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Giro D’Italia Doesn’t Disappoint

giroditalia

This is a bit of a departure (and not just for the riders) as I usually focus on museums, gardens and the like, but this was one of those ‘once in a ….’ type of events even for a non-cyclist. I’d go so far as to say that I’m a born again cycling virgin as I gave it all up many years ago after falling off a couple of times (rather painfully) and decided that it wasn’t for me. Not only can I not ride a bike, but I also know very little about competitive cycling. Having got my lack of credentials out in the open let us proceed with my experience of the Giro D’Italia 2014.

Sunday afternoon found us sauntering through Dublin city centre debating where to stand for the best view of the race. Having suffered from terrible vantage points at the St Patrick’s Day parade many times, we gave ourselves plenty of time. The only snag with doing that is that you have an awful lot of standing around. Map in hand, we headed down towards Nassau Street with the intention of pitching camp near to the finishing line in Upper Merrion Street. We saw some pink bunting around, but there wasn’t as much festive decoration on the streets as we had expected which was disappointing. There were plenty of pink rain ponchos around however.

At about two o’clock, we reached Westland Row, which was still sparsely populated and decided to stop round the corner near Davenport Hotel. In retrospect, I think we should have aimed for the finishing line or the quays. We had a good view of the road because of being early and right at the barrier, but due to the bend on the approach from the right, we didn’t get a very long view of the cyclists. I would have liked to savour the moment of approach a little more than was possible in the end.

We spent a certain amount of time crowd watching and studying all of the official types who were wandering up and down the course with radios, cable ties and assorted paraphernalia. At one point, a television crew was trying to record a segment, but Garda motorbikes, team cars and contractors making adjustments kept interrupting them. As the countdown to the closing stages began and the crowds built up, more and more people scrambled to obtain a better vantage point. Several people climbed up on scaffolding behind us and one even unveiled a poster saying ‘Down With This Sort Of Thing’, though maybe ‘Careful Now’ would have made more sense. Anyway, as we were fairly near to Dermot Morgan’s memorial in Merrion Square, it seemed apt.

The commentators (two Italian and one English speaker) kept us updated on the cyclists’ progress down from Belfast. Our vantage point meant that we could see a large screen relaying the race reasonably well. When we began our vigil, the racers were still about 80km away from the finishing line. The race commentary and the video screen gradually drew me into the spirit and tension of the event. The broadcaster did a great job of explaining what was going on and where the front-runners were in relation to the rest. I admit that I did have to Google ‘peloton’ when I got home, just to confirm that it meant what I thought. Why can’t they just say ‘pack’?

The cyclists had to contend with the rain and there were several crashes. I was amazed at how much is involved in a cycle race. Not having thought too much about it previously, I had no idea about tactics or the hard work and pace of the backup teams. We listened to the reports of the average speed going up and the distance between the leaders and the peloton shrinking until it was merely seconds. We also winced at the thought of the cyclists’ injuries after falling and gamely getting back into the race. The two hours of watching and waiting by the roadside went much quicker than I would have thought possible.

The last few kilometres of the race went incredibly quickly as the speed of the commentating let us know that the cyclists were fast approaching. Rather absurdly, I still had my eyes glued to the screen minutes before seeing the cyclists for real. There was a moment when it dawned on me that we would be uncomfortably close to almost two hundred speeding cyclists, and then there they were, whizzing around the bend and sprinting for the finish line. Their control of the bikes at that speed was amazing as the bend was quite tight, especially for such a large number of riders.

I couldn’t have told one cyclist from another and I hadn’t heard of Marcel Kittel or his team Giant Shimano before yesterday, but now I may just have become a convert to cycling (watching it that is). I hope they all get a good rest and plenty of Ralgex treatment before the next leg (pun intended) of the race.

 

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