September’s afternoon tea party with The Little Mermaid

Who doesn’t love afternoon tea? Exactly! Sadly I have to be rather more careful since most afternoon teas are chock full of dairy which is now strictly verboten. However, I have found that many hotels (pictured above) can pull off a vegan afternoon tea with a bit of notice. Alternatively, I can DIY (do it myself – pictured below).

When I first moved into my current apartment, I used to hold physical tea parties for some of the very elderly residents who’d befriended me. They used to love coming round but it wasn’t for the food, it was for the company and a chance to have a chat. I much enjoyed these as the ladies  – sadly none of whom are still with us – had all lived such interesting lives.

Consequently, I’m re-joining The Little Mermaid’s monthly tea party. This one unfortunately doesn’t include scones with strawberry jam and cream unless, of course, you provide your own. No, the whole point is to encourage an affable exchange of dialogue among the invitees because blogging is more enjoyable when done interactively.

The Little Mermaid’s tea party is the ideal occasion for socialising and making, as well as maintaining the acquaintance of those in the blogosphere. It’s a chance to truly relax and to take some time to recharge one’s batteries by engaging in light-hearted conversation, to be with friends and simply delight in one another’s company.

While her first tea party was open-ended, subsequent ones have been topical and this month’s theme is SPORTS – hurrah! What could be better for a dedicated sports’ fan like moi?

Here’s The Little Mermaid’s Questions and my Responses

1. Do you play any sports?

Is the Pope a Catholic? In truth, I don’t play as much sport as I used to but I still ride, jog, work out and do some yoga on a regular basis. I no longer play any team sports, these are all largely solitary activities. 

2. Do you like to watch sports on TV?

Sure, though I prefer to watch sport live. I watch MotoGP, cricket, football, tennis, cycling, athletics, ice skating and swimming on the television.

3. What is your favorite sports team and why?

My late father (far left) holding 1957 FA Cup won by AVFC

My first love was football. As a youngster, my father moved to the Midlands to play for Aston Villa’s Youth Squad. AVFC is my football team but, since moving to Nice, I have embraced our local team OGC Nice.

4. What does it take to be a great athlete?

Talent, attitude, focus, ability to withstand lots of pain, fear of losing and, of course, lots of training.

5. Who IMHO is the greatest athlete of all time?

This is tricky as there are so many sports. Greatest lists tend to be dominated by US athletes but here goes for my four favourite sports:-

Hayden and the Doctor (Rossi, no 46)

MotoGP – Valentino Rossi

Tennis – Rafa Nadal

Cycling – Eddie Merkx

Football – Lionel Messi

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The September 2019 tea party runs until the end of the month, so why don’t you join in? If you’re quick  you can beat the deadline.

But before you do, don’t forget to check out The Little Mermaid’s tea party etiquette:

-Etiquette Number 1- Introduce yourself.

Introduce yourself, your blog or even your latest post to the community in such a way that it encourages others to converse with you. Avoid posting just a link as a comment which looks rude and spammy. Be polite.

-Etiquette Number 2- Mix and mingle.

Tea is a communal experience and there it requires that you meet and greet at least some of the other wonderful people in attendance. Participate by actively reading others’ comments and visiting their links/sites.

-Etiquette Number 3- Share & reblog the most recent tea party.

The purpose of the event is to create a platform where everyone benefits from real diversity of thought; and for that we need to find people who genuinely hold different views and invite them into the conversation. So, please spread the word in the blogosphere through reblogs.

That’s not too difficult is it?

So, drag up a chair, pour yourself a cuppa, help yourself to some cake and introduce yourself. There, what could be nicer?

Postcard from Brussels: Le Grand Depart

Last week-end we were ostensibly in Brussels for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France. However, I did have a hidden agenda. Brussels is another town that I haven’t visited in over 20 years! On our one and only visit all those years ago I was totally charmed by all the Art Nouveau wrought ironwork which I later discovered was largely the work of architect Victor Horta – more of which much later. This time I’m back for a closer look, but first, Le Grand Depart!

We generally arrive in time to attend the team presentation and most of the team press conferences, but not this year as my beloved had only just managed to shoe horn this trip in-between business trips to Italy and London. Also, because of our forthcoming trip to Australia, we won’t be dropping in on any further Tour stages. Mind you, we’ll probably make up for it next year when Le Grand Depart is in Nice.

