During this magnifico 100th instalment of the Giro d’Italia, Beardy’s Caravan has been running on 3 things: love, grissini and pizza. The love has come from everywhere - from Instagram, Facebook, email, the riders, on the side of the road, in people’s lounge rooms, even sitting in their cars. Beardy’s Caravan wouldn’t be possible without all of you - thanks for keeping me going, sharing your BBQs, homes and stories.
Grissini could be the greatest thing ever invented for road trips. It is cheap, available everywhere, and you never seem to run out. If you keep enough empty packets around, you somehow always seem to find just a little bit more, a stray stick or two, when you need it most. It’s magical stuff - and, like magic dust, we have scattered crumbs of it everywhere throughout the car (and through my beard).
Which brings us to our third form of fuel - pizza. Ah, pizza. Like grissini, it is also almost always available, is cheap and goes down with a beer perfectly. Then there is the variety.
Over our 3 week Giro d’Pizza we have tasted pizzas from all around the boot, in all shapes, sizes and varieties, to try and find what constitutes ‘the best pizza in Italy’. Personally, I love the ‘Napoli’ - a chewy, thicker-style crust, made using only wheat, yeast, water and salt. Stuntman Mike, on the other hand, prefers the ‘Roma’ - a crispy crust and thinner base, which often includes olive oil in the dough. Roma style pizzas are commonly finished with polenta flour.
Today, on stage 21, we bookended our trip with two diverse pizza experiences and an individual time trial calzone folded in between.
Walking the streets of Milano in what even Australians would consider blistering heat, I spotted a pizzeria and suggested we stop for lunch. The Stuntman didn’t take much convincing. The first riders were about to start, but that was 30km away in Monza, so we had a little time.
It wasn’t until I stepped into the pizzeria that I realised I had been there before. 4 years, almost to the day, on an evening out with Mrs McBeard.
Was it divine intervention that we had ended up in the same place? 4 years on and 100s of Italian pizzas later, had what we’ve been seeking for 3 weeks been in front of us the whole time? I remembered it being pretty good - but only now consider myself getting close to an expert on the subject - so I was ready to put it to the test.
I eagerly awaited my Bufalina (pomodoro, basilico and mozzarella di bufala) to arrive. The first bite of that chewy crust confirmed it was in the Napoli style! My face lit up - this was really, really good. The final scores were: Beardy 8.5, Mike 6.5. With a combined score of 15/20, this was definitely a contender.
By now the first riders were passing by the window of the restaurant, meaning it was time to take my ‘Beardy McBeardini’ Italian food critic hat off and put my cycling photographer vest back on. In what can only be described as a case of ‘out of the (pizza) oven and into the fire’, we ventured back out into the scorching temperatures on the streets of Milano to get stage 21 underway.
Instead of the usual parade-with-a-sprint-finish finale, this Giro was ending in a too-close-to-call individual time trial. For the first time in a long time, a grand tour was legitimately up for grabs, right until the very end. There hasn’t been this much riding on a final stage in many years, especially one so short (only 30kms). There was no room for error - this would go right down to the wire.
This meant a big day behind the lens for the Stuntman and myself (my biggest of the tour, with 2,450 frames shot). We immediately got to work, shooting each of the riders as they came rushing past.
The crowd had got the memo also, and was already at fever pitch. I had positioned myself just past the 1km-to-go banner, where the barricades ended and crowds spilled onto the road. The unbridled enthusiasm grew with each rider, and then exploded when Nibali came into view. The sentimental favourite, if noise alone could have propelled his TT bike - he would have won by miles.
In a strange footnote, for some reason the streets of Milano were coated in a fine, black dust. Whenever we kneeled, sat or put our bags down, we got covered in the stuff.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
I fell into chatting to the guy next to me, who was Milanese and a big Vincenzo fan. He was giving me updates on the time gaps. Things weren’t working out for him as Tom Dumoulin’s time was eclipsing the other podium hopefuls. By the time Quintana reached us it was a done deal - all that was left was a 1km ITT for me to make the podium presentations in time.
And so, with that, we reach the conclusion of another Beardy’s Caravan adventure - chasing the Giro d’Italia in its centenary. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you. To celebrate, the Stuntman and I are heading out to dinner for, yep you guessed it, pizza! If you see me around, ask me for the final scores - and who won the Giro d’Pizza.
A very big thank you for reading the Caravan. Should you have any feedback, please drop me an email.
A very big thankyou also to the sponsors of the Caravan for supporting me, and helping to make this the most successful Caravan yet.
Ciao for now, Beardy.
PS - in case you missed it (over the weekend), Stage 20 was a cracker. If you haven’t already, be sure to check it out.