Fleeting form

We’ve reached that time of year when those in the professional peloton are taking a well earned rest, picking up awards and looking forward to next season, some with new teams. Sadly a number are still seeking gainful employment for 2012, while others have hung up their helmets for good. All this means cycling coverage in L’Equipe is limited to a couple of columns each day.

After Tuesday’s deluge, the weather gods have been kind and I’ve been out enjoying the warm temperatures, following my training programme and overtaking plenty of tourists on two wheels. Somewhat bizarrely after spending weeks battling with a cold, and it’s after effects, I appear to have hit the form of my life just as the cyclo-cross season gets underway. This week I have posted some of my “fastest ever” times on some of my regular routes. Even my beloved has noticed as I’m managing to stay closer to his wheel on climbs where he often puts a couple of hundred metres into me.

Yesterday, I practised time-trialling along the coast road where, a few years ago, I had my first sighting of a professional rider. It was Bobby Julich, then riding for CSC, who whooshed past me on his time-trial bike when I was doing 50kph in the car. I don’t have a time-trial bike, or any of the aerodynamic gizmos, just my trusty BMC. Nonetheless, the legs were pumping smoothly, I was rock steady on the bike and I was flying along. Largely, it has to be said, due to the strong tailwind. I didn’t go anywhere near as fast in the other direction, in fact I was around 10km/hr slower.

Having given my all, I retired to one of my regular watering holes for a late lunch. I was joined by a large number of the presidential guard who are billeted, along with their horses, at the nearby Hippodrome, ahead of next week’s G20 meeting in Cannes which Sarkozy will be hosting. Memo to self: avoid riding in the direction of Cannes next week where security will be tight and the traffic will be dreadful.

My beloved arrived back from a couple of days in Cairo this morning. I delayed setting out on my Sunday ride to pick him up from the airport and then we rode together. We were too late for the club pointage in Beaulieu and had intended to follow the route of the club ride, stopping to enjoy lunch in La Turbie. But, probably due to the sunny weather, traffic was heavy heading into Nice. We elected to ride in the opposite direction, along the coast, before heading back into the hills. The route included a 2km climb at 12% average: short and brutal. We had lunch at home as my beloved (for once) wasn’t feeling too hungry. He had stayed with friends in Cairo who had literally killed the fatted calf on his behalf.

My beloved is off on his travels again tomorrow, this time to UK and Germany until next Saturday evening. You understand that this is not a complaint, merely a statement of fact. While he’s away, I shall be busy. I’m keen to profit from the remaining fine weather as more rain is forecast for Wednesday. Already the hills around Nice are dusted with snow with more forecast this week. It looks as if we’re going to have yet another great skiing season.

Hanging up their helmets

A number of riders have announced their intention to retire. For some it’s recognition that it’s time to step down and for others it’s the realisation that injuries have called time on their careers. So in 2011 we’re bidding a fond farewell to a number of luminaries, most notably 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, Ag2r’s Cyril Dessel who graced the yellow jersey in 2007 and long serving domestiques Inigo Cuesta, Kurt Asle Arvesen, Charlie Wegelius, Sylvain Calzati and, one of my faves, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta.

On Tuesday evening this week, at the Hotel Castillo de Gorraiz, in Pamplona, 39-year old “Txente” called time on a career that had spanned 17 seasons in the pro-peloton after starting as a stagiare in 1994. The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are not going to be quite the same without him setting tempo on the front of the peloton for a large part of the race. At 186cm and 76kg, he’s a member of that very select sub-set of riders who weigh more than me. However, with a resting heart beat of 50, he’s obviously in better shape. He’s one of the few current riders (along with Frederic Guesdon, Pablo Lastras and David Moncoutie) to have spent his entire professional career with the same team throughout it’s various guises and has ridden in support of some notable riders such as Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano (with whom he won GP Eddy Merckx in 1998), Alex Zuelle, Jose Marie Jiminez, Oscar Pereiro and (the soon to return) Alejandro Valverde under the guidance of first Jose Miguel Echavarri and, since 2008, Eusebio Unzue.

