It doesn’t get better than this!

Sunday, after a delicious vegetable chilli for lunch (recipe to follow shortly), my beloved and I settled down for a feast of sporting action. First up, the conclusion of a thrilling Volta a Catalunya dominated by the evergreen Movistarlet Alejandro Valverde. Next up was a spot of action from Belgium, with an exciting conclusion to Gent-Wevelgem where the victor was the in-form Olympic Champion, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). But there’s more!

After entreaties from my beloved, I have caved in and signed up for CanalPlus Sport giving us access to plenty of cycling and, more importantly, MotoGP live. Since, it moved from Eurosport to BTSport in the UK , I have had to be content with watching races the following day which tends to take the edge off of things. Now we have the luxury of watching all three classes live. I started watching MotoGP largely because of cycling, as typically the MotoGP races preceded those of cycling on Eurosport.

Joan Mir

I started watching MotoGP stars Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales when they were both in MotoGP3 and I’ll be looking hard at this class to spot the stars of the future. Most of the MotoGP3 riders look too young to be out on their own on a bicycle let alone a 125cc moto bike. Their fresh faced enthusiasm is infectious and I couldn’t believe the winners were allowed to celebrate with champagne, surely lemonade would have been more appropriate? However, having checked them out, I discovered, quite incredibly, they were all over 18 and had come up either through their national series or that of Red Bull. The race was won by a 19 year old Spanish rider, Joan Mir, sponsored by Leopard – yes, the same one that supported a WorldTour team – who was MotoGP3 rookie of the year in 2016. Runner-up was John McPhee a British racer a few years older who’s been knocking around the circuits for a while. He was in a Spanish sandwich as Jorge Martin, another 19 year old, who’s been in the same class since 2015, finished third.

Franco Morbidelli

Incredibly there were no Spaniards on the podium in the MotoGP2 class. The winner, Italian Franco Morbidella, moved up to this class in 2013 and finished fourth last year. Runner-up was the evergreen Swiss Thomas Luthi who’s been racing this class for ten years and the podium was rounded out by the Japanese rider Takaani Nakagami who was the youngest ever winner of the Japanese GP series in 2006. First Spaniard was Alex Marquez, brother of Marc, in fifth place.

Maverick Vinales

This season with Jorge Lorenzo moving from Yamaha to Ducati, Maverick Vinales  – surely the best name in the sport – replaces him and really moves into contention after winning a race last season for Suzuki. Unfortunately, the blue-riband event was plagued by rain, uncertainty and was finally reduced to 20 dramatic laps. Vinales, who had dominated pre-season testing, was on pole and had a battle royal in the desert with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati). Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) was third after coming back from way back on the grid.

Marc Marquez

Andrea Iannone (Suzuki Ecstar) got off to a great start but was soon overshadowed by French rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who zoomed into the lead in the early laps, putting daylight between himself and the rest, before dramatically sliding out. Iannone soon followed suit leaving defending champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) chasing the leading three: Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi. The first two traded places before Vinales held off Dovi on the penultimate lap to record his second MotoGP win, his first in Yamaha colours. Marquez crossed the line in fourth and admitted post-race he’d made an ill-advised tyre change just before the race start. That said, looking at previous results, the circuit has favoured the Yamaha bikes. Next up is Argentina, a new location ,followed by Austin where the Hondas have reigned supreme. It looks as if the 2017 season is off to an exciting start and I’m hoping it’ll be a close run competition.

All photographs courtesy Getty Images 

 

L’Equipe poll

At the beginning of each year, L’Equipe journalists pose ten key questions about the forthcoming cycling season and ask their readership to vote “Yes” or “No” to each question. Here’s the questions and the all-important results:-

1. Are the Olympic Games going to be good for the French?   67% said YES

Leaving aside the road races, the French have always done well on the track and in MTB. Last time out they also shone in BMX. There’s no reason to suppose they won’t do similarly well in London 2012. They’ve been less convincing on the road and could only offer up the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin who finished 3rd in the pre-Olympic dry run. While it’s not entirely impossible that someone of the stature of Dumoulin – and when I say stature, I’m thinking palmares not size – or Feillu could nick a place on the podium. Just don’t bet your shirt on it.

