Success in cycling has always been a subjective matter. For a tiny minority only winning the maglia rosa will suffice, but for the mortals of the peloton simply getting round is a monumental achievement in itself.
Take Bari's Francesco De Fano. You've never heard of him, but that's not to say he wasn't an absolute warrior. Growing up in 1920s Puglia he was far from the cycling heartlands of the north both literally and figuratively. Back then cyclists from the Mezzogiorno were about as common as asphalted roads, which is to say there weren't any. When, aged just 20, he announced that he was going to Milan to ride the Giro as an independent, his mum and dad were incredulous that he might be so misguided as to even attempt such a thing.
When he got there the northerners found his sing-along accent hilarious, but they didn't dare question his courage. The 1928 Giro had an average stage of 253 kilometres, compared to the 164 of this year, but Francesco made it round. He'd do so on three more occasions before hanging up his wheels at the ripe old age of 24.
SEE, HEAR, FEEL...
Bari's food is famed throughout Italy, its cheeses amongst the finest available. Perhaps the best of them is Burrata, a mozzarella shell filled with sumptuous cream. Imagine your taste-buds have died and gone to heaven and you're there or thereabouts. Nothing could be more synonymous with Puglia, however, than orrecchiette (or "little ears"). Small, hand-made pasta shells, they're typically taken with a horse-meat ragu. A bigger version, strascinati is also worth seeking out, whilst riso al forno alla Barese is a local derivation of paella.
MOMENT IN TIME
At 288 kilometres, the 1947 stage between Naples and Bari was the longest of the Giro. Back then the Giro's main objective was to reach the major population centres, ergo shift as many copies of La Gazzetta as possible. The route tended, therefore, to be quite formulaic, and Naples to Bari a staple of the percorso.
A staple, but that's not to say a favourite. The journalists disliked it because it was too long, the riders because it was too hot, the fans because invariably nothing happened. And so it was that, for 284 kilometres – or about 8 hours and 40 minutes – it was but a procession. The crowd filed into the Stadio della Vittoria convinced they'd be watching the sprinters Conte and Leoni neck and neck, but on this occasion at least they mistaken. Elio Bertocchi, a latter-day master of the perfectly timed escape, judged his jump to perfection. For him a small masterpiece of tactical appreciation, for the rest much ado about precisely nothing…
Long transfers like these are complicated. It means more staff at either end, more logistics, more work in general. The most important thing is to get the riders there with as little stress as possible, because they accumulate enough of that over the three weeks anyway. It's our job to try to absorb as much of it as possible, so that they don't have to think too much about non-cycling stuff.
So there's quite a bit that can go wrong, but our job is to ensure that it doesn't. It shouldn't be too bad in this instance, and obviously we've a rest day to accomplish everything. The stage itself is a loop, and then a kermesse around Bari. Basically this will be three hours, pretty much flat out, with a sprint at the end of it. It's a huge day for the velocisti, obviously…
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