Postcards from Melbourne IV

Before the start of the Men’s Time Trial this afternoon, we took the opportunity to ride the entire 15.9km Geelong Road Race circuit. I still suspect that while the peloton will be nervous on the fast, flat, potentially windy, 85km ride from Melbourne, the real racing won’t start until the riders reach Geelong.

Previously, I hadn’t fully appreciated the narrowness of the roads around the parks, along the river and through the suburbs. The remainder are relatively broad but the two testing climbs are on the narrower roads, so it will be imperative to remain well placed at the head of the peloton each time it approaches those climbs.

The first climb is Challambra Crescent at around 5.6km, with the second at 9.2km. The former is the steeper. While it’s only 1km in length, it averages 8% at the start, before seemingly cruelly dipping down before rearing up to 22% at the summit (13% av.). The crescent is a residential road which should be thronged with locals on race day.

Steep descents tend to follow steep ascents and this is no exception. Taylor Phinney managed 85km/hr. on this 2.5km descent yesterday. At the foot of the descent there’s a sharp S-bend leading to a narrow temporary, pontoon bridge. This is followed by the 700m ascent of Queens Park Road: shorter than the first, but equally punishing. There’s then just 6km along wide roads to the finish line, into a very strong headwind, not forgetting, of course, the last 150m cruel, kick-up before the line. Needless to say, anyone (solo or small group) hoping to escape will probably need to attack on the first hill. 

Reconnaissance over, we resumed our posts to watch the Men’s Time Trial. Few can forget Fabulous Fabian’s majestic and imperious victory last year and today he was hoping to become the first rider to win a fourth title in this discipline. Only the brave or foolhardy would have bet against him. Fortune sometimes favours the brave, but not today: it followed the form book. Nonetheless, it was a totally absorbing race with impressive times being posted by riders in the earlier groups, notably Mick Rogers who was also hoping to be the first man  to win 4 World titles in this discipline. He was sitting in the hot seat as the first riders from the last group rolled down the starting ramp.

While the ladies basked in sunshine yesterday afternoon, today the sun was hidden by thick clouds and rain looked a real possibility. The earlier stiff breeze disappeared favouring those in the final group.  Naturally, Fabulous Fabian was last out of the starting blocks preceded by one of Australia’s new heroes, Ritchie Porte, who went after last year’s silver medalist, Tony Martin.

Tony Martin

David Millar was posting the fastest split times forcing Fab to really push it on the descents where he reached speeds of over 100km/hr. almost coming to grief on the S-bend as he brushed up against the barrier. Remember what I said about luck? Tony Martin had a puncture and, thanks to his quick witted support team, was on his replacement bike within 10secs. (Remembering Dowsett yesterday, can they please give a few tips to the British squad.) Given that he still managed to finish in 3rd place, he’ll no doubt be buying them drinks this evening.

Silver for Millar

Millar was smoking, but not as much as Spartacus, who finished atop the podium, more than a minute ahead of Millar. Porte and Rogers were respectively 4th and 5th. This margin allowed Fab to waggle 4 fingers as he crossed the finishing line. I consider I’ve been fortunate to see all four wins in person.

The Terminator

(All photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Postcards from Melbourne III

It’s still far colder than I anticipated for this time of year and I’m regretting not bringing my down vest but the forecast is for warmer weather at the week end. As well as checking out the course in Geelong, we’ve been exploring the Melbourne shoreline on our rental bikes.  The scenery has been quite spectacular and, as we’ve ridden further south, the properties have grown in size and there are some splendid examples of both colonial and modern architecture. The former are generally clapboard with wrap around verandas decorated with filigree ironwork while the latter are seemingly built largely from glass affording the owners panoramic views of the sea.

When questioned as to the difference between Sydney and Melbourne, the natives have advised that Sydney was founded by convicts while Melbourne was founded by immigrants from mainly Scotland and Italy. Do I sense some rivalry?

