Thursday 08.30, Caserta, Frascati. We’re in Italy’s answer to that hotel where Jack Nicholson lost the plot in ‘The Shining’.
Huge, empty corridors, plumbing and electrics that have a mind of their own, plus the world’s most disinterested and rude staff – maybe they are zombies? Still, we were glad to lay our heads down here late last night, it was a long day.
We left Salerno yesterday around 09.00 and drove up to Mercogliano at the foot of the big climb and where the permanence was located. The press room is supposed to open at 10.00 but it was nearer 11.00 before our first pics hurtled into the ether; I think Mertin should have them up by now [I do, and they’re peppered throughout the diary now! – Editor.].
We thought we had nothing better to do than drive up the climb but it was not to be, there was no one except the police and velos going up there before the race. Our mode of transport was the funicolare (funicular); what is a ten kilometre-plus drive takes less than ten minutes as the little carriage wheechs straight up the mountainside. We were up there all afternoon.
The crowd was nothing like you would get at an equivalent Tour stage, but getting up there was a pain and this is still southern Italy; cycling heartland is further north in Tuscany and Lombardy. I think the pics we took gave a good sense of what it was all about.
It’s hard to convey the excitement among the young fans though, it’s verging on football fan frenzy and just a little unsettling.
Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali is up and coming, he sets pulses racing, as does Saunier’s Riccardo Ricco. Both are precocious, attacking riders, not afraid to upset the ‘old order’, they are also good-looking laddies; it’s easy to see why the young fans identify with them.
Ricco was second behind Di Luca on the stage and propelled himself into the climber’s jersey whilst Nibali retained the white jersey of best young rider. He’s not one of my favourite riders (Tom Boonen + Guy Smet) but I have to say, Di Luca looks amazing in the maglia rosa; super-cool.
Getting-off the mountain wasn’t super-cool though, it was grim.
The queues for the funicolare were huge and every now and again “VIP’s” would be forced to the head of the throng by officials, making for a dangerous situation on a steep staircase – but that’s Italy!
The pain was eased by meeting Maurizio Fondriest in the crush and chatting to him for ten minutes. It was Fondriest, who, in 1988 benefited from Steve Bauer’s decking (that’s allegedly, if Steve’s lawyers are reading) of Claude Criquielion at the end of the world road race championships in Ronse, Belgium. As ‘Claudy’ limped over the line on foot, young Fondriest had already snaffled the title.
He was a nice guy, easy to talk to and still looking very fit. As I recall, Robert Millar used to reckon that Fondriest was the coolest-looking guy in the world when it came to position on a bike.
Eventually we got off the hill and in to the permanence. The wi-fi behaved and it wasn’t too long before we could head north, to where we are now.
It was late when we finally got to bed and like Dave said – “mind and double-lock that door son!”