Falling temperatures and leaves

Although this week’s weather has remained warm and sunny, with temperatures rising to the early 20s by midday, next week’s forecast shows the midday temperatures falling, for the first time in ages, below 20C. Despite struggling with the after effects of my post-Copenhagen cold, I have continued to pursue my training plan. Largely because next week will be a rest while I’m back in the UK, visiting my parents. While out training I have been thinking about this week end’s races and specifically the Tour of Lombardy. For an excellent summary of the route, please check out www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This is a race which tends to be slightly tinkered with each year. Tomorrow’s race finishes in Lecco which has rather mitigated against me going to watch it live. Of course, I was even more disappointed when I learned on Tuesday that one of my friends would be riding it. Sadly, the organisers don’t seem to know he’s riding, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the various start lists. He only found out he would be riding on his return from the Tour of Beijing on Monday, so his wife has had to re-submit his whereabouts report. If only we’d known sooner, we’d have hired a larger car and taken his entire family along to watch. It would have been a fun day out.

It’s highly unlikely that my friend will win, although it’s a parcours that suits him. He’ll be riding in support of one of the team’s other riders. So, who is going to win? I have been pondering the front runners and looking back at the results of the most recent races, including yesterday’s Tour du Piemont.

Omega Pharma Lotto’s Fast Phil

Lacking in support at last week end’s Paris-Tours and MIA yesterday, Fast Phil will be looking for his 3rd consecutive win while the rest of the peloton, barring maybe BMC, will be out to stop him. According to the start lists, he’s currently missing 2 team mates and the other 5 riders listed could hardly be described as stellar. Yes, as Omega Pharma Lotto morphs into Quick Omega or whatever next year, everyone’s rather lost interest. It’s going to be tough Phil, but you can do it.

Euskaltel’s Samu Sanchez

The man with more 2nds to his name than Pou Pou comes with a team choc ful of experience but, in yesterday’s race, he was obviously saving himself for Saturday. Either that or he’s not yet fully recovered from his bout of Beijing Belly. Aupa Samu!

Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a TV cameo, expect him to launch at least one of his trademark attacks. Finished 4th yesterday, so obviously on song.

BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet

Winner of Paris-Tours and 2nd yesterday, he’s likely to find tomorrow’s parcours a little too hilly for his liking. However, he might earn some brownie points for himself, his team and next year’s team mate Fast Phil by giving the latter some discreet support.

Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego

Expect both of these riders to be in the mix but keep an eye out for their more in-form team mate Przemyslaw Niemiec.

Liquigas’s Ivan Basso and Vicenzo Nibali

Could they cook up something together tomorrow a la Sidi? Who knows. Basso lives in Varese so should know this route like the back of his hand but Nibali seems the man on form with solid performances yesterday and in Giro dell’Emilia. Could Nibali make a decisive break on one of the descents?

Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema

Probably sharing team leader’s duties with Carlos Barredo, performed well in GP Berghelli and Giro dell’Emilia, but sadly rides for a tactically inept team.

Sky’s Rigoberto Uran

Could be their main man on a parcours that suits his abilities.

Katusha

A team full of recent race winners: Daniel Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez , Luca Paolini and Pippo Pozzato.

HTC

The team most likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Cavendish, having flashed us the rainbow jersey, may  climb off (as he did yesterday) when the race passes close to his place.

Other contenders who may or may not feature in the mix

In no particular order: Movistar’s Pablo Lastras, Garvelo’s Dan Martin, AG2R’s Nico Roche, Radioshack’s Jani Brajkovic, Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang and Farnese’s Giovanni Visconti.

Next year’s race will be moved to the week end after the World Championships, so it’ll be the race of “soon to be Falling Leaves”.

It’s over

There's gold in them wheels

Yes, after one of the longest and most drawn out courtships in history, it’s over. Mark Cavendish is joining Sky. I know it’s not exactly news is it? In fact when I met Cavendish recently in Copenhagen it never even occurred to me to ask which team he would be riding for come 2012. We all knew which team and have known for sometime it was merely a question of inking the contract on terms agreeable to both sides.

Cavendish, feeling unloved and severely underpaid by HTC, wisely decided to wait until after the World Championships before signing on the dotted line. Matters have been made more complicated by different sponsors: Adidas and Pinarello for Sky versus Specialized and Nike for Cav. Batting on Cav’s behalf are his new management team the Wasserman Media Group who are (to quote from their website) ” a sports marketing and entertainment company with global expertise in Athlete Management, Consulting, Media Rights, Partnerships and Business Development, and Action Sports”.

