So, what do you think?

My better half was in Paris yesterday morning for a meeting at the Palais des congrès. No, he wasn’t at the 2010 Tour de France Presentation but, if he had been, I’m sure this is what he’d have said.

This is a Tour for climbers and, with no team time-trial, and only one individual time-trial, the main protagonists will be Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck.  The lack of a team time-trial will also have been music to the ears of other podium contenders, such as Evans, Sastre and Menchov.  Given how the Pyrenees completely boss the last week of the Tour, Bert can be excused that big smile punctuating his face. Or was he grinning at the thought that Lance is going to find that last week really, really tough?

The 2009 Podium
The 2009 Podium

However, the skinny climbers will need to be on their guard in the first week when they’ll be well outside their comfort zone as cobbles and windy stretches abound. Classics specialists like Boonen, Cancellara and Hushovd will be hopeful of wearing yellow, or at least green, in those early days. Stages four (Reims), five (Montargis) and six (Gueugnon) look like sprint stages, but thereafter that race for the green jersey is probably going to favour Thor as there are fewer opportunities for the sprinters and they’ve got to get over all those hills.

Next year, the Alps are playing a supporting role to the Pyrenees which are the headline act, marking the 100th anniversary of their first Tour appearance. However, the four days in the northern Alps should not be under-estimated and they are succeeded by some  toughish transition stages which may, or may not, end in bunch sprints.

Clearly the intention on the 2010 Tour is to showcase the Pyrenees, starting with the stage 14 summit finish at Ax-3-Domaines. This acts as an amuse bouche to a grand tasting menu. First course, three difficult cols en route to Luchon: Portet d’Aspet, Ares and Balès. Main course: they cross the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque to finish in Pau. Dessert, and final course in the Pyrenees, is a stage from Pau to the top of the Tourmalet, via the western approach over the Marie-Blanque and Soulor. Climbing the Tourmalet twice, once in each direction, will really celebrate the Tour’s most majestic mountain.

If the mountains don’t prove decisive then there’s the 51km time-trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac before the final day procession into Paris. I expect to see Contador, riding for Astana, in the yellow jersey.

Sadly, there was no mention of any festivities planned for the other Tour fixture also celebrating its centenary next year: the broom wagon!

Broom wagon
Broom wagon

Desperately seeking cover

As you might expect, one week before my departure to Austin, I am crossing the “i’s” and dotting the “t’s”. After reading through the very, very small print of my quite exhaustive travel and medical insurance policy, I discovered that I was limited to a total of £5,000 for loss or theft of all of my goods which is fine. But, and it’s a big but, I’m limited to a total of £1,000 per item for loss, theft or damage. My bike is worth £3,000 and while I’m not anticipating that either of my carriers will lose or damage the bike, I don’t want to take the risk even though this is my second bike. You may recall, I’m not taking my beloved which is worth far, far more.

As a consequence, I have spent the last couple of days trying to find insurance which will cover the bike for theft, loss or damage during my trip. None of the companies with whom I have insured my house, my car or my person has this type of policy. Why not? The French are a nation of bike riders; surely some of them must take them outside French borders? The French Cycling Federation has an insurance partner who will insure my bike for the whole year against loss or damage for only Euros 48 – bargain. However, this precludes loss or damage when the bike is being transported either by train or plane. Here I have to rely on the carrier’s cover! They are kindly going to check how much this amounts to and get back to me.

In desperation, I have also emailed my sister’s partner who works in the insurance market to see if he knows a specialist broker in the Lloyd’s market who can find me cover. Watch this space………………………………….

Postscript: Sadly, I could only find annual cover in the UK so I would have to “pretend” to still live there.This rather flies in the face of the basis of all insurance policies (full disclosure), plus they wanted £500! I decided to wing it.

Another one bites the dust

Like many cycling fans I was saddened today to learn of the death of Frank Vandenbroucke. I have never seen him race and only knew of him through the column inches he’s continued to generate. To me he seemed a likeable but troubled soul who failed to fulfil his potential, much like Pantani. Whatever the sport and for whatever reason, it’s generally disquieting to see our sporting heroes generating press coverage outside of the sporting pages.


Frank at his best, RIP
Frank at his best, RIP

No doubt there will be endless speculation about what caused his premature departure from this earth, even after a post-mortem. This will be particularly distressing for the family and friends he’s left behind and serves little useful purpose. Indeed Frank, and other sportsmen like him, would be better served if someone tried to understand what drove them to go astray and helped prevent others following a similarly destructive path.

A good return on investment

Last week Stéphane Goubert of AG2R – La Mondiale hung up his cleats after 16 years, and 400,000km, as a professional rider. Now a few of you may be trying to put a face to that name. So here’s his picture.

Stephane Goubert
Stephane Goubert

I only mention him because he typifies the hardworking riders in the peloton. To be honest, even I would be hard pressed to identify him out of cycling gear or even recall his palmares.

L’Equipe wrote a short piece,  on the eve of his last race, Paris-Bourges, calling him “l’homme sans victoire”. That’s right he’s never won a professional race apart from the team time-trial in the 2005 Tour of Castille-Leon. In fact, his last individual victory was in 1993 while still riding as an amateur. Incredible as this may sound, very few riders win races. It’s a team sport and the team is committed to helping its leader win, so if you’re not the team leader, then….

