Mechanics scurry about, taking bikes off roofs and out of busses, giving them one final once-over before lining them up, ready to be ridden to sign-in. Riders hide inside their buses, happy to keep their feet up and chat amongst themselves about the upcoming day.
They have to come out eventually, though, to sign in and then to get to the start line. The big names generate an instant scrum of press and fans, who are allowed into the bus zone. Most riders can quietly slip past the tifosi and make it to the safety of the cordoned-off sign-in area.
As the busses roll out, a few minutes before the start, so do we. Our three-week game of leapfrog begins anew — first, to the finish, where we sit in the press room and pump out stories from the morning while watching the race on TV. When the Belgian journos head to the finish, so do we, grabbing quotes and videos before hoofing it back to the press room to sending everything back home.
With stages finishing up around 6, getting out at 8 or 9pm is the norm: head to the hotel first, as check-in closes early and sleeping in the car is best avoided. Eat nearby, always, because journalists drink like sailors and walking home is usually the best option.
Here in the mountains, cutting from start to finish away from the course is often impossible. Getting stuck behind the race can mean the end of your working day, as there is no way to get past and catch the finish. Timing has to be perfect, a matter of minutes that can make the difference between a quick 100km jaunt down to the finish, and spending the day behind a string of team buses on single-lane roads at 50kph.
When that happens, it’s best to just take a deep breath, look around, and realize what you’re being paid to do.
Through the windows of our Peugeot, driving from hotel to start, start to finish, finish to hotel for three weeks, we see Italy: its tiny towns and incredible mountains, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, Abruzzo and Tuscany and Umbria and Milan.
Over thousands of kilometers, in between the long drives and writing, there is inevitably time for smelling the roses, time for those short rides (and new Strava KOMs), and for meals made by the grandmother running your hotel. When the long, late days begin to run together – deadlines sneak up because our minds are set on stages, not dates – there really is nothing to do but grab a cappuccino, sit back for just a moment and watch Italy stream past.