Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

The tifosi at the World Championships

October 4, 2013

toscana 2013 finishing gate at road race

Me and Jen are in the seating area by the finish of the World Championship road race, surrounded by hundreds of bellowing Italians. It’s the final lap of the 16.6km circuit, and they are chanting one name: “VIN-CEN-ZO! VIN-CEN-ZO!” Determined Nibali, with the hopes of the host nation resting upon him, has refused to allow Joaquim Rodriguez to escape on the descent of the Fiesole. Earlier, there were long, deep groans followed by much emphatic gesturing towards the video screens when the Giro d’Italia champion slipped on the tarmac, as if the rain’s treachery had caused a deep, personal offence to each and every one of the tifosi here in Florence. “If Nibali wins,” Jen says, stifling a laugh at the very un-British outpouring of emotion, “we’re going to have to run for cover.” I get the feeling we may have to do the same even if he doesn’t…

Such passion is a contrast to four days earlier when polite applause greeted the competitors as they turned into the corner of the time trial circuit that took them north away from the bank of the Arno. Marco Pinotti got a big cheer, as did podium boys Cancellara, Wiggins and Martin, but that was about it. A bewildered Japanese lady got Jen to explain to her how a time trial works after enquiring in broken English if the event was “a European match”; a British woman who had probably wandered down the road from the Uffizi asked two men if they could move out of the way so she could take a picture (the tabards should have been a giveaway: they were press photographers, dear). It’s fair to say these were not big cycling fans.

But seated here at the incongruously named Nelson Mandela forum, it’s clear we are among those who know their Fabians from their Nairos. When Mark Cavendish slows down at the 150m sign moments before becoming one of the 146 riders to abandon, the Italian crowd instantly give the former world champ a rapturous round of applause; some even stand up for him. (A side note on Cav: I would love to know what an annoyed-looking Geraint Thomas said to the Manxman around half an hour into the race as Great Britain needlessly wasted their energy leading the peloton on the 100km-run to the finishing circuit.) One fan who gets to his feet is a testy blond fella in the front row who is not at all pleased that some of those in the crowd from the seats behind him are now politely jostling for space by the barrier. At one point he has a loud argument with one of the attendants. I’d like to tell him he should cool it: he’s in the one sheltered area of the circuit, unlike the poor wet sods on the other side of the road who have to endure diluvial conditions for hours. But I don’t speak Italian, and he’s got a Vinokourov-like pugnacity about him, so I don’t.

The haves and the have-nots: we have a roof, these poor drenched souls do not.

The haves and the have-nots: we have a roof, these poor drenched souls do not.

Each time the race rushes towards us, I experience a measure of what it must have been like when the first cinema audiences saw the Lumiere brothers’ locomotive seemingly burst out of the screen. One second they are televisual images, the next they are right in front of us, like Morten Harket stepping out of his rectangular, one-dimensional prison into the real world. By the time poor Purito becomes flesh and blood for the last time, it’s clear he is about to lose. The Italians yell and cheer, but they’ve stopped banging on the barriers. There’s a sullen silence moments after Rui Costa raises his arms in victory and then everyone begins to shuffle off, except for the Italian Vinokourov. He’s staring into the distance, making a quintessentially Italian hand gesture: thumb, index finger and middle finger pinched together, tapping the side of his head. The azzuri: what were they thinking? Minutes later, as Jen and I trudge with the crowd under the finishing gate, I want to know what the tifosi are thinking too.

It will cost you €100 to stand on one of the best spots of the World Championships’ course

September 4, 2013

Jen and I have been planning our trip to the World Championships, which takes place at the end of the month. We figured it would probably be a right old hassle to get from our hotel in Florence to the Fiesole, the longest of two climbs on the closing circuit, so we decided to fork out €100 each for seats by the finish line. And I’m pleased that we did, because we’re going to be in row ‘A’! Woo-hoo! That’ll be a prime perving spot for Jen, especially if David Millar turns up.

As far as I know, getting into the grandstand at the finish of the Worlds usually involves opening your wallet – there was certainly a charge last year in Valkenburg, and I’m pretty sure that was also the case when Cipollini triumphed at Zolder in 2002, although I was on a press trip that year so I was too busy scoffing vol-au-vents in the VIP area to investigate. What has surprised me this time ’round is that the Italians are also charging €100 to watch the race on the Via Salviati, the finishing circuit’s short, punchy climb… and you don’t even get to park your bum on a plastic seat.

So, basically, that’s €100 to experience what most of us expect to do for free: stand by the side of a public road and watch a bike race. That sounds a bit rubbish, doesn’t it?

To be fair, the climb is only 600m long and it appears to be quite narrow, judging by footage three enthusiastic Americans have made of the circuit…

uci worlds circuit 2013 via salviati

…so ticketing is probably an effective way of limiting access to what appears to be a restricted space. And the price gives you three days’ access, which covers the men’s, women’s and juniors’ road races.

