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Everyone’s favorite 1965 Charlton Heston film, in which he stars as Michelangelo tirelessly painting 12,000 square feet of the Sistine Chapel, takes place in the Vatican City. While my papal history is a bit foggy, it is my understanding that the Vatican is a city within Rome. Similarly, Rome was also the setting for Sunday’s Giro d’Italia concluding time trial that wound sinuously throughout the city. The most accurate way for me to describe these final 14.4 kilometers of racing at the Giro just happens to bear the name of the aforementioned film: the Agony and the Ecstasy.
Presumably by now you know a thing or two about the time trial. Most notably, Denis Menchov rode a speedy enough pace to hold off Di Luca and clinch the overall victory despite a nasty crash in the final kilometer. You also may have heard that the course offered a few cobbled sections. In today’s column, allow me to extrapolate.
What stands out about Menchov’s crash is that he wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary at the time. He wasn’t taking a corner, nor dodging a spectator, nor taking a swig from his bottle. Nope, he was going straight as an arrow during one of the rare straight sections of road this course had to offer, and his bike simply slipped out from underneath him.
I had luck on my side so that I raced during the dry portion of the day, and even then the parcours was frightening treacherous. In the rain? I promise you I am not exaggerating: it became like riding on an ice rink. As a rule of thumb, you generally don’t win a grand tour without some semblance of bike handling prowess, so rest assured that Menchov’s little digger was not a result of jitters.
Since virtually every other stage had conveniently inserted cobbles somewhere into the course, I figured it was a safe assumption that the final day would feature them as well. What I and most everyone else didn’t realize until we pre-rode the course is that at least (em) half the race was on pavé. That is an absurd amount!
And it wasn’t your run of the mill “here are a few smooth rocks” pavé. Nope, this was full-on, being your A-game, rutted out, off-camber, tons of tight technical turns pavé! No rest for the weary, my friends. This centennial Giro made sure it was memorable from the start to the very finish.
Approximately twenty minutes after rolling down the start ramp, where I subsequently beat myself mercilessly along the cobbled streets, I proudly concluded my first grand tour. It was a mix of emotions to cross the line. Time trial bikes are built for speed and not much else (i.e. comfort), so my immediate reaction was relief to be finished with the agonizing and bone-jarring pounding found on course.
As my heart rate slowed and I deftly made my way between the thousands of spectators between the finish and the team bus, I felt an ecstatic rush of accomplishment. Thirty-four hundred kilometers, 21 memorable days of racing, four stage wins for Cervélo – including one this final day – and a fourth place in general classification. Not too shabby for a new team in its debut grand tour with four grand tour rookies on the roster.
The Agony and Ecstasy? I couldn’t think of a more fitting description if I tried.
Editor’s Note: This year Ted King is making his professional European racing debut with the upstart Cervélo TestTeam. While first getting a taste for the European peloton with the U.S. espoir national team in 2005, King returned to the United States for three successful years of domestic pro racing. King, 26, is a native of New Hampshire and despite his affinity for hearty servings of coffee, he is slowly adapting to the smaller European portions. Slowly. His diaries will appear on VeloNews.com every few days during the Giro, alternating with diaries by Columbia-Highroad’s Michael Barry. When he’s not racing the Giro, you can follow Ted at www.Cervelo.com/team and www.iamTedKing.MissingSaddle.com. For those of you content with 140 characters or less, you can also track his activities at www.twitter.com/iamtedking.