You may wonder where I’m coming from on this but actually I’m all in favour of what Cav’s done. The life cycle of a top athlete is short, very short and he needs to maximise its potential. Yes, he loves the sport and, as someone who’s fast becoming one of its most recognisable figures, he needs to ensure he reaps sufficient rewards for his efforts. I can only applaud his actions. This has been and will continue to be a hot topic on the cycling websites and forums but at the end of the day it makes good business sense all round.

Here one minute, gone the next

Yesterday’s big story was the (one assumes) accidental leaking of next year’s Tour de France route ahead of its official launch next week. ASO have neither confirmed nor denied that it’s the correct route but for those of you requiring confirmation, just try and book an Accor hotel at any of the start or finish towns. My beloved and I had already decided that next year, for the first time since 2006, we would not be watching any Tour stages live. Although it’s possible we might make it to Paris to watch the final stage.

Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t do a day trip to watch a stage. The closest one for me would be that allegedly on 14 July from St Paul Trois Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde. However, there’s no way you’d find me willingly on the roads at the start of the French holiday season where traffic jams reach nightmare proportions, particularly on routes leading from Lyon. So 2012 well might be a Tour de France free year. Yes, that’s right, I’ll just watch it all on the television.

I am however hoping to make it to both the Giro (at long last) and the Vuelta. In fact my programme is shaping up quite nicely with the early season races such as Tour of Med and Tour of Haut Var, followed, of course, by Paris-Nice and Milan- San Remo. I’m then hoping to spend a week in the Basque Country watching the Tour of the same name, and the GP Miguel Indurain, while fitting in a cookery course. This clashes with the start of the cobbled Classics, but a girl can’t always have everything.

Details of the Giro’s course which starts next year in Denmark have also been leaked. The stage to watch is the penultimate one but, as it clashes with the Kivilev, you know where I’ll be and it won’t be up the Stelvio. I’ll have to make do with watching it on my laptop. However, the stage starting in Savona on 18 May is a real possibility.

After the Giro, I’ll either go and watch the Tour of Switzerland prologue in Lugano or maybe take in a couple of stages in the Dauphine, depending, of course, on its route: southern Alps Yes, northern Alps No. There’s still a huge question mark over whether I’m going to London to watch the Olympic road race and time-trials. Without tickets the former might be a logistical nightmare while the ticket-free latter very crowded. I will however be heading back to Spain for the Clasica San Sebastian and the Vuelta. I’ve already made my hotel booking for the World Championships in Limburg where my trusty steed and I will be riding around the area, and the course. Booking early ensures I get a 4* hotel, at a reasonable price, with free WiFi and parking in central Maastricht.

I had toyed with the idea of spending this coming week end in Varese to watch the Tour of Lombardy, particularly as the weather’s so fine. But this year’s finish is in Lecco, some 41/2hrs from home, rather than Como, so again, I’ll be watching it on the television. Maybe, next year.

Out with the old

Having dropped my beloved off at the airport early this morning, I resisted the inclination to slip back under the covers. Instead, I decided to press on with the admin and then go for a short ride. At some point the weather will turn, but until it does I want to profit from the on-going fine weather. You can sense that autumn is just waiting to pounce. Meanwhile, the earth’s still looking quite scorched and we’re still on fire alert pending some rain. I don’t know for sure but I would guess that the weather’s been great for the local wine harvest in Bellet.

Since getting back from my ride, I’ve been indulging in some cathartic clearing up and clearing out. I now have a large bag of clothes (too big) to take down to the local charity shop. You might be thinking that among the petite French that there’s not much call for larger sizes. Au contraire, being rarer than hen’s teeth, they’re much in demand. And, let’s face it, you can make something smaller but you can’t make it bigger!

I’m now feeling decidedly virtuous and have returned the flat to apple-pie order following the departure of he who loves to make a mess. He’ll be gone for three days and will be staying with my younger sister in London while he attends a series of meetings. He’s then home for an entire week before we both go to Birmingham, him to an exhibition and me to visit my parents.

This burst of energy hasn’t however reduced the ironing mountain which is again getting dangerously out of hand. So out of hand that I had to iron some shirts for my beloved’s trip. He’s not quite exhausted his supply, but he wanted to take the shirts which went best with one of his jackets, and they all needed ironing.

I’m looking forward to a longer ride tomorrow as I’m facing a long evening of meetings. First, the weekly meeting down at the cycling club and then we’ve been summoned (at short notice) to a meeting of the local sport’s federation down at the Town Hall, with all the other clubs. We have no idea why but no doubt all will be revealed at the meeting. However, it will provide us with an ideal opportunity to discuss a joint marketing initiative with the Triathlon Club which holds its annual event the Sunday after the Kivilev. There has to be scope for us to work more closely together.

