Plan of action

Today’s the day of the L’Antiboise, a 100 or 150km ride, along the coast and through splendid countryside. The cycle club was assured a good turnout in support of one of our larger, neighbouring clubs as it had offered to pay everyone’s subscription (Euros 2). We’re hoping that providing visible support to the larger clubs, and their events, means they’ll return the favour come La Kivilev, which is only six weeks off.

I particularly enjoy this ride and we generally choose to ride to and from home to the departure/arrival point adding a further 20km to our route. I’ve only once, disastrously, attempted the 150km route. It’s not that I can’t do 150km, it’s that I can’t do it as fast as the bloke driving the broom wagon would like. Only one of our members has opted for the longer route, the chap who wins all the cups at the club for greatest total distance cycled in a season. He makes a clean sweep every year, a competition no one else really bothers to contest.  He’s won so many cups that he proudly uses to adorn pretty much every surface in his apartment. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure he’s even got them in the smallest room in the house!

It rained for much of yesterday, stopping only briefly at around mid-afternoon. April is generally the wettest month here and, while I would prefer it stayed dry so that I can ride, I do appreciate that our local vintners and vegetable growers, not forgetting the Carros strawberry farms, are probably crying out for water. We set the alarm for an early morning call but, as soon as we woke, could hear that the rain was still falling heavily. It’s forecast for tomorrow too, but then we’re assured of wall-to-wall sunshine.

In anticipation of this calamitous sequence of events, my cycling coach has sent me some exercises to do on the home-trainer, and there’s always the gym. But I’m going to look on this rare Sunday without a ride as a bit of a gift and enjoy the things I don’t normally get to do on a Sunday morning. I’m going to cook my beloved a delicious breakfast, then we’re going out for coffee and the newspapers before settling down to watch Amstel Gold. Did I say settling? What I should have said was that my beloved will be settling while I will be standing, hunched over the ironing board clearing the ironing mountain. I’ve procrastinated long enough.

Pain in the nether regions

What do my beloved and Tom Boonen have in common? Well, neither of them will be lining up at this weekend’s Amstel Gold Race because they’re both suffering from an inflamed foot. In Tom’s case, he’s aggravated a tendon, all that stomping on the pedals over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. He does stomp on those pedals doesn’t he? Next time my cycling coach berates me for my lack of supple pedalling  like Contador I shall say I’m doing a “Boonen”. Just don’t expect to see me riding over cobbles anytime soon.

Meanwhile, my beloved has had a recurrence of his gout. An ailment which tends to invoke mirth rather than sympathy. We’re not exactly sure why it’s chosen to return although it’s struck him in the left and not the usual right foot. I suspect that because it was cold and wet while we were on vacation in the Basque country, my beloved failed to drink enough water. Either that or it was too much excellent Rioja! The downside, at least for me, was that his ailment delayed his departure by a whole 36 hours, and counting. He left early yesterday morning and will be back later this evening. I’ve barely had time to do a few things on my most recent to do list, let alone tackle any backlogs.

Yes, I am referring to the ironing mountain. I can’t wait until the Giro as I have a very dear friend coming to stay with me at the end of the month and so simply must clear the spare bedroom where all the ironing is now piled up on the bed. None of it mine, you understand. Maybe, during Amstel Gold on Sunday afternoon.

On our return from the Basque country I had a rather frustrating day, once again trying to deal with Orange. I should add that I suspect the issues would have taken a similar amount of time had I been dealing with BT or any, indeed, other service provider. The nice man who promised to send me the outstanding invoices simple failed to deliver everything! So, I’ve requested them again. My beloved then started agitating about the HD service which we seem to have lost. I told him I couldn’t face Orange again for a couple of days. But no, he decided he would deal with it. Whenever my beloved, a man with no patience whatsoever, decides to take matters in hand I’m always the one who gets dumped on.

Sure enough after a lengthy wait “on hold”, a couple of buttons and less than 30 seconds, the telephone receiver was abruptly shoved into my hand! To be fair, it’s useful to have two people to go through the various instructions – one to listen and one to push buttons on the remote –  but after a frustrating hour during, which I was unable to watch the Brabantse Pijl cycle race, our helpful technician went off duty without having resolved the problem. He promised a colleague would call back the following day, he hasn’t. I have planned the recall for Monday morning.

I’m now savouring my final hours of freedom and wondering how I might usefully spend them. Sadly, it looks as though my “panacea for all ills” aka a long ride on the bike might be out of the question, on account of the rain. But first, a large cup of coffee and L’Equipe will go some way to restoring my equilibrium.