We again set off for Geelong at a reasonable hour to watch the U23 individual time-trial where Taylor Phinney was odds on favourite to win. He does have an impeccable pedigree and the results this year, most recently in the Tour de l’Avenir, to back up those claims. However, he faced stiff completion from the locals, last year’s silver medalist and GB’s Alex Dowsett.

We easily positioned ourselves near the start/ finish line with a clear view of the big screen, close to refreshments and cover from the promised rain squalls. This is my 5th Worlds and easily the best so far from an organizational perspective. Everything has been done for the viewing public. Instead of the usual banks of seating, there’s one small one for the press after and a small one before the finish line for local dignitaries. The UCI and sponsors’ lounges are at the foot of the final climb.

Many local shopkeepers have a cycling-related focus in their windows while the bars, cafes and restaurants are competing hard for business with lots of themed events.  There are screens all over the course, particularly in key areas such as the climbs and in the family-friendly parks.  They’ve even established hubs for the supporters of the major foreign teams all handily located near purveyors of alcoholic beverages. No stone has been left unturned. There’s even screens in the centre of Melbourne for those that can’t make the journey to Geelong. But then Australians really love their sport, don’t they?

Sadly, the cycling is being overshadowed by this Saturday’s replay of the AFL finals. You only have to look at the local press or watch the TV to have this amply confirmed. Residents of Geelong were asked if they’d be watching the cycling, most seemed to be annoyed at the inconvenience of road closures while others were aghast at having seen professional riders jump red lights. The inclement weather and that apathy accounted for the poor showing at today’s races. You could literally count the numbers of spectators, many of whom had arrived by bike.

The first rider off, Frayre Moctezuma Eder from Mexico, was visibly shivering in the chill wind and took some time to attain rhythm and speed.  No sooner had he set off than the heavens opened, making the course treacherous for those in Groups 1 and 2. Subsequently, the sun and gentle breeze combined to quickly dry out the course for those in the subsequent two groups. The few fans gathered mostly in the finishing straight did their best to loudly cheer and encourage the future of the sport. This was great to see and heart-warming for the riders as generally the U23’s and women’s events unfairly attract less coverage and support. This is a race with a great pedigree. Just look at a few of the winners of recent years;  Lars Boom,  Jose Ivan Guttierez and Thor Hushovd.

To win a rainbow jersey, you need luck. This was Phinney’s fifth. He was lucky that Luke Durbridge endured wet roads, while he didn’t. Alex Dowsett was unlucky to have a problem with his tyre which ended his potential challenge.  Phinney won by 1.90secs ahead of 19-year old Durbridge, while German Marcel Kittel was a further 20 secs back in 3rd. The future of cycling looks rosy.

Next up, the ladies. Pre-race favourite, German, Judith Arndt finished 2nd, some 15secs behind the diminutive, feisty Emma Pooley from GREAT BRITAIN. Linda Villumse was 3rd on her maiden outing for NZ. The evergreen Jeannie Longo was 5th.   A great day’s racing; I can’t wait for the men’s TT tomorrow.

Postcards from Melbourne II

Today my beloved had a business meeting in Geelong (fortuitous or what!) which gave me an opportunity to check out the course. The ride from Melbourne to Geelong was open and very windy although the forecast for later in the week is for less wind. The circuit around Geelong is on wide, well-maintained roads and the drag up to the finish could well mitigate against a true sprinter, like Cavendish. The two climbs are short and steep but riders like Gilbert and Cancellara will just power up them. Short steep ascents also mean fast ascents which could play into the hands of someone like Fabulous Fabian, enabling him to solo away. On the circuit, the wind may play a part either as a strong head or tailwind. The latter will make it difficult for someone to take a flyer, the latter will assist.

So who are the favourites in the Men’s road race? You cannot discount anyone from those  teams fielding 9 riders. I think Bettini, wily fox that he is, has done his planning and preparation well and chosen a strong squad to support Pozzato who’s obviously in form after the Vuelta and his win in Sunday’s Sun Herald Classic in Ballarat.

