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.

It’s not about the tyres

I’m a MotoGP novice, on a very steep learning curve. As I watched Sunday’s races in America’s so-called “Rust Belt, at the Brickyard,
Indianapolis, home of Indy 500 and NASCAR 400, the main issue seemed to be tyre management. No, it’s not about choice because, since 2009, all MotoGP riders use made-in-Japan, Bridgestone tyres, while Moto2 and 125cc use British Dunlops. But let’s stick with the blue riband event, since the principles are the same. Given the high temperature on the dry new track surface last Sunday, the riders only [slick] options were:

  • Front: Soft, Medium, Hard.
  • Rear (asymmetric): Hard, Extra Hard

Every rider, bar Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, opted for the softer option rear and the harder option front tyres for the 28-lap race. Hayden’s gamble didn’t pay off. While it’s the combination of rider and bike which determines tyre performance, there were clear differences in tyre durability and consistency between riders using exactly the same tyre specifications.

Allocation of the range of available Bridgestone tyres to each of the MotoGP riders is random and takes place the day before the start of
practice (Thursday in the vast majority of cases) and cannot be changed after 5pm. Restricting tyre choice to one supplier has reduced off-season testing (and related costs) as teams don’t need to experiment with the tyre allowing them to fully concentrate on [experimenting with] the bike.

A typical MotoGP race tyre comprises rubber, high tech plastic fibres, resins and minerals, combined to produce the highest level of performance. The choice of exactly which of the allocated range to use on race day is undertaken by the teams following consultation of the data they, and the tyre supplier, have collected at the track plus discussions with the riders, based on their knowledge of the circuit and expected weather conditions. The feel of the bike on test days, free practice, qualifying and the pre-race warm-up sessions also affects which tyres are selected.

On test days, and during practice sessions, riders often undertake `race simulations,´ where they ride with the sort of tyre they would
expect to use on race day. These exercises are crucial for their team, and the manufacturers, in terms of the data they yield and the feedback they produce. Based on all the available data, on race days, a critical balance has to be achieved between tyre grip and endurance. A soft ‘gripping’
tyre will permit quicker speeds and faster lap times, but will wear out more quickly. A harder, less ‘sticky’ tyre will last longer, but won’t help the rider as much to attain top speeds.

Race tyres are designed to perform optimally for a race distance of around 120km and are normally slicks: far more adhesive, but far
less durable. Race tyres can vary tremendously and, as previously noted, are chosen according to the expected temperature, the type of asphalt, the demands of the bike and the riding style of riders. To complicate matters still further, the requirements for front and rear tyres can vary massively from a technical perspective. Getting the choice right at both ends is critical to success on the track.

Races are categorised as either wet or dry before the start. However, if necessary, their status can be changed during the race. Once a race has been declared wet from the start, riders can come into the pits to change bikes, just so long as they also change the type of tyres. Once used, the tyres are all returned to Bridgestone for analysis and to aid further developments.

However, nothing and no one, prevented Aussie, Casey Stoner, from winning his 7th race of the season, his 3rd consecutive victory, and extending his championship lead to 44 points, with 6 races remaining. Completing the podium was Honda Repsol team mate, Dani Pedrosa in second, and Yamaha Racing’s Ben Spies who, having sunk to ninth place in the first lap, recovered magnificently to climb onto the podium for the third time this season. Same tyre choices, two different chassis and three different riders.

Here’s an explanation of some of the terms used when talking about tyres, courtesy of Bridgestone:-

Asymmetric tyres: These are only available as rear tyres. Asymmetric slicks comprise a harder compound in one shoulder and a
softer compound in the other designed for circuits which create higher tyre temperatures in one shoulder than the other, usually because of an imbalance of right and left-handed corners.

Bead: Serves as an anchor to hold the tyre securely to the wheel rim.

Belts: Belts are one of the core components of tyres. They may be steel, nylon, polyester or other such materials, and form a literal belt around the tyre to strengthen the tread area and to make the tyre puncture resistant.

