May 9, 2010

First Giro stage in Amsterdam

Filed under: Bicycles,Sports by Branko Collin @ 12:01 pm

The first ever stage of one of the biggest bicycle racing events in the world, the Giro d’Italia, took place in Amsterdam yesterday. We already reported on the preliminaries.

The first stage was a time trial. According to one of the Dutch organisers in a television interview, the Italian organisers had first wanted to take the stage past all the sights of Amsterdam, including the Anne Frank house, but could be dissuaded (the stage would have completely locked down the city).

Observers thought this would be a good day for David Millar because other time trial specialists have their sights also set on winning the entire, three week-long race. The cobblestones and tram tracks especially would scare them off. Riders like Bradley Wiggins and Alexander Vinokourov weren’t too shy on the Amsterdam streets however, and managed to finish first and fourth respectively, with Millar only coming in at sixth place. The main favourite to win the race now that the real champions are all saving their energy for the Tour de France, Cadel Evans, finished second, BBC reports.

According to De Volkskrant, 150,000 people showed up to watch the race. There wasn’t a spot along the course though where you couldn’t watch, as the rows were only one person deep.

Photo: ‘Vino’ really wants it, but in the end was six seconds shy of the top spot.

Photo: this is how the Amsterdam cyclist crossed the road. In several spots bridges had been erected across the course.

Photo: there were also chartered ferries to take you underneath bridges.

Photo: a family on the posh Apollolaan opened its windows to passers-by so that they could follow the results on TV.

Photo: after the race a wacky bicycle parade had been planned on the official course. Initially the few remaining onlookers were being drip-fed bicyclists.

Photo: at the end of the ride was a larger group though, led by ‘living art work’ Fabiola, and consisting of among others a marching band on bakfietsen and beauty queens on bikes.

I will post further photos to our Flickr account (see sidebar). For more photos see also this report in AD.

Today, another Giro stage will start in Amsterdam, and will take a 200+ kilometre detour to Utrecht. Amsterdam is also the starting point for this year’s third Giro stage, which will lead with atypical tailwind to Middelburg in Zeeland.

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May 8, 2010

Giro about to start in Amsterdam

Filed under: Bicycles,Sports by Branko Collin @ 11:40 am

In two and a half hours, one of the biggest bicycle races in the world, the Giro d’Italia, will start in Amsterdam, and the action is all taking place at a stone’s throw from my house.

As you may imagine, I will use the opportunity to walk around with my camera to soak up the mood and give you a report later. With luck there will be room to watch. I have good hope, because as you can see in the photos, the weather is quite dreary here. Also, let’s be honest, this is not the Tour de France—which will start in Rotterdam later this year—so interest is likely to be lower. (Two out of three Grand Tours, though, not bad.)

There is also a garbage collectors strike going on, so the stalls selling Giro paraphernalia are standing anthropomorphised shoulder to anthropomorphised shoulder with piles of trash.

The riders seen in this photo are members of team Milram out for a leisurely reconnaissance of the parcours on the Olympiaweg, 800 900 metres from the finish.

See also:

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July 23, 2009

The day the grown men cried

Filed under: Bicycles,History,Sports by Branko Collin @ 8:50 am

The Tour de France is drawing to a close, and Dutch cyclists and teams have so far failed to put their mark on the great race. Local sports writers have started to look elsewhere for heroic stories, and one of those places is the past. And the one story inevitably to be rediscovered is … dun! dun! … The Day the Grown Men Cried.

A story “from the old box”, as we say. On 5 June 1988, the Giro d’Italia was to climb the Passo di Gavia in the Italian Alps. A somewhat ordinary looking stage on paper, but when the cyclists woke that morning, they heard snow had covered the road at the top.

Dutch cyclist Johan van der Velde broke away from the pack at the start of the climb and was the first to cross the pass. But he paid a price! Just before his breakaway he had given his raincoat and sleaves to a surprised team-mate. Rain had already plagued the cyclists, but now, a few kilometres before the top, a blizzard hit the mountain.

Van der Velde managed to get over the top, but two kilometres into the descent his cold body started shaking uncontrollably and he had to stop for fear of falling off his bike. He never finished the descent on his bike, instead he drove in his team manager’s car to a point three kilometres off the finish, where he got back on and cycled the last bit. Van der Velde eventually lost 47 minutes to the winner, but wasn’t disqualified—the jury understood.

The conditions were so harsh that many cyclists had to stop for cognac, hot tea and massages. It was so cold that two of the former Giro winners cried in pain. The snow froze the cyclists’ hands and clogged up their brakes, turning the descent into a dangerous undertaking.

Only two of the cyclists in front finished the descent without stopping and without help. Andy Hampsten of the USA and Erik Breukink of the Netherlands raced off the mountain as fast as they could towards the finish line in Bormio. A couple of kilometres before the end, Breukink sped past Hampsten (PDF) and won the race by 15 seconds. Hampsten however won the pink jersey, the mark of the race leader, and he wouldn’t let go of it until the end, competing a fierce battle with second place Breukink in the remaining stages. Hampsten became the first American to win the second most prestigious bicycle race in the world.

Breukink admitted that it was only the thought of being in contention (Dutch, Real Media) that kept him on his bike during that brutal descent. Until then, he had had the reputation of being a bit of a softy, but the Gavia Pass win rid him of that moniker forever.

Through some miraculous stroke of luck, none of the cyclists died that day, although Hampsten’s team-mate and countryman Bob Roll suffered from hypothermia and an extremely low heart rate of 27 bpm.

There are very few TV images I can show you of this stage. Like today, the major bicycle races then had extensive TV coverage, shot by cameramen on motorcycles often taking even more risks in slippery descents than the cyclists themselves. The images were supplemented by video shot from helicopters that doubled as flying relay stations. The signal from a motor camera will not travel through mountains, and on that day it was discovered that blizzards have the same effect. The only moving images made of this climb were those of a solitary land-locked camera at the top of the pass.

Watching that video made me realise that in those days you could play another game of Spot the Dutchman. French team La Vie Claire (Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond) wore jerseys inspired by Piet Mondriaan’s paintings.

(Photo of the Passo di Gavia by Marco Mayer, some rights reserved.)

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