Postscript: Two hour meeting at the Town Hall was a complete waste of time.  Nothing they had to say was of any relevance to us. In fact it all seemed to hinge around just a few of the other sports clubs but I suppose they didn’t want to appear to be picking on them!

Got home feeling rather weary only to discover my beloved, who’s now firmly ensconced in the dog house, had sent me a long, legal document to review and correct before tomorrow! A document which he clearly hadn’t even bothered to read before heading for a boy’s night out with his brother.

Topsy turvy

I’ve been thrown a little off kilter this week by the Tour of Beijing, television coverage of which understandably has been in the morning. As a consequence, I have sacrified my pre-ride work to watch the racing. Unfortunately, this has added to the work which has piled up while I’ve been feeling under the weather with my cold. The cold has almost, but not quite, disappeared. More importantly, I’m finally managing to get a good night’s sleep. Everything is so much better after 8 hours in the land of nod. Back to the Tour of Beijing, a race which wouldn’t suit me at all. That thick haze of smog which perpetually shrouds the city would have me in respiratory distress.

Pretty much as anticipated, HTC’s Tony Martin blitzed the opening day 11.3km prologue on Wednesday and, in the process, overtook what seemed like half the field but, in reality, was only a couple of riders. He shot by Sammy Sanchez who, while intent on re-living some of his Olympic glory, had sadly been  felled by gastro-troubles: Beijing belly. The British, en masse, occupied the subsequent key places on GC.

The event was taking place during one of the official Chinese holiday periods and one can only assume that the good citizens of Beijing, despite being fervent bike fans, were in the country visiting relatives, hitting a few golf balls, shopping in Hong Kong or sunning themselves on the beach. They were not watching the cycling. However, it later emerged that the Chinese authorities, fearful of any incident marring the race, had once again made it difficult for anyone to watch the race live. However, as it progressed, particularly on Friday’s Queen stage, numbers of spectators increased or maybe it was just the same ones being bussed around to key points. Nonetheless, I do support the UCI’s globalisation initiative. It’s unthinkable that the world’s largest nation doesn’t get a look in, even though they produce most of the bikes. Cycling has to become less parochial if it’s to remain viable. It was particularly pleasing to see the Chinese team getting in breaks and generally holding their own in the peloton. It augurs well for the future of the sport which needs global sponsors, not sugar daddies.

It was generally accepted that whoever won the prologue would probably hang on for the overall as the following stages were largely sprint finishes with the exception of Stage 3, which would be unlikely to unduly perturb Martin. Stage 2 was won by Garvelo’s Heinrich Haussler who’s had a torrid season by anyone’s account. Nice to see him back to winning ways as he probably heads Down Under for a winter of racing. Irish eyes were smiling on Stage 3 which was won by AG2R’s Nico Roche, another rider (and team) badly in need of a win, followed by Radioshack’s Philip Deignan and Sky’s Chris Froome. Wins are like buses, once you’ve got one under your belt, others follow.

Day 4 saw a Liquigas Cannondale double header as Peter Sagan, leading out Elia Viviani for the win, finished 2nd. Today’s final stage, another sprint, where Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov rode the lime-green train to seal the win, and the green points jersey. Radioshack’s Ben King was the best young rider and Eukaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton won the mountain’s jersey. Martin led this race from start to finish with Garvelo’s David Millar (2nd) and Sky’s Chris Froome (3rd) rounding out the podium.

Next up, Mark Cavendish’s first race showcasing the rainbow jersey, Paris-Tours, won last year by Oscar Freire. Phil Gil resplendent in his Belgian national jersey was also racing today and I note he’s got “Fast Phil” written on his bike. I wonder should I get “Slow Sheree” inscribed on mine? The race was animated by two breakaway groups who, having made the junction, left the main peloton behind to contest the win. A lot of work was put in by Leopard Trek’s Stuart O’Grady and Radioshack’s Geoffroy Lequatre early on to keep the breakaways well ahead of a disorganised peloton. You may remember that last year Lequatre was cruelly caught by the bunch 300m from the line thanks to a strong head wind.

With 15km to go, FDJ youngster Arnaud Gerard set off on his own. Team Type 1’s Laszlo Bodrogi and Rubens Bertogliati gave chase, but the group didn’t want to let two fine time-triallists off the leash and they were brought back. Next off the front were BMC’s Greg Van Avermaert and Vacansoleil’s Marco Mercato who overhauled Gerard and, even though the latter was subsequently joined by team mate Mickael Delage and then the rest of the breakaways, it was that duo who went on to contest the win. Van Avermaert, the better sprinter of the two prevailed with 3rd place going to Saxobank’s Kasper Klostergaard. I assume Fast Phil and the Manx Missile rolled in 90 seconds later with everyone else.

