Stage 20 of the 2014 Giro must go down as one of my favorite days of race watching. The race finished in the Friuli region, on Monte Zoncolan. I arranged to go to the finish of the stage with the extremely nice family of Brent’s swiss-french teammate, Steve Morabito. They picked me up from the train station in Padova, and when I climbed into their car for 2.5 hour drive to Zoncolan, I immediately began to sweat. It was a hot day and their air-conditioning was barely on; the French are famous for their distaste of air conditioning. I texted Brent, who was rooming with Steve, and he replied that he was a hotel room with Steve, sweating his ass off as well because the air conditioning was not on in their room either.
Steve’s wife had arranged to meet with a local Italian fan to get us press passes. I’m still not sure what happened, but after a lot of hand waving and rapid Italian, we were ushered into the press hotel, our pictures were taken, and the new credentials complete with our photos were hung around our necks. Then we proceeded to tailgate “Italian style” in the parking lot for the lift to Zoncolan, joining the hundreds of drunk joyous and boisterous Italians drinking homemade Prosecco and eating almond cake. No one seemed that concerned that the race would be finishing soon and we were still at the bottom of the lift and the race finished at the top, 3 miles and a 1000 feet of altitude away. When the time seemed right (i.e. the Prosecco ran out) we loaded onto the press-only ski lift and trundled to the top, loaded with Morabito flags. (Steve Morabito’s fan club runs like a well-oiled swiss machine- there are Morabito flags, hats, jackets, etc., and yearly dinners raise money for all the fans to travel to cheer him on at international events).
Once at the top of the mountain, we marched toward the finish with thousands of other fans, most of whom in various stages of inebriation and disorder. It’s hard to describe the Friuli mountains—superlatives fail me when I think of this region. The rock formations and the epic cragginess of these mountains are stunning; you feel like you are on top of the world. Combine this with campers and tents and people grilling food and yelling and singing and blowing trumpets. It’s overwhelming. It was like an American football game, but at 5,700 ft. The last 3km of road to the finish line was absolute chaos. People of all different nationalities jostled for the best place to cheer, and there was a great sense of anticipation waiting for the cyclists to arrive. Even the police and Alpini (the Italian mountain army) that lined up and linked arms to stop the fans from running into the road with the cyclists had cameras and huge smiles, exactly the opposite of the police in the Tour de France.
When the police motos that herald the head of the race began appearing, the zeal and enthusiasm and eagerness of the crowd almost knocked me off my feet (literally), and the roar of the fans reached a fever pitch when the first hollow-eyed cyclists came zipping up the mountain. Brent ended up in a breakaway that day and got 5th! What an experience. The mountains (and people) in this part of Italy must not be missed.
Want to experience this region, and in fact this very mountain, for yourself? Join our Friuli with Craig Lewis Camp, from August 30 to September 5. This year’s itinerary includes a ride with a summit finish on the Monte Zoncolan!