I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2014 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan.
There’s storm clouds just back from the coast and, if we’re to believe the weather forecast, we’re in for a few more wet days. I’m not complaining as last week was incredibly mild and I rode every day. There’s nothing better than an hour or two riding in the fresh air to restore one’s equilibrium though I might just have to settle for the home-trainer the rest of this week.
I rode today with my beloved, who’s due to fly away tomorrow morning, and he said that finally I’d gotten back up to speed. He had complained about my laggardly progress all over the Christmas holidays but not so today. Mind you my progress was almost halted in its tracks when a large piece of machinery popped off a lorry and fell (fortunately) just in front of me at a roundabout in Antibes. By chance, the local police were close by and remarked upon my near miss. I retorted that it was the lorry driver who’d had the close shave, not me. Imagine how much his negligence might have cost him? A new BMC racing bike at the very least and, at worst, a sizeable compensatory lawsuit from my beloved. The policeman nodded sagely, he could see my point.
My training for 2014 has gotten off to a good start. Initially with the Rapha #Festive500, where I just managed to sneak over the limit. More importantly, since New Year, I have managed to maintain both momentum and enthusiasm. Of course, it’s helped that daytime temperatures have not dropped below 10ºC rather it’s been a few degrees warmer. I find when temperatures fall I’ll still ride but two and half hours is my limit before I start to feel chilled to the bone.
In the winter months, all cyclists are largely confined to cycling up and down the coastal roads. This means that one’s constantly crossing the paths of other cyclists. Of course, most are heading back home by the time I venture forth. Locally resident professional riders aside, most cyclists set off at 8:30, the time designated by the clubs for winter rides thereby ensuring that they’re back ready in plenty of time for lunch at 12:30. Everything and everyone stops for lunch at 12:30 in France. I prefer to avoid the early morning traffic and the early morning chill, rarely leaving the Domaine much before 10:30. Equally, I’m happy to have lunch whenever I get back, even if it’s after 12:30. Sacre bleu!
I’m looking forward to the start of the professional cycling season which kicks off next week with the Tour of San Luis in Argentina and the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. It seems such a long time since Il Lombardia. I have dipped in and out of the cyclo-cross season, a discipline that’s quite rightly growing in popularity. It’s just under an hour of lung-busting racing in generally muddy conditions where you need to get out of the start gate quickly to put time into the chasing pack. Like all bike racing, you can be undone by spills and technical fails but it’s a great spectacle and particularly popular in Belgium where I hear it goes down nicely with a pint or two of beer.
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.
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. »
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:-
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!
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.
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.
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 casarural, 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:-
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.
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.
I’ve been fortunate to attend ten consecutive UCI Road World Championships. I worked as a volunteer at the first few which gave me an opportunity to make a number of friends whom I continue to meet up with at various cycling events. My first WC was Salzburg 2006 and my last was Richmond 2015. I ducked out of Qatar and Bergen, and was due to attend this week’s in Innsbruck but work intervened! So I’m having a bit of a gander down memory lane revisiting the highlights of championships past with my dear friend Ute who’s manning the reception Desk in the Press Centre in Innsbruck this week.
We first met in Salzburg when we both worked as volunteers. She assisted with the podium ceremony – flags, anthems, flowers etcetera – while I dished out packed lunches to the 2,000 or so volunteers, army, police and municipal workers. Now I appreciate that hers sounds the more glamorous job but mine afforded me the opportunity to see all the racing and catch the action on the podium. Let me explain.
Valeria – another friendship cemented in Salzburg – and I were billeted in a large tent at the back of the press area right next to the all important television chow wagon. That’s right, no packed lunches for us – we were royally fed all week. Most of the volunteers dropped by to collect the lunches for their team but a few had to be delivered giving us an opportunity to get out and about and check on the action.
