Saturday, May 14, 2011

Italians Are Pretty: Exhibit 1, Danilo Di Luca

Danilo di Luca, Ladies and Gentlemen.  OK, mostly, Ladies, and Gentlemen who know Dorothy.

My husband and I like to say there is something in the water in Italy, but you have to drink it all your life to get the benefits. They are just, by and large, really good looking folks. And the riders are no exception.

Danilo di Luca's riding moniker is "The Killer." Seriously. Killer. :)

Last night's Campari has robbed me of my poetry, so this is what you get.

Viva il Giro! Viva Italia!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Giro d'Italia: From Orvieto to Fiuggi Terme and A Grand Old Sport

Today's stage is the one we would have attended, staying in Fiuggi Terme, if there hadn't been so many little trips already scheduled this spring. Fiuggi Terme is up in the hills southeast of Rome. There's a bike hotel there, the Hotel Silva Splendid, where they rent you mountain bikes or road bikes, there are 20 different itineraries, and they have one guided ride that dumps you right out at the Colosseum. Fiuggi is a spa town in the foothills of the Appenines, with natural hot springs, and it has quite a few hotels. It has probably been an out of town resort destination since ancient times. The deal to stay there and have VIP access to the finish line was ridiculously cheap. Sigh....

I want to try to describe the effect of watching team Leopard Trek and Tyler Farrar ride in a straight placid line, silent as churchgoers during the peace, crossing the finish line. My husband and I couldn't help but weep to see it.

Cycling is it is quite and old sport, as modern sports go. It reaches back into the Belle Epoque, when in Europe velocipedes became a craze, and in large and small towns velodromes--giant cycling racetracks--were built and filled by cheering fans. During this time someone decided to build a raised bike highway from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles.  The path of this highway now parallels the 110, the first freeway ever built. We don't have many other sports that hail so strongly from this era, Cycling retains a chivalry that comes from this time, a philosophy of life I associate with my grandfather Kirk Bell, who was born in 1901—a sense of honor and style from before the Great War. This is the spirit in which the riders rode an entire lengthy stage without racing, to give honor to their fallen comrade. This is the heart of cycling that keeps me captivated. It is so much more than a pack of wiry guys in crazy bright spandex pedaling bicycles across ridiculous distances.

In May 2007 my husband and I cycled out of Mira in the Veneto—the area west of Venice--and started in the direction of the mountains.  The closer we got, the more monuments we saw to the dead of both World Wars. The most affecting were those from the Great War. Lone statues in long sweeping coats and rimmed helmets cocked with a rakish look that must be uniquely Italian, facing the mountain passes where so many died protecting their land from invaders.

Maybe it's because the riders stay greyhound lean and ride for hours and hours, wincing through the pain, determined to finish, sometimes in spite of terrible bruises and road rash and, sometimes, broken bones, but they remind me of soldiers. Later this month we'll see them ride the mountain passes where the Alpini soldiers fought those two terrible wars. And along the route will stand the veterans of wars, still wearing their feathered Alpini hats, alongside the current Alpini, in the same hats, but in full camouflage and weapons, protecting the riders and the crowd.

This sport reminds me on a regular basis that one must be willing to fight for the people and things one loves. The riders fight for glory, to prove they can do it, for the pride of their families and towns and countries, in support of their comrades.  And yes, they are paid, but not very well at all, with the exception of a few rock star riders like Fabian Cancellara. And yes, they answer to the sponsors, but the sponsors change almost yearly. They are fighting for something more.

So I'll keep watching this grand old sport, for the pageantry, the drama, the determination to win against great odds, the old-school honor that elevates sportsmanship to the sublime, because it makes me feel proud to be human.

Viva il Giro! Viva ciclismo!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

Watching the 4th Stage in Italian on RAI now. Their journalists have been interviewing many great men of the sport, including Eddie Merxx, and the man in pink today, David Millar, and they all say, basically, it's a terrible tragedy, but this is a dangerous sport, and this kind of thing could happen any day, everyday in the sport.

