Highlights

New Year’s Day is not a bad time for sober reflection on the last 12 months. What were the highlights of another busy and thoroughly enjoyable year? In no particular order, here goes:-

1. Amael Moinard (BMC) wins stage 2 of Tour du Haut Var in Draguigan

Amael Moinard

There’s nothing nicer than seeing someone you know win. Particularly someone who spends most of the season working his socks off for his team mates. We saw Amael’s victory in the company of his wife and children which made it even more special. His two young boys were thrilled, going onto the podium with their father to receive the trophy. A moment they’ll always treasure, which was captured by the mother of another professional rider who kindly gave me the picture. A fellow VeloVoice (Thanks Chris) gave it the Andy Warhol treatment, I had it printed and it now hangs in the Moinard’s hallway. A constant reminder of a special moment, one we were fortunate to share.

2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wins Vuelta al Pais Vasco

VpVstage1winnerBertir

A stunning win on stage one by Bertie in truth secured him the overall. He looked to be back to his best, heralding the prospect of a thrilling summer of racing.

3. Book de Tour

book du tour small cover for style v5

I edited Greig Leach’s narrative accompanying his marvellous record of last year’s Tour de France. It wasn’t the Tour we were all anticipating but it was none the less thrilling. The crowds for the UK Grand Depart in Yorkshire were unprecedented –  wonderful to see, and experience. The race had more twists than a barleycorn, an emphatic victor and each stage’s tales were beautifully captured by Greig in bright clear colours which convey a real sense of movement, occasion and emotion. I’m hoping this first successful foray into printed medium will be just the start of a new venture for Greig. His paintings deserve to be more widely shared.

4. The Basque Country

Cycling: 32th Clasica San Sebastian 2012

We managed three visits by dint of our trip along the northern coastline of Spain to last year’s World Championship in Ponferrada. We’re slowly exploring more and more of the region on two wheels and refining our list of must-visit hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s a region which never fails to delight us and we’d move there in a nano second were it not for the weather. Once again we visited places we might never have gone to were it not for bike racing and our lives would be poorer because of it.

5. Marquez Boys Double

marc-marquez-alex-marquez-motogp-moto3

Having watched Marc Marquez take the world of MotoGP by storm, breaking records every which way since his rookie season in the 125cc class, it was great to see him (easily) retain his World Championship and for his younger brother Alex take the MotoGP3 title. Their parents must be so proud of them.

6. Conviviality of Cannondale Pro Cycling

Jake Hamm CPC Studio 8785b

Our friends at G4 provided the casual wear for Cannondale and, because I lend them a hand wherever I can, I got to spend time at training camps and races with the boys. We were made to feel part of the extended Italian family and looked forward to meeting up with them at races. In return, I think the boys enjoyed my cakes which I believe have moved up a notch since moving from club events to WorldTour. While the name continues, the team’s backbone is no more. But we wish all the former staff and riders every success in their new teams and roles. Thank you for a memorable year, we’ll cherish it forever.

You may have noticed that, one way or another, every highlight involved two wheels! I’m hoping 2015 continues in a similar vein.

Nothing nicer

The cycling season has been underway for a couple of weeks and we’ve profited from our proximity to that racing. Friday I watched the Trofeo Laigueglia, now moved to a Friday to avoid it clashing with Tour du Haut Var, and over the week-end we watched the latter. The race seems to have settled into a format where stage one finishes on a circuit around La Croix Valmer and stage two explores the glorious hinterland behind Draguigan with a three-circuit loop around some of the walled towns, affording plenty of viewing opportunities for the largely French public.

The sun shone all three days which made the racing, and the viewing, a whole nicer prospect. But the cherry atop the icing on the cake was that one of our friends won one of the stages, finished third on general classification and was awarded “most combative”. If you follow cycle racing, you’ll soon appreciate that not everyone wins races. It’s a team sport but only one member of the team can win, unless, of course, it’s a team time-trial.

Everyone wants a few words with the stage winner Amael Moinard (image: Nice Matin)
Everyone wants a few words with the stage winner Amael Moinard (image: Nice Matin)

At this early point in the season, teams are keen to get that all-important first win under their belt and, having succeeded, it tends to open the floodgates. More wins follow. It’s also one of the few occasions where a team leader, getting into his stride for his objectives later in the season – a grand tour or classics victory – will allow one of his key helpers to try to take victory. Or, maybe, one of the young, up and coming riders from one of the ProContinental or Continental teams will hope to catch the eye of a team manager at a ProTour team.

