Ravenna, May 17, 2005
We finally made it to Calabria and the start of the 2005 Giro d'Italia after many a sleepless night and many hard training rides. The three days we spent in Calabria before the Giro were long and boring days. The most exciting part was receiving all the new team kit, it was like Christmas. John "Iffy" Trevorrow is over here again with a fresh crew to drag around Italy. He's always great value every morning in the village and he saved our lives by bringing over a fresh new Ralph and FHM mag.
A few of the boys in the team chose to do a few training days over three hours, but for me, I wasn't doing a minute over two hours for no one! I was coming into this year's Giro "fresh". Every day went something like this... breakky, short training ride, lunch, massage, sleep, dinner, sleep. By the end of it, I was pretty keen to get the race on the way.
Once the race did get under way, I started the tour in fine style... last in the opening prologue. With one Giro under the belt, there weren't many nerves like there were last year, but you can't help but be geed and motivated by the atmosphere of the crowd. The opening prologue was 1.150km, how hard could that be? I thought I'd jump outta the gate, hit the 11 cog and just roll it over till the finish. How wrong was I? Firstly, I never even looked like hitting the 11 cog. Secondly, when I first felt lactic in my legs I looked up to see 700m to go and knew I was in trouble. I almost stopped in the last 200m, lactic in every part of my body. Hats off to kilo riders, they can have that event, it sucks! The Aussies drew first blood when Lancaster won the stage and got to start the next day in pink.
The first road stage of the tour and it was straight into the long distance, a 208km stage. The team has been drilling it into us this year, that we must attack and be aggressive, and commencing this from the opening km. The first day generally starts slowly and it did once again this year until my team mate Scarselli attacked taking three other riders with him. Glad it was him and not me, I am not a fan of attacking first, especially first rider to attack in a three-week tour. There were a few boos and yelling of abuse from the back of the bunch. The rest of the stage was fairly easy, sitting in the bunch until the last 10km when the teams were racing to get to the bottom of the 1km wall to the finish. Bettini won and took the jersey, but Robbie McEwen wasn't far off him by the end.
Onto stage two and it was a mostly flat day except for the Cat 3 climb after 14km and a lump towards the end. Another break went up the road today and we had two in it outta six, not bad! Phil Schneider and Moreno Di Biase were up there from us. As is stock standard in the Giro, the break got caught with 20km to go and was set up for the sprinters. The lump however, was a bit more than a lump. It was just short enough for most of the bunch to get over. I got over and finished in the bunch. Robbie won the stage in fine style and got the rumours started for the next day.
The next day in the paper was all about how "The Aussies" and Jan Kirsipuu are all working together. This was because it was a rough and hairy finish with Kirsipuu pushing Petacchi and it just so happened Robbie got a nice run through the middle of the battle. So to make matters worse, Gatesy and I did an all-Aussie attack after 9km. We were brought back quickly and Russ went over the top. They let him go and poor ol' Russ spent 170km solo out in front. He built up a lead of 17mins at one stage and it looked good to be another McKenzie stage win, like he did five years ago.
It wasn't to be though, as the wind turned and the sprinters chased. I said that morning that I'd like to get up the road, as I thought it was a good day to do it. It was an up and down stage with a hill at the end, so I thought the sprinters' teams might hesitate to chase, and the following day isn't TOO hard. Unfortunately for Russ, it didn't pay off this time and the bunch hit the bottom of a short climb all together. The climb was harder than anyone thought and the bunch split into pieces, with none of the top sprinters getting over in the front group. Di Luca won the stage and took the maglia rosa.
Day five and the legs still feel good so I am a step ahead of last year as far as I'm concerned. It was another stage over 200km and again finished with a short hill near the end with a very dangerous descent to the finish. It was on from the gun today and I tried to go with the break, but it was too hard to go with everything and I actually over did it and paid the price for a while afterwards.
I recovered, though, and with 30km to go, as the break was getting caught, I had an attack off the front. I was never going to go far when the bunch is sitting on 60km/h, but the team wanted publicity in the last part so I did a 4km TV attack. Not bad to mix it up with 'em at the front at the pointy end of the race. There were a few crashes today and one bad one 15km to go which split the bunch into four groups. I was caught up behind it and cruised in with a bunch. In the finish Cooke had the line well within his sights and was guaranteed of a win until Bettini turned left and blatantly put him into the barriers. Bettini was obviously relegated in the stage but regained the overall lead. Mazzanti ended up taking the stage
The aftermath of the crash was the best when Bettini tried to apologise after putting Cooke into the barriers on purpose. You can only apologise if it's an accident! Cooke held himself back and did well not to drop him, which is what everyone thought he'd do. The Aussie euphoria is here and the papers can't stop talking about us. First Lancaster, then McEwen, then Russ's solo break, then Cooke's tumble-roll over the barriers, along with the on-going piss-taking towards the rear end of the bunch everyday in the "piano sessions". Petacchi is frustrated and Bettini looks like the bad guy. The Italians aren't dominating and they don't like it.