2. Will Arnaud Demare be the seasons’ revelation?   56% said NO

This is the lad who won the U23 Road Race in Copenhagen and who’s now a neo-pro at FDJ where he’ll have an opportunity to grow without too much pressure being placed on his young shoulders too early. He’s only 2o (21 in August) and one shouldn’t expect that, like Marcel Kittel before him,  he’ll rack up 18 sprint victories in his first season. But he will win races, just not yet. Remember, he was 4th in U23’s in last year’s  Paris-Roubaix and will no doubt benefit from Frederic Guesdon’s guidance.

3. Are we going to see a duel again between Cancellara and Boonen in the Cobbles Classics?   56% said NO

Go Tom go

The sentiment was that these two will play a role but there are others who will enter the fray. They’ll probably never repeat their respective golden years of 2010 and 2005 respectively. However, I sensed, that nonetheless, this was exactly what everyone was hoping for. Kitty Fondue and I are going to be hotly debating this very topic over on www.velovoices.com.

4. Will TAS exonerate Condator?   67% said YES

Now I’m not sure whether readers felt this was the most likley and most expedient outcome for cycling or whether, as time has gone on, Contador has impressed everyone more and more with his demeanor thus they’re more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The French are not overly fond of what we might call “the authorities” and this may have just tipped the balance in Bertie’s favour.

5. Will Evans succeed in retaining his Tour title?   56% said NO

Despite his excellent team, experience and the favourable parcours, readers felt his age would count against him and, in particular, his declining powers of recuperation. If he takes part, most expect Contador to win.

6. Will Thomas Voeckler get onto the Tour podium?   89% said NO

The French know their cycling. Voeckler ended up in the leader’s jersey when he profited from the misfortune visited on Messrs Hoogerland and Flecha. His defence of the jersey was heroic, but he was in it by chance. The verdict: top 10 placing is the best he can expect.

7. Will Bruyneel get Andy to win the Tour in 2012?   89% said NO

Most recognise that Bruyneel does have what it takes to make Andy win the Tour, but not this year. He needs a more favourable parcours, the absence of one Bertie Contador and to be uncoupled from his elder brother. Like I said, the French know their cycling. They’re not wrong about this.

8. Will Cavendish become Olympic Champion?   56% said YES

While most agreed it would be more difficult than winning the World Championship’s Copenhagen – fewer team mates, hillier parcours – they felt his experience in winning Grand Tour stages, his mental strength and home advantage might just see him grab gold.

9. Will Team BMC crush everything it its path this season?   100% said NO

Can’t get more emphatic than that! History has shown  – Teams Sky and Leopard-Trek – that it takes a while for a team to bed down. In addition, when there are changes to a number of key personnel, it takes time for them to become cohesive. A case of too many chiefs and not enough (red) Indians perhaps?

10. Will Valverde give Gilbert a run for his money?   67% said YES

Readers think that this could well be the duel of the season particularly in the Ardennes Classics. PhilGil may be numero uno at the moment but let’s not forget Valverde occupied that slot in 2006 and 2008 plus he’s got a point to prove – always dangerous.

Be careful what you wish for

In addition, L’Equipe asked each of the 10 journalists who had posed the questions what they would like to see happen this season. Their replies, in no particular order were:-

  • Frederic Guesdon to win Paris-Roubaix  – sadly he won’t be doing that after crashing in 1st stage of the Tour Down Under. Curse of the Journo!
  • Juan Jose Cobo to ride up the 25% incline of le Caitu Negru (16th stage of Vuelta) in his big ring.
  • Bruyneel to stop Frandy from waiting for one another.
  • Peta Todd, Cav’s partner, to become the front woman for Cochonou (cold meat producer) in the Tour caravan.
  • Lionel Messi to take French citizenship and start cycling. (With those sublime feet, he could be a shoe in).
  • David Moncoutie wins Milan- San Remo in a sprint after having headbutted Mark Renshaw (Now they’re getting silly!)
  • Another’s a rather saucy reference to the fact that Mark Cavendish got his partner pregnant during last years Tour. However, it does acknowledge that Cav’s a brill Tweeter.
  • Tom Boonen wins a fourth Paris Roubaix title and snubs Roger De Vlaeminck on the podium. (I know exactly what SHE means, but I’m sure Tom’s too nice to do that).

