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LIVORNO, Italy (VN) — Bjørn Selander of RadioShack spent two days in the white jersey of the best young rider on general classification, and his parents have been able to see it in person. Dag and Heidi Selander had been planning to come visit their son in his new home in Italy for some time, and those plans were accelerated when they found out that their son would be riding the Giro. They originally had planned to come for the last week but instead decided to come before the Giro, drive Bjørn up from his adopted home in Lucca, Italy, and see the first week of the race.
It turned out to be a great decision.
“I’m so glad we decided to come at the beginning,” said Dag wiping a tear away. “Who could have guessed that Bjørn would get the white jersey? We would have missed that.” And after the reality-jarring death of Wouter Weylandt on the third stage, a stage on which his son also lost the white jersey, Dag said, “(Weylandt’s death) really tells you what is important in life. Live every minute as it goes by; you can never take it back.”
Dag Selander is a former pro bike racer himself and almost rode the Giro in 1984 as a member of the first U.S. team to race in one of the grand tours. A transplant from Norway, he had moved to the U.S. to marry Heidi, whom he’d met at the Wisconsin Milk Race in 1980. That year the Norwegian Olympic Team had been invited to the race and put up in the homes of members of the Sons of Norway club of Wisconsin to ease the pain of their boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
In 1984, Selander was on the Gianni Motta team of John Eustice and was invited by Eustice to join the team for its precedent-setting appearance in the Giro. Having ridden the Vuelta a’España on a Dutch pro team, Selander knew the stresses of a grand tour and was concerned that the team was not prepared for the challenge it would face —more in the way of team organization than in the preparation of its riders — and passed on the opportunity, an opportunity which turned out to be his last to do the Giro. So being able to come and watch his son in the race he finds particularly sweet.
A former member of the Norwegian army, Dag felt so much at home among the throngs of reuniting “alpini” in Turin at the start that he felt compelled to buy one of their hats. The alpini are the mountain soldiers of Italy and particularly made a name for themselves in the first World War in the Dolomites, taking the mountainous states of Trentino and Alto Adige from Austria.
As fighting in the mountains is so hard, the bond between its members, including between enlisted men and officers is strong. The alpini are a proud group, meeting regularly in clubs all over Italy wearing their green felt hats with a black feather to indicate a soldier, a white feather to indicate an officer, and an oval woolen pompom at the base of the feather whose color indicates the number of the battalion within a given regiment in which they served.
This year, the reunion of the alpini was held in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Italian republic, in its first capital, Turin, on the same place and time as the start of the Giro. The fact that the reunion drew a reported half million of the former soldiers played a major part in the enormous crowds at the stage 1 team time trial.
The alpini hat has become an essential part of Dag Selander’s cheering outfit, which also included RadioShack garb. Waving a giant poster made by supporters back home in Hudson, Wisconsin, and American and Norwegian flags, the Selanders have been leap-frogging the race in their rental car, cheering their son on from several points along the route each day.