Bienvenue Patrick Vieira and Danilo

The season had barely finished before there was the usual speculation as to which players OGCN was going to lose. Having missed out on European football by a measly one-point, it was inevitable that some of our more talented players would be on the move. We already knew that after two very successful seasons our manager Lucien Favre would be moving to pastures new, back in Germany. However, we have already managed to secure his replacement, a certain Patrick Vieira who hails from just down the road in Cannes.

His appeal, particularly for OGCN, is his desire to play attractive football and his experience of working with youngsters, thanks to his time looking after them at Manchester City where his path would’ve crossed with that of Super Mario. Obviously, he’s played football at the highest level but has been involved in coaching for a number of years. OGCN are hoping he’ll be able to install that winning mentality in its players, particularly the younger ones. This means Vieira will leave his position as coach for MLS side New York City mid-way through the season.

I’m hoping that Vieira will convince Super Mario to stay. Allegedly, Olympique Marseille are the only team to have shown any interest in signing him. However, he should stay as his career has been revitalized at Nice where he scored 26 goals last season – his best ever strike rate. Vieira has revealed he’s spoken to the 27-year-old Italian and expects the forward to be present for pre-season training. He confirmed:

I called Mario Balotelli to wish him a happy holiday and also to tell him that we would see each other on 2nd July for the resumption of training.

Meanwhile, just one day after the transfer window opened, the club signed Danilo, a Brazilian who previously played for Portuguese side Braga. In line with its stated philosophy, the club had targeted a youngster with great potential whom it had been following for several seasons.

A defensive midfielder who is capable of driving forward and a member of the Brazilian international youth set-up, 22 year old Danilo came through the ranks at Vasco de Gama and has already acquired some solid experience of European football. He then signed for Braga and played a full season for them in 2014/2015 before being loaned to Valencia where he’s played in La Liga, the Champions League and the Europa League. Further loan spells ensued before he returned to Braga last season.

That’s two incoming but what about potential outgoings? It appears Manchester City is interested in our Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri who comes with a €40mn. price tag though many other teams including Chelsea, Napoli, Arsenal and West Ham are also keen on the 26 year old. Though I don’t expect anything to happen until after the World Cup.  West Ham have also been eyeing up 21 year old Allan Saint-Maximin and Brazilian Marlon, on loan from FC Barcelona. However, there are more rumours about Alassane Plea who could follow Favre to Borussia Dortmund.

Of course, I might bemoan that our brightest and best may be off to pastures new at OGCN but don’t get me started on Aston Villa. My beloved boys in claret and blue are in all sorts of hot water since failing to gain promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs.

However, let’s put all that to one side and focus on the FIFA World Cup which kicks off today in Russia. Who’re you putting your money on? Obviously, I’d love France to win and I’ll be fluttering my tricolor flag, courtesy of having watched France v Italy at the Allianz Riviera stadium two weeks ago. However, it’s hard to look past the holders Germany and the mouth-watering array of talent on display from South America. Having the benefit of an enforced period of rest due to injury, I fancy Neymar for the golden boot as he’ll be fresher than most. Bring it on!

 

 

Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.

Date Nights: Football and Fireworks

Not long after we purchased our holiday flat in Nice, its football team OGCN were promoted to the first division – total coincidence. They used to play at a small and rather tatty stadium in the north of the city and, for their first few seasons back in Ligue 1, we had season tickets. However, I got fed up of always being surrounded by heavy smokers and my beloved missing 50% of the home games because of business trips. We decided to cancel our season tickets but continued to support them at a number of home matches throughout the season.

When the team moved a couple of seasons ago to its swanky new stadium in the Var valley, I had hoped that there might just be a small totally smoke-free corner, but there isn’t. In theory, fans shouldn’t smoke in their seats during the match. In practice they do and why oh why do they always sit in the row just in front of me? I’ve tried complaining to the stewards, to no avail. I generally just have to move seats. Not a problem providing the match isn’t a sell-out.

