Postcard from the Big Apple

Another day, another town – the same procedure as before. Yes, I’m now pounding the pavements of Manhattan. We had a great flight over on one of the new Air France 380 super jumbos. Arriving at JFK we queued for over 45 minutes to get into the immigration queue only to be greeted by the message that US Customs welcomed us to New York. Well boys, that’s not my idea of a welcome. It took almost 3 hours for us to emerge from the airport. I felt hugely sorry for anyone travelling with small children or anyone of advanced years.

While my beloved has been busy working from dawn until late, I have been enjoying myself. Even if you don’t know New York like I do, it’d be difficult to get lost within its grid system. My most pressing problem, with only two days at my disposal, what was I going to see?

It’ll be no surprise to my reader(s) that I spent almost all of yesterday morning in Barnes & Noble perusing first the Cookery and then the Sports sections. As usual, I found far too many must have volumes and had to ration myself to just a few tomes to slip in my luggage.

The weather’s incredibly mild and conducive to just wandering around, as is my want. Yesterday, I quickly exited the busy Midtown section and headed south to SoHo, the Meatpacking District and Union Sq to avoid the holiday shoppers in search of bargains.

I have had no luck in my search for some trousers. It’s oh so skinny legs over here too. I know US sizes are seriously out of whack but I derived huge enjoyment from discarding a pair of size 10 trousers for being too large. Despite the amazing bargains on offer, I have not been persuaded to part with any money. It looks as if running amok in the book shops is going to be my only extravagance.

Despite my short stay, there’s still time to fit in some of my favourite things: a quick trip to The Frick, breakfast at The Four Seasons, meals at two of my long time preferred New York eateries for some typical Mexican and South Western US fare, catching up with my French friend who now works in NY and with whom I ate lunch at a recently opened, hot location. My choice, not hers.

It’s been a fun trip but I’m now ready to head back to where my heart is: home. This evening, I shall follow my usual red-eye flight procedure: glass of champagne, eye mask, cashmere shawl and sleep. I am lucky that I can slip into the land of nod pretty much anywhere. We’re flying back via Paris and should be home late afternoon.

Postscript: I skipped the glass of bubbly and was asleep before the plane left the gate.

Postcard from Paris

I have spent the past three days pounding the pavements of Paris, the world’s most visited city. Like all great cities, you see far more if you religiously navigate its various quarters on foot. Although I always have a small map, just in case, it’s hard to get lost as the wide boulevards give you glimpses of major landmarks at every turn, plus the Seine, which neatly bisects the city, is a great navigational tool.

IMG_8994 (Edited)

Over the years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time here and have visited all (yes, really) of the galleries, museums and buildings of significant historical interest. Of course, if the weather’s bad, I’ll happily revisit one of these. But, if it’s not, I just enjoy wandering around gazing at the impressive architecture and pressing my nose to the windows of all the food shops.

My favourites are the patisseries and chocolatiers. But lest you fear for my regime, I only window shop. If I do enter, it’s only to get a closer look. I don’t buy anything, not even for my beloved because this is the food of gods. Wondrous pastries, delicate cakes and delicious dark, crisp chocolate with subtle aromas. While a couple of squares of chocolate will do no harm, it’s hard to resist the rest. So, I enter, inhale and exit.

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Of course, I had to pay homage at Pierre Herme’s temple of delicious comestibles. IMHO he’s perfected the art of the macaroon, as ubiquitous in France as the cup cake is in America. Pierre’s melt in the mouth with an intense burst of flavour which lingers on the palate.  Okay, I’ll come clean, I just had to have one, or two.

My window gazing extends to butchers, bakers, delicatessens and cheese shops, plus I love visiting the street markets. Where else would you find stalls dedicated to just one product such as the humble potato. The stall owner who patiently explained to me about which spuds were best for which dish had over 20 different varieties. Another was dedicated to Pinky and Perky. Again the stall owner, who had raised and slaughtered the pigs, was happy to spend time answering my questions about his sausages, charcuterie, porchetta, pate and other porky products. We even exchanged a couple of recipes as I imparted my special rub for what my sister calls “the best roast pork ever”.  

No visit to Paris would be complete without a rummage around the many antiques shops and art galleries. Typically, I found some things I would have liked to purchase but it would have been wholly impractical given our next destination is New York.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but Paris is overrun with Asians, and not just Japanese. No doubt the stores and French economy are duly grateful as the ones I’ve seen have been heavily laden with shopping bags from their favourite stores: LVMH, Gucci, Hermes and so on.  The love affair is reciprocated as Paris has an astounding number of great Asian restaurants, particularly Japanese, which are just the job for my regime, along with my favourite mollusc, oysters.

