Bienvenue Patrick Vieira and Danilo

The season had barely finished before there was the usual speculation as to which players OGCN was going to lose. Having missed out on European football by a measly one-point, it was inevitable that some of our more talented players would be on the move. We already knew that after two very successful seasons our manager Lucien Favre would be moving to pastures new, back in Germany. However, we have already managed to secure his replacement, a certain Patrick Vieira who hails from just down the road in Cannes.

His appeal, particularly for OGCN, is his desire to play attractive football and his experience of working with youngsters, thanks to his time looking after them at Manchester City where his path would’ve crossed with that of Super Mario. Obviously, he’s played football at the highest level but has been involved in coaching for a number of years. OGCN are hoping he’ll be able to install that winning mentality in its players, particularly the younger ones. This means Vieira will leave his position as coach for MLS side New York City mid-way through the season.

I’m hoping that Vieira will convince Super Mario to stay. Allegedly, Olympique Marseille are the only team to have shown any interest in signing him. However, he should stay as his career has been revitalized at Nice where he scored 26 goals last season – his best ever strike rate. Vieira has revealed he’s spoken to the 27-year-old Italian and expects the forward to be present for pre-season training. He confirmed:

I called Mario Balotelli to wish him a happy holiday and also to tell him that we would see each other on 2nd July for the resumption of training.

Meanwhile, just one day after the transfer window opened, the club signed Danilo, a Brazilian who previously played for Portuguese side Braga. In line with its stated philosophy, the club had targeted a youngster with great potential whom it had been following for several seasons.

A defensive midfielder who is capable of driving forward and a member of the Brazilian international youth set-up, 22 year old Danilo came through the ranks at Vasco de Gama and has already acquired some solid experience of European football. He then signed for Braga and played a full season for them in 2014/2015 before being loaned to Valencia where he’s played in La Liga, the Champions League and the Europa League. Further loan spells ensued before he returned to Braga last season.

That’s two incoming but what about potential outgoings? It appears Manchester City is interested in our Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri who comes with a €40mn. price tag though many other teams including Chelsea, Napoli, Arsenal and West Ham are also keen on the 26 year old. Though I don’t expect anything to happen until after the World Cup.  West Ham have also been eyeing up 21 year old Allan Saint-Maximin and Brazilian Marlon, on loan from FC Barcelona. However, there are more rumours about Alassane Plea who could follow Favre to Borussia Dortmund.

Of course, I might bemoan that our brightest and best may be off to pastures new at OGCN but don’t get me started on Aston Villa. My beloved boys in claret and blue are in all sorts of hot water since failing to gain promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs.

However, let’s put all that to one side and focus on the FIFA World Cup which kicks off today in Russia. Who’re you putting your money on? Obviously, I’d love France to win and I’ll be fluttering my tricolor flag, courtesy of having watched France v Italy at the Allianz Riviera stadium two weeks ago. However, it’s hard to look past the holders Germany and the mouth-watering array of talent on display from South America. Having the benefit of an enforced period of rest due to injury, I fancy Neymar for the golden boot as he’ll be fresher than most. Bring it on!

 

 

Indian summer

Here on the Cote d’Azur, we’ve been enjoying the warmest October since 1943. October’s usually when I swap over to my winter training bike and into my 3/4 thermal bib shorts but, despite this being the first official week-end of winter, I’m still in shorts and short-sleeved jersey with a lightweight gilet. I like to think this is recompense for the wet winter or maybe the so, so summer. Either way, it’s glorious cycling weather and I have been at pains to profit from it.

With a number of projects (finally) put to bed and the professional cycling scene enjoying its off-season, I’m finally getting back into the groove and steadily logging the much-needed kilometres.  When you’re busy, it’s all too easy to procrastinate but boy do I miss being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair helmet and the sun on my face.

cagnes1

While temperatures are still delightfully mild, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing. No problem, as I prefer to head out after 10:30. With any luck, I’ll also be re-introducing my long mid-week ride on a Wednesday to compliment those on the week-end. Of course, everyone is out enjoying the fine weather, particularly the kids as half-term’s over and it’s back to school tomorrow. Large numbers are sunning themselves on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. One year, I was still swimming in the sea each day until well into November. If you swim each day, the drop in temperature is gradual and much less noticeable.

