The season starts now…………….

In my mind the cycling season starts with Paris-Nice. Now, I know the professional peloton has already been racing all over the globe: Australia, Argentina, Colombia, Oman, UAE, Spain, France  and Italy. I’ve even watched the last stage of the Tour de la Provence, a sprint won by John Degenkolb into Aix-en-Provence. But, for me, Paris-Nice remains the curtain-raiser!

Amael Moinrad wins: that’ll do nicely!

I’ve watched this race every year since relocating to France, largely of course because it finishes in my back garden. Some years I’ve watched the last three or even four stages but this year, like many, it’ll be the last two stages in and around Nice. I shall be praying for fine weather so that it is a “Race to the Sun” and hoping that I might see one of our local riders win a stage. I was fortunate to see Amael Moinard win the last stage in 2010 and Rudy Molard win the sixth stage to Vence last year.

Rudy triumphs in Vence

Like many French races, it has a rich history. It was created in 1933 by Parisian Albert Lejeune, in order to promote his Paris-based newspaper Le Petit Journal and Nice-based paper Le Petit Nice. Hence, the race linked the French capital with the fashionable Mediterranean coast. It was held in March, at the end of winter, one of the earliest French bike races on the calendar, immediately following the end of the track season.

The first Paris–Nice comprised six stages and was promoted as Les Six Jours de la Route. The first stage from Paris to Dijon was a whopping 312 km, and it remains the longest stage in the history of Paris–Nice. Because most mountain roads were still impassable, because of its early calendar date, the race’s route avoided the Alps and primarily followed the lower Rhône valley, its only significant climbs were on the last day on the outskirts of Nice.

The race was a success and other newspapers partnered with Lejeune’s titles to co-sponsor the race. In 1940, the race was cancelled for the duration of WWII. In 1946 Ce Soir again organised the first post-war race, but although the event was a commercial success, the newspaper dropped its sponsorship and the race was discontinued between 1947 and 1950.

In 1951 the race was revived as Paris-Côte d’Azur by Jean Medecin, the allegedly shady mayor of Nice, who wanted to promote tourism to his fast-growing city and the entire Côte d’Azur. The race’s name Paris–Nice was restored in 1954 and it grew in status in the 1950s from an early-season preparation and training race to an event in its own right, spawning such illustrious winners as Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil. In 1957 journalist Jean Leulliot, race director since 1951, bought the event with his company Monde Six and became Paris–Nice’s new organiser.

In 1959 the race was run as Paris–Nice–Rome, with a separate classification from Paris to Nice with a second one from Nice to Rome and a third title for the overall. The excessive length of the race – 1,955 kilometres (1,215 miles) in 11 days – was criticised, and the formula has not been repeated. In 1966 Paris–Nice was the scene of a rivalry between French cycling icons Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, whose legendary battles divided French cycling fans for over a decade.

Eze Village

In 1969, the final stage was moved from the seaside promenade in Nice to the top of Col d’Eze, overlooking the city. Eddy Merckx won the final individual time-trial and his first of three consecutive Paris–Nice races. In 1972 eternal second Poulidor ended the Cannibal’s streak by winning the final time-trial and narrowly finishing ahead of Merckx. The following year, he repeated this feat at the grand old age of 37.

In the 1980s Ireland’s polyvalent Sean Kelly won the race seven consecutive times; the winning record to date. The Race to the Sun produced several well-known winners in the 1990s, notably Spanish Grand Tour specialist Miguel Indurain. French all-rounder Laurent Jalabert won the race three consecutive times, the final time in 1997, and remains the race’s last French winner. In 2000, former Tour winner Laurent Fignon took over the organisation of the race from the Leulliot family but he sold out to ASO in 2002.

