At 42 years of age, Andrea Noè (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) is finally ready to hang up his wheels, and is determined to soak up the atmosphere of his 15th and final Giro d'Italia. The veteran Italian, who began his professional career all the way back in 1993, will retire from the sport when he crosses the line in Milan on May 29th.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Orvieto's Piazza Duomo on Thursday morning, Noè confessed that he had conflicting emotions on ending his relationship with the corsa rosa.
"I've done 15 Giri, and I have a lot of different sensations when I think that in two weeks I won't be in the peloton anymore," Noè admitted. "So day by day, I'm experiencing different emotions, and at the same time, I'll be trying to show myself and not just stay in the peloton being anonymous."
Noè has tasted glory at the Giro in his time. In 1998, he held off no less a figure than Marco Pantani to take a fine stage victory at San Marino in the colours of Asics and later held the overall lead for a day. 9 years later in 2007, he became the oldest man to wear the pink jersey, leading the Giro for two days at the already ripe old age of 38.
"I wore the maglia rosa and I suppose wearing the jersey at the age of 38 was a unique experience," he said. "Still today I'm the oldest maglia rosa in the history of the race, but there are so many emotions and memories from the Giro that it's impossible to describe them all."
Yet even at that stage, Noè's passion for the corsa rosa was not sated. After being left out of Liquigas' line-up for the 2009 race, the man born in 1969 continued racing into his fifth decade in the hope of riding one final Giro. The opportunity finally arrived with Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli this season.
"I started racing at 16 years of age, and when I did, I started racing as a game," Noè remembered. "Then when I became a professional, I strived to be as professional as I could be. So if I'm still here, then I have to say it's also partly on my own merit. I'm still here at 42 years of age. I'm an exception, but the head is still strong and if the head is still strong you can do a lot."
The team man
In spite of his historic pink jersey exploits and his heroics in staving off the rampant Pantani of 1998, Noè modestly picked out the overall victories of his leaders as among the most cherished memories of his Giro career. During his first spell at Mapei, he served as a trusted gregario to Tony Rominger during his triumphant Giro campaign of 1995, and twelve years on he was a key man in Di Luca and Liquigas' victory in 2007.
"I won two Giri, one with Rominger and one with Di Luca, and those were special occasions," Noè recalled proudly.
Another magical Giro moment came in 1998, just two days after his stage win at San Marino. On the rain-soaked descent of the Zovo, Noè and his teammates Michele Bartoli and Paolo Bettini caught and passed Pantani and Pavel Tonkov and rode together into Schio.
On that occasion, Noè enjoyed his first brief spell in the pink jersey, but his abiding memory is the daring collective effort that saw Asics take the stage win through Bartoli, as well as temporary command of the three main leaders' jerseys.
"I think it was partly down to the tyres that we were using, and also a bit of luck although you still needed to be able to handle your bike," Noè pointed out. "That day I also took the maglia rosa, and on the same day we were on the podium with the points jersey and the climbers jersey, and that's day that will really stay in my memory."
Rocky road to Orvieto
The tragic death of Wouter Weylandt cast a pall over the entire Giro d'Italia, and against such a backdrop, it was more than understandable that many riders and observers questioned the need to include a stage over unmade roads to Oriveto on Thursday.
Noè concurred with that line of thinking, and felt that the stage over the dirt roads posed an unnecessary risk to rider safety at the Giro.
"I've done lots of Giri, I've done the Tour when they did parts of the course of Paris-Roubaix and I think that we rode on roads that were excessively dangerous and that during the Giro d'Italia they shouldn't be doing following courses like that," he said.
In two weeks' time, of course, the polemics of the cycling world will be long behind him. After nineteen seasons in the professional peloton, Noè is ready to adapt to civilian life.
"I'll take a nice long rest and then I'll think about what to do afterwards con calma," Noè smiled, before pedalling off to the start line.