All’s right with my world

There’s nothing I love more on Sunday afternoons than relaxing on the sofa with the newspapers, watching sport on the television, after having ridden with my beloved in the morning. Even though, the mercury continues to head towards more wintry temperatures, it was sunny again today. Perfect for a ride along the coast were it not for the fact that the Nice-Cannes marathon runners had first dibs on the road today.

My beloved returned late last night having spent two days in Bournemouth in the company of 600 women. He seemed in high spirits. I wonder why? Actually, I know why. One of the products he’s currently promoting at long last seems to be catching on big time and proved a hit with the ladies.

We woke too late to ride with the club and only set off for our ride when most of the other club riders were returning home. We see no point in venturing out while it’s still too cold. Far better to wait until the sun’s warmth has taken the chill away. We headed toward Pre du Lac and then rode back via Opio, Valbonne and Biot. The reverse of one of our favourite winter Saturday rides. Like yesterday there was a stiffish breeze which I hope didn’t unduly hinder the marathon runners. Each year I ponder whether I might take part in next year’s event but pondering is about as far as I’ve got. I’m still running (for want of a better word) on a regular basis as part of my training but 45-60 mins is about my limit, any more and I get bored.

The marathon was won by Kenyan Lukas Kanda in a time of 2:08:40. In fact, the top 10 places were all taken by runners from the African sub-continent apart from Frenchman Alban Cholin who finished 9th. I was much amused to see that runners from my local Post Office finished a very creditable 8th in the relay. These cannot work in the actual office, they must all be Postman Pats.

Ahead of my forthcoming trip to Paris and New York, I’ve ridden every day and run the full gamut of exercises. My Garmin tells me I’m in the form of my life which is rather poor timing on my part. The sportif’s season tends to run from early April to mid-June, so either I’ve peaked 7 months too late or 5 months too early. Take your pick.

While my beloved boys in claret and blue head to London for a Monday night clash with Spurs, OGC Nice played a blinder with nine men against St Etienne. Yes, within 30 minutes two players had received their marching orders, including the goalkeeper, and they’d conceded two goals. Despite losing another player (careless, or what?), they managed to preserve the status quo for Marsiglia’s first match in charge. Either this will prove to be a baptism of fire from which the team will recover or it’ll be a large nail in the new manager’s coffin.

Current crooner and former tennis player Yannick Noah seems to have created a bit of a storm in a coffee cup, following his comments about doping during an interview with French newspaper Le Monde. He implied that Spanish athletes were omnipotent thanks to taking magic potions and, as a consequence, the French authorities should be more lenient. It’s fair to say that his comments have not been well-received anywhere. I would imagine that Alberto Contador is crossing Noah off his Xmas card list while ASO, as I type,  are probably deleting him from the Tour de France 2012 promotional video. Noah, you should be responsibly, and not irresponsibly, provocative.

Viva La Vuelta I

The Vuelta a Espana, the 3rd and last of the Grand Tours, starts tomorrow. It’s the 17th running of the race since it was moved from its original springtime slot to the autumn. As a consequence of its place in the cycling calendar, many of the top riders give it a miss. It tends to be targeted more by domestic riders, as a number in the peloton will have effectively hung up their cleats for the season, while other participants will use it to fine tune their preparation for the World Championships, at the end of September, and therefore may not finish the race. Not so this year, as a number, whose ambitions in the Tour de France were dashed by injury, are riding the Vuelta. So this edition promises to be way more exciting but the lack of time-trialling kilometers and numerous steep summit finishes favour the 60kg when wet brigade, all largely Spanish.

This typically perceived lack of depth tends to give the Vuelta less credence than its sibling Tours and, as a consequence, the owners of the Vuelta (Unipublic and now ASO) have tried to inject some excitement into the race, such as last year’s night time TTT in Seville. This year’s novelty sees the Vuelta’s first visit to the Basque country in 33 years and I’ll be there to watch those two stages (19 and 20) before the final leg in Madrid on Sunday 11 September. For a concise and articulate rundown on the Vuelta and it’s likely protagonists, can I suggest you pop over to http://thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This year’s race starts in Benidorm which brings back fond memories of a family holiday there when I was 14, many, many moons ago, and my pink fringed bikini. I thought I looked the bee’s knees, and the local male population seemed to concur. My father never let down his guard once, which was probably just as well.

Benidorm

Anyway, back to the Vuelta’s 3rd visit to Benidorm, one of Spain’s most popular tourist resorts lying on the eastern Mediterranean coastline between Valencia and Alicante, in the province of Valencia, in a region better known as the Costa Blanca. It’s split into four areas: The Old Town, Levante, Poniente, and Rincon de Loix.

