As recently as a year ago, I was just a cycling fan living in Europe, planning a trip to see a few Giro stages. Then I scored a press pass, 'crashed' an after party, and now I'm addicted. The Giro slightly ruined my life and I can no longer simply spectate a bike race. This is by no means a how-to guide on obtaining media credentials for a cycling race. In fact, it's the opposite - these are all probably terrible ideas. But, this is one way to do it because ultimately, it worked. Please don't mind the iPhone photos - the camera situation has clearly improved since then...
1am, probably. June 1st, 2015
Cavalli Club, Milan, Italy.
Like I said, terrible ideas: by this point in the evening, I had abandoned my luggage and worldly possessions to be there, save for my passport, plane tickets, and my phone with disastrously low battery.
"Is this real life?!" kept echoing through my head and out to various social media channels. I had made small talk with Peter Weening and chatted with a sloshed Matt White about Luke Durbridge's fantastic ride to second place on the Milan finishing circuit. I was decidedly buzzed myself, having lost track of both time and the number of drinks I'd had while dancing amongst the mix of beautiful Milanese and personal cycling heroes. I was not, however, drunk enough to forget that I did have to be back at work in the morning. In Madrid. And that involved a flight from Bergamo at 6:25am.
Two Months Earlier
55€ round trip airfare from Madrid to Bergamo? Booked it. Never mind it was RyanAir, which is basically the Chinatown Bus of the sky, it meant cheap entry and egress to Milan. Well, entry and egress to a city 1 hour from Milan, because that's also how RyanAir works... Either way, I could fly in, rent a car, follow the final stages through Switzerland and northern Italy, then ditch the car to stay in Milan the night before the finish. I hadn't yet worked out exactly where I'd stay during most of the jaunt, but worst case scenario, I'd just crash in the car, right?
I picked up the rental car in Bergamo and cruised to see the stage finish in Lugano. With a found digital copy of the "Garibaldi" - the Giro's Road Book - I was able to plot a course into the city via the off-race-route course, and park within a block of the race HQ. And the thought struck me: "I wonder if I can get a press pass..."
5 minutes, and two half-truths later:
I left the race HQ, probably grinning like an idiot. I didn't even have a full grasp on the exact access the pass would afford, but I was nonetheless stoked just to have one. I didn't yet know what sort of finish access I had, so I watched Sacha Modolo sprint for the stage win from the sidelines.
I woke up in a new Bugatti
I'd never slept in a car before. Particularly one as small as the Fiat. But it worked. And it was actually not awful. The narrow street in small town next to the Lago di Lugano was a blissfuly quiet, with hardly a passerby to question this ostensibly homeless cycling fan. Nor worse, I saw no polizia to do... whatever they'd do to a vagrant member of the cycling press. My airline pillow and blanket - stolen from a different flight earlier in the week - were sufficient for me to be reasonably cozy, even. Thank's Delta! (Thank's for nothin' RyanAir!)
I even made a new friend that morning, Dario:
AND, I acquired a badge of honor for the humble Fiat:
As far as I could see, I was set! Finally flexing some of that press-pass muscle, I spent the morning watching riders sign in, and soaking in the experience in Melide.
After the riders rolled off, I started along off-course route and found myself tucked behind some soigneur team cars as we sped along the Autostrade. (Which is Italian for "Mash the gas pedal harder!")
The soigneurs were making a turn off the highway, and off of the prescribed off-course route.
Follow or continue? Follow or continue? Follow or continue!? The polizia are waving me through the blockade? Well, I'd continue if I must...
The soigneurs and I turned onto the race route itself, and I was once again waved on by the polizia. We soon began to climb - up, up, up the steep pitches of the Category 1 Monte Olongo, as I tested my recently acquired knowledge of not wrecking a manual transmission. We reached the KOM and the soigneurs stopped to dole out bottles, and I stopped to enjoy my express ticket to the top of the climb.
