Trying (too) hard to be patriotic
Every year, we make it a point to attend one of the stages of a grand tour cycling race.
We like to demonstrate our patriotism and support the Australian team.
Months ago, when the route for the Giro d’Italia was first announced, I perused the route to identify the stages that travelled through the alps. I found that Stage 20 was to travel through 3 Cols of the Maritime Alps including the Colle della Lombarda and finish at the monastery of Sant Anna di Vinadio.
This promised to be an incredible stage so I was keen to book accommodation along the route as soon as possible.
It so happens that I’d been eyeing off the monastery of Sant Anna for several years, ever since my father had gifted me with a book entitled “Beds and Blessings in Italy: A Guide to Religious Hospitality” (ISBN 978-1-921032-05-9)
Needless to say, I immediately booked a 2 night stay at Sant Anna for the weekend of Stage 20.
And that is how we found ourselves at Sant Anna last weekend.
We love the Maritime Alps. They are steeped in history and tradition. They are high and dramatic yet intimate. They are also only 150 kilometres from our home. They are our alps.
Sant Anna is a small monastery that sits in a cosy flat spot on the side of a mountain at 2,035 metres altitude. It is at the end of a spectacularly beautiful and steep narrow drive. The monastery is owned by the diocese of Cuneo and operates as a religious refuge where all are welcome in peace to reflect, meditate and pray.
We arrived on Friday and were delighted to learn that our room was located a mere 100 metres from the finishing line!
We spent the day breathing deeply and relaxing in the peace of the monastery and fully absorbing the beauty of the surrounding peaks.
That evening, we learned that the Australian team had had a successful Stage 19 and that its Colombian rider, Esteban Chaves, was wearing pink!
Tomorrow promised to be even better than expected!
On Saturday morning we were woken to a bright blue sky and the sound of metal clanging. When we peered out of our bedroom window we saw teams of people unloading steel barriers from several trucks and lining them up on each side of the street. We saw semi-trailers equipped with some serious electronics and communications equipment.
Preparation for the end of Stage 20 was definitely underway.
We passed the morning walking around and around the monastery taking in all the activity of a Giro d’Italia finishing line.
After lunch, with the cyclists due to arrive at about 5pm, we decided to find The Perfect Spot from which to watch the race.
With the weather alternating between warm and sunny and cloudy and windy, we returned to our room to gather some critical items. These included a large water bottle, sun hats, warm coats and rain jackets. We were ready for any weather event that the alps might bring us!
We also gathered our small Australian flag and our large Australian flag picnic blanket. These would be the patriotic symbols that we would use to propel Chaves to the finishing line.
We walked down the hill to a spot 350 metres from the finishing line. From here we had an extensive view. We could see the cyclists coming over the top of the Colle della Lombarda in the distance. We could watch them as they travelled across the mountain on the opposite side of the valley. We could watch them pedal down the mountain, then along the bottom of the valley. We would lose them while they climbed the lower curves of the Sant Anna hill, but then see them again as they rode past on the road just below us, turned on a switchback 100 metres away from us, then ride past us.
The Perfect Spot enabled us to prepare properly for the riders.
After all, as dedicated spectators we had decisions to make.
Should we take a photo or wave a flag?
We decided that we would take photos of 1st, 2nd and 3rd and make a noise (“Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!”) and wave the Australian flag at any Australian riders.
Once these major decisions had been made, we settled down to wait…for 4 hours…
Luckily, the crowd was in high spirits so we were entertained by several pink people.
Eventually, we started to see helicopters hovering above the Colle della Lombarda. This meant that the cyclists were reaching the top of the Col.
We watched them as, one by one, they swept across, down, along and started up our road.
The first vehicle to arrive was the lead car, which announced to rousing Italian applause that Vincenzo Nibali had taken back the lead from Chaves.
We were devastated. We had been utterly certain that this Giro belonged to the Australian team. However, we remained enthusiastic. After all, being in a crowd of ecstatic Italians can be a very rousing experience, enough to make you feel Italian yourself!
We cheered and photographed the first few riders and fell silent as Nibali passed. With only seconds between Nibali and Chaves we waited anxiously for Chaves.
When we saw him on the road just below us, we prepared for our The Big Flag-Waving Event.
I grabbed the small flag while Stu opened the picnic rug. Our flags were not the most expensive items. The image of the flag appeared on only one side. The back side of the material was black so we had to make sure that we held our flags the right way up and with the right side showing.
When Chaves was 50 metres away, we leaned over the barrier with our flags. We lifted them high and stretched our arms wide so that everyone could see how proud we were.
Unfortunately, just at that exact moment a strong gust of wind blew our flags upside down and inside out.
Sadly, my small flag was flapping and twisting around itself so wildly that it was unrecognisable.
I was deeply disappointed and frustrated.
When I looked at Stu, I saw him waving a huge black blanket.
He looked slightly insane.
Seconds later the wind had wrapped the blanket around his head and, arms flailing, he cried “Help me, Cath!”
I was now not only disappointed and frustrated but also profoundly embarrassed.
I considered pretending I didn’t know Stu.
I could become an Italian and cheer loudly for Nibali…
That evening, we wondered if our shameful efforts to be patriotic had been responsible for Chaves’ failure to retain the pink…after all, several Italians had asked us what country our black flag came from…