With my beloved working, and being entertained by clients in the evening, I’ve been left pretty much to my own devices, a wholly desirable state of affaires. Meaning I can do what I want, when I want. I am however taking him out for a relaxing dinner a deux this evening at a little gem of a place I have found on my meanderings: just the one Michelin star.

The weather’s been a bit cold, damp and foggy. In fact you can’t see the top of the Eiffel Tower.  The Xmas decorations are up and there’s a festive buzz in the air. Only a month or so to go until the big day. Of course, the decorations are restrained but classy and stylish as befits the capital of fashion. We’re off to New York tomorrow morning where the decorations will be larger than life, really full on and totally appropriate for the Big Apple.

A fan’s lot

I gave up my long-held Aston Villa season ticket at the end of the 2005/06 season when we made our permanent move to France. I did so believing that I would be back and forth to UK on a regular basis to watch my boys. But I haven’t watched them live since, just on the television. It’s no real substitute and I oft cite Premiership football and my team as the things I miss most about living in France.

My beloved’s and my first date was at a football match, which Villa won. At football matches, other spectators would often comment that it was nice the missus had come too to which my beloved always replied that he was accompanying me, not the other way around. He often jokes that when we married he vowed to “loved, honour, obey and support Aston Villa”. I’m fortunate that he had no clear football allegiances having occasionally watched Spurs with his Dad, who hailed originally from north London, and Swindon with his maternal grandfather.

On the other hand my blood runs claret and blue. My mother was born not far from the club and all her relatives were Villa fans and my father moved from the south coast to play for the youth team. It was a no brainer really. I first started going to matches in the company of my Dad’s best friend and his father. Thereafter, I would either go on my own or with friends. You just cannot beat the atmosphere of a live football match. There’s something quite primeval and tribal about the whole thing.

In some season’s past, I saw every match home and away. No mean feat for a woman with a demanding job. While, Villa Park is obviously my favourite ground there’s many others I’ve enjoyed visiting. Unfortunately, as an away fan, you tend to get put in the worst spots in the ground and spend the entire match on your feet, despite having parted for a small fortune for a seat. Some grounds have great atmospheres, such an Anfield, but IMHO the ground with the most electric atmosphere is St James’s Park. It’s right in the centre of Newcastle and everyone, and I do mean everyone, on match day wears that familiar black and white striped shirt. I’ve even seen grannies with shopping trollies proudly wearing them. Away supporters are relegated to the gods, so there’s just a Geordie wall of sound around the ground.

Initially, we had season tickets for OGCN but my beloved’s travel commitments meant he missed more games than he saw, plus there’s never any problem getting tickets, despite the small capacity. The one things I hate about French stadia, as it’s outside, you can smoke whereas I’d long sat in a no smoking area in Villa Park. I have written to OGCN asking if, in the new stadium, we can have a no smoking area. I’m still awaiting a response.

For me yesterday’s match against Spurs summed up Villa’s current plight. We were played off the pitch (30% v 70% possession) by a vastly superior side who’ve invested long and hard in their team, no doubt hoping to recapture their glory days and a constant diet of European football. Our alleged 4-4-2 formation was just a thinly veiled excuse for 11 men behind the ball. Former Villa keeper Brad Friedel was rarely troubled. All we managed was 1 shot on target and 2 off. Of course, that one shot might have levelled the score and changed the face of the game. But, sadly, I suspect not.

As a fan, it’s hard to accept, perhaps, a team’s glory days are behind them and 6th in the Premiership, achieved in three successive seasons under Martin O’Neill, is as good as it’s ever going to get for the forseeable future. Our role is as a developmental squad, where we either train young players or bring on more seasoned ones for the “better” clubs. In recent seasons we’ve lost an entire midfield: Ashley Young, Stuart Downing, Gareth Barry and James Milner. Yesterday evening, it showed.

So if indeed our best days are behind us, allow me to wallow in them. AVFC are the 5th most decorated club in English football (no prizes for guessing the others) with 19 major domestic honours, 7 League championships and one of only five English clubs to have won a European Cup (again no prizes for guessing the others). We even beat mighty Barcelona to win the 1982-83 European Super Cup. We’re the only club to have hosted international matches over three centuries and have provided more England international players than any other club.

I’ve been fortunate to watch my beloved team at Wembley, and see them win the League Cups in 1994 and 1996. My most favourite moment

Thanks for the memories

remains, not unnaturally, that evening in late May 1982 when, having won the First Division Championship in 1980-81, we took on the might of Bayern Munich at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, and won.

