Holiday photos: day 31

Three day hiatus for the Clasica San Sebastian, our return home the following day and then yesterday’s corporate video shoot of my beloved for his Chinese clients.

This was our ninth consecutive Clasica and it’s one of our favourite races on the calendar largely because of its location, field of quality riders and overall ambience. We’ve also ridden the entire parcours, just not all on the same day!

Using my beloved’s photos, here’s how the day unfolded, starting with the sign on which is always a good opportunity to catch up with the riders, staff, announcers, journalists and photographers that we’ve gotten to know over the years in a more relaxed atmosphere than say, the Tour de France.

 

The organisers have tinkered with the race route with over the years but it still aims to showcase the area’s beautiful beaches and landscapes, plus major attractions. We next caught up with the riders just over half-way through the race, on the first of two ascents of the famous Jaizkibel climb. The roadside was chock-a-block with fans, many enjoying lavish picnics.

Unless you’re familiar with the Basque country, you’ll fail to appreciate there’s very little flat and average gradients tend to mislead because they’ll always contain a few stinging ramps at over 25%. I speak from (bitter) experience. It’s a great place to cycle around simply because so many locals do, the roads are quiet and the traffic respectful.

After the peloton has toured the Basque countryside, it sweeps through the finish line before its assault of the final barrier. Unfortunately, 20km before the finish, a crash in the peloton either took out (Mikel Landa, Pierre Latour and Egan Bernal) or waylaid (Tony Gallopin, Izagirre brothers, Primoz Roglic, Greg Van Avermaet) a number of favourites.

Despite changes to the parcours three years ago, where the organisers added the final brutal Murgil Tontorra climb, the race is typically won by a rider exiting the Tour in fine fettle, after a successful attack near the summit of the last climb. This year was no different with former winner (2016) Bauke Mollema (Trek) counter-attacking just before the summit and, overhauling the duo upfront, rapidly followed by Musketeer Julian Alaphilippe. The latter won the sprint for the line with FDJ’s Anthony Roux best of a small chasing bunch.

That made it 36 out of 38 that a Tour rider had won the race, though Alaphilippe was the first to win Fleche Wallone, KOM jersey and the Clasica in the same year, underlining his versatility as a rider.

Alaphilippe was rightly delighted with his victory and chose to wear the Basque black beret (txapala) at a rather jaunty angle – very French! One of those from the early break, Cyril Barthe (Euskadi-Murias), won the KOM, intermediate sprints and most aggressive plaudits while Ion Izagirre was the best placed Basque rider. All in all it was a very enjoyable day’s racing.

 

 

 

 

Holiday photos: day 27

My beloved returned midday on Sunday, feeling somewhat weary after working long days and a couple of evenings. I took him out for lunch to one of our regular haunts where we both ate a light  meal. I find when it’s hot and humid, I’m not so hungry. However, it’s important to keep up one’s intake of fluids otherwise it’s easy to become dehydrated. After lunch we sat and listened to some music, it was the last day of the Jazz Festival, most of which my beloved had missed. We then pottered back to our rental flat to watch the final stage of the Tour de France.

The final day of the Tour is a bit of a parade for all bar a handful of sprinters for whom winning the sprint on the Champs Elysees is a blue-riband event. I generally have paper and pencil in hand noting down the names of places we’d like to visit as the television cameras pan past a chateau or two as the peloton heads for its final circuits round Paris. Of course, I’m not the only one, 47% of the television viewing public watch the Tour to see France’s glorious heritage. The footage never disappoints.

Thereafter, we went back out to enjoy the final couple of hours of the Festival, sitting on one of the many park benches in front of the Town Hall. As we wandered back we popped into one of our favourite bars for a nightcap. Well, it would’ve been rude not to.

 

 

Holiday photos: day 25

Typically when we come to San Sebstian it’s to watch the one-day bike race, La Clasica, and we’ll stay a few days either side of the race. The first time we came, we were able to watch a local race the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika, then held on the last day of the Tour de France, which was won by neo-pro Gorka Izagirre (2010) riding for Euskatel-Euskadi, he’s since won it a further two times. This edition was won by Rob Power (Mitchelton-Scott), his first professional win. We would probably have gone to watch it had my beloved not high-tailed it to the UK for a few days.