Camber angle

Camber angle: Measured in degrees, camber is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel at its uppermost point when compared with the true vertical line at the centreline of the wheel. In MotoGP, camber angle has the same meaning as lean angle. Generally, the greater the lean angle, the higher the lateral force and so the greater the demand on the tyres.

Carbon black: A molecular structure found in all racing tyres, carbon black is a black powder substance produced by burning oils in a furnace. It provides strength and also produces the familiar black colour of tyres. There are hundreds of kinds of carbon black and each will produce a
compound with certain properties: improved traction, hardness, wear and so on.

Compound: Formed by a mixture of various elements used by tyre manufacturers to produce the surface layer of a race tyre, the compound’s properties vary with the exact blend of ingredients. It is the compound that is in contact with the track and therefore one of the major
factors in deciding tyre performance, being a trade-off between outright grip and durability.

Construction: The way in which the component parts (belt, cords, tread, sidewall) of a tyre are constructed determines its ability to absorb shocks, transmit traction and braking forces and to provide strength to contain inflation pressure. The nature of a tyre is dependent upon the way
in which the component parts are laid and assembled.

High-side: This where the rear tyre loses grip, either because of slippery conditions, insufficient temperature, too much throttle applied by the rider or a number of other reasons, and slides sideways . The rear then grips and tries to snap back into line with the front wheel, and the force often throws the rider off the bike.

Low-side: In a low-side crash, the front tyre will most commonly lose grip mid-corner, either because of excess corner speed, insufficient temperature and too great a lean angle or a number of other reasons, and the bike will slide out from beneath the rider.

Polymers: One of the core components of rubber, from one of two main groups: natural or synthetic.

Sidewall: The sidewall is the most important element in transferring engine power to the tyres as it connects the wheel rim to the tyre tread, and therefore the track surface.

Tyre warmer: A warming device designed to maintain a uniform temperature throughout the tyre.

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.

Hung out to dry

Part I of my marathon viewing session over, I replenished the refreshments before settling back to watch Part II, the Spanish Moto GP from Jerez which must be in a plain as it was raining. The damp, slippery track was to provide plenty of spills and thrills, and a wee bit of controversy, in front of the King of Spain, just one of  123,000 spectators jammed into the track.

In 125cc, Nico Terol continued his dominating run of form. He leapt from 2nd position on the grid into 1st, and stayed there. He spent much of the race jousting with his Aspar team mate, Hector Faubel, the 2007 series runner-up, who slid out of contention on the last lap, finally limping home in 11th position. The podium was rounded out by Jonas Folger in 2nd and Frenchman Johan Zarco, who claimed his first-ever podium place, in 3rd.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone moved up from his 11th place on the grid to assume control of the race mid-way, take his first victory of the season and lead the championship. Swiss, Thomas Luthi, a former 125cc champion, was 2nd and Simone Corsi, who was in 18th place on the grid finished 3rd, providing the only Spaniard free podium of the championship. Rookie Marc Marquez’s bad luck continued when he was tail-gated in the 6th lap by Frenchman, Jules Cluzel. They were both out of the race. Poleman, Stefan Bradl, finished 4th on the track where, a few years ago, his father Helmut enjoyed his first senior win.

Onto  MotoGP, where Julian and Toby helpfully explained that  key to winning today were tyre management and engine settings. They felt the Ducati, with its good rear traction, would start well but that Yamaha would deal best with the wet conditions. They were not wrong.

Stoner, starting on pole, maintained his lead until he was taken out by Rossi who had screamed up the course (on his Ducati) from 12th into 2nd. As the two struggled to right their bikes and resume the race, the track officials, to a man, ran to assist Rossi, totally ignoring Stoner. Rossi re-started coming in to finish 5th. Stoner, not a happy bunny, was out of the race.

Of course, it’s interesting to wonder why Stoner, the championship leader, was patently ignored in preference to Rossi. A couple of years back, I met someone who worked as a hostess at MotoGP races. Her favourite racer, by a mile was Valentino Rossi. I asked her why?  She said that he treated everyone the same, whatever their status, he was kind, charming, thoughtful and remembered everyone’s names. Sounds like a nice bloke.

