Normal service resumes

The Tour’s now over and life can return to normal. However, I can’t let the opportunity pass without giving a few final thoughts on the past three weeks of unadulterated pleasure.  First, the Tour beautifully showcases the splendours of France and each day I find myself making notes on places I’d like to visit. No wonder it’s the most visited place on this earth. Frankly, I never, ever want to live anywhere else.

Chapeau to every rider who finished the Tour, you’re all winners in my book. My special commiserations go to all those who for various ills and injuries didn’t finish in Paris. In particular, Jens Voigt and Kenny van Hummel, two guys whose combative and courageous qualities would get them places on my cycling team any day, fantasy or otherwise.

Contador confounded no one by winning his 2nd Tour de France and 4th Grand Tour. His composure and comportment throughout were beyond reproach. While only one guy can adorn the top step sporting the yellow jersey, it’s generally thanks to the efforts of his team mates: well, possibly not this time, with the exception of the TTT. No, his team mates’ efforts, and indeed those of Contador himself on the penultimate stage, ensured that Lance made the bottom rung of the podium. Bruyneel didn’t achieve the 1-2-3 he was looking for and while he might blame Contador, I, and many others, feel the blame lies much, much closer to home.

The best British result ever: 6 stage wins for Cav, the fastest sprinter, bar none, and 4th place on GC for Wiggo. This surely confers bragging rights down at my cycling club. Though I admit the French too had a pretty cool Tour: 3 stage wins; a French team with the yellow jersey for a significant part of the Tour; promising, emerging French talent in their inaugural Tours; and 4 seasoned, French pros in the top 20 on GC. Of course, for some teams, things just didn’t work out the way they hoped, but that’s life.

I was much amused that for every day Franco Pellizotti spent in the spotted jersey, so the spots spread. Not just his shirt and shorts but shoes (surely a step too far), socks, glasses, gloves, bike, monitor but not his helmet. Why not? Liquigas, could you not have sprung for a helmet? I note that, on the final day, the spotted shoes were replaced with red ones (much better) to reflect he had also won the overall “most combative”.

Edited Highlights

Thank goodness for rest days: a whole day to catch up with everything I haven’t done over the past week while watching the Tour. And what an interesting week it has been. I’ll just touch on what have been my highlights.

 Tom Boonen concluded the only way he might beat Cav was to get into a break which stayed away. Heinrich Haussler decided to follow Tom’s advice and, in the cold pouring rain, threw caution to the wind to drop his fellow escapees and solo to an impressive victory. Meanwhile, Tom’s gone home with a virus – get well soon.

Christophe Le Mevel, who moved this season to the Cote D’Azur, has delighted the French press by catapulting himself up the GC into the top 10.

Alberto finally showed Lance who was the “Boss” on the road. Pretty impressive when it’s clear the rest of the team are under orders to help Lance who would have lost much more time yesterday if it hadn’t been for Kloeden.  Klodi – what were you thinking? Bert’s now got the yellow jersey and a St Bernard dog – it was the stage prize, non?

However, for me, the performance of Bradley Wiggins has been just superlative. Of course, losing 7kg is not, unlike Wiggo, going to increase my VO2 by 30watts. But it’s a pretty good incentive. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if he made it onto the podium?

Finally, a word for Kenny van Hummel who, having been dropped by the peloton after only 10km, riding all on his own, narrowly avoided the cut off to incontestably cement his position as The Lanterne Rouge – chapeau!

Magnificent Monaco

I have been somewhat remiss in not commenting on Le Grand Depart, stage managed so brilliantly in the Principality. From the team presentation on

Le Grand Depart
Le Grand Depart

Thursday evening to the departure of Stage 1, everything ran to plan and like clockwork, thanks to meticulous planning and preparation on behalf of the organizing committee.

As a serial volunteer, I can honestly say that I have never, ever been better treated. Regular communications, clear reporting lines, clearly defined responsibilities, plenty of volunteers: it’s not rocket science, just good old-fashioned common sense. The feedback I got from spectators, whether they were Joe Public or VIPs was identical. They had all enjoyed the spectacle, soaked up the atmosphere and, if they weren’t before, were now cycling fans.

Of course, Monaco has plenty of experience of putting on premium events for top-notch prices but they applied the same criteria for all those non-paying cycling fans.

