This Giro d’Italia has been a lot. 17 stages in, there have been more rainy days than dry. Meanwhile, the Spicy Cough has ripped through, sending pre-race favourites home looking like they’d aged 20 years in a week. Day after day, the vibrancy of the peloton has been replaced by a grimacing, grit-spattered mass of professionals that (with a few notable exceptions) did not look like they were having any fun at all.
So on stage 17 – a downhill-trending 197 km in the sun – there was an almost palpable sigh of relief, which manifested beautifully in a triptych of photos posted by the Giro d’Italia’s social media team. Like catching a glimpse of a school teacher on the weekend, it was a strangely disorienting, charming view of The Secret Lives of Cyclists.
Sitting around at the stage start, the divisions of teams were (mostly) gone, often replaced by nationality. Bikes were substituted for stackable plastic chairs. Pals were just sitting around having a yarn. Or, as Robyn Davidson of Cyclist artfully put it:
There’s a lot to love, so let’s break it down, friendship group by friendship group.
The eye is drawn first to Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) sitting casually with Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) – an inter-team friendship that is surprising in some ways and not in others. Skujiņš is the sole Latvian rider in the race, and, although we cannot be sure that Haig is not showing off his Latvian, let’s assume they’re speaking English. What are they talking about? I don’t know, but they look like nice people having a nice chat! Nice one, guys!
Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates, front right) appears to be a lonely boy but I’m going to guess – based on no evidence beyond vibes alone – that he’s chatting South African things with an out-of-frame Stefan de Bod (EF Education-Easypost).
Behind the South African(/s), in what we’ll call ‘The Plague Quadrant’, we have the two remaining members of the COVID-battered Soudal Quick-Step looking rather less delighted with their company, which is no-one but themselves.
On the outermost fringe of the Plague Quadrant, we have a French diaspora, with the Cofidis fellas and the AG2R boys engrossed in conversation. I wouldn’t be able to understand what they were talking about as much as I want to, but I’m sure it would sound divine.
The marquee on the left is where things get more interesting. There’s a little Spanish-speaking bloc of Movistar having a hang, but they have lost a couple of members. The Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria has turned his back and floated across to an Italian group, with Gianni Moscon (Astana Qazaqstan) EITHER about to hit Simone Consonni (Cofidis) or give him an affectionate pat on the back. To Moscon’s left, we have The Peloton’s Foremost Egg Prankster, Simone Velasco. In the gloom of that marquee we can just make out another Movistar defector – the German, Max Kanter.
So far, it appears that there is a mild tendency towards national groupings, but we cannot yet prove that hypothesis. We’re about to in this second picture, though.
There’s a poetic quality to it all – Primož Roglič and his shadow striding through the centre of the frame, of course, but the true joy comes in the Norwegian cluster to our right. There, we have Andreas Leknessund idly fidgeting with a rubber band or something, probably still wracked with uncertainty about what was in his Big Pink Box from the other day. His compatriot, Jonas Iversby Hvideberg, is there for moral support. Both of them have missed their National Day to be at this race and although it’s a week later now, I still believe their solemn demeanour is because they’re dreaming of the pølser and bunads and flag-waving parades down the main street that they’ve missed out on. Fair enough, too.
In another angle of the same crew, you can see what we’ll term ‘American Corner’. Handsome man
Jake Gyllenhaal Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale Citroën) is handsomely playing with grass while chatting to Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan). Will Barta is another Movistar rider who would apparently prefer to be anywhere else than with his teammates if he can avoid it. 21-year-old Matthew Ricciatello (Israel – Premier Tech) looks like the kid on his first day at a new school, midway through his debut Grand Tour in his first season out of the Continental ranks. Being a photograph, I again don’t have any clue what they’re talking about, but I love that they’ve found each other. Less fortunate is the Ineos Introvert (unidentifiable, tall, Belgian or maybe Dutch based on lack of in-team national companions at the race) who is practicing his best sitting pose for the next time he has to climb on top of a car.
As we know, the Giro d’Italia is about to conclude with a couple of big mountain days, a bonkers time trial, and a procession into Rome. At that point, all these bicycle friends will scatter to the breeze. Until they next meet, however, they’ll always have Stage 17 to think back on, fondly – a gentler time when a bunch of bros sat around in Italy and shot the breeze.