Naturally, riders like Goubert are  much prized by teams.  I do recall he worked tirelessly, in this year’s Tour de France, in defence of his team mate’s yellow jersey, earning for himself, in the process, his best ever finish in the Tour: 16th. He also finished 3rd in the Dauphine libéré stage into Briançon. So, he leaves the peloton on a high, having enjoyed one of his most successful years. I’ve no idea of his future plans, but I wish him well in his new endeavours. By the way, he finished 81st in Paris-Bourges.

 Ag2R’s performance in this year’s Tour de France probably hoisted them in the league table above the soon-to-be-relegated teams of Bbox and Cofidis. Coincidentally, Ag2R commissioned an independent report on the value of their sponsorship during the Tour and the response was Euros 60 million worth of advertising. Not bad for an investment of Euros 8 million. Money well spent.

Ageing gracefully

It’s rare for a day to pass without mention in the local newspaper, the Nice Matin, of someone celebrating in excess of their centenary years. Yes, longevity appears to be the norm, but why? Is it the celebrated Mediterranean diet, the weather, attitude, genes or a combination of all of the above?

Surrounded as I am by lots of very spritely neighbours in their eighties and older, I have tried to determine the key to their “joie de vivre”. Diet is very definitely important. The French obsess about their food and wine, but always in moderation. They eat plenty of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables, three meals a day and don’t snack between meals. They take regular exercise and have enviably active social lives; always out and about with family and friends. They’re always happy to stop and pass the time of day on any and every subject; they’re all very well read. They never, ever complain about aches and pains and very rarely discuss their health, or lack of it. They all look much younger than their years. Obviously, it’s their attitude and state of mind which is important.

Most mornings I see my neighbours (female) going out shopping in their heels, immaculately made up, beautifully coiffured and undeniably chic. They are an inspiration to me and I can only hope (and pray) that I look half as good when I attain their ages. In case you’re interested, I have yet some way to go.

Brits abound

With only two weeks to go to my departure for Austin, I realised that a few longer rides were in order and on similar terrain to that which I’ll encounter in Texas. Yesterday, like today and pretty much most days recently, was glorious. I left the Domaine around 10:00am, having avoided the early morning traffic. The Domaine is securitised by way of a barrier. To exit the mechanism automatically senses an approaching vehicle and raises the barrier. I am clearly too small (phew!) to be recognized as a vehicle and have to rely on the security guards to raise it as I approach. The service is outsourced and while we have a number of regulars, from time to time, we have newbies who don’t realise that they have to raise the barrier for me. This means it always has to be approached with caution. Obviously, we had a newbie in charge so I had to dismount and duck under the barrier.

I decided on a round trip to St Raphael. I hadn’t cycled along the coast for months; it’s a route to avoid in the summer for obvious reasons. My traffic light karma was in overdrive with all the lights turning green just as I approached – perfect. I breezed past loads of riders on the coast road between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes; it was clearly going to be a great ride. On the short hill up to Boulevard Kennedy on Cap d’Antibes, I was wheel sucked by four gentlemen who turned out to be Brits from the Wirral down here on their annual boys biking trip. They asked if they could cycle with me and I agreed. I sensed a tinge of envy in their voices when I revealed that I lived down here and was able to cycle most days – cycling nirvana indeed.

As we cycled along, I was happy to explain other cycling routes they might enjoy and places they might visit before their return to Blighty on Saturday. They much admired my beloved bicycle but were not familiar with the BMC brand! We also discussed at length the growing interest in cycling in the UK. I don’t think it’s ever going to approach the deeply entrenched continental European love of cycling but it’s nonetheless very welcome.

Many hours later, I arrived back at the Domaine to discover the same guard was on duty. I rode up the steep hill to the barrier which he opened only as I dismounted. I popped into his office to explain the need to open the barrier as I approached so that I wouldn’t need to slow down and could just sail through in either direction.

My husband is away in London, his gout having subsided sufficiently, so I was able to sink into my spa bath for a reviving soak before heading out again to a meeting over in Antibes.

Still not quick enough

The cycling club has recently moved into new, bigger and better premises with a small patio garden which means we’ll be able to hold some social events there in the summer. It also has a small kitchen and my idea of holding a get together over afternoon tea once a week for some of our senior members has been well received. Little do the boys know that they’re going to be road testing my cake recipes. It will also enable us to provide those youngsters attending the cycling school with a pasta lunch after their Saturday morning ride.

Friday evening I attended my first UFOLEP meeting as secretary-elect of the cycling club. I went with the President-elect otherwise frankly I would never have found the meeting hall which was tucked away in a small side street the back of a school. The meeting was well chaired by the local UFOLEP Chairman who started the meeting by saying that he wouldn’t put up with everyone all talking at once. This is a charming feature of meetings in France. Someone kicks off the discussion and everyone piles in with their thoughts. It’s extremely hard to take minutes when everyone’s talking at the same time. I feel I may have to enforce the same ruling at future cycling club meetings.