I’d timed my arrival on Friday afternoon to coincide with the BORA-hansgrohe team press conference where I’d hoped to snatch 10-15 minutes with Peter Sagan’s wingman, Daniel Oss. Sadly, our Sleazyjet flight was delayed and I arrived way too late to nab anyone. You might wonder why I didn’t target potential 7-times green jersey wearer, Sagan. I’ve already interviewed him and he paid me an immense compliment by saying that I posed him questions no one else had ever asked!

For those of you who aren’t cycling fans. The Tour de France is big, really big. It’s the biggest annual sporting event in the world. That’s the first thing that hits you. There are 4,500 people working on it, and only 176 of those are riding. There is no other annual event, not even other bike races, that comes close to this scale. Yes, there are two other Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, yet they are family affairs in comparison rather than this State-like occasion.

Everytime I visit the Tour, I’m always impressed with the level of its organisation, it’s superb. I’m beginning to suspect that ASO’s secret is a very low level of staff turnover. Even the volunteers return year after year. Though, much as I enjoy the Tour, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to spend my summer holidays working at it every year.

I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of Grand Departs. My first was in London in 2007, followed by Monaco in 2009 where, working as a volunteer, I scored a great gig. I looked after HRH Prince Albert’s VIP guests. Next up was 2014 in Yorkshire where the crowds had to be seen to be believed. In 2015, we sweltered in the heat in Utrecht. 2016 saw us dodging rain in Normandy, and again the following year in Duesseldorf, Germany. Last year the weather was glorious in Brittany, and again this year in Brussels. Next year, Nice will most likely be my Tour swan song.

The staging of this Grand Depart paid tribute to the maiden Tour victory, 50 years ago in July 1969, of the Belgian legend Eddy Merckx who was omnipresent in the first few stages, particularly the first stage which passed through WoluweSaint-Pierre, where the five-times Tour winner grew up.

On Saturday, the peloton rode round the city’s narrow cobbled streets before heading out through Molenbeek and then Anderlecht, in the direction of the Mur de Grammont (which was also part of Eddy Merckx’s first Tour route). Riders then raced towards Charleroi, crossing a section of cobbles before heading back towards Brussels. They rode past the base of the Lion’s Mound, the battlefield where the defeat of Napoleon’s troops was set in motion. The last stretch of the route paid hommage again to Merckx as riders traversed the streets where Eddy first learned to ride a bike… as well as where he earned his first maillot jaune. Coincidentally, it’s also the 100th birthday of the yellow race leader’s jersey.

We watched the race start which filed past our hotel after we’d been to the Brussels Expo on the train to collect my press accreditation.

profil-general-etape-01

Sunday we met with some of our many friends from the world of cycling and scored a VIP pass for my beloved so that he could join us in the Village du Depart – much upgraded and enlarged this year – and the Bus Paddock. This enabled us to briefly catch up with some of the riders and team staff we’ve gotten to know over the years.

The organiser typically likes to see the leader’s yellow jersey changing hands during the early stages. And, after the first stage was won by the poisson-pilote (lead out man) of one of the more fancied sprinters, someone who didn’t feature on anyone’s radar, it was (wrongly) assumed that the team time-trial would produce a new race leader. But, the previous day’s winner was in one of the more highly ranked time-trial teams who’d recently recruited a four-time world time-trial champion. Not for nothing is German Tony Martin nicknamed the Panzerwagen. This marginal gain helped Jumbo-Visma to pip all the other teams to the post.

The wide streets of Brussels had provided the ideal route for an impressive team effort, with few turns and a series of false flats, that truly tested riders’ technical skills, terminating at the Atomium, built for the Brussels World Fair in 1958. So the jersey stayed firmly put on the broad shoulders of Holland’s Mike Teunissen for another day.

The newspapers estimated that 500,000 people were in Brussels to watch Le Grand Depart and it was true! Not that I counted them but the place was jam-packed with tourists and fans. Brussels put on a good show, not dissimilar to that in Leeds in 2014, making me wonder whether Yorkshire’s Sir Gary Verity had been acting as a consultant. But no in the land of cycling and Eddy Merckx, there’s an excess of expertise even if they also called their volunteers « Tour Makers. »

A moment of madness

A few weeks ago this image popped up in my inbox, and I was about to hit the delete button, when I noticed that this year there would be a 20km event. Before giving it further thought, I signed up. I’m now committed.