Whole lotta winners

 I love it when someone unexpected wins. Today it was the turn of Brice Feillu, a neo-pro with Agritubel, whose older brother Romain wore yellow for a day in last year’s Tour. He was part of today’s break away and seized his chance – chapeau.

It was lovely to see the brothers united after the podium ceremony. Brice, the taller of the two, in the polka dotted jersey (yes, he won that as well) embracing his sibling who was unashamedly overcome with joy at his kid brother’s success.

 Cancellara has graced the yellow jersey all week but he knew his time was up. Most reckoned that Astana would seize yellow. Not so, another rider taking part in his first Tour captured the prized jersey. Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R, one more from the break away artists, became the first Italian in yellow for nine years. Christophe Riblon, also from AG2R, won the “most combative”. It was another good day for the French, and the French teams.

Contador wisely followed the advice of Bernard Hinault and attacked with under 2km to go. I met “The Badger” at the week end, a charming, slightly built, gentleman with a steely glint in his eye. I suspect you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Alberto shifted into a higher gear and soared away, as only he can, putting 21seconds into Lance. It’s far too early to say game over but Bert has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Lance on Monday.

Slip, sliding away

The rain in Spain doesn’t always fall in the plain. Today it fell on the riders as they rode along the coast to Barcelona. Rain is only an issue in an urban environment when moisture on the roads, combined with diesel deposits, makes them very slippery. Add plenty of white road paint and you know that there’s going to be a number of falls in the peloton. Easily, my least favourite sight; it makes me feel sick to my stomach whenever I see anyone fall off their bike. It’s bad enough having to ride all those kilometres in fine fettle, without while suffering from aches, contusions and road rash. Those boys have little enough body fat; they don’t want to leave even a small part of it on the tarmac.

How about one of the medical companies sponsoring a number plate dripping blood for the rider sporting the most bandages: a rather different type of combativity prize. There are already a few worthy candidates still in the race.

The pundits today reckoned that the uphill finish would suit Freire (kiss of death), and it so nearly did, but the Gods of Thunder smiled on Thor as he raised his arms in his once white kit heavenwards to come within 1 point of the green jersey. Cavendish, alert to the danger, finished 16th. Tom Boonen fell off his bike, and even more out of contention; as did Rogers, Astarloza and Menchov.

Birthday Bbox for boss

Normal service was resumed today at the Tour when shortly after the start, France’s “chou chou” (sweetheart) Thomas Voeckler took off with a few companions to form what was ultimately a successful break. 2009 is turning out to be a very good year for one of France’s favourite sons. Ever since he graced the yellow jersey for 10 days in the 2004 Tour, while riding for Brioches la Boulangère, smiling Tommy Voeckler, has been a firm favourite with the crowds.

This obviously went some way towards erasing the memories of yesterday’s team performance in the TTT, where most of Bbox Bouygues Telecom’s riders went off-road for a spell. Even though the team endured a couple of punctures, Skil Shimano saved them from the ignominy that is last place. 

The TTT effectively ended the hopes of a number of contenders, most notably Menchov and Evans. Andy Schleck remains in contention, thanks only to the heroic efforts of Cancellara to hang on to the yellow jersey, denying Lance by 22 hundredths of a second.

One of Lance’s Hollywood pals, Ben Stiller, handed out the prizes. I’m still wondering why Lance was presented with the TTT trophy when Alberto’s the Astana team leader.

Questions now answered

A number of questions,  posed a few days ago, have now been answered. Valverde’s a “no show”. Tom had a last minute reprieve, however, as he’s been missing in action so far, it’s hard to justify his sponsor’s calculations of Euros 25 million in lost “advertising” if he’d not been allowed to participate. The Tour is still young but he’s most unlikely to dislodge Cav from the firm grip he has on the green jersey. He’s 91 points ahead of Tom after only 3 sprint stages.

At the team presentation last Thursday, Lance said,  as a 7-times Tour winner, he had nothing to prove and was just looking forward to taking part. Methinks he doth protest too much. I, for one, didn’t believe a word of it and neither should Alberto, who’s wearing the Astana leader’s jersey, something which has obviously riled Lance.

By chance, I spent yesterday evening in the same hotel as Astana who have twice as many motorised vehicles as the other teams, giving credence to the two clans, one team theory propounded by journalists, and confirmed by Benjamin Noval. I’m now wondering, after Lance showed his hand on Monday by putting time into all his rivals, including Contador, whether we’re going to see scenes reminiscent of 2005 where Vino was chased down by his T-Mobile team mates.

