Tuesday 15 October 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro D'Italia diary: 'A refugee who collected beer bottles to buy a bike - my team-mate has a crazy story'

Monday May 19: Rest Day - Ravenna

National road race champion Conor Dunne gets a bottle from his team car during today’s 3rd stage of the giro d’Italia.
National road race champion Conor Dunne gets a bottle from his team car during today’s 3rd stage of the giro d’Italia.

Conor Dunne

For today and yesterday at least, we seem to be winning the Giro organiser's hotel lucky dip competition.

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While we got a nice hotel, good food and nice rooms, I've heard stories that French team FDJ had terrible accommodation last night, apparently so bad that the riders requested a change of hotel, which is a first as far as I know.

With no racing ahead of us this morning it was nice to have a more relaxed dinner last night and not have to shovel a load of carbs into me.

Instead of the usual pasta and rice, I had a nice salad, with a cheese platter afterwards, which is such a simple thing but a rare treat on a race like this.

I was pretty tired last night, so I went to bed straight after dinner and slept until 9am this morning.

At breakfast, I sat across from my teammate Awet Andemeskel who proceeded to make himself a bowl of porridge for breakfast.

Now anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a bit of a porridge connoisseur.

I have it for my breakfast every single morning - even when I'm not racing, and it's my favourite meal of the day.

To keep things fresh, I throw in a few different ingredients every morning; strawberries, nuts, bananas, seeds, blueberries, honey, cinnamon. My favourite would be porridge with cooked pear, cinnamon, good quality almond butter and a nice jam and honey but I've seen some dodgy recipes too.

My former team-mate, Ryan Mullen made me try porridge with paprika on it (disgusting) and I've even seen him eat it with curry powder on it but, this morning, Awet blew him out of the park with a combination of porridge and freeze dried broccoli.

After breakfast we got changed and went out on our bikes for an hour and a half's steady recovery ride.

Our team owner arrived last night and joined the general manager and CEO of the team on the spin with us and it was nice to be able to have a chat in the sunshine without worrying about when the next attack was coming.

It's a funny feeling when you get to this point in a three-week race. You're tired but when you get on a bike you're legs just work. They're used to going in circles and it's almost a nice feeling to just move them around again.

Instead of joining the others at the cafe stop near the end of the spin though, I just wanted to get back to the room, get showered and have a lie-down. I got a good nap in before heading to a local shop to buy some much needed supplies.

Most riders cut their hair short for the warm weather races but for some reason I decided to just let mine grow after I won the national championships in Sligo last July.

There have been a couple of times I nearly cracked and shaved it all off but I've come so far that I'm going to try and keep it for the rest of the season and maybe chop it off for charity at the end of the year.

I thought it was going to trouble me on the really hot days but if anything it's been the opposite and I found it actually had a cooling effect when I raced in Argentina earlier in the year.

As long as I wash it every day it's not too bad but on this Giro, showers have always been squeezed in on the team bus or when I'm in a rush to go somewhere and the hotel rooms haven't had conditioner in them so my hair's gone a bit Grizzly Adams.

The long hair is one thing but the accompanying beard was just laziness so, after buying some shaving foam and hair conditioner in a local shop this afternoon, I managed to give myself a proper grooming and finally got round to shaving the beard off.

I'm contemplating growing a cheeky moustache for the next two weeks but I know Stacey would have none of it when I get home, so I don't know if it's worth bothering.

At lunch, I found myself sitting with Awet again. We haven't raced much together this year, so I asked him a bit about his background.

His story is mental.

Awet is from Eritrea and began cycling when his father bought him a bike as a means of getting the 30km distance to school and back quicker every day so that he could help out on their chicken farm.

Cycling is the number one sport in Eritrea so there were a lot of clubs around and league races to participate in. Awet started to win a few races, eventually progressing onto the U23 national team and travelling to Europe for big races and championships.

Having been selected for the world championships in Tuscany in 2013, Awet sneaked out of his hotel room at 5am and fled with one of the team mechanics to avoid conscription and a lifetime of fighting on the Ethiopian border in the Eritrean army when they got home.

A friend picked them up. Awet got a fake passport and flew to Sweden, where he was arrested and held in a detention centre before agreeing to return to his point of landing in Italy.

Handed a train ticket back to Italy, Awet fled again and spent the next year and a half hiding, malnourished, in a basement before being granted refugee status in 2015 and becoming a Swedish citizen.

He then spent three months collecting beer bottles so that he could buy a bike, a helmet and shoes to train again and now he's riding the Giro d'Italia.

It's a crazy story and it makes me feel like I've taken everything for granted so far.

I think I've fought hard to get to where I am now, but then I hear his story and it's like I've been handed it all on a silver platter.

It's probably best not to tell him my conditioner story.

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