I had a chance meeting with the Spanish squad today, who are throwing their weight behind Oscarito, and he certainly fancies that uphill 150m drag to the finish. The boys were wrapped up against the biting cold wind and delayed the start of their practice ride until the squally rain showers had passed. The boys were obviously concerned about the weather and spent sometime checking out the weather forecast for the coming days. Luckily for them (and me) the mercury is set to rise at the week end.

I would categorize it as an Ardennes Classic type of course, although the climbing is concentrated in the latter 2/3rds of the race, so should suit my tip for the top, Gilbert, as well as others who have fared well in these types of races, such as Frank Schleck. That’s why I think it’s a shame that my favourite Kazakh has passed on this race. It would have suited his attacking style and one can always rely on him to enliven any race he enters.

One cannot discount Kolobnev who has performed well in the past (Stuttgart and Mendrisio). Nor can one ignore the home team, the Aussies, who will be keen to not only defend the rainbow jersey but also win on their turf. They should know the course better than anyone.

So am I saying it’s all to play for? No, even assuming that the weather is not a major factor, the stronger, larger teams will seek to put the pure sprinters under pressure and whittle down the peloton to ensure they are not duking it out in the final stretch. It’ll be a fast race and my pick is as follows: Gilbert (1), Pozzatto (2), Oscarito (3).

It’s hard to look beyond Cancellara and Tony Martin for the time trial. This tends to be a much more predictable race. I favour Fabulous Fabian over Tony and I’m going for Lars Boom to place 3rd rather than Edvald Boassen Hagen or Ritchie Porte.

Both women’s races look to be very open with no clear favourites. Though again, I expect riders from the larger teams to hold sway likewise, in the U23 races. In these races I shall be cheering for the French and, in particular, Jeanni Longo who’s old enough to have a grandson riding in the U23 race. That woman is my inspiration.

Postcards from Melbourne I

We had a most pleasant journey to Melbourne largely thanks to Qatar Airlines whose Club Class, in the humble opinion of my beloved who spends his time circumnavigating the globe, is considerably better than either BA’s or Lufthansa’s First Class. We started in a promising fashion, leaving home, at my insistence, with time to spare to reach Malpensa from whence we flew via Doha to Melbourne. Obviously, we weren’t the only ones heading for the World Championships as we espied a number of riders and plenty of press.

I had looked forward to having a bit of a film fest on board, catching up with all the latest movies. What a sorry bunch they all were! I ended up watching two delightful French movies. One was filmed in Cannes and the other in Monaco. It helped to stave off any incipient homesickness.

It’s only a short hop to Doha but I slept most of the way from Doha to Melbourne. As usual on red-eyes, I eschewed dinner in favour of a glass of my favourite beverage and then it’s ear plugs in, eye shades on and lights off. I slept like a baby on the most comfortable flat bed ever. While one never flies for the on-board refuelling, I liked that I could eat whatever I wanted, from an extensive menu, whenever I wanted.

It was late when we arrived, but my beloved managed to find our way to the hotel  which is on the Melbourne shoreline. The place puts me very much in mind of Northern British seaside resorts: more Southport than Blackpool. We had a quick trek around Melbourne today and collected our hire bikes. The older architecture in the town is again reminiscent of Northern towns such as Manchester or Leeds while the new stuff is your average American highrise. The feel of small town USA is reinforced by the roadway grid-system.

We’re still not on Oz time. We felt fine today until just after lunch when we decided we both needed a quick power nap which inexplicably turned into a rather longer sleep-in. Now, of course, we’ve become night owls. We’re off to Geelong tomorrow to check out the course.

Overdrive

I have been working away, like the mad woman that I am, clearing down my “to do” list. I have been partly aided and abetted by the absence of my beloved. He was due to return yesterday evening on the last flight from Heathrow which was cancelled thanks to yesterday’s General Strike in France. There were protesting, as is their wont, to changes in the retirement age. France, like many other countries, has a pension burden it cannot meet. So some of us will have to work for a wee bit longer. I include myself in this as I will be entitled to a French pension upon retirement, whenever that might be. I, however, did not have time to protest yesterday.