Then I thought, I just need a plan to carry me from the sofa to the start line – and across the finish too! It’s time to get off the sofa and move. Thanks to my beloved’s hip-replacement I haven’t worked out much in months and, if I’m honest, I’ve got a little more around the waistline than I’d like.

My plan

I’ve got plenty of time to get in shape and this is how I’m going about it. I’ve started with run-walk workouts which begin with a brisk walking warm-up, then alternate minutes of running with minutes of walking, finishing with a walking cool-down. In my first workouts in week one, I ran at a comfortable effort (just a bit quicker than my fastest walking speed) for one minute and then followed it with two minutes of brisk walking. I repeated this a total of 10 times. Obviously, as I build towards my goal, so does my running time.

Once a week, I undertake a longer workout which is vital to getting my body used to spending time on my feet, utilising fat  – I’ve plenty of that – as an energy source and simulating the half-marathon distance. I’m not planning on going the distance until the day of the race. My plan builds to running two 16km (10 mile) long runs to prepare me for the 20km (12.5 mile) distance on race day.

Why not go the whole way in training? Because when you push to run longer too quickly, your risk for injury skyrockets. I’ve read than 16km (10 miles) is plenty to prepare you well for a half-marathon race.

Tune In

It’s crucial that I listen to my body during this process. If I’m struggling to finish a workout or have aches or pains, it means my body isn’t recovering properly. If that’s the case, I can easily repeat the week I’m currently on, or keep the distance the same as the plan, but do more walking and less running. Of course, I’m planning to run all the way on race day but, like my husband’s niece who completed last year’s marathon, I may just use run-walk intervals to cover the distance. I used to run 10km (6 1/4 miles) comfortably within an hour, so I’m aiming for a time of around 2:30 – just don’t hold me to it.

Important

I have to remember to have fun and keep smiling. I’ve got this! 

However, if any of you have any helpful words of wisdom, please pass them on. Any assistance will be most gratefully received.

Trip to Sanremo

The first of this year’s Monuments (five oldest one day bike races), La Primavera goes from Milan to Sanremo. A parcours of almost 300km and, aside from the Turchino, all the hills are in the last 60km. I should add these are not difficult climbs, I’ve ascended them with ease having wisely eshewed the first 230km of the race route.

We always enjoy our day trips to Sanremo, particularly when the weather’s as fine as it was yesterday. We drive over early, park and head to the shops to buy all manner of Italian goodies. There are some great shops adjacent to the Palafiori which acts as race HQ for the day. We then enjoy a stroll, coffee and some harmless window shopping in the sunshine before lunch, the main event of the day.

I often choose a restaurant near the port where there are a veritable gaggle of good ones. This time I picked what is allegedly Sanremo’s finest just past the race finish. We were not disappointed and particularly enjoyed having the restaurant to ourselves. Mum and son run front of house while Dad cooks using local produce, largely fish, with the fruit and vegetables coming from his market garden. We chose the menu of the day which needed only a slight tweak to accommodate my dietary requirements.

Replete we headed back to race HQ to watch events unfold along the coast road. The views from the race helicopter were a fabulous advertisement for the Italian Riviera.

We first visited Sanremo in 2006 when it featured in the final stage of the long gone Tour of the Med. We watched the race from a pinch point on the Cipressa. The following month we stood on the finish line of Milano Sanremo, listened to the commentary, and saw Pippo Pozzato win. This was in the days before the organisers erected those lovely big screens at the finish.

I’ve been in Sanremo every year since to watch the race aside from 2011 (friend’s 60th birthday party) and 2017 (beloved’s broken leg). Generally, the weather’s been fine, aside from 2014 when it was cold, wet and snowy. Once again, it’s great fun watching the professional peloton riding on roads we have ridden on and know well. I can almost feel myself pedalling along with them – I wish!

There was a full house in the press room but we’d saved our seats early on. It wasn’t quite but almost beach towels on sunbeds! There’s always much discussion as to who’s going to win and the room seemed to be equally split between Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and the defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). I really don’t mind who wins as long as it’s an exciting race.

The race winds up as it reaches the final two climbs, the Cipressa and Poggio. Riders stop casually chatting and everyone’s on high alert, favourites to the fore, keen not to miss what might be the winning break. The traditional early break comprised of riders from ProConti teams gets reeled in, riders launch attacks and counter-attacks, everyone looks around nervously, the crowds of spectators along the route grow thicker and deeper, some are even waving flares.

