Julian Dean Diary
The days before any of the big stage races seem long. I arrived here in Reggio Calabria, Italy, last night where the start of the Giro will take place. We?ve only been here one whole day after doing the medical examinations this morning but already it feels like a week. After the exams this morning we headed out for a 3 1/2hr ride along the coast with views just across the water to Sicily.
I?ve never been in the south of Italy before. I?ve heard about it but I never imagined it to be as crazy as it has shown itself to be. On our ride this morning we nearly got knocked off at least 4 times by crazy drivers - not to mention the poor state of the roads. It wasn?t until after one of my Italian team-mates freaked at Wiggins, who arcked up at a driver who nearly wiped us all out, that I began to understand that this part of the world is a pretty lawless place. Our Italian team-mate later explained to us that it?s not unheard of to have a gun or knife pulled on you in these situations in this part of Italy. Nice!!!
If that isn?t enough character for ya, there?s always the hotel. I feel like I?m in the amateur ranks again and we?re doing some shitbox race in a third world country where they can only put us in 0 - 1/2 star accommodation. Even the cockroach I had to squash running across the floor this morning made me laugh a little. As did the plastic plates, bowls and cutlery that we have to use in the hotel restaurant. It?s all good though: it takes me back to when I started out as an amateur trying to turn pro in the States. I lived in a ?Laverne and Shirley?- type basement apartment with next to no furniture, bedding, towels or utensils and eating with plastic cutlery until I could scab stuff from somewhere?like from a cheap and nasty roadside hotel?
Then there?s the view out our hotel room window. It looks out onto a half-built sort-of-extension thing. I can almost touch the wall, it?s that close. It?s half red bricks with cement randomly splattered on different parts of it, along with the occasional bunch of electrical cables strung along the wall or coming up through the floor. What really tops it off as being the eye-sore that it is, is that it looks as though it has been left like that since the 80's and it has since been informally designated a residential and industrial dumping site for whatever goes?
You just have to laugh at it all really because we are professionals at the top of our game in the second biggest cycling stage race in the world. I?m actually enjoying the irony of it all, we don?t get to race a lot in places with this sort of feel to it. I quite like the madness of this part of Italy. It?s certainly a place with a lot of character; definitely plenty of 'interesting' sights with lots of mad stuff going on. It's actually like one of those backward places Carole and I backpack around at the end of the season? Although we won't be doing that kind of trip again for a while?
I?ve learnt a thing or two about Italy by coming here. I hadn?t realised that Italy has such huge regional differences in language and culture. In this part of the country, it?s said that the unemployment rate is as high as 80% and naturally as a result, crime is rife (the reason not to give abuse when you nearly get killed by a lunatic driver while out training). Apparently the low socio-economic state of the place is largely due to the Mafia controlling a lot of what goes on here. They have stopped a lot of development and changes - often halfway through. Hence, the majority of the buildings are half completed and although being a very beautiful place, there are almost no tourist facilities.
All this makes it a place that I kind of like. Although it?s not right that this place is so backward and impoverished compared to the rest of Italy, it certainly gives it a lot of character and makes it a stimulating and thought-provoking place to visit. There?s such a stark contrast between here and the rest of Western Europe and this kind of place tucked away in today's developed countries seem pretty hard to find.
So anyway, back to why I?m here?.the race starts on Saturday before heading north on Sunday. The prologue is a 1km TT so it should be an interesting start as long as I don't get killed out training by a crazy driver or a raving Italian lunatic wielding a gun or knife?
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