I have to admit that when Procycling features editor Daniel Friebe called me up last Saturday to ask if I fancied watching the Tour of Lombardy at Italia Uno – an Italian café in central London, which shows all the pro cycling races, as well as the Italian football league games – I’d almost forgotten that the race was on. Danilo Di Luca had been disqualified from the ProTour a couple of days before, and the only rider who could have challenged Cadel Evans for the title, Alejandro Valverde, pulled out last minute with sickness.
As an aside, before I go on, the café owner, Felice, has appeared in a Hard-Fi music video and Channel 4’s Fonejacker programme recently, but despite his stardom was only too pleased to receive his regular copy of Procycling, while we lapped up a ciabbatta and a lasagne in return.
At this time of year, it’s a bit of a battle, screen-wise, to get the cycling on what with all the Italian games going on, but it was soon negotiated, albeit with our choice on the smallest of the three screens and no sound.
But actions speak louder than words, and what a finale to the race it was, with Lampre-Fondital’s occasional Boy Wonder Damiano Cunego and Saunier Duval’s Riccardo Ricco bossing it over everyone up the final climb once Frank Schleck was eliminated with an embarrassing crash.
We’ll often disagree, but Friebos and I were both adamant that our money was going on Cunego and, sure enough, the young Italian dispatched his even younger compatriot in a two-up sprint. It had us wondering if Cunego might give up on trying to return to his Giro d’Italia-winning form of 2004 and instead focus on becoming potentially the best one-day rider of his generation.
Whatever, following a pretty average second half of the cycling season, this race had to be up there as one of the better races of the whole year, although for me it still falls short of Alberto Contador’s performance on the last stage of this year’s Paris-Nice.
The highlight of the many occasions I’ve sat in the back section of this very same establishment, though, had to be the mountain stages of the 2003 Giro, when Marco Pantani seemed to be back to his best, and what seemed like hundreds of Italian fans – and us – crammed into the tiny café to see what he could do. Roaring emotion is the best way to describe what was going on inside, and only when I stepped back out onto a damp, London-summer street did I remember that I wasn’t actually in Italy.
So that’s it for another season; there’ll be no racing this weekend – neither another weekend away as a journalist covering a race, nor sitting back with a piping hot lasagne in an Italian café.
© BikeRadar 2007