Another long one from Verona this morning, it’s 11.35 pm local time, Saturday and we’re still in this pizzeria at Pozza di Fassa.

The stage finished down on schedule and by the time we walked off the mountain; got set up in the press room, fired the pics away, completed the words, drove here, found the hotel and checked in, it was well after 10.00. The hotel is nice, this is ski country and the Austrian border isn’t far away so it’s all chalets, wide eaves and timber – very picturesque.

The owner was doing a fair Hank Marvin impersonation on the electric guitar when we arrived, entertaining some of his guests. He has good patter; “Are you the owner?” Reply; “No, I just look after it for the bank!

Anyway, we were glad to see him; the fact that you have a bed for the night lifts the spirits – driving about Italy late at night in the dark with no place to stay is a tad scary.

Simoni’s team is staying just around the corner, their bus is hard to miss, with it’s huge graphic of old ‘Gibo’ opening a PVC window – his main sponsors manufacture them.

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Gibo is having a good Giro thus far.

Simoni is still hugely popular here, his best days are behind him but he’ll still have a stage win in him – maybe on Sunday? Serramenti are paying him a lot of money, Saunier couldn’t match it – but ‘Gibo’ was Serramenti’s ticket to the Giro.

Even one stage win in a Grand Tour generates huge publicity, especially if it’s a national treasure like Simoni. He’s an eccentric wee chap, a little disconnected from what’s going on around him, like David Millar said; “…he lives on Planet Gibo!

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By chance, we took a photo of the winner’s pockets before the start.

We we’re looking at his Bottechia this morning, a small machine with short stem – the old fahioned climbers style.

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The vital creds.

Talking of small, old fashioned, Bottechia riding climbers; Mario Beccia – 70’s and 80’s smallest, oldest and baldest ace climber – is a TV pundit these days and his wig perches on his napper like a crow’s nest; only on Italian TV folks!

Our mooch around at the start wasn’t as long as we’d have liked; getting our creds from the Gazzetta camper van took an age – still, we have them now; we can roam to our heart’s content and use the press room.

I swear that press rooms get unfriendlier as the years go by; one day there’ll be racks of baseball bats at the door as you walk in, so that you can collect one and take a swing at the boy sitting next to you.

Even though I’ve scraped around at a lot of big races, it’s still a buzz to be among the bikes and to be in such close proxomity to the riders. At the start they are usually pretty relaxed and it reminds you that they are just young men, not automatons. Riccardo Ricco was happily posing with fans, laughing and chatting – totally at odds with his ‘pain in the bum’ rep.

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Adam Hanson discusses the day ahead and sets up the Garmin.

Millar and the boys at Slipstream rode ‘choppers’ to the sign on; David seemed almost relaxed. He’s a nervous character – never completely at ease with the press I feel – and will probably be more comfortable when he moves into management, as seems likely.

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Dave Millar not quite focused yet. His presence here is “all for the Tour”.

The Slipstream manager, Matt White is relishing the change from bike to team car; relaxed and ‘easy’ with everyone – but I guess his being an Aussie helps, they’re different to us Europeans.

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…That said, when there’s racing to be done, the messing about stops.

We said ‘farewell’ to Verona as the race rolled out and headed north into the Dolomites, we were on the actual race route from around half distance.

Hard doesn’t do it justice, the Manghen Pass is 2000 metres plus – and brutal. Dave rode up it in the 2000 Campagnolo Fondo, 39 x 26 virtually all the way and it was too high!

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Winner Serra’s sprocket choice for the day – is that a 30 bottom?
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Dave and Didi enjoy a moment.

The finish to Alpi di Pampeago wasn’t as deadly a climb but was very tough nonetheless. They wouldn’t let us up the last four K with the car; but we only had temporary cred stickers on the car – all they issue from the camper van – and maybe that was the problem. The car was duly parked and off we went – walking up climbs isn’t my favourite activity, but needs must.

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Fans of all sorts get involved.

We got to around one kilometre to go before the race arrived – we had planned to be at the finish; never mind.

Serra was well clear and the remnants of the break were scattered behind him.

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Il Grillo enjoys a good day in the break, and finished 5th on the stage.
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One of our favourites, Vlad Karpets, loses 13 minutes.

The big boys were all riding hard, but none of the favourites lost serious time. There would be a litte bit of their minds thinking about Sunday’s five cols, no doubt.

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Pelli and Marzio wrap up to make their way down to the bus.

It gets chaotic very quickly after the leaders pass. Riders who have finished freewheel down as those still racing slog upwards. Meanwhile the fans jump the barriers and begin to walk or cycle down.

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Jurgen Van Den Broeck and friend share the road back down.

As the ‘autobus’ – full of men with ‘thousand yard stares’ – ground past 42 minutes behind Sella, it was as if they were riding along Princes Street on a Saturday.This kind of thing simply wouldn’t happen at le Tour -it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

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Vladimir Miholjevic is glad that’s over, losing nearly 18 minutes to Serra.

Nearly forgot – as we approached the Alpi we spotted a guy ripping along on a Carrera, long black hair streaming in the wind – Claudio Chiappucci, he’s still looking good and was quick with his smile; 60% or not, I miss him!

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Forza Claudio!