After another night in the Chateu Fiat and absorbing as much of the atmosphere and free Balocco sponsor-cookies in the start town of Gravellona Toce, I made my way to the finishing climb in Cervinia. I ditched the car and wandered down the mountain, I settled at a hairpin around 2k from the finish. The leaders came, there was hooting, hollering, and Fabio Aru winning at making silly pain faces. And also, winning. The grupettos came and there was cheering, supporting, and wishing I had a beer handup to offer Adam Hansen. Trek's Fumi Beppu even straggled past and came to a full stop to grab some snacks from some Japanese fans and chat with them for a minute. I mean, they offered the snacks, he didn't accost them or anything:
Day's Bonus #1: I learned the race HQ has free food for accredited media/staff/etc.
Day's Bonus #2: I picked the right day to find the press room.
I've forgotten to mention the many accoutrements I had in the Fiat: Air conditioning. Power windows and locks. Moonroof. Lopsided sticker. Aux cable for iPod music and navigation. Yeast-based co-pilot. Exactly 3'6" inches of rear bench seating to fit my 6'2" frame at night.
However, these luxurious appointments did nothing to sway the Carabinieri (Italian for "Super Polizia") to allow me up mammoth, unpaved Colle delle Finestre climb. Nevertheless, I watched much of the race unfold from the comfort of the press room in Sestriere, before watching the finish in person to see Aru take another victory and Contador clinch his 3rd Giro title.
As the rest of the media caravan headed towards the next day's start in Torino, I diverted towards the finish city of Milan to finally get a night's sleep in a "real" (hostel) bed.*
I left my bag safely at the hostel and had a leisurely morning at the Wes Anderson designed Bar Luce until it was time to head toward the finish. Keisse and Durbridge killed it off the front on the finishing circuit, and as Keisse played his cards perfectly for the stage victory, I was already running towards the podium to secure a spot inside the credentialed zone.
Cavalli Club, Milan
I showed up to the after party and had some hors d'ouvres, but the party was hardly bumpin' and I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. I stayed for barely an hour before I left to go move my bag - its free time at the hostel was running out. I could store the bag at the Milano Central train station for a few €, which would buy me storage until the baggage facility closed at 11pm.
Oh. The party had picked up. As the sun went down, music came on, and drinks started to flow, I was still as much of a solo outsider, but less obviously so. I started to have a few drinks and dance a little bit until the last possible moment to leave and collect my bag. Around now, my phone was starting to die and threatening all logistics and navigation for the evening.
Milano Central Station
The train station was a ghost town, save for the attendant behind the counter at the baggage window. I handed him my luggage ticket, paid my fee, and collected my bag.
I mimed the international sign for "can I plug my phone in?" The attendant shrugged - presumably the international sign for "do whatever, I just work here." I'd like to think we had a moment.
I stood around awkwardly while my phone came back to life, weighing my options. The bus to Bergamo would take an hour - I could either take the last bus out, and spend the night at the airport. Or, I would need to make the first bus in the morning to make my flight. I'd opt for the early bus. Why not?... But what to do about the bag?
I could hear the party from a block away now as I walked up. Upon arrival I realized - this place had nowhere to even stash a bag, it was an outdoor venue. No offices, no coat check, nothing. I wasn't even getting past the boucer with the packed messenger bag.
What if... what if I just hid the bag? Stashed it somewhere? It was a dicey move for sure, and that's being really generous. But now, under cover of night and emboldened by several drinks, I was intent upon going hard before going home. I looked around the large park next to the club, until my eyes fell upon an adjacent fenced-in construction site. It was illuminated, but had plenty of high contrast shadows amongst the construction equipment, and absolutely no reason for anyone else to go in or out.
I slipped through a gap in the fence and tucked my bag under a front-end-loader bucket. Once I was sure nobody had seen me enter, I grabbed my phone, charger, passport, plane tickets and hoped for the best. I half expected to never see the bag again, but I was oddly OK with the notion. The trip had been worth it.
3:30 am. June 1st, 2015.
Cavalli Club, Milan, Italy.
I was nowhere near done soaking in the experience, but unfortunately, it was actually time to leave. I wasn't so much concerned with my bag (I recovered it), or even making it to work in a few hours (I made it. Barely). Instead, I could only think "How can I do this again?"
The next day at work, I pulled up the Tour de France schedule...
*Pro tip #1: Don't forget shampoo, the hostel doesn't sell any.
Pro tip #2: In a pinch, powdered laundry detergent will work.