The wake-up. The routine that begins again and repeats itself for three weeks: eating breakfast, getting ready and then heading by bus to the start area. All this and much more happens every morning during the Giro d’Italia — and by now almost every racer goes through the motions without even thinking, before the day really starts and with it the hard effort in the saddle, which will end only in the late afternoon.
But back to the team bus area, where the first crowds are gathering. And how could it be any different? Every cycling fan circles in red on the calendar the day in May when the Corsa Rosa comes to town and looks forward eagerly to breathing in the excitement of elite-level cycling, hearing the noise of the wheels on the asphalt, and being able to watch his or her own heroes from just a few centimetres away.
This is how it was during the three Sicilian stages, which re-embraced the Giro d’Italia after the extraordinary interlude in Israel. It’s a colourful invasion, with pink as the dominant colour to celebrate the arrival of the 101st edition of the most beloved race in Italy.
Beginning in the early hours of the morning, throngs of people crowd into the start villages in Catania, Agrigento and Caltanissetta. A tour of the sponsors’ booths in search of swag, and then the most highly anticipated moment: the parade of athletes riding from their team bus, a real home on wheels, to the foot of the sign-in stage.
It’s a ritual moment, preserved from the past but with a modern touch, with the racers being presented in rock-star style by the official announcer. Who gets the loudest cheers? The Sicilians Salvatore Puccio and Giovanni Visconti, and then the champions: the Brit Chris Froome, the Italian champion Fabio Aru, last year’s Giro winner Tom Dumoulin and the French climber Thibaut Pinot.
The latter, despite being one of the favorites for the overall victory, doesn’t seem to feel the pressure, and even starts collecting the official trading cards, hiding a few packs under his jersey — but you can see them clearly. Busted!
Then there are the swarms of excited children shouting the names of their favorite riders. “Aru! Aru!” — and the Knight of the Four Moors smiles and stops to sign a few autographs on caps. Also among the most in demand for selfies are the classification leaders, like Rohan Dennis, who has a bit of pink everywhere, not only on his jersey — his bike, helmet and shorts are the same color. And then Elia Viviani, the king of the sprints in this first part of the Giro, who smiles, very proud to show off his cyclamen jersey.
A lot of excitement also for the white jersey of the best young rider, the German Maximilian Schachmann, and for the blue jersey of the best climber, Enrico Barbin.
After the official presentation of all the riders, the peloton lines up like an army of two-wheeled ants. It’s time to get serious. Still a few smiles, and then the flag drops and the race is on. No more joking around — it’s the start of the daily battle to reach the finish line first, with arms raised. There will be time for smiles and conversation tomorrow morning.
Jered and Ashley Gruber / Luigi Sestili