Look out, look out, there’s a cyclist about

My new regime has been so effective that from certain angles, and for certain motorists, I have become invisible. Clearly, it’s an optical illusion or maybe they think I won’t now leave a crater on their bonnet if they hit me.  Rest assured, I will.

Yes, for the past two weeks or so, motorists have been sidling up to junctions on my right, looking up and down the road and then blithely pulling out into the path of the oncoming cyclist – me. Ah, but what about the French rule of giving way to the right, I hear you cry. Roads where you have to yield to oncoming traffic from the right are few and far between, and well sign-posted. No, these are roads with  thick white lines denoting “wait until the road is clear”!

And  it’s not just motorists. I have been plagued with dogs, specifically Jack Russells, very much the dog du jour over here. I have to confess that one poor Jack Russell puppy has been so traumatised by our encounter that he’s never, ever going to like cyclists. Only a puppy, he emerged from under his master’s parked, white van right into my path, emitted a high pitched bark and wet himself. I managed to adroitly steer around him only to encounter another dog, of the same breed, further up the road. He had escaped from its elderly owner and darted into my path, teeth bared, making straight for my tyres. I managed to outsprint it. Yes, that interval training is coming in handy.

And the winning tickets are………………

Ten days later than previously promised, Christian Prudhomme has opined. The 22 teams for the 2010 Tour de France are as expected: the sixteen teams covered by the September 2008 agreement, the four new Pro-Tour Teams (Katusha, Sky, Garmin, Radioshack), and the two most promising Continental Pro-Tour teams (Cervelo and BMC). So there’s no room at the Tour for Saur-Sojasun, Vacansoleil or Skil Shimano although they are on the substitutes bench.

One can only imagine the long faces over at Vacansoleil HQ. The Tour starts in their home town, they’re guaranteed to animate any race, they sponsored Paris-Nice and they bought the brothers Feillu. They’ve also been shut out of the Giro and a number of other ASO races.

Pat McQuaid had been openly critical of  the length of time ASO was taking to make a decision. However, three months before the start of the Tour is not unreasonable, nor is taking two months to assess the strengths of the contenders’ teams. It’s not been an easy decision. Teams are bound to be disappointed and sponsors may well question the benefits of sponsorship if they don’t get the global exposure afforded by the Tour.

However, those teams who were disappointed this year need to be patient. There is no agreement in place as to who is guaranteed a spot next year. There are a number of sponsors withdrawing from the sport (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne) and some considering withdrawing (Bbox Bouygues Telecom). Teams, like last year, may be relegated from or promoted to the Pro-Tour ranks. And, assuredly,  there will be new sponsors. This changing landscape is what makes the sport so interesting for the fans but a wee bit nerve-racking for the riders.

Postscript: Prudhomme today defended his decision in L’Equipe. However, he might as well have said that it was a no-brainer.  The two Continental Pro Tour teams selected have a former Tour Winner (Sastre) and a former green jersey wearer (Hushovd) and the current World Champion, who’s twice been second (Evans). These outweigh any French riders on Dutch teams or, indeed, French riders on French teams.

Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.

Moral victory

Just look who turned up to take part in Sunday’s Gentleman and show us all exactly how it’s done. Afterwards, she kindly handed out the cups to the winners, signed autographs and posed for endless photographs. Despite the urging of my clubmates, I wisely declined to have my photograph taken with a woman who weights 43kg – maybe, next year.

Tough competition

My girlfriend and I were the fastest (and only) all female team. While, the organisers are quite happy to have all male single category teams, this generosity is not extended to the fairer sex. Discrimination? Absolutely! Accordingly, we were lumped in with the mixed pairs where we were a very respectable 2nd (not last) in the over 40s.

In hot pursuit

Not content with riding the short course with my girlfriend, I also decided to ride the longer course with my beloved. I had a pretty quick turn around; with just enough time to change my numbers between races. Sadly, I finished (like last year) with the wooden spoon. However, I had closed the gap quite considerably on my nearest rivals (a couple of very spritely over 65s) but was still some way down on Jeannie and her husband. After the inevitable apero, it was back home to relax on the sofa and watch some real racing.