It’s not unusual to bump into friends and acquaintances at such races and a bit of banter helps to fill in the time until there’s television coverage on the big screen and/or the peloton hoves into view. On Sunday we were handily placed on the barriers about 10 metres before the finish line. As the peloton came past, on its first circuit of the finish town, it was hotly pursuing the Norwegian national champion Thor Hushovd (BMC) while a number of his team mates were well-placed in that pursuing pack. He was soon swept up and the peloton remained largely intact until the final run in when race leader Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) and Amael Moinard (BMC) leapt free. The two worked to maintain their small advantage with the former taking the overall and the latter the stage win.

It so happened that my beloved had Amael’s eldest son (5 years old) on his shoulders, so he had the perfect view of his father taking the stage win. He understood exactly what had just happened, he was so thrilled and much enjoyed being swept up in the post-race excitement and interviews. Both Amael’s sons accompanied him on stage for the prize-giving but, at only 21 months, it’s doubtful that the younger one appreciated what he was witnessing. The eldest boy took possession of the trophy and I’ve no doubt it has taken up residence in his bedroom. There was however a certain sense of deja vu as the last time Amael had won back in 2010, on the final stage of Paris-Nice, his elder son had accompanied him onto the podium but he was then too young to enjoy the experience.

For us, it capped off a marvellous week-end of racing. There’s really nothing better than seeing a friend win a stage. Made all the more memorable, as we shared the moment with his wife and children.

#Festive500

I know two consecutive posts, whatever is the world coming to?

group-festiv500aI set myself a goal over the Christmas period: the Festive 500. Rapha, of which I am a long time client, issues a challenge to ride 500+ miles/kilometres or whatever from 24-31 December, write about it and, maybe, just maybe, win one of their fabulous prizes. This challenge has gained in popularity since its early days and it’s now pretty competitive with riders recording fairly impressive totals during the period. I’m a competitive soul, but I’ve long reached the age where I know my limits.

I’ve never risen to this particular challenge, not because I can’t, but because I felt that I have somewhat of an unfair advantage. One of the many blessings of living in what I consider to be the finest bit of God’s green earth is its weather. While my compatriots are facing cold, frost and an almost continual deluge, I whimper if the daytime temperature drops below 10C.

With my beloved home for a full two weeks – I know, however will I manage? – I thought I should take to two wheels every day. I’ve easily ridden in excess of 500km in a week but that’s usually in the summer months when I stray into Nice’s hinterland, not during the winter months when I tend to find two hours on the bike more than enough.

I should also add that my training plan had 31/2hrs of cycling, 1 1/2hrs of jogging, a spot of circuit training and swimming scheduled for the same period. While I do typically adhere to my coach’s plans pretty much to the letter, this past week I haven’t and frankly feel all the better for it. But don’t tell him!

Given the great weather, the roads have been pretty full of cyclists both amateur and professional alike and I did spot one of two well-known faces on my travels. Here’s the run-down of my #Festive 500:-

(image courtesy of Cofidis)
Aleksejs Saramotins (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Monday: I enjoyed a damp, overcast, almost foggy ride around Cap d’Antibes with my beloved and my friend’s son who left me trailing as they headed off together in a conspiratorial fashion. Between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes, I took shelter from the wind on the wheel of Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis —> IAM Cycling) who was I think somewhat surprised at my tenacity but shook me off on the approach to the ramparts in the old town of Antibes. I then did a spot of zig zagging around the piece of prime real estate that is Cap d’Antibes crossing paths with Andrey Mizurov (Amore & Vita) and my beloved  – going in the opposite direction – who failed to catch me in the run-in for home and a well earned lunch. On my way back I spotted  Nico Roche (Ag2R —> Saxo-Tinkoff) and  Rudy Molard (Cofidis). Total ridden – 42km

Tuesday: On Xmas Day, anticipating that the traffic would be less heavy than normal, we headed to Nice, climbed up the Corniche via Coco Beach  – a steeper ascent than from the port – and rode down to and around Villefranche sur Mer and Cap Ferret. Yes, we were sticking with prime real-estate. In fact, it’s pretty hard to avoid it unless you head into the hills and beyond. It was overcast when we started our ride but fittingly the sun came out in Villefranche. We rode up and around the old town stopping beside the sea for a reassuringly pricey cup of coffee before heading back home. Total ridden – 58km

Wednesday: Once more it started somewhat damp and overcast and not even a sighting of the World Champion resplendent in his rainbow jersey brightened our day. Our paths crossed once more with Andrey Mizurov and finally, just as we headed back home from a circumnavigation of Cap d’Antibes, the sun came out to play. Too late, I was already feeling chilled. Total ridden – 39km

Blue skies and sunshine; just what i ordered!
Blue skies and sunshine; just what I ordered!

