Seeking a good home

Since the announcement that Lance and his acolytes would be Team Radio Shack in 2010, there has been copious speculation as to the fate of Alberto Contador, the winner of this year’s Tour de France. While rumours have abounded about a new Spanish Fernando Alonso-led squad, choc full of Spanish stars, and sponsored by Santander, this won’t come to fruition before 2011. So what’s going to happen in 2010?

According to today’s L’Equipe (as good a source as any), he wants to buy himself out of next year’s contract with Astana. Despite the Kazakhs, promising he’ll be their leader and throwing Euros 4 million (net) at him for each of the next four years, Alberto’s brother Fran, who’s his agent, says “it’s not about the money.”

Put yourself in Alberto’s shoes and you can understand why, despite his friendship with Vino. He was prevented from riding the Tour in 2008, because he was riding for Astana. The return of Vino and Kash to the Astana fold could give rise to similar issues with ASO for 2010 and Astana without those two would be a considerably weaker side. He’s endured a number of months of uncertainty due to the war between Bruyneel and the Kazakhs, culminating in the blatant preference of Bruyneel to put Lance, and not Bert, in yellow and the subsequent psychological stresses of being isolated from the team one’s supposed to be leading. Frankly, this must have been both confusing and wearing for Alberto.

Given that ASO will be courting Lance for next year’s Tour, we can assume that the course will be Lance-favourable, featuring not too many steep mountain top finishes, two ITTs and one TTT. Many of this year’s favourites found their GC chances laid to waste by the TTT. So Bert has to join a squad that can perform at TTTs. This doesn’t leave him with too many choices. You only have to look at the performance of the teams in this year’s to see how limited.

STAGE TEAM STANDING

Standing Team                                        Time Gaps

1. ASTANA 46′ 29″

2. GARMIN – SLIPSTREAM 46′ 47″ + 00′ 18″

3. TEAM SAXO BANK 47′ 09″ + 00′ 40″

4.LIQUIGAS 47′ 27″ + 00′ 58″ 5.

5.TEAM COLUMBIA – HTC 47′ 28″ + 00′ 59″

6. TEAM KATUSHA 47′ 52″ + 01′ 23″

7. CAISSE D’EPARGNE 47′ 58″ + 01′ 29″

8. CERVELO TEST TEAM 48′ 06″ + 01′ 37″

9. AG2R-LA MONDIALE 48′ 17″ + 01′ 48″

10. EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI 48′ 38″ + 02′ 09″

Merely mislead

According to the club website, last Sunday’s pointage was at Andon. However, every other club, at least according to the Nice Matin was going to Canaux. A quick check on the map before we left revealed that the two were not too far apart.

My husband and I set off very early while it was still quite fresh. To be honest, I would have worn arm warmers had I realised it was going to be that chilly through the Vallon Rouge and Gorges du Loup. The super fast group from the club over took us on the climb up to Greolières where they subsequently stopped to refill their bidons. We checked. The website was wrong. The pointage was at Canaux.

This week end, we’re off to Marie sur Tinée. A delightful perched village and the setting, IMHO, of the best ever pointage feast. If I was to award a cup, and I’m still toying with the idea for next season, this would win it hands down: definitely worthy of 3 toques.

Mindful of the fast approaching Rondes de la St Laurent, I have been working on my sprinting for the past week or so. I rather like the period post-Tour, when everyone is inspired to get out on their bikes. A bit like the UK post-Wimbledon, when, for two or three weeks, you can’t get on a tennis court for love nor money. Generally, of course, this means there are more riders I can overtake. For example, on Tuesday I overtook one yellow and two spotted jerseys. Immensely satisfying, particularly as they were all overhauled on a climb.

I’ve convinced my husband to take part in the Rondes though have advised him that I expect him to pace me back up to the peloton, à la Lance and Kloeden, should (or should that be when) I get dropped, as us girls get to race with Les Grands Sportifs.

At this point, I should add that my husband is not too good at pacing. If it’s really windy he will gallantly offer to ride in front of me. He then sets off at a pace I can’t sustain and is forced to slow to let me get back on his wheel and, as soon as I do, he sets back off again at an unsustainable pace. This is far more tiring for me than having to ride on the front into a headwind.

Somehow, I suspect that neither Cav, nor anyone else, is quaking in their boots at the thought of my improved sprinting prowess. Though, to be fair, the finish is uphill, so it probably wouldn’t be to Cav’s taste. Perhaps he could lend me his lead out train.

