With the big mountain stages behind me, the rest of the Tour de Suisse - including today’s stage 8 - would play out in Bellinzona. Which sounded rather Italian and, in fact, was very close to Lake Como.
I have noticed that the Swiss organisers are both thorough and thoughtful with the planning of their stages. With a 2 hour transfer from Arosa to Bellinzona overnight, they had responded by starting yesterday’s stage early, allowing for an easy getaway. For today’s stage 8, they had similarly pushed the start time back to a leisurely 2:15pm. This meant I had time to edit my photos, put up the page, relax, get a good night’s sleep - and be raring to go again the next day. I only wish the Giro, Tour and/or Vuelta would be similarly accommodating!
I decided to split the transfer in two, driving one hour to the town of Andeer where I stayed at Hotel Post. The town was nestled in-between the mountains, affording amazing views. I awoke to watch the sun peaking over the summit, with flocks of swallows darting around - it was positively Disney-esque. After a hearty breakfast I set off early hoping to do a lap of today's circuit in the Skoda to find the best locations.
Arriving in Bellinzona, one could easily have mistaken it for Italy; gone was all that well-ordered Swiss-ness, replaced instead by the more chaotic Italian style. The smell of two-stroke scooter fumes filled the air, and there was a gelato shop on every corner. Things just kept getting more Italian as I spotted Fabio Aru - just dropping by to watch the stage.
I got my lap of the circuit in and, after the high mountains, it was a slightly deflating experience (almost anything would be). The loop was very suburban with nothing that could be categorised as a climb. I noted down a couple of spots and headed back the start for sign-on.
It was the first roll-out I’ve photographed at the Tour de Suisse and, for once, I had no problems muscling to the front row. I was lucky enough to get some shots of Richie and Quintana exchanging a few words and a handshake.
Regular readers will know that one of my biggest supporters - and one of the companies that make Beardy’s Caravan possible - is Santini. You might even remember some of my factory tours over the years (well worth a read if you haven’t already). Today, I was lucky enough to again spend some time with Monica Santini, who had come over from Italy to see the race (they are now the jersey sponsor).
The starter’s gun fired and they were on their way. With 6 laps to complete I was relaxed in the knowledge that I’d get at least 5 locations, the finish and, perhaps, a couple more if I was crafty.
There first location was a bridge at the far end of the course. I was sitting on the handrail as I knew from the wind direction that the riders would all be riding the opposite side. Just as I was getting comfortable, a police motorbike pulled up and proceeded to tell me off in Italian. I almost forgot which country I was in - this was a serious case of deja-vu. Anyway, I have been to enough Giro d’Italia races to understand the general gist of what he was saying, so I just shrugged and said ‘’va bene’' before moving to the other side.
This was the first time during the race I’ve been told what to do - a fairly regular occurrence at other races. Maybe the Swiss are more easy-going than they get credit for? They are certainly much better organised than most other races I have been to. It is likely a bit of both.
My next location was accessed via a private driveway and, again, I was told that I couldn’t shoot from there. However, this time it was by a volunteer in a high vis vest, so I just pretended not to understand what he was saying. Eventually, he just gave up and let me stay. It’s like I hadn’t missed the Giro in 2018 after-all...
Arrivederci to ambition
I’m not sure if it was the heat, or the 7 stages already in the shed, but I was, frankly, buggered after a couple of laps. My ambition to cover as many spots as possible quickly evaporated, meaning that, when that fifth lap came around, I was happy to pack up shop and head to the finish.
With the close proximity to the Italian border came a bunch of extra Italian photographers. I guess this highlights for me, as an Aussie, how we don’t mind travelling long distances. Surely it would have been worth the extra effort for some of these photographers to visit the mountain stages for some amazing images (especially once the Critérium du Dauphiné finished).
Still, I had enough race fitness left in my legs to out-sprint the johnny-come-lately Italian press and get to Arnaud Demare first, capturing him celebrating with his team after the win.