The bunch starts to thin out as soon as the peloton drives up the Cipressa. All back together with 25km to go, Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli) was last man standing from the bunch of early escapees. Just 5km later and Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) sucks the wheel of a motorbike on the descent of the Cipressa and builds a slim advantage but he’s back in the pack well back before the climb of the Poggio. Now we’re into the last 10km and the peloton is flying.

The royal blue clad Quick Step team set the pace for the charge up the Poggio but their sprinter is well back so their efforts must be for Alaphilippe who recently won Strade Bianche. The Quick-Steppers are thinning out the bunch on the  Poggio, now it’s an EF-Drapac Cannondale rider, probably Simon Clarke, launching himself from the pack. Alaphilippe counters with 6km to go and goes straight past Clarke. Could this be the decisive move?

A whole host of favourites follow Alaphilippe’s wheel. The winner will come from this group. An Italian rider takes a flyer. Are we going to have another Italian winner after Nibali? Now they’re all eyeing one another as they hit the finishing straight on Via Roma. Some riders launch their sprints too early, but Alaphilippe times his burst for the line perfectly ahead of  Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and former winner (2017) Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky). Alaphilippe falls into the arms of his soigneur, Yanky Germano, and we have tears of joy, tears of relief, and prosecco sprayed everywhere from the podium.

We had rather a long wait for the still-emotional winner who arrived at his press conference after a lengthy session in doping control, where he confirmed:

I came with the goal of winning this race. I’m just as proud of my win as I am of the work of my team today. What they’ve done for me is absolutely exceptional. I rode for the victory at the end bearing their dedication in mind. I recovered in the downhill after I sped up on the Poggio but I still thought it would be complicated to win considering the quality of the riders I was away with. I made a little effort to close the gap on Matteo Trentin as I knew he was very fast. Then I stayed calm and remained next to Peter Sagan. When Matej Mohoric launched the sprint, I knew I had to take his wheel straight away. Had he taken 20 metres, it would have been game over. I capped it off the nicest way I could. It’s pure joy.

Indeed, it was pure joy! We’d had a fantastic day out and topped it off at home with a small yet lavish supper with some of our Italian goodies. We’ll be doing it all again next week-end when we’re off to Turin.

 

Le Grand Depart 2020

In an earlier post I bemoaned the paucity of my trips to Nice but I’ve recently been there on three consecutive days. These trips were courtesy of the last two stages of the Paris-Nice cycle race, and the presentation of Le Grand Depart of the 2020 Tour de France. The latter took place last Monday in the magnificent surroundings of the Nice Opera House, one of my favourite buildings in Nice.

In the presence of a handful of ex and current riders, mayors of local towns, a small press pack and the great and good of Nice, the Mayor of Nice Metropole, Christian Estrosi –  himself a keen cyclist –  kicked off proceedings with a short film showcasing the splendours of the region to the converted. He handed over to Christian Prudhomme, the chap in charge of the Tour de France, who recalled Nice’s (limited) role in the history of the Tour.

He also reminded everyone that there’s an exhibition celebrating “100 years of the Yellow Jersey” at Musee de Sport, Allianz Riviera until 29 September.

The route of the two opening stages was left to Thierry Gouvenou, the race’s technical director, to explain and what a reveal!

The 2020 Tour de France will start with a bang. Its organisers ASO have opted for two tough opening stages in and around Nice on roads I know well, love and regularly ride. The first will be a spectator-friendly 170km route suited to the sprinters and puncheurs, starting and finishing in Nice. Though it won’t be an easy route, with four tough climbs scattered along the way and a fast finishing circuit to conclude.

Stage two will be a major departure from traditional Tour de France openers as it heads into the mountains and reaches the highest point ever seen since 1979 (won by Bernard Hinault). The 190km route goes over four cols (3,700 metres/6500 ft), firstly the Col de la Colmiane and the Col de Turini, before cresting the smaller Col d’Eze then the final test of the day, the Col de Quatre Chemins, followed by the downhill run to the line on the Promenade des Anglais.

This stage, which again starts and finishes in Nice, is a mash-up of the last two stages of this year’s Paris-Nice, and will be a test for the climbers. It’ll also ensure that two different riders will wear the maillot jaune. Nothing was said about where stage three will start but I guess it won’t be too far from Nice.