Normal service resumes

The Tour’s now over and life can return to normal. However, I can’t let the opportunity pass without giving a few final thoughts on the past three weeks of unadulterated pleasure.  First, the Tour beautifully showcases the splendours of France and each day I find myself making notes on places I’d like to visit. No wonder it’s the most visited place on this earth. Frankly, I never, ever want to live anywhere else.

Chapeau to every rider who finished the Tour, you’re all winners in my book. My special commiserations go to all those who for various ills and injuries didn’t finish in Paris. In particular, Jens Voigt and Kenny van Hummel, two guys whose combative and courageous qualities would get them places on my cycling team any day, fantasy or otherwise.

Contador confounded no one by winning his 2nd Tour de France and 4th Grand Tour. His composure and comportment throughout were beyond reproach. While only one guy can adorn the top step sporting the yellow jersey, it’s generally thanks to the efforts of his team mates: well, possibly not this time, with the exception of the TTT. No, his team mates’ efforts, and indeed those of Contador himself on the penultimate stage, ensured that Lance made the bottom rung of the podium. Bruyneel didn’t achieve the 1-2-3 he was looking for and while he might blame Contador, I, and many others, feel the blame lies much, much closer to home.

The best British result ever: 6 stage wins for Cav, the fastest sprinter, bar none, and 4th place on GC for Wiggo. This surely confers bragging rights down at my cycling club. Though I admit the French too had a pretty cool Tour: 3 stage wins; a French team with the yellow jersey for a significant part of the Tour; promising, emerging French talent in their inaugural Tours; and 4 seasoned, French pros in the top 20 on GC. Of course, for some teams, things just didn’t work out the way they hoped, but that’s life.

I was much amused that for every day Franco Pellizotti spent in the spotted jersey, so the spots spread. Not just his shirt and shorts but shoes (surely a step too far), socks, glasses, gloves, bike, monitor but not his helmet. Why not? Liquigas, could you not have sprung for a helmet? I note that, on the final day, the spotted shoes were replaced with red ones (much better) to reflect he had also won the overall “most combative”.

Edited Highlights

Thank goodness for rest days: a whole day to catch up with everything I haven’t done over the past week while watching the Tour. And what an interesting week it has been. I’ll just touch on what have been my highlights.

 Tom Boonen concluded the only way he might beat Cav was to get into a break which stayed away. Heinrich Haussler decided to follow Tom’s advice and, in the cold pouring rain, threw caution to the wind to drop his fellow escapees and solo to an impressive victory. Meanwhile, Tom’s gone home with a virus – get well soon.

Christophe Le Mevel, who moved this season to the Cote D’Azur, has delighted the French press by catapulting himself up the GC into the top 10.

Alberto finally showed Lance who was the “Boss” on the road. Pretty impressive when it’s clear the rest of the team are under orders to help Lance who would have lost much more time yesterday if it hadn’t been for Kloeden.  Klodi – what were you thinking? Bert’s now got the yellow jersey and a St Bernard dog – it was the stage prize, non?

However, for me, the performance of Bradley Wiggins has been just superlative. Of course, losing 7kg is not, unlike Wiggo, going to increase my VO2 by 30watts. But it’s a pretty good incentive. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if he made it onto the podium?

Finally, a word for Kenny van Hummel who, having been dropped by the peloton after only 10km, riding all on his own, narrowly avoided the cut off to incontestably cement his position as The Lanterne Rouge – chapeau!

Magnificent Monaco

I have been somewhat remiss in not commenting on Le Grand Depart, stage managed so brilliantly in the Principality. From the team presentation on

Le Grand Depart
Le Grand Depart

Thursday evening to the departure of Stage 1, everything ran to plan and like clockwork, thanks to meticulous planning and preparation on behalf of the organizing committee.

As a serial volunteer, I can honestly say that I have never, ever been better treated. Regular communications, clear reporting lines, clearly defined responsibilities, plenty of volunteers: it’s not rocket science, just good old-fashioned common sense. The feedback I got from spectators, whether they were Joe Public or VIPs was identical. They had all enjoyed the spectacle, soaked up the atmosphere and, if they weren’t before, were now cycling fans.

Of course, Monaco has plenty of experience of putting on premium events for top-notch prices but they applied the same criteria for all those non-paying cycling fans.

Whole lotta winners

 I love it when someone unexpected wins. Today it was the turn of Brice Feillu, a neo-pro with Agritubel, whose older brother Romain wore yellow for a day in last year’s Tour. He was part of today’s break away and seized his chance – chapeau.

It was lovely to see the brothers united after the podium ceremony. Brice, the taller of the two, in the polka dotted jersey (yes, he won that as well) embracing his sibling who was unashamedly overcome with joy at his kid brother’s success.

