«It wasn’t like that in the past». Loris says that without turning his gaze. His sudden words lay against the counter breaking the so far unflappable silence whilst playing Maraffone (a game with cards NDT). The bar Piazza has suddenly become overcrowded with drenched and swearing people: guys from the carovana, Giro workers, journalists, drivers… all put together by the breakaway, away from the race. Too much rain, all of a sudden. «Un'era acsé una vòlta» says Loris, his nose with a maze of widespread capillaries and trembling blue eyes counting the many days spent on the same table, with the same fellows, the same pack of cards of Romagna. To understand the changing weather, one needs even the small bars with their gazes. «In the past – says Loris reluctantly resigned to lose his game – it wasn’t pouring down like that. There were storms in summer, but in spring this would never happened. Adéss sì, ma adéss uns capéss piò gnìnt».
At the Bar Piazza the murmur is barely understandable – the group itself is confused and even with their expert weather forecaster keeps on hoping that everything is going to be like in the past. This morning the sea in Cesenatico was a flat stretch mirroring a shady blue sky and an uncertain sun. But the escapers do not lack of certainty, those who like to reshuffle the cards: who knows which card will be picked up. There’s 9 of them at the beginning of the Ciola. Neilandts and Hanninen leading, then Tratnik, Zaccanti, Maté, Mäder, Frapporti, Conti and Arndt. It might look like a fair play if it wasn’t that going down to Mercato Saraceno the sky is turning colour: dull grey to purplish. There’s not even time to acknowledge the first drops and it’s immediately a storm. The babau of the Barbotto climb becomes a true monster – where the climb reaches the 18%, the riders look like salmons swimming a mountain upstream.
In front of everything, ahead of the peloton, ahead of the breakaway, the suiveurs are frantically looking for a shelter, a roof, a balcony, a bar. Despite the uproar and sudden chatting, at the Bar table, the game goes on. They ignore – as the rest of the crowd does – that even on the road there is a sort of weird card game going on. Hidden under their alike rain jackets, their glasses fogged up, the riders try to understand what is going on. Passing in front of the bar, the race is like a messy pack of cards shuffled by wiry hands. There are 23 riders on the front which will sum up to the other 9 escapers in Perticara becoming a bit less than a fifth of the all participants: more than a breakaway, a sort of little peloton itself. Almost all the teams are there, among which Nibali’s Trek, towards which the rest of the peloton, the real one, is looking at.
They say the Marafon, the ‘Maraffone’ (a card game in between of Tresette and Briscola), is the national card game of the Romagna region – surely it is the only one admitted at the bar in Sogliano al Rubicone, where it starts from midday throughout the closing time, not even paying attention to the race nor the rain. As time passes – and wine glasses too – the card game matches can be very taut and in the complete silence only 3 words can be heard: böss, strèss, vòl. But the Giro has changed everything in this afternoon of May: the bar Piazza is a whirl of voices and yelling, the group is quiet. The escapers and the attackers try to show their cards to allied and hide them to the opponents. None really wants to stay outdoor when it’s wet and cold like in fall. No one in the peloton, because in the breakaway all agree. «It wasn’t like that in the past», once upon a time there would have been the sheriffs imposing their law and everyone would have followed it flawlessly. But today even sheriffs are all drenched, there’s still a long way ahead of the Giro and everyone is waiting for the pink jersey to make his move. Except that Nibali’s face is not pink but purple: his feature wrinkled like baby’s hands after an afternoon spent at the sea, and the long climb to Perticara is like an endless game between hesitant lovers: “Do I lead? No, please, you go first”.
Nibali would like to say «Vòl» which means “I’m out, I can’t do this anymore”. Whereas Tim Wellens, the one better positioned in the breakaway, is exchanging glances with his teammate De Gent. He whispers: «Böss!», meaning “knocking” – I want to have the best one and it means the pink jersey, especially when he finds out that the advantage at the Madonna di Pugliano is beyond 10 minutes. They get a reply from the dreamers and outsiders (Bilbao, Betancur, Kangert) who answer: «Strèss!» – we still can race.
Meanwhile, the peloton is slowly speeding up as the sky clears up and sunset shines through. Right close to San Giovanni in Galilea the followers in the breakaway break the mould. The Swiss 23-year-old pistard Gino Mäder, in love with breakaways, attacks first. James Mitri follows and then also Simon Pellaud and Jaakko Hänninen. A moment of uncertainty and the sea is right in front of them. Mitri gives up: only the Finnish from France and the Swiss from Colombia are still there. An unprecedented sprint won by Pellaud, an explorer who chose cycling to explore the world. With no team, in 2016 he heads to the USA first, then Colombia. He builds a wooden house in the Medellin mountains which becomes his base from where he starts racing in every corners of the 5 continents till here, where he finds the most important victory of his career.
Almost 10 minutes later, while the sun is turning red the sea waves, the peloton crosses the finish line with bewildered faces: it is a lost game, but the main cards are still in place. And yet, from a shuffled pack of cards in the hills of Romagna, there it comes a new Giro which, just like Marco Pantani’s exploits, is still thrilling. An eternal changing life for which one can say with satisfaction that «it wasn’t like that in the past».
This jersey will be signed by the stage winner and auctioned for charity at the end of the Senzagiro. Design curated by Fergus Niland, Creative Director of Santini Cycling Wear, based on a design by the illustrator Francesco Chiacchio.