On Thursday I went to the Town Hall to see the presentation of this year’s Clasica San Sebastian. The route is broadly similar to last year’s though there are some tweaks. The race attracts a stellar cast and is usually won by a rider who showed great form in the last week of the Tour. But the big news from today’s presentation was the organisers’ intent to hold a ladies race over a similar course on the same day next year. This is a fantastic move and I would encourage the UCI when it’s looking at the classification of races for the WorldTour to give precedent to one-day races that organise them for both the guys and the gals.

 

Holiday photos: day 23

Every year I try, and every year I fail to eliminate all my cyclist tan lines. This year, however, not having cycled quite as much, I thought it might be easier. The first to go are always the ones on my face. The line across my forehead and the mark of my chin strap. Next up are my hands. I always wear gloves when I cycle but once the sun starts to shine and I’m out and about, without the bike, my hands quickly tan to the same colour as my lower arms.

My arms progressively lighten as you head toward my shoulders and there’s a definite line where the sleeve of my cycling jersey ends. I never wear sleeveless cycling jerseys. No, scratch that. I never wear sleeveless anything. As it gets warmer, I do lower the zip on my jersey which means I get a v-shaped neckline tan.

I wear very short socks but my feet always tan easily albeit with the readily identifiable “t” from my Birkenstocks. This is much more difficult to eliminate. Since I discovered Birkenstocks a few years ago, I rarely wear anything else all summer long. I have them in pretty much every colour under the sun and some.

Next up is my major problem area, the legs. I have a line from wearing my 3/4 length bib-shorts from Octobet to May compounded in the summer by the line of my cycling shorts, roughly halfway up my thighs. My thighs tan quite readily  but my shins do not. In particular, I have a permanent untanned zone from just below my knee. I can confirm that this stripe effect is not a good look.

This holiday, I’ve been wearing knee length tailored shorts exposing my shins to the sun’s rays most days to little avail. I’ve even donned the swimsuit and indulged in some actual sunbathing. My two sister, noted sun worshippers, would be proud of me. Less so probably about the UV50+ sun protection, they never stray into double figures.

Holiday photos: day 19

I’m in heaven for the next two weeks. We’ve rented an apartment with car parking overlooking the main beach in San Sebastian. It’ll be an opportunity to plunder the markets and whip up a few meals, as well as visiting all of our (many) favourite bars and restaurants.

Of course, no sooner than we’ve arrived, my beloved will be heading back to London for four days to attend a meeting of research boffins. This is a statement of fact rather than a complaint. I’ll be more than happy pottering around one of my favourite places on my own. I have lots planned, including attending a presentation of La Clasica. This is a race held on the Saturday after the conclusion of the Tour de France and is typically won by a rider exiting the Tour in fine fettle.

It’s one of my proud boasts that I’ve ridden the entire route of La Clasica, just not all of it on the same day! If (some of) the boys are lucky, I might just whip up a few batches of cakes for the race finish. Tasty treats are always welcome after many hours in the saddle.

Holiday photos: day 13

A veritable smoregasbord of sport on Sunday, but what to watch, when? Our dilemna was partly resolved when Rafa lost in the semi-final at Wimbledon. It was unlikely that the final would reach similar heights and we fully expected Djokovic to win his fourth title which he did.

We ate lunch at our hotel in Saint Jean de Luz before settling down to watch a mouth watering afternoon of sport starting with the German MotoGP from Sachsenring. Nine poles and nine victories for my chou chou Marc Marquez, who’s leading the World Championship. I was a happy bunny.

Next up the Tour de France’s cobbled stage finishing in Roubaix which started a bit earlier so as not to clash with the match. Sadly crashes and inopportune mechanicals either put paid to or severely dented the ambitions of a number of riders, but hey that’s cycling. You also had to feel for those nursing injuries from earlier stages, those cobbles must’ve been really painful. It was good to see former Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb pick up his first win since recovering from a terrible accident.

Finally, the blue-riband event, the eagerly awaited World Cup final. The beach and streets emptied, as everyone tuned into the match. Finals are rarely great matches, although this one was exciting. Lady luck was wearing red, white and blue as pre-match favourites France showed flashes of both brilliance and stupidity to beat Croatia 4-2 and lift their second World Cup, twenty years after their last. I’ve become a huge fan of Kylian Mbappe who has enchanted everyone with his maturity and was rightly best young playet of the tournament.

