In the autumn of 1944, during World War II, partisans in Alba famously established a short-lived independence from Fascist-controlled northern Italy, an incident memorably recounted in Beppe Fenoglio’s short story “The 23 days of the city of Alba.” On Sunday morning, a 23-day narrative of a rather different variety continued from the Piedmont town, as the Giro d’Italia gathered for the beginning of stage two.
The early protagonist in this epic is race leader Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad), but he is well aware that the leading role could pass to his teammate Mark Cavendish in Parma. Lead-out man Mark Renshaw is the man charged with piloting the Manxman to victory and he told Cyclingnews that HTC-Highroad will be looking to dominate proceedings from the front on the run-in to the finish.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) could well prove to be Cavendish’s principal rival for sprint honours at the end of the Giro’s longest stage. The Italian fastman admitted that he was unsure of his sprint form as he has not had occasion to dispute too many bunch finishes to date this season.
Nonetheless, his recent stage win at the Presidential Tour of Turkey augured well for his condition, and he told Cyclingnews that he likes the look of the run in to the finish line. “The last bend is 600 metres from the line, which is much better for than if it was 200 or 300 metres out,” he said just as the flag was about to drop.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) were both keen to put a brave face on their squads’ disappointing performances in Saturday’s team time trial, with each man insisting that the seconds won and lost in Turin would count for little come the final week.
By contrasts, the three favourites Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) finished more or less even on Saturday, and could afford to be in relaxed mood at the start. Contador has looked very much at home since arriving in Italy on Wednesday evening, and the tifosi in Alba offered up hearty applause as he went to sign on before facing into the 244km stage.
Alba is the home of Ferrero chocolate and a minute’s silence was offered in memory of the late Pietro Ferrero before the start. A keen cyclist, the company CEO died recently while riding during a business trip in South Africa. Fittingly, the minute’s silence took place on the street that bears his grandfather’s name.
After that moment of solemnity, the Giro peloton pedalled out of Alba, leaving behind the scenic hills of the Langhe and heading for the flatlands of the Po basin. Under clear blue skies and with little wind on the menu, it will be difficult to deny the sprinters their day in the sun.
For an exclusive gallery from the start in Alba, click here.