It was OGC Nice’s first home game of the season against Troyes on Friday and I readily agreed to go when my beloved suggested it. There’s nothing I love more than watching live sport with him. On the face of it this should have been an easy win for the boys in black and red who had already beaten the Mighty Ajax to progress to the next round of the Champions League play-offs. They hadn’t lost to Troyes in their last 10 encounters, either home or away.

As usual, in the off-season we’d lost a number of players but had managed to hang onto the mercurial Mario Balotelli and had just acquired former-Dutch international, Wesley Sneijder, neither of whom would be playing that evening. We’d also managed to retain our manager, Lucien Favre and, for the time being, Jean-Michael Seri, our very own Iniesta. We were home debuting a number of new players, including the on-loan from Monaco, Allan Saint-Maximim, who was everyone’s man of the match.

Sadly, despite having 70% possession and numerous shots millimetres wide of the target, we went down 1-2 from a “smash & grab” raid by Troyes who deployed that old defensive trick “11 men behind the ball” – well their manager is a former goal keeper – and hit us twice on the break. Having already lost away at St Etienne, we’re now languishing in the bottom half of the table. Let’s hope we fare rather better against Naples in Wednesday’s Champion’s League match.

Heading away from the match on the bus back to the car parking, the fans were in a sombre mood although this may have been because the heavens had opened towards the end of the match and many were soaking wet!

We were out again on Saturday evening albeit to a “free” event put on by the local community. Three times during the summer months (June – Aug), the promenade is closed for a musical extravaganza and firework display. We’d missed the previous two events so decided to head down after dinner on foot. Although free parking is provided at the Hippodrome, we know from past experience that the traffic is so bad it’s actually quicker on foot.

Many of the restaurants along the front are allowed to increase the number of tables on their terraces. They typically put on special fixed price menus and generally do a roaring trade on these evenings. There are also plenty of less expensive options with a number of food trucks and loads of picnickers on the beach.

Security was reassuringly tight though we were much amused when one of the police horses left his calling card on the closed road. Quick as a flash, his rider leapt out of the saddle, pulled a shovel from his saddle bag and shovelled the dung onto the roots of the nearest tree. I’ve never seen anyone do that before but, given how many kids were enjoying running, riding, scooting or skating up and down the road, it was a sensible precaution.

Aside from the six stages featuring different DJs and musical acts there are plenty of activities to wear out the kids such as bouncy castles, huge slides and so on. To be honest we were feeling a little weary from that morning’s ride and, after walking the length of the promenade, fortified by an ice cream, we wandered back home to watch the fireworks from our balcony.  We also wanted to watch Usain Bolt run in the 4 x 100m relay. Sadly limping from the stadium wasn’t a fitting way for him to end his splendid career. But not even the biggest sporting stars are guaranteed a fairy tale ending. At best they just get to choose when and where, not how.

 

Sheree’s 2016 Sporting Highlights

Wishing you all good health, much happiness and every success in 2017.
There were so many lowlights in 2016 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five  – early new year discipline is no bad thing!
(There are no photographs because I have limited WiFi capabilities).

Football

The inevitable descent of my beloved boys in claret and blue to the Championship was more than offset by the performance of OGC Nice who resurrected the career of Hatem Ben Arfa and qualifed for European football for the first time in around 20 years. As anticipated, at the start of the 2016/17 season, we lost our two frontmen and the manager, but the team’s confidence was boosted by the arrival of Mario Balotelli and the new manager has built on last season’s foundations. We’re currently riding high at the top, yes the top, of the league and, hopefully, will push PSG and Monaco all the way.

MotoGP

I was delighted when Marc Marquez won the blue riband event in his rookie year (2013). When he won back to back victories I grew concerned that the sport was following In the footsteps of F1. Last year’s battle royal between the winner, Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo, and his team mate – easily the most popular MotoGP rider by a country mile – Valentino Rossi, whose clash with Marquez arguably denied the former another championship victory, rather dented the popularity of the two Spanish riders who were booed on home turf. Another fascinating battle this year with nine different victors ignited the competition, invoked greater interest and ultimately led to a wiser and more mature Marquez lifting his third title. One of my new year’s resolutions is a 2017 trip to watch another MotoGP race, probably either in Mugello or again in Catalunya.

