STAGE ONE - TURIN TTT - 40KM
As we were not able to follow the exact Team Time Trial course, we opted for a 40km leg loosener around the city and along the river to ensure all the bikes were running well and any problems were sorted out before the next day's stage.
There is a short write up and picture on Bike Radar's website here.
STAGE TWO - ALBA - PARMA - 248km - FLAT
This was one of the longest stages in the Giro in terms of mileage, but also one of the flattest. There were two climbs: one at 25km and a 5km hike close to the end. With 18 starters there was a small split in the group after the first climb, with some riders easing off and taking a more relaxed approach. Temperatures got to 35+ degrees so plenty of water was needed throughout the day, which was provided by Miriam and Anna, who leapfrogged the riders to set up the feed stops.
The pace was pretty swift for the first long day in the saddle and we got to the hotel in a shade under 8 hours. This was to be the hotel with the best restaurant on the Giro so we were told, and it didn't disappoint. We were treated to the local speciality of veal and parmagiano. The legs didn't feel too bad despite the distance. However, it was to be an early night as we would need to be up promptly for day three.
STAGE THREE - REGGIO EMILIA - RAPELLO - 180km - FLAT
This was to be another long day in the saddle with a long gradual climbing section over 50km long. The first part was pretty gentle, getting gradually steeper toward the top. One of the guys (Paul Hayes-Watkins) was doing most of the early damage on the climb, stringing us all in a long line, with riders slowly disappearing out of the back one-by-one. Tom Southam, who would be with us for the week, was using the climb for some strength training and was kicking off the front before easing off and repeating. Into the last few kms and there were only half a dozen of us left so when Tom darted off the front I decided to chase and made it across to him, going past like I was under the impression I could get a gap. Momentarily I was ahead, but this was not to last as there was no way I could match a seasoned pro like Tom. I eventually slipped backwards through the group and reached the top. Once at the top of the climb and refreshments had been consumed we all made our way slowly down the Passo Del Bocco to the point where Wouter Weylandt crashed in the Giro only 3 weeks previously. The point was not hard to find, marked with a mass of flowers. We all dismounted and spent a few minutes as a mark of respect. A Rapha Condor Sharp and a Gran Corsa d'Italia cap were added to flowers and other caps/bottles already left by others. It was a tough day for me as I heard that day of the death of an old friend and fellow racer during the 80/90s. I am now also riding this in memory of a great man, Rob Jeffries.
STAGE FOUR - GENOVA QUARTO DEI MILLE - LIVORNO - 211km - MEDIUM MOUNTAIN
Three riders left today, but we were joined by six new riders. With yet another long day and a morning transfer to the start we were forcing down breakfast at 6:15am for a 7am depart in the coach. Outside the weather was far from great with rain lashing down. As we got to the coast the rain was not easing off, but there was blue sky off in the distance so we were hopeful. As the rain eased a little we all pushed off on a route that would see us tackling six climbs of various lengths along the coastline. As we left it began to rain. I have never seen rain like it in my life, let alone try to ride a bike in it.
Sharing a room with seasoned pro rider Tom Southam was a great way of learning how the pro peleton spend their day. Tom had his recovery drink, shower, kit washed, legs rubbed and was relaxing in super quick time. This showed you need to get recovering for the following daythe minute you step off the bike. As John Herety said back at the launch, if you are standing, sit down, and if you are sitting, lie down. My legs are not used to this kind of mileage day after day, so I took this advice and Tom's example and put my feet up.
STAGE FIVE - PIOMBO - ORVIETO 198KM - MEDIUM MOUNTAIN - 3,000m CLIMBING
The day was made up of numerous strength-sapping climbs and some strade bianche (off road) thrown in for good measure. The start was fantastic, as the further south we were heading the quieter the roads seemed to get and this was the best so far.
Although rain had been a possibility, again the clouds had disappeared and we were being cooked in 30+ degrees, so the feed stops were a welcome site every 2 hours. At the 140km mark we dived off the main road following signs for Fighine. The surface made the climb feel so much harder and it was difficult to keep the bike going in the right direction. There were in fact more like 8-10 hairpins on the ascent and I managed to get over the top despite my speed going down to 3mph.
When we descended back down to the hotel we found that the winner of this stage in the Giro, Peter Weening, and his Rabobank team stayed in the same hotel as us. According the the owner the riders downed 18 bottles of wine celebrating the win.
STAGE 6 - ORVIETO - FUIGI TERME - 201km - MEDIUM MOUNTAIN
My last day, and by the end of which I had covered 700 miles. Although there were plenty of climbs en route they were a little shorter so there was plenty of respite in between. The real killer today was again the heat as it got well into the 30s. During the ride it was not difficult to see that the week so far had taken its toll on everyone as the average speed dropped due to the heat, accumulative miles and early starts. Over this time the group of riders had bonded very well so we all looked after each other as we took it in turn having a tough time.
It was a relief to get through the week without any mechanicals or crashes. At the same time I felt sad to leave a great bunch of people who had pulled together on this first week, especially those few who are there for the whole 21 stages. I feel like I have a whole new group of friends. It was interesting to get a pro rider's view of the event. Tom admitted to everyone that he also found it pretty tough as he was not used to spending 8 hours a day on the bike, day after day.
Big thanks must go to all the back-up guys who kept us on the road, kept us fed en-route and sorted out all those little things. We all really felt we were living the hectic life of a pro rider. The tiredness and pain I experienced on the Gran Corsa won't compare to someone suffering from cancer. It was certainly a great experience and I hope we can make a difference by supporting the Prostate Cancer Charity.
My sponsorship page is still open.