The venerable Lord Chesterfield never saw a Giro d’Italia, of course—it’s likely he never saw a bicycle—but if he had, he might have seen the parallels between sex and a bicycle stage race. Remember, he’s pegged as saying:
“Sex: the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.”
Let me get the unpleasantness of viewing the Giro out of the way at the start. No matter what position you choose to plant yourself in along the route, you’re only going to see the racers once. If you choose a position at the start of a stage—snapping to attention when the crowd around you starts to buzz—you will likely see your hero and the other laggards packed together in a bicycle jam, looking ever so much like a multicolored serpent slithering its way down Italy’s narrow little mountain roads. Quickly they pass, the whine of the chain and the clatter of gears waxes and wanes. It’s all over except the twittering of the birds who haven’t yet made it as the pivotal ingredient in uccelli e polenta.
The pleasure is momentary.
During this time, you are planted on a hillside or alongside a street. If you are in a village, you might be pressed up against a rail (you are in Italy, so the railing is likely not where the authorities placed it, but don’t worry, it’s not your problem). In the countryside you are freer to stand where you wish, even right in the road. They, meaning the authorities, do not like this—nor do the racers. It’s often you see that little dance we know so well from our own sidewalk encounters; a man in crazy dress walks into the path of his favorite racer, waving his arms like a lunatic while fully intending to jump to the right at just the last moment, the same exact moment his hero decides to go to his left to avoid said lunatic and—wham!—it’s a bashing and a tangle of legs, arms and bicycle parts.
That position is certainly ridiculous, doncha think?
And the expense? Well, like many lucky encounters with the fleeting apple of one’s eye, the initial cost is zero. Yes, viewing the Giro d’Italia is free. What follows is the thing. You see, the race is a spectacle. It’s something you want to remember having attended. You need a souvenir. Your kid needs three—plus a gelato or two. By the time he’s 12 he will want a $3500 bicycle, just like his favorite rider.
The expense is indeed damnable. The expense of those Giro bikes and the support crew? Goodness!
There are ways, of course, to make the pleasure of seeing the packs of brilliantly shrouded racers for a longer time. You can choose to see the Giro on a tough mountain stage, where the speeds have come down considerably and the racers grunt with exertion, practically in your ear. It’s a popular endeavor among tifosi, or race fans as they’re called in Italy. Bring a lunch, lounge on the mountainside, take in some sun.