Cycling

While we didn’t achieve three grand departs like last year, attending all three grand tours afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations either on the race route or along the way. Aside from watching perennial race favourites,  the Tour of the Basque Country and Clasica San Sebastian, we spent a very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which we’ll definitely watch again this year. In fact, the hotel’s already booked! As are those for all of this year’s races we intend to watch, including those for the starts of all three grand tours, in respectively Sardinia, Germany and France. That’s right, apart from the Giro, the other two are starting outside their home turf. But my cycling season highlight didn’t take place on the road. Instead, on my maiden visit to a velodrome, I witnessed Aussie rider Bridie O’Donnell set a new world record for the hour. It was an inspiring,  perfectly paced and commentated, absorbing ride which I consider I was so lucky to see.

Cricket

My father, a keen cricketer, taught me to play cricket at a young age. This probably contributed greatly to my eye-hand-ball co-ordination in games such as tennis and squash. School champion at throwing the rounders’ ball, I was also a bit of a demon on the cricket pitch on the rare occasions the school played the sport. However, I’ve never had the patience to sit through test cricket, even though I love the stats. Early this year in Australia I watched my first Twenty20 match live and fell in love. This time around we’ll see at least four live games in support of the Melbourne Renegades – great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing.

My Health

I struggled a bit to find a fifth sporting highlight until I had a lightbulb moment. Of course, it’s my return to good health without which any sport is difficult. For someone who’s used to running everyone ragged and having oodles of energy, this past 18 months has been hard, at times even depressing. But the good news is that, after my last disfiguring bout of eczema, over a month ago, I appear to (finally) be heading in the right direction with a big energetic bounce in my step. I can’t wait to get back to riding and running regularly. I’m going to maintain my regime as a fish eating vegan because it’s had so many positive side effects on my health. Sure, I look on enviously as my beloved tucks into a slice of rare roast beef, a Wiener Schnitzel, a bacon sandwich or a plate of pata negra but I can do without them and I’ve discovered so many more interesting ways to eat fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And, please, don’t get me started on the health benefits of tumeric!

Viva Espana

Yesterday evening my beloved and I went to watch a live Euro 2016 match.  We already knew first-hand what happens to the traffic on a match night at the Allianz Riviera stadium during the Championships – gridlock. So we set off three hours before kick-off. We parked easily enough at the Municipal Markets (MIN) Park & Ride, our usual parking spot for any OGC Nice home match before paying Euros 3,00 each for a return bus ride to the stadium. I wouldn’t have minded but the bus dropped us off about two kilometres from the stadium. Fortunately, the sun was shining, I was wearing comfortable shoes, looking forward to seeing Spain v Turkey and we had plenty of time on our hands.

The security was spot on. It’s the first time I’ve been properly searched before entering the stadium. There were a few fans milling around outside where a couple of stands were selling cold beverages, hot dogs and sandwiches. We skipped the refreshments and headed to our seats. We were in the Spanish end of the stadium, behind the goal, usually home to OGCN’s Ultras. It’s a great spot and not bad for Euros 55,00 a head. We splashed out on a couple of bottles of water. The catering is much improved by comparison with the old Stade du Ray but it’s essentially beer, cold drinks, French fries, hot dogs and sandwiches. I feel they’ve missed a trick for tonight’s match, they should have laid on kebabs and tapas.

during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Spain and Turkey at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 17, 2016 in Nice, France.
Opening ceremony

Three of the Spaniards wore long-sleeved shirts and sported over the knee socks. Wise move, it got chilly when the sun went down.

SPAIN
SPAIN

As the “away” squad,  Turkey had to wear their fashionable tie-dye turquoise shirts.

