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Our encounter with Chechu at the Giro d’Italia 2006

Our first objective was to find which hotel the Discovery Channel team was staying in and to get a pass for the Giro Village which is one of the best places to get hold of the Giro book and where the sponsors have their stands. The riders often come to the Village enclosures before the start of the race for their press interviews.

The passes were very difficult to get and required a lot of phone calls and e-mails to many people. In the end we got them on the day we left.

A Belgian friend who works for a cycling website found out the hotel where the DSC guys were staying and my husband got us into that hotel for one night. As we had decided to stay for a second stage, we had to look for another place to stay, a bed and breakfast in the country, not too far away, since the hotel was booked up with the arrival of the CSC Team.

We travelled to Belgium on the day before the Prologue, a 6km individual time trial and, on our arrival in the hotel parking lot, we found the DSC team busy turning up the bikes and several riders warming up.

I found Chechu almost right away. He was as nice and gracious as ever, looked very slim (almost skinny, as did all the other riders and specially Triki and Tom) and young. While we were chatting (in Spanish) my husband took many pictures.

On the morning of the Prologue, we had breakfast next to the team table. All the riders seemed relaxed, joking among themselves. We wished them good luck.

On reaching Seraing (near Liège) we managed to be taken in tow by a car of reporters and could park not too far away from the action. The atmosphere at a time trial is special since the riders do a lot of warming up on home trainer bikes in front of their team bus. These buses are all grouped together near the start so there are always a lot of fans milling around the buses, watching their idols warming up.

At first, Chechu was in fourth place and eventually finished the ITT in 29th place, which is very good for him since he is not a specialist. But the whole team was very pleased when Paolo put in a superb performance, in the same way Lance would have done.

All the riders looked skinny, a sign that they must have reached their peak at the right time.

The next day (Sunday May 7), was the first real stage, from Mons to Charleroi. We went to the start where the weather was miserable, pouring buckets of rain. The riders’ buses were parked outside the town and they arrived at the podium for signature late and soaking wet. It must have been very uncomfortable for them but they made an effort to be graceful. Somehow I managed to get right close to the podium where the riders checked in before signing for the start of the stage.

When Chechu saw us he smiled, came over to say hello and left his bike against the barrier right where we were standing during the time he went off to sign. The rain was so strong at that time that I am afraid the photos I made might have suffered. But again, Chechu posed for your web site.

After the riders rode off to start the stage, we went off to our car and are now following the race on Eurosport.

Chechu asked me if I would be attending the next two Belgian stages but I said no and that I would meet him next during the Tour de France. He said goodbye and I said buena suerte. One photo, where he has his thumb up, is specially dedicated to the English-language website.