This was my ideal kind of assignment. Pick up a nice hire car, drive it to Italy to find a bike race, have dinner with the first of the Campagnolo equipped teams and photograph their daily comings and goings in a grand tour. The Italian one.
The planning was done, helped considerably by a list of when which team was staying where. So I had my maps printed out, hotels booked into and nice Merc saloon loaded and just the one border to cross before the coffee got better and the pizzas were edible.
Long story short, I arrived at Movistar’s hotel in the Veneto on a final week tour of a grand tour that would end staying at my virtual family’s home at the race’s end in Torino for the first time since I was 11.
I remember my father driving through Turin swearing and needing wine and more wine after arrival at the home of my virtual family, but it was no worse than East Croydon at rush hour to be honest and to me, considerably more exotic.
This family removed was real family nonetheless. There my whole life and growing up together once a year or so, these Italian cousins are the son and daughter of my mother’s life long pal that befriended her on a Lake Garda beach in the 50s while she opeared for an Italian family for a couple of years there. They stayed in touch, bringing up respective families and crossing paths at every Anglo-Italian opportunity (theirs teaching of English teaching, ours teaching of architecture.
Staying overnight at the interesting apartment in central Turin and looking out of the window at the looming Alps before breakfast was a re-lived moment from the age of 11. It felt so usual and familiar even given it’s thirty gap years.
If you love cycling visiting a grand tour is the cup final of bike racing. Having an invite to wander freely amongst the gladiators before and after each tournament is a valued honour to all the people behind the scenes I imagine. From camera crews to carpenters, if they like cycling, and it’s a religion in Italy, they know. And this is an honour I never take for granted. Watching a time trial on a team bus when all the staff can do is watch and need not follow and therefore can eat ice cream is a pleasure an apostle of pro cycling and Italy can behold. I am lucky to have now had many of these ice cream moments across Europe with various teams, to the point even that certain crews remember which coffee I prefer and I they.
Mountains and Lakes, towns and cities and even a day off to Gap to reconnect with my native French tongue came and went. As did my hire car. To cut a long and dull story short, I realised half way up a Dolomite my rental Merc had one problem, that it’s horn didn’t work. Not the end of the world admittedly but trying to drive up a mountain before a race arrived in an hour along with every local pro cycling fan riding up to see the peak finish on an old clunker loaded up with everything and in one case, a picnic table and chairs, was at best sketchy.
The cherry on the rental car cake being the attempted avoidance of the reversing Movistar team bus at the hotel car park in the mountains that night with the crucial aid of a horn traded for a low out of eye/mirror-shot brick wall and a destroyed tyre and expensive AMG wheel.
Two days of local garage finding tyre specialists and pigeon Italian paperwork do overs continued and I was back for the end.
Tailing the Giro to it’s finish was something alright. Sharing that finish in what was kind of a hometown from home was something else. I won’t forget that trip in a hurry. Friends were made. Family met. Cars were fixed.