TURKEY
TURKEY

 

The Gamemaker Iniesta
The Maestro, Andres Iniesta

You’ll have read the match reports. The Spanish played a mesmerising game orchestrated by Iniesta. The Turks’ Plan A contained the Spanish for the first 30 minutes though you felt it was only a matter of time before Spain broke free and scored. Thereafter, the Turks were far too static, seemingly bereft of further ideas. Clearly, no Plan B. Or maybe, they too were enthralled by the skills on display. Did Spain really only enjoy 67% of possession? It felt like so much more.

But it wasn’t just on the pitch where the Spanish scored. Their fans really dressed for the occasion. I lost count of the number in fancy dress.

A few aging matadors
Ole!

I saw plenty of  fans wearing those spotted dresses more usually seen on flamenco dancers. Here’s one of them.

A few senoritas
A few senoritas

The Turkish fans had weight of numbers of their side and, thanks to Euro 2016 sponsor Turkish Airlines, had plenty of flags to waive. Despite the body searches, a few managed to smuggle in flares which they set off at the end of the match. That aside, there was no trouble either inside or outside of the stadium.

Post-match flares up the Turkish end
Post-match flares at the Turkish end

As we made our way back to the buses, some two kilometres down the road, under the watchful eyes of the riot police, the mood was one of celebration. We’d just enjoyed a fantastic display of football. Maybe the defending champions would successfully retain their title after all. Oh, in case you’re interested, Alvaro Morata, who scored two of Spain’s three goals, was my man of the match.

Morata, man of the match
Morata, man of the match

All images supplied by Getty Images

Differing fortunes

Yesterday evening, my beloved and I made one of our all too infrequent trips to the Allianz stadium to watch OGCN’s last home match of the season. It was a six-pointer against St Etienne who were one point and one position ahead of us in the league. Both teams are fighting for an all-important place in the Europa Cup.

That OGCN, a team which has spent the last few seasons defying the odds to remain in the top league, was in contention for Europe was nothing short of a miracle. A miracle wrought by the manager Claude Puel and two of the league’s leading goal scorers. Hatem Ben Arfa, who has risen like a phoenix from the ashes at Nice and who’ll no doubt figure strongly in the French squad for this year’s Euro Championships, and Valere Germain, a player on loan from neighbouring AS Monaco.

While qualification for Europe won’t help us retain the services of either of those three, it will help us attract reasonable replacements. Barcelona FC are eyeing up Ben Arfa, while AS Monaco, who were thrashed 6-1 away from home yesterday evening, will surely welcome back Germain with open arms. After all, he’s scored more goals than any of their first team players this season. Unhappy wealthy football club owners will undoubtedly also be eyeing up Puel, and the success he’s brought to OGCN, before bringing out the big bucks to tempt him away. It’s inevitable!

Of course, Nice have other players, such as Ricardo and Mendy, who will also no doubt have attracted the attention of richer clubs so once again the 2016/17 season will be one of rebuilding the team, but it’ll be much easier to do it from a position of strength with a place in the Europa League.

image

Coincidentally, we won yesterday’s match 2-0. A tight and exciting goalless first half but then the Greens lost their heads and two men in the second half allowing Germain to strike twice in quick succession in the last 10 minutes of play. The fans were ecstatic. We had flares and a laser light show to bring down the curtain on a very successful season.

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A total contrast to the fortunes of my beloved Aston Villa who were ignominiously demoted without a whimper to the Championship. The clear out of dead wood has already begun and the quicker someone relieves Randy Lerner of his ownership of the club, which has stagnated under his stewardship, the better. Surely, there must be more Thai billionaires who’d like to have their own football team?

Indian summer

Here on the Cote d’Azur, we’ve been enjoying the warmest October since 1943. October’s usually when I swap over to my winter training bike and into my 3/4 thermal bib shorts but, despite this being the first official week-end of winter, I’m still in shorts and short-sleeved jersey with a lightweight gilet. I like to think this is recompense for the wet winter or maybe the so, so summer. Either way, it’s glorious cycling weather and I have been at pains to profit from it.

