Underdogs on top

Woke yesterday morning to find it was raining, rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke, it had stopped raining but I was too late to set off for the pointage at Beausoleil. I decided to go for a run along the seafront before heading to collect the Sunday newspapers. A quick coffee (quelle surprise, OGCN had beaten St Etienne away from home) then it was off to the airport to collect my beloved on his return from Chicago.

After a light lunch, we both changed into our matching Qatari Airways jimjams and settled back for an afternoon of full-on sport. Firstly, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and then the League Cup Final: Arsenal v Birmingham City.

The sun was shining (weakly) in Belgium and most of the Dutch and Belgian riders were in shorts and short sleeves with a couple of notable exceptions. Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was no doubt feeling the chill after his trip to the Middle East and was wearing leg warmers, arm warmers and thick gloves. I was mesmerised by Stijn Devolder’s (Vacansoleil-DCM) thick fluorescent yellow gloves which clashed with his Belgian Champion’s outfit. Try black next time, Stijn.

There was the obligatory group of escapees who, having ignored the barrier at a railway crossing, were subsequently disqualified. The mild weather and lumpy parcours seemed to encourage breakaways but none stuck, the sprinters’ teams were too strong and too determined. In the end, Chris Sutton (Team Sky) had the best organised train and, with 200 metres to go, was launched across the line  to become the first Aussie winner. He finished ahead of Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Interestingly, none of the leading trio had raced the day before.

Meanwhile over in Switzerland, Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) dedicated his win in the GP Lugano to his late trainer, Aldo Sassi. The French racked up yet another win in Les Boucles du Sud Ardeche. It was none other than last year’s viral star, Arthur Vichot (FDJ). Yesterday, according to Sport+, the French had won 24 stages to date while the Italians are in 2nd place with 19 wins. I’m not sure how this has been calculated, they didn’t explain.

After the excitement of the cycling, we settled down to what we were sure would be an Arsenal win. Frankly, as AVFC fans we were bound to support whoever played against the Blues, our arch-rivals. The Blues got a goal against the run of play, in the 28th minute. Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later with a terrific goal from Robin Van Persie who was later to retire with a knee injury.

During the second half, Arsenal had their chances but couldn’t convert any of  them. In 89th minute, a miscleared ball by the Arsenal defence gifted the winner to the Blues. Truly, it really was one of those balls from which even your granny would have scored.  Unbelievably, our bitterest rivals, who had knocked us out of the competition, had won and will be playing in Europa League next season. On the one hand, it’s good to see the underdog win but why couldn’t it have been us last season against Chelsea?

Sporting round up

The continued downpour which has confined me indoors has allowed me to catch up with a number of sporting events. Yesterday, I watched the fourth and final competition of the “Four Hills” Ski Jumping Tournament from  Bischofshofen, Austria.

In years past, I have watched the first two legs of this competition live while on vacation. There’s nothing better than watching them launch themselves off the in-run, soaring  like big birds of prey into the darkening sky, snow swirling, the cheers of the supporters while you’re warmly wrapped up against the cold with a glass of  gluehwein in hand. Like most sports, it’s a much better spectacle live. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed watching all four hills (Obersdorf, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Innsbruck and Bischofshofen) on the television. The overall was won by Austrian, Thomas Morgenstern, current World Cup leader and a man in obvious good form.

Sadly, my beloved boys in claret and blue went down 1-0 at home to the Black Cats leaving them wallowing in the relegation zone. The fans are outraged but fortunately it looks as if sanity has prevailed in the boardroom. We cannot expect to repeat last year’s position having sold one of the lynchpins of that team (James Milner) and not having strengthened the squad in the same fashion as our nearest competitors. Not forgetting that a number of senior players were injured in the first part of the season. Houllier is re-building the squad and must be given time to do this. I admit I am hoping that this week end we’ll beat our FA Cup opponents and, next week end, emerge victorious in the local derby.

On the cycling front, Team Leopard-Trek was presented to the cycling world yesterday. I’m rather disappointed with the mundane kit. I had hoped with a name like Leopard we might see something a bit more imaginative. But no, it’s black, white and blue, like half the peloton.

I see that Stephane Auge, after 10 years as a Pro, has decided to hang up his cleats and climb into the Cofidis team car as a DS. Echapees just won’t seem the same without him.

It’s been reported that the Spanish Cycling Federation won’t be opining on the Contador case until February, as there’s loads of paperwork to digest. Given that whichever side “loses” will appeal to TAS, it’s unlikely that Contador will be riding this year’s Tour. I’ve passed little comment on the case largely because when I first heard that he’d tested positive for Clenbuterol, which aids weight reduction and helps you breathe more easily, I did wonder where I might be able to purchase it. Both of my cycling related problems resolved in one fell swoop. But here’s the rub. While it would undoubtedly aid my cause, it’s most unlikely to have aided Alberto’s.