Hanging up their helmets

A number of riders have announced their intention to retire. For some it’s recognition that it’s time to step down and for others it’s the realisation that injuries have called time on their careers. So in 2011 we’re bidding a fond farewell to a number of luminaries, most notably 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, Ag2r’s Cyril Dessel who graced the yellow jersey in 2007 and long serving domestiques Inigo Cuesta, Kurt Asle Arvesen, Charlie Wegelius, Sylvain Calzati and, one of my faves, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta.

On Tuesday evening this week, at the Hotel Castillo de Gorraiz, in Pamplona, 39-year old “Txente” called time on a career that had spanned 17 seasons in the pro-peloton after starting as a stagiare in 1994. The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are not going to be quite the same without him setting tempo on the front of the peloton for a large part of the race. At 186cm and 76kg, he’s a member of that very select sub-set of riders who weigh more than me. However, with a resting heart beat of 50, he’s obviously in better shape. He’s one of the few current riders (along with Frederic Guesdon, Pablo Lastras and David Moncoutie) to have spent his entire professional career with the same team throughout it’s various guises and has ridden in support of some notable riders such as Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano (with whom he won GP Eddy Merckx in 1998), Alex Zuelle, Jose Marie Jiminez, Oscar Pereiro and (the soon to return) Alejandro Valverde under the guidance of first Jose Miguel Echavarri and, since 2008, Eusebio Unzue.

He has a modest, but nonetheless impressive, palmares which includes a stage win in the Tour de France. He won from a breakaway on Bastille Day 2000, on 185km Stage 13 from Avignon to Draguignan, ahead of a Frenchman. He also won two stages in the Vuelta (1997 Stage 14 and 2002 Stage 19), a stage win and the overall in the 1996 Tour of Navarra, 2nd stage of the 2003 Vuelta a Burgos, 3rd stage in 2006 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and been part of 4 team time trial victories. He’s taken part in 27 Grand Tours (12 Tours, 14 Vueltas), finishing 26. He failed to finish this year’s Vuelta after a fall on stage 5, on the Alto de Valdepenas de Jaen, where he fractured his arm, ribs and vertebrae, forcing the temporary postponement of his retirement announcement which he’d planned to make in Madrid. With 14 completed Vuelta’s under his belt only Inigo Cuesta and Federico Echave have completed more. Txente claims his favourite race is the Tour de France, not the Vuelta.

A Basque by birth (Pasaia, Guipuzcoa), he now resides in nearby Tafalla in Navarra where he’s going to be spending the next couple of months enjoying his retirement and pondering his next move. Whatever it is I wish him, and all the other retirees, the best of luck in their new careers.

Memories of Melbourne II

I know, I know, my second day in Sydney and I’m still reminiscing about Melbourne, or more specifically, Geelong. In Melbourne airport I met some of the Lithuanian squad on their way back to Marseille. Obviously, they had more modest ambitions than some teams but overall were pleased with their performances. So few have either the ability or opportunity to win that they have to set themselves more realistic goals.

The Moroccan squad were no doubt delighted that their rider Mohammed Said was part of the original breakaway group and featured strongly in the television coverage. Likewise, Esad Hasanovic from Serbia, the rider stranded in no man’s land for a large part of Sunday’s race, was probably being cheered on by lots of Serbs around the world. Yukiya Arashiro was the first Japanese to ever finish in the top ten in the Men’s Race. The Japanese team were staying in our Geelong base camp and they were delighted with that result. I know road racing is becoming more popular in a country that already has a significant cycling culture, albeit in Keirin racing.

My beloved, who flew back to Milan via Doha, was on the same flight as Philippe Gilbert and the Evans’. He talked to both of them and said they were pleased with their respective performances. They tried their best and that’s all anyone can expect.  The Belgians came away empty handed, not so the Australians, who collected three medals: one of each.

The Germans topped the medal table. A country that’s fallen out of love with cycling and which, at the end of this season, will no longer have a Pro-Tour team. But that didn’t stop them picking up four medals: three silvers and a bronze.  Great Britain’s hardware was picked up in the time-trials. Silver for David Millar and gold for Emma Pooley who was also a formidable presence in the Road Race. Who knows what Alex Dowsett might have achieved if he’d had a mechanic as deft as Tony Martin’s. Next up USA, whose Taylor Phinney won both a gold and a bronze medal.

