By Dede Barry
The prologue and the first two stages of the Giro are now completed and the riders are beginning to settle into the rhythm of the grand tour. For the next three weeks, they will pedal, eat, get massage, and try to recover.
Being a part of the race is like joining a traveling circus, as everyone moves from one town to the next each day, putting on a show. The same faces appear each day in the peloton, but in a different order, and the ups and downs encountered make each day unique for each rider. The fans along the roadside are often dressed in pink, and even decorate their towns in pink. People embrace this race; they love it.
The prologue was a late-night spectacle with fans lining the road to watch each competitor explode out of the start house. For the Italian fans, the highlight of the evening was not seeing Australian Brett “Big Bird” Lancaster on the top of the podium, but watching their most colorful cycling hero, the recently retired Mario Cipollini, take his final ride. “Super Mario” was clad in a pink skinsuit with silver stripes, looking stylish as always.
The home crowd was even more pleased on Sunday, when Paolo Bettini – whose nickname is “Il Grillo” (The Cricket) – caught the bunch by surprise in the final kilometer and powered away on a steep incline to take the stage and the maglia rosa.
The Italians give their heroes some wicked nicknames, but I think my favorite is “The Freckle.” Stuart O’Grady definitely has more freckles than anyone in the bunch – his whole body is covered with them. “The Freckle” is a favorite for a stage win and maybe even the purple jersey, so watch out for him.
After stage 1, I had a chance to chat with Ryder Hesjedal (Discovery) and we talked about the stage, what it’s like to race in his first grand tour and – of course – nicknames.
“The Rooster” is ready to rock
Dede Barry: Ryder, the finish of stage 1 looked nervous in the final kilometers. How did it feel in the bunch?
Ryder Hesjedal: Yeah, the finish was a little sketchy. Everybody knew you had to be in the front before the last 5km as the road went from a straight, wide road to a narrow, twisty road with a short steep climb in the last kilometer. When the maglia rosa is up for grabs, you know it is going to be dodgy! Our goal was to make sure Paolo was in the front and didn’t lose any time. For the rest of us, we just had to stay out of trouble and upright.
DB: This is your first full season on the road. You’ve competed in several of the one-day World Cup races and a few short stage races, but now you are in the midst of a three-week grand tour. Was it daunting, starting such a long race after being focused on one-day races for most of your career?
RH: Yes, I was a little nervous going into the race as I didn’t know what to expect. I know it is going to be the hardest thing I have ever done on the bike, as I have never done a grand tour and this is the highest level in cycling. Even though most of my racing has been one-day style, I feel comfortable in the stage-race format and think I am ready for the challenge ahead.
DB: You’ve had some impressive prologues the past two weeks at Romandie (10th) and at the Giro (18th) and have been getting stronger and stronger in the hills. What are your expectations for this race?
RH: I don’t have many expectations – I am here to help out our leader, who is looking really good, and to get to Milan with him in the pink jersey. The main objective is to have a good Giro for Discovery and to experience the full ups and downs of a three-week epic.
DB: Have you seen many Canadian fans lining the roads yet?
RH: Nope, not so many yet, but I think as we head north they will be there on the mountain slopes. A lot of Italians have Canadian connections with relatives in Canada so they are always supportive of us.
DB: What is your nickname?
RH: Well, Paolo is “The Falcon,” so we have taken to naming all the guys on the team after birds, and I got “The Rooster.” Tony is “The Raven,” Barry “The Canadian Goose,” Pavel “The Condor,” Tom “The Sparrow,” Jason “The Horned Owl,” Bileka “The Crow,” Benny “The Chicken Hawk. …”
Dede Barry is a former professional cyclist, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist and a contributor to “Inside the Postal Bus,” a book by her husband, Discovery Channel rider Michael Barry.