But still they ride, these true athletes.  Nobody dies in golf. As the Italians say, "Ciclismo e' una grande passione."

Wouter Weylandt was Tyler Farrar's best friend, and he's gone home today.  He can't take it. He's a sprinter and doing that takes so much focus.  Maybe if he stayed in the race, he might get hurt during a moment of inattentiveness. Continuing would have been particularly hard for him, whose father became a paraplegic after being hit on his bike head-on by a car. His father still cycles, though.

Trying to wrap my mind and heart around all of this. When I ride out on my bike to work every day I take the risk that some distracted amped up L.A. driver might make the wrong move and hurt, maim or kill me. I do all I can to be safe, to be visible.  I wear a helmet, gloves, multiple flashing lights, reflective clothing, but in the end, that may not be enough. I'm still going to ride. Heck, I could die in my bathtub. Life is risky. Might as well do what you love. Leopard Trek is back in the saddle today. Life goes on. The race is beautiful, the landscape lush and full of castles, crashing waves, stately maritime pines, and fortresses built to protect the local people from Barbary Coast pirates. Life can be exquisitely lovely and horrible all at once. And we race on through it, too fast, sometimes, for our own good.

In the meantime, I'd like to personally ask that Universal Sports and RAI please start broadcasting in HD. I want to see every dangerous gorgeous moment of my favorite race in my favorite place in the world.

Forza ciclisti! Viva il Giro!

And as I close this, the entire Leopard Trek team, and Tyler are riding in a line across the road, a formation of silence at the front of the pack, in tribute to their fallen comrade, Wouter Weylandt. Farrar is visibly weeping. No one is racing today. The fourth stage is a funeral cortege. It is one year since Weylandt won the third stage of the Giro.

And the whole team, plus Farrar, comes across the finish. In silence.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Weylandt Dead

Oh, this is terribly terribly sad. Weylandt has died on Stage 3 of the Giro today. Send kind thoughts to his family, to the Leopard Trek team, and to the whole world of professional cycling. This is a tragic day for the sport.

This is bad

The Italian announcers are crying. The crash victim is Wouter Weylandt. I don't think he made it. They tried CPR. They cancelled the podium because of the crash. This is very very bad.

It's the Giro!

Stage 3 is on now, and I've been so busy, and on vacation. A week in New Orleans and now a weekend in Mammoth, but this morning, I turned on the TV and there they are, the gladiators of the open road, or i gladiatori, to be precise. And I'm back!

They are headed down from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo, which is just east of Santa Margarita in Ligure. Once I stood on a dock with my Mom in Santa Margarita, having hiked over some pretty darn large hills from Portofino, and a ferry came in, the stevedore shouting, "Rapallo, Rapallo!"

This is Liguria, a smaller narrow province in Northwestern Italy. Most of it is hills and cliffs along the Tirrenian sea, and this makes it its own place. They make wine here, and have for a very long time. Wine made here was found in the ruins of Pompei. Here is the genteel resort atmosphere of the Italian Riviera. Major sites there are Genoa, Portofino, and the Cinque Terre. Much of this area was once linked together only by boat, and in the stormy wintertim, not even by that, so local dialects and food survive. It's a sleepy relaxed place, where you can pay a whole lot to stay right near Berlusconi's villa--lucky you--or not a lot to stay somewhere back in the 19th century. Santa Margarita in Ligure has gorgeous turn of the century homes that look almost Art Nouveau, and others with faux gothic facades. Were they built to copy the Venetian style, or by conquering Venetians? They are simply beautiful. Someday I'll find out.

So if you are pairing food and wine today, have some pesto alla trofie, and some schiachetra, a light local Ligurian wine made in the Cinque Terre, 5 little cliffside towns.

I'm switching back and forth between Italian and Universal Sports TV. How come only the Italians seem to care that someone crashed very badly and they are still trying to get the helicopter to him? I'm watching the helicopter fly over round green hills covered with olive groves and vineyards.

More on this later!

Benvenuti in Giro!