This week end there’s been a veritable smorgasbord of cycling on the TV. Indeed, it’s been difficult choosing what to watch, such has been the choice. In the end I plumped for the “Clash of the Titans” (ie Bert v Lance) in the Criterium International (aka Jens Voigt Invitational) and the World Track Cycling Championships.

The Press had speculated that Bert had changed his programme to gain some sort of psychological advantage over Lance ahead of the Tour. However, I’m wondering whether it wasn’t a case of ASO flexing its muscles and demanding the presence of two riders guaranteed to generate sufficient revenues from the Criterium’s inaugural television coverage. Just call me a cynic.

While neither Contador nor Lance won, both of their teams demonstrated their respective strengths. Individual stages were won respectively by Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bouygues Telecom (who held on to win overall), Russell Downing of Sky and David Millar of Garmin Transitions. However, the question I’m left pondering is this. Now that Vinokourov has ridden in an ASO event is it more likely that he’ll be allowed to ride the Tour in support of Contador? I for one certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, Australia bossed GB on the track. There were excellent performances by some of the younger riders: most notably, Cameron Meyer and Taylor Phinney. However, Sir Chris Hoy and Queen Victoria Pendleton still picked up gold medals.

Over in Belgium, Saxo Bank continued their recent good vein of form yesterday with Spartacus peddling away from Tommeke in the final kilometer of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke. Today, in Gent Wevelgem, Bernard Eisel, Mark Cavendish’s fairy god-mother, won the sprint finish from a break away group. I can hardly wait for next week’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Finally, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) justified his move away from Caisse d’Epargne by picking up the overall at Volta a Catalunya. He was joined on the podium by Xavier Tondo (Cervelo) and Rein Taaramae (local boy, local to me that is) of Cofidis. So that means HTC-Columbia and Cofidis are still on level pegging, with 12 wins apiece.

Willie Wonka

Thanks to BA, my husband, who should have been away until Saturday evening, is at home. This is imposing additional strains on my training programme. Let me explain. Tuesday evening is club night and every week I’m there from 17:00-19:00, longer if there’s other meetings beforehand or a soiree afterwards. The last thing I want to do when I get back home is rustle up an evening meal. Usually, I settle for a bowl of soup, something my husband considers to be an acceptable starter, but not a main course. Fortunately, I had a little something I’d prepared earlier to pop into the oven on my return.

Not so today. This morning I went out for a  3hr ride. I returned home, showered, changed and was just on my out to the club (again) when I caught sight of my husband’s face. Obviously, he’d been awaiting  my return assuming that I would prepare lunch for him. No way Jose. He was left to forage in the fridge.

I was going to the club to support the Club Treasurer who was meeting with our auditor. Yes, the local Town Hall sends someone to check we’ve not been playing fast and loose with the club’s funds. Prior to leaving, I had asked my beloved what he’d like for dinner and he’d requested lamb chops. The meeting took much longer than I’d hoped so, rather than getting snarled up in the evening traffic in Cap 3000, I decided to pop into the butcher’s in Cros de Cagnes, totally forgetting that it’s closed on Wednesdays. So that’ll be endive, walnut and blue cheese salad for two.

He’s off to Zurich tomorrow, a day’s respite. I’m dropping him off at the airport and then going to collect my partner’s husband whose bike is being serviced at my LBS. I’ll leave the car there and then, with our respective partners for this week end’s Gentleman, we’re heading off to St Laurent du Var for a parcours inspection and some relay training. It’ll be a quick turn around for me before heading back to the club for my Thursday afternoon English class.

The BA strike may spill over into next week, so my beloved is flying to UK via Zurich on another carrier, affording me some much needed breathing space before Easter and the arrival of yet more guests. Yes, when you live in one of the greatest places on God’s green earth everyone wants to come and visit. Luckily, I only have the one guest room.

Early balance sheet

Which team has won more races than any other? No, this is not a trick question, though you might be surprised by the answer – Cofidis. Yes, the boys in red and white have 11 victories to their name. HTC-Columbia are in 2nd place with 10 and Androni-Diquigiovanni in 3rd with 7.

Clearly, still smarting from last season’s relegation to the ranks of Continental-Pro, the boys of Cofidis feel that they have a point to prove. While their place in the Grand Tours is assured, for this season, invitations to some events: most notably, Tour of the Basque Country, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Flanders have gone missing in the post.