There’s always a chance that such an early test will take riders out of contention for the general classification while the race is still young. A traditional grand tour aims to build tension throughout its three weeks, culminating in a crescendo of final mountain stages, as the opportunities dwindle and contenders feel increasingly desperate to gain time on rivals. This rarely happens in the Tour de France.

Throwing mountains up front isn’t usual for the Tour. Last year, the first uphill test didn’t come until stage 6, on the short Mur de Bretagne. Realistically, the stage is unlikely to do any real damage. The major climbs are far from the finish; the final two are short. Legs will be fresh. Teams will be strong. Sure, a few contenders will fail, but that always happens!

The season starts now…………….

In my mind the cycling season starts with Paris-Nice. Now, I know the professional peloton has already been racing all over the globe: Australia, Argentina, Colombia, Oman, UAE, Spain, France  and Italy. I’ve even watched the last stage of the Tour de la Provence, a sprint won by John Degenkolb into Aix-en-Provence. But, for me, Paris-Nice remains the curtain-raiser!

Amael Moinrad wins: that’ll do nicely!

I’ve watched this race every year since relocating to France, largely of course because it finishes in my back garden. Some years I’ve watched the last three or even four stages but this year, like many, it’ll be the last two stages in and around Nice. I shall be praying for fine weather so that it is a “Race to the Sun” and hoping that I might see one of our local riders win a stage. I was fortunate to see Amael Moinard win the last stage in 2010 and Rudy Molard win the sixth stage to Vence last year.

Rudy triumphs in Vence

Like many French races, it has a rich history. It was created in 1933 by Parisian Albert Lejeune, in order to promote his Paris-based newspaper Le Petit Journal and Nice-based paper Le Petit Nice. Hence, the race linked the French capital with the fashionable Mediterranean coast. It was held in March, at the end of winter, one of the earliest French bike races on the calendar, immediately following the end of the track season.

The first Paris–Nice comprised six stages and was promoted as Les Six Jours de la Route. The first stage from Paris to Dijon was a whopping 312 km, and it remains the longest stage in the history of Paris–Nice. Because most mountain roads were still impassable, because of its early calendar date, the race’s route avoided the Alps and primarily followed the lower Rhône valley, its only significant climbs were on the last day on the outskirts of Nice.

The race was a success and other newspapers partnered with Lejeune’s titles to co-sponsor the race. In 1940, the race was cancelled for the duration of WWII. In 1946 Ce Soir again organised the first post-war race, but although the event was a commercial success, the newspaper dropped its sponsorship and the race was discontinued between 1947 and 1950.

In 1951 the race was revived as Paris-Côte d’Azur by Jean Medecin, the allegedly shady mayor of Nice, who wanted to promote tourism to his fast-growing city and the entire Côte d’Azur. The race’s name Paris–Nice was restored in 1954 and it grew in status in the 1950s from an early-season preparation and training race to an event in its own right, spawning such illustrious winners as Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil. In 1957 journalist Jean Leulliot, race director since 1951, bought the event with his company Monde Six and became Paris–Nice’s new organiser.

In 1959 the race was run as Paris–Nice–Rome, with a separate classification from Paris to Nice with a second one from Nice to Rome and a third title for the overall. The excessive length of the race – 1,955 kilometres (1,215 miles) in 11 days – was criticised, and the formula has not been repeated. In 1966 Paris–Nice was the scene of a rivalry between French cycling icons Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, whose legendary battles divided French cycling fans for over a decade.

Eze Village

In 1969, the final stage was moved from the seaside promenade in Nice to the top of Col d’Eze, overlooking the city. Eddy Merckx won the final individual time-trial and his first of three consecutive Paris–Nice races. In 1972 eternal second Poulidor ended the Cannibal’s streak by winning the final time-trial and narrowly finishing ahead of Merckx. The following year, he repeated this feat at the grand old age of 37.

In the 1980s Ireland’s polyvalent Sean Kelly won the race seven consecutive times; the winning record to date. The Race to the Sun produced several well-known winners in the 1990s, notably Spanish Grand Tour specialist Miguel Indurain. French all-rounder Laurent Jalabert won the race three consecutive times, the final time in 1997, and remains the race’s last French winner. In 2000, former Tour winner Laurent Fignon took over the organisation of the race from the Leulliot family but he sold out to ASO in 2002.