It’s the Nice to Cannes marathon next Sunday so we passed plenty of runners. Well, it would be too embarrassing to be passed by a runner wouldn’t it? We’re slow but not that slow. I like to think we were taking our time and savouring the weather. All the more so as rain is forecast for next week. No ride with my cycling buddy would be complete without a coffee stop. Again, we pick those restaurants with terraces in the sunshine and nice facilities.

cagnes3

Particularly on Sunday, I endeavour to leave Sunday lunch cooking or maybe gently reheating in the oven so that all I have to do on my return is lay the table. I usually get back just before my beloved who’s started riding each Sunday with his local bike shop team. The pace has dropped right off on the Sunday club rides as the average age of club members has soared and he’s been finding it way too slow.

cagnes2

After Sunday lunch we take a stroll along the seafront to better enjoy  the fine weather before returning home for The Big Match, my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. The boys haven’t scored in five matches and are sliding down the Premiership – not good. On a recent trip to London, I treated myself to some fleecy jimjams. They’re far too warm to sleep in but just perfect for post-ride lounging around the flat, which is what I’m now doing. Sunday’s don’t get any better than this.

 

Postscript: Actually, it would’ve been a lot better if Spurs hadn’t beaten AVFC 2-1

 

Sheree’s Sporting Highlights of 2012

With blogging over on VeloVoices absorbing much of my free time, I’ve not really mentioned much about my sporting year. And when I say “my” I mean the one I watched either in person or on the television. So in no particular order, here’s my personal sporting highlights of 2012.

1. Being in Paris to watch Bradley Wiggins on the podium as the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a quite magical and rather surreal experience, despite the fact that it had been pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of the race. He’s given me bragging rights down at the cycling club for perpetuity. Thanks Bradley, or should I say Sir Bradley!

Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year's Vuelta
Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year’s Vuelta

2. Alberto Contador winning the Vuelta a Espana with his never say die attitude when most of us, me included, thought the pocket-sized Joaquim Rodriguez had it in the bag. I love the fact that Alberto never just turns up at a race, he always rides to win. Chapeau Alberto!

Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache
Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache

3. Another lesson in persistence and proving that you do have to be “in it, to win it”. Lady luck smiled on Alexander Vinokourov when Fabian Cancellara fell and the rest of the leading bunch hesitated long enough for Alex to seize his chance with both hands and sail off into the sunset on a golden wave.

4. London 2012, both the Olympics and Paralympics were magic from start to finish and put down a marker that other cities will find hard to follow, let alone emulate. It was a glorious few weeks of sporting highs, sufficient to make everyone forget their economic woes.

Marc%20Marquez

5. Marc Marquez being  crowned Moto2 World Champion and making the move to the blue riband event riding next season with Dani Pedrosa who pushed the MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo all the way. I so enjoyed my trip to watch the racing at the GP Catalunya that I’m hoping to schedule another trip next year, possibly to Italy. Mugello here we come!

6. Sebastien Loeb winning his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship and being voted most admired French sporting hero 2012. What took you so long? The guy’s a god on four wheels.

7. Rafa Nadal showing once more that he’s the clay court King at Rolland Garros.

8. Introducing my friend’s son to road racing. He’s now hooked, too exhausted to get into any naughty escapades and has his sights firmly set on a career in professional road racing.

9. OGCN punching once more well above their weight and hanging onto to their spot in the French first division of football. Sadly, I cannot say the same about AVFC’s dreadful season even though they too managed to avoid relegation.

peloton-atlantic

10. Visiting more of the Basque country during the Tour of the same name and this year’s Vuelta. I can’t wait to go back next year, the place is visually spectacular with a truly interesting culture and don’t even get me started on their gastronomy. I’d move there in a nano second if it wasn’t for the weather. Yes, it’s green for a reason.

