FIRENZE, ITALIA, Sept. 26 - European cities initially disappoint Americans. They simply don't do suburbs well. My experience with most European cities is that of oysters. Brussels, Girona, Maastricht, Paris, Madrid .... Grotesque outer shells concealing marvelous ingredients.
And Italians really don't do suburbs well. The Tuscan landscape, famous for its manicured trees and inviting architecture, had been scratched with graffiti, confusing signage, and curious waste management. My arrival at Hotel Meditteraneo, placed along the historic Arno River, had been marred by my bike's non-arrival.
Arriving early, my room would not be ready for several hours. I walked a bit, took Euros out of the ATM, drank cappuccino, and charged everything I had with a battery. My phone rang.
The voice of Rita Bellanca, all four feet, eleven inches of her, came through the line. Her power triples her size as she - without a single UCI logo on her clothing or a credential around her neck - essentially runs the show. And nobody dares to cross her.
Rehearsal for awards was about to start. The hotel staff had not given me a packet left with my credential and a note regarding the rehearsal. I leapt into a taxi and we took the most un-interesting ride to the finish venue.
Expecting cathedrals, fountains and statues, my short ride was a conveyor belt of dumpsters, scooters, trampled plants, grit, train tracks, grime and improvised fencing.
Expecting the grandeur of Rome, I arrived at a finish venue placed alongside a Soviet style athletic complex, which afforded the organization the necessary facilities for offices, parking, television production and grandstands.
Don't worry, the images on TV will be great.
There are about 100 people on site doing all sorts of things.It's like walking on to a Broadway set before dress rehearsal. Cranes and booms and cables and scissor lifts whirring about. Guys are on scaffolds, on ladders, in trailers, under stages, behind stages....There is a melange of Italian, English and French being spoken....And of course the cigarettes everywhere. Somehow I'm comfortable in all this. Sound guys, TV guys, timing guys, officials, cops, marshals, and sprinkled throughout all this are podium presenters. I cannot help notice this one Italian brunette with long hair and even longer legs stacked atop five-inch heels. Man after man shout to her from a distance. She responds to all with a pearlescent smile. Some get close and she adorns them with the classic double kiss. I can only apply one word to her looks: voluptuous. One man walked by gazing at her and stumbled over cable covers, nearly falling to the ground.
I had work to do. Accustomed to sorting these things out, I sift my way to the awards podium and realize I'm actually early. Traveling in some dirty shorts, a T-shirt, and a sport coat, I'm looking pretty bad. I hardly have a command presence. And with no sleep, I don't feel in command. These rehearsals are where I meet my counterpart in the native language. I've met some great announcers over the years. They are typically journalists who are passionate about the sport, knowledgable about the riders, connected with the promoters. Kaes in the Netherlands, Heinrich in Czech Republic, Mark in Belgium, Peter in Denmark, Rick in Australia, etc., etc., etc. All are good. Real good. Frankly, they all know more statistics and results than I.
Here I encounter Allesandro Barbella, who has worked the Giro and several other prior world championships. And yes, he's good.
We bumble through through the awards with a small contingent. Then we head inside, where I meet Angelo, who is managing the production for the entire thing. We arrive to discover the largest production contingent I've ever seen pre-worlds. Typically we have about five people: the sound guy, the two announcers, the UCI person, and then the local person.
I count 13 people at the table, 12 of which speak Italian. And then the long tall brunette comes to the table, walks all the way around the table, and introduces herself to me. "Barbara Pedrotti". And she presents a card.
I have no idea what she is doing at the table. Nor can I fathom what the others are doing. After some basics in English, about how the rotation works, who goes where, how we'll be working the "RRRRRRRadio Toscana," what the rotation will be, Angelo turns to me.
"Richard, you are the leader; you are the boss."
Feeling like a child on the first day of kindergarten, I meekly accept the task while listening to how it will work. And then - even filtered through Italian - I realize I DO know how this thing will work. I discuss the art of "catching" and "throwing" in announcing an event. I discuss the principle of "less being more", working with the music, using "ramps", and pacing the work. All stuff I've learned from Glenn Stillwell.
After I speak for 30 seconds in English, about three minutes of conversation breaks out in Italian. And then we do it again. Increasingly it becomes evident that one person has the greatest command of English: Barbara Pedrotti.
She will be helping as an announcer around the remote starts and as needed throughout the week. All the races start elsewhere and finish in Florence.
Then I learn the radio station has provided some DJs and personalities who will be on site, weaving into the program. I realize these guys really want a big show and they want me to run it. Like high school basketball, I'm running the three-man weave.
Barbara gives me a ride back to my hotel via the most arcane route possible. Only with a few days exploration of Firenze do I now realize how circuitous her route was.
I bid adieu and retire. I still have no bike. I still cannot see the attraction people have for Italia, for Toscana, and for Firenze.