Some of my favourite scenes were President Macron’s celebratory dance – don’t give up the day job! – and the mass huggging which followed the presentation of the trophy and medals. The hotel where we were staying broke out the bubbles to toast the team. It had been a great week-end for the French, though you had to feel for the Croats, and for anyone in France hoping for a good night’s sleep.

 

Holiday photos: day 7

Yesterday the Tour de France came to us with a stage start in La Baule, albeit at an out of town shopping centre. We arrived early to bag a car parking spot and watched the caravan go by. Was it my imagination, or was it really bigger than last year? Sadly Haribo weren’t distributing any of my favourite gummy bears though I did score a couple of shoppers – always handy.

The crowds were again a challenge as I fought my way into the Village for some water before picking my spot to photograph a few of the riders on their way to sign on. I found a much better spot than on Saturday, standing opposite a small group of boys who were clearly trying to collect as many rider autographs as possible, loudly hailing each of them by name as they rode past.

Obviously, on home turf, the crowd favours French riders but their biggest cheers were reserved for a certain Peter Sagan (pictured above) looking resplendent in the green points’ jersey. He happily signed plenty of autographs, including for the kids opposite, and posed for lots of selfies. Certain sections of the crowd were still booing Chris Froome but he too happily signed autographs.

I caught up with a few friends, including Rudy Molard who’d been felled at 60km/hr by a stray water bottle and had consequently cornered the market in bandages. I restrained myself from embracing him as he told me it hurt pretty much all over. However he was still smiling. Cyclists are a tough bunch.

All too soon the peloton was streaming out of town under a burning sky and I walked back to the car. Several days of rest and recuperation and my leg is feeling so much better. Time to head to our next destination, Bordeaux.

Holiday photos: day 6

It didn’t take either of us too long to relax enough to enjoy a spot of lotus eating. The hotel, and the beach, was much quieter on Monday and we had the Thalasso pool pretty much to ourselves. We spent the whole day pottering about, not doing too much, although we did tune into the Tour de France’s team time-trial from Cholet.

There were no big surprises and time lost on stage one by a handful of riders was largely recouped. The two previous race leaders found the going tough, or maybe they were just conserving their energies? Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, a member of stage winning squad BMC, now graces the yellow jersey.

Tuesday’s stage starts in our base of La Baule, albeit from an out of town shopping centre. Ah, the glamour of cycle racing!

As soon as the peloton heads out of town in a northerly direction, we’ll be pointing our car bonnet south and heading to Bordeaux. Our lotus eating will be put on hold while we investigate  Bordeaux’s splendours for five days.

Holiday photos: day 5

We awoke late – well it was Sunday! After a quick dip in the Thalasso pool, we decided to watch today’s stage on the television. It was clearly going to be a scorcher and we had no desire to head away from the gentle Atlantic breezes. In addition, my beloved’s hip and my leg were feeling the efforts expended yesterday.

We had a short potter along the beach before retiring to the blessed air-conditioned dining room for brunch. Now, you know how much we both enjoy brunch and this was excellent. We watched another nervous crash-marred stage this time won by world champion Peter Sagan. He pulled on the race leader’s and the green points’ jersey. He’ll lose the former in tomorrow’s team time-trial but may not relinquish the latter, instead wearing it all the way to Paris.

 

 

Holiday photos: day 4

My beloved and I were in the Vendee for the start of the Tour de France. We had based ourselves just over the border in La Baule, well placed for the first four stages. Saturday’s opener kicked off in Noirmoutier-en-L’Ile which is attached to the mainland by the oft underwater, UNESCO protected, Passage du Gois. Luckily, there’s also a rather spectacular bridge which was used by both us and the peloton.

Proceedings got underway early so that everyone could watch THE match. Today’s photo is artwork from my dear friend Greig Leach who faithfully records the key moments of every stage. This is of the stage winner Colombian Fernando Gaviria who took the race lead, points’ jersey and that of best young rider on his maiden stage, in his debut Tour. I would’ve used one of my own photos from the stage start but the place was rammed and every photo contained bits of spectators. If only I were much taller!