Thursday: A little damp again to start off with but becoming brighter as we rode. We headed over to Golfe Juan, stopping for an inexpensive coffee at a favourite haunt of many local riders. We again saw the Mizurovs, all three of them, who, if they were doing the same challenge as me, would have already reached the 500km marker.  Total ridden – 57km

Friday: The sun shone, the mercury rose along with our spirits as we headed over to Cannes and another of my favourite coffee and comfort stops. Again the coffee is pretty pricey but the toilets are sumptuous. Once more we spotted the Mizurovs en famille. Total ridden  – 71km.

Saturday: My beloved elected to ride with his buddies rather than have me flailing along once more in his wake. I really didn’t mind and set off along the coast riding to Theole sur Mer and back in the warm sunshine. I even managed a spot of window shopping as I rode along the Croisette! Total ridden – 82km.

(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)
(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)

Sunday: Flying solo once again, I opted for one of my favourite routes to Valbonne and back. It’s an undulating ride and bits of it have featured in the parcours of recent Tours of the Med and Paris-Nice. I espied the World Champion enjoying a coffee in the sunshine with team mate Amael Moinard,  an unidentified Lampre rider and friends. In training for the forthcoming Tour Down Under, he rode for rather longer  – and further than me as I later discovered. Total ridden – 84km

Monday: My beloved feeling the effects of his two long rides at the week-end at a rather energetic pace was content with a recovery ride today, once more in brilliant sunshine. So while I had planned a slightly longer jaunt I was happy to agree to his wishes and we rode to Juan-les-Pins and back, stopping to enjoy a quick coffee in the warm sunshine. Total ridden – 48km

Those of you who are both eagle eyed and adept at mental arithmetic will note that I didn’t actually ride 500km but that wasn’t the true purpose of the exercise. 500km was merely a possible destination; it was the journey that counted. I’m not going to win any prizes, but the rides were reward enough.

New Year’s Day Postscript: The winner was Geoff P from Melbourne, Australia who logged 1802.9km or maybe miles. That’s totally amazing  and to put it into perspective that distance would have taken me around 80hrs of riding. Yes, that’s 10 hours per day for the duration of the challenge, Clearly, Geoff’s a quicker rider and Melbourne is pretty fflat so it might only have take me 72 hours.

But IMHO even more amazing in second place was Paddy D from Wiltshire, England who rode 1605.9km in the cold and rain. There should be some sort of handicapping depending on where you’re based. Over 12,000 people took part and there’s probably many more who, like me, didn’t record their rides on Strava but who also rode along.

Reflections on the Tour

I’m still wallowing in post-Tour euphoria; and you thought it only applied to the riders. I’ll come crashing back to earth later this week when I start to miss my daily fix. Fortunately, help is at hand, as I’m heading to the Basque country this week end to watch a star-studded Clasica San Sebastian. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate everyone who reached Paris: no mean feat.  Secondly, a huge thanks to all  the stage winners and the wearers of the various jerseys for making the last three weeks so entertaining, enthralling and absorbing. It’s much appreciated.

Now, let’s examine some of the firsts:

  • Cadel Evans, first Tour de France winner from Australia
  • Frank and Andy Schleck, first brothers on the podium
  • Mark Cavendish, first Brit (and Manx man) to win the green jersey
  • First time the Norwegians have taken 4 individual stages

I’m sure there were many more firsts but these were the ones which sprang to mind.