With Stoner out, Marco Simoncelli assumed the lead,  2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo, on a Yamaha, was 2nd,  Rossi’s team mate, Nicky Hayden, was 3rd, Ben Spies was 4th and Dani Pedrosa, riding very conservatively, had slipped back into 5th. The curse of the commentator struck, Simoncelli went down due to “rider over-enthusiasm”. You need a cool, calm demeanour in these conditions.

Pedrosa recovered and by half-way was back into 2nd, behind Lorenzo, with the Americans, Hayden and Spies, battling for 3rd place. Spiess made it into 2nd, before sliding off the track. Pedrosa back into 2nd. Colin Edwardes moved into 3rd before he too was out of contention. Meanwhile, Rossi was battling back from 18th.  It finished Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Hayden. I love it when they do wheelies over the line. That’s another skill I can’t perform on my bike, not that I’ve ever tried, even unintentionally.

Spanish conquistadors

The weather this week end was bike friendly, enabling me to enjoy lengthy rides on both days. I rode on my own on Saturday as my beloved was still in the UK. Sunday, I teamed up with a couple of my clubmates to ride to the pointage in Cannes. The roads, in both directions, were thronged with cyclists, much to the annoyance of other road users: most notably our 4-wheeled friends.

After a good ride, there’s nothing better than a relaxing afternoon on the sofa watching someone else expend effort. This week end saw the climax of the Moto GP season in Valencia. Having caught some of last week’s action in the 125cc class, where the kid who won went from the back of the grid to atop the podium in impressive style, I decided to check out this week end’s Championship decider.

Marc Marquez, who had so impressed me last week, demonstrated he had an old head on very young shoulders (he’s only 17) by shadowing his nearest rival, Nico Terol, playing safe and leaving nothing to chance to wrap up the Championship in his inaugural season. Brit Bradley Smith won the race, recording his first ever, and last, win in 125cc as he, like Marquez, is moving up next season to Moto2. Another Spaniard, Toni Elias won the Moto2 Championship.

Jorge Lorenzo had already won the overall Moto GP Championship, but 2nd and 3rd places were still to be decided. Casey Stoner started on pole and Dani Pedrosa signalled his intent to hang on to his championship 2nd spot by zooming from 8th on the grid into 2nd place on the 2nd bend in the first of 30 laps. However, he was later  hampered by his injured shoulder,  fading after 10 laps. Nonetheless, he retained that overall 2nd place.

Pole starter Casey Stoner would clearly liked to have left Ducati on a high note (he’s moving to Honda), but was unable to fend off a resurgent Lorenzo who overtook him with 8 laps remaining. In the early rounds, Jorge had demonstrated some superb bike handling skills to remain upright and retain control of his bike after tangling with rookie Marco Simoncelli, who’s around 25kg heavier than most of the other riders, Jorge included. He then moved through the field with seeming ease.

Lorenzo’s team mate, Valentino Rossi, would also have liked to finish his 7-year long stint with Yamaha (he’s replacing Stoner at Ducati) with a win but, on the day, he readily settled for 3rd behind Stoner and 3rd in the Championship behind Pedrosa. So, in only his 3rd season in Moto GP, Lorenzo recorded his 9th win of the season, his 16th podium (equalling Rossi’s record) and won overall with a points total of 383, thereby beating the previous record (also held by Rossi).  Rookie of the year, American Ben Spies will be riding with Lorenzo at Yamaha next season.  In reality, next season starts this week with bike testing  on the Valencia circuit.

Winning Trio

(Photo courtesy of Eurosport)

Postscript: I thought Marc Marquez was young but an article about an even younger rider caught my eye in today’s Nice Matin. Eleven year old, Nicois, Fabio Quartararo is the reigning 50 and 70cc Spanish Champion who, at the week end, was gunning for the Campeonato Mediterraneo 80cc Championship. He finished 4th overall, leaving him something to aim for next year. When he wraps up the 125cc Championship in a few year’s time, remember where you first heard his name – my blog.