I should have known it was going to be one of those days when I opened my eyes to bright lights and two girls sitting on their beds, staring at me and smiling. It was an odd sensation because I had ear plugs in and thus could only see and not hear. For an instant I thought what is going on here where am I who are these strangers and then it clicked. These were not strangers but my two teammates and we were all sharing a room in the hotel near Naples. And it was no longer night but 830am. Being a perpetual early riser, I was in shock when I took the ear plugs in and found out the time from Lisa and Katie. I’ll blame it on the jet lag but this late hour rising left me with only an hour to do everything I needed and be down with the bags in time for the real adventure to begin: the start of the Giro Donne.
Actually, the adventure began the night before with our attempt to attend the team presentation. It was absolute chaos driving in rush hour Italian style into the heart of Naples. It felt like driving in a lawless state of anarchy. At times we were on the wrong side of the 6 lane road trying to follow the team car. And this kept going and going for the next two hours when we returned to the hotel.
Only problem was we never made it to the team presentation. Same for most of the teams. Looping around Naples in rush hour cracked just about everyone and the presentation was nowhere to be found. I can’t even describe what it was like seeing all the cars dusty and dented from an existence in the city infamous for pick pockets. Families of three zoomed through the narrowest of gaps on the cobbled streets on mopeds. We even saw a young mother with her toddler on a vespa: mother with a helmet and the kid with hair flowing in the breeze. Insanity.
And then this morning, en route to the start, I think we all felt a bit of anxiety wondering if we’d find the beginning of a very long day on the bike. With three vehicles here for the team it’s a challenge to stick together. Our staff is street savvy though and rarely leave a gap let alone lose each other. That was true until this morning when Ina, Chloe, Lotte and I were in the van with Beth, our before mentioned Goddess Soigneur. Beth holds her own in any and all situation but this morning was otherworldy.
On one of myriad side streets we navigated, we were suddenly surrounded by angry men. Our team van was not moving an inch. Any attempt to scoot forward was met by angry yells, punches to the exterior of the van and slapping of the hood. A few of the men insisted on pushing the side mirrors in. Mob mentality is about the scariest things I have been exposed to and this was an ugly situation. We could not move forward nor back. Lotte locked the doors and we sat incredulous in the van.
It was a strike and we were in the middle of it.
We were told five minutes and then ten in Italian. They yelled at us to shut off the motor. Finally Lotte cracked and said ‘I’m just going to tell them we’re going to the Giro…maybe they’ll let us through!’ She bravely rolled down the window and said the magic two words ‘Giro D’Italia’ followed by Ina in the back with the secret password ‘CYCLISMO!’ and suddenly scowls turned to smiles.
‘Hey, hey! Giro!! Cyclismo!!’ they all smiled and clapped and suddenly, the sea of men parted and we were sent on our way with a raucous goodbye. Unbelievable.
And then about a kilometer later, Beth pulled an outrageous and brilliant and completely illegal u-turn in the civilized world when she noted our other team vehicles heading towards us on the same road. Of course, they had gone the wrong way. It’s Naples! It’s Italy!!
We beat them to the start after all. That was fun.
And that’s just Italy.
Man, they love their cycling here.
They also love women. It was quite a scene after the 6km neutral start when we stopped at the ‘kilometer 0’ pink sign for a few minutes. With the scorching temps and most riders in a state of hyper-hydration, of course everyone had to pee. It’s no big deal when guys take a wizz in the corner but girls….well let’s just say there were some very excited male Italians taking pictures of the best female cyclists in the world answering nature’s call along the stone wall at the gas station. It’s like they had never seen girls before. In this sport one loses any and all traces of prudence fast. We all just laughed.
For 139kms we were greeted by hoots, hollers, claps and smiles every town we went through. People young and old stood outside their driveways and doorways to watch the race fly by. It was awesome.
A hot, long day that was just the beginning of this Italian adventure.
And that’s my mantra for this Giro Donne: ‘it’s an adventure’. I’m sure to repeat it time and time again.