Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ciao, Regazzi!

I awoke this past Monday to the wrenching awareness that I wasn’t going to be watching a stage of the Giro d’Italia on television.

I had subscribed for the month to RAI, the international Italian-language cable station. I only let the fact that I don’t speak Italian daunt me for a moment.

See, this was my first bicycling grand tour; I wanted to do it right. I'm proud to say that, for the last three weeks in May, I went through a tiny version of the ups and downs I imagine the riders go through while racing the Giro. (Okay – a very tiny version).

I watched the first handful of stages with great excitement, then got a little burned out after many days of flat stages, watching the poor guys slog through the chilly rain.

It only took about three stages before I started picking up a handful of serviceable Italian phrases, like testa della corsa (“lead group”) and ultimo chilometro (“Final kilometer – run to the TV for the sprint finish”).

I also began to get a better feel for the zesty European heritage of this unique sport. I got a primer, for example, on the deep importance of style to the Italian riders – like the critical issue of the angle of the sunglasses on their team caps during the jersey ceremonies, or the sweet little ritual just before they win a race: Zip up the jersey (to show the sponsor on TV), hand the sunglasses to the team car (to look pretty for the finish line photos), kiss the wedding ring, cross yourself at least once, throw your fists in the air as you cross the line, and then – burst into tears. It all seemed so perfectly Italian.

Then I got excited again – more than ever – when the peloton entered the Dolomites. Boy, some of those weekend mountain stages – particularly Sunday’s Mortirolo climb – were high drama. I loved it.

Finally, there was Sunday, the last stage. I knew that, after all the boys and I had been through together, I had to watch, even though there was little chance Ricc├│ (or anyone) could pip Contador. The time trial ended up being as boring as I had feared. I had to force myself to stay in front of the TV instead of getting on my own bike and heading out on that very fine day. They do say that the final day of many grand tours are ceremonial, at best. I rolled out of my garage that afternoon feeling a little funky (perhaps contributing to the off-key ride I reported on here).

It seems only natural after all those highs and lows that I should wake up feeling blue the day after. It was like waking up the day after returning from a long trip abroad. You certainly don’t love every minute of that kind of travel – but once you’re back home, you’d give good money to re-live any random minute of it.

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