Today was the first of the mountains stages, and we decided our first spot for the day would be atop Passo dei Carpinelli.
By the time we arrived, just before lunchtime, there was already a party going on. I started documenting each group, checking out their car boot picnics. However, it wasn't long before I had a plastic cup of home-made vino in one hand and a panini with cheese and thick-cut salami in the other.
As soon as I finished my cup it was hastily topped up. The wine had an organic, earthy taste and made for a nice departure from the commercial product.
Sadly, after two cups of wine it was time to say ciao and see what else was happening.
The smell of BBQing meat over charcoal got my attention next and, when I noticed two dozen or more beers lined up on the table, I asked if I could take some pictures.
The next thing I knew I was sitting down at the picnic table with a plate of food and a beer. There was a strange looking meat patty which I soon discovered was inside-out sausage – delicious! I had also been loaded up with pork ribs, salad and a slab of bread.
I finished off my food while chatting to one of the group who spoke excellent English (on account of working at a local hotel). Full of good local food and hospitality, it was time to find a spot to shoot and get some work done.
It is so great to see the old bikes and riders getting out and sharing in this celebration of Italian cycling.
The spot I found was just over the other side of the climb. I set up and soon enough the helicopters could be heard off in the distance.
Once the last of the riders had passed (and while the road was still closed to traffic), we had a great time driving down again, using the whole road with a police car in front and a team car behind.
To get to the finish, which was the climb of Abetone, we had to divert from the race route and climb over a mountain pass that brought us up the back of the mountain. From there we had to walk to the top. The pass was unbelievable, but time was short, so I wouldn’t get many opportunities to take photos if we wanted to make the finish. The road had some extended sections over 18%. It was real first gear territory but we made it over ok.
Arriving at the press parking in Abetone I jogged to the top. However, when I got there, I was disappointed with the look of the finish line. There were no mountain views – just a small town centre.
Instead, I decided to walk down the climb and get to the point where the crowd barriers finish. This is always a good place for images because the spectators get really close to the riders and create a tunnel of noise (you can almost hear them in the photos).
There were a couple of bunches that looked like they had already had plenty of wine and would be animated as the riders approached.
When the first rider came into sight, the spectators crowded right in making it hard to see who the rider was. I pushed my way between a couple of people to get a better look.
It was Jan Polanc, the young Slovenian rider from Lampre-Merida. It was a good minute before the next rider, Sylvain Chavanel, came through. Polanc would hold on for victory – after another brave attack by a young rider at this year’s Giro – the first of his professional career.
Before the last riders have reached the summit, spectators start riding back down the hill – all rugged-up for the descent with towls tucked in around their necks. It’s a crazy scene as the spectators try to descend with the pros and the road is filled with bikes – leaving the remaining climbers trying to avoid the chaos.
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.