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The Giro d'Italia returns to Lucca

Andrea Pietrobon leading Stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia with 300 meters to the finish
Andrea Pietrobon with a good lead and only 300 meters left but it ain't over till it's over as the saying goes

After an absence of 39 years the Giro d'Italia circus rolled into Lucca this week and they put on a good show. Our town was selected for the finish of Stage 5 of the 107th edition of the Giro d'Italia and preparations had been going on in and around Lucca for at least a week before race day.

Stage 5 finish area of the 2024 Giro d'Italia
Close to the finish line there was not much room for the general public to view the race

In our local area of Sant'Anna some shopkeepers were complaining about the impact on their businesses from the planned road closures nearby because their stores outside the centro storico mostly serve local residents and don't really benefit from tourism. The Lucchesi are a dour bunch I've noticed over the years and like to grumble about anything.

The peloton nearing the finish on Stage 5 of the 2024 Giro d'Italia

But even for someone like me who enjoys cycling, a professional bike race has to be the worst spectator sport in the world. To get any sort of view at all requires an hour or two of standing in the hot sun to see no more than a few seconds of action as the riders flash by. The finish line itself is mostly taken over by support vehicles and personnel and the various sponsors and their entourages.

The peloton on the final yards of Stage 5 of the 2024 Giro d'Italia
The peloton failed to catch the breakaway so the bunch sprint was only for points rather than the stage win

If you live somewhere along the route then you can wait until the peloton arrives and then just stroll out of your house and stand on the pavement to watch the cyclists go by, cup of coffee in hand, and then return home a couple of minutes later.

But trying to catch the finish of a stage requires a lot of time and effort for very little reward so this was my first and probably last time. A grand tour like the Giro is best watched on television, especially the sprint finish, because not only is it lightening fast at about 40 mph but you can't tell who is who in the blink of an eye.

The Giro d'Italia cyclists sprinting for line at the end of Stage 5 in 2024
The battle for the stage win between 4 cyclists was taking place on the final straight a few seconds in front of the peloton

For the conclusion of the day's race, which took place on the ring road just outside the Lucca walls, I positioned myself 300 meters from the finish where the crowds were only four or five deep from the barrier but I still couldn't tell who actually won the stage.

I assumed it was the Italian Andrea Pietrobon whom I caught on camera with what looked like a decent lead (top photo) given the short distance left to the finish line. 300 meters takes these athletes only about 15 seconds when they're sprinting flat out at the end of a stage but I saw later on the replay that the poor guy was overtaken so quickly in the final few yards that it seemed like he was standing still.

the crowd at Stage 5 of the 2024 Giro d'Italia
If not for my height and my camera held high above my head, I would have ended up with all my photos blocked by other people's cell phones, such is the crush of people near the finish

As most followers of professional cycling will be aware, one of the most famous Italian cyclists in the history of the sport is a Lucchese called Mario Cipollini, known as 'Cipo' locally and often also referred to as 'Super Mario or 'the Lion King'. A flamboyant and talented sprinter who was ever present in international races from 1989 to 2004, he still holds the record for the most Giro d'Italia stages won, numbering 42, as well as 12 stages of the Tour de France and numerous other victories.

He was born in San Giusto di Compito which is one of the attractive small villages in the foothills that you pass through on the way up to Monte Serra. Never far from controversy he was often fined and was once arrested for training behind a pace car on an Italian autostrada, commenting that it was the only place he was able to hit his top speed! Fans loved him of course and professional cycling is much more boring today without characters like Cipo around.


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