I've always watched the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France on television and thought about cool it would be to go and watch a stage. I actually did see some Giro riders outside Turin when I was here on Study Abroad in 1993, but we'd just happened upon them, and it's not like I was paying much attention.
I probably would have gone to watch this year anyway, but Deirdre, Bret and Nate's visit sealed the deal. Bret's a triathlete and big cycling fan, and we started planning a stage viewing as soon as we knew they were coming.
We settled on Thursday, which was Stage 18, and ultimately settled on the end of the stage, San Pellegrino Terme, as our viewing area.
My friend John, whom I worked with in Denver, provided some early logistical tips. He's now in Toronto but has lived in Italy on and off the past several years (his wife, Stefania, is Italian), and he's a cyclist, too.
As I said to another cycling enthusiast friend on Facebook this weekend, it's amazing how simple it is to go and watch a stage. The biggest issue is transportation -- this was true for San Pellegrino Terme in particular because of its lack of train service -- but hello, we have a car. Finding parking was one of my big concerns, but it turned out that the San Pellegrino plant (where the water is bottled) opened its parking lot for spectators. Best of all, it was free.
The one glitch in the day was when we didn't end up at the finish line because we'd picked the wrong side of the street to walk on. By the time we realized there wasn't a way though to the end -- at least not a way to get through with strollers -- the barriers had been locked down, so we just parked ourselves at an open spot. It was about 1,100 meters from the finish, so we missed the final sprint. But we had a great view without having to wrestle a larger crowd, which I think was a fair tradeoff.
And, despite its small size and relative lack of tourism-related information readily available, San Pellegrino Terme is a lovely little town.
It was a bit cloudy when we arrived, which ended up being nice because we could avoid the bright sun for a while.
I thought these trees in the playground we visited before the riders came by were cool. Schools, offices and many stores had closed early because of the race, so the whole town was out walking and playing.
A three-man breakaway led the day. The rider in the green helmet (barely visible in this photo) won the stage.
After the leaders went by, a group near us lost interest and walked away, so we were able to move for a better view of the main peloton rounding this corner.
My photos of the peloton ended up pretty blurry (I was holding Owen and the camera by this point), but I did get this slightly better focused shot of the team cars bringing up the rear.
It looked like the whole town had gotten into the spirit of decorating for the race. There were pink banners, balloons, ribbons and other decorations everywhere. (Pink is the color of the Giro, similar to how yellow is for the Tour de France, because the pages of the race's sponsor, La Gazetta dello Sport, are pink.)
As we walked around after the race, we saw a group of kayakers in the Brembo River, which runs through town. This one had decorated his kayak with a stray pink balloon.
Laura was at school Thursday and is kind of irked she missed out on the fun, so I expect we'll have to do something similar next year. Now we just have to persuade Deirdre, Bret and Nate to make another trip ...