Bit of a roundup

After four days off the bike, it was a pleasure to resume my training programme. I’ve been riding really strongly this week, particularly on the climbs, and feel on track for this week end’s brevet, the l’Antiboise, organised by a neighbouring club. Last year, I unwisely and unsuccessfully rode the 150km parcours, bonking spectacularly after 103km. This year, I’m riding the 100km course which, with the ride to and from the start, will be a 120km round trip. We’ll be setting off relatively early so as to be back in time to watch the Amstel Gold Race. I understand from an article on Cyclingnews that some, as yet unidentified, locals have been sabotaging the course with tacks!

We have friends who live in Valkenberg, just a stone’s throw from the Cauberg, and were fortunate to be in the area on business a few year’s ago and watched the race from a good spot (near the big screen) on that hill which is decidedly leg sapping. I was riding my friend’s “sit up and beg bike” which I would have been hard pushed to indeed push it up the hill, let alone ride. On race day, the hill is thronged with spectators, particularly on the lower sections which are bordered by bars and restaurants, and it has a fantastic atmosphere.

While we’re all awaiting the next monument in the Classics season, those cute boys in lycra have still been racing. PhilGil, last year’s Amstel winner, won Wednesday’s Fleche Brabanconne, so he’s on form for his objectives of next Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and next weekend’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard), Igor Anton (Euskatel-Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (Geox) and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) are the main protagonists in the 5-day Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon, which is chock full of 2nd and 3rd division teams. This isn’t an overly bumpy parcours, indeed, the first two stages have featured the sprinters and have both been won by Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), clocking up his 6th stage win in this race. The French teams have been racing in the Coupe de France whose leader is young Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). In the 4th round, Sandy Casar (FDJ) emerged as the big cheese in Paris-Camembert while Jimmy Casper won his 4th GP de Denain Porte du Hainault.

I haven’t passed much comment on the football of late. There’s not a lot to say about either of my teams whose fortunes seem to mirror one another. OGCN, with one of the smallest budgets in the French first division, generally punch above their weight and are playing Lille in next week’s semi-final of the French Cup and should finish the season a couple of places above the relegation zone. My beloved boys in claret and blue are going through what I hope is a transition phase and, despite the inevitable end of season loss of one of their best players (again), should survive to rebound next season.

My beloved has been away for a couple of days which has enabled me to complete a number of tasks for the club before I leave for next week’s break in Varese. My beloved has decided to take a week’s holiday but if I don’t get him out of the office, he’ll just be working away on his emails. We’re staying in the same B&B I stayed in while volunteering at the 2008 Road Cycling World Championship’s in Varese. We’ve become good friends with the owners and stay a couple of times a year either visiting clients or friends nearby. It’s a lovely area to cycle around; witness the large number of professional riders who live and train in the area. I particularly enjoy cycling around the lakes and covering some of the route of the tour of Lombardy.

2010 Highlights

We’ve reached the time of year when it’s difficult to fill newspaper and cycling magazine columns without taking a retrospective look at the season. This seemed like a suitable discussion topic for my English class on Wednesday evening. We were surprisingly of similar minds:-

Rider of the Year

One day races:- There were only two candidates: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both were competitive throughout the season and both wore Grand Tour leader’s jerseys but, after much debate, we settled on Spartacus: the 4th ITT rainbow jersey tipping the balance in his favour.

Stage races:- As winner of the Tour de France, the most difficult Grand Tour to win, Alberto should have been a shoe in but, sensitive to post-Tour issues such as that itsy, bitsy trace of Clenbuterol, our gong went to Vicenzo Nibali: 3rd in the Giro and winner of the Vuelta.

Memorable Performance of the Year

Actually, there were so many this year that it was hard to whittle it down to just one. Among others, we considered: Fabian’s wins in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, PhilGil’s wins at Amstel and Lombardy, Cadel Evans at Fleche Wallonne, Bobbie Traskel at K-B-K, Thor at the World Championships, Vino at L-B-L. Finally, we settled on Thor’s performance at the World Championship’s in Geelong. Given that the Norwegian team numbered only three riders, his win demonstrated perfectly his ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time to power to the line.

Best One-day Race of the Year

Here too we had plenty of contenders, but we finally plumped for PhilGil’s win in the Tour of Lombardy, his second consecutive win in the race. It was not just the manner of his win but that he gave no quarter despite the appalling weather conditions.

Best Stage Race of the Year

While we all agreed that the Tour is the most difficult Grand Tour to win, largely because of the depth of competition and the psychological pressures, it can be predictable. Both the Giro and Vuelta raised their games this year to produce thrilling and, at times, unpredictable racing. Finally, we agreed on the Giro d’Italia.

Team of the Year

Hands down, no contest. Liquigas were the best stage racing team and HTC-Columbia the team that racked up the most wins.