Just another week end

The incredibly mild weather is continuing which isn’t great news for those planning on going skiing. This, of course, has meant I have been out and about on the bike since my return from the Big Apple. Yesterday was the Telethon, France’s version of “Children in Need” but I was too busy with my guests to take part in the Club’s ride.

One of my English students is contemplating what to do after leaving school. French schools appear to be no better than English when it comes to dishing out career advice, so we’re lending a helping hand. I had invited around a couple of family friends for dinner. One’s an accountant and the other’s Head of HR at a bank in Monaco so they were both able to impart some words of wisdom and advice to our young friend.

Having guests for dinner’s an excuse to try out some new recipes. I decided on English cooking with a twist as my theme for the evening. I cooked a silky smooth cauliflower soup with black pudding, fish and chips with home-made tomato ketchup and for dessert, apple crumble and custard. Obviously, nothing was quite as it seemed. 

I dusted the monkfish in curry powder and fried it for a few minutes and served it with celeriac chips which had first been confit in goose fat before being fried too. The crumble was perched atop cored apple halves stuffed with rum soaked raisins and served with my home made custard, not a tin of Bird’s in sight. There was also a cheese course and my petit fours to finish. I believe the boys have quite changed their minds about English cooking.

Our young guest stayed over and rode Saturday morning with my beloved and his friends. He returned to collect his stuff and the two of them polished off the remaining crumble doused in custard. Who knew raw crumble tasted so good? Yes, the “spare” crumble hadn’t been cooked. Still both declared it ideal cycling food.  I went for a 3 hour ride after they’d left but returned too late to prevent them eating it. 

Following on from my Garmin malfunction, still waiting to hear from my LBS on that one, the screen went blank on my 7 month old Dell.  Now I’d had the same problem with my old Dell, but only after 7 year’s use. I immediately spoke to their Support Desk but I’ve got to make contact with them again tomorrow morning.

Saturday afternoon, I replaced my Blackberry. The mouse on the old one had given up the ghost. It would only work in two rather than four directions so, sadly, it had to go. Of course, the functionality on the new one is completely different and I’m still grappling with it.

Today was the Departmental pointage at Menton. We lost our crown last year and I don’t expect we’ve recovered it. Nevertheless, as M Le President was working, I was on hand to chivy the boys. After the pointage we continued on in to Italy for a coffee with a few clubmates. The coffee’s good in France but it’s cheaper and better in Italy. This added a few extra kilometers to the ride, just over 100km by the time we got back home.

We collected the papers, showered and then I whipped up a quick lunch before we settled down on the sofa to read the papers and watch the television. It’s allowed, we’ve expended a significant number of calories.

Profiting from the brief respite from live cycling, I’ve been reconnecting with the world of round balls. Football and tennis to be exact, and with mixed fortunes. My beloved boys in claret and blue lost 1-0 at home to the Red Devils, a disappointing result from a strange team selection. OGC Nice were at home to Rennes and frankly I feared the curse of the returning former manager and players. Not a bit,  the boys won 2-0 to keep them connected with those teams sloshing around in the final quarter of the league. A loss would have had unthinkable consequences.

It was the Davis Cup Final this week end, Spain v Argentina. Naturally, the boys playing on home turf were favourites to lift the cup for the 5th time in 11 years. They didn’t disappoint, despite heroic performances from Del Potro and Nalbandian, Nadal wrapped it up today with a thrilling reverse singles which swung first in favour of Argentina and then back again like a pendulum. But no one really doubted the outcome: Spain victorious again.

A fan’s lot

I gave up my long-held Aston Villa season ticket at the end of the 2005/06 season when we made our permanent move to France. I did so believing that I would be back and forth to UK on a regular basis to watch my boys. But I haven’t watched them live since, just on the television. It’s no real substitute and I oft cite Premiership football and my team as the things I miss most about living in France.

