- by Phil Anderson
- Published: 11 May 2011
Reading the daily reports of the Giro brings back a flood of great memories from the late 80s when I was fortunate enough to race the giro a number of times, even winning a couple of stages. It is a beautiful race for a number of reasons and a great build up for the Tour de France.
The racing in Italy was always quite predictable, the Italian’s would not have it any other way. A rider always had time to warm up in this race, the pace slowly building throughout the day, to a crescendo finish. There would always be a hectic sprint for the line, a frantic Italian finale.
Not unsurprisingly, one of the best things about racing in Italy was the coffee and the food. Teams didn’t need to provide their own chef’s in Italy, oh no. There are not sufficient superlatives to describe the wonders of freshly made pasta and wonders of Italian cuisine for a cyclist. Heaven, and of course there were the pastries.
In the spring of 89, TVM team-mate Johan Van der Velde introduced me to one of Sicily’s finest pastries. To this day I am constantly searching for the best canoli in the cake shops of Carlton, the Italian quarter of Melbourne.
I recall flying from my home in Belgium a couple of days prior to my first Giro start, and sitting with a new Dutch team mate Johan. He had raced for the past few years on the strong Jolly Scarpa squadra team and lived in Italy. I asked what he most liked about Italy, and he replied “cannoli”. He explained that we were in fact very fortunate, because this sweet pastry had its origins in this southern Isle where we were headed. He said he would show me as soon as we got off the plane, and he didn’t disappoint.
While we were waiting for our luggage to arrive off the belt at Palermo international, I followed him over to the cafe stand and he bought me my first canoli. I tasted a freshly made cone, not unlike a Peters Drumstick cone, but open at both ends and then filled with freshly made custardy sweet cream cheese filling. I bought the next round, and in-fact, bought all that the guy had on his counter for the boys to share on the way to the hotel. Johan politely informed me that these were nothing special, probably a day old and that you really had to experience canola fresh.
That evening after dinner, half a dozen of the TVM boys hopped into a team car and headed into town in search of the perfect cannoli. The village looked asleep but we found a gelati place open. Velde (pronounced Veld-a) asked for the freshest supply of cannoli, and the gentleman said that his neighbour was famous for hers. He went and hammered on her door until she answered. After a little explanation, she insisted we have a coffee while she whipped a few up. Grandma came down to assist and was in charge of baking the wafer cones while the shop owner made the up custard. Oh what a delicious beginning to my Giro. I probably began the giro a couple of kg’s overweight that year…not a bad thing.
Johan Van der Velde didn’t finish the giro that year, but that is another quintessentially Italian story and part of my own Giro folk lore. I guess through circumstances Johan, despite being a pastry expert and a great rider was indebted to his ex-team’s sponsor, Jolly Scarpa. This company made shoes and Johan put forward a proposal to sell shoes in his home-country to clear his debt. After taking a delivery of a container load of shoes his buyer backed out and my team-mate was left with 50000 pairs of girls sandals to dispose of and of course his debt.
Despite his best efforts the lanky Dutchman couldn’t sell them, the season had come and gone and he owed Jolly a substantial amount of money. One night at dinner, about half-way through the Giro that year, Velde’s seat was empty and the mechanic was sent to look for him. Not in his room, not in the bar (he enjoyed a beer) not even in the cannoli shop over road. No one had seen him since arriving at the hotel.
During dinner a couple of heavy-set blokes in suits arrived at our table asking for our Dutchman. They stood at the door while we finished our meal eventually retreating to their van parked out front for the evening. Johan didn’t front for breakfast and the mechanics didn’t know whether to take his bike to the race. It was the talk of the peleton that day and was news headlines that night. There were rumours of sightings of Velde amongst the crowd beside the road at the first intermediate sprint. TV crews were waiting for him at all the airports and at his home, but he had vanished. About a week later, he held an exclusive interview regarding the Jolly Scarpa (nee cannoli) affair. I guess the TV appearance paid his debt to the ailing shoe manufacturer.
The 89 Giro was pretty kind to me for a couple of reasons. In stage 17 from Sondrio to Meda I attacked a breakaway of Fondriest, Bugno, and Argentine in the final two kilometres to win by 5 seconds, and I was introduced to cannoli.