And the winners are………………….

The UCI announced today (see list below) in effect the 18 teams which will make up next season’s premier division, the World Tour. While two are still pending, one assumes they’ll be ratified in due course. The French will have the bunting out as there are now two teams in the top-tier as FDJ joins AG2R. No room at the inn for Tommy Voeckler’s Europcar but one assumes they’ll be in the races which matter to them, including next year’s Tour de France, joined probably by Saur Sojasun, Cofidis and Bretagne Schuller.

I was delighted to see that despite the “carrots cash crisis”, Euskaltel-Euskadi remain in the first division. The other team which has “lost out” is Geox but given the sponsor walked away at the last minute, it was to be expected. Rumours have abounded of the management seeking sponsors as far afield as Venezuela. If they’re successful, the team will have to settle for a place, once again, in the second division.

2012 World Tour Teams

  • AG2R La Mondiale
  • Astana Pro Team
  • BMC Racing Team
  • FDJ
  • Euskaltel – Euskadi
  • Garmin – Cervélo
  • Katusha Team
  • Lampre – ISD
  • Liquigas – Cannondale
  • Lotto Cycling Project
  • Movistar Team
  • Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
  • Rabobank
  • Saxo Bank
  • Sky Procycling
  • Vacansoleil – DCM Pro Cycling Team

Pending:

  • GreenEdge Cycling
  • Team RadioShack – Nissan

Postscript: The pending have been ratified.

All’s right with my world

There’s nothing I love more on Sunday afternoons than relaxing on the sofa with the newspapers, watching sport on the television, after having ridden with my beloved in the morning. Even though, the mercury continues to head towards more wintry temperatures, it was sunny again today. Perfect for a ride along the coast were it not for the fact that the Nice-Cannes marathon runners had first dibs on the road today.

My beloved returned late last night having spent two days in Bournemouth in the company of 600 women. He seemed in high spirits. I wonder why? Actually, I know why. One of the products he’s currently promoting at long last seems to be catching on big time and proved a hit with the ladies.

We woke too late to ride with the club and only set off for our ride when most of the other club riders were returning home. We see no point in venturing out while it’s still too cold. Far better to wait until the sun’s warmth has taken the chill away. We headed toward Pre du Lac and then rode back via Opio, Valbonne and Biot. The reverse of one of our favourite winter Saturday rides. Like yesterday there was a stiffish breeze which I hope didn’t unduly hinder the marathon runners. Each year I ponder whether I might take part in next year’s event but pondering is about as far as I’ve got. I’m still running (for want of a better word) on a regular basis as part of my training but 45-60 mins is about my limit, any more and I get bored.

The marathon was won by Kenyan Lukas Kanda in a time of 2:08:40. In fact, the top 10 places were all taken by runners from the African sub-continent apart from Frenchman Alban Cholin who finished 9th. I was much amused to see that runners from my local Post Office finished a very creditable 8th in the relay. These cannot work in the actual office, they must all be Postman Pats.

Ahead of my forthcoming trip to Paris and New York, I’ve ridden every day and run the full gamut of exercises. My Garmin tells me I’m in the form of my life which is rather poor timing on my part. The sportif’s season tends to run from early April to mid-June, so either I’ve peaked 7 months too late or 5 months too early. Take your pick.

While my beloved boys in claret and blue head to London for a Monday night clash with Spurs, OGC Nice played a blinder with nine men against St Etienne. Yes, within 30 minutes two players had received their marching orders, including the goalkeeper, and they’d conceded two goals. Despite losing another player (careless, or what?), they managed to preserve the status quo for Marsiglia’s first match in charge. Either this will prove to be a baptism of fire from which the team will recover or it’ll be a large nail in the new manager’s coffin.

Current crooner and former tennis player Yannick Noah seems to have created a bit of a storm in a coffee cup, following his comments about doping during an interview with French newspaper Le Monde. He implied that Spanish athletes were omnipotent thanks to taking magic potions and, as a consequence, the French authorities should be more lenient. It’s fair to say that his comments have not been well-received anywhere. I would imagine that Alberto Contador is crossing Noah off his Xmas card list while ASO, as I type,  are probably deleting him from the Tour de France 2012 promotional video. Noah, you should be responsibly, and not irresponsibly, provocative.

You’re banned, or not

Scanning the pages of the press and web sites, it seems as if bans are the main news item: who’s getting them, who’s not and who might be. First up the on-going Contador clenbuterol saga which is being heard next week by CAS but they need 6-8 weeks for their deliberations. Don’t expect any outcome before next January. If it seems a tad long to digest all the evidence, don’t forget this includes the Xmas to Epiphany holiday held dear in Switzerland.