My beloved’s and my first date was at a football match, which Villa won. At football matches, other spectators would often comment that it was nice the missus had come too to which my beloved always replied that he was accompanying me, not the other way around. He often jokes that when we married he vowed to “loved, honour, obey and support Aston Villa”. I’m fortunate that he had no clear football allegiances having occasionally watched Spurs with his Dad, who hailed originally from north London, and Swindon with his maternal grandfather.

On the other hand my blood runs claret and blue. My mother was born not far from the club and all her relatives were Villa fans and my father moved from the south coast to play for the youth team. It was a no brainer really. I first started going to matches in the company of my Dad’s best friend and his father. Thereafter, I would either go on my own or with friends. You just cannot beat the atmosphere of a live football match. There’s something quite primeval and tribal about the whole thing.

In some season’s past, I saw every match home and away. No mean feat for a woman with a demanding job. While, Villa Park is obviously my favourite ground there’s many others I’ve enjoyed visiting. Unfortunately, as an away fan, you tend to get put in the worst spots in the ground and spend the entire match on your feet, despite having parted for a small fortune for a seat. Some grounds have great atmospheres, such an Anfield, but IMHO the ground with the most electric atmosphere is St James’s Park. It’s right in the centre of Newcastle and everyone, and I do mean everyone, on match day wears that familiar black and white striped shirt. I’ve even seen grannies with shopping trollies proudly wearing them. Away supporters are relegated to the gods, so there’s just a Geordie wall of sound around the ground.

Initially, we had season tickets for OGCN but my beloved’s travel commitments meant he missed more games than he saw, plus there’s never any problem getting tickets, despite the small capacity. The one things I hate about French stadia, as it’s outside, you can smoke whereas I’d long sat in a no smoking area in Villa Park. I have written to OGCN asking if, in the new stadium, we can have a no smoking area. I’m still awaiting a response.

For me yesterday’s match against Spurs summed up Villa’s current plight. We were played off the pitch (30% v 70% possession) by a vastly superior side who’ve invested long and hard in their team, no doubt hoping to recapture their glory days and a constant diet of European football. Our alleged 4-4-2 formation was just a thinly veiled excuse for 11 men behind the ball. Former Villa keeper Brad Friedel was rarely troubled. All we managed was 1 shot on target and 2 off. Of course, that one shot might have levelled the score and changed the face of the game. But, sadly, I suspect not.

As a fan, it’s hard to accept, perhaps, a team’s glory days are behind them and 6th in the Premiership, achieved in three successive seasons under Martin O’Neill, is as good as it’s ever going to get for the forseeable future. Our role is as a developmental squad, where we either train young players or bring on more seasoned ones for the “better” clubs. In recent seasons we’ve lost an entire midfield: Ashley Young, Stuart Downing, Gareth Barry and James Milner. Yesterday evening, it showed.

So if indeed our best days are behind us, allow me to wallow in them. AVFC are the 5th most decorated club in English football (no prizes for guessing the others) with 19 major domestic honours, 7 League championships and one of only five English clubs to have won a European Cup (again no prizes for guessing the others). We even beat mighty Barcelona to win the 1982-83 European Super Cup. We’re the only club to have hosted international matches over three centuries and have provided more England international players than any other club.

I’ve been fortunate to watch my beloved team at Wembley, and see them win the League Cups in 1994 and 1996. My most favourite moment

Thanks for the memories

remains, not unnaturally, that evening in late May 1982 when, having won the First Division Championship in 1980-81, we took on the might of Bayern Munich at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, and won.

Sodden Sheree’s sporting snippets

We may only have had 4 days of rain but Noah and his Ark could have been pressed into service to rescue the aquatic life in Marineland and a whole host of villagers whose houses have been flooded thanks to a number of local rivers bursting their banks. Despite having rain water cascading down the common parts of our apartment block yesterday morning, I’m so very glad we live in a flat, on a hill. Apart from the leaks, our only casualty appears to be one of the trees which upended itself in the gale force winds on Saturday evening. Fortunately, nothing and no one was damaged and the gardeners have had the chain saws out this morning chopping it into bite size pieces.

As we weren’t able to ride outside over the week end, or indeed go anywhere much, we increased our exposure to television sport and lapped up a number of events.