The first mountainous stage of the tour and a long one at that, 223km. I say mountainous, because the mountains look like small hills compared to the climbs we have to do in a week's time. This stage started incredibly fast and I had two chances in hell of getting into the break. We hit the first climb after 30km and Bettini wasn't popular when he attacked and went across to the break up the road.
The bunch split to bits and then the break wouldn't work once he got there, because he's the tour leader. The main bunch re-grouped over the top of the climb but from here on in, it was an incredibly hard day. The tempo was on all the time from Liquigas, whether it be uphill, flat or on a descent. We hit a climb with 60km to go which was around 16% gradient and this is where the gruppetto formed and where I joined it. I was smashed by the end of the stage and it didn't make things better when the stage was 15km longer than it was supposed to be.
Di Luca took his second win and re-gained the overall lead. Our little man Jose Rujano (who weighs in at 49kg wet) took the lead in the KOM comp. Rory Sutherland had a great ride too, being up the road most of the day. Cooke, on the other hand, was very sore from the tumble down the road but got through. I felt very average today but hoping it's just a one day thing.
Day seven was the shortest stage so far by over 30km, an undulating 153km. The first break went from the gun but didn't go anywhere because Bettini put himself in it again, and no one is going to let him go. I had an attack and got away for about 5km, but Quick.Step brought me back, they wanted Bettini to win the Intergiro sprint for the time bonuses so he can regain the lead, which he did.
I soon realized my bad day yesterday is now turning into a few bad days. I was in trouble all day. I was one happy man to see the finish today. There was a huge crash again with 15km to go and a lot got caught behind it, including me, but I was pretty keen to cruise to the finish after this. McEwen won the stage after the whole Fassa train dropped themselves with 4km to go and Henk Vogels attacked through the last corner with a km to go to nearly hold on for the win.
We lost our first rider today, Marlon Perez. He was just not in good form and was getting worse everyday and had to pull out. He has lived with me and Russ on and off for the last two years and was pretty upset about going home. This might be the last time we see him, depending on the race program after the Giro. Kiwi, Julian Dean, broke his arm in the crash and is out of the tour and looks like having two months off the bike. It looked very nasty indeed and I hope Jules feels better soon.
Today we were back into the over 200km stages and finished in the home town of Brett Lancaster, so you can imagine he was pretty geed to go well. From the gun today we hit 60km/h and stayed there till we hit the first climb of the day at the 20km mark when the break finally went. The early speed was set so high due to the frustration attack from Petacchi himself.
From here on, it was full gas. Up the climb a break of 21 riders got away and we had Ivan Parra in it. Due to the break going on the climb, this put a lot of riders in trouble from the bottom, including myself. Over the top the pace settled a bit and a few teams rode a very hard tempo till 50km to go when we hit the first of two steep and hard climbs. It was good to see I wasn't the only one hurting and the gruppetto showed this. It was a healthy full gruppetto of about 80 riders. This is good news for me to see so many other guys in the hurt bag. Gil from Liberty Seguros won and Di Luca again regained the jersey. My team-mate Rujano lost the KOM jersey.
Nine days down and two weeks to go, only! For me, today is almost a rest day, a 45km time trial. I am not a time trial specialist and don't have to give it 100%. The only problem is, I still have to give it a fair nudge just to make time cut, especially when the winner, Dave Zabriskie, does 45km in 58mins, with an 8km climb in the middle. That's an incredible ride. I can't believe it - I asked him yesterday if he was going to nudge it or not. He said, "Yeah I have to, I'd love to cruise it though". Glad he didn't do the latter. Di Luca held the pink jersey but Basso and Savoldelli aren't far behind.
Today was a short stage and it's the day before the rest day and the day after the time trial. This was always going to be a fast stage with a few riders having fresher legs, and knowing it's a shorter stage and a rest day to follow. A break went early but never got more than a 3min advantage because Fassa wanted their first stage win of the tour and rode hard all day.
It was a fairly flat stage and was set up for the sprinters, except for one 8km climb in the middle. I got over it no worries, but on the descent broke a spoke and had to get back on the bunch behind the car at 80km/h+ through towns and down a technical descent. There were a few hairy times but there was no way my wheel was leaving the bumper of the car and not regaining contact with the bunch. Russ, on the other hand, had bad luck on the climb getting a wheel change and never saw the bunch again. He chased with two other riders all day as hard as they could just to make time cut. He wasn't a happy man, and like he said, "I just did two back to back time trials". Petacchi got the stage win he wanted. It was well publicised that the team was under a lot of pressure to get a win. I had another attack towards the end of the stage, but was short-lived because of the headwind and of course the speed of the bunch.
Today was the rest day and it was well and truly needed. What a great day, a nice short beach ride with a brew stop in the middle. That's exactly what the doctor ordered for the legs and the head. Now onto tomorrow and the stage finishes near where I lived as an amateur. After that, we have four mountain stages back to back. That is where the tour really starts, for the hitters and the riders like us, who just want to get through.