David Millar might just get to go to the ball after all. By “ball” I mean London 2012. WADA are challenging the British Olympic Association’s imposition of a lifetime ban for doping offenders. Again, this is likely to end up at CAS. Don’t expect a quick decision, probably not before July 2012.

UCI blocked Alejandro Valverde’s appearance at a Movistar press conference as his ban doesn’t end until after 31 December 2011. Plenty of people don’t seem too keen to see him back unless he does a David Millar and gets it all off his chest. I don’t understand, he’s served his time and he can come back, just not before the due date.

Ezequiel Mosquera, the 2010 Vuelta runner-up and 2011 Vacansoleil no-show, appears likely to get a 2 year ban for the presence of hydroxyethyl starch in one of his Vuelta samples. I seem to recall baby faced Oscar Sevilla got a 6 month ban though this is being challenged by the UCI. As Mosquera hasn’t ridden in 2011, when will his ban be deemed to have started? Either way it’s probably game over for Ezequiel.

Alex “super disorganised” Rasmussen will not be sanctioned by the Danish authorities for missing three doping tests due to a procedural error on the part of the UCI who should have informed him within 14 days of his 3rd missed test. They took 10 weeks. Nonetheless, Alex was prepared to take his ban like a man. Will he still ride for Garvelo next season? I have some advice for you Alex. Do what my beloved would do and delegate this all important task to someone way more reliable, the lady in your life. If you’ve not got one, find one fast.

The French Cycling Federation’s decision in the case of Jeannie Longo’s 3 missed doping tests is due next week. Jeannie claims she didn’t need to advise her whereabouts as technically she was no longer in the testing pool. Are the FFC about to throw the book at France’s favourite sporting idol? We’ll have to wait and see.

Michael “The Chicken” Rasmussen, no relative to Alex above, is apparently a love rat. It now emerges he didn’t want his wife to know he was still in Italy, so told her, and everyone else, he was in Mexico with her relatives whom he presumably thought wouldn’t rat him out. Is this further stretching the bounds of credibility or what?   Still, it must be difficult having an affair when your every waking moment needs to be accounted for but a number of cyclists seem to have managed it.

Former U23 World Road Race Champion and hot-French prospect, Romain Sicard may be cautionned after he was apprehended by police for borrowing some road signs and a traffic cone, orange I assume, after imbibing a wee too much alcohol. He’s apologised for his irresponsible and immature behaviour, let’s hope that suffices. Meanwhile, I really hope the doctors can finally figure out why he’s lost power in one of his legs.

Andy Schleck is facing a possible one month ban for speeding after driving his car at 101km/hr on the roads of southern Luxembourg. I loved the tweet from Simon MacMichael ” Andy Schleck faces one month driving ban for speeding? I’m guessing that it wasn’t on a downhill stretch of road…..”. I’m guessing you’re spot on with that one Simon.

Get well soon

Finally, nothing whatsoever to do with a ban, I’d like to wish a very speedy recovery to Sammy Sanchez who’s recently undergone surgery to remove some calcification from his hip bone.

Snowed under and attempting to dig myself out

I know, few tweets and no blogs. What have I been up to? It’s a good question and one I’m now well equipped to answer having looked back over my completed tasks of the past week. First up, and most important, after the deluge, I have been trying to maximise my time in the saddle. The weather is slowly getting colder, down to 15/16 degrees at midday, and I don’t want to waste a moment before it becomes too cold to climb the hills. I love this time of year when the leaves turn, the sky is a brilliant blue, the Xmas decorations are being put up in all the towns and villages, you can smell wood burning in the air from bonfires and chimneys as we rush headlong towards the festive season.

Secondly, my beloved, the original Mr High Maintenance, has been at home for ten days and it’s been pretty full on and exhausting. Fortunately he left Tuesday evening and I have a few days of respite, before his return on late Saturday evening. He creates an incredible amount of work when he’s home in addition to the cooking, cleaning and ironing. I love having him at home but I love it more when he leaves.

Thirdly, when you’re not in gainful full-time employment, everyone assumes (wrongly) that you’ve time on your hands. Running the cycling club, almost single handedly at the moment, is absorbing a huge amount of time and I realise that I’m doing the work that was previously undertaken by 5 retirees. I spent whole swathes of yesterday redrafting and correcting correspondence to be sent out in the New Year in respect of the Kivilev. I’m trying to get as much ready as possible in advance as I’ll be busy in mid-December preparing the accounts and all the associated paperwork for the AGM in early January.