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev
Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

The 2003 race was marred by the death of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev after a crash on the second stage. Kivilev did not wear a helmet and died that night as a result of brain trauma. The following day the peloton, led by Kivilev’s Cofidis team, neutralised the third stage. Racing resumed the next day and, on the fifth stage to Mont Faron, Kivilev’s friend and compatriot Alexander Vinokourov soloed across the line holding a picture of his late friend. My former cycling club holds a sportive each year in June in Kivilev’s memory.

In 2005 Paris–Nice was included in the inaugural UCI Pro Tour, but was at the centre of a dispute between UCI and ASO just before its 2008 edition. (This was where I made my one-woman stand against the exclusion of Astana from the 2008 Tour de France.) The issue was eventually resolved and since 2011 Paris–Nice has served as the European WorldTour opener.

My beloved enjoying Paris-Nice 2012 with friends

The 2012 edition was famously won by Bradley Wiggins on his way to becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France thereby giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Subsequently, it’s been won by key support riders for Tour contenders (incl: Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Marc Soler). I wonder who’ll win this year’s edition?

 

And the stabilisers are finally off!

My beloved has finally relinquished his crutches. It’s been a bit of a struggle to wrestle them off him. He’s kept them close just in case………a bit like stabilisers or training wheels on one’s first two-wheeler.

A month after his operation, he was able to walk around the flat without crutches. But then it’s all on the flat with no rugs or carpets to trip over. Our downstairs neighbours have most probably given a huge sigh of relief. Although the sound-proofing is excellent, my beloved charges around like a herd of elephants. One of my neighbours used to say she could always tell when he was away.

Any time we’ve gone out for a walk, he’s taken the crutches. Although he could manage with just one, the physio preferred him to either use both or, preferably, none to avoid getting a lop-sided gait.

He’d been using them less and less and i suggested we leave them at home on our pre-Xmas trip to Paris. That seemingly did the trick. We didn’t walk as much as we would do normally (10-16km per day) but nontheless he managed just fine with a mixture of the Metro and walking. While we were away, I hid them in the cupboard and he’s not given them another thought!

In Paris he was walking with a noticeable limp but, after plenty of strolling over Xmas in Alassio, that’s now disappeared and frankly you would never know that he’s had a replacement hip. I’ll be returning his crutches to the pharmacy.

He will however continue with his twice weekly one-on-one physio sessions until his ordonnance (order) is exhausted. He’s supplementing those physio sessions with gym circuits and bike rides. Yes, finally, we’re back on our bikes!

It’s always a bit of a stuggle when you’ve not ridden for a while. The saddle feels like an instrument of torture and you hit your granny gear way too early on the climb. Fortunately, while it’s been chilly, it’s been dry and we’ve steadily built up the kilometrage and can happily ride 50km with ease. It’s onwards and upwards from here.

 

El número siete

I appreciate that the professional peloton has been racing in China and Japan last week, but my interest in cycling concludes with Il Lombardia. Coincidentally this is generally when the race for the blue-riband crown in MotoGP comes to the boil.

It was another early start yesterday morning to watch the race. The question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Marc Marquez would close out the championship in Japan in Honda’s backyard in front of its Head Honcho or would Andrea Dovizioso, lying second in the Championship, win from pole on board his Ducati and keep the championship race alive?

Fans of the sport will know that Marquez secured his fifth MotoGP world championship (seventh in all classes) with an eighth victory of the 2018 season in the Japanese Grand Prix as Dovi crashed with two laps to go.

How the race was won

Marquez started on the second row, in sixth place, at Motegi but quickly moved up to second on the opening lap, biding his time, before engaging in a nailbiting, seat of the pants duel with polesitter and last remaining realistic championship threat Dovizioso.

Waiting until 10 laps to go to make his first move, Marquez passed Dovi at Turn 9, but one corner later he ran wide on the dirt and lost momentum – with his rival almost piling into the back of him, and repassing for the lead.

Four laps later, Dovi recorded a new fastest lap, but Marquez went even quicker the following one and it became clear he was in no mood to settle for a safe second. Indeed, both riders needed to throw caution to the wind to achieve their objectives.

Marquez seized the lead on the 21st lap of 24 with a bold pass at the tight Turn 9 left-hander – he much prefers left to right-hand turns – but Dovi was going nowhere, stuck to his rival’s tail and looked poised to fight back until he lost the front end of his Ducati into the Turn 10 hairpin on the penultimate lap. Game over. Marquez reaches level 7!

