Postcard from Sardinia: Part II

There was little of note on our journey From Alghero to Olbia aside from the landscape, which became more rugged the further east we drove. We arrived at our hotel in Olbia, close by the airport, just in time for lunch. My beloved was delighted to discover the hotel had a pool and gym where, post-race he was able to give his leg a work out. He’s walking further each day without crutches but is not quite confident enough to surrender them completely. 

The finish in Olbia was unexpected. A young Austrian sprinter, Lukas Poestlburger (Bora-hansgrohe), who typically leads out his team’s main sprinter, took a successful flyer off the front. It was game over and he picked up three of the jerseys including that of race leader, the maglia rosa. Another team-mate who was in the day’s break had taken the remaining jersey, getting their team’s Giro off to a wholly delightful yet unexpected start. One of the reasons I love cycling, it’s so unpredictable.

After an evening working, which may or may not have involved an alcoholic beverage or two, we slept soundly and rose to head back into town for the start of stage two. This gave me an opportunity to have a quick look around. The town was full of beautiful floral displays from, I assume, local growers though we’d seen no evidence of them driving over. The town’s proximity to the Costa Smeralda was reflected in its upmarket shops and restaurants, plus the large contingent of Russians and Germans milling round town. 

All too soon the peloton had departed and we followed in its wake, further south to Tortoli. A detour off the motorway due to an accident meant we drove up and over the much more undulating terrain, which afforded great views down to the coast and gave us an idea of what the peloton could expect on today’s stage. 

This stage had a more familiar face winning the bunch sprint, Andre Greipel, a rider who’s won a stage (12) in every grand tour in which he’s participated, and who also assumed the race leader’s jersey. 

We easily found our hotel overlooking the sea. A wedding party was in full swing. The couple were obviously big MotoGP fans as the theme was VR46’s (Valentino Rossi) yellow and blue with all the tables named after GP races. They weren’t the only guests, Movistar were also staying at the hotel with Trek-Segafredo billeted next door. 

We opted for dinner in the hotel next door because, in addition to its main menu, it had a vegan one, not necessarily what you’d expect in a very small seaside hotel. I was delighted and we ate here for the next two days. Our evening was spent sitting in our patio garden watching the comings and goings of the team. 

After the following day’s stage from Tortoli finished in Cagliari, the riders would fly to Sicily. Pretty much everyone else had to take a 12 hour ferry. Given the sheer volume of traffic, including the caravan and press pack, the vehicles departed in waves, some the night before to get everything set up for the riders the following day which of necessity would be a “rest” day. 

After waving the riders off from Tortoli, promising cakes on my return on mainland Italy, we spent two days luxuriating in the serenity of our chosen hotel, watching the wind-affected sprint into Cagliari dominated by echelon masters Quick-Step. Another stage victor who also took the leader’s jersey, sprint sensation Fernando Gaviria, the youngest Colombian to win a grand tour stage. Most of the Colombians are mountain goats. Not so Gaviria, an Olympic track star turned roadster. 

All too soon our Sardinian idyll was at an end but we’ll definitely return with the bikes, the best way to see the island. We drove to the airport in Cagliari for our flight to Malpensa and the drive home. I’ll be following the Giro on the television for the next week or so before watching two stages near Novi Ligure at the end of the second week.

 

 

Cards from Copenhagen III

Eshewing the race start in downtown Copenhagen, I went directly to the finish at Rudersdal to claim my spot on the 50m to go marker. The Danes were expecting crowds of 400,000 tall Scandinavians. I needed to be in the front row, against the barriers. I could watch the start on the nearby screen. The Championship’s website claims that the nearest train station is 10 minutes from the finish line. That would be 10 minutes as driven by Sebastian Vettell. On foot, it’s a good 20 minutes and we’ve already established I’m a quick walker. Today I took my own supplies as the choice on offer is somewhat spartan: Carlsberg or Carlsberg. Although I did buy some coffee the other day from some enterprising youngsters, pretty much the cheapest and best coffee I’ve found in pricy Copenhagen.