Best Kit

No argument: Cervelo Test Team.

Worst Kit

Unanimously awarded to Footon-Servetto

Unsung Hero of the Year

Again, we found it difficult to whittle down the contenders as so many team mates sacrifice their own chances of glory for their leaders. In addition, the work of many riders is done and dusted before the television cameras hove into view. In the end, we decided that the unsung heroes were the hard working domestiques in every team without whom no leader would ever win races.

Best French Rider

Loyal, and ever-smiling, Tommy Voeckler of Bbox without whom his team manager might not have reeled in replacement sponsor Europcar.

Breakout Rider of the Year

Votes were split between the loquacious Peter Sagan of Liquigas and the cherubic faced Richie Porte of Saxobank.

Worst Pro-Tour Race of the Year

There aren’t any, we all love cycle racing wherever and whenever.

Story/Issue of the Year

Sadly, we all agreed these had to be the doping issues. Namely,

  • Pellizotti  being banned from racing due to (unfounded?) passport irregularities
  • Floyd Landis’s accusations against Lance, plus his own confessions
  • Contador and Clenbuterol

Disappointment of the Year

UCI’s unilateral changes to the way teams are evaluated which demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding of the evolution of the sport.

Scant consolation

On today’s stage, another hot one, 157.3km from Marbella to Malaga, I was willing one of the original 7-man breakaway to the finish line. But sometimes even our combined wills just aren’t enough.

Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) having accelerated away from his breakaway companions on the big climb of the day, the Puerto del Leon, looked to have enough in hand over the peloton to win the stage, the leader’s jersey and the mountain’s classification. A holy trinity which would surely have ignited his career. Unfortunately, the peloton had other ideas and he was caught just under the flamme rouge.

The final ascent was reminiscent of the Cauberg and sure enough here was the winner of this year’s Amstel Gold, Philippe Gilbert, accelerating away from Vicenzo Nibali and Joaquin Rodriguez to cross the line in an imperious fashion. The stage and the leader’s jersey for Philippe and precious GC seconds for Rodriguez who finished ahead of Igor Anton. Serafin hung onto the mountain’s classification jersey.

Philippe looked mighty powerful today. He will be one to watch in Geelong where he now won’t have to share leadership of the Belgian team with Tom Boonen who, thanks to slower than anticipated recovery from knee surgery, will be watching events unfold from his armchair in Monaco. 

So how did my “men to watch” do today? Sadly, Ben Swift, and team mate John-Lee Augustyn, have gone down and out with a stomach bug. However Arthur Vichot, a viral superstar with a huge fan base in Australia, finished 10th on the stage.

At long last

My legs are nowhere near as tired this week as they were last. I’m not sure what that says: maybe, I could have gone even faster on Sunday. This week end we’ve got the l’Antiboise, which was cancelled last year due to rain. In 2008, I did the 100km course, which at the time represented quite a feat for me. I remember being totally exhausted afterwards and, close to the finish, we had to stop in Mandelieu Napoule for a comfort break and a reviving hot chocolate.

This year I have signed up for the 150km. I think I have already done most of the route with the Tuesday UFOLEP group, so I don’t feel too daunted. Although I am hoping to finish in a reasonable time so that I can get back to watch the Amstel Gold Race before we head off to Alassio for a few days. My beloved is meeting a client there on Monday so it seemed opportune to take our bikes and spend a couple of days visiting the places we didn’t see when we were there last year with the club.

Fuel is always an issue for me on longer rides. I have yet to find an energy drink which doesn’t give me intestinal troubles. I’m also not a fan of gels, for the same reason. I find that a reviving coke at the mid-way point, plus my own home-made energy bars, and dried fruit, do the trick. Providing, of course, I remember to take them with me.

Now that I’ve almost finished my workload, I’m going for a slightly longer ride tomorrow, just to loosen the legs. I’ve had a very light training schedule this week which ramps up for the following three weeks to take account of the randonnees I aim to complete. With any luck, I’ll be able to schedule my laser eye treatment towards the end of next month when, for several subsequent days, I’ll be totally occupied with the Brevet Kivilev.

Sadly, I haven’t had much time to watch the action from the various stage and one-day races taking place this week. Though I have found time to read the results. Hurrah, at last a Belgian (albeit a Wallon) has won one of the semi-classics – La Fleche Brabaconne. Yes, a Shack attack from Sebastien Rosseler (one of those riders who weighs more than me) saw him leapfrog over two Flandriens to the top step of the podium. Theo Bos 2 -0 rest of the peloton in Tour de Castille et Leon. While over in the Tour of Turkey, it’s  Greipel 3  and Visconti 2 (plus the leader’s jersey).