M Le President bought a second hand laser printer in April but forgot to acquire the lead which connected it to the club PC and the relevant software. It’s been a useful photocopier but I need to make use of its scanning capabilities since my own printer will only scan sporadically. I have been nagging him for months to get the lead. Finally, on Tuesday he handed me the instruction booklet and suggested I deal with it. Tempted though I was to throw it back in his face, I realised that if I wanted the job done, the only person I could count on was moi. Six telephone calls to various offices of the manufacturer, who kept giving me another number to call, usually after I’d been on the line for at least 10 minutes pressing various buttons, and bingo I’ve found someone who can supply the lead tomorrow. Break out the bunting!

I have to come up with a design for the club Xmas card. Generally, I use the current club photo of all the members but we didn’t have one taken this year. So, I’ve decided to use one of the old black and white photos from when the club was established over 40 years ago. I’ll use another one from the same era for the invitations to the AGM and “Galettes des Rois”. Yes, in the interests of economy (money and time) we’re combining the two.

Our pointage at the week end was a success, with over 530 riders showing up to enjoy my cakes. It didn’t go unnoticed that some teams made two visits to the feedzone while certain riders tarried at the table for over 30 minutes. As usual, I collected plenty of compliments but, sadly this time, no marriage proposals.  I tried out a few new recipes which were universally hailed and will be added to the club repertoire. I’m hoping M le President can persuade someone else to do the shopping and preparation for the Telethon in early December. I have dinner guests that week end and will be rustling up something truly delicious in my kitchen.

I’ve also been spending a significant amount of time on planning my English classes. I try as much as possible to dovetail with their school syllabuses so that my teaching compliments what they’re learning at school. It takes time setting up the various exercises as I try to use examples based around their interests and use games and role-playing as reinforcements.

After my recent grand clear out I have been looking for some additions to my wardrobe. This is proving more difficult than anticipated. All the trousers this year seem to have uber-slim legs. I’ve picked up several pairs in my size where frankly I’d have trouble getting my arms into them, let alone my legs. I am not overly fond of shopping. If I find something I like and it fits well, I’ll buy it in a number of colours – problem solved. So far I haven’t found any trousers which fulfill those requirements. I may have to do a spot of shopping on my forthcoming trip to New York.

I have made no mention of shopping for Xmas presents and that’s because I have absolutely none to buy, no not even one for my beloved. Among family and friends we have decided to do away with Xmas (and birthday) presents. Instead, I have reserved the right to buy presents as and when an appropriate occasion occurs or if I see something I think a particular person would enjoy. This absolves everybody from the pressure of wondering what on earth to get and means I will no longer hear those dreaded words “I’ve bought you a present” from my beloved.

There’s a large number of tasks which just have to be completed before I leave next Wednesday for a week’s trip part business, part pleasure, to Paris and New York. These are largely administrative matters for the company. Happily, these are now well in hand. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the housework and ironing. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

Whiling away the hours

I woke this morning (strictly speaking, yesterday morning), opened my eyes, looked out of the window and the sky was a deep blue with nary a cloud in sight. I waited patiently until I thought the roads would have dried out somewhat before heading off into the wild blue yonder. Actually, it was only up to Vence but it was just so heavenly to be out on my bike, in the sunshine, with my beloved.

I was keen to see whether or not I had managed to maintain my excellent pre-monsoon form. I had. I recorded another “best ever” time for my ascent. There were surprisingly few cyclists out enjoying the road. Where was everybody? Most clubs, ours included, have club rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe they were saving themselves for tomorrow’s Bank Holiday ride.

In any event, my beloved and I had a most enjoyable time, a taster for tomorrow’s main course. I’m keen to profit from these next few days of fine weather and log plenty of kilometres as Sunday we have the twice postponed club pointage, which will be taking place down on the seafront, where I’ll be on duty. I have spent this week replenishing my stocks so that we can offer a good mix of bought and home-made cakes to the hordes of cyclists.

No need to provide anything savoury, just biscuits, cakes, chocolate, dried fruit plus hot and cold beverages. We’re anticipating in excess of 500 riders; that’s a lot of cake. I’ve also discovered that they eat more if you provide home-made cake. They feel it’s incumbent upon them to pass knowledgable judgement on my baked goodies. This means the volunteers manning the refreshments table have to eke out the home-made cakes to give everyone a fair crack of the whip, otherwise they’re the first to be eaten.