Cofidis have been sponsoring a cycling team since 1996 and are reflecting on whether they’ll continue. An answer is anticipated at the end of the month. The boys have done their best. In any event, if Cofidis bow out, they’ll all be looking for new posts and will not have done their case any harm.

To be fair, Cofidis also had a reasonably successful start to the 2009 season, so this is nothing new, but maybe it better reflects the depth and spirit in the squad since Leornardo Duque, Amael Moinard, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, Jens Keukeleire and Julien el Fares have all recently graced the podium. It would be a great shame to see this new self-belief crushed. I for one will be keeping my fingers crossed for them.

Postscript: Strictly speaking HTC-Columbia are now on level pegging with Cofidis, as Cavendish today recorded his maiden vistory of the season.

Post-postscript: Cofidis have renewed their sponsorship for a further two years – hurrah!

Don’t call us

The teams for the Giro were announced today by RCS Sport and, as a result, there’s bound to be a few long-faced team managers and sponsors. Here’s the list of  successful applicants, 15 Pro-Tour teams and 7 wild cards:-

AG2R-La Mondiale
Astana
Caisse d’Epargne
Footon-Servetto
Garmin-Transitions
HTC-Columbia
Katusha
Lampre Farnese Vini
Liquigas-Doimo
Milram
Omega Pharma-Lotto
Quick Step
Rabobank
Saxo Bank
Team Sky

Wild Cards

Acqua & Sapone
Androni-Diquigiovanni
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
BMC Racing
Cervelo
Cofidis-Le Credit en Ligne
Colnago-CSF Inox

The selection is pretty self-explanatory. Either you’re a team covered by the September 2008 agreement, a new, too big to ignore, Pro-Tour team, or your recent (and past) results justify your inclusion.

Probably of more note are the obvious omissions from the Pro-Tour ranks such as Radioshack, FDJ and Euskatel Euskadi. The Shack have given, not unnaturally, precedence to the Tour of California, are not covered by the September agreement with the Pro-Tour teams and, apparently, eschewed an invite. While the other two are covered by the agreement, one has to assume they too didn’t seek  invitations. However, I’m surprised to see Footon-Servetto on the list given that they didn’t receive invites to either Milan-San Remo or Tirreno-Adriatico.

Let’s now look at those Continental-Pro teams which didn’t get an invite. First up, the two Dutch squads, Skil Shimano and Vacansoleil; after all the Giro is starting in Amsterdam on 8 May. Neither team has any Italians in their squad and, while Vacansoleil livened up last year’s Vuelta, Skil (apart from Kenny Van Hummel) were damp squibs at the Tour.

A number of Italian Pro-Continental teams haven’t received an invite. Riccardo Ricco’s presence on team Ceramica Flaminia  presumably scuppered their chances; Carminooro-NGC have only just upgraded from Continental; while, ISD Neri and De Rosa-Stac Plastic haven’t posted much in the way of results. Maybe, next year…………………………….

Another year, another day

We arrived in San Remo before 11:ooam, parked the car, bought La Gazzetta dello Sport and went for a coffee to read who the pundits in Gazzetto and L’Equipe favoured for a win. La Gazzette favoured Boonen while L’Equipe hedged their bets with Boonen, Gilbert and Boassen Hagen. After Boonen, La Gazzetta plumped for Boassen Hagen, Bennati, Pozzato, Cancellara, Paolini, Gilbert and two-time former winner, Freire. Cavendish, it was felt, was pretty much out of the running following his lack lustre performance in Tirreno Adriatico.

We scouted out a good location, opposite the TV screen and podium, just past the finish line and took up our positions at around 01:00pm, two hours before the television coverage started. Watching cycling is not for the faint-hearted or for those who lack patience. To be fair we were entertained with some sporting action albeit cross-country skiing. The time passed quickly and the crowds got thicker. Only the early birds get the front rows. Super Mario arrived: queue frisson of excitement amongst the crowd.

Before

As the transmission went on air it was evident that the boys had been enjoying some inclement weather en route. However, it was dry in San Remo and, while the sky looked menacing, rain was not anticipated. In any event, we’d both dressed warmly and comfortably: we’re old hands at this. The favourites all looked to be well placed and well protected by their team mates. I always think that you need patience to win Milan-San Remo, you have to wait for the right moment. Go too soon, like Pippo and Philippe,  and your bolt is shot.