With a number of projects (finally) put to bed and the professional cycling scene enjoying its off-season, I’m finally getting back into the groove and steadily logging the much-needed kilometres.  When you’re busy, it’s all too easy to procrastinate but boy do I miss being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair helmet and the sun on my face.

cagnes1

While temperatures are still delightfully mild, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing. No problem, as I prefer to head out after 10:30. With any luck, I’ll also be re-introducing my long mid-week ride on a Wednesday to compliment those on the week-end. Of course, everyone is out enjoying the fine weather, particularly the kids as half-term’s over and it’s back to school tomorrow. Large numbers are sunning themselves on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. One year, I was still swimming in the sea each day until well into November. If you swim each day, the drop in temperature is gradual and much less noticeable.

It’s the Nice to Cannes marathon next Sunday so we passed plenty of runners. Well, it would be too embarrassing to be passed by a runner wouldn’t it? We’re slow but not that slow. I like to think we were taking our time and savouring the weather. All the more so as rain is forecast for next week. No ride with my cycling buddy would be complete without a coffee stop. Again, we pick those restaurants with terraces in the sunshine and nice facilities.

cagnes3

Particularly on Sunday, I endeavour to leave Sunday lunch cooking or maybe gently reheating in the oven so that all I have to do on my return is lay the table. I usually get back just before my beloved who’s started riding each Sunday with his local bike shop team. The pace has dropped right off on the Sunday club rides as the average age of club members has soared and he’s been finding it way too slow.

cagnes2

After Sunday lunch we take a stroll along the seafront to better enjoy  the fine weather before returning home for The Big Match, my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. The boys haven’t scored in five matches and are sliding down the Premiership – not good. On a recent trip to London, I treated myself to some fleecy jimjams. They’re far too warm to sleep in but just perfect for post-ride lounging around the flat, which is what I’m now doing. Sunday’s don’t get any better than this.

 

Postscript: Actually, it would’ve been a lot better if Spurs hadn’t beaten AVFC 2-1

 

So much to do, so little time

I know, I know it’s been a while since I last posted anything but in my defence I have been quite busy. With under three weeks to go until La Kivilev, things are gathering pace. I must confess that I’m going to breathe a huge sigh of relief once it’s over and go away for a few days, but more of that later.

The MotoGP season has restarted and while I’ve managed to watch all of the races not all of them have been live. Thank goodness for Eurosport’s endless repeats of sporting events. The football season is almost at an end with barely a comment from me. All I can say is that it looks as if both my clubs will live to fight another season in their respective top leagues. It’s been a season of struggling to survive with the odd flash, nothing more, of brilliance. Bayern play Chelsea at Bayern in the Champions League final – bet no one saw that one coming – and then it’s all over for a week or so until Euro 2012. It’s going to be a bumper sporting summer, but will I have the necessary stamina to survive?

I’m finding it hard to enthuse about London 2012 which sounds as if it’s going to be a logistical nightmare. Now that they’re going to charge spectators to watch the road races from Boxhill and the time-trial in Hampton Court, I’ve decided that this is one live event I can and will do without. I’ll be watching the Olympics from the comfort of my lounge, including the cycling.

I’ve attended another Triathlon, purely as an exhibitor you understand, just thinking about attempting one is enough to leave me fatigued. I’d be happy to do the cycle but I’d never manage the swim with my floundering doggy paddle. I was helping out my friends on their premium clothing stand (www.g4dimension.com) and it’s always interesting to meet a different sporting crowd. TriStar Cannes featured rather shorter events and therefore attracted a rather different crowd from last year’s Ironman event –  less international and less hardcore. Still plenty of tattoos though. It was nice to see the fruit of some of my recent labours as I’d done all the translation work for their re-launched website and new product catalogue.