Shock horror, Jeannie Longo, having just been awarded the highest civilian “Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur” has admitted to thinking about retirement. Please, don’t do it Jeannie, I’m not yet ready for the competition.

Postcards from Manhattan II

I have finally managed to wrest control of the laptop, and access to the internet,  from my beloved who, citing his business needs, has been hogging it for most of the trip. Seems fair. I’m now sitting in the BA lounge looking forward to our flight back home via London. As usual, while I’ve enjoyed my trip, I now want to go home.

Over the past day or so I’ve been feeling markedly homesick and have been patronising  restaurants with a distinctly French flavour.  However, I’ve been enjoying breakfast at a local, typically American diner which obligingly has served me cinnamon flavoured porridge, made with water. The only problem has been portion control. The bowl’s  large enough for me, Goldilocks, the three bears and their next door neighbours.

I’m heading home footsore from pounding the pavements: I have walked Manhattan. I survived my cycling baptism of fire in the parks and on the streets of NY. Unbelievably, my credit cards are relatively unscathed. More importantly, NY afforded me the opportunity to catch up with a number of friends who, like my beloved, were in town for the Dental Show.

Yesterday I had lunch with one of my French girlfriends who moved to NY to work at the beginning of this year. I was delighted to find her flourishing in her new role and environment. Not only that but she’s already landed some new, sizeable contracts. This is somewhat reassuring as I encouraged her to make the move.

I note with some disappointment that my beloved boys in claret and blue today succumbed, in the dying minutes of the match, to their blue-nosed rivals in the Carling Cup. We don’t seem to be faring too well at the moment and next up are Liverpool. Let’s hope Houllier can invoke the curse of the returning manager.

Thursday postscript: It appears we’re not getting home today. Thanks to the snow, all flights to Nice have been cancelled. Not at all what we wanted to hear after a long haul flight. We’re booked on a flight tomorrow morning, but London airport travel chaos means planes are anywhere but where they’re supposed to be, so there’s no guarantee we’ll be homeward bound tomorrow.

Lightweight

The weather’s been a bit of a curate’s egg this week as we slide inexorably towards winter.  Rain on the coast has translated into snow in the mountains where they may well be about to experience their third consecutive great winter. Many of the resorts are opening next week end. This has spurred me on to go cross-country skiing this winter – great cross-training for my cycling.

Despite the almost incessant rain, I have managed to fit in my training thanks largely to the sunshine on both Wednesday and Friday. I had feared for Sunday’s pointage, after torrential rain overnight, but it had stopped by the time we awoke. Indeed a stiff, chilly breeze rapidly dried the wet roads although the sky looked threatening all morning. As a consequence, only the die-hards turned up. Normally the roads are thronged with cyclists but it was play “spot the cyclist” this Sunday as large numbers chose to remain under the covers.

We returned home to a bowl of hearty vegetable soup and my beloved boys in claret and blue away at Ewood Park. Sadly, the roll-call of injuries is such that Houlier has had to decimate the ranks of the youth squad. While they proved to be a match for the Red Devils last week end, their efforts fell on stonier ground today.

Friedel, normally so reliable, had a poor game and was constantly under pressure from the set pieces which characterise all of Sam Allardyce’s well-organised squads. If my memory serves me correctly, didn’t Houlier sell Friedel to Blackburn when he was the Liverpool manager?

Man for man, my beloved boys in claret and blue, with few exceptions, were head and shoulders smaller (and hence lighter) than their Blackburn counterparts who effectively muzzled both Gabi Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, thereby snuffing out any potential Villa threat. Key to the result however, aside from Pedersen’s two goals, was Blackburn’s control of the midfield.

Robert Pires came on after the second goal to inject some much needed experience and Gallic flair but had no impact whatsoever on the game. It’s still early days, but I’m sure he’ll prove to be a valuable addition to the squad.

Villa are now 13th with 17 points, just one more than their blue-nosed neighbours who, incredibly, beat Chelsea at the week end. Equally amazing was Spurs win at the Emirates. However, the top of the table  is starting to look all too familiar. Chelsea lead with 28 points, the same number as Man U in 2nd place, while Arsenal are 3rd with 26. Man City, after beating Fulham today, are 4th with 25 points.

OGCN went down 0-1 at home to Montpelier. Once again, Ospina was our “man of the match”. Knowing that he’ll be lured away (sold for as much money as possible) at the end of the season, and with goalkeeper number 2 retiring, OGCN have already bought his replacement. The boys are lying in 15th place with 16 points, just one less than AVFC.