MotoGP

At the season’s curtain closer, GP Valencia, homage was fittingly paid to the late Marco Simoncelli by the competitors, the officials, the teams and the fans. There were tears too for the retiring Loris Caporossi who aged thirty-eight has spent twenty-two seasons  in GP.

Casey Stoner had already won the blue riband Championship but neither that nor the intermittent rain prevented him from winning his 10th race of the season, by the smallest of margins from Ben Spies. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on the podium clinched his third place in the Championship, behind the absent Jorge Lorenzo who’s still recovering from an injury to his finger. Any thoughts Valentino Rossi might have had of rescuing his worst season ever disappeared on the first corner of the first lap as he and fellow Ducati riders, Nicky Hayden and Randy De Puniet, were taken out by Alavara Bautista’s Suzuki.

In the continued absence of Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl won the Moto2 title despite falling on the 5th lap. Instead, three riders (Pirro, Kallio, Aergeter) made their maiden trips to the podium this season. Nico Terol won the 125cc Championship at a canter from Johann Zarco, who fell on the 3rd lap, despite finishing Sunday’s race behind the splendidly named Maverick Vignales. Hector Faubel was third. Roll on Qatar in April next year and 1000cc bikes.

Track Cycling

Sticking with two wheels, we watched the first round of the World Cup from Astana’s brand spanking new velodrome. There weren’t too many spectators but Alexandre Vinokourov was on hand, to lend a hand, with the presentation of the prizes, specifically the flowers. Is this the first time that Alex has been a podium boy? If so, he’s a natural.

Sir Chris picked up a silver in the keirin and sprint gold while Dani King won a silver in the omnium. Otherwise, it was slim pickings for the Brits. However a number of the favourites were either missing or missing in action. The next round’s in Columbia in early December.

Road Racing

Marcel Kittel beat a bunch of holidaying cyclists to take the Amstel Curacao race. As usual we were treated to the unedifying sight of topless cyclists, with scary tan lines and dodgy taste in swimming trunks,  frolicking on the beach. Absent from this year’s festivities, Alberto Contador who was instead racing down the aisle to wed his long term lady friend. I wish them both every happiness.

Football

Sir Alex’s 25-year tenure at the Theatre of Dreams was ackowledged with the naming of a stand in his honour. Those are going to be rather large shoes to fill when he finally steps down. No mention was made of their short-sighted attempt to get rid of him in 1994 before he started winning anything and everything with the Red Devils.

My beloved boys in claret and blue managed to preserve their lead and all 3 points by beating Norwich 3-2 at home. Goals were scored by the revitalised Gabby Agbonlahor and Darren Bent. AVFC are now 8th in the league one place above their week end opponents. OGC Nice were unable to keep a clean sheet in the local derby away at Marseille’s velodrome. Typically, one of goals was supplied by way of a penalty in 96th minute by OGCN old boy, Loic Remy.  We’re now occupying 17th spot in the Ligue and dicing with relegation danger.

Marathon

Kenyan Geoffroy Mutai (54kg) won yesterday’s New York marathon in an astonishing 2hrs 5′ 6″ without the assistance of a pace-setter, to add to his Boston title. Another Mutai, Emmanuel (no relative) was second, having previously scooped the honours in London. These two are part of a formidable Kenyan team of six who are competing for three marathon places in the London 2012 Olympics. Wonder what these boys would be like on bikes?

Sheree’s sporting smorgasbord

When I go back to the UK to visit my parents I feel as if I’m in some sort of parallel universe: no internet, no L’Equipe and a dull diet of daytime TV. The world continues but I seem stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario. My mother’s illness is getting markedly worse. Of course, it’s only ever going to be a one-way bet but it seems to have gathered momentum and she’s much more overtly aggressive. I do appreciate that most of the time she’s no idea who we are and is therefore in a state of constant confusion with little way of making herself understood. There are times when you see flickers of the woman she once was but they’re becoming very few and far between. More worryingly I see the toll her disease is having on my father. While, on the one hand, I look forward to seeing them, as soon as I arrive I want to come back home.

