Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stage 12: Along the Adriatic

Today's stage could end in a sprint finish where we are sure to see our friend Tyler Farrar and Garmin hitting it hard.

This is a flat stage, along the lovely Adriatic, which, for much of its modern history was ruled by the Republic of Venice. Venice, so influenced in its heyday of the 11th, 12th and 13th century by the Byzantine Empire. And so, in San Marco--on famous Piazza San Marco, the center of Venice, there are those glimmering gold mosaic tiles, so wonderful at reflecting candle light.

A game I like to play with myself whenever I'm in Italy is to find a monument and project myself back in time to when the monument was built. So in the Pantheon in Rome, I imagine men in togas followed by their retinues of slaves, paying homage to their pagan gods. In Venice, I imagine Casanova in the decadent late duds of velvet, lace and powdered wigs, or Piazza San Marco swarming--like it is today--with people from all over the world. Except I imagine the turbaned turks, the clerics in long red robes and wide-brimmed red hats. Today people complain about the pigeons in St. Mark's square, but imagine it with refuse of all kinds. How did they keep it clean, say, in the medieval era? Venice today is great in the early morning, when workboats full of all of the basics of life--sodas, oranges and other produce, and almost anything else a tourist could need, enter the floating city to refuel it after its night of revelry.

The tour heads into Le Marche, where they drink Verdicchio--a grassy white wine, and where they grow all kinds of cereal crops and have a thriving cattle industry. This area was part of the Medieval and Renaissance struggle between Pope and Holy Roman Emperor that produced the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. They say that Le Marche is a great place to buy yourself a house, now that the Brits and wealthy Americans have jacked up housing prices in Tuscany and Umbria.

But I've driven down from Ravenna through the Appenines, and those mountains are really formidable--high and even the autostrada seem to be winding and perilous. I might need to buy my house in Lazio so I wouldn't have some huge mountains in between me and my beloved Roma.

Yesterday the GC competition blew apart bigtime and most of the top ten are newbie twentysomethings on their first Grand Tour. They will not make it through the mountains. The only seasoned GC guy in range is Carlos Sastre. He was amazing in the mountains last year, particularly on the Vesuvius stage. My money is now on him, although I treasure a bit of hope for our Hobbity Cadel Evans. Would love to see what he can do in the the Dolomites. Can he climb back up from being 11 minutes back? Probably not. It will be awesome to see him try.

Next week is a stage from Ferrara--Italian bike city--to Asolo, which is a gorgeous hill town in the Veneto, and I've been there. Guys in their seventies ride bikes up there every morning, dressed in fancy hideously garish bike kit, and they are in better shape than I will ever be.

Biking to work today. Stopping at a pitstop to maybe win me a Dahon folding bike. They have the coolest machines--one with a front hub that will power your lights, and your iPhone! That one's for me! Wish me luck!

Viva il Giro! Viva Italia!

A domani!

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