I arrived in Rudersdal to discover that the locals had laid out their towels the night before and my spot on the 50m marker had been colonised by some very large Danes who, at 09:30 in the morning, were already swigging Calsberg. I am however, if nothing adroit, and by the second circumnavigation of the circuit by the peloton I had claimed my rightful place. The race had been pretty lively from the start and a breakaway of 7 riders had gone clear which included Anthony “it isn’t a break if I’m not in it” Roux and three riders from Team Astana, albeit all different nationalities. The race unfolded much as expected, with the British , whom the American announcer kept calling “the English” –   I bet David Millar and Geraint Thomas loved that – controlling the peloton with assistance from firstly the Germans, and secondly the Americans.

PhilGil sent his lieutenants up the road to form a second break away group which, with 5 laps to go, joined up with the first. But the British remained tranquillo. Not so the back of the peloton, where Team New Zealand, Tony Martin and defending champ Thor Hushovd, among others, were caught up in a crash and never regained the main peloton. Meanwhile, riders were pinging off the front of the bunch, particularly the Danes, to the delight of the local crowd, only to be recaptured by the GB steam roller. Two of the escapees were, as anticipated, French favourite Tommy  Voeckler and Johnny “Scarred Legs” Hoogerland, making their trademark attacks.  But nothing and no one stood in the way of the GB train. A train PhilGil had missed.

The final escapees were brought back on the last lap, where the Brits fought for control with a number of other teams trying to set up their sprint trains, until finally mayhem ensued. Cavendish, shorn of support, picked his way through the pack on the right-hand barrier to burst free of the bunch with 150m (where else) to go, beating team mate Matt Goss by half a wheel. Ex- team mate Andre Greipel was a bike length back in 3rd ,separated from Fabulous Fabian by just a fag paper. The British had won their second gold medal in this event: the first going to the late Tommy Simpson in 1965. Bradley Wiggins was right when he said Cavendish would be unlikely to have a better chance to win gold. The course was made for his style of riding. Even so the Brits had apparently been planning this for the past 3 years. See, proves my point, planning and preparation deliver results every time.

Top 15 Results
1.   Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) Time 5:40:27
2.   Matthew Harley Goss (Australia)
3.   André Greipel (Germany)
4.   Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
5.   Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
6.   Romain Feillu (France)
7.   Borut Bozic (Slovenia)
8.   Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
9.   Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain)
10. Tyler Farrar (USA)
11.  Denis Galimzyanov (Russia)
12. Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
13. Anthony Ravard (France)
14. Daniele Bennati (Italy)
15. Rui Costa (Portugal)

Here’s the medal table which clearly shows Sheree 6 – 5 Ute.

Medal table by country

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain 2 2 2 6
Australia 2 1 2 5
France 2 1 0 3
Germany 2 0 3 5
Denmark 1 1 1 3
Italy 1 0 0 1
New Zealand 0 2 0 2
Belgium 0 2 0 2
Netherlands 0 1 1 2
Switzerland 0 0 1 1

Underdogs on top

Woke yesterday morning to find it was raining, rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke, it had stopped raining but I was too late to set off for the pointage at Beausoleil. I decided to go for a run along the seafront before heading to collect the Sunday newspapers. A quick coffee (quelle surprise, OGCN had beaten St Etienne away from home) then it was off to the airport to collect my beloved on his return from Chicago.

After a light lunch, we both changed into our matching Qatari Airways jimjams and settled back for an afternoon of full-on sport. Firstly, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and then the League Cup Final: Arsenal v Birmingham City.

The sun was shining (weakly) in Belgium and most of the Dutch and Belgian riders were in shorts and short sleeves with a couple of notable exceptions. Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was no doubt feeling the chill after his trip to the Middle East and was wearing leg warmers, arm warmers and thick gloves. I was mesmerised by Stijn Devolder’s (Vacansoleil-DCM) thick fluorescent yellow gloves which clashed with his Belgian Champion’s outfit. Try black next time, Stijn.

