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Ultima Cittá Prima di Milano, Giro D’Italia 2012

Bormio, May 2012

The pilgrimage is traditionally up the mountain. Find the steepest section to slow the riders and see them suffer, attack or crack. With a decent expanse of road below and perhaps above, to extend the time and probability of this happening.

It is all too easy to breeze past the villages or towns that mark the start of the climbs. They are too far from the finish to see an impact in the stage finish. They are too easy to access. Too busy with the blow ins. The riders will be going too quickly. I will see more on the mountain.

Each to their own. This year, for the Queen Stage of the Giro D’Italia, I chose the path of the less positioned. A spot much trodden and ridden as the flocks passed through Bormio to find their perches up Passo dello Stelvio. I, however, remained in the village, though I had ridden Stelvio in the days before. I spent the morning mingling with the locals, and newcomers for the Giro, then watched the race on the first corner out of town.

I saw the town begin with a gentle buzz, but with life going on as normal for many. Locals chatting with each other, getting their bread, coffee and cigarettes.

On closer inspection, however, the undercurrent of Giro passion. Even with my rudimentary Italian I got it.

Those huddles in cafes were around the pink paper, opened at pages with cyclists spread across them. The chats on the street corners were about Purito or Hesjedal or Scarponi. There were a few exceptions who cared little for the Giro, but still embraced the excitement building in the village.

It was this connection with the Giro – the people, the culture – that I was chasing. I was like a sponge soaking up the local ways, opinions and questions with cycling as the conduit. Down the narrow streets, smelling the fresh brioche and coffee, hearing the energetic chatter. It opens doors to people. Leads me to fabulous places. It would be a shame to allow that to go to waste and simply see the Giro as a race. It is an experience.

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As for the race. In Bormio, almost to a man, they were going for Joaquim “Purito” Rodríguez for the stage win. Georgio was fairly certain of it in his garden. Sylvio on his bench definitive. Paolo, Franco and I suspect even Neve, their dog, as well were confident of success for the champion Spaniard on the day.

All were impressed and surprised with Hesjedal, but none were sure who would be in Pink at the end of the next day in Milan. Nobody mentioned Thomas De Gent for the Stelvio.

There was plenty of time to feel the atmosphere build and the village change. Plenty of time to have a coffee and bump into the team doctor for Vacansoleil and talk about their emerging rider Stefan Denifl in the top 10 at the start of the day. Even he didn’t mention T. De Gent, of Vacansoleil.

Where better than to take in cycling as a culture as well as a sport than in Italy. Taking a view away from the herd gives a different experience. Certainly sitting with a coffee in the sun was different to sitting on a rock on a mountain for 4 hours. Not better, not worse. Different. A bit like T. De Gent winning and making the podium. I like different.

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