Not forgetting, of course, that there was plenty of cheer for the home nation:-

  • Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler’s 4th place was the first since 2000 (Christophe Moreau) having spent 10 days in the maillot jaune
  • Five Frenchmen (Voeckler, Peraud, Rolland, Coppel, Jeannesson) in the top 15 was the best result since 1991
  • First best young rider classification (Pierre Rolland) since 1999
  • First winner (Pierre Rolland) atop Alpe d’Huez since 1986 (Hinault)
  • FDJ’s Jeremy Roy voted most combative rider
  • Amael Moinard, the only Frenchman on the winner’s team (BMC)

The hopes and dreams of a number of notable riders were dashed largely due to crashes in the first week. Some struggled on to Paris, others departed the Tour in ambulances. A speedy recovery and return to two wheels to you all. Sadly, one of my favourite riders has decided to retire. It was on the cards and his fall in the Tour only accelerated matters. You’ll be sorely missed Alex but I’m sure you’ll lead your team to many more victories albeit from the team car.

Finally, congratulations to the winners of the various jerseys and classifications. I’m sure Dave Z was touched to see his full-sized cardboard cut out atop the podium as part of the winning team. I wonder, does Garmin Cervelo have one for each of the team?

It seems as if the entire world has proclaimed this the best Tour for the past 20 years. I can’t comment as I’ve only been addicted since 2004.

Finally and thankfully

Kivilev post-mortem

One of ours!

What can I say? The weather was fantastic, the event was well supported and everyone enjoyed themselves. The local rag gave us a two page spread in the Sunday paper – unprecedented. Amael Moinard and Geoffroy Lequatre (wearing his G4 Dimension kit) both kindly rode the 105km course and gave one of our promising young riders a day to remember, for ever.  I should add that he was only the unofficial winner as, aged 15, he was too young to take part in the event.  The shorter course proved twice as popular as the longer one, with the winner completing it in 3h 00′ 22 “. That’s a wee bit quicker than I’d have managed to do it.

Those competing in the 175km cyclosportif also had some illustrious company: Alexandre Vinokourov, Andriy Grivko and Max Iglinsky. The winner, Gregoire Tarride, time-trialled his way to victory in 4h 58′ 47″, 11 minutes ahead of his nearest rival.  Remember that name, you’re going to be hearing it again. He’ll be riding as a neo-pro for VC La Pomme Marseillaise from next month. Another of our promising youngsters finished 3rd, Jeremy Couanon. That too is a name to remember.

While the amateur riders were happy to tuck into the delicious post race feast, including my cakes, the pros were more restrained, making a bee-line instead for the orange quarters. Though, I did see Grivko eating a piece of my pain d’epice.

We had lots of positive feedback from the participants, many of whom were taking part for the first time. They were particularly complimentary about the course security which for us is always the primordial issue. My Swiss friends, who had not ridden the course before, took it at a more leisurely pace than the winner, stopping to re-fuel at the feed zones en-route and generally enjoying the surrounding countryside.

The Swiss boys

The Kazakh Ambassador to France also graced us with his presence, much to the delight of the local dignitaries. Although I hadn’t met this gentleman before, we have been in regular correspondence since last year, so it was nice to put a face to a name. I should add I had no idea that he was in fact the Ambassador when we started corresponding.

One of the highlights of these events is the tombola. This year we surpassed ourselves with some prizes that I thought (for once) were actually worth winning, largely thanks to generous donations from club members, the Moinards and the Lequatres – thanks guys.

You might be wondering what happened to my beloved. He had a whale of a time playing at being Graham Watson on the back of the biggest motorbike I have ever seen. He’s taken some great shots which I will be featuring on the blog whenever he deigns to share them with me. To be fair, he left for Italy on Sunday evening and is due back this evening.

By the end of the day, at our wrap up evening meal, we all felt tired but content with a job well done. Typically, I was buzzing with ideas as how to improve next year’s event and I’m sure the others have some too. You cannot stand still and rest on your laurels, there’s always things that can be improved upon.

Postscript: You can find the photos from both courses on Picasa under “La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev 28 mai 2011”

La Kivilev

I have just spent all day pleasurably toiling in the warm sunshine handing out dossards and signing up participants for tomorrow’s, rather today’s event. If I’ve had such a tiring day why aren’t I tucked up in bed? Good question. I have been working in the kitchen to maintain my reputation as a domestic goddess. Tom III is packed to the gunwales with edible delights, mostly for the riders, but some for the volunteers, including a big batch of banana and maple syrup muffins for breakfast. In addition, I’ve made desserts for this evening’s post-race BBQ.

