Ciao, come sta? Viareggio on the west coast of Italy, 06:30 Saturday May 15 and VeloVeritas is on the Giro – well, not quite, we have our credentials to collect from the Gazzetta camper van, this morning at the stage start in Carrara. The trip down wasn’t too bad, Edinburgh to Luton, then Luton to Pisa – there was an hour’s delay at Luton, but we were on Easyjet, so no one gets too stressed.
Albeit there was a nasty moment at the security check in Luton – “the transparent plastic bag you have your toiletries in is too big, sir’ said the official.
Initially, we laughed, the boy has a sense of humour we thought, but not a bit of it, he was deadly serious.
Eventually I dragged Martin away; ‘he’s stressed, been up since 04:30,’ I explained to our new chum.
We figure he’s unmarried, lives with his mum and dad and has a Hornby train set in the loft – and the wee locos have lights, sounds and the optional ‘steam puffing’ feature.
At Pisa we decided to have a quick look to make sure the tower was still there – photo opportunity taken, it was time to get ourselves to where we are now.
“Viareggio has never been anything other than what it is – a purpose built seaside resort,’ says the Rough Guide; for all that, it’s clean, friendly and an easy place to get a good pizza at a sane price.
But I have to watch the ‘holiday postcard’ stuff, I’m on a warning from Viktor and Willie Barr reckons I spewed out more ash than the Icelandic volcano, from Trinidad – but he didn’t call it ash.
Today isn’t a day to win the Giro, but it’s certainly one where you can lose it.
It’s a long stage with the last climb on the white gravel of the strade bianche.
All the Heads will be well aware of this and fighting to be at the front when tarmac gives way to dust.
Only it might not be dust, I was out for an early stroll to find coffee and a Gazzetta – unsuccessful on both counts – and it’s cool and drizling, outside.
It could be a really decisive stage in those conditions.
Nibali has been around a long time and promising greatness, all the while.
A medal in the junior worlds TT way back in 2002 at Zolder; GP Plouay in ’06; five wins in ’07 including the Giro di Toscana; the Giro del Trentino in ’08; the GP Camaiore and a strong Tour with 7th on GC in ’09.
He hit the ground running for 2010 with a win in the San Luis stage race in Argentina and despite his coming to the Giro at short notice to replace Pellizotti – out with ‘vitamin’ problems – ‘The Shark’ as they call him, is obviously in great shape.
Can he win, who can beat him?
Sitting happily in second place, the pressure on his young team mate, is Ivan Basso.
Last year was promising, after two years out – will this be the year that he goes back to riding cols with his mouth shut, looking like he’s on the way to the paper shop, again?
Those days are gone for ever; but there’s no doubting that he’s in a good situation and Liquigas are well aware that they shouldn’t burn out that strong team of theirs before that brutal last week.
Sastre has to be a favourite when it’s long, hot, hilly and tough; that 2:13 he’s down at the moment shouldn’t be too much of a worry in the third week when the peaks rear and the physical and mental exertions of three weeks of racing begin to tell on those not as tough as the man from Avilla.
Last year he won two hard, hard stages in this race whilst using it as a ‘tune up’ for an ultimately fruitless Tour campaign.
Word is that this year he’s decided that the Tour will be a death race – with Armstrong, Contador, the Schlecks – and is putting all his eggs in the Giro basket.
Karpets, at 39 seconds, looks strong, maybe he’s back to the form of 2007 where he won the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Volta a Alentejo, Vuelta a la Rioja, Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Suisse?
The last two years have been lean for the big Russian and a wage cut looms if he doesn’t top up those palmares.
Evan is at 1:59 and obviously in good shape, he’s had the pink jersey on his back, won the Fleche and seems highly motivated – just a shame he has no team.
And there’s the name that cannot be spoken, ‘the durty kazak’ as one rider I know refers to him.
Vino is back, and with a ‘bang!’
He’s at 33 seconds and despite his tendency to have a bad day in Grand Tours, don’t forget that this is a man who was winning quality stage races 13 seasons ago – Dunkirk, 1998 – and has a Vuelta win under his belt from 2006.
Today’s blast up the gravel is right up his street and he could be back in pink, tonight.
And what of Simoni?
With a deficit of 22:10 he certainly doesn’t need to worry about the heads chasing him if he gets in a break.
Anyway, that’s us just about in Carrara to get our creds – and hopefully a coffee.