Tuesday 19 June 2012

Milan keeps it real for the Giro

Being in Milan is handy for seeing some of the cycle races. Earlier this year I went to Piazza Castello to see the start of the Milan-San Remo. Later this year I plan to see the Tour of Lombardy, which will start in nearby Bergamo.

At the end of May I was lucky enough to go and see the queen of Italian cycling events, the final stage of the Giro d'Italia. I would have liked to have seen a few of the other nearby stages as well, like the team time trial in Verona, or the mountain stage to Lecco. But like with alot of things, life got in the way so it wasn't possible.
So, I just had to settle for an afternoon around Piazza Castello and Piazza del Duomo!

Last year I saw the final stage of the Tour de France, so was interested to compare the atmosphere of the final stage of these two grand tours.

What struck me about the Giro, and very similarly with the Milan-San Remo was how easy it was to get near the action. There was a cordoned off section for the press and VIPs - though that was mainly to get clear photographic viewing points, or easier access to Prosecco's and aperitivos.
The time trial started at Piazza Castello and went around the Parco Sempione before doing a circuit of Milan and returning to Piazza del Duomo.
Even on the early section of the route it was easy to get a clear view of the rider as there was a lot of space to see what was happening. I saw the mighty Geraint Thomas of Sky power round the corner, but my photographic skills were only good enough for me to snap his back wheel as he sailed away through the trees!

The start gantry area was a little bit more crowded, but again there was a clear view of riders. Also, as it was a time trial the various riders warmed up on turbo trainers next to their team buses and all these areas were open season to the public. I got a good view of Michele Scarponi warming up.
You could even accompany a rider right up to the green room as he rode along to the start. At one point a huge crowd ran alongside a rider. I didn't know who it was, until I realised Ivan Basso had just brushed past me!
Once these guys are at the green room you see them all sitting, waiting their turn to start racing. In some cases the sense of nervousness and tension was palpable - even when standing 10feet away. You didn't need to be a fly on the wall to sense the atmoshphere between Ryder Hesjedal and Joaquim Rodriguez before their rides!

It was interesting to wander around the different team buses and see the gear that these professional teams come with to such events. The mechanic's van would be like paradise to the gadget geeks! I also noticed the various suitcases of the riders. It looked as though many of them would be leaving Milan right after the presentation ceremony. It was a clear message to say - "I'll get this ride done and then I'm out of here as soon as...!"
Well, why wouldn't you? If you've been away from your family for the best part of 3 weeks getting a sore bum riding round some of the toughest roads in Italy, it's quite normal to want to get home and relax at your earliest convenience!

Anyway, the whole thing was set up in such a way that the public could mill around, mixing with riders taking photos of them - sometimes even with them. There were expo stands of different bike related items, and other side shows, including an urban DJ sound system. Piazza del Duomo lends itself very well to the presentation as the square is big enough to accommodate everyone. There was exciting commentary both in Italian and in English (care of London's finest, Anthony MacCrossan), a big screen alongside the actual presentation stage so that everyone got to see the action.

On balance, I would say I preferred my day out at the final day of the Giro, over my final day at the Tour de France. Granted, the Tour also makes for a great day out, but the Giro certainly has a more relaxed, human feel about it and you feel closer to the action.

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