Wednesday 23 October 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro d'Italia diary: 'Chocolates under your pillow or cockroaches - it's always pot luck at the Giro'

Irish national champion Conor Dunne corners in the middle of the peloton on today’s Giro stage.
Irish national champion Conor Dunne corners in the middle of the peloton on today’s Giro stage.

Conor Dunne

Having travelled all over the world racing my bike, I've found myself in all types of accommodation over the years from quaint, homely bed and breakfasts in Ireland to five star hotels in Dubai.

At races like the Giro and the Tour de France, teams are housed by the race organisation and it can be pot luck each night whether you end up in a five star country club or a two star motel at the side of a motorway.

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At six foot eight, I've come to accept that the beds are always going to be too short. Most of the time it's not too bad unless there's a wooden frame sticking up at the bottom. Then, I just take the mattress off and sleep on the floor.

Some of the more plush hotels like to leave a chocolate under your pillow as a treat, but last night's accommodation took things to a new level and Guillaume and I had to evict a handful of cockroaches from under each of our pillows before we went to sleep.

Rather than a hotel, it was more like a musty self-catering village that had only just been opened for the summer and, for some reason, my Canadian roomie and I had a big oven and a sink in our room but no kettle.

Still, the pesto pasta and chicken for dinner was good and I had a decent night's sleep.

The second longest stage of this Giro saw an early start this morning and I made another discovery as I packed my bags after breakfast.

You remember how I told you in the first diary that the most important thing on a stage race is to make sure you've got your rain gear stored in a bag in the team car, and that you don't leave it in your suitcase in case the weather turns nasty during the stage. Yeah?

Well, I left all of mine in the hotel wardrobe after stage two. I'm four days into this Giro and my rain jacket, gilet and knee warmers are hanging in a wardrobe in Bologna. I haven't told the team yet, so hopefully they don't read this, or they'll kill me. I have some spares, so hopefully that will get me through the rest of the race.

Thankfully, it was a sunny start this morning. A three man breakaway went from the gun and with a block headwind facing any prospective chasers, it was the easiest start I've had in any race.

The problem with a slow average pace though is that the stage goes by very slowly and my morale took a blow after an hour and a half when I saw a sign saying there was 'only' 200km to go.

You could sense the nervousness in the bunch when the wind changed direction after 70km, but it turned out to be behind us so things calmed down again. With just three riders out front, and the odds on them staying away not great, nobody seemed to want to work. Teams put a man on the front and then gave up, so it was a very long day.

I just tried to eat and drink as much as I could and actually ate so many gels I felt a bit sugar-rushed.

The team had talked about the race going onto narrow roads with about 35km to go and how hard it would be to move up after that, so I brought the guys up the front and rode there for about 15km. I tried to keep the boys out of trouble and out of the wind for as long as possible but the narrow roads never materialised and with my effort over, I sat up with about 15km remaining.

After that, I just rode to the finish easy in a group of about a dozen guys who had just done the same.

Up ahead, I could see a big crash in the peloton and from then on we just seemed to pick up crash victims the whole way in. Every time we went around a bend there was someone on the ground. We passed Daniel Navarro of Katusha as he was being stretchered into an ambulance and he looked really bad, one of those ones you don't really want to look at. Hopefully he's okay.

With about 6km to go, we caame upon a huge crash and even though we were a minute or two behind, the road was still blocked when we got there and I had to put my foot down and go around it. Pre-race favourite Tom Dumoulin hit the deck in that one and lost four minutes today.

The finish today was a lot harder than it looked and morale was a bit low on the bus as we didn't do as well as we'd hoped. We didn't have the greatest of luck in the end, with a few mechanicals and a few guys caught up in the crashes and the frustration was clear to be seen. But that's bike racing.

A lot of the GC guys lost time today, with race leader Primoz Roglic of Jumbo Visma, the only exception. Finishing sixth today, a couple of seconds behind Ecuadorian stage winner Richard Carapas of Movistar, the Slovenian actually gained time on his rivals and now leads the race by 35 seconds.

Me? I'm 29 minutes behind him in 161st place and hoping for chocolate tonight and sunshine again tomorrow.

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