I may also be doing a stint as a surrogate parent to two teenage boys. Their parents are looking for some quality time together and I’ve volunteered. It’ll be an enjoyable 10 days or so and anyone who knows me well will know that they’ll be no match for me. That’s right, they’ll be returning to their parents happy, but exhausted, after a few days with Auntie Sheree.

An old friend came for a visit last week and it was good to spend some quality time with her and do some much-neglected sightseeing. Yes, my reintroduction of one day a week visiting different towns and places very quickly went by the wayside. I keep thinking, next year, after I’m no longer slaving for the club. As you might imagine, the list of things I’m going to do “next year” is growing exponentially.

I’m back on my bike and training for this week end’s la Vencoise which goes up and over my favourite hill, the Col de Vence, in both directions. I’ve been adding a few longer rides, plus more climbs, to my weekly rides as we head relentlessly towards summer and the possibility of rides up some of the longer local hills. Would you believe I’ve still to climb the Col du Turini! We’ve got the Kivilev ride for the volunteers this week but I’m going to have to dip out – lack of time.

Of course, May’s main event is the Giro and over at VeloVoices we’re having a swell time in pink. I watched, tweeted and commented on yesterday’s stage – the team time-trial in Verona – all the while thinking I should have been there. Yes, the Giro is yet another one for my “next year” list. Yesterday’s stage was doubly disappointing as it would have given me an opportunity to catch up with friends who live close to Verona, a city I’ve yet to visit. The Giro’s start in Savona next Friday was another on my list but is currently under threat from the advancing work load.

Of course, VeloVoices is one of the reasons why I haven’t written so much on the blog in recent months. I’m pouring my energies into that and frankly while it’s very enjoyable it’s also very time-consuming. How my fellow writers manage to produce so much copy while holding down full-time jobs and families just amazes me until I realise I actually have a full-time job too and one very large baby to look after – my beloved.

Are the Spanish greedy?

An interesting article, the thrust of which was that Spain’s poaching of the world’s top players has left more balanced leagues in the rest of Europe, recently caught my attention. As an Aston Villa fan, I’m not sure I agree that parity has reached the Premiership. If you look at the top 5 or 6 teams of the past few years, the same select group of names crops up time and time again: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and a n others. Yes, one or two have climbed a few places thanks largely to their new deep pockets and others, including my beloved boys in claret and blue, have slipped back. However, I would agree that this season is looking as competitive as 2001-02 season. But that could change.

A not too dissimilar situation can be found in the Italian Serie A and and the French First Division where the typical powerhouse teams are being challenged by some sporting minnows. But we’ve not yet reached mid-season. Often the lesser teams can’t maintain their challenges for the entire season, as injuries and other factors take their toll. One could argue that zones or tiers have appeared in the leagues and it’s difficult for teams to progress to the next tier without significant financial investment.

Over in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid have been busily acquiring the world’s best soccer talents and, so the article argues, doing the Spanish fans a disservice by rendering anything other than the classicos a walkover. The author (unfairly, in my opinion) compared the Spanish league to that of Scotland where two clubs, from the same city, Glasgow Rangers and Celtic, have dominated for years. It’s true that in recent years in La Liga the gap between the winner and the also rans has widened. Last year Barcelona won with 96 points, 34 points clear of 4th placed Villareal. While in 2006-07 season, Real Madrid won the title with a much narrower margin and 23% fewer points. But it’s winning that counts, not the margin of victory.

The article also points to the players short-listed for FIFA’s Player of the Year, the Ballon d’Or. In 2007, the list comprised 11 Premier League players, eight from La Liga, seven from Serie A, three from the Bundesliga and one from France. Since then, the world’s elite have migrated to Spain and this year’s short list included 13 players from the Spanish League, four from the Premiership, two from Serie A and the Bundesliga, and one each from Russia and Brazil. Could Spain’s dominance of recent World and European Cups not provide a simpler explanation?

