Rider in red

I have had a busy couple of days. Tuesday we held our second meeting on next year’s Brevet Kivilev which we’re hoping to run as both a cyclosportif (timed) and a randonnee. Offering both should attract a wider field of entrants but will involve much more work and expense, the feasibility of which we’re currently exploring. This was followed by the regular Tuesday meeting where the licence renewals are started to trickle in.

Of course, four hours down the club meant I had to watch the highlights of that day’s Vuelta. Tuesday’s stage 4 totalling 183.8km from Malaga to Valdepenas de Jaen, was another hot day which included 3 categorized and 1 uncategorized climb plus a very steep ascent to the finish line. The heat and intestinal troubles accounted for yet another rider, Mark Cavendish’s wing man Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel abandoned, putting in jeopardy his participation in Melbourne.

Omega-Pharma Lotto led the chase to pull back the 4-man breakaway to protect Phil’s red jersey. The peloton splintered on the last col of the day with Katusha trying to set up “Purito”  for the win. The main contenders, apart from Sastre, were in the first group over the hill and down the other side to the last leg sapping climb of the day which looked to be well over 20%. It was won by Igor Anton ahead of Vicenzo Nibali and Peter Velits. As a consequence, Igor Anton moved into 2nd place behind Phil, with Joaquin Rodriguez in 3rd. Both are 10 seconds behind the leader.

Wednesday’s 198.8km stage from Guardix to Lorca commenced with a minute’s silence to honour Laurent Fignon, who sadly passed away the previous day. The media has been full of tributes for a rider much admired for his panache on the bike and his humility off it. Sadly, I never saw the “Professor” ride but I much enjoyed his commentary on French tv. He wasn’t a man to mince his words.

1960 - 2010 RIP

Wednesday was slightly cooler and while there were no cols to speak of the terrain was pretty much up and down all afternoon. The 4-man breakaway was hauled back in 12km from the finish line thanks to the efforts of the sprinter teams. Cavendish started his sprint too soon and provided Tyler Farrar with the perfect launch pad. They finished, in order, Farrar, Koldo Fernandez, Cavendish. No change on GC.

I meanwhile had spent the morning riding over to Monaco for another VO2max test. There was good news. I have lost weight, lost fat and improved my endurance. I think I’m going to concentrate on improving further these three aspects over the autumn and winter months. This means that exclusive subset of riders who weigh more than me will become much more inclusive.

Today’s Stage 6, a lumpy, 155km from Caravaca to Murcia, the home region of Luis Leon Sanchez (and Alejandro Valverde) saw the inevitable break away taken back into the peloton on the last ascent of the day. A number of the sprinters had managed to stay with the lead group and duked it out on the line. Thor Hushovd, resplendent in his Norwegian jersey, beat Danieli Bennati and Grega Bole. Phil maintained his grip on the leader’s jersey but it’s still far too early to rule out any of the favourites.

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.

Do you wanna be in my team?

It’s that time of year when sports people, including cyclists, are picking up awards, left, right and centre. So I thought I would join in by nominating my cycling team of the year. I should stress that there will, alas, be no glittering award ceremony, no trophies and no champagne.  Though if any of them cares to pop around in the off-season, I will be happy to crack open a bottle of my favourite beverage. The awards will, like all these awards, be totally subjective and will involve one, well-known judge – me.

The criteria for selection to Sheree’s Superteam of 15 riders are multitudinous; but being hardworking and having a cute smile will certainly put you in the mix. I had to apply a numerical limit otherwise I’d have found it hard to stop and, before you know it, everyone would be on my team. So in no particular order, here are the winners:-

Alberto ” Big Brown Eyes” Contador: What girl wouldn’t want this year’s Tour winner on her team. Bert makes the cut thanks to his stoicism in the face of relentless provocation. Yes, he let his legs do the talking.

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen:

Tom and Susi
Tom with my friend Susi

Not his most glittering season – true – but as the winner of the first cycling race I ever saw (TdF Stage 6, 2004), Tom is guaranteed a place on my team whatever. I should add that Tom is very popular with the ladies, whether or not they’re cycling fans. It’s hard to explain his allure but suffice to say he’s a man who looks damm good in lycra.

Cadel “Cuddles” Evans: For attacking and  proving everyone wrong on his home turf (Mendrisio) and having the “guts” to leave the comfort zone of Silence-Lotto for a team (BMC) which may or may not ride in next year’s Tour.

“Fabulous” Fabian Cancellara: He showed everyone how to win a World Championship time-trial (again) with style, panache, power and with room to spare.

Sammy “Gold Medal” Sanchez: Yes, the Olympic Champion makes the cut too mainly because he’s a joy to watch going downhill and he’s nearly always got a great smile on his face.    

Philippe “Pants on Fire” Gilbert: I just couldn’t leave out the man who singlehandedly hoovered up four wins in a row at the end of the season. Plus, he’s another one with a cute smile.

Barbie Barbie
Barbie Barbie

Heinrich “Barbie Barbie” Haussler: Probably, the best smile in the peloton. That’s right, no other reason.

Alexandre “He’s Back, He’s Attacking” Vinokourov: He’s done his time, he’s back and he’s launching those trademark attacks which make him so popular with cycling fans.  

Johnny “Off the Front Again” Hoogerland: I appreciate that after the Vuelta and World Championships, Johnny’s fans are now legion. Almost single-handedly he justified Vacansoleil’s invitation to the Vuelta. Will this, plus the freres Feuillu, be enough to guarantee a Tour invite next year? We all hope so. 

Mark “Manx Missile” Cavendish: The fastest man on two bicycle wheels for giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Long may it continue.

Bradley “So-Skinny” Wiggins: For proving to me incontestably that if I lose weight I too will climb faster, though probably not as fast as Brad.  

Jens “Hardman” Voigt: A huge favourite among cycling fans for his unstinting team work. I still wince at the thought of his face plant in this year’s Tour. I also love the way the French announcers say his name “Jen-sa Voy-te”.

Kenny “Never Say Die” van Hummel: Another one who won over fans with his determination to pretty much daily beat the cut off in this year’s Tour; often after riding most of the parcours on his own. A sight we will probably be denied in next year’s Tour.

Jose Vicente “Really Long Name” Garcia Acosta: He’s finished 25 Grand Tours and he’s Valverde’s faithful and untiring domestique. This man can ride tempo all day and for that he gets on my team.

Bernard “Faithful” Eisel: The man charged with shepherding the Manx Missile to within sniffing distance of the finish line: yet another upstanding lieutenant for the team. 

David “Dodgy Bike Handler” Moncoutie: You’re probably wondering why he makes my team. It’s partly because of his climbing ability but largely because, like me, his bike handling skills leave a lot to be desired.

Now those of you who can count are possibly wondering why, when I said a team of 15, there are 16 names. Obviously, I have one reserve rider.

My team will be managed by Bob Stapleton, head of the most successful team of the last couple of years, Columbia-HTC, but they’re going to be wearing Cervelo kit;CERVELO easily the nicest and most flattering, even in white and, like me, riding BMC bikes. That’s, regrettably, where the similarities start and end.