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……………………………

Hare and hounds

I had originally intended to head down to Rapallo for a couple of days to ride and watch the finish of Monday’s Giro stage, and the start of Tuesday’s. I changed those plans because the club scheduled the 175km ride for the Kivilev volunteers for yesterday. It’s a route I rarely get an opportunity to ride largely because it heads into the deserted Nicois hinterland where it’s inadvisable to ride alone; there’s no mobile phone signal and little passing traffic. The route’s not particularly difficult, but it does include over 2500m of climbing, just what I needed ahead of Saturday’s La Vencoise.

The “boys” were setting off from the club at 06:30am and mindful of the need to try and stay ahead of them, I set off at the crack of dawn in my yellow fluorescent gilet. All the better to be seen by what little traffic was around. It’s chilly at that time in the morning so I was wearing my armwarmers and 3/4 bib shorts. I parked the car in St Jeannet and rode to Bouyon largely untroubled by traffic, just a few early commuters heading in the opposite direction. The descent to Roquesteron was a little chilly and so I popped into the town bar for a coffee and comfort break.

Sigale

I set off again climbing up towards Sigale which was where the boys overhauled me last year. I had calculated that if I made it onto the plateau without being overtaken, I would reach the picnic ground before them. It was turning into a gorgeous day; sunny with a hint of a breeze. My only companions were a few animals in the fields alongside the road.  I was enjoying the peace and quiet but more importantly, the solitude. I was still profoundly upset by events the day before at the Giro. I am always saddened to learn of the death of a fellow cyclist and it’s not just a case of “there for the grace of God………” If I ever meet my maker on my bike it’ll be because I’ve been knocked off it by a careless motorist. Professional cyclists take far more risks almost wholly because of the speed at which they travel on the bike, they are always testing its limits. Accident wise it’s not been a good couple of weeks for the club, apart from my friend who had been knocked off his bike on Sunday (cracked forehead, cracked vertebrae, massive bruising to right collar and shoulder bones, plus contusions to thighs) one of our promising youngsters, while on his bike, had been attacked by a motorist and left unconscious. Both were now recovering, but had been understandably shaken up by those events.

It also made me think about Andrei Kivilev in whose memory we hold our event. He too died in a cycling accident, albeit before the advent of helmets, in Paris-Nice 2003. Each year his widow attends the prize giving with Andrei’s son, who was born after his father’s death, he’s the spitting image of his late father.  Andrei’s parents make regular pilgrimages to visit their grandson and Andrei’s grave, he’s buried here. The club with whom Andrei first started his cycling career in France, and who also participate at the Kivilev,  hold a sportif each year in October, again in Andrei’s memory in which our club takes part.  Andrei’s family, our local Kazakh community, The Kazakh embassy in France and the Kazakh cycling Federation are grateful to us for keeping Andrei’s memory alive. I’m sure someone will do something similar for Wouter. It’s the least they deserve.

I finished the long slog up to Collongues, still no sign of my pursuers. I was starting to feel confident and enjoying the open roads. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of cars I’d seen since Roquesteron. The road flattens before the climb to St Auban and the plateau. Still no sign of my team mates although I had seen the club car containing the all important picnic which had overtaken me at Brianconnet.  I was starting to believe I might make it. Foolishly, and most unlike me, I hadn’t thought to bring my route map and on reaching a set of cross roads was uncertain which way to go. I opted for Thorenc, the location of the picnic though I had a nagging feeling it was straight on. My nagging feeling was right. My route took me over the testing Col de Bleyne however it also cut 8km off the route.

Greolieres

Had I been able to find the lake, I would have gotten there first: scant consolation. I couldn’t contact my team mates, no signal. So I descended to Greolieres, gave them a call to assure them I wasn’t lost, and stopped at a cafe for lunch. I’d not been here before but had passed by a number of times and it was always busy. The couple seated behind me were waxing lyrical about their lunch. I ordered a coke (necessary sugar hit), herb omelette and salad. The waitress enquired whether I wanted it runny or well-cooked, I requested the former. I sat back, drained my coke and contemplated the arrival of my soft, golden mound of quivering egg and mixed herbs.

I was rudely disappointed. The omelette was nut brown on the exterior and certainly overcooked on the interior, I couldn’t eat it. The proprietor was a little put out, but after offering to enter  his kitchen to show his chef how to cook an omelette correctly, he agreed not to charge me anything. I continued on my way. I rode up to Coursegoules, by way of St Pons with my stomach rumbling loudly, but I was almost there, the road was now pretty much downhill all the way back to my car which was parked outside of a particularly fine bakery. That thought kept me going. My reward was a cup of coffee and a coffee eclair – bliss. Coffee eclairs would be my perfect riding snack were it not for the mess they would inevitably make in my jersey pocket.

There was no time to waste if I were to get back to the club in time for this evening’s meeting. I drove home, showered, changed, grabbed my pre-packed bag and headed to the club.  I encountered a bit of ribbing about getting lost and missing the bountiful picnic but, in truth, I didn’t care. I had enjoyed my solitary ride. I had been alone, but not lonely.

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)

All shook up

We set off yesterday lunchtime for Aix-en-Provence. I let my beloved drive Tom III, largely because I was feeling lousy with my head cold. We arrived, easily parked and went to stand at the finish, within sight of the big tv screen. The team cars and buses were parked behind us and I realised I should have liberated “the shirt for signature” from my LBS, as I’d have had no trouble collecting further signatures – damn. I’ll do that today and see if I can collect a few over the week end.