I have made my usual selection of crowd pleasers (pain d’epice, banana cake, fruit cake) plus a couple of  new offerings (date loaf, flapjacks, lemon drizzle cake) which have already found favour with my English class. After Sunday the cupboard will be bare but I’ll have to quickly re-stock for the Telethon (charity) ride on the first Saturday in December.  I am hoping to persuade one of the other wives to take responsibility for this thereby enabling me to participate in the ride. It’s quite a spectacle and I missed taking part last year thanks to a bad cold.

I’m already thinking about tomorrow’s/today’s ride. Where shall I go? I could do with riding the last part of the amended longer Kivilev course to check my Google map calculations for the revised mileage and amount of climbing. I don’t need to ride the entire parcours, just the bit that’s changed. I am hoping that my beloved will ride with his clubmates leaving me to go when, where and for as long as I want. When he’s home we tend to do everything pretty much according to his timetable.

He’s fast asleep in bed attempting to rouse the dead with his snoring. I’ve asked him nicely to stop snoring. It hasn’t worked so I’m trying to tire myself out on my laptop. If this fails, I shall turn to yet another of my recent book purchases. I find that nothing sends me off to the land of nod quicker than reading, except maybe some soothing music but I can’t enjoy either of these in the bedroom. I think the Queen may be onto something with separate bedrooms. Ours is big enough to split in two. I would however have to sound proof my half otherwise it would defeat its intended purpose.

The snoring has abated somewhat, he must have rolled over onto his side.  Maybe, I’ll venture back.

Review of 2011 season

Spending more time than I might wish on my home trainer the past week has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the 2011 road racing season. As you know, I often find it difficult to restrict myself to just one favourite moment, rider, team, race or indeed anything. Indecisive or greedy – you decide.  Given my preference for live sport, my recollections tend to be coloured by the races I’ve watched in person. So here goes.

Rider of the Year

It’s hard to argue against the collective wisdom of the Velo d’Or jury, so I won’t. With his 18 wins, it just has to be Phil Gil. Though it just wasn’t the quantity, it was also the quality of those wins, his majestic presence and aggressive, attacking style of riding which thrilled us all.

Although in my mind, Phil Gil was head and shoulders above all the other contenders, making it onto the podium in second place is Britain’s own Manx missile: Mark Cavendish. The Grand Tour wins, the green jersey (finally) and that magnificent win in the World Championships. Says it all really.

I was in a quandary about third place, should it be Thor Hushovd who so magnificently honoured the rainbow jersey, particularly during the Tour de France or should it be Tony Martin for his emphatic dethronement of Fabian Cancellara, a man who last year looked unbeatable. It’s a tricky one isn’t it? So, I’m going to squash them both on the podium in joint third place.  Honourable mentions should go to Edvald Boassen Hagen and France’s chouchou, Tommy Voeckler, both largely for their Tour de France performances.

Best One-Day Race of the Year

I was there, so it has to be Paris-Roubaix. The race had everything. Fine weather, fantastic atmosphere, favourites desperate to win beaten by an unfancied rider who, to add to the drama, proposed to his long-term girlfriend on the podium. I just love it when a non-contender, albeit hardworking and long-deserving, takes a really big win in one of the Monuments. Congratulations to Mr (and Mrs) Johan Vansummeren and commiserations to the mighty Thor.

In second place, it’s the Men’s Road Race at the World Championships in Copenhagen. While the course was made for Cavendish, the planning and preparation to get him there allied to GB’s phenomenal display of teamwork on the day, controlling the race from start to finish, was truly impressive and hugely exciting.

Had I been there, I suspect that Milan San Remo might well have been my third choice on account of Matt Goss’s uber-intelligent ride. For similar reasons, I could also have plumped for Nick Nuyen’s win in the Tour of Flanders, but I haven’t. No, I’m going for Clasica San Sebastian, a delightfully fun race with a terrific party atmosphere thanks to the Basques enduring love of cycling. This race demonstrated Phil Gil’s dominance over the peloton in hilly Classics. You could almost see the collective drooping of shoulders and the “Well that’s it then” attitude as he raced to victory after some token Basque resistance.

Best Stage Race of the Year

When the touch paper was lit in the third week in the Alps I was there to see the old-style heroics, epic defence of the yellow jersey, stages full of suspense, a French stage winner and, most importantly, some great racing culminating in a worthy winner. The Tour had it all in spades. While, we might have deplored the loss to injury in the first week of a number of favourites, that’s bike racing.

In second place, the Vuelta, the wonderful Tour of Spain which this year I was fortunate to attend albeit only for a couple of days. Unlike the Tour the atmosphere is much more relaxed, for all concerned, and the race much more accessible. The result was also wildly unpredictable and was all the better for it. It also provided my “Best Moment” of the year when Basque rider Igor Anton won the first Vuelta stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 years. The fever pitch excitement and wall of sound as he approached the finish line had to be heard and seen to be believed.

