"Garmin, Garmin!" The call comes crackling over the race radio from the organisers up ahead. Suddenly Garmin Team Director Matt White floors the accelerator as we pull out of the team-car caravan. In an impressive if terrifying display, he combines the skill of a rally driver with the aggression of a boy racer to steer through tiny gaps between vehicles and straggling cyclists at 70mph. Such is his focus, I dare not ask what has happened. A puncture? A crash?
Professional cycling had always been a mystery of obscure French words and sinewy men in Lycra riding in ant-like swarms to me, so I jumped at the chance to ride shotgun in Garmin's car during the Avellino-Vesuvius stage of the Giro d'Italia, cycling's second- biggest race. An Aussie former pro, White makes a patient guide. But when his guys need help, there's no talking.
As we approach the peloton, White picks up the team radio. "Bar's open, boys," he says. That's it, no disaster – just thirst. Soon, Bradley Wiggins, he of the sideburns and Team GB track glory, is alongside. Driving with one hand, White passes bottles to Wiggins, who calmly stuffs them down the back of his jersey as he rides, hands-free, inches from a car doing 30mph. Then, hand outstretched, White slingshots Wiggins back to his parched team-mates.
Today's mountain stage sends riders 102 miles along the Amalfi coast towards a summit finish on Vesuvius. The Russian Denis Menchov will keep the pink jersey unless the Spanish climber Carlos Sastre can open a gap. As for Team Garmin, "We'll just go steady," White says.
And so we drive on, eating sandwiches, chatting and taking in stunning scenery between explosive forays to the team. In the end, Menchov takes the title in Rome. "Pretty quiet day all in all," says an absurdly calm White as my heart rate begins to settle.
It's been quite an introduction to the organised chaos and superhuman speed of Grand Tour racing. An intriguing footnote to the day is bit-part role played by the man now monopolising coverage in France. Even if some would like Lance Armstrong to roll on back to Texas, they can't deny the man has balls (OK then, just the one) to come back in the twilight of his career. But, as his critics would do well to realise, at the end of a thrilling day in Italy, he's just another cyclist.