The Giro Climbs Monte Grappa

national champion Pippo Pozzato on the first switchback

For only the fourth time in one hundred and one years, the Giro d’Italia climbed Monte Grappa. It was an event that no local cyclist, fan, or resident could miss. The mountain is a source of great pride to this area, yet it is not well-known to the rest of the world that would be watching the stage. Wanting the mountain to get its due (and remembering how many times I’ve been perturbed by erroneous information published on websites and in print), I’d decided to write an article about it for I was pleased to find it on the site the morning of the stage.

Anticipating a chaotic traffic situation in Asolo (which turned out to be the case), instead of driving to Giro HQ to get my press pass, I rode my ‘cross bike. Just as I was wondering if I’d be the only journalist to show up on a bike, along came Lennard Zinn decked out in a full VeloNews kit. He’d spent a year in Asolo, and was happy to have an excuse to return. I rode home via the center of town, where I found Francesco, owner of the excellent Gelateria Browning, changing a flat tire on his new ice cream cart with the help of some burly friends. The town was even more colorful and festive than it had been a couple of days before.

For months I’d been debating whether I wanted to see the race near the top of the mountain, with its spectacular views and thousands of fans, or to stay lower, which would give me enough time to make it to the finish. The decision was made for me when I developed a throat and ear infection and went on antibiotics. I didn’t feel up to doing any hard climbing, and driving was out of the question–it would be impossible to find a place to park, and the roads would be filled with cyclists.

So that afternoon I drove to Semonzo, where the climb begins, and walked up to the first switchback. Hundreds of spectators of every age were arriving on foot, by scooter and motorcycle, and of course, on every kind of bicycle. Many thousands more were already farther up the climb. The camperisti had parked their rigs on the summit several days before.

I’d been looking forward to cheering on local legend Magico Tempe as he rode a wheelie up the climb but somehow missed it (?). Standing next to me was a man who had brought his two boys to see their first Giro stage, thus carrying on an age-old tradition: I have friends in their seventies who vividly remember going to see the Giro with papà when they were children. I like to think these little boys will always remember it as well, though perhaps it will not form such an impression on today’s kids, bombarded as they are with electronic input. Then again, experiencing an event in person with dad, surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic spectators, feeling the excitement and anticipation, seeing the helicopters overhead, hearing the whirr of wheels and seeing champions pass right in front of you…it’s hardly the same as watching it on tv in your living room. If that were not the case, then all these people would be home, instead of here on this mountain, waiting for something that will be over in seconds. Perhaps it is that very fact that makes the memories so intense and indelible. When the Giro passes, you just have to leave your house or workplace and stand by the road, just as people have always done. It’s reassuring to think that some old-fashioned practices haven’t disappeared.

The race passed by in a whirl of color and rush of noise. I walked down to my car and took the little back roads to Casella d’Asolo. After parking down the road from the team buses, I met up with my friend Bill Speckman, owner of Your Cycling Italia, and his clients. I eventually made my way to the finish line area, where I tried to find my friend David, who’d come up from Padua, but it was so noisy that we couldn’t hear one another on our cell phones, and therefore couldn’t locate one another.

Trying to get to the press box was an exercise in frustration, and in the end, I never made it. They didn’t open the gates to let anyone stand in front of the podium either, so alas, I wound up seeing nothing. But there would be other days…

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