Tirreno reportage 5: Porto Sant'Elpidio

Signature podium

I could write that I left early in the morning to Porto Sant'Elpidio, walked in a cold sun when the press room was still closed and saw the RCS pink van arriving. I could write about the men and women that every day assemblate and disassemblate a stage: I watched them working siting on a bench and one by one Tirreno's staff people taking place at the start, at the barriers, on their motorbikes, at cameras and microphones, dressing podium and preparing chairs, walking in high heels and sneakers to make all ready. I could write of toilets, coffee and sandwich: basic steps in my daily stage. And about the sky of course: light blue in San Benedetto, gray outside my train, intense blue again here at the start in spite of rain forecast. I could... I did... I turn around my subject because I don't like what I have to write. I am not a good reporter.
Cunego dj

I'm here at the start waiting for Andy. We are supposed to meet for a talk before he leaves so I'm going to ask him now. It's hot in the sun. All this light is even painfull, we are no more used after a week of rain. The music is on, Albertino makes jokes at me – "Now you notice her, later when people come and lift their elbows you don't see her anymore" – and today special dj is Damiano Cunego. When Andy arrives I think his sunglasses make finally sense but he doesn't look well: too tense, too serious. Or sleepy. Or sad. Today stage is hard. I hope this sun is going to last a little more. He signs, stops answering a few questions – "Are you doing the Giro?" I don't think so...- and finally comes by me. "See you later to talk?", "Yes but not today", "Ok, tomorrow then".

A race start is made of a 'incolonnamento', an 'official start' and a 'effective start' or 'km 0'. Riders exit the signature area and wait all mixed to go to the start line where the race director gives the official start lowering a flag, then they slowly ride to the km 0 where the real race begins and often also the first attempts to break-away. The 'incolonnamento' is a free zone for journos and photographers so I follow Andy in the middle of the it and wait to see where he's going to stay. He doesn't like to wait so uses to ride away and to come back.

Now he's siting on his bike, feet down, arms crossed on the handlebar, his head bent. I'm just in front taking pictures, his mates notice me and Hayden Roulston calls him: "Hey, Andy!". He rises his head and looks at me. "No no" I say. No need to disturb and he knows I don't care: it isn't a look-at-me-and-smile picture that I want. That's right. But what do I want? Very often I didn't take pictures of him or few because I simply wanted to meet and say Hi, to support him. But pictures can fix the instant, save a memory, make you understand things you couldn't see at that moment. That's why I take pictures of Andy even if very often I must force myself.
at the start

I look at him who waits with closed eyes behind sunglasses and I pray for him: just one stage. Tomorrow it's an ITT, he's going to finish Tirreno. I'm proud because I know it has not been easy. The mass of riders finally moves and gets order in a peloton, Allocchio gives the start: they are off to race. But I didn't like that face, I didn't like that elusive look. Easy to tell when you know the end, easy to tell when you worked on your pictures after a few troubled nights. No: I didn't like it even at that moment.
at the start

It's time for me to have a coffee with speakers Stefano Bertolotti and Paolo Mei. It's time to go to say the bus driver Danny "Hi. What a wonderful sun!", "Did you see the forecasts? It's rain" and to ponder our long silence. It's time to eat my sandwich waiting for the first passage by the sea front: Fabian Cancellara is in the break-away. That's a good news. It's starting raining and I don't like. Twitter says Andy Schleck retired and that's a news I didn't want to read.
at the start

Fuck the lunch. I throw away half sandwich and go straight to the bus. Danny makes me a sign from inside: "Smile". I'm about to cry! "It was hard" he wisely says "It's Tirreno. Many riders retired", "I know! But for him it was important to finish...". Team Manager Luca Guercilena arrives in a team car and gets in the bus with a dark face. Andy has been the second rider to get dropped, just after the start. "But it was hard from the begining" Danny wisely explains. My head is blowing, I can't be wise.
sun on buses

Now it's raining hard and cold. The break is passing, then the peloton. Danny puts on the team jacket and goes to the feed zone. I wait in the rain. "He isn't far" Danny says on his way back: I see Andy. He comes to the bus in the pouring rain. His face is white like a wall and he looks straight in front. Danny takes his bike, he gets in the bus without a word. I'm speechless too. In the pouring rain, in the desert yard I am the only reporter with a camera but take no picture. Not now, no please. I'm glad there is nobodyelse.
Cancellara in the break

Danny has put Andy's bike against the bus and when he closes the door it goes down. Open it again, take off the bottles – "Do you want them?" to a speechless guy just arrived to see his champion – and brings it on removing the front wheel. Close all curtains. Inside the bus a drama is on. I'm shaking in the rain and wait. The second team car arrives and also Demol gets in. A second rider retired, Giacomo Nizzolo, but he can. Many riders arrive, shattered, socked. They can retire. Nobody is happy but they have the right. Andy no. He must go on and finish. We all know. He must go on a little more at least, not to be dropped on the first climb of the day.

It keeps raining and I keep waiting. I see through the driver's window that inside Demol, Guercilena and Nizzolo are siting in front watching the race. No sign of Andy. He's probably in the back. Doing what? Feeling how? It's the last passage and Danny is off to the feed zone again: "He isn't going to come out" he wisely says. "I'll stay here anyway". I can't be wise. There is no other place where I could go: I came here for him.
I wait two hours in the rain. And maybe 'waiting' isn't the right word: after the finish all riders will get in, Danny will start the bus and they will simply go back to the hotel. I stay in the rain because Andy is there and my mind stop working when he retired. That's all. I feel nothing, only a deep cold. But after two hours, more or less, before the finish and before other riders arrive, Andy gets off the bus wearing a black quilted jacket and carrying his suitcase. He sees me, says Ciao with a dismayed smile and walks away with his masseur Josue. It isn't easy to write about that but I think you must be honest once you start writing. I take no picture so there is none. We made eye contact and I can't forget what I felt.
My Tirreno is over. No reason to stay. It is the finish and a wonderful one: Vincenzo Nibali attacked in the wet descent with Sagan and Rodriguez. Froome couldn't respond. Meanwhile Taylor Phinney ostinately brings his bike to the finish: rules tell his out the time but people say he's a hero. I feel a bitter taste in my mouth. I go to the station and take the first train to San Benedetto del Tronto. I'm socked, tired and upset. But Andy said we were going to meet so I send a sms and get astonished to read his answer: "I am in Italie anymore". So then! He went straight home alone.
I believe him when he says it's just matter of time and all I care about is that he's happy and serene, but that night I slept two hours: since 3 to 5. So now you know, if you met me the day after!


Anonymous said...

Thank you.


Ilaria said...

Thank you to read it