Scandinavia garnered a full-house with Hushovd, Breschel and Johansson. Italy and Switzerland each collected one gold. Vos won her 4th consecutive silver, after gold in Salzburg, and looked on the verge of tears, she’s not a lady who likes to lose. Canada and New Zealand each picked up a bronze, or should that be half a bronze in the case of Canada?

Spain’s performance was disappointing. Their highest placed rider in all the races was Freire, who finished 6th in the road race. However, I do know that the team was much affected by all the doping news, particular that relating to Alberto, who is close to both Luis  Leon and Samu Sanchez, fanned by McQuaid’s pointed comments about Spain. I seem to recall they rather faded into the background when Valverde faced similar approbation in Stuttgart in 2007.    

I didn’t get a chance to ask JaJa if he was pleased with the performance of the French, Jeannie aside, but the 5th place of Arnaud Demare in the U23 road race and they way they animated the Men’s Race, not forgetting Romain Feillu’s 10th place, must have shown the team’s heading in the right direction.  

McQuaid has declared the Championships a success and said over 156,000 watched from the roadside on Sunday. How to they know? Does someone go round and count them? Or is there some agreed formula which takes account of the length of the course and the depth of the crowds?

Rider in red

I have had a busy couple of days. Tuesday we held our second meeting on next year’s Brevet Kivilev which we’re hoping to run as both a cyclosportif (timed) and a randonnee. Offering both should attract a wider field of entrants but will involve much more work and expense, the feasibility of which we’re currently exploring. This was followed by the regular Tuesday meeting where the licence renewals are started to trickle in.

Of course, four hours down the club meant I had to watch the highlights of that day’s Vuelta. Tuesday’s stage 4 totalling 183.8km from Malaga to Valdepenas de Jaen, was another hot day which included 3 categorized and 1 uncategorized climb plus a very steep ascent to the finish line. The heat and intestinal troubles accounted for yet another rider, Mark Cavendish’s wing man Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel abandoned, putting in jeopardy his participation in Melbourne.

Omega-Pharma Lotto led the chase to pull back the 4-man breakaway to protect Phil’s red jersey. The peloton splintered on the last col of the day with Katusha trying to set up “Purito”  for the win. The main contenders, apart from Sastre, were in the first group over the hill and down the other side to the last leg sapping climb of the day which looked to be well over 20%. It was won by Igor Anton ahead of Vicenzo Nibali and Peter Velits. As a consequence, Igor Anton moved into 2nd place behind Phil, with Joaquin Rodriguez in 3rd. Both are 10 seconds behind the leader.

Wednesday’s 198.8km stage from Guardix to Lorca commenced with a minute’s silence to honour Laurent Fignon, who sadly passed away the previous day. The media has been full of tributes for a rider much admired for his panache on the bike and his humility off it. Sadly, I never saw the “Professor” ride but I much enjoyed his commentary on French tv. He wasn’t a man to mince his words.

1960 - 2010 RIP

Wednesday was slightly cooler and while there were no cols to speak of the terrain was pretty much up and down all afternoon. The 4-man breakaway was hauled back in 12km from the finish line thanks to the efforts of the sprinter teams. Cavendish started his sprint too soon and provided Tyler Farrar with the perfect launch pad. They finished, in order, Farrar, Koldo Fernandez, Cavendish. No change on GC.

I meanwhile had spent the morning riding over to Monaco for another VO2max test. There was good news. I have lost weight, lost fat and improved my endurance. I think I’m going to concentrate on improving further these three aspects over the autumn and winter months. This means that exclusive subset of riders who weigh more than me will become much more inclusive.

Today’s Stage 6, a lumpy, 155km from Caravaca to Murcia, the home region of Luis Leon Sanchez (and Alejandro Valverde) saw the inevitable break away taken back into the peloton on the last ascent of the day. A number of the sprinters had managed to stay with the lead group and duked it out on the line. Thor Hushovd, resplendent in his Norwegian jersey, beat Danieli Bennati and Grega Bole. Phil maintained his grip on the leader’s jersey but it’s still far too early to rule out any of the favourites.