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev
Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

The 2003 race was marred by the death of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev after a crash on the second stage. Kivilev did not wear a helmet and died that night as a result of brain trauma. The following day the peloton, led by Kivilev’s Cofidis team, neutralised the third stage. Racing resumed the next day and, on the fifth stage to Mont Faron, Kivilev’s friend and compatriot Alexander Vinokourov soloed across the line holding a picture of his late friend. My former cycling club holds a sportive each year in June in Kivilev’s memory.

In 2005 Paris–Nice was included in the inaugural UCI Pro Tour, but was at the centre of a dispute between UCI and ASO just before its 2008 edition. (This was where I made my one-woman stand against the exclusion of Astana from the 2008 Tour de France.) The issue was eventually resolved and since 2011 Paris–Nice has served as the European WorldTour opener.

My beloved enjoying Paris-Nice 2012 with friends

The 2012 edition was famously won by Bradley Wiggins on his way to becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France thereby giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Subsequently, it’s been won by key support riders for Tour contenders (incl: Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Marc Soler). I wonder who’ll win this year’s edition?

 

Jumping for joy

I was at the Tour de France, specifically the last three days and got to see Bradley Wiggins crowned the first British winner – historic or what? I was there thanks to a girlfriend who was working for Eurosport, interviewing the riders pre- and post-race. What a brill job? Indeed, she’s an old hand at this and not only is she a gifted linguist, her other half’s a professional cyclist, so she knows many in the professional peloton and, as you can see from the photograph, she’s very attractive –  it doesn’t hurt. In fact, and deservedly so, she’s built quite a following on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re interested, you can read about my experience over on VeloVoices.

In effect, with the travel, that took out five whole days but I don’t regret a single moment! I was in two minds whether or not to go but my beloved, ever the voice of reason, said I might regret it if I didn’t and he was soooooooooooooo right. I made loads of great contacts for future VeloVoices interviews whom I’ll hopefully be able to catch up with either during the Vuelta or maybe the World Championships. My Tour highlight in truth wasn’t Wiggo’s win but rather Tommy Voeckler’s endorsement of my (in)famous pain d’epice! I also got to meet Maurice Greene who’ll be commentating during the Olympics for Eurosport and, while he knew nothing about cycling, really got caught up in the whole atmosphere.

I flew back from Paris at the crack of dawn on Monday morning, in truth it’s debatable whether it was worth getting a hotel room at all on Sunday evening. The plan was to head straight down to Pordenone, north-east of Venice, where my beloved was meeting one of his clients. I’d decided to go along because it’s close to where one of my dearest friends lives whom I don’t get to see as much as I’d really like. In the end, due to other commitments, we didn’t leave until after lunch by which time I was really flagging. You know how I need my eight hours a night.

Mindful of my commitment to racing an uphill time-trial, I took my bike because Pordenone is in the foothills of the Dolomites. On day one, Tuesday, I rode out to the base of the Dolomites and alongside of them on some strade bianche where I needed to fully concentrate in order to stay upright. I discovered that speed really was essential. I did a round trip of about 75km, nothing too demanding as it was all on the flat. On day two I decided to check out the route to Asolo as I really didn’t want to get lost en route and have to call my friend to come rescue me – too embarrassing to contemplate.

Another 75km round trip along country roads with nary a car in sight and plenty of picturesque villages to explore. Wednesday I rode over to Asolo. Again around 75km but it was made more difficult by the heat and a headwind.  It took me just three hours and I only really encountered traffic on the last 20km stretch where I was almost cut up by white van man on the exit out of Montebelluno. It was another relatively flat stretch apart from the climb up to the historic town centre.

All this cycling has been negated by delicious evening meals at charming family run Italian restaurants. Packed restaurants where we’d only gotten tables thanks to either reservations or contacts! Ecomonic crisis?

