07.00, Saturday, San Remo – a dream come true. I’ve been to, I can’t remember how many Tours, a clutch of Vueltas and Giros, but there’s something special about wakening-up here.
The Via Roma is just two streets away and the Poggio is a five minute drive – all those boyhood hours spent staring at pictures of Eddy Merckx notching-up his seven wins – and here I am.
We drove from Nice via the Grande Corniche to Monaco, then Menton, and across the border in to Italia. As soon as you are in Italy, things get a bit dustier, the driving becomes more manic, and the scooters swarm.
My initial plan was to go past San Remo then drive back in over the Poggio and do a preview in words and pictures, however I thought I would extend that to the Capo Berta, Cipressa and Poggio.
San Remo is a bustling town, it may be faded from the point of view of genteel people wintering here, but it’s anything but quiet, the Via Roma is the main drag – and it is heaving.
The shops are full of expensive consumer goods, the casino looks in good nick, and there are no charity shops.
The turning for the Poggio is on the left, just on the outskirts of town; we drove the race route in reverse, up the race descent then the same for the Cipressa. Time was getting tight so I decided to turn there and leave the Capo Berta for another day. Suffice to say that both the Cipressa and Poggio are tougher and narrower than they look on TV – and the descents are wild.
It sounds corny, but I felt really excited as I drove the Renault Kangoo – yeah, it’s grim! – up the Poggio decent, it’s just a strip of tarmac, but it’s so special.
Cipressa is a nice, quiet wee place with a church beside the road, right at the top of the climb.
Poggio village isn’t the brawest of places, you get the feeling there’s not much dosh about, but there are bars so at least we’ll have a TV. From the bottom of the Poggio to the finish line isn’t as far as it seems on the box and you can imagine how desperate a finale it must be.
You have to fight for position on the coast road so you are at the front when the road narrows and the hairpins start, then keep your wits about you on the climb; the front is the only place to be on that decent and the same applies on the run-in too.
The Via Roma
The Via Roma isn’t as wide or glamorous as it appears on telly, and what you don’t realise is that it’s lifting all the way to the line – a really hard sprint to get right.
It’s 14.15 and we’re in the bar / restaurant at the top of the Poggio; business is booming. We got up here early to beat the road closures. My friend Alessandro Federico is covering the race for too, and is chasing the riders down from Milano in the car. I’m doing the actual race report from here, courtesy of the telly in the bar, and the trusty BlackBerry; the live feed starts at 14.50.
When the live feed came though on the TV, a great cheer went-up in the bar, the place was packed and the female owner has a touch of the Bette Lynch about her, complete with blonde ‘bun’ – there was a great buzz in the place.
It became even livelier when Francesco Moser popped-in, he was part of the vintage cycle parade along the race route, and he’s still very popular – especially with the girls.
Bettini’s every move was cheered to the roof, but he was too active for it to be his day, it was all for Tom. Freire was invisible until the last kilometre. I have great respect for Oscar Freire and he was a great winner, but I would liked to have been there when an Italian won – just for the buzz. I had fancied Paolini, he’s strong and good at getting it right for the big day, but I guess all the Liquigas eggs were in the ‘Pippo’ basket today.
The Riccò / Gilbert escape looked good, but they aren’t the kind of big power-house riders they needed to be to make it stick. Gilbert was letting Riccò do the lion’s share and in time-honoured Belgian fashion trying to be too fly – in the last kilometres, it’s all or nothing when guys like Marco Velo and Fabio Sacchi are rampaging on the front behind you.
The Italian papers were fullsome in their praise for Riccò on Sunday though. Petacchi had no excuses, Milram worked like galley slaves to set the race up for him, but at the end of a long, fast race Oscar is the cutest and the quickest – he hasn’t been World Champion three times for nothing.
Ale (who is a naval architect in ‘real’ life) reckons that Petacchi hasn’t recovered from his knee injury of last year; we both agreed that the Giro would be the big test for him.
Zabel did a ride today though: he was working hard as part of Petacchi’s train but still took sixth. The bar emptied quickly and quietly – like I said, it would be good to be in there when an Italian won.
Sunday, and the Gazzetta gives Oscar 9/10; Riccò 8/10; Bettini 7/10. Pozatto on 6 and Petacchi on 4 both got the thumbs-down. A relatively high Brit representation yesterday provided a good solid ride by Jez Hunt for 17th, with Roger Hammond 42nd and Dave Millar 71st.
So now it’s time to forget about ‘proper’ coffee and newspapers with cycling content, and brave the Jolly Scallies on the Easyjet to Liverpool… I wonder who’ll win at the Lake of Menteith tomorrow?