With the incredible Stages 19 and 20 in the legs, the 134km final stage of the 2016 Giro Italia lay ahead of the Grand Tours Project team, Cuneo to Turino. Even with heavy rain forecast and heavy legs all round, the excitement was palpable. Here’s our stage 21 experience.
For stage 21, we were joined by Grand Tours Project founder and serial tour stage rider Keith Tuffley. In 2013, Keith rode every stage of the three grand tours (Giro, TDF and Vuelta) ahead of the race, just as we had done over our three days. We were in excellent company for the day that lay ahead.
With our wet bags fully laden with all the waterproof gear we owned stashed in the van (and a quick selfie with an Italian Alpini Soldier) we set off from Cuneo on the official start line just as the rain started to fall. Crowds were already starting to gather ready to catch a glimpse of the Giro circus that would take over the town later that day. A loop of the town led us out through a few small towns adorned in pink (including pink coloured fountain water), and onto quiet stretches of road with the vast mountain range as a backdrop.
As we picked up speed so did the intensity of the rain. Before long I could barely see and was fully immersed in the downpour as it attacked me from all angles down from the sky and up from the road as I tried my best to sit on Keith’s wheel to hold the 40km/h speed we were racing along at. The roads were greasy meaning maximum concentration required, and we were only a peloton of 6. The very same roads caused a multiple crashes in the race even before the pros reached the real start of the racing stage.
As we zoomed towards Turin we took a half way cafe stop for espresso and foccacia, hiding from the downpour and checking our progress. We were on course, and with a little bit of luck the rain stopped and we set off again picking up speed and building excitement with every kilometre that went by.
Racing through the suburbs of Turin we were waved through road closures and enjoyed the freedom to ride without the traffic. The heavens opened again but that didn’t stop the enjoyment, it simply added to the drama of the occasion. Coming onto the final 8km circuit of Turin we realised just how special this moment was.
Here we were, 6 average joes soaked right through to the skin riding the closed roads of the final stage of the Giro D’Italia 2016. This was really happening.
We paused to regroup at the Flamme Rouge, hiding from the rain under the back door of the van: this was the final km of our #giroproject. 80km behind us were the ‘processional’ peloton, bringing Nibali towards Turin on his shiny pink Specialized (bike envy or what?!).
Ten minutes later we were given the nod by Alain and we were off, hurtling towards the finish line, crossing the “perilous cobbled bridge” (Dan Lloyd) towards the flags, the grandstands and commentary boxes, Giro fans lining our route with the race now not far behind. Our names were called out as we crossed the finish line and the urge to race was too much! Now I wish I had taken it slower to take it all in, but who can resist the temptation not to sprint across a line?!
Ant McCrossan came out to interview us, and the crowds watched and listened to our story with interest which was incredible. We were then whisked onto the podium for photos (and a large number of selfies) before being handed our VIP passes for the rest of the day to enjoy the race which we did, right by the finish line as the Giro circus took in 8 laps of the Turin circuit. Super, super cool. What an incredible experience, the best ever.
We celebrated our #giroproject with pizza and gelato as we watched the race come to its conclusion and Nibali take his 4th major Grand Tour title in front of an adoring Italian crowd. We were all contentedly exhausted, full to the brim with experiences and stories that will be etched on our minds for a life time. The three days of our lives when we got to ride like the pros.
The #giroproject was organised by Grand Tours Project, who create unique and challenging adventures that celebrate the culture of cycling. You can follow my personal project in the mountains here, and find out more about the team at GTP here.