The meeting generally revolved around the presentation of trophies to those clubs who had gained the most points at recent pointages. We came away with three which wasn’t a bad haul. However, two of the larger local clubs must have needed lorries to transport their swag back to HQ. I had met most of the other attendees at some time or other but I rarely recognize people off their bikes and in every day clothing. I find it helps to visualise them in helmets and sunglasses and concentrate on their jaw lines.

Having done a fair bit of hill training this week in preparation for Sunday’s cyclosportif, I was looking forward to gaining extra points for the club by zooming up Col D’Eze to Fort Revere. The ladies are in the last but two groups to set off up the hill. Having arrived at the start in good time, there’s a fair bit of hanging about, so I went for a ride around to keep warm.

It was a small but a select group of the usual suspects that set off at 09:40, most of whom are half my age. I was soon distanced by the others and happily rode along at my own pace. Once the 10% incline levels out I’m able to speed up and I even overtook a couple of riders. The rest of the ladies were tantalisingly up ahead, occasionally within sight but I don’t think there was any danger of me catching them. All too soon I was overhauled by most, but surprisingly not all, of the riders in the two groups who started after us.

Eze Village
Eze Village

Like the ascent up Mont Chauve, there are brilliant views of the coastline: this time from Villefranche to Eze and, indeed, of Eze village itself. It’s also a popular spot with dog walkers and one needs to keep a look out for our four footed friends. I would hate to run over someone’s beloved pooch.

I haven’t seen the results but I know I was last; however, I may well have been first in my age group. Checking my records, I note that my ascent was 8 minutes quicker than last year’s, a considerable improvement.

Postscript: As I suspected I was indeed last, by some way. The fastest lady was twice as fast as me! More telling, I was only 2nd in my age group, some 20 minutes behind! Methinks, I really need to work on my ascending skills and push myself much, much harder.

Ain’t no mountain high enough…………..

Last week I was thoroughly spoilt by my Swiss friend (and his mother). Not only did he give me his bedroom, complete with water-bed and boys toys including a gi-normous HD TV, but he also made me breakfast and bought me a book on the centenary Giro. That guy knows the way to this girl’s heart! Meanwhile, his mother whipped up some delicious evening meals and sent me home with a bag of her home made goodies. I’m definitely going to be visiting them again soon.

On my return home, I was looking forward to a couple of weeks of peace and quiet, tackling a few outstanding chores. Yes, that Vuelta ironing mountain is still there and my husband is nearing the bottom of his t-shirt box. We are now on seriously dangerous ground. My husband has in excess of 100 polo and t-shirts, if he’s nearing the bottom of the box then you understand how many I have to iron. Given that he wears formal shirts most days, I’m finding it difficult to work out how he’s managed to get through so many casual tops between the end of the Tour and the end of the Vuelta; it’s only just over two months. The pile of formal shirts seems similarly high although, having counted them, there are only 32 shirts. Let’s do the maths. In 67 days my husband has worn 32 formal shirts and 97 polo/t-shirts, that’s almost 2 garments a day! Excluded from this total are his cycling jerseys which, thank goodness, do not require ironing. Methinks I might be looking into getting some assistance on the domestic front.

Unfortunately, my husband has had a re-occurrence of his gout  so now he’s been grounded for a week and been told to stay off his feet. The phrase “What did your last slave die of?” has hovered on my lips on a number of occasions in the past few days. He’s also been researching the illness on the internet and has issued me with a long list of foods he can no longer eat. Thank goodness I can escape on the bike for some peace and quiet; meanwhile that ironing mountain is continuing to grow.

Relegation woes

A week or so ago Pat McQuaid, UCI Head Honcho, talked about the bar being raised for acquisition/retention/renewal of a Pro-Tour licence. It now appears that this bar is results based with financial, ethical and political considerations. The two bottom ranked squads, Bbox and Cofidis, are being denied renewal of their licence based on their lowly UCI ranking (see table below). The lowest ranked Pro-Tour team Fuji Servetto is apparantly re-inventing itself as Footon Servetto, leaving the two formerly mentioned teams in the relegation zone, although, critically, their place is assured in next year’s Grand Tours. Unsurprisingly, their top riders are already talking about jumping ship while team managers are putting on brave faces and sponsors are standing firm.

Lampre’s licence has been (provisionally) renewed for the next 4 years and Milram’s (the only German Pro-Tour team) for next season. Astana’s is under review in the light of the financial issues earlier in the season.

On the other hand, Pro-Continental teams Cervelo, Diquigiovanni and Acqua & Sapone, on account of their league spots, will gain automatic entry into Pro-Tour events. This rather begs the question of why should one bother paying the additional costs inherent in a Pro-Tour licence.

Add in new teams Sky (licence confirmed) and The Shack (licence pending) and one is back to 20 top teams with automatic entry into Pro-Tour events, though not all those organised by ASO, Unipublic or RCS. This could leave slim pickings for Pro-Continental teams such as Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and BMC who have all strengthened their squads in the hope and expectation of clearing the bar.

UCI Rankings

1 ASTANA 1100
13 LAMPRE – N.G.C 465