There was the obligatory group of escapees who, having ignored the barrier at a railway crossing, were subsequently disqualified. The mild weather and lumpy parcours seemed to encourage breakaways but none stuck, the sprinters’ teams were too strong and too determined. In the end, Chris Sutton (Team Sky) had the best organised train and, with 200 metres to go, was launched across the line  to become the first Aussie winner. He finished ahead of Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Interestingly, none of the leading trio had raced the day before.

Meanwhile over in Switzerland, Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) dedicated his win in the GP Lugano to his late trainer, Aldo Sassi. The French racked up yet another win in Les Boucles du Sud Ardeche. It was none other than last year’s viral star, Arthur Vichot (FDJ). Yesterday, according to Sport+, the French had won 24 stages to date while the Italians are in 2nd place with 19 wins. I’m not sure how this has been calculated, they didn’t explain.

After the excitement of the cycling, we settled down to what we were sure would be an Arsenal win. Frankly, as AVFC fans we were bound to support whoever played against the Blues, our arch-rivals. The Blues got a goal against the run of play, in the 28th minute. Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later with a terrific goal from Robin Van Persie who was later to retire with a knee injury.

During the second half, Arsenal had their chances but couldn’t convert any of  them. In 89th minute, a miscleared ball by the Arsenal defence gifted the winner to the Blues. Truly, it really was one of those balls from which even your granny would have scored.  Unbelievably, our bitterest rivals, who had knocked us out of the competition, had won and will be playing in Europa League next season. On the one hand, it’s good to see the underdog win but why couldn’t it have been us last season against Chelsea?

Wrong place, wrong time

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues apace. The last two mornings we’ve been woken by the roar of saws. I think it’s fair to say that with the exception of our olive trees, which were pruned last year, everything on the Domaine is fair game. No bush or tree has emerged unscathed. Now, I have no doubt this was long overdue. Witness what happened to one of my neighbours just before Xmas: Buche de Noel indeed!

Park in the wrong spot at your peril

The temperature has dipped by at least 8 degrees and so I’m back to being muffled like Michelin man and am restricting my rides to the coast road. The outlook for the next ten days is similar but I can live with cold but dry and sunny. This weather is, of course, good news for skiers.

Most evenings I’ve been catching up on the Santos Tour Down Under. While, I, and probably everyone else, had been expecting a Cav v Greipel sprint-fest, nothing could have been further from reality. The stages have by and large been owned by the young guns, and all bar one of these has been Australian. Good news then for the crowds of home supporters.

ASO has announced the teams for this year’s Paris-Nice and Tour de France. As anticipated, they have handed wild cards to the home teams.  I would anticipate that the organisers of the Giro and Vuelta will follow suit and also award wild cards to the home sides. Carlos Sastre has expressed his disappointment at not riding the Tour and is to focus on the Giro. Given that they may not receive an invite to the Vuelta,  one has to assume that too will be the focus of Denis Menchov. Tirreno-Adriatico will not feature in either of their training plans as Geox hasn’t received one of the two wild cards on offer.

Members of the UCI have ill-advisedly been opining on the case of Contador, a man who is still innocent until his home Federation comes to a decision. This is unlikely to be anytime before 15 February. Should the outcome be appealed, Contador will not be able to defend his Tour title (assuming he still holds it).

Will Contador’s absence make the outcome of this year’s Tour any less likely? Probably not as riders, in my opinion, tend to ride far too defensively and are unwilling to gamble a good placing on GC. However, the lack of individual time-trial kilometres should not unduly disadvantage the Schlecks and Basso by comparison with Evans and Vinokourov. Oh yes, I may not expect my favourite Kazakh to top the podium but I do anticipate he’ll be on one of the steps. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out early on and say the podium will be 1. Basso 2. Evans 3.Vinokourov.  What no Schlecks you cry. Indeed not, the other three are all made of far sterner stuff and, baring injury, will prevail.

Post Tour postscript: Better not give up the day job. So much for my Tour prognostications.