In third place, the Criterium du Dauphine, won by one Bradley Wiggins, which left us all wondering what might have been when Brad crashed out of the Tour. While it probably wasn’t his avowed intention to win the race, once in the leader’s jersey, he and team Sky rode intelligently. Opinion seems to be divided on which race provides the best preparation for the Tour. But, if you wanted to win this year’s Tour, then this race won easily as it allowed you to ride the decisive Grenoble time-trial. To be honest it’s a bit of a no brainer. Which organisation owns both the Dauphine and the Tour de France? Exactly, nuff said.

What about the Giro, I hear you ask. Well, it was over almost before it started thanks to a master coup by Bert and Riis on Nibali’s home turf. In short, it was too hard and too predictable. Also way down the list for consideration, in fact in absolute bottom place, The Tour of Beijing. No need to explain why.

Team of the Year

Who won the most races (again)? Exactly, it was HTC-High Road who have promoted young talent (including both current road race and time-trial World Champions) and bestrode the peloton like a colossus for the past few years racking up around 500 wins. Their reward – disbandment due to lack of sponsorship. Hard to believe and very worrying for the sport.

Tactical Coup of the Year

It just has to be Bjarne Riis and Nick Nuyens in the Tour of Flanders. The latter didn’t figure as one of the favourites despite his credentials and recent win in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. He was invisible until the final break. Having lost touch with the favourites on the Kwaremount, he regained contact, kept out of trouble and popped up in the right place at the right time. First over the finish line to hand Riis back-to-back wins. Who’s LeOghing now?

Surprise of the Year

There’s a couple of contenders here. Should it be Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in the Tour, team mate Pierre Roland’s win atop iconic L’Alpe d’Huez or Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome? To everyone’s total surprise, Kenyan borne adopted Brit Chris Froome finished the Vuelta ahead of Sky’s team leader Bradley Wiggins in third and might have won were it not for Cobo’s bonus seconds. Wisely he’d postponed contract negotiations with Sky until after the Vuelta so maybe it wasn’t an unexpected result for Chris who seized his opportunity with both hands while still playing the role of loyal team mate. He won’t be flying under the radar next year.

Disappointment(s) of the Year

Where shall I start? Here’s my list, in no particular order:-

  • UCI’s lack of comprehension about the importance of segregation of duties
  • Continued postponement of Alberto Contador’s CAS hearing
  • HTC-Highroad being unable to find a sponsor
  • Geox pulling out at the last moment
  • Crowd booing Bert at Tour de France team presentation
  • Paris-Nice not being a race to the sun this year
  • Andy Schleck happy to be second again and again
  • Leopard Trek, style over substance
  • Budget polarisation of the Pro-tour teams
  • More and more Pro-tour  teams sponsored by “Sugar Daddies”
  • UCI’s system of attribution of points to races and riders

It would be wholly inappropriate to call this event a disappointment. Instead it was for me the real low point of the cycling year. I am, of course, talking about Wouter Weylandt’s death from a high speed fall during the Giro. It reminded us in the strongest possible terms that cycling is a very dangerous sport. If I close my eyes I can still see that short cameo shot of the medics trying to revive his lifeless body.

The point was further underlined with Juan Mauricio Soler’s fall in the Tour of Switzerland for which he is still undergoing rehabilitation. Many more of us watched with horror during this year’s Tour de France as 1) a motorbike deprived  Nicki Sorenson of his bike, depositing him at a roadside picnic and 2) an official car from France TV, driven with scant regard for rider safety, sent Messrs Flecha and Hoogerland flying, the latter into barbed wire.

Unsung Hero(s) of the Year

These are legion in the peloton and the UCI pays them little regard. Many have that Eurovision chilling score of “nul points” and therefore little negotiable value in the transfer market. There’s not enough space (or time) to list them all but let’s have a round of applause for all the teams’ hard working, selfless domestiques. Also, hats off to those team leaders who always recognise the invaluable contribution of their team mates.

