RAVENNA, Italy (VN) — It’s the first rest day of the 2019 Giro d’Italia. So what does a journalist do? Laundry, of course.
As we sit here tapping away on who said what at such and such press conference, it’s a lovely sight watching 10 days worth of sweat equity get a freshening up.
The 2019 Giro already seems like an eternity, and we’re not even at the halfway point. A string of long, 200km-plus stages coupled with atypical rainy spring weather has taken its toll on everyone.
Most of the time covering a grand tour is pure drudgery. Of the 10 to 12 working hours each day, at least half is driving. Add another hour or two getting to and from hotels. The rest is spent waiting around — waiting for the stage to start, waiting for the stage to finish. It’s all about those narrow bookends where journalists and racers collide.
Despite the long hours, every Giro delivers its magic. Last year it happened on the Colle delle Finestre. Before that, it was Vincenzo Nibali attacking over the snow-bound French Alps or Nairo Quintana down the Stelvio. The Giro soup is slowly simmering and will soon boil over.
Ever wonder what it’s like to chase a stage? Well, it’s far from glamorous. Here’s a peek at a typical day with yours truly and VeloNews’s cohort Gregor Brown.
08h15 — Rise ‘n’ shine. Grand tours are about repetition and setting a routine. By stage 6, we’re getting our groove on. It’s another early start with the Giro’s second-longest stage on tap. After another bad breakfast at another non-descript, two-star hotel, it’s off to the races. For a nation renowned for its cucina, it confounds how bad Italian hotel breakfasts can be. Cornetto di limone in a plastic wrapper? At least the cappuccino is a sure bet.
10h06 — The Italians call it “casino,” akin to rolling the dice and hoping for the best. The Giro d’Italia is loaded with “casino,” both for the riders, and everyone else following along. For a couple of journalists chasing the Giro, it’s a thin line between everything falling into place or descending into complete chaos. And if things do get chaotic, well, you just go with the flow. After all, this is not the Tour de France. Arriving to the start every morning is the first of the Giro’s daily “casino.” You need to factor in at least 15 additional minutes to what the GPS predicts. Today we made the rookie mistake of leaving the gas tank near empty. You never want to have less than a half tank at any time during a grand tour. Mobility is key, especially with unpredictable European gas station hours coupled with the unexpected nature of breaking news. You don’t want to run out of gas when there are police raids unfolding at a team hotel 50km away. After a quick “splash and dash,” we’re stuck behind traffic upon arriving to the start town. Some creative use of the full breath of the pavement gets us past a long line of backed-up team vehicles, and we cut off the Astana bus. Sorry, Giuseppe!
10h14 — We finally see the Giro’s “flag men” who direct organization cars where to park. The Giro is great because it starts in the heart of Italy’s gorgeous historic centers. Of course, the cities were built in the Middle Ages long before anyone had heard of a Fiat 500. Parking can be tight, so you quickly learn to make friends with the workers organizing the movement of the daily caravan. It’s a relief as we slip the car in the designated zone. We’re in the chute.
10h44 — Alas, all that stress for nothing. Outside a team bus waiting to talk to a rider. That’s all we do. Drive around for hours each day to snatch two minutes with a rider here or a five minutes with a sport director there.
11h12 — Stuck behind the barriers and the race starts in three minutes — another casino. I spot some CCC riders picking their way through the crowd. Job skills. Not one of them unclips as they dip and dive around baby carriages, fans snapping selfies or panicked journalists. We jump into the car and peel away just as the pack rolls out behind us.
11h44 — We pass the “200km to go” sign; it’s going to be a long day.
13h18 — A quick coffee stop and we switch drivers. The drive time is also work time. We take turns navigating and transcribing to maximize the day.
14h39 — Casino time again. Everyone inside Planet Giro follows a road book, called the “Garibaldi,” which includes maps and key details of roads, coordinates and entry points to the race course. There’s also a string of arrows each day to guide journalists toward the day’s pressroom and finish. Pity the fool whoever wanders astray. Just like “Chef” who was surprised by a tiger while searching out mangoes in “Apocalypse Now,” the mantra is, “Never get off the boat!” In theory, that book is all you’ll need. In practice, a good sixth sense of direction is essential. It helps to have a co-pilot to look out for pink arrows — and signs of other lost journalists — so the other can fully commit to delivering the car into the parking area without scratches, dents, scrapes or other bodily harm.
15:03 — Today’s pressroom is inside a shrine dedicated to Padre Pio, a sometimes-controversial figure during life who was later sanctified by the Catholic church. The only thing the media is concerned about is if the daily press buffet is still stocked. Local cheeses, sausages and wine are flowing upon arrival. It’s a Giro miracle.
16h54 — After two hours of hammering out some stories and updating social media, it’s time for the day’s next major casino — finding the finish line and bus parking area. The best plan? Follow the reporters from La Gazzetta dello Sport. Ciro always knows the way.
17h43 — Back in the press room, back to bashing. Post-stage press conferences with the stage-winner or pink jersey rarely produce good copy these days. Gone are the days when Mario Cipollini would say something crazy like he would have been a porno star if he hadn’t been born to race bikes, or a rider insulting a rival. In today’s Twitter Age, the PC patrol won’t tolerate off-the-cuff comments, sarcasm or a hint of anything remotely controversial. Instead, we get, “It is what it is — one day at a time.”
20h57 — We hit our self-imposed 9 p.m. deadline to get moving. Depending on who still has to work, one will drive, the other keeps tapping away. It’s another one hour, 20 minutes to the hotel. Casino No. 4 — finding the hotel. Things are much easier these days with GPS, so it’s another non-descript room, built in the 1970s, maybe remodeled in the 1990s. But even in the most modest of accommodations, the owners are friendly, the food is good, and the cappuccino always comes through. At midnight, it’s lights out on the second-longest day of the Giro.
And just like that, the dryer cycle is done. Time to do a podcast, wrap up another story, and then enjoy an early rest-day evening meal. We’re in Emilia Romagna, which in Italian means great food.
We know we’re lucky enough to have front-row seats to this opera on wheels affectionately called the Corsa Rosa. It’s only the first rest day. The magic is coming. It always does.