Same old, same old

Tuesday saw my beloved and I traipse down to the Doctor’s. It was our annual visit for medical certificates to enable us to take part in a multitude of sports, including cycling. We passed the tests with flying colours, despite my cold, and we’re now good to go. Of course, the Doctor couldn’t pass by an opportunity to prescribe me a homeopathic cure for my cold. I didn’t like to say that I’m sure the hot toddies will eventually work their magic.

The pharmacy is next door to the Doctor’s and there’s always a queue. I have never gotten out of there, or any pharmacy in France, in under half an hour. The problem is manifold. Firstly, most of those in the queue are elderly and see a trip to the shops as an opportunity to pass the day and chat to a few people. Clearly, they have nothing else better to do. Secondly, there’s  a fair amount of fiddly paperwork to be processed when collecting prescriptions. In addition, the pharmacists like nothing better than an opportunity to display their encyclopaedic knowledge by giving you a detailed run down of your options. The French, and my beloved, are hypochondriacs. Yes, it has to be said. It’s an unattractive trait which he shares with the outlaw. Finally, a lot of stuff isn’t kept in stock but has to be ordered for next day delivery, necessitating a second trip the following day. The homeopathic remedies tend to fall into this final category. So I had to go back again yesterday.

The potions seem to have worked their magic and the cold is in it’s death throes. Thank goodness, as neither of us has had an undisturbed night’s sleep for a a number of days. Lack of sleep makes us both a little cranky. After spending both Monday and Tuesday recuperating, I was ready to explore the great outdoors on two wheels yesterday and elected to ride with one of my girlfriends. We ride at similar speeds, whatever the terrain, and enjoy riding side by side, having a good chat and putting our worlds to rights.

I’m still looking for the optimal ride route over to where she lives, perched on high, in the next town to mine. I thought I had found it yesterday by cycling up a parallel road and then nipping along a small path to the lower road. My map failed to show that the cut-through was a long, steep and winding set of stairs. Won’t be trying that again. We generally go out after the morning rush hour and ride on roads with which we’re both familiar, keen to profit from the continuing good weather, before returning home and getting down to work.

Yesterday evening saw the resumption of my English classes, made more palatable with a touch of English afternoon tea, in the form of scones with cream and jam. My two youngsters are taking it in turns to present their summer projects and have both done a fair amount of work during their holidays. I’m keen that their progress gathers pace this term and will be looking to bolster their school work. The Barcelona football shirts, given as prizes for their excellent work, were extremely well received and I would imagine that they had their maiden outings today at school.

The departure for Munich this morning at the crack of dawn of my beloved will also aid my recovery. Three days of peace and quiet along with two nights of undisturbed sleep should return me to my former sunny disposition. He rang this evening ostensibly to see how I was faring but actually to discuss with me a nagging problem which he has already agonised over for far too long. I have made my position clear but when do husband’s ever follow their wife’s good advice?

Sheree’s sporting slingshots

Records were set at Sunday’s Velocio, but not by me. In the Men’s over 80 category, a rider from the largest club in Nice ascended the 13km in 66 minutes 40 seconds. Furthermore a gentleman, just a few years younger, from the same club set a new record in the 74-79 age group of 54 minutes and 12 seconds. Both would have shown me a clean pair of heels. Chapeau chaps!

Rather than leave with the club and have to hang around for over an hour until the start of our races, my beloved and I elected for an extra hour in bed. My chesty cough had kept both of us up most of the night and neither of us had slept well. Not exactly a recipe for a top performance. We cycled together, against a strong headwind, into Nice and the start of the race, safety pins at the ready.

The usual suspects turned up for the ladies race. I didn’t take part last year as I was in Australia and it would appear in the intervening years that most have now passed into the same age category as me. So of the 12 contestants taking part, we had one in the 18- 35 years group, one in the 35-49 years and everyone else in the 50-54 years category.

I have learnt from bitter experience not to try and stay with the quick climbers, they go way faster than me and I then regret it for the rest of the ride. The start is the steepest part of the course and averages 10%. As we set off, I tried to keep two of the ladies, at the back of the field, in sight. They remained tantalizingly just a couple of hundred metres ahead. Two things  were immediately apparent: my legs felt heavy and my lungs were labouring. I tried to remain positive and look on the bright side, only 10 more kms to go, Jeannie hadn’t turned up and I was nearing the end of the steepest bit.