He has a modest, but nonetheless impressive, palmares which includes a stage win in the Tour de France. He won from a breakaway on Bastille Day 2000, on 185km Stage 13 from Avignon to Draguignan, ahead of a Frenchman. He also won two stages in the Vuelta (1997 Stage 14 and 2002 Stage 19), a stage win and the overall in the 1996 Tour of Navarra, 2nd stage of the 2003 Vuelta a Burgos, 3rd stage in 2006 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and been part of 4 team time trial victories. He’s taken part in 27 Grand Tours (12 Tours, 14 Vueltas), finishing 26. He failed to finish this year’s Vuelta after a fall on stage 5, on the Alto de Valdepenas de Jaen, where he fractured his arm, ribs and vertebrae, forcing the temporary postponement of his retirement announcement which he’d planned to make in Madrid. With 14 completed Vuelta’s under his belt only Inigo Cuesta and Federico Echave have completed more. Txente claims his favourite race is the Tour de France, not the Vuelta.

A Basque by birth (Pasaia, Guipuzcoa), he now resides in nearby Tafalla in Navarra where he’s going to be spending the next couple of months enjoying his retirement and pondering his next move. Whatever it is I wish him, and all the other retirees, the best of luck in their new careers.

No surprises

The “Velo d’Or“, awarded annually by an international jury of 19 journalists to the best performer, was created in 1992 and is widely regarded as the most prestigious individual award in cycling. Lance holds the record with five wins and, until 2006, the winner of the Tour de France had always been placed first or second in the award classification.

Unsurprisingly, with 18 victories under his belt in 2011, Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert has picked up the 2011 trophy. The decision was pretty much unanimous with only journalists from Germany, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg preferring Evans, while the British journalist patriotically put Cavendish in first place. Tour de France winner Cadel Evans was runner up, while World Champion and sprint-kingpin Mark Cavendish was third. Messrs Contador and Tony Martin tied for 4th place. I have to say it’s hard to disagree with this decision. No doubt this is going to be one of many awards for PhilGil this season who’s already been voted “Flamand of the Year”. Yes, I know he’s a Walloon, but nationality doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor in this annual award. PhilGil’s setting his sights in 2012 on those Classics which have so far eluded him and, in particular, Milan – San Remo.

Best Young Rider was won by Liquigas’s precocious Peter Sagan, one point ahead of Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagan. HTC’s Matti Goss was third. Also in the mix, but way down on the points, (in order) were Pierre Rolland, Marcel Kittel, Jack Bobridge, Rui Costa, Rein Taaramae, John Degenkolb, Steven Kuijswijk, Denis Galimzyanov and Ben Swift. The “Best of” French categories are voted for solely by the French media. Frenchman of the year, for the second successive year, with a massive haul of 116 points, was Thomas Voeckler followed by Pierre Roland and trackstar Gregory Bauge. Julie Bresset, the U23 World Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion, and the only female rider to figure in any of the awards, was seventh.

The award for the best “Espoir” was given to U23 World Road Race Champion Arnaud Demarre, Best Junior was Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier, the recently crowned Junior World Road Race Champion and, finally, rising trackstar Julien Delerin was awarded the Vel d’Or Cadet.

Total washout

Not what was wanted

After a few cold, damp days back in UK, I was so looking forward to getting back home and going out on my bike. Late Sunday afternoon I just had a quick warm up on the home trainer in anticipation of yesterday’s ride. After a greyish start,  at lunchtime my beloved and I donned our kit, grabbed our bikes and exited the building only to discover it had started to rain: yet another session on the home trainer. I was woken in the early hours of this morning by the sound of gusting winds. Sure that they would keep the forecast rain at bay, I turned over and went back to sleep only to be rudely awaked by the alarm. Time to drive my beloved to the airport. As we left the garage it was obvious that my hopes were totally unfounded: it was pouring. In fact, visibility was a bit of an issue and I was pleased that there was so little traffic on the road.

Returning home, I resigned myself to another session on the home trainer. My cycling coach sent me an SMS with his suggested training session. I had to perform a series of pyramid accelerations sandwiched between a warm-up and cool down. The poor chap has been recently grounded firstly by tendonitis in the knee and then a broken collarbone which he’s had pinned this evening as the bone broke in another place last week end. It’ll be a while before we go riding together again. But you’ve got to feel sorry for his wife. It’s half-term, the kids are home and she’s got a husband underfoot who’s usually out burning up a gazillion calories and getting high.