Despite a crowded sporting calendar the only sport I saw all week end was the big match and, no, I don’t mean the Manchester Derby. We watched the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in which France gave New Zealand an unexpected run for their money and, were it not for some strange but consistent refereeing decisions, might well have rained on the All Blacks parade. Despite the scepticism beforehand, L’Equipe produced a special supplement today paying homage to the boys’ exploits which included pages of gratitude from their sponsors. They might have been beaten but they went out with heads held high.

Arriving back home late Sunday afternoon, I was intent with catching up with all the other sporting news until I saw the announcement about Marco Simoncelli’s death. You see so many shots of the motorbike riders sliding off into the kitty litter and then bouncing back to their feet that you tend to forget the sport’s inherent dangers. It seemed doubly cruel that he should lose his life on a track where he crowned his 250cc championship season in 2008 and after achieving his best result of the 2011 season (2nd) in the previous race at Phillip Island. I didn’t have the heart to check on the results in the Moto2 and 125cc races.

Sebastien Loeb closed in on the World Rally Championship after winning the Catalunya Rally. Whether or not he wins his 8th consecutive title will be decided in three weeks in Wales. He leads Mikko Hirvonen by 8 points. Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier dropped out of the rally and out of contention but looks unwilling to play second-fiddle for another season. Citroen did however wrap up the constructor’s championship.

Disappointment on the football pitch as AVFC were beaten at home for the first time since 1979 by their neighbours, The Baggies, after a contentious sending off reduced my beloved boys in claret and blue to 10 men. The phrase “we woz robbed” easily comes to mind. OGCN meekly capitulated 1-0 away at Nancy. But the big news was the 6-1 dismantling of the Red Devils in the Theatre of Dreams by their derby rivals Manchester City. When did Manchester United last concede that many goals? It was Sir Alec Ferguson’s “worst day ever”.  Down south, reduced to 9 men, Chelsea lost 1-0 away to their neighbours QPR. Derbies often throw up surprising results.

As I left for the UK on Friday a headline in L’Equipe caught my attention “Armstrong pedale encore”. Was Lance making yet another comeback? No, it was a comment about NBA player Hilton Armstrong. Thank goodness, because, quite frankly with teams disappearing left, right and centre, there’s no longer a place for Lance in the professional peloton. It seems particularly cruel that Geox have withdrawn their support just after the closing of the transfer window leaving staff and riders high and dry, with the latter’s points no longer worth a jot. I was rightly or wrongly under the impression that they’d signed on the dotted line for two years. I await with interest to see what the UCI is going to do about this.  While over on the piste, team GB appear to be underwhelmed, rather than delighted, by their haul of only 7 gold medals from Apeldoorn. It’s all relative.

Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.

Sheree’s sporting slingshots

Records were set at Sunday’s Velocio, but not by me. In the Men’s over 80 category, a rider from the largest club in Nice ascended the 13km in 66 minutes 40 seconds. Furthermore a gentleman, just a few years younger, from the same club set a new record in the 74-79 age group of 54 minutes and 12 seconds. Both would have shown me a clean pair of heels. Chapeau chaps!

Rather than leave with the club and have to hang around for over an hour until the start of our races, my beloved and I elected for an extra hour in bed. My chesty cough had kept both of us up most of the night and neither of us had slept well. Not exactly a recipe for a top performance. We cycled together, against a strong headwind, into Nice and the start of the race, safety pins at the ready.

The usual suspects turned up for the ladies race. I didn’t take part last year as I was in Australia and it would appear in the intervening years that most have now passed into the same age category as me. So of the 12 contestants taking part, we had one in the 18- 35 years group, one in the 35-49 years and everyone else in the 50-54 years category.

I have learnt from bitter experience not to try and stay with the quick climbers, they go way faster than me and I then regret it for the rest of the ride. The start is the steepest part of the course and averages 10%. As we set off, I tried to keep two of the ladies, at the back of the field, in sight. They remained tantalizingly just a couple of hundred metres ahead. Two things  were immediately apparent: my legs felt heavy and my lungs were labouring. I tried to remain positive and look on the bright side, only 10 more kms to go, Jeannie hadn’t turned up and I was nearing the end of the steepest bit.