Bring it on

Hours before the start of the 65th edition (and 75th anniversary) of the Vuelta a Espana, I’m all set and raring to go. Unusually, there’s no pile of laundry to keep me occupied when I’ll be whiling away my afternoons in front of the television. No, I’m going to be sorting out my dressing room, all the drawers and cupboards in the lounge and dining room and rearranging my collection of cookery books. If you’ve visited my apartment you’ll know that these are all mammoth tasks befitting a three-week Tour.

Many more gifted than me have previewed at length the fancied riders and the stages. I’m not going to add to this. Instead, you’ll get, as usual, my take on things: less objective, more subjective. A consensus seems to have built up around perm any three from Nibali/Menchov/Mosquera/the Schlecks/Arroyo/LL Sanchez/Sastre/Rodriguez.

The Vuelta organisers were hoping to tempt Contador to his home Tour and devised a  parcours which would suit him. As he’s shown, it’s possible to do the Giro/Vuelta double, but it’s much more difficult to double up with the Tour de France. It’s not so much the racing itself more the mental demands. In addition, he had concerns over the quality of his support. Valid concerns if you look at the Astana team sheet. My favourite Spanish rider, Samu Sanchez will also be missing, as will last year’s winner, Alejandro Valverde, who’s on an enforced sabbatical. As a consequence, Inigo Cuesta, of the soon to be defunct Cervelo Test Team, riding his 17th consecutive Vuelta, will be honoured with the No 1.

While it’s rare for there to be surprises on the podium of a Grand Tour, I am hoping that maybe either Igor Anton or Benat Intxausti, both from Euskaltel-Euskadi, will shine in their home tour. It’s also an opportunity to look out for talent of the future (Tony Gallopin and Arthur Vichot) and talent that’s shone over the past two seasons, to shine more brightly (Tejay van Garderen and Ben Swift). Of course, there will also be a whole host of riders, without contracts for next season, looking to catch the eye of a Directeur Sportif or two. And, let’s not forget, a whole slew of sprinters, in fact pretty much everyone bar every girl’s favourite bad boy, Tom Boonen, who’ll be battling for supremacy over a possible 8 sprint stages, ahead of the World Championships in Melbourne.

So, stand by your television sets for this evening’s 13km team time trial around Sevilla. Footon-Servetto are off first with teams going at four minute intervals. Local team, Andalucia-CajaSur, will go last. SaxoBank have the advantage of going after other potential winners HTC-Columbia, Garmin-Transitions and (remember the Giro), Liquigas. I do not anticipate any decisive time gaps.

While the first week is uncharacteristically hilly, the key stages are at the back end of the Vuelta: specifically, Stage 15 on 12 September to Lagos de Covadonga, Stage 16 to Cortobello, Stage 17’s 46km pancake flat ITT at Penafiel and, the penultimate test, Stage 20 to Bola del Mundo.

My pick for the podium: 1-Menchov, 2-Nibali, 3-(F) Schleck

Climber’s Jersey: Moncoutie

Point’s Jersey: Cavendish

Combined Jersey: Mosquera

I’ll have mustard with mine

Yesterday was my first attempt at La Lazarides. I did the shorter parcours (107km) accompanied by my beloved. Or should that be part accompanied, since he lost me on the way back. I know: careless, foolish, misguided or what? It’s not a good idea to lose the person with the map, the money, the car keys and the mobile phone.

The club was severely underrepresented: only three of us. But when I’d questioned a few of the regulars as to why they weren’t taking part, they all said it was more like a race than a randonnee. Actually, that was true. Fewer participants, generally only the better club riders (me being one of the exceptions), police assistance, cars covering the breakaways on both parcours and two pro-Tour riders who kindly just kept pace with the (amateur) leaders.