Benidorm’s Old Town is a maze of cobbled streets populated with bars, restaurants and shops situated on the promontory that separates the 2 main beaches. This was the original fishing village which mutated into a tourist mecca thanks to those long, lovely beaches.

The Levante beach area, with over 2kms of golden sand, awash with hotels, theme parks and night clubs, is for the young at heart. It merges into Rincon de Loix, the newer part of Benidorm, which with its mixture of hotels and apartments is popular with the British. The refurbished and recently revitalised Poniente beach lies west of Benidorm’s old Town.

Stage 1 parcours

Tomorrow’s team time trail actually starts from a ramp on the beach before dipping and then heading back to the coast. With the Spanish still on holiday, and at the b each, expect massive crowds the length of the parcours. It’s short, just 13.5km, so any time differences are sure to be small and not decisive. Nonetheless, riders with GC ambitions, such as Igor Anton from Euskaltel, will start stage 2 on the back foot as his team will most probably finish among the slowest. Tipped for tomorrow’s win will be teams such as HTC High Road, Garmin Cervelo and Radioshack.

My interest in the Vuelta has increased because two professional riders I know really well are taking part. While it would be fantastic to see them take a stage, they’ll be riding selflessly in support of their respective leaders, even if one of them is his country’s road race champion. They’re the type of rider that every team leader would like to have in their team and I hope this’ll be recognised when it comes to both of them getting new contracts for next season.

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.

And the winning tickets are………………

Ten days later than previously promised, Christian Prudhomme has opined. The 22 teams for the 2010 Tour de France are as expected: the sixteen teams covered by the September 2008 agreement, the four new Pro-Tour Teams (Katusha, Sky, Garmin, Radioshack), and the two most promising Continental Pro-Tour teams (Cervelo and BMC). So there’s no room at the Tour for Saur-Sojasun, Vacansoleil or Skil Shimano although they are on the substitutes bench.

One can only imagine the long faces over at Vacansoleil HQ. The Tour starts in their home town, they’re guaranteed to animate any race, they sponsored Paris-Nice and they bought the brothers Feillu. They’ve also been shut out of the Giro and a number of other ASO races.

Pat McQuaid had been openly critical of  the length of time ASO was taking to make a decision. However, three months before the start of the Tour is not unreasonable, nor is taking two months to assess the strengths of the contenders’ teams. It’s not been an easy decision. Teams are bound to be disappointed and sponsors may well question the benefits of sponsorship if they don’t get the global exposure afforded by the Tour.

However, those teams who were disappointed this year need to be patient. There is no agreement in place as to who is guaranteed a spot next year. There are a number of sponsors withdrawing from the sport (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne) and some considering withdrawing (Bbox Bouygues Telecom). Teams, like last year, may be relegated from or promoted to the Pro-Tour ranks. And, assuredly,  there will be new sponsors. This changing landscape is what makes the sport so interesting for the fans but a wee bit nerve-racking for the riders.

Postscript: Prudhomme today defended his decision in L’Equipe. However, he might as well have said that it was a no-brainer.  The two Continental Pro Tour teams selected have a former Tour Winner (Sastre) and a former green jersey wearer (Hushovd) and the current World Champion, who’s twice been second (Evans). These outweigh any French riders on Dutch teams or, indeed, French riders on French teams.

Moral victory

Just look who turned up to take part in Sunday’s Gentleman and show us all exactly how it’s done. Afterwards, she kindly handed out the cups to the winners, signed autographs and posed for endless photographs. Despite the urging of my clubmates, I wisely declined to have my photograph taken with a woman who weights 43kg – maybe, next year.

Tough competition

My girlfriend and I were the fastest (and only) all female team. While, the organisers are quite happy to have all male single category teams, this generosity is not extended to the fairer sex. Discrimination? Absolutely! Accordingly, we were lumped in with the mixed pairs where we were a very respectable 2nd (not last) in the over 40s.

In hot pursuit

Not content with riding the short course with my girlfriend, I also decided to ride the longer course with my beloved. I had a pretty quick turn around; with just enough time to change my numbers between races. Sadly, I finished (like last year) with the wooden spoon. However, I had closed the gap quite considerably on my nearest rivals (a couple of very spritely over 65s) but was still some way down on Jeannie and her husband. After the inevitable apero, it was back home to relax on the sofa and watch some real racing.

