Last minute bits and bobs

Samuel Et’o’s Cameroon are the first team to be eliminated from the 2010 World Cup. This is a shame given that their match last night against Denmark was easily the best thus far. However, Nicolas Anelka got the march on them as, having had words with his manager, he too made a speedy exit without passing “Go” and without collecting £200.

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Tour of Switzerland which seems to have been plagued by rather wet weather. We know Switzerland well and it’s always interesting to see them riding through areas we ourselves have visited. For example, they descended the Albula Pass into La Punt where we’ve spent many a week end cross-country skiing. When my beloved was working in Constance, I would fly over on Friday evening to Zurich, he would pick me up and we would drive up to the Engadine to ski. We stayed in a small family-run hotel in La Punt who, due to the lateness of our arrival, would leave us a key under the flowerpot on the front step (where else). We haven’t been for a few years but nothing much seems to have changed in the meantime.

This morning we’re posing for the annual club photo. My beloved is acting as official photographer and is taking this new responsibility very seriously. He’s fished my tri-pod out of the cave and has mounted his camera on it. This now poses me something of a dilemma, who do I stand next to? A couple of new members weigh more than me so I’m probably now only the 6th or 7th heaviest in the club, but will the others turn up? Or, horror of horrors, will M le President insist on having the bureau all together? If he does, I’m going to stand behind him and the Treasurer: they’re both shorter and lighter than me.

After the photographs, it’s back home, a speedy change and off to the station to catch the train to Paris. Yes, my list is all ticked off, the bike is neatly packed into its case, and I’m raring to go. Yesterday afternoon, I picked up the final piece of the jigsaw: my Stars’ n Bars, made specially for me by the owner of my LBS. With those for fuel, 500km should be no trouble!

Weight of expectation

There’s been a collective weeping, wailing and beating of breasts in France today after their football team lost 2-0 to Mexico. Most have them on the plane home already. I’ve no idea what L’Equipe made of it as there were no copies available today in the local newsagents. Maybe, they decided not to publish in protest. The Nice Matin called it “Honteux” (disgraceful) and most players, with the exceptions of Lloris and Malouda, who both scored 5, were awarded less than 4. I think the manager was a definite “nul” points.

Still, that’s not been the only surprise. I watched a bit of the Spain v Switzerland game. The Spanish were passing the ball around beautifully while the Swiss employed that time honoured tactic of the underdog: 11 men behind the ball. It worked. Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper, fell asleep from boredom  and let in a Swiss goal.

Germany, who started brightly by scoring 4 goals in their first match, lost Klose and went down 1-0 this afternoon to the Serbs.

England, meanwhile,  laboured against Algeria, a team you could buy with the sale proceeds of Emile Heskey and still have change over. We’ve maintained our unbeaten run, but I’m pretty sure this was not what Fabio Capello ordered as his birthday treat. At times there was more action from the bench than on the pitch as he agonised, grimaced and gesticulated over England’s performance.

While David James looked commanding in yellow, back in his rightful place between the goalposts, the same could not be said of many of his teammates. Rooney was rubbish, Lampard lacklustre and Gerrard, by his own admission, lacked courage. It’s still all to play for next Wednesday afternoon against Serbia, a team that has already beaten Algeria.

The pundits have worked out that if England draw 2-2 against Serbia, and USA draw 0-0 with Algeria, the winner will be decided by drawing lots. Given our luck with games of chance and penalties, we’ll be keeping France company on the plane back.

Only a week to go

Yes, in a week’s time I’ll be merrily pedalling my way across the North and South Downs on Stage 1 of my three stage adventure to Paris. Of course, I’m feeling a lot more confident about the whole trip since I’ve seen the parcours London-Paris Profiles – nothing I can’t handle. Yes, it’s lumpy but there’s no long climbs and nothing much above 150m. The challenging aspect will, of course, be maintaining an average speed of 25km/hr. That’s where an engine might have come in handy!

Scott Sutherland, latterly of CSC and Sky, who’s one of the Group 5 ride captains,  kindly shared some words of wisdom yesterday with all the participants as to what riding we should be doing in the run up to the event. He could have been describing my training plan, which is very reassuring.

As befits someone whose watchword is “planning and preparation is the key to success,” I’m slowly ticking off everything on my list and carefully packing everything I need to take with me. The long-range weather forecast for northern France doesn’t look promising, we may well have a very wet Day 2, so I’m taking all of my wet weather gear. My touring bike, the Orbea Diva, is undergoing it’s final checks down at my LBS: new inner tubes, tyres, brake pads, chain etc. One can never be too cautious or too well prepared.