 Cancellara has graced the yellow jersey all week but he knew his time was up. Most reckoned that Astana would seize yellow. Not so, another rider taking part in his first Tour captured the prized jersey. Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R, one more from the break away artists, became the first Italian in yellow for nine years. Christophe Riblon, also from AG2R, won the “most combative”. It was another good day for the French, and the French teams.

Contador wisely followed the advice of Bernard Hinault and attacked with under 2km to go. I met “The Badger” at the week end, a charming, slightly built, gentleman with a steely glint in his eye. I suspect you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Alberto shifted into a higher gear and soared away, as only he can, putting 21seconds into Lance. It’s far too early to say game over but Bert has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Lance on Monday.

Slip, sliding away

The rain in Spain doesn’t always fall in the plain. Today it fell on the riders as they rode along the coast to Barcelona. Rain is only an issue in an urban environment when moisture on the roads, combined with diesel deposits, makes them very slippery. Add plenty of white road paint and you know that there’s going to be a number of falls in the peloton. Easily, my least favourite sight; it makes me feel sick to my stomach whenever I see anyone fall off their bike. It’s bad enough having to ride all those kilometres in fine fettle, without while suffering from aches, contusions and road rash. Those boys have little enough body fat; they don’t want to leave even a small part of it on the tarmac.

How about one of the medical companies sponsoring a number plate dripping blood for the rider sporting the most bandages: a rather different type of combativity prize. There are already a few worthy candidates still in the race.

The pundits today reckoned that the uphill finish would suit Freire (kiss of death), and it so nearly did, but the Gods of Thunder smiled on Thor as he raised his arms in his once white kit heavenwards to come within 1 point of the green jersey. Cavendish, alert to the danger, finished 16th. Tom Boonen fell off his bike, and even more out of contention; as did Rogers, Astarloza and Menchov.

Birthday Bbox for boss

Normal service was resumed today at the Tour when shortly after the start, France’s “chou chou” (sweetheart) Thomas Voeckler took off with a few companions to form what was ultimately a successful break. 2009 is turning out to be a very good year for one of France’s favourite sons. Ever since he graced the yellow jersey for 10 days in the 2004 Tour, while riding for Brioches la Boulangère, smiling Tommy Voeckler, has been a firm favourite with the crowds.

This obviously went some way towards erasing the memories of yesterday’s team performance in the TTT, where most of Bbox Bouygues Telecom’s riders went off-road for a spell. Even though the team endured a couple of punctures, Skil Shimano saved them from the ignominy that is last place. 

The TTT effectively ended the hopes of a number of contenders, most notably Menchov and Evans. Andy Schleck remains in contention, thanks only to the heroic efforts of Cancellara to hang on to the yellow jersey, denying Lance by 22 hundredths of a second.

One of Lance’s Hollywood pals, Ben Stiller, handed out the prizes. I’m still wondering why Lance was presented with the TTT trophy when Alberto’s the Astana team leader.

Questions now answered

A number of questions,  posed a few days ago, have now been answered. Valverde’s a “no show”. Tom had a last minute reprieve, however, as he’s been missing in action so far, it’s hard to justify his sponsor’s calculations of Euros 25 million in lost “advertising” if he’d not been allowed to participate. The Tour is still young but he’s most unlikely to dislodge Cav from the firm grip he has on the green jersey. He’s 91 points ahead of Tom after only 3 sprint stages.

At the team presentation last Thursday, Lance said,  as a 7-times Tour winner, he had nothing to prove and was just looking forward to taking part. Methinks he doth protest too much. I, for one, didn’t believe a word of it and neither should Alberto, who’s wearing the Astana leader’s jersey, something which has obviously riled Lance.

By chance, I spent yesterday evening in the same hotel as Astana who have twice as many motorised vehicles as the other teams, giving credence to the two clans, one team theory propounded by journalists, and confirmed by Benjamin Noval. I’m now wondering, after Lance showed his hand on Monday by putting time into all his rivals, including Contador, whether we’re going to see scenes reminiscent of 2005 where Vino was chased down by his T-Mobile team mates.

Prudhomme assured us that the Tour course would prolong the suspense until the penultimate stage. However, the only outstanding question is which Astana riders, and in what order, will they top the podium. Everyone else seems down and out. Does this mean that the Spaniards will be helping out Bert or has Lance already bought them off, after all his pockets are deeper? Though it couldn’t buy him 22 hundredths of a second yesterday to snatch yellow from Spartacus.