Perhaps the greatest thing about guiding bicycle trips that interact with big races and follow Grand Tours is the opportunity to travel off the beaten path. We venture to parts of the world that tourists simply do not travel. This was no truer than at Trek Travel’s 2009 Giro d’Italia “Behind the Scenes” trip with the Astana Pro Cycling Team.
It is May 25th, 2009, and the sun is getting lower on the coast of Pescara, Italy. I glance down at my watch: 6:45PM. Dinner is scheduled shortly at a luxurious hotel in Francavilla al Mare, a tiny beach town set on the eastern Abruzzo coast of Italy. This is not just a simple meal, but rather, we have a dinner engagement with the Astana Team.
We had just picked up our crew of Trek Travel adventurers that morning, and immediately experienced an adrenaline-pumped, epic bike ride on the Giro race route. We literally rode up the mountain pass in front of the pros, to the cheers of locals. The Abruzzo region is known for being rugged, and today’s roads were no exception. They were narrow, bumpy, steep and fast. The crowds cheering at the top of our brutal climb were local: I would reckon roughly 98% Italian. But somehow, our group of Trek Travelers, when atop a bicycle, well, we somehow fit right in.
The energy matched the elevation atop our mountain pass, as we eagerly awaited the pros to cross the top. I stood next to a hobbit-sized, elderly, Italian lady with a face leathered and wrinkled by decades of hard work. In her arms she held a stack of bright-pink newspapers. I knew them instinctively: La Gazzetta dello Sport. It’s the title sponsor of the Giro d’Italia, and the inspiration—no truly, the reason—for the race-leader’s pink jersey. The breeze turned chilly as the riders crested the hilltop with much bravado and fanfare. The small, wrinkled hobbit slowly reached her weathered hand in front of her, a pink newspaper clutched in it. As riders prepared for their descent in the frigid, mountain air, they looked around for something warm. Rider after rider eagerly snatched a pink paper from her, stuffing their jerseys with their newly-found insulation. With a smile on her face, she repeated this again and again, barely bothering to look up, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But of course riders would be chilly on top of a hill; of course they would need something to keep warm on the descent.
I turned our Trek Travel van around the corner to the team hotel, where we met the mechanics who were cleaning and prepping the bikes, and met with behind the scenes support staff who ran us through their process of managing team logistics, the particulars of wrenching from the team car, and shared some of the team’s quirks and lesser-known details.
Then we went inside to enjoy dinner and met with the team managers and some members of the team: Levi Leipheimer (most-improved outgoing personality), Jose “Chechu” Luis Rubiera (kindest cyclist), Jani Brakovic (most gentle, honest rider), Viatcheslav Ekimov (best mullet), and more. After we enjoyed an exceptional Italian feast (many kilos of pasta were eaten that night), we sat around talking and laughing with other members of the team. I had this keen sense that—aside from being able to ride their bike really fast—these guys were just the same as any of us. Here they were, an international group of talented athletes, in a country far from family and friends. An excited group of Trek Travel cycling fans traveled to this small, Abbruzzese town to cheer wildly for them, to share their stories, to encourage them. It was clear that some of our energy and excitement infused back to the team that night.
We stopped for a quick round of billiards and a nightcap with the mechanics and support staff before drifting back to our beachside hotel where the group regaled each other with their own perspectives and highlights from a night of excitement and stimulation. Someone remarked that the trip had been a success and that they could go home happy right then and there, which brought a smile to my lips.
Because that was just day one.
About the Author: Jacob Young, a guide and trip designer who started with Trek Travel at the very beginning, is happiest when showing people new places, a passion he discovered 15 years ago while guiding a friend up Mt. Rainier. When not guiding bike trips, you’ll find him handling logistics for the biggest bike races in North America, or out leading yoga retreats in tropical destinations.