But even so, it’s £84. Access to Box Hill, the centrepiece of the 2012 Olympic road race, only cost 15 quid. Why so blimmin’ high, UCI?

French horns

June 29, 2012

Hello again! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And as a discerning consumer of webular content, I know exactly what you’re after: a succinct and reasonably diverting explanation for my absence. Well, your luck’s in, sunshine, because that’s precisely what I am about to furnish your eyeballs with. In a nutshell, I was preparing for a trip to France; I then travelled to France; and now I have returned from France. That means there’s going to be a lot of French stuff in this post. So, Francophobes, treat this paragraph as your sortie and leave, as they say, toot sweet. (Sortie means ‘exit’, which is a True French Fact what I have learned. Another True French Fact lodged in my head is that quotidien kind of means ‘quotidian’. This pleases me: their word for everyday is far from everyday. And it makes me wonder how you, the French-despiser who is about to depart from this blog, can possibly dislike a language that rejects the humdrum so emphatically. Begone! The French are simply too good for you.)

I’ll begin my account where our trip ended: at Luxembourg Gardens, sheltering from a sudden downpour with Littlejen and a couple of dozen Parisians. Young children are screaming with delight at the fierceness of the downpour while a quartet of indifferent students sit at a table smoking dope. Nobody is bothered by either party. About 30 feet away from our shelter, the joyful blast of a school’s brass band refuses to be silenced by the sheeting rain clattering on leaves and the roof of the bandstand. It is this – the sound of trumpets and their tubular cousins blown enthusiastically – that has been the soundtrack of my holiday. For I can honestly say I have heard more ebullient parping in one week than I had for years.

The bulk of the brass-based jollity occurred during the Ardechoise sportive, which was part of my four-day cycling sojourn in the Ardeche region before I met up with Jen in Paris. It was during my negotiation of an otherwise unremarkable corner on the 125km route that a small group played a military-style march; within a few miles, I had passed a sousaphone-wielding funk outfit. Later, as I tucked into my complementary post-ride pasta, a trombonist casually led a mariachi band into the food tent where they struck up a rousing and somewhat ramshackle version of Seven Nation Army. Whether hungry, tired or both, the sportive’s 12,000 competitors were destined to by buoyed at some point by a brigade of puff-cheeked chaps. For that, I can wholeheartedly say: thank you, proud brassmen of France!

This was my third sportive on foreign shores, and all three trips benefitted from London Dynamo’s seamless organisation. My previous two jaunts with the club were in Italy – the Nove Colli last year and the Granfondo Pinarello in 2008. For me, the main difference between my French adventure and the Italian events, and the factor that made this sportive slightly harder than I anticipated, was the absence of any flat roads: I started on a climb (see photo above), finished on a whizzy 20km descent and spent the five hours in between going up and down while the temperature rose to a giddy peak of 24C. The climbing in the two Italian sportives was sandwiched between flat starts and finishes, but those, too, presented their own challenges: I was on the drops pushing 30mph at the start of the Pinarello, and I struggled to find a rhythm in the dull the final kilometres of the Nove Colli.

There are other differences. The food on offer at the Italian feed stations was more varied, although in France we had the option of washing down a roll with a cup (or two, or three) of red wine. The Italian sportives generally had more of a carnival atmosphere: at the Nove Colli, many dressed up in bandanas to ride in Pantani’s former training ground, while the locals’ daredevil descending at the Pinarello often seemed, to this timid Englishman at least, to have an air of look-at-me theatricality. There were thousands of club kits on display in Italy, whereas the official yellow and magenta sportive jersey and familiar generic clothing brands were a commoner sight at the Ardechoise. (Speaking of which, I had the pleasure of drafting a competitor by the name of Beatrice Defour for a number of miles this year. So that’s what a sleeveless white Assos skinsuit looks like. God bless triathlon! God bless France! God bless Beatrice Dephwoar!) And the Italian events were simply louder – much louder. Last year I gauged my closeness to the top of the crank-punishing Barbotto by how much I could hear of Metallica’s cover of Whisky In The Jar blaring from the sound system – and at the finish, the excitable MC was only to happy to volubly announce the presence of a certain “LON-DON DEE-NA-MOOOOOH!”

For me, though, it is French brass bands that capture what should be the true spirit of sportive riding. Yes, there may be times when you feel completely alone – blissfully so as you fly up a climb, or grinding away, mired in your own private hell – but the blast of a trumpet, a trombone’s glissando, or the oompah of a tuba provides a perky, galvanising sense of togetherness. Sound the horn! A fanfare, please! Like those children shrieking in the rain, or the students taking a drag on a joint, we are all here together, each of us seeking out our own type of fun.