The Torqued Wrench: Through the Peugeot window
Caley Fretz has developed a love-hate relationship with his Peugeot rental after following the Giro over the last three weeks
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The Torqued Wrench is a look inside the mind of VeloNews.com tech writer Caley Fretz. Every other week he’ll tackle the rumors, trends, innovations, and underpinnings of the tech world — or something else entirely. You can submit questions to TorquedWrench@competitorgroup.com. Be sure to check out Caley’s previous columns
Six thousand, two hundred and sixty-five kilometers, says the dashboard on our green Peugeot Partner Tepee, a car we have grown to both cherish and despise.
Slowly it has filled with scraps of the Giro train it boarded in Verona two weeks ago: bits of start lists and classification sheets; a few free water bottles handed out by local tourist boards; three empty bags of Pepperidge Farm double chocolate chip cookies (sure to be four after Friday’s long transfer). The back seats are filling up, without time to clean or even care in the midst of Giro madness.
The innards of our Peugeot are something of a fun-house mirror of Italy outside, and a metaphor for Giro travel itself. Dirty at times, lacking order and organization at others, sometimes poorly built, but generally quite reliable and full of beauty where it matters most.
Sure, you can’t lock the doors without the little key beeper thing, the paneling inside seems ready to disintegrate and the gearbox already despises fourth. But that built-in iPhone jack, allowing us to avoid the terrors of Italian pop radio, and the automatic hill-start brake in this country apparently devoid of flat roads — these are things of beauty. It’s always best to focus on the beauty.
For two years now – many more for my colleague Andy Hood – Italy has been seen through a car window. We’ve eaten our way through the nation’s highway AutoGrills, Panini in one hand a cappuccino in the other. We’ve exited the Autostrade, sworn at ourselves for our poor navigational skills, and pulled U-turns before reaching the tollbooth.
We’ve blindly followed the little pink signs that point our way through start and finish towns to press parking kilometers away from the actual press room, hoping beyond hope that the navette driver won’t decide to take a coffee break and leave us stranded.
We’ve fought with Italian police over parking spaces close to the finish, inevitably being sent sulking away to the end of a long row of cars that all had the same idea. When no police are near, we are the Leonardo Da Vinci of inventing parking spots, creatively driving up forested hills in the woods, on sidewalks in town, down the wrong way on one-way streets. With our pink and green press car stickers, we feel invincible. (We are not.)
The daily schedule is always subject to change — skipping a start here, or a finish there, depending on logistics. Mornings start slowly, barely making the hotel breakfast around 9, perhaps getting out for a short ride in whatever town we’ve found ourselves.
More inner beauty found in the Partner Tepee: It’s big enough to fit a bike. Ride until lost, ask Garmin to get you home.
The real day begins an hour before the start, when team busses arrive and sign-in begins. Start times can range from before 11 to after 2.
Mechanics scurry about, taking bikes off roofs and out of busses, giving them one final once-over before lining them up, ready to be ridden to sign-in. Riders hide inside their buses, happy to keep their feet up and chat amongst themselves about the upcoming day.
They have to come out eventually, though, to sign in and then to get to the start line. The big names generate an instant scrum of press and fans, who are allowed into the bus zone. Most riders can quietly slip past the tifosi and make it to the safety of the cordoned-off sign-in area.
As the busses roll out, a few minutes before the start, so do we. Our three-week game of leapfrog begins anew — first, to the finish, where we sit in the press room and pump out stories from the morning while watching the race on TV. When the Belgian journos head to the finish, so do we, grabbing quotes and videos before hoofing it back to the press room to sending everything back home.
With stages finishing up around 6, getting out at 8 or 9pm is the norm: head to the hotel first, as check-in closes early and sleeping in the car is best avoided. Eat nearby, always, because journalists drink like sailors and walking home is usually the best option.
Here in the mountains, cutting from start to finish away from the course is often impossible. Getting stuck behind the race can mean the end of your working day, as there is no way to get past and catch the finish. Timing has to be perfect, a matter of minutes that can make the difference between a quick 100km jaunt down to the finish, and spending the day behind a string of team buses on single-lane roads at 50kph.
When that happens, it’s best to just take a deep breath, look around, and realize what you’re being paid to do.
Through the windows of our Peugeot, driving from hotel to start, start to finish, finish to hotel for three weeks, we see Italy: its tiny towns and incredible mountains, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, Abruzzo and Tuscany and Umbria and Milan.
Over thousands of kilometers, in between the long drives and writing, there is inevitably time for smelling the roses, time for those short rides (and new Strava KOMs), and for meals made by the grandmother running your hotel. When the long, late days begin to run together – deadlines sneak up because our minds are set on stages, not dates – there really is nothing to do but grab a cappuccino, sit back for just a moment and watch Italy stream past.