More records fall

Titles:

– Marquez becomes the youngest rider to win five titles in the premier class at the age of 25 years and 246 days, taking the record from Valentino Rossi (26 years, 221 days).

– He becomes the youngest rider of all time to reach the milestone of seven World Championships across all classes, beating Mike Hailwood’s record, who was 26 years and 140 days old when he won his seventh title back in 1966.

– Marquez joins Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini as one of four riders who has won five or more premier class World Championships.

– He becomes one of only eight riders who have more than seven titles across all classes: John Surtees (7), Phil Read (7), Carlo Ubbiali (9), Mike Hailwood (9), Valentino Rossi (9), Angel Nieto (13) and Giacomo Agostini (15).

Victories:

– Marquez has won at least five GPs per season in the last nine years across all three classes: 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP. He’s the first rider in MotoGP’s 70 year history to achieve this.

Poles:

– With five pole positions this season, Marquez increases his overall pole position tally to 78 across all classes.

– In Thailand, the previous MotoGP, Marquez (25 years, 231 days) became the youngest rider to reach the milestone of 50 pole positions in the premier class, taking the record off Mick Doohan, who was 32 years and 122 days old when he took his 50th pole position at Philip Island in 1997.

What did Twitter have to say about it all?

Here’s where the race and championship were decided on Sunday.

Over enthusiastic celebrations resulting in a dislocated shoulder which was just popped back in. These MotoGP boys are TOUGH!

Congratulations poured in for for Marquez from other Spanish sporting legends.

I hope you carry on living the dream Marc for many years to come.

The Final Word

MotoGP is lucky to have Marquez, and Marquez is lucky to have landed in MotoGP at a time when such intense rivalries are made possible by the emergence of a generation of extremely talented riders with strong and divergent personalities – a bit like the big four in men’s tennis over the past decade. He is the kind of figure all sports dream of unearthing: a Tiger Woods, a Katarina Witt, a Usain Bolt, a unique individual whose combination of charisma and technical brilliance bursts through the limits and disciplines of their sport and engages multitudes.

Richard Williams, The Guardian

Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

Memories from World Championships past: Part II

Here’s the second part of my meander down memory lane with my friend Ute covering UCI Road Race World Championships from 2011 to 2015.

Copenhagen 2011

While Ute didn’t travel to Melbourne she once again volunteered in Copenhagen. I had facilitated her application as the section of the website calling for volunteers had only been available in Danish. She still thinks I speak Danish, I’ve not disabused her! Again she worked for a few days in the Press Centre leaving her to enjoy watching some of the racing with me.

Manx Missile in rainbow jersey

Neither of us is tall so we needed to be on the barricades early otherwise we risked having our view blocked by tall northern Europeans, specifically this year by tall Scandinavians. I’m quite sure that Norway and Sweden were empty those few days at the end of September while they lent the Danes a hand trying to drink the place dry! After the race on Sunday I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many empty beer cans discarded by the side of the road.

Ute, being German, generally has the upper hand at most years’ races, results wise. But not on this occasion as Mark Cavendish was guided almost to the line by a tour de force from Team GB. A French friend had asked me to get him Cavendish’s autograph and while I saw him briefly before the post-race press conference, it wasn’t the right moment.

No, that came the following morning as I was checking out of my hotel. Peta and Cav literally bumped into me and I seized my opportunity. My friend was delighted as the autograph was on a copy of the UCI official announcement of the win, accompanied by the route book and other goodies which my friend Bert had given me earlier that morning as I’d waved him off on his plane back to New Zealand. That was the last I saw of Bert who sadly passed away the following September.

Here’s the posts I wrote about my trip back in 2011:-

Cards from Copenhagen I

Cards from Copenhagen II

Cards from Copenhagen III

Cards from Copenhagen IV

Limburg 2012

Ute tried not once, not twice, but three times without success to volunteer. However I think staying in the same hotel as the Belgian team, which included Tom Boonen, more than made up for the disappointment of not having a lurid, ill-fitting volunteer’s outfit to add to her burgeoning collection.

During the Championships I stayed in the same hotel as the Italian and Spanish teams. How fantastic? No, not a bit! Fans and journalists camped out in the entrance hall and bar, hogging the WiFi bandwidth and all the chairs, the hotel corridors smelled of embrocation and there was lots of door banging.