In Salzburg all the races took place on the same circuit. We watched the race unfold on the adjacent big screen, emerging only to watch the riders pass by from the specially adapted platform for handicapped fans. Now this is going to sound a bit callous but it was a) in a great spot right by the finish and b) they weren’t going to leap up from their wheelchairs and spoil our view. We weren’t the only fans who shared this opportunity. Guess who we met? I have to confess both Valeria and I went a bit weak at the knees, he drips sex-appeal.
Salzburg wins the award for being the best volunteer experience. Largely I think because everything was pretty much in one place, the atmosphere was terrific and, of course, it was our first. You never forget your first anything, do you?
18 months post-Puerto, the Germans were reluctant hosts and it showed. This time Valeria and I were working in the luxurious surrounding of the UCI’s Congress Hotel in the centre of Stuttgart manning their VIP welcome desk where we provided, and I’m quoting a high-ranking UCI official here, “the best service ever …”
This was where we first met Bert,who used to attend the Congress on behalf of New Zealand and whose lengthy service to the world of cycling had been recognised by the UCI, Queen and country. He was an old charmer, everyone knew and loved him. I’ve lost count of the number of World Championships he attended but it must be close to 80! (That total includes a few on the track, MTB etc.) He’d seen Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali race and had a whole raft of interesting tales to tell, if only you took the time to sit and listen.
Valeria and I both agreed our favourite moment was meeting the incredibly humble, but oh so charming, Miguel Indurain who signed what seemed like hundreds of autographs at our behest for other volunteers. I do believe Valeria still has the photo I took of her snuggled up to Miguel wearing that rather Bet Lynch-ish low-necked leopard print top!
Stuttgart stands alone in not winning any prizes whatsoever, rather we’ve awarded it a big fat raspberry.
Home to the Mapei centre, the town of Varese embraced and celebrated the World Championships with a style not seen before or since, by me at least. I was staying in a small guest house not far from the town centre where I was working in the accreditation centre: more long but enjoyable days.
Mine hosts served breakfast whenever I wanted and would rush to comfort me when I arrived back from a long day’s work with herbal tea and home-made cake. I never wanted to leave, have remained in touch and visited many times since. Ute was again manning the flagpoles. I worked with a great crowd of largely local students and bonded with fellow fan Nathalie. We’ve kept in touch and frequently meet up at Italian races.
Varese wins my prize for the nicest volunteer outfit by a street mile. Grey trousers, light blue polo shirt, navy blue v-necked sweater and quite my favourite backpack which I still use. Sadly, the trousers had matchstick legs, they probably only fitted the hostesses and podium girls.
Again I’d volunteered but as it was only 10km up the road from the previous year’s event, the organisers were swamped with applications and decided not to take anyone from outside the region. Ute threw a wobbly and, fearful of an international incident, the organisers wisely gave her a position in the Press Centre. I stayed with my friend in Lugano, helped out on the Santini stand, saw all of the racing and rode my bike on the road race circuit. My friend Nathalie was a hostess in the VIP stand where, with the exception of Sunday, staff outnumbered guests. We chatted using sign language as I was camped out on the 50m to go line opposite.
My favourite moment came when I was riding along the flatter part of the circuit and seemed to be drawing a fair amount of excited interest from the fans on the roadside. I looked around to find none other than FabianCancellara sucking my wheel. I flicked my elbow and he obligingly came through. I stayed on his wheel for another five or so kilometres, admiring his fluid pedal stroke, until the road turned upwards and I slid off said wheel.
Mendrisio wins my prize for the most exciting racing. You may recall Cancellara won the time trial so easily he was celebrating 100m from the line and Cadel Evans won the men’s road race having demonstrated he was indeed an attacking rider.
Should you wish to know more about my trip and the racing, here’s the links to the posts I wrote back in 2009, the year I started the blog:-
This wins my prize for the best organised and most fan-friendly event despite it being staged some 70-odd kilometres from Melbourne in Geelong. Fans had access to both sides of the finish line while the UCI’s guests and sponsors tents were at the base of the final drag. Viewing spots with refreshments and a big screen were dotted all over the course and given different nationalities. I was again camped out on the 50m line next to the hard-core Tom Boonen fan club that had turned up even though their hero hadn’t. Shame, really, the course would’ve suited him.
