Giro diary watch: Fans, money, surviving...

Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster knew what kind of day it was going to be when he looked out the window Wednesday morning and saw the heavy rain. And this is how the race started: "At the start was a big discussion. Jens Voigt was in the front row. The flag waved for the start - and nobody moved. 'Voigte' came back to us. 'What's happening?', I asked him. 'Every team should send a spokesman to the front, it's about the race course', he said. 'The Würzjoch has 0 degrees and sleet. If we ride over that, we'll all catch our death,' he said. Of course I have absolutely no objection if they want to eliminate a mountain."

Once underway, Förster managed to stay busy. His chain kept slipping off and he had to have it repaired. It was warm at the start but then got colder. "Pick up the rain jacket, gloves. No, that's too warm. Pick up the vest. No, too cold. The jacket again. I think we were back at the autos today more than in the field."

And how did he get up the final mountain - and with whom? "A big grupetto went up the mountain at the end, including Jan Ullrich. I rode together with him pretty long...He is very natural and easy-going, there's nothing about him to mark him as a 'Star'. As I rode next to Ulle, I heard how almost every fan called to him. 'Ulle, super.' 'Ulle, go!' 'Ulle, you will win the Tour!' Or even, 'Ulle, go faster!' I'm sure they mean it nicely, but after about a kilometre it started driving me crazy. 'Now you can see what I have to hear every day,' laughed Ulle." (

T-Mobile's Jörg Ludewig didn't have such pleasant experiences with the fans. "I can understand that our sport has financial roots. That means: the ruble has to roll. But I don't have to put up with everything. I don't have to let myself be called a wimp or an idiot. And that from overweight people who couldn't even push a bike up a climb like this."

It is obvious from the rider's reactions that the end of the race is approaching. "I note that I have been away from home for three weeks and have ridden more than 2000 km here. I'm slowly starting to notice the first warning signals. The worst is that I have less and less hunger. That's always a bad sign. You have 15 kinds of muesli here for breakfast - but no appetite. But we will survive until the last day." (

Grischa Niermann is also thinking of money and the end of the race. "My finish line was at the intermediate sprint 6 km before the finish. Since I'm pretty well up in the sprint ranking, that is one of our few remaining possibilities to earn some money," writes the Rabobank rider. "For three more days we have to bear down, then we'll be in Milan." (

Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer

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