Despite today’s truly horrendous weather the outlook for the rest of the week suggests that I might be back on my bike as early as tomorrow. My coach texted me a few training suggestions shortly before he was due to go into surgery this evening. I wonder if he did that for all his clients? I would normally ride over to my monthly appointment with my nutritionist, but obviously not today. It’s well nigh impossible to park near her office though I did manage to do it today. Otherwise, quite frankly, the water absorbed by my clothing, while rushing from car to office, would easily have cancelled out this month’s weight loss.

This evening, as usual, I spent a couple of hours down the cycle club where, thanks to the weather, attendance was muted. This meant I left earlier than anticipated enabling me to get back for a bit of baking for tomorrow’s English class. I’ve recently acquired Dan Lepard’s (no relation to Def) latest treatise and have found a delicious chocolate cake recipe that I think they’ll enjoy. One can never have too many chocolate cakes in one’s repertoire as they’re universally loved, especially by my target audience of teenage boys.

Sheree’s sporting smorgasbord

When I go back to the UK to visit my parents I feel as if I’m in some sort of parallel universe: no internet, no L’Equipe and a dull diet of daytime TV. The world continues but I seem stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario. My mother’s illness is getting markedly worse. Of course, it’s only ever going to be a one-way bet but it seems to have gathered momentum and she’s much more overtly aggressive. I do appreciate that most of the time she’s no idea who we are and is therefore in a state of constant confusion with little way of making herself understood. There are times when you see flickers of the woman she once was but they’re becoming very few and far between. More worryingly I see the toll her disease is having on my father. While, on the one hand, I look forward to seeing them, as soon as I arrive I want to come back home.

Despite a crowded sporting calendar the only sport I saw all week end was the big match and, no, I don’t mean the Manchester Derby. We watched the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in which France gave New Zealand an unexpected run for their money and, were it not for some strange but consistent refereeing decisions, might well have rained on the All Blacks parade. Despite the scepticism beforehand, L’Equipe produced a special supplement today paying homage to the boys’ exploits which included pages of gratitude from their sponsors. They might have been beaten but they went out with heads held high.

Arriving back home late Sunday afternoon, I was intent with catching up with all the other sporting news until I saw the announcement about Marco Simoncelli’s death. You see so many shots of the motorbike riders sliding off into the kitty litter and then bouncing back to their feet that you tend to forget the sport’s inherent dangers. It seemed doubly cruel that he should lose his life on a track where he crowned his 250cc championship season in 2008 and after achieving his best result of the 2011 season (2nd) in the previous race at Phillip Island. I didn’t have the heart to check on the results in the Moto2 and 125cc races.

Sebastien Loeb closed in on the World Rally Championship after winning the Catalunya Rally. Whether or not he wins his 8th consecutive title will be decided in three weeks in Wales. He leads Mikko Hirvonen by 8 points. Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier dropped out of the rally and out of contention but looks unwilling to play second-fiddle for another season. Citroen did however wrap up the constructor’s championship.

Disappointment on the football pitch as AVFC were beaten at home for the first time since 1979 by their neighbours, The Baggies, after a contentious sending off reduced my beloved boys in claret and blue to 10 men. The phrase “we woz robbed” easily comes to mind. OGCN meekly capitulated 1-0 away at Nancy. But the big news was the 6-1 dismantling of the Red Devils in the Theatre of Dreams by their derby rivals Manchester City. When did Manchester United last concede that many goals? It was Sir Alec Ferguson’s “worst day ever”.  Down south, reduced to 9 men, Chelsea lost 1-0 away to their neighbours QPR. Derbies often throw up surprising results.

As I left for the UK on Friday a headline in L’Equipe caught my attention “Armstrong pedale encore”. Was Lance making yet another comeback? No, it was a comment about NBA player Hilton Armstrong. Thank goodness, because, quite frankly with teams disappearing left, right and centre, there’s no longer a place for Lance in the professional peloton. It seems particularly cruel that Geox have withdrawn their support just after the closing of the transfer window leaving staff and riders high and dry, with the latter’s points no longer worth a jot. I was rightly or wrongly under the impression that they’d signed on the dotted line for two years. I await with interest to see what the UCI is going to do about this.  While over on the piste, team GB appear to be underwhelmed, rather than delighted, by their haul of only 7 gold medals from Apeldoorn. It’s all relative.

Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

Open Letter to Spammers

Dear Spammers

Frankly, I’ve had it up to here with Spam on my email accounts and my blog, so I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. OK, I know my name is a bit unusual but surely my photograph gives it away, I’m female. So I have no need of any aids to lengthen, strengthen or enlarge an appendage I don’t possess. Nor is my beloved in need of any assistance in this department. If he ever is, we’ll contact you, not the other way around.