I again rode the course, this time on a hired mountain bike. I was glad of the lower gearing on both of those strenuous climbs. One moment sticks in my memory from Melbourne. I was enjoying a coffee in the Spanish team hotel when they found out about Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol. They were shocked, devastated and extremely upset. That news effectively killed off the Spanish challenge.
Again, here are the links to some of the posts I wrote about the racing:-
When the route for this year’s Vuelta a Espana was published in January my heart sank, though not for the reasons you might imagine. This year’s race started in Andalucia – last visited in 2015 – and later visits northern Spain, Asturias and the Basque country, three of my favourite places in Spain. I had to go! Sadly, I knew I couldn’t since it clashed with a family (beloved’s not mine) wedding for which I was making the cake. Instead I’ve had to settle for watching it in its entirety on the television, a poor subsistute for being there in person.
This was brought home yesterday when one of our friends unexpectedly donned the race leader’s jersey. My beloved and I were beside ourselves with joy for him. So few riders ever don the leader’s jersey in a grand tour. Indeed, Rudy Molard is the first rider from his Groupama-FDJ team to wear the leader’s jersey in a grand tour in 13 years. The last being Australian Brad McGee, also in the Vuelta back in 2005. If I recall correctly, the previous French riders to don a leader’s jersey would’ve been Thomas Voeckler in Tour de France 2011 and Sylvain Chavanel in Vuelta a Espana 2011.
Competition to get in and stay in yesterday’s break was fast and furious, particularly since the day before’s stage winner had come from a long-range break. But once the break of 25 riders formed, the peloton seemed content to let them get away. Rudy was the best-placed rider on GC (28th and 3:46 back) to get into the break.
Once the break’s advantage reached over 4 minutes, Rudy became the “virtual race leader.” However, most assumed that Sky or, as on the previous stage, another team would up the tempo to reduce the advantage. But no one, not even Sky seemed to have the appetite for a chase.
Inevitably, the breakmates attacked one another, shattering the group, and a trio of riders finally stayed clear with another threesome, one of whom was Rudy, in hot pursuit. At points Rudy seemed to be flagging as he led the second trio in hot pursuit and, once the leaders started playing cat and mouse, they were in sight. But it was a case of too little, too late. Rudy was riding for the jersey, not the stage win and he succeeded. My beloved and I had been screaming encouragement at the television screen for most of the afternoon, and I’m sure we weren’t the only ones.
The outpouring of love for Rudy on social media was lovely to witness. We also learned that his nickname in the team is Mr Gourmet! Watching him mount the podium, you could see how unaccustomed he was to all the attention and he wasn’t too sure how to react. Finally, you could see he was starting to appreciate just what he’d achieved. Remember, it was only back in the spring that he’d won his first WorldTour race, stage six of Paris-Nice, raced on his adopted-home turf.
Omg, just woke up- @Rudymolard is a new Vuelta leader! So happy, one of the kindest persons I got to know on the bike. Bravo 🎈
A leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is both beautiful and emotional. It’s a high point in one’s career. I’ll try to make the most of it. I started thinking about it (of the leader’s jersey) only at the end of the stage. I thought about victory, but it was not easy to manage. We were 25 (in the breakaway), there were a lot of attacks, I buried myself for the win. In the end, I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try for the general and we’llsee how it goes.” Even when the peloton crossed the line with a sufficient time gap, I still didn’t really believe it. Let’s see if I can defend the jersey until Sunday, that’ll be good enough.
His team chose yesterday evening to announce that he’d resigned for another two years. They must be delighted to have retained his services particularly as in the post-race interviews he reinterated that his role was still to ride for his team leader. Let’s hope he hangs onto that jersey until Sunday’s difficult, taxing ascent to La Covatilla.
Postscript: Some of Rudy’s advantage was eroded post-race by a 20 second penalty for late feeding!
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.