Fabrizio Viani continues his Italian adventure with more excitement from Italy’s greatest road race.
On Monday we were going to see the peloton on stage 3, from Rapallo to Sestri Levante, via a series of inland peaks. We set off late morning and met Umberto again at the bottom of our first long climb, Monte Fasce. This is one of the highest peaks in the vicinity of Genoa and it tops at about 800m, straight up from sea level. The climb averages 7% but it is split into three parts. The first part is a relatively gentle 5%, the second part is the hardest with ramps of 12%, then an easier third section at around 8%. My gruppetto was not as far back as in previous rides, I could see them ahead of me this time. The views from the passo were spine-tingling; it felt like circling Genoa from a kite. The sea’s horizon is limitless and the sky is a canvas criss-crossed by aeroplanes. On a clear day you could see Corsica, which is 150km away.
Onward we went along the ridge of the mountain to our planned rendezvous with the Giro outside Uscio, just a corner away from the first GPM. We had an hour or so to kill so we found a trattoria (small family run restaurant) and for a reasonable 15 Euros we dived into plates of pasta with walnut & cream sauce, grilled mixed meats, fries, salad, beer and coffee.
The spot we chose to see the race from was on the apex of a wide corner, that way we could see them for a bit longer, coming around and disappearing up the climb. Cars and motorbikes flying past gave us the clue that the riders were close, then the sounds of helicopters, finally the ripple of shouts getting louder and closer like a Mexican wave. The riders flew past, they looked like they were really attacking the climb, even the peloton was strung out already. Mike saw Boonen and shouted his name so loudly I’m amazed Tom stayed upright (previously we’ve blamed Mike for Cancellara’s demise at the Olympics as he crashed the very moment he shouted his name in Richmond Park). Paolini was far behind but we’d later learn he nearly won that very stage, chapeau! At the end of the commotion we followed the route they came from and once we reached the seaside town of Recco we started climbing the Passo della Ruta, yet another relentless 3.2 km climb at around 7% with peaks of 12%.
This time I was not making gruppetto and for once I topped it in 2nd place, fully knowing they’d make me pay for it on the return leg, and they did. From the Ruta we dropped down to Santa Margherita and along the coast to Portofino. It is difficult to describe the beauty of this part of the world. It is as though it was designed with the intent to impress, stagger, make people part with their money to be there! Yachts, villas, trees, clear blue waters, sheer drops. At the entrance of Portofino we were told in no uncertain terms by a policeman that no bicycles were allowed in the village, not even walking with them. Umberto was a gentleman and let us go and visit the quaint port while he looked after the bikes, although walking with cleats on pebbles was not the easiest experience in the world. Still worth a visit, it never fails to astonish me, even though I’ve visited it countless times. Simply stunning.
The climb back up the Ruta beckoned and I resumed my duties in the gruppetto, this time joined by Umberto, while Ian and Mike raced up to the top. Spirits were still high, the pace picked up on the Via Aurelia, one of the first international connections built by the Romans between Rome and France. In Genoa we said our goodbyes and parted ways with Umberto.
That evening my mum excelled herself once again with a lovely spread of food and plenty of Prosecco (she even had time to make some pesto for us to take home).
The final day started with sorting out luggage and putting bikes back in their bags, a trip to the local shops for food to bring home, a taxi trip to the airport, some gifts for the boys at home and I even had a chance to buy a little dress (pink, of course) for my wife. But let’s not dwell on the following four hours of delay at the airport…
All in, it was a successful trip and our biological passports might still show some traces of blood amongst the bubbles of prosecco. I’m amazed that not many cyclists from Britain use this neck of the woods for trips. It has all the climbs one needs (and more), the sun, the sea, the food. Most of all, it is a place with soul and history.
The banter did not end with the trip, and we’re still reminding ourselves who won what where when.