I am not in the habit of knowingly buying copies of designer goods. In fact, I’m not overly fond of brands which expect me to provide them with free advertising. Want me to wear your label? Please contact my agent. It therefore stands to reason that I wouldn’t buy fake handbags, watches, jewelry etc etc. I do hope you get the picture. I’m a law abiding soul, apart from running the odd red light on my bike.

I am allergic to doctors and medicines, my only indulgence is a spot of Vicks Vapour Rub and frankly half the fun is having my beloved rub it into my chest. So, thanks, but I won’t be taking you up on any offers of cheap or generic drugs. I know I mentioned that clenbuterol seemed like the answer to my prayers “helps you breathe more easily and lose weight” but I was only joking. You can take a joke can’t you?

I’m trying to lose weight but there’s no need to keep sending me emails offering on-line help and assistance. I have plenty of support in the form of a real live nutritionist who doesn’t try to sell me any pills or potions.  Sadly, there is no miracle cure. If there were, no one would be overweight.

I don’t want or need to borrow any money. That’s why most of the world’s economies are in trouble – too much instant gratification. If you can’t afford it, try saving up for it. You’ll enjoy it all the more. Since I have no need to borrow, I have no need to check out my credit status. Nor have I been sold any financial products where I haven’t completely understood all of the small print. So I don’t need to sue anyone for misselling. Nor do I need to leave a cash sum for my nearest and dearest, I don’t believe in subscribing to temptation.

I have no desire to gamble on line. I’m an accountant we don’t gamble either with our money or with anyone else’s, we have better things to do with our time. We know that the house always wins and don’t like the odds.

Emails purporting to be from banks, building societies, utility providers, government officials, the tooth fairy, Nigerians offering large sums of money in return for assistance, all requesting details of my bank account and my passwords do I look stupid? No, I thought not.

I have no need of any bells or whistles to drive readership to my blog. Its sole intent is to keep my family and friends apprised of my daily life in France. I am seeking neither endorsements nor advertisements. If others find their way to my blog and derive some enjoyment and amusement from my musings then that’s fine. If you send me messages which bear absolutely no relation to the blog entry in question and are clearly some blatant attempt to sell me something, then guess what? I just delete them.

I do hope I have made myself crystal clear but I’m sure there’s still some of you out there in Spamland who’ll blithely ignore my sound advice. But, hey that’s life.

Bookworm

Norman Rockwell’s “The Bookworm”

I’ve always loved reading books. As a child I never went anywhere without one and often resorted to reading under the covers with a flashlight after lights out. Even now there’s nothing I enjoy better than an early night with a good book. I’m also a very quick reader. My beloved used to think this meant I really hadn’t read the book properly and would quiz me about it afterwards. He’s never caught me out.

Whenever I go anywhere quite often my first port of call is a book shop where I’ll happily while away a couple of hours browsing in the cookery and sports sections. Because I only ever travel with hand luggage if I’m flying, I’ll often make notes on the books that interest me and then order them from Amazon. If I’m in the car, I’ll buy them from the shop.

Once I’ve read a novel, it’s unusual for me to read it again, although there are exceptions. Generally, novels get passed  around my family, our circle of friends and eventually end up at the local old folks home. That is local to my parents. Cookery and Sports books however never, ever get passed on. Indeed, I rarely even lend them to people. There’s a very limited list of people who are allowed to borrow my books. My beloved is not on the list. He once committed the unpardonable sin of borrowing a book and losing it. That’s it, one strike and he’s out, no more chances. I have a number of signed limited editions, these never leave the apartment and I’ve been known to check that people have clean hands below allowing them to touch said books.

Since giving up full-time employment, interestingly I read less, not more. Before, I would always have a book, or indeed a couple of books on the go, which I would read on my various travels: week-end trips to and from Nice, train trips to see my team in Cheltenham, car and train trips to watch football matches. Nowadays, it’s a real treat to spend time reading and, when I receive a bulk delivery from Amazon, it’s as if all my Christmas’s have arrived together. One such delivery arrived last Friday: several new cookery tomes plus a number of books on cycling and cyclists. I’m trying to pace myself but the temptation is just to dive in and to hell with everything else!

Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.