Carambolage!

I love watching cycling but I hate seeing anyone fall, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. You see, I’m not too good with blood, mine or anyone else’s, the mere sight of it makes me feel very faint. I go green, need to put my head between my knees and take great gulps of oxygen. This is somewhat unfortunate as I generally give the impression that I’m someone you could rely upon in an emergency and I am, providing there’s no blood or tangled limbs.

One of the participants in the recent Brevet Kivilev came to grief on the run in to the finish. He was cut up by a car coming in the opposite direction and ended up leaving vast swathes of skin on the road. Worryingly, as he was lying in 3rd position, he was just behind the lead car and two motorcycle outriders, the former bearing a large sign saying ” Take Care Cyclists” which must have been totally ignored by the oncoming vehicle. Calling upon his paramedic skills, M le President bandaged him up before sending him to outpatients.

Another local rider and M le President both came to grief this week end. While neither broke anything, they seem to have cornered the market in sticky plaster, both suffering severe road rash and contusions to their right sides.  I was called upon to sympathise and inspect their various war wounds, fortunately well after the event.

Yesterday, there was a huge pile-up in the sprint for the line in the Tour of Switzerland. Cavendish swerved into Haussler, taking them both down, and then the riders behind piled into them. There was a picture of the event in today’s L’Equipe and you can see the looks of dawning horror on the faces of the riders behind Cav and Haussler as they comprehend exactly what is about to befall them.  As someone who has a significant amount of experience of falling off things, I can confirm that it’s best to be first. Generally, one minute you’re where you’re supposed to be and the next minute you’re on the ground. Often without knowing how you’ve gotten there because it’s all happened so quickly: no time to react. The problem with knowing what’s about to happen is that you naturally tense and try, generally in vain, to take evasive action. In addition, the whole thing seems to happen in slow motion. The end result is generally worse injuries than those that caused the incident: and so it was.

No room at the Vuelta

Fans will be denied the chance to see a repeat of Johnny Hoogerland’s daily daring escapes during this year’s Vuelta a España. Yes, that’s right Vacansoleil weren’t invited to yet another grand tour and neither were Skil Shimano.  However, to give Unipublic their due they have invited two smaller Spanish outfits,  Xacobeo-Galicia and Andalucia Caja-sur, whose very existence probably depends on their annual appearance in the Vuelta.

The organisers have however made the (brave?) decision not to invite either BMC or The Shack as neither Cadel nor Lance respectively were scheduled to ride. I understand BMC didn’t seek an invite but The Shack had proposed a pretty strong  line up which included recent Criterium Dauphine winner Janez Brajkovic, Andreas Kloeden, Chris Horner, Haimer Zubeldia and  Levi Leipheimer – not too shabby. Instead rsvps have been sent to those 16 teams covered by the September 2008 agreement with UCI (which expires at the end of this season) and Team Sky, Garmin-Transitions, Katusha and Cervelo Test Team.

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.

Fashion advice

Any fashionista will tell you that you can’t skimp on quality when wearing white. Cheap simply doesn’t cut it. The same goes for cycling shorts, as white appears to be the choice for the summer months. Now, you don’t see many women wearing white cycling shorts, those that do tend either to have the right size butt (small) or it’s their team kit. Men, on the other hand, seem to have no such qualms. Nor apparently do they possess mirrors.

So here’s my guide on how to wear white shorts. First off, throw out all those shorts that have turned grey from repeated washing and those from which the lycra has fled. Buy the most expensive pair you can afford and please ensure that they are lined. If your butt is bigger than Alberto Contador’s, choose white shorts with  black and/or coloured inserts such as these which give the illusion of a skinner butt.

Recommended

Do try to avoid wearing them in the rain. Wash after each wear, on a cool cycle, with other whites, to preserve the colour.

Some of my female readers who are  unfamiliar with  the world of cycling may have gotten quite excited on seeing this photo. Please don’t, this model (sadly) looks nothing like the average road cyclist. Indeed, if more of them looked like this I suspect the number of women taking to two wheels would rocket exponentially.

Postscript: As the mercury climbs, please do not be tempted to a) ride without a jersey or b) ride with your jersey unzipped, unless you’re wearing a vest underneath. The obvious exception to this rule is anyone with a torso similar or better than the man in the photo.