My Best Bits of the Year

Again, these are in no particular order:-

  • Watching Astana get their best stage result at this year’s Vuelta fuelled by my home made cake
  • Getting Mark Cavendish’s autograph for a friend as promised
  • Seeing Sammy win atop Luz Ardiden to record (unbelievably) his maiden Tour win. How good was that?
  • Riding around Antibes with Phil Gil
  • Cadel Evans finally winning Tour de France
  • Amael Moinard, Geoffroy Lequatre, Alex Vinokourov, Max Iglinsky, Andrey Grivko (and everyone else)  for turning out to support La Kivilev
  • Lots of young, exciting, emerging talent such as Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb,  Elia Viviani, Tony Gallopin, Andrea Guardini, Thibaud Pinot, Jesse Sergent and Steven Kruiswijk to name but a few
  • Golden oldies such as Jens Voigt and Robbie McEwan for proving there’s no such thing as “too old”

You see, too much thinking time results in my longest blog ever!

Sodden Sheree’s sporting snippets

We may only have had 4 days of rain but Noah and his Ark could have been pressed into service to rescue the aquatic life in Marineland and a whole host of villagers whose houses have been flooded thanks to a number of local rivers bursting their banks. Despite having rain water cascading down the common parts of our apartment block yesterday morning, I’m so very glad we live in a flat, on a hill. Apart from the leaks, our only casualty appears to be one of the trees which upended itself in the gale force winds on Saturday evening. Fortunately, nothing and no one was damaged and the gardeners have had the chain saws out this morning chopping it into bite size pieces.

As we weren’t able to ride outside over the week end, or indeed go anywhere much, we increased our exposure to television sport and lapped up a number of events.

MotoGP

At the season’s curtain closer, GP Valencia, homage was fittingly paid to the late Marco Simoncelli by the competitors, the officials, the teams and the fans. There were tears too for the retiring Loris Caporossi who aged thirty-eight has spent twenty-two seasons  in GP.

Casey Stoner had already won the blue riband Championship but neither that nor the intermittent rain prevented him from winning his 10th race of the season, by the smallest of margins from Ben Spies. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on the podium clinched his third place in the Championship, behind the absent Jorge Lorenzo who’s still recovering from an injury to his finger. Any thoughts Valentino Rossi might have had of rescuing his worst season ever disappeared on the first corner of the first lap as he and fellow Ducati riders, Nicky Hayden and Randy De Puniet, were taken out by Alavara Bautista’s Suzuki.

In the continued absence of Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl won the Moto2 title despite falling on the 5th lap. Instead, three riders (Pirro, Kallio, Aergeter) made their maiden trips to the podium this season. Nico Terol won the 125cc Championship at a canter from Johann Zarco, who fell on the 3rd lap, despite finishing Sunday’s race behind the splendidly named Maverick Vignales. Hector Faubel was third. Roll on Qatar in April next year and 1000cc bikes.

Track Cycling

Sticking with two wheels, we watched the first round of the World Cup from Astana’s brand spanking new velodrome. There weren’t too many spectators but Alexandre Vinokourov was on hand, to lend a hand, with the presentation of the prizes, specifically the flowers. Is this the first time that Alex has been a podium boy? If so, he’s a natural.

Sir Chris picked up a silver in the keirin and sprint gold while Dani King won a silver in the omnium. Otherwise, it was slim pickings for the Brits. However a number of the favourites were either missing or missing in action. The next round’s in Columbia in early December.

Road Racing

Marcel Kittel beat a bunch of holidaying cyclists to take the Amstel Curacao race. As usual we were treated to the unedifying sight of topless cyclists, with scary tan lines and dodgy taste in swimming trunks,  frolicking on the beach. Absent from this year’s festivities, Alberto Contador who was instead racing down the aisle to wed his long term lady friend. I wish them both every happiness.

Football

Sir Alex’s 25-year tenure at the Theatre of Dreams was ackowledged with the naming of a stand in his honour. Those are going to be rather large shoes to fill when he finally steps down. No mention was made of their short-sighted attempt to get rid of him in 1994 before he started winning anything and everything with the Red Devils.

My beloved boys in claret and blue managed to preserve their lead and all 3 points by beating Norwich 3-2 at home. Goals were scored by the revitalised Gabby Agbonlahor and Darren Bent. AVFC are now 8th in the league one place above their week end opponents. OGC Nice were unable to keep a clean sheet in the local derby away at Marseille’s velodrome. Typically, one of goals was supplied by way of a penalty in 96th minute by OGCN old boy, Loic Remy.  We’re now occupying 17th spot in the Ligue and dicing with relegation danger.

Marathon

Kenyan Geoffroy Mutai (54kg) won yesterday’s New York marathon in an astonishing 2hrs 5′ 6″ without the assistance of a pace-setter, to add to his Boston title. Another Mutai, Emmanuel (no relative) was second, having previously scooped the honours in London. These two are part of a formidable Kenyan team of six who are competing for three marathon places in the London 2012 Olympics. Wonder what these boys would be like on bikes?