Today, I decided that there was nothing else for it, Dolomites here I come! While I chose my first climb more by luck, it looked as if it was one of the easier ones, even though it seemed to go on for ever. But, of course, at the pace I ride, it does. I saw nary a cyclist today although, in truth, I’ve not seen many all week and a quick search on the internet has only turned up the Octavia Botecchia Velodrome, so named in honour of the first Italian winner of the Tour. Will they rename the Manchester Velodrome after Brad? But no local cycling club. There must be one. I’ve located one for the railway employees but they wear a rather lurid red, yellow and blue kit. Those I’ve seen wearing a red and white kit could just as easily be a team from one of the town’s major manufacturing companies. My search continues, for my next visit……………

Speedy girl

Last week’s tummy troubles, probably caused by a virus, resulted in a bit of a blip in my training but I’m back on the case. My coach has suggested I make three trips up an insanely steep climb going fast, faster and fastest. I may just have to wear my “Speedy Bike Club” jersey. My Swiss friend calls me Speedy girl. He’s being ironic as I’m many things, none of them speedy, on a bike. So, we both have this particular jersey making it a very select club. That’s right, my beloved is NOT a member.

I’ll need all the help I can get, psychological and otherwise, as it’s definitely going to be a tricky climb. It’s not long, just over a couple of kilometres, but I find it really difficult, particularly the stretches at 16 and 17%. It’s the sort of hill where, as you climb, you keep checking that you really are in your granny gear, just in case you’re not, and there’s still one more gear. Of course, there never is but I still have to check!

Over the years I’ve developed a couple of techniques for ignoring the voice in my head that says “Are you insane? Turn round and go home now.” I try to imagine something pleasurable, whatever takes my fancy on the day and at that moment. Or, I promise myself a treat once the exercise is over. It might be an ice cold coke, an ice cream, a juicy peach or a cup of coffee. Again, whatever I fancy and what’s readily available. So tomorrow, I’ll once again be gritting my teeth and trying, against the odds, to think pleasurable thoughts.

As tomorrow’s  a rest day in the Tour, I may just mentally revisit some of the best moments from the last ten days as I climb this particular hill, looking for all the world as if I’m riding in slow-mo which, of course, I am.  Few local riders brave the climb, or conversely the descent, so I’m not likely to be overtaken: scant consolation. Though passing motorists occasionally proffer encouragement from their car windows.

However, my real dilemma is going to be the three speeds. I can’t go any slower or I’ll just fall off the bike. Conversely, I find it really hard to go any faster as I’m already “on the rivet”. I’m just going to give it my best and see how I fare. Already I’m beginning to regret my whim of doing this particular uphill individual time-trial.

Who do I think I am? Bradley Wiggins? I think not, as he and team mate Chris Froome were likened to stick insects on Twitter. Not an accusation that can be levelled at me. Nor would I feel comfortable in the new generation, seemingly translucent skinsuits they’re all wearing. Although I may have come up with a solution – SPANX skinsuits. I’m calling the company tomorrow though there’s the vague disquiet that the surplus, compressed flesh might just roll out of the suit in folds at the wrists and thighs. Still, it’s worth a try.

Countdown has started

It’s true I can hardly contain my excitement, the 2012 Tour de France starts this Saturday. My beloved’s grandmother felt the same way about Wimbledon. She would get all her daily chores done in the morning before settling down for the entire afternoon and early evening in front of the television, essentials to hand: the draw, the match schedule, Pimms, strawberries and cream. She wouldn’t answer the phone, if you were inconsiderate enough to call, nor would she answer the doorbell. It was her favourite two weeks of the year and nothing and no one was going to spoil it for her. While she was a long-time fan of the game, her all-time favourite was John McEnroe, she was also fond of Boris Becker and I’m pretty sure, if she were still around today, she’d be rooting for Rafa Nadal.