He was unable to get on a flight until this afternoon. Meaning, of course, that he’ll arrive home this evening with plenty to do before our departure tomorrow morning. I, meanwhile, am ready for the off. Just as well really as, this evening, I’ll be sorting out his clothes and doing his packing. I was only musing yesterday with my kid sister that it must be so nice being Richard. Just turn up and it’s all done. Still, I suppose I should be grateful that he’s coming back this evening. He’s got a nasty habit of returning literally hours before we head off on vacation.

When he does return, I will be down at the club for a meeting of the Conseil d’Administration. I have left him some dinner and a list of instructions. He’ll no doubt consume the former and ignore the latter.

I went to get some urgent photocopying done this morning ahead of this evening’s meeting. I use a copy shop not far from the club which is normally (wo)manned by a very helpful lady and her overly friendly dog. However, I had totally forgotten that she doesn’t work on Fridays. In her stead is a real French job’s worth who advised me he would be unable to copy 10 sheets in colour until Monday afternoon. I was a little taken aback. The place was empty, apart from the two of us, and none of the copiers were running. Instead, he advised me to go to another place, about a kilometer away. So I did.

This place was  humming. It was a hive of activity. Every copier was working and the small workroom was stacked high with work in progress. Nonetheless, they turned my small job around in under 5 minutes and, more importantly, for half the cost. Guess where I’ll be going for all my copying requirements in the future?

Timely

My beloved has departed until tomorrow evening, and not a moment too soon. I like to leave more than adequate time to arrive at the airport while my beloved thinks I can get him there, whatever the time of day or the condition of the traffic, in 10 minutes. He thinks he operates “just in time”. But as soon as we’re in the car, en route to the airport, he’ll remember (too late) that he’s forgotten something. I, who place great faith in planning and preparation, would have had everything (including printing off my boarding card), ready the night before. My regular readers will know that my beloved never learns from his mistakes. It’s like we’re locked in a perpetual “Groundhog Day” scenario every time he leaves the country.

Having dropped him at the airport, just in time, I drove home, leapt on the bike and sought solace in the surrounding countryside. I don’t attempt to put the world to rights while on my bike, I just enjoy the moment: me, my beloved bike and the open road. I returned feeling so much calmer and set about clearing my lengthy “to do before I leave for Oz” list.

I have sorted out what clothes I am taking with me. My long-term mistrust of all airline carriers means that I only travel with hand luggage. Having flown extensively, I now have this down to a fine art. My sisters would do well to heed my advice. I take less luggage for 3 weeks than they would contemplate for an overnight.

Here’s my basic guidelines. First, ditch the small sub-branch of Boots. You can’t take much in the way of toiletries in hand luggage, so buy them on arrival and use samples on the plane.  Second, stick to a limited colour palette so that everything matches and you can manage with one handbag and one (comfortable) pair of shoes, aside from the training shoes (necessary for walking, standing to watch the cycling, running, gym work and bike riding). Lastly, accessorize with scarves, they take up so very little room.

So what have I packed? Two sets of running and cycling kit, 3 pairs of black trousers, 5 t-shirts, a nightdress, 3 scarves, underwear, a swimsuit and a pair of black ballerinas. I shall travel in cream trousers, trainers, cream short-sleeved cashmere sweater and black fitted rain jacket. In my spacious handbag, I’ll have my cashmere shawl, as I always find planes a little on the chilly side, laptop, iPod, two books, camera, Blackberry and charger,  adaptor,  notebook, pen, sample toiletries, passport, paperwork for the trip (you don’t think I’d entrust it to my beloved, do you?) and a couple of cycling magazines. I’m all set, but you can bet my beloved isn’t.

Vuelta wrap

What a fantastic Vuelta which maintained the suspense right up until the final summit on the pen-ultimate day. But the “Shark”, having gotten his teeth into the red jersey (again) wasn’t going to be shaken loose and he managed to claw (not that sharks have claws) his way back onto Mosquera’s wheel. As a consolation, Mosquera won his first Grand Tour stage while Nibali sealed the leader’s and combined jerseys. As predicted (by me and pretty much everyone else), Cavendish won the points and Moncoutie the mountain’s. Consolation for Joaquin Rodriguez as he has now climbed atop the UCI rankings.  

