Thursday 23 May 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro d'Italia diary: 'For about 15km I must have looked like a snowman who'd just taken up cycling'

May 12: Stage 2, Bologna to Fuccechio (205km)

Riders compete during the second stage of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, the cycling Tour of Italy, on May 12, 2019 near Bologna. - Giro d'Italia's stage 2 consists in a 205 km route between Bologna and Fucecchio. Photo Credit: LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images
Riders compete during the second stage of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, the cycling Tour of Italy, on May 12, 2019 near Bologna. - Giro d'Italia's stage 2 consists in a 205 km route between Bologna and Fucecchio. Photo Credit: LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images

Conor Dunne

After a good night's sleep last night, I woke up this morning faced with lashing rain and the opening road stage of this Giro.

Even though we were only a few kilometres away from the start this morning, our team bus got stuck in the bedlam that is Italian traffic and we ended up getting changed on the move to save time.

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After signing on for the day, I met my Mum, Dad and Uncle Paul. They've been here a few days but today is probably the last I'll see of them for the next three weeks so a quick chat was followed by last minute hugs.

I think now that I've become a new father, I'm starting to understand a little bit better what my parents must go through every day. Dad was involved in cycling at club level, was always on the bike and really helped me when I was younger, buying me bikes and taking me to races. Mum has always been supportive too, even if she was very nervous about me taking up cycling at first.

They came to see me in the Vuelta in 2017 too and their support really kept me going.

They've been loving Bologna the past few days and I'm beginning to think that coming to see me riding the Giro was a bit of an excuse for them to go on holiday and eat Italian food.

I think since my son Jesse was born last Wednesday, emotions have been running a bit higher for me and I had a lump in my throat saying goodbye to them. It can be a lonely road sometimes and it's been so nice to have them here.

Although today's 205km stage went upwards gradually for the first 50km and there were another two categorised climbs in the final 50km, most people expected things to finish in a bunch sprint so my Israel Cycling Academy team were hoping to keep our Italian sprinter Davide Cimolai safe this morning and aimed to get him into a good position to contest the sprint at the end.

The opening climb itself wasn't actually hard but lashing rain, spraying into my face from the wheels in front, pea-soup fog and the standard pot-holed Italian roads meant that I couldn't take my eyes off where I was going for a minute and it all added to the usual first day jitters.

The very technical wet descent on small roads that followed didn't do anything to calm things down and with everyone riding in single file, the bunch sort of split naturally on the way down.

I was in the second group on the road. With half the peloton in my group and another 120km to go, the race was always going to come back together so I just had to relax and keep riding but my Eritrean teammate Awet Andemeskel had crashed somewhere behind me on the descent and I could hear him on the radio having a bit of a nightmare trying to get back.

In the valley below, there was a bit of a lull and the groups did come back together after a few kilometres on the flat. The rain had suddenly stopped and the temperature had risen to 20 degrees too, which meant that my rain jacket, gloves, arm warmers, knee warmers all had to be peeled off pronto.

One by one, I stuffed them all up my jersey, along with some of the other guys wet gear. I tried to drift back to the team car to hand them all in but the car wasn't there. It was back the road with Awet who was still trying to regain contact.

For about 15km I must have looked like a snowman who'd just taken up cycling as I pedalled along towards the feed zone, where I took advantage of another lull and stopped beside our surprised team soigneur, opened my jersey and dumped the contents at his feet before grabbing my musette and riding back into the peloton a whole lot lighter.

After everyone had taken a few minutes to transfer their bottles into their cages and their food into their pockets, the race was on again, with most of the sprinters teams putting a man on the front to try and close the gap to an eight man group that had gone clear before the first climb and were three minutes up the road with 100km left.

I was feeling good and tried to keep Davide out of trouble before the penultimate climb with about 40km to go. After getting him into a good position I was hoping to survive the climb myself but I just didn't have the legs. I tried to hold a good rhythm, thinking I might get back on after it, but it wasn’t possible and my day was done.

After that,I found myself in a big group that just rode a good tempo to the line, finishing 12 minutes behind stage winner Pascal Ackerman of Bora Hansgrohe. Davide got sixth on the stage, which shows he's in good form. He said he felt good today so that bodes well for the other flat stages this week.

Losing 12 minutes today is not something that worries me unduly. I was never coming to this Giro to ride for time and compete with the overall contenders. I have a different job to do and I'm happy enough to get through today without incident.

I've just found out that my room-mate Guillaume crashed with about 65km to go. I think he's injured himself quite badly but he finished the stage so fingers crossed he'll be okay to start tomorrow.

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