Prudhomme assured us that the Tour course would prolong the suspense until the penultimate stage. However, the only outstanding question is which Astana riders, and in what order, will they top the podium. Everyone else seems down and out. Does this mean that the Spaniards will be helping out Bert or has Lance already bought them off, after all his pockets are deeper? Though it couldn’t buy him 22 hundredths of a second yesterday to snatch yellow from Spartacus.

One day at a time

I don’t really have a daily routine. However, weather permitting, and it usually does, I like to cycle most days. While, Monday is generally dedicated to administrative chores and Friday is reserved for housework, this is not a hard and fast rule. How far, when and where I cycle depends on the time of year, the Training Plan, the weather, but largely how I feel.

There are days when I feel as if I can cycle for ever and days when I just want to get back home as quickly as possible. I’m generally undecided as to which is the case for the first 10-15 kilometres, thereafter I’ll determine how far and where. Even though it’s not my forte, I really enjoy climbing. It makes those descents so much more pleasurable. Actually, I find too much riding on the flat really boring particularly as it’s often (or should that be nearly always) into a headwind. So the choice is normally either a rolling or hilly parcours.

Of course, there are times when I need to get back for a phone call, meeting, delivery, pick my beloved up from the airport or other such arrangement. When I don’t have too much time available, I’ll ride one of my shorter circuits, as fast as possible. The key, at least for me, is variety. I also have to be realistic. A long, tough ride needs to be followed by either a rest day or a gentle recovery ride.

Generally, I prefer to ride on my own. This is really for quite selfish reasons. It means I can go out when and where I want. However, once out on the road, if I do meet someone going the same way, and at roughly a similar speed, we might well cycle together. However, I am not a chatty cycling companion. Yes, I know that off the bike I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but, on the bike, I need my oxygen for cycling, not talking. I also use my cycling time for thinking maybe about a work related project, maybe for nothing more than how much I’m enjoying the ride and the scenery.

All rides, whatever their length and purpose, are noted down in the training log, mainly for comparison. The key question is always “am I improving?” While I have spells of “two steps forward, one back” the progression is generally linear: onwards and upwards.

Not what was ordered

We awoke this morning to discover it had snowed overnight: not in the village but at 2000 metres! We spent yesterday wishing we’d bought our mountain bikes and today our skis. Before you ask, I did check the weather forecast before we left but an adverse front has unexpectedly settled itself over Central Europe, so everywhere within a drive of a couple of hours has the same weather. While I always pack something just in case it’s chilly, I hadn’t anticipated having to wear the same outfit all week. No lounging on the sun terrace to erase my cycling tan lines or swimming in the nearby pool.

The clouds have descended to 1500 metres and it is pouring down with rain. Somehow I suspect we won’t be cycling today. The weather is forecast to improve tomorrow but there’s the prospect of some rain all week.

Holiday blues

We’re on holiday this week, cycling in Austria. We drove up yesterday, leaving behind the sunshine and warm temperatures, for leaden skies and temperatures a full 23 degrees lower! This morning we awoke to find it was raining: not too steady a downpour, more of a constant, cold drizzle. Undeterred, we went cycling and immediately discovered that we had left one vital piece of clothing at home: our leg warmers. We had all of our wet weather gear but hadn’t foreseen that it would be sooooooooo cold.

In order to keep warm we indulged in some uphill, interval training, perfect on the rolling terrain and it kept our legs less cold. The outlook is not good for the next few days and we can expect further showers but after riding in the freezing, pouring rain in the Pyrenees, a bit of rain is not going to put us off enjoying our vacation.  We have spent many happy holidays, both winter and summer, in the area. I recall one summer vacation when, after six continuous weeks of almost heat wave like conditions, we spent a very wet week walking in the surrounding hills, wild-water rafting and canyoning. Of course, I may need a few (more) glasses of Jaeger Tee or Gluehwein to warm me up post-ride.

This is however the first time I have cycled in the area and what I previously assumed to be steep climbs are in fact rolling hills which one can easily power up. We’ve mapped out our rides for the following days and are looking forward to spending significant time in the saddle and putting plenty of kilometres on the clock. Already my hay fever symptoms have disappeared and my breathing is almost back to normal.

This should also help in my fight against the surplus kilos always assuming I manage to steer well clear of all those delicious Austrian desserts