This week end there’s been a veritable smorgasbord of cycling on the TV. Indeed, it’s been difficult choosing what to watch, such has been the choice. In the end I plumped for the “Clash of the Titans” (ie Bert v Lance) in the Criterium International (aka Jens Voigt Invitational) and the World Track Cycling Championships.

The Press had speculated that Bert had changed his programme to gain some sort of psychological advantage over Lance ahead of the Tour. However, I’m wondering whether it wasn’t a case of ASO flexing its muscles and demanding the presence of two riders guaranteed to generate sufficient revenues from the Criterium’s inaugural television coverage. Just call me a cynic.

While neither Contador nor Lance won, both of their teams demonstrated their respective strengths. Individual stages were won respectively by Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bouygues Telecom (who held on to win overall), Russell Downing of Sky and David Millar of Garmin Transitions. However, the question I’m left pondering is this. Now that Vinokourov has ridden in an ASO event is it more likely that he’ll be allowed to ride the Tour in support of Contador? I for one certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, Australia bossed GB on the track. There were excellent performances by some of the younger riders: most notably, Cameron Meyer and Taylor Phinney. However, Sir Chris Hoy and Queen Victoria Pendleton still picked up gold medals.

Over in Belgium, Saxo Bank continued their recent good vein of form yesterday with Spartacus peddling away from Tommeke in the final kilometer of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke. Today, in Gent Wevelgem, Bernard Eisel, Mark Cavendish’s fairy god-mother, won the sprint finish from a break away group. I can hardly wait for next week’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Finally, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) justified his move away from Caisse d’Epargne by picking up the overall at Volta a Catalunya. He was joined on the podium by Xavier Tondo (Cervelo) and Rein Taaramae (local boy, local to me that is) of Cofidis. So that means HTC-Columbia and Cofidis are still on level pegging, with 12 wins apiece.

Home advantage

I’ve just watched a re-run on television of yesterday’s final stage of Paris-Nice. Given that I saw the stage “live”, you might think it odd. Not so, there’s always something that one misses first time around. In any event, it was great to watch once more one of the riders who both lives locally and is a friend of our cycling club win big. Indeed, he enjoyed the best win to date of his career, also scooping the spotted jersey. I, for one, am looking forward to him gracing the podium on many, many more occasions. 

I’m delighted that it was finally a race to the sun and the broadcasts on both Saturday and Sunday beautifully showcased the wonderful area in which I’ve chosen to live. Sunday, M le President and I, in the company of our better halves, enjoyed the corporate hospitality of our club sponsors, Skoda, while savouring the final stage. Indeed, given that the Spaniards were likely to dominate the podium, we expressed the desire for a French winner on the final day. It was therefore fitting that a rider who lives locally, one we know, and who regularly trains on these roads won. Sometimes home advantage helps.   

Also worthy of note were the 9th and 10th places on GC for Jean-Christophe Peraud and Jerome Coppel respectively. The first is a former mountain biker (and current French time-trial champion) who, fed up with playing second fiddle to the incomparable Julian Absalon, turned to the road this year with Omega Pharma Lotto. The latter is a former U23 time trial silver medallist who floundered, rather than flourished, for a couple of years at FDJ and now seems to have found his feet (or should that be legs?) again at Saur-Sojasun.  

Talking of former mountain bikers, I cannot ignore double stage and points jersey winner, Peter Sagan (a former junior world mountain biking champion) who has exploded onto the road racing scene this season and delivered on the promise he showed in the Tour Down Under. His teammate Roman Kreuziger won best young rider and was 4th on GC. Liquigas are surely a team loaded with talent.

Another young, talented rider who lives locally much animated the race and finished 8th on GC. He’s Rein Taamarae, the Estonian national champion and a team mate of the stage winner, Amael Moinard.  Cofidis team management must be feeling very pleased with their overall performance. 

Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur Sojasun were obviously hoping to sufficiently impress ASO to gain that oh-so-coveted invitation to The Tour this summer. Vacansoleil heavily sponsored Paris-Nice while Saur Sojasun, along with Etap Hotels, made up the Paris-Nice caravan. It all helps boys but I can’t help feeling that money talks loudest, so mine’s on Vacansoleil. 

Alberto Contador Paris-Nice 2010Last, but not least, Bert let his legs do the talking. Yes, like any rider who weighs only 61kg, he’s always going to suffer in the wind. However, let’s not forget, the one rider who did get blown off his bike in the Prologue weighs more than me – Gert Steegmans. I saw him sitting on the steps of the RadioShack bus on Sunday looking well on the road to recovery. But, back to Bert. He raced intelligently and was well shepherded by his Astana team mates who, from their performances here and in Tirreno-Adriatico, are showing they’re nowhere near as lacking in talent as some would have us believe. My money’s on Bert for a consecutive Tour win.   