Riders started to become distanced on the Cipressa and Poggio but again the favourites were still in touch coming down into San Remo and the final kilometres. Bennati was being led out with Freire on his wheel followed by Boonen. Freire shot out from behind Bennati like a rocket and there was no catching him. Third-time lucky for Freire (previous wins in 2004 and 2007) who recorded his 4th win of the season. Boonen hung on for 2nd (his best finish to date) while Petacchi was 3rd, which cheered the largely Italian spectators. We couldn’t resist one more delicious coffee before heading home, job done.

After

Swopsies

This week’s training programme has 14 1/2hrs on the bike, on the road. However, I have something of a dilemma. I’m planning on spending all day Saturday in San Remo so, no riding. Yes, I could take my bike and go for a ride around the Poggio and Cipressa but I’m then literally left holding the bike to watch the finish. Not a great idea, as it’s always a bit of a squeeze near the finish. And no, I can’t put the beloved bike back on the car. If I do, it most definitely won’t be there when I get back.

I was planning on doing my one-legged interval training on the home trainer on Saturday evening and doing Saturday’s ride today. In preparation, I did today’s ride yesterday. Please note, yesterday’s ride should have been the one-legged interval training.

Sadly, the weather forecast for Sunday, and indeed Monday, indicates rain. On the programme for Sunday is a 4hr ride while Monday’s a rest day. As a consequence, I have decided to go for a longer ride today so that, if it does indeed rain on Sunday, I won’t have to spend too long on the home trainer. 

Prior to embarking on this rigorous training regime, Friday was the day on which I did my shopping, housework and cooking. You can see where I’m going with this. Fortunately, my beloved is not back from his trip until late tomorrow evening so, if it does indeed rain on Sunday, that’s when I’ll be doing the afore-mentioned chores.

Of course, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll be out on the bike (so no housework, cooking or shopping) either for the club ride or I may go over to Menton and return via La Turbie and Eze. In fact, thinking about it, the latter’s a better option since I’d like to time myself for the ride over to Menton. The concentration at Ste Agnes is on Sunday 4 April. You may recall, last year it was cancelled due to the rain. But I’ve been looking forward to doing this one ever since the “nul points” incident in 2008, which still rather rankles.

One of the small advantages of being club secretary is that I receive all the notices about all the concentrations giving full details of location and timing. I have already noted with interest that the pointage at Ste Agnes, via the Col de la Madone, now closes at 11:30hr. Woe betide them if I arrive once more at 11:10 to find they’ve packed up and gone home!

Quelle surprise!

Every Tuesday evening is club night, while the second Tuesday in every month is our monthly meeting of club members. Last night we gained yet another new member, nothing particularly surprising there. Except, his reason for joining our club, as opposed to any other, was the free English lessons on offer. He works for an international firm where, in order to progress, fluency in English is required. So, no pressure there!

The club organises three major events each year. First up is the Gentleman, a two person time-trial where your combined ages must exceed 60. This year I’m going to ride the short course with a girlfriend. Our combined ages will surely ensure we’re the oldest pairing. Then, I’m going to ride the longer course with my husband which I can’t help feeling may well be a big mistake but all the local pros were otherwise engaged.

Based on my experiences of the past two years, I’ve found the trick is to push yourself as hard as possible on the out loop, which is always into a fierce headwind, because you have the strong tailwind pushing you along on the way back. Never go so fast that your partner loses your wheel, nor too slow that you finish without feeling exhausted. I’ll be using the short circuit as my warm up for the larger one where I’ll largely be wheel sucking.

Just to make sure I’m as fresh as a daisy for the Gentleman, I’ve committed myself to riding a 150km Audax (av. speed of 22km) on the Saturday before. It’s not the 150km that bothers me, or indeed the average speed, but rather that we set off from Mandlieu Napoule at 07:30. It’ll take me about 1hr to drive there so I’ll have to leave the flat at 06:30 which means getting up at some ungodly hour. Please, couldn’t I miss the programmed comfort break (yes, really) and picnic lunch and start 2 hours later?