|Lance Armstrong - Photo: Bike Radar|
On May 9, 2009, the Giro D'Italia was held on the Lido, a long sandbar on the Adriatic Sea, which is about a 10 minute vaporetto ride from the historic center of Venice. I knew zero about professional bicycle racing back in May, 2009, but I had an Italian boyfriend, "Marco," who was a timekeeper for official sports, and he invited me to go. At dinner the evening before, Marco told me that he would have a pass for me at the race course on the Lido, and that there were two rules:
1. Since the pass allowed me to access all areas, I was not to go near the holding area where the bikers waited just before they began their race because they needed to concentrate.
2. I was not to call him because he needed to concentrate and his phone would be closed. He said he would be over by the private airport on the Lido, and to head in that direction after I arrived.
|Cat Bauer's flag on balcony June 15, 2012|
I had no idea what to expect since I had never been to a cycle race before, so I was surprised to find that the entire Lido was blocked off. People crowded along the barriers. It seemed like all the armed forces of Italy were standing guard. It was impressive, and I slowly began to realize that Giro D'Italia was an important cycling race, an international event. From Wikipedia:
Along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, the Giro makes up cycling's prestigious, three week-long Grand Tours. The Giro is usually held during late May and early June.
Here is a short YouTube clip to give you an idea what it was like. As you can see, it's fast and perilous:
Marco had told me the race started at 3:30, and not to be late. I was late. Another problem was that with the road blocked off I had no idea how I supposed to get to the airport, or where I was to supposed to pick up my pass -- and I couldn't call Marco to find out. I started walking. Every time I saw someone with a pass around their neck, I asked them where they had gotten it, but there were different pick-up locations depending on the color, and I had no idea what color my pass was. I decided to go straight to the airport, which was about a half-hour walk.
Next to me, a short American woman spoke up. "What did you just ask?" she demanded.
"I asked if my name was on the list because my boyfriend is a timekeeper and he has my pass."
"That's not going to work. Do you know how many Americans want to get back there? They're not letting any Americans get back there."
"Well, I think they will let me back there. I've lived here for eleven years, and I really do have a pass." I wondered why she was being so snarly.
"Well, I've lived here for eight years, and I'm telling you that you're not getting back there."
I laughed. "You're funny! What do you do?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. But it has something to do with the military."
I realized that, indeed, I was surrounded by people who were speaking in English, not Italian, and started wondering if they were all in the military. I approached another policeman and told him my dilemma. "This is the Start Line," he said. "If your boyfriend is a timekeeper, then he would be at the Finish Line." Uh, duh. "How do I get to the Finish Line?" "You have to cross the racetrack, and go around, down..." The directions blurred. The police opened the barrier and escorted me across the racetrack.
I wandered around and found myself outside a long row of tents, a red carpet kind of area. I told the guard my story, which had turned into a sort of sing-song chant: "My boyfriend has my pass. He is a timekeeper. May I go inside?" The guard let me in, and I discovered that the rows of tents were filled with different sponsors displaying their wares. I stopped at a tent that was offering local olive oil samples, dipped with fresh bread.
I started chatting with a few other people. "Honestly, I don't know anything at all about cycle racing. The only cyclist I've ever heard of in my life is Lance Armstrong."
"Lance Armstrong is here," said one guy, munching on some bread.
"Yeah, he's right over there." The guy indicated somewhere at the end of the tents. "He's racing for Astana." Whatever that meant. (I only found out today, while researching this post, that Lance Armstrong had just returned to racing on April 30, 2009 -- ten days before I saw him -- after retiring in 2005 with seven Tour de France medals.)
|Photo: Ken Conley|
In fact, Lance Armstrong was wearing a very cool "Livestrong" helmet, which I later found out was his foundation to help people who have cancer. "Do you know a lot about racing?" I asked the girl. "Oh, yes," she gushed. "It's fantastic," and began rattling off the benefits of the sport. I looked at the toned bodies of the cyclists; their uniforms fit them like a second skin. They did look very... healthy and exceptionally... fit. They were beautiful; I had never been so close to a group of perfectly toned bicycle-men before. I decided at that moment that cycling was an excellent influence on young people, and on older women, too:) Lance Armstrong was so close to me that I could have poked him through the fence, but I resisted.
Off zoomed Lance Armstrong and the Astana team, and off I went to find Marco and my pass, hoping to make it to the Finish Line before Lance did. I exited the tents, walked for another bit, and found myself in a large field with rows of bleachers inside locked metal cages, the fronts of the cages adjoining the race course. Ah, ha! I thought. The Finish Line! I walked up to a cage at the same time that Massimo Cacciari, the then-mayor of Venice, arrived on his bicycle. I remembered that he was a biking enthusiast. He started to go inside the cage. "Massimo!" I called. "Can you please let me in? I really do have a pass!" Massimo looked at me and said, "I don't have the power to let you in." I watched, disappointed, as the gate closed behind him. The man at the gate with the key said, "Well, I have the power to let you in. Come on in."
Off I went, crossing the street (at that point there were no bicycles or cars whizzing by) walking right on the edge of the race course itself, following a camera-man and a couple of other people who appeared to be with the media. We passed several other cages of locked bleachers. As we approached the Finish Line, a policeman checked each one of us for our passes. When he got to me, he saw I didn't have one. A group of Carabinieri came to get me. "You have to leave." They said. "No!" I said. "I've come this far! I can't go back now! I really do have a pass!" Walkie-talkies squawked. Discussions were held. Finally, one Carabiniere opened another cage. "Go inside there and wait until the race is over." I was one cage away from the Finish Line, and figured that I had gotten close enough -- just in time to watch Lance Armstrong zoom by.
|Mark Cavendish-Photo: Italian Cycling|
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she said.
"Don't worry about it. I had so much fun trying to reach the Finish Line, it was better without the pass!"
After that experience, I learned more about Lance Armstrong. I discovered that he had beaten some very serious cancer. Just that fact would be enough to make him a hero. From Wikipedia:
On October 2, 1996, then aged 25, Armstrong was diagnosed as having developed stage three testicular cancer (Embryonal carcinoma). The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. On that first visit to a urologist in Austin, Texas, for his cancer symptoms he was coughing up blood and had a large, painful testicular tumor. Immediate surgery and chemotherapy were required to save his life. Armstrong had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle. After his surgery, his doctor stated that he had less than a 40% survival chance.
|Photo at Washington Times|
Now, today, August 24, 2012, Lance Armstrong says he will no longer battle against the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The USADA says it is an admission of guilt. Armstrong says he is sick of them wasting his time.
From his very strongly-worded statement:
"Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today - finished with this nonsense."
Please click to read the Telegraph:
Great move, Lance! Way to go! Take the wind out of their sails! All these witch hunts, which seem to be originating in the United States of America, have got to stop. Nike, his sponsor, is standing by him, as is everyone else with a brain.
If Lance Armstrong wanted to race around the Lido ALL BY HIMSELF to raise money for Livestrong to spread the message that cancer is not a death sentence, I would pay to see him. And I never pay to see anybody.
What a bunch of dopes.
Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog