Let’s start at the very beginning………..

It’s week 1 of my 6-month long cycling training programme. It started well on Monday, but then nothing spurs you on quite like a man with a clipboard and stop watch standing over you. He also took me through the results of my VO2 max test demonstrating how much improvement I will gain from some weight loss. It’s okay, I get the picture. I’m off wheat and sugar, reduced my dairy intake and upped my intake of protein – this usually works a treat.

I managed to fit in yesterday’s ride before it started raining. My path crossed with that of Amael Moinard who waved enthusiastically from the other side of the road. He was in the company of a Vacansoleil rider I’ve seen a few times over the past month or so. The brothers Feillu live up the road in Frejus, but it wasn’t either of them. A quick look at the team’s website reveals that they’ve another Frenchman riding for them, a neo-pro called Stephane Rossetto. So I’m assuming that’s who it is. 

I’ve only got the first two weeks of the programme so that we can assess whether it’s too easy or too hard, and amend accordingly. The programme includes a twice weekly regime of exercises and stretching. There are no rest days and each week there are 3 days of interval training: two on the home trainer, one on the bike. In addition, I have to undertake two of my rides in a fasted state: all the better to burn that excess fat!

Unfortunately, today’s 2:30hr ride has had to be switched with tomorrow’s interval training thanks to the weather. This is one-legged training to improve my pedalling technique. Clearly, I need it as I can’t seem to pedal smoothly through the top of the stroke, the so-called “dead-zone”. Would  elliptical cranks help?  After completing the 20 minute warm up my Polar decided to pack up, leaving me to estimate the timing of the intervals, the cadence and the wattage. I don’t think I did it too badly.

I can just about do an hour or so on the home trainer after that I get exceeding bored. However, if the weather doesn’t improve I’ll have to do my 2:30hr ride on the home trainer tomorrow. On the bright side, I’ll be able to watch the round up of the previous day’s action at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver so it won’t be too bad.

Round up of sporting action

It’s been a busy week end for me what with trying to keep track of football, cycling, rugby and the Winter Olympics from Vancouver.  Midweek, my beloved boys in claret and blue drew at home against Manchester United whom they will play in the League Cup final at the end of the month. Unfortunately, United were reduced to 10 men fairly early on in the game making them even more difficult to break down. Still AVFC have picked up 4 points out of a possible 6 in the Premiership which augurs well for the League Cup Final. Sadly, however, they drew against a very spirited Crystal Palace yesterday in the FA Cup meaning a mid-week replay before their date at Wembley – not ideal preparation. OGCN sadly lost away at Valenciennes in the dying minutes of the match and are now staking their claim on 17th place in the French League. I fear for the manager. I’m just waiting for that death knell “support from the Board” and it’ll all be over.

Having got into gold, Wouter Mol stayed there to win the GC in the Tour of Qatar. Last year’s winner, Tom Boonen, had to be content with two stage wins. The boys now move on to Oman where Jimmy Casper of Saur-Sojasun (another team looking to impress ASO) wrapped up the opening evening criterium, beating Edvald Boassen Hagen into second place. Meanwhile, the Tour of the Med, having had stage 4 neutralised thanks to the weather, finished yesterday on Mont Faron with a stage win for Aqua & Sapone and an overall win for Alejandro Valverde. Astana were 3rd and 5th with respectively Max Iglinsky and Alexandre Vinokourov.

The French are justifiably cockahoop after beating Ireland in Paris. They’re also currently leading the medal table in Vancouver having picked up two golds: one with Jason Lamy-Chappuis (current World Cup Leader) in the nordic combined and the other with Vincent Jay in the 10km biathlon sprint. The former was anticipated, but not the latter.

What you might ask of my own sporting endeavours. Well I have at last received my training plan. Indeed, today is Day 1 of the plan and it’ll be interesting to see how I progress over the next 6 months. The trainer guarantees at least a 5% improvement but, quite frankly, I’m hoping for a lot, lot more.

Happy Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, my beloved is buying me a Garmin 500 and, believe me, when I tell you that you don’t want to know what I gave him. Let’s just say that as a result we missed this morning’s pointage and leave it at that!

 We’ve stopped buying one another cards, largely because the French don’t do greetings cards and so the choice is both limited and rather unimaginative. In fact, on the rare occasions I’m in the UK or US, I stock up on cards which go the into the card drawer (oh yes, I’ve got a drawer where I keep them otherwise I can never find them when I need them). Failing which, I use Moonpig.

I’m not a girl who likes to receive flowers, chocolates or indeed champagne. The first I much prefer to select myself and the next two I am avoiding, how else am I going to lose that lung-crushing extra weight? My beloved has never, ever bought me underwear for Valentine’s or indeed any other occasion. In truth, it would never occur to him to do so but, if it did, he has no idea of my size or preferences. Plus, he would be far too embarrassed to go into a shop and buy it. Jewelry is always acceptable but frankly there’s a limit on how much one can wear and I already have a number of  lovely pieces which rarely see the light of day. 

So, I’m truly delighted with the Garmin which will be arriving next week and with which I shall be able to report back to my coach on my training. There’ll be no hiding now. As a bonus, I’ll be able to map all the club rides  and make them available on the club site. In future, there will no excuses for anyone getting lost.

20 March: T-day

 

Christian Prudhomme has said that he will advise on the 22 teams to be invited to the Tour de France on 20 March, so that’s 35 days left for the rest to impress. The sixteen with an invite are those remaining teams which were Pro-tour back in September 2008: namely, AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ, BBox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Omega-Pharma Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Liquigas-Doimo, Lampre-NGC, Astana, Saxo Bank, HTC-Columbia, Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel Euskadi, Milram and Footon-Servetto.

Parcours 2010

ASO, in making their selection, will be mindful of the rising popularity of cycling in countries such as USA, UK, Australia and Russia with their potential for increased TV revenues. However, they also need teams who are grateful for their inclusion and understand that it is their role to animate the race by sending riders up the road most days. A slot that in previous years has been filled by Barloworld, Agritubel and Skil Shimano. Given that there are a number of teams who will be looking for new sponsors (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne, Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and hence riders looking for new teams, this may be less of a concern for ASO this year.

Of the remaining 6 slots, I think it’s safe to assume that 4 will go to the Pro-Tour teams of Katusha, Sky, Radioshack and Garmin Transitions. This leaves two berths for Cervelo, BMC, Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur-Sojasun. Prudhomme was quoted as saying he’d like to see 25 teams but that would probably mean reducing the team size to 8, a move which is unlikely to be popular with those already clutching an invite.

Since Cervelo have a former Tour winner (Sastre), last year’s green jersey (Hushovd) and generous sponsors, you would have to reckon on them getting a slot. BMC, managed by well-connected to ASO John Lelangue,  includes the holder of the rainbow jersey and a man who’s finished 2nd twice (Evans) may well get the nod over the other three teams. However, Vacansoleil have done their case no harm by winning the Tour of Qatar (an ASO event) with Wouter Mol.

Postscript: Apologies from Mr Prudhomme who’s still not made up hs mind which of the 12 teams in waiting will get the final 6 Tour invites. Is he trying to prolong the agony in the manner of all reality TV shows? Or is he hoping for a bigger cheque in the post? Just pick the names out of a hat and put everyone out of their misery.

Brutal but honest

No 1 fan
My Swiss friend was a big CSC fan, largely because they rode Cervelo bikes. He had all the gear, as you can see in the photograph, and they’ve retained his interest, despite now riding Specialized, because of, fellow Swiss, Fabulous Fabian.  

 At the week end he brought me the DVD “Overcoming” . This is a, warts and all, behind the scenes documentary about Team CSC from their early season training camp through to the end of the 2004 Tour de France. This you may recall was my first Tour.   

While the film pays homage to the whole crew, its stars are Riis, Sastre and Basso. It focuses in particular on the relationships between the team’s two leaders and their relationship with Riis. Overcoming shows Riis not only to be a very skilful tactician but also a man enduring the psychological strains and stresses of the Tour. He clearly expects too much of his riders and questions everything. This environment of sparse praise and high expectations takes its toll on everyone which Riis recognises towards the end of the film.   

Sastre is shown to be an uncomplicated, laid-back guy on a high at the start of the Tour after the birth of his second child. The contrast in approach between Riis (logical) and Sastre (instinctive) is also clear in the early season training where Riis tries (and fails) to convince Sastre to use a power meter. Instead, he prefers to listen to his own body.  

By contrast, Basso comes across as very eager to please and, as the documentary progresses, it becomes clear that Basso is the star of Team CSC.  Sastre sacrifices himself to help Basso win at La Mongie where he dedicates the stage to his mother who, he’s just learnt, has cancer. Basso consults with Lance who, as the Tour continues, demonstrates his formidable mental fortitude in the face of any and all competition.  

Seeing Riis’ reaction in the team car to Basso’s win is priceless. Nonetheless, he doesn’t forget to thank Sastre for his selflessness. This is in stark contrast to Riis’s knee-jerk disappointment a few days later on the L’Alpe d’Huez time-trial where Basso is cruelly and easily overtaken by Lance and drops to 3rd place on the podium.  

All in all, it’s a grim but honest look at the life of a professional bike rider: only Jens Voight provided a few light-hearted moments. The documentary starkly reveals the fraility of riders bodies  and the work required each evening to get them back on their bikes the following day. The most notable take aways are: 1)  the team spirit among the riders and their willingness to do whatever it takes for one another and 2) Bjarne Riis’s recognition and admission that he was often too quick to criticise and didn’t dish out enough compliments.

Snowed in

Just when we’d been fooled into thinking that Spring was around the corner, the cold weather has returned with a vengeance. Yes, last night’s rain has 

Where's the sea gone?

turned into snow. It’s snowing all along the coast! The surrounding hills and mountains are also receiving further snowfalls: good news for winter sports enthusiasts. I wonder if we can sell some of it to Vancouver 2010? 

The boys riding the Tour Mediterraneen Cycliste Professionnel and the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca respectively must be wishing they’d opted/been selected for the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as they’ve both been enduring adverse climatic conditions. Indeed, the manager (Marc Madiot) of yesterday’s stage winner (Yauheni Hutarovich – FDJ) in the Tour of the Med had the foresight to take him on a quick warm up ride before the start. This obviously did the trick. 

Over in Qatar the winds have died down. Stages 3 and 4 ended in bunch sprints with wins for Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo). The former reached a speed of 72.4km/hr on his sprint to the line. Coincidentally, the same as my top speed ever which was recorded last year in Austria  descending a 10% incline!  Condolences to Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) who had four punctures yesterday: careless rider or crap kit, you decide. 

Mindful of yesterday’s VO2max test, I had been practising riding flat out on the home trainer. My appointment was at 09:00am, which necessitated an early start to avoid the traffic. I wanted to ride part of the way as a warm up. I drove as far as Beaulieu sur Mer, where the parking is free while they change over the parking meters, parked the car and hopped on the bike.  My beloved has accused me of becoming “very French” as I seek out free places to park. 

I had timed it to perfection, a quick 10km, at maximum effort, terminating in the climb out of the port in Monaco had left me “glowing”. I arrived with enough time to fill out the forms and take a comfort break. After a number of detailed questions about my medical history and that of my family, we moved on to the highly unpleasant bit: height, weight (Assos kit must be really, really heavy, I hope they took that into consideration) and BMI. I then had to inhale and exhale, as hard as possible, into a machine. The conclusion: average for a woman of my age! 

Then the test itself which was conducted on my bike, fitted with a power tap, and with a machine to gauge my effort fitted over my nose and mouth. I began to feel decidedly claustrophobic. In addition, I was wired up to an ECG and the doctor frequently measured my blood pressure. I started at a max output of 60watts and increased it at regular intervals by 30 watts. First off it was difficult to ride at a constant wattage, nothing like riding those static bikes in the gym. It was pretty easy pedalling to start off with but very soon it became much more arduous. I started to “glow” profusely despite being topless (thank goodness I’d worn one of my prettier sports bras). I have no idea how long the intervals were but it felt like 10 secs to start with and 10 minutes to finish. Their conclusion: I could be an excellent endurance athlete if only I lost the surplus 10kilos around my middle which is restricting my breathing!

Postscript: Nice airport closed, my beloved stranded at Heathrow!

Clouds in the Sky

After dropping my beloved off at the airport this morning I returned home. The storm clouds were gathering so, mindful of my VO2max test on Wednesday morning, I opted for an hour on the home trainer followed by a full frontal attack on the pile of administrative matters.

I stopped at lunchtime to watch Stage II of the Tour of Qatar where  cross-winds were creating havoc in the peloton. Mind you, Sky’s bad luck started in the neutralised zone when Kurt-Asle Arvesen crashed, breaking a collar bone. Sky were then caught out by Quick Step and Cervelo, who attacked, as echelons formed in the strong cross-winds, splintering the peloton. Boassen Hagen then punctured. They do say bad luck comes in threes.

As I started watching the transmission, there were a couple of escapees up the road, with over a 12 minute advantage, being chased by a group of 28, containing most of the favourites, although no one from HTC-Columbia or Sky. Joy upon joy, the two managed to stay away with Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) taking the stage win and Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) seizing the gold jersey. The two now have a 2 minute advantage over their nearest rivals. So much for me thinking that Edvald Boassen Hagen would hang on to gold.

Elsewhere, the more mature riders continue to rock. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) held off Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) to win the Trofeo Cala Millor in Majorca.

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

Putting your foot in it

I got back from my trip to St Raphael feeling pleasurably fatigued and sank gratefully into my spa bath to soothe my aching parts. I really don’t use it often enough. Generally because, when I return from a ride, I’m endeavouring to produce sustenance for my beloved as soon as he emerges from his ablutions.

Given that a little R&R was in order, I donned my fleecy tracksuit, flopped onto the sofa and picked up this month’s copy of Velo Magazine which had been delivered  LAST WEEK and had remained unread. What can I say? Too much to do.

There’s a picture of Cav on the front, sporting a beard, endeavouring to look mean and moody and failing. This month’s a bit of a bumper issue as, among other things, it contains details of all the French cyclosportifs, a team guide, the season’s calendar, features on afore-mentioned Cav and Boassen Hagen plus a list of the 50 top cyclists most likely to be hitting the headlines this season. I thought I’d check out this list to see if we’re in accord.

Their top 3 are Bert, Cav and Lance. I think that’s wishful thinking. Whichever continent you’re on, Lance generates more news than all the other riders put together. This is obviously a French perspective and they’re assuming (and why wouldn’t you) that Bert is going to retain his Tour title while Cav is going to win loads of sprints.  The next three, in order, are Schleck the Younger, Fabulous Fabian and Cuddles Evans – hard to disagree there. They’ve ranked Philippe Gilbert (7th) ahead of Tom Boonen (11th). I’m not sure I agree with that one. Though, to be fair, Tom is probably hoping for more coverage of his cycling, rather than non-cycling, activities than last year.

Surprisingly, there’s a dearth of Frenchmen in the top 50. First up in 25th place is the U23 Road Race Champion, Romain Sicard who this season will be riding as a neo-pro for the boys in orange, Euskatel-Euskadi. Just behind him in 28th place is Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), the so-called French housewives’ favourite. Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ), 10th last year in the Dauphine and Tour, is only in 37th place. There are three further Frenchmen bringing up the rear: Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), the younger of the brothers, is 42nd, 45th is Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) is 48th. No place for Amael Moinard, David Moncoutie, Tommy Voekler, Pierrick Fedrigo, Romain Feillu or, indeed, the Frenchman who’s garnered the most column inches to date, the viral celebrity, young Arthur Vichot (FDJ).

Turning next to the team guide, I check out the new teams and kit changes. By and large, I favour simple colour schemes which are easy to pick out in the peloton: such as, Cervelo, BMC, Sky and FDJ. Omega Pharma Lotto’s shirt is a big improvement on previous years.  I rather like the retro styling and black shorts for Quick Step, but the shorts are too short. Quel horreur, what were the folks at Footon-Servetto thinking? There’s an Italian team (Carminooro NGC) who wear a black kit edged in gold which looks quite classy. Though it would look even classier if  they dropped the outline round the crotch. 

Better in black

If only Footon-Servetto had gone for all black shorts. I really feel for those boys. You just know that those “gold” shorts are going to look “nude”  and turn see-through in the wet. You have been warned.

Round and round

I dropped my beloved off at the airport at midday. He was off to the frozen wastes of northern Europe, specifically Tuurku (north of Helsinki) for a few days, complete with extreme cold weather kit. Only then could I go out on my bike.

The weather, like yesterday, was cold but bright, clear and sunny so I decided to circumnavigate Cap d’Antibes five times.  I criss-cross a number of the roads and take a couple of different loops to add some variety. I also indulged in some interval training on the way back. Tomorrow, which promises to be warmer, I’m going to St Raphael and back, as I feel a longer ride is in order. My workload is thankfully tailing off, not a moment too soon,  which will leave me more time to ride and train for up-coming events.

There was the usual get together at the club this evening. Specifically, I needed to check on the logistics for next week with M Le President who’s proposing serving crepes to everyone who attends the monthly meeting. We’re already a little short of space at these meetings and the promise of crepes is bound to increase numbers. It’ll most definitely be standing room only. On our little two-ringed hot plate we’re unlikely to able to cook sufficient crepes, quickly enough,  to  supply the ravening hordes. I proposed that we cook them in advance and heat up in situ. He agreed.

I’d just gotten back when my beloved rang. His flight from Nice had been delayed so he’d missed his transfer to Helsinki. He was booked on the subsequent flight but would arrive too late to catch the bus to Tuurku. The good news was that he’d bought some of my favourite coffee just in case he didn’t have time on the way back. I didn’t linger chatting, I had a bowl of soup with my name on it waiting for me.

Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to have to clear the guest room and put the spare bikes on the balcony. I’ll also need to make room in the laundry (aka  bike room) for the bikes and kit of my week end guests, who are now arriving Thursday evening.