The Vuelta threw up some surprises, not all of them pleasant:

1) Denis Menchov, 2nd in the time-trial, who finished 41st on GC. Clearly, despite nicking 3rd spot in the Tour thanks to his performance in the time-trial from my beloved Samu Sanchez, it took more out of Denis than anyone realised. He woz rubbish!

2) Peter Velits on the podium – no one saw that one coming. HTC-Columbia’s first GT podium. The Velits twins and Peter Sagan: don’t mess with Slovakia.

3) Some consolation for my beloved boys in orange: 3 stage wins and Mikel Nieve’s 12 place on GC. All good omens for 2011.

4) David Moncoutie’s mountains jersey (3rd consecutive) and his re-signing for another (final?) year with Cofidis.

5) He’s on his way back from the wilderness: Andrey Kashechkin’s 18th place on GC in his first real ride in 3 years.

6) Christophe Le Mevel’s 15th place on GC: some consolation late in the season.

7) Nico Roche 7th on GC: clearly a chip off the “old block”.

8) Jan Bakelandts 19th on GC: keep an eye on him.

9) Will he, won’t he? Fabulous Fabian jumps ship, leaving both SaxoBank and the Vuelta in the lurch. He may not even go to the World’s after being beaten by both Velits and Menchov in the Vuelta ITT. The SaxoBank cupboard is starting to look rather bare.

10) Using the Vuelta as a predictor of form for the World Championships, you have to say watch out for Philippe Gilbert in Geelong.

 What more can I say? A brilliant 3 weeks of racing, much appreciated by the viewing public, whether on the roadside or in front on the screen. In fact the lack of some of the bigger names may have made the outcome, and the racing, less predictable. It also helped that the Vuelta finished 2 weeks before the Men’s Road Race at the World Championship’s in Melbourne. Full credit must go to the organisers, Unipublic, for staging what most people feel is the best Vuelta in a long time. Long may it continue.

Vuelta Espana 2010 Final Overall Classification

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 87hrs 18’ 33”
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia + 41”
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia + 3’ 02”
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha + 4’ 20”
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank + 4’ 43”
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 4’ 52”
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale + 5’ 03”
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 6’ 06”
9 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions + 6’ 09”
10 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne + 7’ 35”

Mountain Classification
1 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 51pts
2 Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 43
3 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 36

Points Classification
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Team HTC-Columbia 156pts
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions 149
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 119

Team Classification
1 Team Katusha 261hrs 48’ 04”
2 Caisse d’Epargne + 35”
3 Xacobeo Galicia + 12′ 33”

On high

I am spending way too much time on club business. My beloved (yes, he’s home until Wednesday afternoon) cannot believe that I have spent all day at my desk while the sun has been shining. But I need to get as much as possible up to date before my departure and then hand everything over to the Treasurer. I have made copious notes and lots of annotated examples to help her otherwise I’m afraid she might just decide it’s all too much and throw in the towel. Strictly speaking, as we’re in France, she would throw in the sponge. But I want no throwing of towels, sponges or any other missiles.

Friday afternoon we took the much anticipated decision to run next year’s Kivilev as both a randonnee and sportif. I have been put in charge of marketing, which includes production of the brochure. This is already well in hand and I’ll be working on it while I’m flying to and from on Oz. Well there’s only so many films you can watch and it’s an awfully long time to be airborne, even in Club class.

The club had a magnificent turn out for yesterday’s pointage which included a climb up Mont Chauve. I did this for the first time last year and was disappointed not to have done the race as no other women had taken part. But there were two this year, so I’d have been 3rd.  However, I decided not to contest the sprint and plodded away at my own pace. Amazingly, I overtook a number of riders who had probably set off too quickly and were beginning to flag in the final kilometers. However, the climb seemed much more difficult than I remembered and I suffered like a dog all the way up. Maybe it was the weather which was humid and overcast, ruining the normally panoramic view of Nice.