Sky's Geraint Thomas cooling down
Sky’s Geraint Thomas set the earliest best time only to be superceded by Vacansoleil’s Liewe Westra. Obviously, if you’re riding for a team with GC ambitions,  you’re probably advised to ride within yourself, saving something in the legs for this week end’s stages. As a result, riders come and go without unduly disturbing the results. However, I enjoy time trials as it’s one of the very few occasions you get to see individual riders. On the big screen, you can also appreciate the differences between the time-triallers and the others. The former keep rock solid still on the bike with the legs working like pistons. However, with 25 riders within 90 seconds of the leader, this time-trial was going to finish with a flourish.
Serious bike bling

Richie Porte (SaxoBank-Sungard),  or as he’s called by the French Ritchee Poorty, set the next best time. He ultimately finished 3rd, 29 seconds behind the eventual winner. Yes, this was one stage that went according to expectations. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) wearing his GB champion’s kit blasted around 9 seconds faster than Richie Porte to finish 2nd on the day. The winner, as widely anticipated, was Tony Martin whose fluid pedalling style is a joy to behold. He rode at an average speed of 48.5km/hr and finished 20 seconds ahead of Wiggo.

As predicted, the time-trial results shook up the GC. Martin is now in yellow 36 seconds ahead of Kloeden (RadioShack) and 39 seconds ahead of Wiggins. Locally based Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) is 70 seconds back in 4th, and holder of the best young jersey, with Jean Christophe Peraud (AG2R), the highest placed Frenchman, in 5th, a further 4 seconds down. Given the week end’s topography and forecast weather conditions, the top 12 placed riders can still challenge on GC, but Tony Martin looks pretty determined to hang onto yellow. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) looks to have a stranglehold on the points jersey, as does Remi Pauriol (FDJ) on the spotted one.

Something left in the tank
It’s official, I have a cold which probably wasn’t helped by my standing in yesterday’s humid and chilly conditions watching the racing. But a girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. My tip for today? Alexandre Vinokourov wasn’t totally blown when he finished yesterday. He’d like to win a stage to honour his late friend, Andrei Kivilev, and maybe today’s the day. We’ll see.

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.

They’ve got my number

This week I received a call from a gentleman purporting to be from the Kazakhstan Embassy in France. I say “purporting” because, at first, I didn’t know whether or not this was a genuine call. Many of my clubmates have wicked senses of humour and this could just be a wind up. On the other hand, it might just be genuine and, in such cases, I find it’s best to err on the side of caution.

He started talking about La Laurentine Kivilev and asked me if I was up to date with its state of affairs. I reassured him that not only was I the club secretary but I was also on the committee responsible for organising the Kivilev. He went on to say how delighted he was to hear that we were honouring Andrei in this way who is still (quite rightly) regarded as a big hero back in Kazakhstan.

He then threw me a bit of a curve ball by asking if we’d invited anyone from the Kazakh Cycling Federation to the event. I said that, as far as I was aware, we had not, but Andrei’s widow and son had been invited along with all the Kazakh cyclists living locally. He was pleased to hear this but still felt that our event warranted representation from the Federation. At which point I advised that we would be happy to issue an invite and that I would speak to M Le President that very afternoon.

Apparently, we did issue an open invite to the Kazakh Cycling Federation for the inaugural event back in 2006 but no one replied, let alone turned up. However, we’re happy to oblige and so yesterday evening I sent invitations to both the Federation and the Embassy. I’m not holding my breath.

Afterwards, I started wondering how the Embassy had gotten hold of my mobile phone number. Yes, it’s on the French version of the flyer, and on the club website, but so’s the mobile number of M Le President and, if that was the case, I’m guessing the Embassy would have followed protocol and rung him. So, there’s really only one other possibility. My favourite Kazakh must have given the embassy my number. Now, if you’re wondering why and how he’s got my mobile number I’m sorry, but I’m not going to enlighten you.  After all, a girl’s got to have a few secrets, hasn’t she?

Will she, won’t she

This week I’m preparing for Saturday’s Brevet Kivilev, an event held in memory of the late Andrei Kivilev, an honorary member of our club, who tragically died of head injuries on 12 March 2003 following a collision and fall in the 2nd stage of 2003 Paris-Nice.

Kivilev’s untimely death was the trigger for the UCI to implement compulsory wearing of helmets by riders in all endorsed races.

Commitments permitting, the Kazakhs turn out in support, which means that this week end I’ll get to ride with yet another Grand Tour winner. Though no doubt he too will be showing me a pair of clean heels!

I was, and still am, tempted to try to complete the 170km parcours. However, while I’m familiar with parts of the course, I haven’t cycled all of it. Nor have I cycled quite that far in one day. There’s also the vague concern that I’ll get back to the finish to discover that everyone’s packed up and gone home because I took far too long.

My training this week has been impaired by lungs congested by the very high levels of tree pollen, for which I have been slathering on the Vick’s Vapour rub, as permitted under WADA/UCI/FFC/UFOLEP regulations. Though, obviously, I have been monitoring my ingested level of eucalyptus, so as not to breach the limits.

Thursday Postscript: Just popped into my LBS to collect my secret weapon: “Stars’n’Bars” energy bars, made to a top secret recipe. They are totally delicious. Now I’ll have no excuse for not lasting the distance.