Both photographs courtesy of my very good friend Susi Goertze

20 March: T-day

 

Christian Prudhomme has said that he will advise on the 22 teams to be invited to the Tour de France on 20 March, so that’s 35 days left for the rest to impress. The sixteen with an invite are those remaining teams which were Pro-tour back in September 2008: namely, AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ, BBox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Omega-Pharma Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Liquigas-Doimo, Lampre-NGC, Astana, Saxo Bank, HTC-Columbia, Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel Euskadi, Milram and Footon-Servetto.

Parcours 2010

ASO, in making their selection, will be mindful of the rising popularity of cycling in countries such as USA, UK, Australia and Russia with their potential for increased TV revenues. However, they also need teams who are grateful for their inclusion and understand that it is their role to animate the race by sending riders up the road most days. A slot that in previous years has been filled by Barloworld, Agritubel and Skil Shimano. Given that there are a number of teams who will be looking for new sponsors (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne, Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and hence riders looking for new teams, this may be less of a concern for ASO this year.

Of the remaining 6 slots, I think it’s safe to assume that 4 will go to the Pro-Tour teams of Katusha, Sky, Radioshack and Garmin Transitions. This leaves two berths for Cervelo, BMC, Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur-Sojasun. Prudhomme was quoted as saying he’d like to see 25 teams but that would probably mean reducing the team size to 8, a move which is unlikely to be popular with those already clutching an invite.

Since Cervelo have a former Tour winner (Sastre), last year’s green jersey (Hushovd) and generous sponsors, you would have to reckon on them getting a slot. BMC, managed by well-connected to ASO John Lelangue,  includes the holder of the rainbow jersey and a man who’s finished 2nd twice (Evans) may well get the nod over the other three teams. However, Vacansoleil have done their case no harm by winning the Tour of Qatar (an ASO event) with Wouter Mol.

Postscript: Apologies from Mr Prudhomme who’s still not made up hs mind which of the 12 teams in waiting will get the final 6 Tour invites. Is he trying to prolong the agony in the manner of all reality TV shows? Or is he hoping for a bigger cheque in the post? Just pick the names out of a hat and put everyone out of their misery.

All over the place

I seem to have spent all of today running, or rather driving, from one place to another without achieving very much. Wednesday is generally the designated day for my longer ride. Last winter I rode on Tuesdays with an UFOLEP group who ride along the coast in the winter. They were tremendously encouraging even though I was one of the slower riders and riding with them gave me confidence over the longer distances. I have considered riding with them again this winter, but a number of points mitigate against this: 1) they go out earlier than I really want to; 2) they stop for a 45 minute lunch break, when I would prefer to keep going;  and 3) Wednesday suits me better.    

However, my husband disrupted my plans today (nothing new there). He was arriving back early this morning from a couple of days in the UK and departing, several hours later, after lunch (of course), for a couple of days in Stockholm. I got up early and rushed down to the gym to complete my circuit. I came back and leapt into the car to collect my husband from the airport, stopping on the way back for a quick coffee and to pick up the newspapers.

While my husband was showering, changing and scattering his belongings all over the apartment, I dealt with a few emails,  pressed his clothes for the forthcoming trip to Stockholm and made lunch. I then cleared up and drove him to the airport. On the way back, I collected some missing documentation and went to post this week’s licence renewals to UFOLEP. At the same time, I dropped off some documentation at the nearby tax office.  Next I drove to the green grocers for some butternut squash to turn into soup for my dinner. On the way back, I popped into my local pharmacy to collect my husband’s prescription.

Finally, I had a shower, changed and restored order to the formerly clean and tidy apartment. Yes, I have to own up, I’d been running around in my sweaty workout kit for most of the day. I caught up on some more emails before cooking  my spicy, butternut squash soup. I’m now eating said soup and finally reading the newspapers.

It’s reached that time of year when L’Equipe’s coverage of cycling is greatly diminished. That said, there was a quarter of a page today on the incomparable return to form after injury of Sir Chris Hoy while yesterday’s half-page speculated on which teams would be lucky enough to ride in next year’s Tour de France. This was occasioned by Cadel Evan’s surprise move to BMC which has somewhat thrown the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Teams such as Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur-Sojasun will be praying for an outbreak of doping cases among the Pro-Tour teams thereby enabling ASO to ban them from the Tour, freeing up  places for the afore-mentioned Continental Pro-Tour teams.  Don’t bank on it boys!