The lead motorcycle from the next group on the road came past me. It was the group my beloved was riding with and which had started 10 minutes after mine. The leaders raced past with the rest of the group in hot pursuit in twos and threes. No sign of my beloved; I laboured on. I was not feeling too good and started seeing stars, time to dismount. As I did so my beloved rode into view. He stopped, we made an executive decision, turned around and descended. We headed for the recently opened coffee shop near the foot of the climb where we ate a late breakfast before heading back home. Yet another DNF.

Fortunately events were rather more exciting elsewhere in the sporting world. Radioshack-Nissan-Trek new recruit Tony Gallopin tied up the season long, 14-round, French Cup at the Tour de Vendee while veteran, pocket rocket, Robbie McEwen,  and Green-edge bound next season, won the  Circuit Franco-Belge. So, two results from rather opposite ends of the age spectrum.

Sticking with two wheels, over at the Japan GP in Montegi, home manufacturer Honda won the MotoGP event but it was Dani Pedrosa, rather than Casey Stoner, astride the winning machine. The latter had spun off into the kitty litter after a massive wobble on the bike in one of the early laps but had fought back to 3rd place. Reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo completed the podium. All three riders rather benefitted from Messrs Dovizioso, Crutchlow and Simoncelli jumping the gun at the start and being forced to take a ride through the pit lane. After feeling that he was finally getting somewhere with the Ducati, Rossi made contact with Lorenzo on turn 3, on the 1st lap, and slide into the gravel, and out of the race. Casey Stoner still leads the Championship.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone took his 3rd win after a long battle with Marc Marquez, the latter now leads Stefan Bradl in the Championship by a point. Nico Terol still heads the 125cc Championship, but Frenchman Johann Zarco took his maiden win  in Japan. The Japanese crowds were delighted that the MotoGP circus had come to town as there were fears earlier in the season that they would give it a miss. Tests at the track revealed levels of radiation no greater than at any of the other tracks.

Excitement is mounting over on 4 wheels, specifically as to whether 7-time champ Sebastien Loeb will be able to hold onto to his WRC Rally crown having been unable to complete his home tour of Alsace after his engine blew up. There’s only two rounds remaining and Loeb’s level on points with Mikko Hirvonen and just 3 points ahead of fellow Frenchman, Citroen stablemate, Sebastien Ogier who won the Tour. Can Loeb make it 8 in a row or will he be dethroned by his younger team mate?

Heading “Down Under” to New Zealand, France will play England in the next round of the World Cup. Neither team seem to be having a great championship. France’s troubles appear to be on the field while England’s are most definitely off it. Whoever wins the tie will face the in-form Irish in the next round.

Moving onto round balls, OGCN were held to yet another draw this week end away at Caen which leaves them in 16th place in the league and one of three clubs on 7 points. We’re going to have to do better to keep out of the relegation zone. Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue have had a quiet and unspectacular start to the season, winning 2-0 at home to Wigan on Saturday, to leave them in 7th place. Long may it continue.

Race Programme

Subject to CAS’s decision in November, Alberto Contador has revealed his race programme for 2012 where, unsurprisingly, he’ll be targeting the Tour de France and, in his build up,  racing Torreno-Adriatico, rather than Paris-Nice. Funnily enough, no one has rung to enquire about my race programme for 2012. I know, it’s quite unbelievable, and you have to suspect that maybe L’Equipe has lost my mobile number – very careless of them.

If they had, I would have advised that it’s still very early days and no firm commitments have been made. Although, it is likely that I will be targeting similar events next year. That is similar to this year, rather than similar to Alberto. I’d love to take part in a pro-event but honestly there’s not a lot of fun turning up at the finish line to discover it, and everything else, has already been packed up and shipped off to the next destination and that none of the spectators have hung around. I’d also probably feel obligated to buy the guys driving the broom wagon dinner as they’ve been dawdling in my slipstream for the past number of hours.

Tomorrow I’ll be riding the Velocio, in which I usually place 2nd in my age category. My position will only change if one of the following events occurs:

  • The other lady in my age group doesn’t turn up
  • She turns up, but has a major mechanical or gets accidentally pushed off her bike  which prevents her from finishing
  • Someone, who’s not previously ridden the event and who’s in my age group, decides to take part and rides more quickly than me
  • Someone who was in the lower age group last year has now passed into my age category
  • Jeannie Longo turns up and rides
  • Some quite dreadful accident befalls all the other female riders, except me, preventing them from finishing

As you can see there’s a lot of “ifs” and “buts” and the outcome really isn’t as clear cut as it would appear. The key question however is will I ride faster than last time? Watch this space.