We packed our bags and left our hotel by 9 AM on Wednesday so we could ride the first 75 km of the Giro’s Stage 4 before the real Giro began. Giro Stage 4 would leave from Pedara, 3 km away, at 1:15 PM, giving us ample time to get to the historic town of Taormina, our next stop, where we could cheer the boys as they came through.
Things didn’t go according to plan. Stage 4 was to pass through many Sicilian towns, often through the Centro on cobblestones and one way streets—the wrong way. Gendiarmi and local polizia were already controlling intersections and re-directing traffic, although we could usually get through on our bikes. Once we had to walk our bikes a km to stay on the route; another time we had to argue using gestures since we didn’t speak Italian until the gendiarmi finally gave up and waved us through. We were suffering an Etna hangover, our legs were tired and we dawdled.
By 12:45 we were only half way and Ben intercepted us and told us to stay put in a town called Piedmonte Etneo because roads ahead were already closed. Local folks filled the Centro, and we occupied ourselves with beer, panini and gelato as the Giro caravan came through, then stopped, with music, dancers, and a long Italian speech over a loudspeaker. Finally, at 2:45, police sirens whooped and soon a dozen police motorcycles roared into town, then a Giro car with two cyclists close behind, more motorcycles and two team cars.
Five minutes later, the whole peloton arrived, sped over the town cobbles and disappeared, followed by 20 team cars. We barely had time to yell, “Joey! BMC!” The local buzz dissipated and the town quickly began its return to normal. We got on our bikes and pedaled for two more hours to Taormina, satisfied that we had experienced first-hand the twists, turns and cobbles of Sicilian towns, just like the racers. Pink directional signs and barricades were already down in the towns ahead and we had to struggle to follow the route.
Mt. Etna was our constant companion to our left, the Mediterranean to our right. And just to make sure the day was memorable, Ben cajoled us into riding our bikes up the steep, 2 km ramp into Taormina. It started with a 20% pitch and proceeded with 8 – 16% from there. We found out the next day there was a longer but much gentler slope into Taormina. Dammit, Ben!! But he knows us well and wants to make sure he creates memories. (65 mi., 5,200 ft.)