Riders at the start

 

It was a lovely parcours and we both agreed we should ride more often over this terrain. It starts using the back-end of the smaller l’Antiboise parcours and then heads on past the dreaded Lac St Cassien (again, loads of traffic) before ascending to Mons via Fayence, but thankfully not using the Mur de Fayence (26%). Weaving one’s way through market day in Fayence was a little tricky. Thereafter, the roads were quiet and it was a great climb up to Mons and the feed zone where they had real coke, albeit lukewarm, and some delicious ham rolls. Then there was a fast descent back down via  Callian and Montaroux which was were I overtook my beloved. The leaders of the 150km parcours came steaming past me and I tucked onto the end of the group. Much to everyone’s surprise, I manage to stay with them on the descent. My beloved claimed he was waiting for me at the Montaroux fountain. I never saw him as I zoomed through the town. Of course, as soon as the gradient changed, I was back on my lonesome.

I rode to the control point at the foot of the Tanneron and advised them I’d lost my husband before continuing on up the hill. I assumed he’d soon catch me up. I was wrong, it took him until the final couple of kilometers. But what a welcome when we got back to the Stade Maurice Chevalier, a BBQ no less. Never have sausages, bread and mustard tasted so good. I’m going to suggest this for the Kivilev. Having consumed this feast, it started to rain in earnest, so we skipped the tombola and headed for home.

Once home we had to check our stats on the Garmin: more climbing and a faster average speed than La Louis Caput. Who would have thought it? It was a very rolling parcours with the final climb up the Tanneron coming at just after 80kms. There were even a few uphill stretches in the final couple of kilometers.

My legs felt tired today and I really laboured up the hill to Pre du Lac but after a gentle ride this morning they’re now feeling a lot better. The promised stormy weather held off and, as a result, I’m hoping that the forecast for the forthcoming days will improve. I’ve plenty of mileage on the programme for next week.

My beloved boys in claret and blue went down 3-1 away at Man City, effectively blowing any lingering chance of 4th or 5th spot in the Premiership. Still, with Liverpool losing to Chelsea today, we should hold onto 6th: no mean feat.

Ten minutes before full-time OGCN were comfortably leading 3-0 away at Boulogne, a team heading for relegation. Final score: 3-3! Yes, pretty unbelievable but, sadly, all too true. Goodness knows what happened to our defence – totally MIA. 

Over in the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Valverde pounced on the final stage to take the overall, Spilak was 2nd and Menchov 3rd. The weather was again truly awful and 56 riders, who were out of contention, got off their bikes. Can’t say I blame them.

Way to go!

I’ve just finished watching a thrilling Liege-Bastogne-Liege. With so many favourites on form it was going to be hard to pick a winner from the galaxy of stars. Indeed, the big names remained pretty much in contention until a certain Alex Vinokourov launched a trademark attack 16km from the finish. He was rapidly joined by another man much on form, Alexandre Kolobnev. 

He just wanted it more

Gilbert, Valverde and Evans gave chase but the hard men prevailed. Gilbert gave a massive kick to try and get up to the two lead men but was ultimately caught and overhauled by Valverde. The two Alexs battled it out with the Kazakh getting the better of the Russian in the final couple of hundred meters. No one should have been surprised. He’s won in before and said that this race was one of his targets for this year.  He was clearly on top form, as shown by his GC win Friday in the Giro del Trentino. It probably suited him to have the press and the rest of the peloton focus on Contador – good bluff. Roll on the Giro, it’s going to be an exciting tour and I’m looking forward to following it and riding some of its parcours.

Prior to L-B-L, I watched my beloved boys in claret and blue win 1-0 in the local derby match against Birmingham City. An important win, as it keeps us in the chase for 4th place, after Spurs lost to the Red Devils and Arsenal drew with Man City. Closer to home,  OGCN won 2-1 and finally erased any lingering relegation fears.

This morning’s pointage was replaced by a three-line whip attendance at the official opening of the recently completed cycling lane between Cagnes sur Mer and St Laurent du Var. To be honest, our legs still bore the lingering effects of yesterday’s La Louis Caput, so a gentle stroll on the bike was much appreciated.

At yesterday’s La Louis Caput, the mass start of earlier years had been abandoned in favour of a policy of “start when you like”. We set off at 08:00am but saw so few other riders that we concluded either there had been a poor turn-out or, everyone else had started before us. My beloved kindly rode with me to the half-way point when, with rain threatening, I suggested he might like to ride on ahead.

