The Torqued Wrench: Afternoon cappuccino and the unexpected

Sometimes the stories outside of the race are more interesting than the ones inside

Photo: Gregg Bleakney

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The Torqued Wrench is a look inside the mind of 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 Be sure to check out Caley’s previous columns
VERONA, Italy (VN) — The drive from the French Alps to Italy is striking, particularly this time of year. As the eye travels up, valleys of the brightest green give way, slowly and in a near perfect gradient, to grey rock cliffs capped with fingers of white, which seem to reach up and grab at clouds as they roll past.

I made this drive on Tuesday, headed from Annecy to Verona for the first Italian stage of the Giro d’Italia. I did it alone, so in between awkward falsetto self-sing-along sessions to that catchy Gotye song I had plenty of time to think. Five hours of contemplations ranged from the inane (which is the uglier car, the Fiat Multipla or the Nissan Cube?) to the profound (what sort of person does one have to be to buy either), but mostly centered on what I had laying ahead of me on Wednesday.

Specifically, how to tackle the day in a place foreign to me. I’ve never been to Verona, and don’t speak Italian. The logistics of a grand tour, from a journalist’s perspective, can be a bit daunting. And while the Giro is absolutely nothing like the Tour de France — I book Giro hotels at 7pm day-of, and we book Tour hotels in September of the previous year — it has its own set of challenges. Primarily, the unrivaled Italian-ness of it.

This race is spectacular because of the people around it, as much as the racing within it.

Behind the Giro, setting its backdrop, are the everyday scenes of the most stunning race on earth. The Carabinieri and their shades, the proliferation of young men with pointy hair and popped collars, the women dressed to the nines simply because they’re going outside; and don’t forget the little old ladies hunched over, idly rolling grocery bags down the middle of the racecourse, whistled at by the police in vein. Or the kitted-out juniors, and seniors, rolling through the busses each morning in full race getup including their deep tubular wheels, waiting for their favorites, autograph pad in hand. How about the guy with the mustache waxed into the points that reach the top of his head? I, and the Giro, would be remiss to leave him out.

Where the Tour de France podium is grand and impressive but lifeless in-and-of itself, the Giro podium is a party incarnate. Loads of confetti, enormous champagne bottles, a literal busload of podium girls (this is a recurring theme) and an announcer that sounds like he just won the lottery; it is an atmosphere of unconditional excitement.

Logistics do not seem to be this country’s strong suit, though to the organizer’s credit, everything of true importance tends to be flawless. It’s the little things that go wrong, or perhaps that’s an erroneous term. Things don’t go wrong; like the first time you innocently order a cappuccino after 10, they just don’t go as expected.

There’s nothing to do but smile, and do as any Italian would: carry on, for it will certainly work out.

Where do I go to get my press credentials? No, not the table where they appear to be giving out press passes en masse, to the other table across the room with an 8×11” sign and 12-point font explaining that here, in fact, is where they need to approve my access to a press pass, before I can actually get one. Just smile, and go with it.

Where do I park, now that the press lot is full and the available spaces within a kilometer are gone as well? On the sidewalk, stupid. In the absence of a metal pole preventing it, it’s as viable a spot as anywhere else. Just smile, and go with it.

Who is this, who just stepped in front of me and ruined my shot? Ah, it’s some lost-looking lady all dressed in pink, who somehow finagled press credentials today. Here she is, at a grand tour, in the middle of the press scrum, with riders whizzing past and journalists following our own well defined but never transcribed etiquette rulebook that keeps the athletes safe and us from punching each other.

Just smile, and go with it.

And who is that flipping hamburgers? Why, it’s some models from Milan hired by Liquigas to improve the burger-buying experience. That certainly wasn’t expected. The burgers look very well done, but that’s ok. Who can help but smile?

In my rounds of the team busses each morning, I grab photos and quotes and the odd video to send back to our web editors, Brian and Scott, who turn what I’ve pulled together into posts for your reading pleasure. But my focus is on the race, on the equipment and on the riders and their managers, not on everything else around me. I’m almost sorry that it is this way, because everything else, to be honest, is far more interesting.

I hope you weren’t hoping to get anything out concrete of this week’s column, other than the loss of a few minutes of your life. For some tech goods, check out everything else I filed today. For a look at the world around us here at the Giro, keep an eye out for a beautifully offbeat photo gallery from my roommate here, Gregg Bleakney. I can see him over there now, editing away.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.