Still, it was all worthwhile as we won the pointage, which was hosted by the largest Nicois club, beating into second place the 2nd largest club mainly because a number of their riders had forgotten their licences and therefore they didn’t qualify for the bonifications. As usual, ladies only made up 5% of the 395 participants. Contrast this turn-out with our own event which was held in August. We had over 560.

It’s all too much

My abiding memory of this Vuelta (yes, I know it’s not yet finished) will be Igor Anton’s bloodied, brave, little soldier face, waving good bye to us all, with his left hand, from the passenger seat of his DS’s car, as he’s driven away from what might have been his first Grand Tour win. Having hit a pot-hole at high speed, he broke his right elbow, took out a team mate (Egoi Martinez – dislocated shoulder), shredded the red leader’s jersey and large parts of his own skin. He was mightily handily placed and who knows what might have been, but you need luck to win a Grand Tour.

This past week end was a veritable cycling fest with GPs in Quebec (Voeckler) and Montreal (Gesink), Paris-Brussels (Ventoso), GP des Fourmies (Feillu), the end of the Tour de l’Avenir (Quintana) and the start of the Tour of Great Britain. A trip to Italy over the week end meant that I’ve seen very little of any of this cycling, but a girl can have too much of a good thing.

OGCN continue to defy the odds with a home  win against a lacklustre Bordeaux; not the team they were last season with Blanc at the helm and Gourcuff up front. AVFC meanwhile continued to confound by conceeding a goal in the final minute of their away game at Stoke to lose 2-1. Their best player tellingly was the goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.

What of my own training I hear you ask. Well, mindful of my forthcoming trip to Australia, my cycling coach has introduced running and gym work into the weekly mix along with some interval sprint training on the bike. We rode together last week and he had me sprinting in the drops, not something I’ve ever done before. Initially, I felt as if I’d lost control of the handlebars but soon got the hang of it. It certainly gives you a more dynamic position on the bike and, looking at the stats afterwards, I did ride faster.

Friday was my first “running” session. I use the term guardedly as I’m not sure the speed at which I travel qualifies as running. I had surprisingly sore shins the following day which have fortunately now abated and which didn’t recur after my run on Tuesday.

I rode with my beloved on both Saturday and Sunday. The weather is still glorious, although a little fresh first thing, and you’re starting to need to put on a light jacket when descending from the higher hills, like Col de Vence. It’s slowly cooling down but the wild life it still active, particularly the mosquitos and horseflies, whose desire to taste me is undiminished.

The run up to my departure for Melbourne is typically hectic. I’m juggling way too many things at the moment (huge “to do” list) and am praying I  manage to get them all done before I leave, otherwise I’ll still be dealing with them in Melbourne.

Orange bliss

Regular readers will know that I have a particular fondness for the Basque squad of Euskaltel-Euskadi. While I’m not exactly sure why that is, I can proffer a number of possible reasons:-

  1. It’s home to my favourite Spanish rider Samu Sanchez
  2. I like the idea that the team supports cycling from grass-roots to elite, but only for Basques, or those, like Samu, raised in a Basque squad
  3. To a man, they all weigh less than me. In fact, when I met the squad during the third week of  Tour de France 2008 they resembled a bunch of little brown twigs 
  4. Most of them have names which challenge the powers of pronunciation of all cycling commentators alike (except those that speak Basque)
  5. They’ve all been tangoed
  6. They don’t travel well. Have  the  Basques ever won a race on the cobbles? No, I don’t think so
  7. They have the most ardent supporters
  8. They could do with some good luck, particularly Igor Anton who has crashed out of the Vuelta this year, and also in 2008, with broken bones 
  9. They have one of the smallest budgets in the Pro-Tour peloton
  10. Basques never do quite as well on other squads as they do on their own
  11. The most promising young French rider, Romain Sicard, rides for them
  12. The Basque country is a culinary blessed area
  13. My very first road bike was an Orbea

Let’s hope 13 isn’t an unlucky number in the Basque country