At this point I was passed by a few riders doing the 150km loop but they were all going too fast for me to tag on the back. I slogged on alone into a head wind and a darkening sky. It wasn’t until I started the descent for home that I managed to ride with anyone else. I got onto the back of a group of 4 guys. I also overhauled a group of triathletes who had ridden most of the route just ahead of me. If only I could ascend as well as I descend! Still I bettered last year’s time by a considerable margin, so I must be getting faster – musn’t I?

By hook or by crook

It’s hard to know what to make of the current situation particularly as I’ve not been affected by it in any way. In fact, I’m watching it with detached interest. As someone who’s previously worked in the reinsurance industry, this type of disaster, low probability/high impact, is fascinating. I’m sure most actuaries would agree with me.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano last erupted in 1821 and its outpourings lasted for over a year. Clearly, with the airline industry losing hundreds of millions of £/$/Euros per day, this won’t be sustainable for long. As an aside, I’m not sure that I’d appreciate having my beloved home, and demanding to be fed at regular intervals, for over a year. For the sake of my sanity, and the sanity of other women whose husbands travel as frequently as mine, it is to be hoped that a safe solution is found sooner rather than later.

Of course, the news has been full of tales of intrepid travellers who have ingeniously managed to get back to Blighty. Indeed, a colleague of my beloved needed to get back to the UK from Munich last Thursday evening lest he miss out on his week end birthday celebrations.  He took a train to Calais where he found that the only places left on the ferry were those reserved for cyclists. Undaunted, he acquired a bicycle from a local bike shop which he then rode (as required by regulations) onto the ferry. Apparantly, he was not the only businessman who resorted to this ruse.

Professional cyclists, used to hopping onto planes with the same alacrity with which they climb into the saddle, have also had to use their initiative to reach races. The Spanish contingent, including Valverde and Contador, drove over 2,000km to Belgium in time for tomorrow’s Fleche Wallonne. Andre Greipel took 36 hours to get back home to Germany after spending fewer hours racing to 5 stage wins in the Tour of Turkey. Others, particularly if they didn’t fare as well as their Directeur Sportif might have hoped, may still be wending their weary way home.

Basque bravado

Pretty as a picture

A couple of years ago my husband and I drove down to Barcelona on business by way of Girona. We both agreed it looked a good place to cycle and promised ourselves that one day we would return. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of the Basque Country and, again, I’ve found myself thinking, fabulous countryside, great place to cycle, must pay it a visit. 

So I’m wondering whether a cycling tour of northern Spain might be on the cards for next year. My one problem is logistics. I would love to cycle from one place to another but who’s going to carry my luggage? Please don’t suggest I get panniers. I’m not starving myself to loose 10kg only to replace that weight with panniers. There must be another way. 

A cycling club trip perhaps? Too far, the club likes to cycle to its holiday destination. I appreciate that there are holiday companies who organise such trips but I don’t want to cycle with a crowd, just my beloved. I can see further research is required. 

Who's a happy boy?

Meanwhile, one of my favourite Spaniards won yesterday. Sadly, having dropped from GC contention on Day 1, Sammy Sanchez needed a stage win to appease the fanatical Basque fans who line most of the climbs at least 10-deep. It was a marvellous display of both ascending and descending from the Olympic champion, almost  matched by Valverde, who finished second and snatched back the yellow jersey from Oscar Freire. 

Joaquin Rodriguez showed he’s on form for the forthcoming Ardennes classics by storming up some vertiginous climbs today to catapult himself onto the podium. Everything is finely poised for tomorrow’s hilly 22km time trial which retraces some of the steeper climbs of today. Horner is in 2nd place, just 1 second down on Valverde, Rodriguez is 3rd and lying in 4th place is former mountain-biker, Jean-Christophe Perraud, current French time-trial champion.

Of course, no mountainous stages would be complete without some dodgy descending. First up, Schleck the Elder, a man I would not wish to follow down any descent. I understand he flipped over a barrier yesterday and didn’t start this morning. Today, Amets Txurruka attempted a curve from the wrong apex and went down heavily. Fortunately, I understand neither are badly injured. Robert Gesink also fell today and has now slipped down the GC and out of contention. Il Falco (Paolo Savodelli) should give master classes in descending to those (and there’s plenty of them in the peloton) who struggle to ride as well downhill as they do either on the flat or uphill.

Photo of Samu Sanchez courtesy of my friend Susi Goertze