The lead motorcycle from the next group on the road came past me. It was the group my beloved was riding with and which had started 10 minutes after mine. The leaders raced past with the rest of the group in hot pursuit in twos and threes. No sign of my beloved; I laboured on. I was not feeling too good and started seeing stars, time to dismount. As I did so my beloved rode into view. He stopped, we made an executive decision, turned around and descended. We headed for the recently opened coffee shop near the foot of the climb where we ate a late breakfast before heading back home. Yet another DNF.

Fortunately events were rather more exciting elsewhere in the sporting world. Radioshack-Nissan-Trek new recruit Tony Gallopin tied up the season long, 14-round, French Cup at the Tour de Vendee while veteran, pocket rocket, Robbie McEwen,  and Green-edge bound next season, won the  Circuit Franco-Belge. So, two results from rather opposite ends of the age spectrum.

Sticking with two wheels, over at the Japan GP in Montegi, home manufacturer Honda won the MotoGP event but it was Dani Pedrosa, rather than Casey Stoner, astride the winning machine. The latter had spun off into the kitty litter after a massive wobble on the bike in one of the early laps but had fought back to 3rd place. Reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo completed the podium. All three riders rather benefitted from Messrs Dovizioso, Crutchlow and Simoncelli jumping the gun at the start and being forced to take a ride through the pit lane. After feeling that he was finally getting somewhere with the Ducati, Rossi made contact with Lorenzo on turn 3, on the 1st lap, and slide into the gravel, and out of the race. Casey Stoner still leads the Championship.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone took his 3rd win after a long battle with Marc Marquez, the latter now leads Stefan Bradl in the Championship by a point. Nico Terol still heads the 125cc Championship, but Frenchman Johann Zarco took his maiden win  in Japan. The Japanese crowds were delighted that the MotoGP circus had come to town as there were fears earlier in the season that they would give it a miss. Tests at the track revealed levels of radiation no greater than at any of the other tracks.

Excitement is mounting over on 4 wheels, specifically as to whether 7-time champ Sebastien Loeb will be able to hold onto to his WRC Rally crown having been unable to complete his home tour of Alsace after his engine blew up. There’s only two rounds remaining and Loeb’s level on points with Mikko Hirvonen and just 3 points ahead of fellow Frenchman, Citroen stablemate, Sebastien Ogier who won the Tour. Can Loeb make it 8 in a row or will he be dethroned by his younger team mate?

Heading “Down Under” to New Zealand, France will play England in the next round of the World Cup. Neither team seem to be having a great championship. France’s troubles appear to be on the field while England’s are most definitely off it. Whoever wins the tie will face the in-form Irish in the next round.

Moving onto round balls, OGCN were held to yet another draw this week end away at Caen which leaves them in 16th place in the league and one of three clubs on 7 points. We’re going to have to do better to keep out of the relegation zone. Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue have had a quiet and unspectacular start to the season, winning 2-0 at home to Wigan on Saturday, to leave them in 7th place. Long may it continue.

Happily back home again for a few days

Bereft of the internet and L’Equipe for a few days at my parents’, I feel seriously out of the loop. It’s as if the pillars of my daily existence have gone walk about, leaving me floundering. That, combined with the work involved pre-and- post Kivilev, means I’ve not had enough time to watch, let alone ponder or comment on, recent sporting events.

The third week of the Giro passed without me seeing too much of the action. It’s only now that I appreciate what a master coup Contador (and Riis) delivered atop Mount Etna, and on subsequent days, to bludgeon the competition into submission. At the start of the second week, there were enough riders still within sniffing distance of the pink jersey willing to chance their arms and those of their team mates, saving the arms and, more importantly, the legs of Alberto’s team mates. Having taken his maiden Giro stage, Alberto was happy to forge useful alliances by ceding wins to other Spanish speakers. It never pays to be too greedy. We’re now all waiting to see whether he will ride the Tour. Frankly, it won’t be the same without  him sublimely dancing away on the pedals.

