Wednesday 16 October 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro D'Italia diary: 'Of the five-and-a-half hour stage, four-and-a-half of that was a cafe ride'

Wednesday May 21: Stage 11: Carpt to Novi Ligure (221km)

Irish road race champion Conor Dunne (Israel Cycling Academy) chats to training partner and friend Joe Dombrowski of EF Education First on stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia.
Irish road race champion Conor Dunne (Israel Cycling Academy) chats to training partner and friend Joe Dombrowski of EF Education First on stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia.

Conor Dunne

Last night's 'hotel' was the worst we've had on this Giro so far.

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With mould on the walls, holes in the bedclothes and a severe lack of toilet paper, our post-apocalyptic overnight dormitory was the kind of place you'd have second thoughts sheltering in if it was the only building standing in a storm.

Thankfully, there was no restaurant and we had to go next door for dinner, which was really nice and one of the best meals so far. And I was that tired I just conked out when I got back to the room.

While every rider has it hard on a Grand Tour, none of us have it half as tough as some of the staff.

My masseur Paulo Zaggia has been rubbing my legs every evening but that's not his only job. Paulo and the other soigneurs are first up each morning and after preparing our race food for the day, he makes sure we get our breakfast on time from the hotel.

The soigneurs also collect the bags from the hotel rooms, load the van and have them ready and waiting for us in our next hotel at the end of the stage. They hand us our musettes and bottles in the mid-race feed zone, collect, wash and deliver our kit after each stage, set up a food room in the hotel in case we get hungry, and do numerous other jobs too. Like the mechanics, they are often first up and last to bed.

The team has a whatsapp group to tell us all our daily itinerary; stuff like what time we are leaving the hotel each morning and to keep us in the loop with any new arrangements during the day. This morning we all got sent a picture of the bus toilet overflowing with poo, followed by one of another soigneur, Nacho, and Adolfo the bus driver doing the glamorous job of hosing out eight days worth of riders' pre-race nerves before their breakfast.

With the bus smelling of detergent and the toilet properly working, the trip to the start was quicker than we expected today so I had time to do a couple of interviews with Eurosport and Italian TV station Rai. After sign-on I even had a few spare minutes to sit in the start village drinking coffee and reading Gazette della Sport with my friend Larry Warbasse from Ag2r - a proper Italian morning.

Rolling out of town, I was chatting to American rider Joe Dombrowski in the neutralised section. The EF Education First rider is one of my training partners when I'm based in Nice and with no reaction coming from the peloton when three riders went up the road from the flag drop, our conversation continued for the next 30km.

The start set the tone for the stage and it was another easy day until the final 30km or so. Of the five-and-a-half hour stage, I'd say four and a half hours of that was a cafe ride.

Being six foot eight, I think riders like to come up to me on an easy day like today and ask me questions, which always makes me laugh.

"How tall are you?"

"What size shoes do you take?"

Today I had a bit of banter with pre-race favourite Primoz Roglic, who asked me my height and then wondered why I wasn't a basketball player. I should have asked him why he wasn't a ski jumper.

Today was the best day for spectator numbers so far. We went through a lot of towns that were literally lined with people. Seeing all of them smiling and cheering in the sunshine made me really feel part of the Giro and even though we were having an easy day it was nice to see the joy a bike race can bring in the fleeting moments as we pass.

After about 90km we were going along really easy when, up ahead, I could see a car parked on the left.

We race on closed roads so I saw it and thought it had just been parked on the course before the road closure but, as I got nearer, everybody started waving and I realised the car was actually driving right at us, against the race, which gave me a bit of a fright.

After waves of riders jumped across to the other side of the road to avoid it, everyone just looked back in disbelief as this car just slowly ploughed on through the rapidly dividing peloton. I think it was an elderly person who had just come out of their driveway and got stuck on the course, not realising the race was on.

After the feed zone a few kilometres later, I was bursting for a pee and took advantage of the slow pace to pull in at the side of the road - where the mechanic and the directeur sportif tried to figure out why my team radio and earpiece hadn't been working for the past few kilometres. So, you know … just your standard day at the office really - your boss and another workmate with their hands up your shirt while you're taking a wee at the side of the road. I'm sure that happens to a lot of people at work.

As the three early breakaways were eventually reeled in and the sprinters' teams set up their stalls on the front of the peloton, my Israel Cycling Academy team got set up to help out sprinter Davide Cimolai for the last 25km.

From 15km out we had Awet on the front doing a great job, keeping us out of the wind. After having a few crashes in this race already and all the stuff he's been through off the bike just to get to this Giro, he was incredible and I couldn't help feeling really proud to be his teammate.

When Awet's turn was over, with about 10km to go, it got really messy and a few roundabouts threw a few teams off kilter and made us jostle for position.

At the pre-stage meeting we had agreed to try not to hit the front too early as a team, which meant we would get lost in the washing machine of the bunch for a few kilometres before getting back together.

It did get a bit hectic for a while, but with a headwind and big roads in the last 5km, it was easy to find each other and get together again. We nearly had a crash with about 2.5km to go, the incident taking half the team one way and the other half another.

In the end, I took Davide up the right hand side with 1300m to go and dropped him off in fourth place behind the FDJ sprint train with about 700m to go. I was happy with that and Davide sprinted to fifth on the stage, his best result so far, as Celeb Ewan took his second stage win for Lotto-Soudal.

We've had some good results so far but are still hunting that elusive stage win. Looking ahead, I think we will have to wait until stage 18 for the next good opportunity for Davide.

The mountains begin tomorrow so I've a bit of hardship to look forward to for the rest of the week.

I think the Giro is going to kick off tomorrow and it'll be exciting viewing for people watching at home this weekend.

But it's going to be a big leg-hurter for the riders, especially me.

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