With 5 climbs on stage 16, we spent many hours deliberating the best plan of attack. Finally, the decision was made to start on the second climb of the Passo del Tonale, which the GPS pronounced "toe nail" :)
The climb was 15km long and the whole time we drove along it, I had my eyes on the road looking for possible shots. We reached the summit as rain started to fall, and without finding a location to take a great shot. So, we continued off down the valley - all plans out the window - until we came across the road the riders would descend off the Passo del Mortirolo. This was the spot we were looking for.
Hoping we still had hours before the riders would be on the road, we tried to drive up the hill. We were quickly stopped by local Polizia, however, who told us that both sides of the Mortirolo were now closed for 5 hours. This left us with the following options: a) go straight to Aprica empty-handed for the finish or, b) improvise.
Assembling my bike from the boot and re-packing my camera bag to be as light as possible (with just two lenses, a salami sandwich and lots of warm kit), I set off to climb the Mortirolo.
Meanwhile, Mrs McBeard set off to Aprica to get some images of the finish. Our plan was to meet back at the hotel in Teglio after the race.
The climb wasn’t overly difficult but, with a bag full of camera equipment, and sore legs from my big climb the day before, it certainly wasn’t easy. Slowly but surely I crept up the mountainside and, almost 2 hours later, I reached the summit.
There were people everywhere, especially around the Passo del Mortirolo sign, marking the altitude at 1854m. When there was a break in the traffic I stealthily stuck a Beardy sticker on the sign.
The climb itself was mostly hidden below the tree line, however the last 1.5kms was exposed and seemed like the logical place to shoot. However, to make sure I covered all bases, I headed off down the mountain just in case.
I only made it down another 500m. The gradient was obscene, with riders wobbling around on their bikes as they tried to climb up. The crowd was cheering them on with ‘vai, vai, vai’ – and giving the odd person a bit of a push.
On the way back up I spotted a familiar face. It was my friend Andrea from Stage 11. He had asked for a selfie together at the 2014 Giro and, after recognising me on the mountain, we had repeated the feat in 2015.
Andrea and his friends had snuck up the day before and claimed a prime position in their camper van. I sat with them and ate my salami sandwich as they fetched me a beer from the fridge. I was getting comfortable, warming my legs in the sun.
Their camper van had the TV going and it looked like the riders weren’t far away – so I finished my beer and asked if I could leave my bike with them while I looked for the best location to shoot.
I clip-clopped up and down the last km in my cycling shoes and managed to pick out a number of locations.
I knew the riders would be stretched out, meaning there were opportunities for lots of angles. As if by request, just as the helicopters appeared, a light sleet started to fall.
I set up for my first shot and, as soon as the leaders passed, ran off to get another angle – almost slipping over on the damp grass in my cleats.
Once the last of the riders had passed I packed up my gear and said farewell to Andrea and his friends (turning down another beer in the process; the descent was going to be sketchy enough as it was).
Howling down the mountain with hundreds of other people I had to pull over to give my hands a rest. Fortuitously, the Pantani monument was a must-see, so I stopped there and took a couple of shots.
Back on the flats and looking back up at the mountain made for an impressive view – especially the castle that was jutting out half way up.
From the climb to the hotel was 20km. With only one Italian SIM card between us (currently with Mrs McBeard) I had to make do with a series of photos of the route to try to get me home. Not wholly unsurprisingly, I managed to get completely lost.
Waiting in a small town hoping Mrs McBeard would come past, I spotted a teenager who was going about his business. Knowing that young people often have the best english skills, I asked for directions.
Sure enough he pulled out his phone and showed me the way. Straight down this road past the church, then follow that road, turn right then the road goes “su” (which I later discovered means “up”), etc. etc.
For 6km the road headed skywards at a gradient that could only be described as rude. My salami sandwich had long since vaporised and I was running on fumes. I had to stop and rummage around in the camera bag, hoping to find some calories. I was in luck – there was one gel that was left over from the great musette raid of stage 9.
Powered by a sugar rush I ground out the last 1.5kms, pulling into the hotel with 1600m of climbing under my belt. I was spent.
However, there would be no rest, as we headed straight for the restaurant. There is nothing better, when you are really hungry, than a fixed menu. The food came out so quickly I only had time the eat 2 grissini and a slice of bread before huge bowls of pasta were presented before us.
There was red wine on the table and the food just kept coming. A plate of bresola appeared, the regional specialty, with chunks of battered and fried cheese. Delizioso!
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.