I am used to it. Standing there on a mountaintop amongst riders. Their faces covered in sweat and dirt. Their lines telling the painful truth about what they have been through the last couple of 100 kilometres or so. I only got a few minutes to get some questions in before they were gone again for the team buses and safe land. Job done. My job as a journalist. Their job as professional bike riders.
But what happens if you cross the finish line backwards and start to walk down the mountain in one of the world's greatest bike races? Who will you meet when you have all the time in the world to talk to people? And what will their answers and stories be?
I wanted to find out. I wanted to listen to stories, that took me to destination everywhere.
Thursday we decided to climb one of the most epic climbs I have ever done. The day before the peloton came through, we went up Colle delle Finestre. Not knowing what to expect, I got a feeling that it would be something special as everyone nodded their heads when we told them we were going to do it.
The day came. None of us had the best sleep as we were all a bit nervous. It's always like that when climbing a mountain for the first time. Will I make it? Or will the mountain break me?
Colle delle Finestre had only been open for a week or so due to bad weather. So not many stats on the climb this year. All we knew was that it was going to be tough. 18 kilometres of pain and agony.
It started well as we rode down in the sunny valley, but not before long the climb took you in its shadows; alone with your own thoughts. Why am I even doing this? We were warned of the gravel part, but we were not warned of the eight kilometres in mud and snow. The beauty of climbing. The ongoing battles between mind and body. Alone in the elements.
We made it to the top and ended the day with 105 kilometres and 2800 vertical metres.
The True Heroes
The day after, we did the last climb of stage 19 at the Giro d'Italia - Jafferau. We walked back down the mountain to watch Team Sky's Christopher Froome do one of the most epic rides in recent Grand Tour history.
But for me, Froome was not the hero of the day.
There, in the second last corner, we met Arnaldo. Just outside his tent he was sitting there quietly. Reading the paper, solving a crossword. Patiently waiting for the short glimpse of the pro riders as they passed by. He had slept on the mountain just to make sure he would get a good spot. As he had done for 12 years.
Or the British family, who had walked all the way up Colle delle Finestre – from the other side – to be able to stand right there in the middle of the mayhem. They will never forget seeing their fellow Briton attacking and destroying the climb. They took a chance, and for a moment, it all payed off.
Or how about the little group of Colombians standing on Col Saint Pantaléon. They had only been outside their country on one former occasion. Now, they were hoping to make a difference for home-star Esteban Chaves.
Not to mention the group of young Dutch guys, who had spent the entire evening writing Tom Dumoulin's name on the street, now sitting with drinks and loud music. Just celebrating.
And that is exactly what cycling is all about. Gathering people from all over the world, combining fascination and disappointment. Make people believe, even just for a short period of time, that they have just witnessed some of the most beautiful spectacles in the world.
I am glad that I got to go behind 'the scenes' for once, and my destination ended up taking me just about everywhere. Finding the through fans tied together across borders by their passion for cycling.