I had a complete change of heart largely brought about by the climatic conditions. Never, ever make meringues when it’s humid. I used the berries intended for the Pavlova in a summer pudding. The cream was used to make thyme-infused lemon creams and I whipped up a batch of chocolate rice pudding. M le President has also bought some fruit tarts. Let’s hope it all satisfies the hungry hordes who are facing a long day today. It all kicks off at 05:00. I’ll be leaving home in just over two hours. So exactly what is this all in aid of:-

On 12 March  2003, the Kazakh rider Andréï Kivilev, racing for Team Cofidis, tragically died from head injuries sustained in a fall on the 2nd stage of Paris-Nice.  Kivilev regularly trained on the roads of the Nicoise hinterland often in the company of his Kazakh compatriot, Alexandre Vinokourov. To honour  Kivilev, in 2006, the management of my cycling club decided to rechristen their annual randonée « La Laurentine Andréï Kivilev ».

The 6th edition of this event in Kivilev’s memory will,  for the first time, also include a timed cyclosportive, raced under UFOLEP rules, open to all entrants over 18. There are three different routes:

  1. 175km with 2,532m of climbing
  2. 105km with 1,242m of climbing
  3. 40km along the traffic-free cycling tracks of the Var valley

The first two routes can be ridden either as a cyclosportive or as a randonnee. Last year’s randonnnee event enjoyed unprecedented participation with 561 entrants  (2009 –  421) 342 of whom took part in 105km, 204 cycled 175km while a further 15  rode on the cycle tracks along the Var valley. We’re going to be hard pushed to break that number this year.

The prizes were awarded in the presence of the first secretary of the Kazakh Embassy in France, Mr. Anuarbek Akhmetov and Andréï’s widow, Nathalya Kivilev, accompanied by their son. A Kazakh journalist and film crew recorded the event which was subsequently shown on Kazakh television. It is anticipated that a representative from the Embassy will again be in attendance this Saturday, as will his son and widow.

The club had hoped that the addition of a cyclosportive would make the event even more attractive, particularly to those living outside the region and  overseas. But it’ll probably take us a few years to cement our reputation. A number of professional riders, including Alexandre Vinokourov, Amael Moinard and Geoffroy Lequatre have confirmed their participation. Ideal cycling weather is forecast: warm and sunny with just a light breeze. I wish I were cycling it……………………………

Truly, great voyages (tgv)

There’s something rather restful about travelling by train, particularly when your companion is in another part of the train. Actually, my beloved is on another train which, until we reach Lille, is attached to mine, thereafter it speeds to Brussels. However, there’s no easy way of moving between the two. This situation has arisen because we initially didn’t anticipate travelling together and would have started our journeys in different places. However, changes to travel plans were made at the last moment and my carriage was allegedly full.

I’m not, you understand, complaining. I’m in the quiet carriage, no mobile phones, which would be impossible for my beloved who I’m quite sure has already annoyed the hell out of his fellow travellers by loudly chatting, in several different languages, on his mobile. I have my picnic lunch, I’m next to the buffet car for my regular infusions of strong coffee, I have a pile of newspapers and magazines, my really difficult Sudoku book and, of course, my notepad. Really, what else does a girl need?

The first part of the journey is largely along the coast and affords great views of some of my favourite places to cycle. The sun is shining, the sky is bright azure blue, the grass is lush and the foliage is every shade of green from citrus bright lime through to British racing green interrupted very so often by splodges of pale pink, almond white or puce blossom. Even when we head inland, and the surroundings are less salubrious, the clear bright Mediterranean light gilds everything be it industrial estates or graffiti strewn, railway sidings and derelict farmhouses. As we journey further north, away from the urban sprawl, there’s a few fluffy clouds in the sky, herds of sheep gambolling on the gently rolling countryside, and the crops are just starting to sprout.

Of course, I’m excited to be heading to Roubaix to see the Hell of the North. I’ve noted that a number of people have gotten on the train with cycling bags, no doubt planning to ride tomorrow’s cyclosportif. I did entertain brief thoughts about aping them until one of the pros I know told me what riding over the cobbles was really like. I have heeded his words of wisdom.