The Premiership football season finished with my beloved boys in claret and blue in 9th place thanks to Mr Houllier who, due to ill health, will not be with us next season. Neither will Ashley Young who benefited greatly from Houllier’s guidance and is most probably going to be playing for Manchester United. OGCN diced with danger all season only avoiding the drop thanks to the misfortune of our closest neighbours, Monaco, who we’ll not be playing next season which is pity as I always enjoy a trip to their magnificent stadium. More importantly, funding has been secured for our new stadium, where we will be hosting games at Euro 2016. Additional funding has also been found to strengthen the squad.

In Paris, Li Na became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament ensuring her immortality in Chinese sporting history. In the men’s finals, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to take his Borg-equalling 6th title. He was no doubt grateful that Roger had beaten  Novak Djokavic in the semis. So who’s going to lift the Wimbledon crown? I suspect the same four players in the French semis will also be contesting the ones at Wimbledon. Although I’m sure the great British public will be hoping for a different outcome. Don’t bet on it.

Today I finally watched the highlights of last week end’s GP Aperol de Catalunya held at Europe’s most modern race track in Montmelo, 20km north of Barcelona. I’m determined to go and watch some live MotoGP action next year and this is the closest racetrack to us. Yes, it’s a mere 5 hours away by car. Second closest is Mugello in Tuscany but that’s held during The Tour, so it’s a no no.

The usual suspects featured in all three classes where there were plenty of spills but, more importantly, no injuries, except to their pride. In 125cc, Nico Terol took his 4th win in 5 races and 14th consecutive podium appearance. However, if Johann Zarco had not been adjudged to have illegally overtaken him in the home straight, and gotten a 20 second penalty, the result would have been oh, so different. Not unnaturally the French were up in arms, but it was the right decision. Le Mans winner Maverick Vinales, the Paris Hilton sponsored rider, led briefly only to finish 2nd with Jonas Folger completing the podium. Terol is romping away with the championship.

In Moto2, Stefan Bradl used his 5th consecutive pole to register his 3rd win of the season ahead of Le Mans winner Marc Marquez and, local boy, Aleix Espargaro, making his maiden podium appearance. Bradl leads the championship ahead of Simone Corsi and Andrea Iannone.

Despite his pole position, Marco Simoncelli finished back in 6th place while Casey Stoner cruised into first place on the first lap and stayed there. The two boys from Yamaha took 2nd (Jorge Lorenzo) and 3rd (Ben Spies). This was Spies’s first podium of the season and the Texan’s just extended his contract with Yamaha. The Air Asia British GP from Silverstone starts tomorrow but with our trip to Lugano, I might well have to settle for the highlights again.

The Criterium du Dauphine is one of my favourite races, more intimate and immediate than the Tour. In previous years, I’ve gone to watch the final week end’s stages but not this year. Sadly, I missed Alex seizing yellow though today I did see the highlights of him losing it to Bradley Wiggins. However, it’s the Germans who are the talking point at this year’s race with Tony Martin winning yesterday’s time-trial and John Degenkolb winning on Tuesday and again today.  Admittedly most of the sprinters, but not all, are going to ride the Tour de Suisse. The Tour favourites, with the exception of Basso, look to be in fine form ahead of the Tour and, not unnaturally, were unwilling to risk all in yesterday’s rain soaked stage when they’ve bigger fish to fry in July.  I’ll probably have to settle for watching the concluding highlights of this race.

My beloved is due back on this evening’s late, late flight from Frankfurt which is inevitably delayed. Happily, I don’t have to either collect him or wait up. He’s got his own wheels and his keys. I’m planning on profiting from the good weather with a ride tomorrow morning ahead of our departure for Lugano. However, the weather forecast there is not looking at all good while we’re forecast to have plenty of sunshine here. We may have to make yet another executive decision tomorrow morning. That way, I’ll at least get to watch all the action live on the television.