Ute and I loved the fact that few spectators could be bothered to make the trek to the finish line. Well it is 4km from the train station and, unless like me you had got press credentials granting entrance to the press restaurant and facilities, it was pretty poorly served in terms of food and drinks. Still we had a big screen and a great up close and personal view of the podium, so we weren’t complaining. Honestly.

Aside from catching up with people we both knew, being at the finish meant we spent quite some time chatting to anxious Mums and Dads whose offspring were riding in the various categories. It’s always interesting to see a race from someone else’s point of view!

Belgian’s top dog in trade team time-trial (image courtesy of OPQS)

Ute and I spent 10-days in companionable admiration of the racing. This was the first Championship to (re)introduce the trade-team time trial and combine racing for Juniors, Under-23s and Elite so we positively gorged on great racing in an environment where cycling is hugely popular.

Even though I had a great time, I only wrote one blog post about the trip.

Postcard from Limburg 2012

Firenze 2013

Ute worked once more as a volunteer, as did Nathalie, but I didn’t get to spend much time with either as my beloved decided to come along too. We also took our bikes and much enjoyed cycling around the Tuscan countryside.

I have two abiding memories from this Championship. The first was Matej Mohoric who, having won the Junior road race in Limburg, added the Under-23 title at the tender age of 19 with some of his trademark top-tube descending. The second was the Dantesque conditions of the Men’s road race which should’ve been won by the uber-popular Purito Rodriguez. His sad face on the podium was almost more than I could bear.

As in Varese, the Italians contrived to have the start and finish in a stadium and, while viewing en route was free, you had to pay to get into the stadium unless you had accreditation. And that’s largely why my friend Ute volunteers, to get accreditation, though it’s by no means the “open sesame” it was back in Salzburg 2006.

Again, I only penned one post:-

Postcard from Tuscany

Ponferrada 2014

Our trip to the World Championships in Ponferrada was part of a three-week vacation which spanned the Med and Atlantic coasts in both France and Spain. Ute once again volunteered to help out in the Press Centre but I only saw her a couple of times, including at an evening reception about the following year’s Championship in Richmond.

My beloved and I much enjoyed watching the racing in a very convivial atmosphere and in the company of parents who had offspring racing. Since we were all staying in the same small casa rural, it made for a lively discussion over dinner most evenings. As you can see from the photo above, this was not a well-attended Championship. Probably the least well-attended of those I’ve been to, but it wasn’t easy to get there and it was held in an area of Spain with a low population. However, it was a beautiful area to ride around and it’s on one of the many routes to Compostela.

That said, I did manage to write a couple of posts:-

Postcards from Ponferrada I

Postcards from Ponferrada II

Richmond 2015

Official Richmond UCI Road World Championship 2015 artist Greig Leach.

I had high hopes for Richmond which formed the second part of a vacation in the US. We didn’t take our bikes as I’ve found riding in the States to be frankly scary. It was an opportunity for me to finally meet Greig Leach after we’d already worked together on one project and this event was to form the basis of our second collaboration. I also met up with a couple of my fellow VeloVoices. Unbelievably, I’ve still not met everyone on the team.

Ute volunteered and once again spent time in the Press Centre but unlike in Europe, her accommodation was provided by a local host who also made sure she saw plenty of Virginia. I only saw her the once as we were staying in very different parts of town.

My beloved and I enjoyed watching the racing, there was no problem standing close to the finish line for any of the races, even the blue riband event, the Men’s road race. Our hotel was out of Richmond so we camped out at The Marriott Hotel which was almost on the finish line. One of the organisers had told me last year in Ponferrada that they had modelled the event on Salzburg, with everything being in the centre of town.

They’d gotten that part of the equation right and the thousands of Eritrean fans, who’d descended on Richmond for the races, provided lively animation. However, they were no substitute for the thousands of European fans who typically arrive by camping car, and colonise part of the course in order to support their riders. What I’m trying to say is that it was well-organised but a bit lacking in atmosphere.

Again, I did write a post about our trip:-

Postcard from Richmond

Neither Ute nor I went to Doha 2016. But as an avowed fan of all things Scandinavian, she was in Bergen 2017 and can be found manning the reception desk in the Press Centre at InnsbruckTyrol 2018. We had hoped to meet up this week but sadly work has gotten in the way and I’ll have to settle fo watching the action on the television.