Hard as it may be to believe but I have already started planning my trips for next year. I have so enjoyed watching this week’s Tour of the Basque Country that I simply have to go and watch it in person next year. The stages are all based around a small geographic area, meaning you can easily stay in the same place all week and ride to and from the start and finish of each day’s stage. Additionally, it’s a race which features some of my favourite riders. Two have already won stages (Alexandre Vinokourov and Sammy Sanchez) and another (Amael Moinard) is gracing the spotted jersey. For succinct summaries of each day’s stages, go and read www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

According to my training programme, this is a rest week: just a couple of hours of gentle cycling, stretching and gym work. However, the weather’s been so fabulous that I’ve been out riding most days, mindful that during this 4-day trip I won’t be able to ride at all. I could tell from yesterday’s ride that my form is back to where it was before the cold. So, I’m now about a month behind in my preparation. The real tests will be my times in the forthcoming sportives. I’m going to be crushed if I don’t show an improvement on last year.

The journey takes a total of 7 hours with no change of trains. I used the train infrequently when I lived in the UK, really only out of necessity, and always first-class, for the trip to an occasional football match and work-related trips to Cheltenham. Travelling by train in Europe is enjoyable. It’s quick, timely, spotlessly clean, inexpensive, and comfortable, standing is not permitted and travelling first-class is a pleasure, not a necessity.

Good save

It’s always enjoyable watching the professional peloton suffer on the same routes and roads that one regularly rides. This week end was no exception other than to say none of us would willingly ride in this sort of weather. Not even if someone were paying us. For the first time in many years, riders in Paris-Nice were welcomed to the Cote d’Azur with snow, gail-force winds, rain and cold temperatures. It’s at times like these you have to admire their fortitude and perseverance in the face of so many climatic obstacles.

As forecast, it started raining heavily just as the peloton hit the descent from Gourdon, a broad, sinuous and steep road which dangerously narrows at Chateauneuf. Roads are always at their most dangerous with a little rain: they’re greasy and very slippy. Many were cautious, indeed one could say over cautious. But with good reason, no one wants their season compromised.

Yesterday, it was a case of right team wrong rider, Alexandre Vinokourov had said that they were going to put an Astana rider on the podium. I assumed he would be that rider. I was wrong. It was instead, Remy di Gregorio who, after a couple of years in the FDJ wilderness, showed that he’s been revitalised by the Astana lifeline.

Right on Remy

Remy set off with around 13km to the finish with no one quite believing that he would manage to stay away, particularly given the narrow margin of his advantage.  His team had controlled the peloton for the first 80km or so and by the time we had television coverage, Garmin-Cervelo were on the front picking up points to preserve the green jersey of Heinrich Haussler. In the final stretch, Movistar took over, one assumes, to catapult Xavier Tondo up the GC. Instead, he slid off his bike just before the finish line.

The favourites all looked to be in preservation mode, not willing to gamble in the perilous conditions. Haussler fell over three times, the last time sliding into a wall. Robbert Kiserlovski (Astana) ended up under a parked van. Those two weren’t the only riders to fall. With 2km to go, Remy’s back wheel slid and  his right leg shot out of the pedal, allowing him to steady himself. Miraculously, he remained upright and continued to press his slim advantage.

Sammy Sanchez decided to use the work done by Movistar to move up on GC, finishing behind di Gregorio to record his 33rd runners-up position. Does this make him a Spanish Poulidor? There was no change to any of the jersey holders, nor the podium.

Today’s stage was much shorter and took in the usual sights of Nice which, one has to say, still looked magnificent on the television coverage despite the constant falling rain and huge waves crashing onto the beach. Sheltering under our brollies, warmly wrapped up, we watched the riders depart and them promptly retired to a bar to warm ourselves and watch the tv coverage. We were joined by many of the walking wounded: riders who have retired thanks to niggling injuries, colds and stomach upsets.

Only 134km to go!

Seizing the opportunity of last year’s last stage winner’s absence (Amael Moinard has retired with a heavy cold), Thomas Voeckler rode away from his breakaway companions to record his 2nd win (3rd French stage win) of this edition of Paris-Nice. You would be hard pressed to find a more popular winner. Sammy set off again, this time with a team mate from the breakaway,  to pull back a few seconds which moved him up another place on GC into 5th. That aside, there were no changes on the podium nor with the jerseys. Tony Martin rode a well judged race to record his first stage-race GC win and provide HTC with another Grand Tour card to play. Andreas Kloeden was 2nd and Bradley Wiggins 3rd. Jean-Christoph Peraud was the best placed Frenchman in 6th place. Rein Taaramae (4th on GC) was the best young rider, Henrich Haussler won the green point’s jersey and Remi Pauriol the spotted mountain one.

