My #giroproject

Story by Beth Bryn Hodge

Jun / 3 / 2016

Following part 1 of my Grand Tours Project blog, I’m back in the Alps and have four friendly cows living my my back garden with huge bells around their necks- slightly different from city foxes. Seeking new experiences, the team at Grand Tours Project invited me along to experience the Giro d’Italia, riding each stage the same day as the pros. It went as follows.

“You must ride your bike all the time!” I often hear. I often then respond in protest, not quite is all as it seems, so when presented with the opportunity to go and ride every single kilometer of 3 whole stages of a Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, it was time to... PANIC.

What to do, what to admit, or do I stay quiet and hope for the best?! The legs never lie. They will drop you in it like that annoying little brother did when you were trying to hide something from your mum.

The conversation went something like this:

Beth: “So guys, amazing, would love to join you! One problem, I’ve been busy sitting at a desk not on a bike for like FOREVER and I think I may need emergency assistance if I attempt these distances!”

Experienced Australian representative* of Grand Tours Project: “No dramas Beth! You can just jump in the van!”.

PANIC OVER. And so it began, 3 days of Giro head-in-the-clouds style bliss, joining four great guys and Alain and Keith from Grand Tours Project to ride ahead of the pro peloton on the exact course of the 2016 Giro d’Italia!** Here are some of my highlights of the trip, categorised in an orderly fashion (I’m still a lawyer, right?!).

The Coffee

Picture the scene, it’s 6am in sleepy Pinerolo on day 1 and the Grand Tours Project truck complete with bikes on the roof (very pro team) rocks up alongside the town square, which already has a plethora of Giro related paraphernalia set up. With odd looks from a few security guys, the team assemble and commence the morning faff complete with an undercurrent of desperation for coffee. We had left the hotel at 4.45am and with a big day in the mountains ahead (including the monster that is the Colle dell’Agnello) this was serious. Lucky for us, this is Italy, and you’re never too far away from an incredible cup o’joe. Fully fuelled, the guys set off at a blistering pace towards the first climb of the day, where I would join them on the road around 60km in to ride my #giroproject day 1 all the way to Risoul.

The Colombian

Pro cyclists. We all have our favourites. For me, it’s Esteban Chaves, that cheeky bundle of pure Colombian joy with the best smile in the peloton. This love affair with Chaves extends to the rest of the Orica GreenEdge team, and while I was struggling up the last 5km of that hellish climb up to the stage 19 finish in the ski resort of Risoul with the road closure scarily imminent, the Orica team bus slid past me with inches to spare. I had seen it coming, and had just enough energy to raise my arm to do the ‘honk your horn’ thing and they did! What a boost of well needed energy that was! Not far behind me was the man himself, only around 45 minutes away from taking the Giro lead, where I would watch him be presented with the Maglia Rosa (the leaders jersey). No one thought Chaves would be in pink, and well i’m not sure that I was going to finish that day, but we did!

The climbs

There is something completely and utterly magical about climbing big mountains. To start in the bottom of a warm valley mentally and physically preparing yourself for what lays ahead then to begin the steady process of going up. Climbing through the layers of that mountain getting to know it as you pedal. Passing through alpine villages, filling bidons at ice cold water fountains, slowly creeping above the tree line and finding your breath in the thin air amongst moonscape like scenery- this is cycling for me. Each mountain pass has its own personality. As does my personality change depending on which pass it is. I can change from being perfectly angelic to actually being a close relation of the devil. This trip was no exception, and pushed me to a new personal level, which I relished.

The clock ticked on every day- this was new. This was a game of pacman. I was a pac dot and there were roughly 90 hungry pacmans (pacmen?!) on bikes following my course. They didn’t catch me though. I reached the summits of the Colle dell’Agnello, Col de la Bonnette, Risoul, and the Colle della Lombarda and flew like a bird down the descents, enjoying the sheer luxury of closed roads perfecting my descending technique on velvet tarmac. Day 2 ended with a picnic on the grassy bank at the bottom of the Lombarda waiting for the pros to come through as the helicopters circled above and the race radio blared out from an official's car. This was full race immersion.

The course

I’m admittedly not top of the class for my navigation skills, but the benefit of riding a Grand Tour stage on the same day is that the course is marked out for you! Alongside having the official course route from the race organisers on the Garmin, huge pink signs and arrows marked the way. On nearing any climb summits or stage finishes we would ride under the erected distance markers, often sponsored by something hilarious. My personal favourite was at the 3km marker, the ‘giant ham’ sponsor gran biscotto.

The chow

Eat to ride or ride to eat? I think I fall into the latter category! There’s nothing better than getting through a tough ride and then eating your body weight in delicious food (and maybe a beer with Dan from the GCN channel. Or two). We ate well on this trip, whether it was the delicious galette-saucisse from the refuge half way down the Col Agnel, the roast lamb (complete with indoor firework) we had at our Italian hotel on the penultimate night, or the pizza and gelato after the final stage in Turin! Buon appetito!

The crowds

Grown men in pink morph suits, red indians, grouchy Italian motorcyclists, 5 year old princesses, 90 year old nonna’s with roadside banquets perilously perched on a hairpin bend 2000 meters above sea level, you name it, they were there for the Giro party. Having only done big mountain days in the peace and quiet, this was new. And I LOVED it. Ciao! Buongiorno! I cried as I rode past, trying to look as ‘pro’ as I could, as they responded with brava and forza and gave me the next boost for the following tough bit.

The challenge

Everyone on the trip had their own challenge, their own personal #giroproject. Mine was to do a chunk of climbing on days 1 and 2, make decent times on the climbs, and then ride the whole of day 3 with the team. I did it, and I could because of the support of the Grand Tours Project super domestique and #giroproject guru Alain. He saw that we all achieved what we wanted to do, no compromises had to be made. He ensured we were well fed and watered, had everything we needed to hand and ensured we made our way through road closures.

The celebrities

Well we met a few on the road, but essentially that would be us! On the final stage of the Giro D’Italia 2016 we rode from Cuneo to Turin in a fast peloton, got waved through road closures in the magnificent city, crossed the finish lines with our names being announced, got interviewed and then got to stand on the podium ahead of Nibali! We were then handed VIP hospitality passes and enjoyed watching the race. What an experience. We were all grinning from ear to ear, and the torrential rain only added to the drama of the day.

These are 3 days I will remember for a lifetime. I’ll now be one of those really annoying people that has all of the stories when the Giro is run year after year “I was there!” I’ll cry. The team at Grand Tours Project brought the Giro to life for me, and I certainly experienced something unlike ever before.

*Keith Tuffley rode every single stage of the three grand tours (Giro, Tour de France and Vuelta) in 2013 and remains the only non professional cyclist to do so.

** Official distances and those ridden by the guys: Day 1/ Stage 19 Pinerolo to Risoul, 162km and 3,500m. Day 2/ Stage 20: Guillestre to Sant’Anna di Vinadio 134km and 4,100m. Day 3/ Stage 21 Cuneo to Turin: 163km and 300m.

My stats: Day 1 87km, 2,700m. Day 2: 72km, 2,505m. Day 3:108.6km, 202m.

Want to have your own #giroproject? We organise different tours around the Corsa Rosa for riders of all levels. Contact us for more information!

Photos: Beth Bryn Hodge, Graham Longford, Timothy Schilliger, Alain Rumpf

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