Well, I have to confess that I’m not sure I agree with the author’s conclusions. Clubs with deep pockets, who regularly enjoy European football and have plenty of silverware in the cupboards, are going to attract the best players. Taking those players and moulding them into a winning side, is a whole other ball game. It is perhaps interesting to note that those teams who regularly place well in their respective leagues have “superstar” managers. Ones who have enjoyed significant periods in charge, such as Wenger and Ferguson, ones who have an abiding affinity with the club, like Guardiola, or ones who have enjoyed success wherever they have roamed such as Mourinho. Remember, football is a team sport and great teams, not teams of great players, win trophies. Though I do accept  they could be one and the same.

Just another week end

The incredibly mild weather is continuing which isn’t great news for those planning on going skiing. This, of course, has meant I have been out and about on the bike since my return from the Big Apple. Yesterday was the Telethon, France’s version of “Children in Need” but I was too busy with my guests to take part in the Club’s ride.

One of my English students is contemplating what to do after leaving school. French schools appear to be no better than English when it comes to dishing out career advice, so we’re lending a helping hand. I had invited around a couple of family friends for dinner. One’s an accountant and the other’s Head of HR at a bank in Monaco so they were both able to impart some words of wisdom and advice to our young friend.

Having guests for dinner’s an excuse to try out some new recipes. I decided on English cooking with a twist as my theme for the evening. I cooked a silky smooth cauliflower soup with black pudding, fish and chips with home-made tomato ketchup and for dessert, apple crumble and custard. Obviously, nothing was quite as it seemed. 

I dusted the monkfish in curry powder and fried it for a few minutes and served it with celeriac chips which had first been confit in goose fat before being fried too. The crumble was perched atop cored apple halves stuffed with rum soaked raisins and served with my home made custard, not a tin of Bird’s in sight. There was also a cheese course and my petit fours to finish. I believe the boys have quite changed their minds about English cooking.

Our young guest stayed over and rode Saturday morning with my beloved and his friends. He returned to collect his stuff and the two of them polished off the remaining crumble doused in custard. Who knew raw crumble tasted so good? Yes, the “spare” crumble hadn’t been cooked. Still both declared it ideal cycling food.  I went for a 3 hour ride after they’d left but returned too late to prevent them eating it. 

Following on from my Garmin malfunction, still waiting to hear from my LBS on that one, the screen went blank on my 7 month old Dell.  Now I’d had the same problem with my old Dell, but only after 7 year’s use. I immediately spoke to their Support Desk but I’ve got to make contact with them again tomorrow morning.

Saturday afternoon, I replaced my Blackberry. The mouse on the old one had given up the ghost. It would only work in two rather than four directions so, sadly, it had to go. Of course, the functionality on the new one is completely different and I’m still grappling with it.

Today was the Departmental pointage at Menton. We lost our crown last year and I don’t expect we’ve recovered it. Nevertheless, as M Le President was working, I was on hand to chivy the boys. After the pointage we continued on in to Italy for a coffee with a few clubmates. The coffee’s good in France but it’s cheaper and better in Italy. This added a few extra kilometers to the ride, just over 100km by the time we got back home.

We collected the papers, showered and then I whipped up a quick lunch before we settled down on the sofa to read the papers and watch the television. It’s allowed, we’ve expended a significant number of calories.

Profiting from the brief respite from live cycling, I’ve been reconnecting with the world of round balls. Football and tennis to be exact, and with mixed fortunes. My beloved boys in claret and blue lost 1-0 at home to the Red Devils, a disappointing result from a strange team selection. OGC Nice were at home to Rennes and frankly I feared the curse of the returning former manager and players. Not a bit,  the boys won 2-0 to keep them connected with those teams sloshing around in the final quarter of the league. A loss would have had unthinkable consequences.

It was the Davis Cup Final this week end, Spain v Argentina. Naturally, the boys playing on home turf were favourites to lift the cup for the 5th time in 11 years. They didn’t disappoint, despite heroic performances from Del Potro and Nalbandian, Nadal wrapped it up today with a thrilling reverse singles which swung first in favour of Argentina and then back again like a pendulum. But no one really doubted the outcome: Spain victorious again.