What took you so long?

Occasionally, one finds stories buried among the daily cycling news that rather gladden the heart and bring a smile to one’s lips. This is one such story which caught my eye on the Cycling News website.

The IOC, somewhat late in the day it has to be said, has decided to finally award the team road cycling medals from the 1948 London Olympic Games. Maybe given that it’s the location of the next games their collective memories were jogged to correct a long overdue oversight.

On Monday, IOC president Jacque Rogge finally presented Eugene Van Roosbroeck with his medal. Lode Wouters, 81, was too ill to attend the ceremony, but will receive his medal later. The third team member, Leon De Lathouwer, has passed away.

After the 194 kilometre road race event at the London games, the three Belgians simply got on the bus and went back to their barrack accommodation, not realising they had won gold. By the time the organisers had worked out which was the winning team, they were all back home in Belgium.

According to Van Roosbroeck “it was only afterwards that we heard we were the best team. None of us thought that there was a medal awarded for the team event. The honour was enough for us.”

Assistance not required

This afternoon, one of my neighbours made a show of looking for the motor on my bike. Frankly, I was flattered particularly as he’d just seen me ride back up to the apartment on an average 7% gradient.

To be honest, when I first heard about mechanical doping it did cross my mind that it might be handy dandy for my forthcoming adventure.  Apparently called the “Gruber Assist”, the motor is inserted down the seat tube and interacts with a standard bottom bracket axel via a bevel gear unit. It is practically invisible with an external on/off switch plus a battery pack that is mounted in a saddle bag. The total weight of all of the components is 1900 grams, it can provide 100 watts of power, but sadly not for the extended periods I would require.

The temptation to cheat was merely a passing fancy. However, it’s surprising how often one is tempted. Back in 1994, I took part in the London Marathon. I hadn’t done too much training but knew I could always walk it. During the race an enterprising young fellow offered me the loan of his anorak for a fiver so that I could nip down an alley way and avoid running all around Canary Wharf. I turned down his offer, telling him it would be cheating. Quick as a flash, he said that no one would know. I replied that I would know and that’s all that matters. I continued on my way to what is probably one of the slowest marathons ever: finishing in 7 hours 28 minutes and 30 seconds. But I did wonder whether anyone took him up on his offer.

In many of the local cyclosportifs, it’s quite possible to set off ahead of the official start time, take short cuts or even pretend you’ve done the longer parcours instead of the shorter one.  But, there’s nothing to be gained from trying to fool yourself, or anyone else for that matter. Besides, my Garmin doesn’t lie.

Threesome

When I first moved to France I made a point of watching French TV, reading the French press and listening to French radio in order to improve and update my vocabulary.  As a consequence, my car radio is automatically tuned into RMC, a sports and news programme not dissimilar to BBC Radio 5 Live. I listen to it, almost subconsciously, whenever I am in the car.

One afternoon, I found myself listening to a lively, very matter of fact, discussion about “threesomes”. I checked that I hadn’t accidentally knocked the dial on the radio, no it was still RMC. The programme host, Brigitte, was discussing some extremely intimate details with her listeners who had rung in to talk about their experiences with “threesomes”. Now I’m sure there are similar phone-ins in the UK, but definitely not at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Given that I was going to be spending four days  in Varese with two of my favourite men, my beloved and my Swiss friend, I thought maybe it was time to try a threesome. Well, what can I say? It was long, hard and I worked up a considerable sweat. My Swiss friend, being more familiar with this terrain,  set a consistent pace on the front, I sat on his wheel, and my beloved followed.

Yes, we were on our bikes. What were you thinking? Remember I’m training for London-Paris and need to log plenty of kilometers. The weather was much hotter than anticipated, early 30s, and there was very little breeze to cool us, as we rode around the various lakes near Varese. Fortunately the pace allowed me to admire the many palatial lake side residences, including that of Mr Clooney. Sadly, gorgeous George wasn’t home, so we couldn’t pop in for a nespresso.

Lake Maggiore

In this temperature, it’s all too easy to become dehydrated and, on Saturday, I bonked on the final hill back into Varese. I was rescued by my Swiss friend who gallantly rode to the nearest village for a bottle of cold coke: cyclists’ viagra. All in all, it was a very pleasurable experience and one I’ll be happy to repeat. Though I doubt it’ll be of much interest to Brigitte and her listeners.