(all photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Contenders

I had a good ride this morning with my beloved and, given the great weather, we decided to go out for a late lunch, followed by a long walk along the coast. As a consequence, I’ve only just had time to cast my eye over the start list for tomorrow’s 69th edition of Paris-Nice and think about who might win this year, in the absence of the defending champion, Alberto Contador, who won today’s 2nd stage in the Tour of Mucia ahead of Denis Menchov and Jerome Coppel (going from strength to strength at Saur-Sojasun).

L’Equipe devoted half a page today to last year’s revelation, Peter Sagan who, having shone in the recent Tour of Sardinia, is obviously on form and keen to seize his opportunities. He’s not the only young gun keen to cement his credentials. Over at HTC-High Road, there’s Tony Martin and Tejay van Garderen plus Ritchie Porte at SaxoBank-Sungard and Jurgen van den Broeck at Omega Pharma-Lotto. The latter’s team mate, Philippe Gilbert sparkled on the Strade Bianchi today finishing in Siena ahead of Allessandro Ballan, Damiano Cunego and Spartacus.

Let’s not forget the old guard,  those who have triumphed before in the race to the sun, such as Luis Leon Sanchez and Alexandre Vinokourov. The latter’s bought plenty of support with Tomas Viatkus, Robert Kisverlovski and Roman Kreuziger. Also in the reckoning for the overall, Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack).

If we’re looking for stage winners, we should look to the French who are always “en forme” in the early season: Voeckler, Fedrigo, Le Mevel, Moinard, Peraud, Moncoutie, Pauriol. Personally, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the boys in orange: Sammy Sanchez, Romain Sicard and Gorka Izagirre.

The 1,307km route kicks off tomorrow with 154.5km from Houdan to Houdan. Yes, they’re going round in circles. Monday’s one for the sprinters too. Look out for Grega Bola (Lampre-ISD) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). The rest of the sprinters, with an eye on the Classics, are doing Tirreno-Adriatico.

After two flattish stages, it gets progressively lumpy on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday. (I’ll be there), sees a 27km ITT from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence. This could be the decisive stage. Next up is 215km, and the longest stage, from Brignoles to Biot followed by 124km around Nice, including the Category 1 climbs up La Turbie and Col d’Eze. Never one to miss an opportunity to watch live racing in my backyard, I’ll be seeing both of these stages.

There are no testing climbs in the race and one wouldn’t expect them at this stage of the season. The winner will be a puncheur who can time-trial. I would suggest we should look no further than Alexandre Vinokourov who last won the race in 2003 (homage to Andrei Kivilev) and 2004. He’s made it one of his priorities this year and he’s a guy who can focus – go Alex go.

Surprising result

The alarm went off at 06:00 this morning. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was not. My beloved turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. I, on the other hand, never even heard it. We awoke two hours later, too late to attempt the concentration at Venanson. Instead, we decided on one of our favourite summer rides which takes in the perched village of Gourdon, home to the baker of my favourite pain d’epice.

Today was just as hot as the previous one but there was a cool, rather than warm, breeze which was deliciously refreshing on the run in to home. We had picked up the newspapers on the way back and, once home, I had a cold shower and slipped into something cool and flimsy. I fed my beloved and settled down to watch stage 14: 184.5km from Revel to Ax-3 Domaines. The showdown in the Pyrenees was about to begin.

I was expecting things to kick off on the Port de Pailheres. Astana took control on the ascent and their pace shattered the peloton while leaving the contenders together. The remnants of the day’s breakaway were still up the road and a number of riders, including Carlos Sastre, had set off in hot pursuit.

A rider who lives locally, Amael Moinard, was one of two riders still up ahead from that morning’s breakaway but he’d been distanced by the other, Christophe Riblon, probably better known for his exploits on the track. Riblon hung on to give the French their 4th stage win. Meanwhile, Alberto and Andy were eyeballing one another, but neither was prepared to concede. Sensing a stalemate, both Sammy Sanchez and Denis Menchov decided to profit from the stalemate.  They gained 13 seconds. Roll on tomorrow.