photographer is not the subject, and the resulting image is closer to a family portrait than the cold acquisition of a famous face. It is a record of the day that Dario, or Matteo, or Luca came to visit and was made welcome.
Ivan Basso is accosted, in the warmest sense, as he weaves through the human traffic en route to the sign-on in Marostica’s beautiful square. It’s hard to tell if he knows his inquisitor or not, only that there is a genuine warmth in the greeting and from the small crowd that suddenly gathers round. Basso seems moved. This might be his last appearance in the race he has won twice.
Only for the biggest names in the Giro does the rider’s availability to the fans present a challenge. The crowds surrounding the Tinkoff-Saxo bus as the maglia rosa emerges test a bond that must never be broken, for this is professional cycling’s greatest gift.
Alberto Contador is a quiet and gracious individual for whom the trappings of celebrity are the difficult consequence of his outrageous talent. He is mobbed as he inches his bicycle slowly forwards, a member of Tinkoff-Saxo staff on either side of him and slightly ahead, holding back the enclosing walls of humanity.
Rouleur has travelled with Saxo Bank’s Ride Like A Pro programme, and breakfasted with the team. An hour earlier, as Contador made his way across the hotel car park to the bus, Saxo’s guests broke into applause. The rider turned and smiled and raised a hand and in English said thank-you, seemingly appreciative of the spontaneity of the gesture and its civility. Now, in Marostica, he is public property.
Almost as soon as the Giro arrives, it is gone. The circus arrives with fanfare and leaves without ceremony. The peloton rolls out with the snaking convoy following in its wake, while the numberless support vehicles, including the giant buses, exit the town from all points, eager to reach the finish and begin preparing for the rider’s arrival.
Our drive back to the hotel takes us along the route of the previous day’s time trial, and through Valdobbiadene, the town which hosted its finish. Twenty-four hours earlier, it had been filled to bursting, despite the miserable rain. Now all that remains are pink balloons and pink bicycles hung in the shop windows.
“Viva Il Giro,” say the homemade banners hung in the villages through which the race passed, pink juxtaposed with the tricolore. The Giro is more than a race – it is a national event, an expression of culture, quintessentially Italian but there to be enjoyed by all. Grazie mille, Valdobbiadene. Grazie mille, Marostica. Grazie mille, Giro d’Italia.
Rouleur travelled with Saxo Bank's Ride Like A Pro programme. Click here for more information.