Saturday 30 May
Every May there is a gigantic Critical Mass ride in Rome called the Ciemmona. This year it is being held in Milan – we ride today. I’ve never actually been to a Critical Mass ride and have sort of mixed feelings about them. On the one hand I like the idea of cyclists taking over city streets and asserting their right to them; on the other I don’t like pissing off motorists for the sake of pissing them off. But I was in Milan and Ciemmona was happening… we went and it was fun.
As it was also on a Saturday afternoon rather than the usual weekday peak hour, and it something of a longweekend there wasn’t as much motor traffic as there otherwise might be.
We rode a weaving wandering route through the city. Some riders had music pumping, others were on the city rental bicycles, there were children and tall bikes. A man on an extracycle carrying two kids pulled up to me and said “Your Surly is beautiful” in the most charming accent. It was a lovely moment.
Some of the younger men (mostly) had been drinking and smoking pot as we went and a few hours in there seemed be some agro growing at the edges. Part of Critical Mass is corking roads – so some riders stop in the intersection too prevent cars from coming through as the mass of riders pass. Doing this well requires assertiveness, tact, and humour. But as the afternoon wore on some of these skills seemed to be slipping. A few young male riders got into it with a taxi driver and I felt like I’d had enough.
We spun off for home.
Later we went to Expo – which is to say the World’s Fair. An evening ticket is only five euros rather than a full day for 30. It’s been hugely controversial and deeply opposed by many as a black hole for money that would have been better spent on more long lasting economic investments.
In the time leading up to my visit to Milan I would hear about this Expo and wonder “what do you do there?” I still didn’t know … I had read about it on line and just didn’t get it. I sounded like there were temporary buildings in which various countries advertised themselves. Like a giant travel show you paid to get in to and which lasted months.
And you know what? That’s pretty much exactly what it was. Slovenia provided cycling maps. At Iran you could see platters of pistachios and dates in glass cases. The Haitians permitted visitors to touch beans and rice in burlap bags. As we were there in the evening some pavilions had already closed and only the restaurants were open. So it was also like a giant multi-ethnic, overpriced, food festival. We laughed a lot. I don’t think that was what the organisers intended but laughing at it did make in enjoyable in a way.
Look, I still don’t get it.
Sunday 31 May
I got on the wrong train when I was rushing to meet Luca to go the finish of the Giro d’Italia and ended up halfway to Malpensa Airport (which is to say a long way from where I wanted to be). I was an hour late for our meeting and I felt terrible about it. I didn’t have his number so I couldn’t let him know. He had waited, lovely.
We jumped in his car and dashed across Sunday-Longweekend-quiet streets to the finish line where there was a veritable carnival of sponsors crap. I got goosebumps when I saw the classic pink finishing arch across the road. I was HERE at the GIRO. Wow. Amazing.
We fought through the crowd. Up ahead I spotted an inflated kangaroo in a Saxo Tinkoff strip (for Mick Rogers). Awesome. So awesome.
I was following Luca without knowing where we were going or why. He speaks more English than I do Italian but not a lot. We collected drink samples and biscuits – Esta The and Balocco biscuits to be exact. These two companies have been Giro sponsors for the few years I’ve been watching the race and to finally have them in my hands is a strangely giddy experience. For the record they were sort of average packaged foods.
After a time I followed Luca back to the car and we dashed off again. He chatted with police officers blocking roads, we drove in reverse for several hundred metres, dodged around blockades and parked again. We strode purposefully down the street to arrive at race headquarters where Luca wove his local radio station connections into passes for our entry. Like that I was in the media centre for the Giro d’Italia on the final day of racing. We popped into the media conference room where the stage was set for the post-race interviews. Luca took my picture.
In the room with the working media he said hello to a mate and asked after Australian media and moments later I was saying g’day to Rupert Guinness from the Sydney Morning Herald, our premier cycling journalist. We had a good little chat and suggested we might bump into each other at my Tour de France stage (on 9 July). It was all a little weird and wonderful.
Bolstered by free waters we dashed off again and reached the course just as the race went past on the peloton’s first of six city circuits. There were a few people hanging about but not too many, it was a nice spot I thought. I spotted two guys in riding gear with bicycles watching the race and one was wearing an Australian national championship replica jersey. I strode over and met my first Australians of the trip – Ian and Peter from Newcastle in Italy for a few weeks of riding. Luca needed to get back to the finishing line but I was happy here so I thanked him and said arrivederci.
The Newky boys and I chatted and waited for each passing of the peloton. Luke Durbridge was in a two-man breakaway thirty seconds ahead of the pack and we gave him a good loud Aussie “Carn Luke!” every time past. Riders were tossing water bottles just past us and we all three got one – mine from a Katowsha rider named Alex.
Three weeks earlier I had watched stage one of this race curled on a Sydney couch swathed in jumper and fluffy socks on an autumn’s midnight and here I was on a hot early summer’s afternoon watching those same riders in the same race. Seriously it was as cool as all that. And I mean for that to sound pretty cool.
Afterwards we went for a beer … as Australians meeting abroad are meant to do, and one was really two. They are best mates and have been for years. The one topic they have agreed not to speak of is Lance Armstrong. Which is to say they argue about him all the time like some old married couple rehashing a long established disagreement and one where the positions are so set neither could change their mind even if they had changed their mind. I sided with Peter; Ian wore a yellow plastic bracelet. [CORRECTION: Peter wears the yellow bracelet, I agreed with Ian – but I like them both, just the same.]