Winner of 2011 Tour stage to Luz-Ardiden
Winner of 2011 Tour stage to Luz-Ardiden

My devotion to the Tour is perhaps not quite so extreme though I particularly enjoy the run-up where everyone is giving their four pennyworth on who they think will win. Of course, there are two ways of approaching this: who do you think will win and who do you want to win. Often the answers are entirely different. For example, I would like nothing better than for Samu Sanchez to win the Tour de France but I honestly believe that third will be his best shot, barring misfortune falling on either Bradley Wiggins or Cadel Evans. Frankly, I don’t really care who wins other than, if it’s Wiggo, I’ll be able to say “I told you so” down at the cycling club. When Team Sky was launched and stated their ambition of a British winner within five years, my team mates laughed. They’re not laughing now and some are even in agreement.

While the favourites battle it out for the podium, my attention tends to focus on rising stars, riders who’ve never recorded a professional win, riders participating in their final tour or their first, the breakaway artists, the lanterne rouge and the bandaged warriors counting down the days and hours until they finally reach Paris. This for me is what makes the Tour so engrossing for three weeks plus, of course, the magnificent scenery. Yes, the Tour is three weeks of minted publicity for France.

Like the riders, planning and preparation is key to success. I have drawn up my list of chores to be completed while spending hours watching the action. Top of the list is usually an hors categorie ironing mountain. This year, it’s already been reduced to no more than a false flat. There is however a lot of things in the mending basket. I freely admit I hate sewing and if a button falls off something, you might never see me in it ever again. Over the year, I store all the little jobs that I can’t legitimately take down to the menders in a basket and come the Tour, out they come.

I never got around to my annual sort out of the drawers and cupboards during last year’s Tour so this looms large again this year along with cleaning the silver and the chandeliers. Now, you might be wondering that while I’m multi-tasking, I’m missing the action. Don’t fret, I have three televisions tuned to French tv, French Eurosport and International Eurosport respectively in three different rooms to ensure that I miss none of the action. Indeed a number of stages are being beamed to us in their entirety! I love these as there’ll be no need to wonder what happened before I tuned in and why so and so’s down the back, again. I’ll know because I’ll have seen it all.

The Tour can be addictive and I have to ration myself otherwise I find I can happily watch French tv from sunrise to well after sunset. I particularly adore Jean Paul Olivier who waxes lyrical about the Tour and France’s rich heritage. I love seeing the immaculately coiffured Gerard Holz pop up at someone’s roadside picnic and engage them in conversation about the Tour and I particularly love the constant stream of facts and figures. I will, of course, have all my supporting papers, books and tour guides on the coffee table for quick ready reference. Lastly, I should probably come clean and admit it’s not unknown for me to watch the evening highlights of a stage I’ve particularly enjoyed, such as Samu’s win last year on Luz-Ardiden.

Review of 2011 season

Spending more time than I might wish on my home trainer the past week has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the 2011 road racing season. As you know, I often find it difficult to restrict myself to just one favourite moment, rider, team, race or indeed anything. Indecisive or greedy – you decide.  Given my preference for live sport, my recollections tend to be coloured by the races I’ve watched in person. So here goes.

Rider of the Year

It’s hard to argue against the collective wisdom of the Velo d’Or jury, so I won’t. With his 18 wins, it just has to be Phil Gil. Though it just wasn’t the quantity, it was also the quality of those wins, his majestic presence and aggressive, attacking style of riding which thrilled us all.

Although in my mind, Phil Gil was head and shoulders above all the other contenders, making it onto the podium in second place is Britain’s own Manx missile: Mark Cavendish. The Grand Tour wins, the green jersey (finally) and that magnificent win in the World Championships. Says it all really.

I was in a quandary about third place, should it be Thor Hushovd who so magnificently honoured the rainbow jersey, particularly during the Tour de France or should it be Tony Martin for his emphatic dethronement of Fabian Cancellara, a man who last year looked unbeatable. It’s a tricky one isn’t it? So, I’m going to squash them both on the podium in joint third place.  Honourable mentions should go to Edvald Boassen Hagen and France’s chouchou, Tommy Voeckler, both largely for their Tour de France performances.

Best One-Day Race of the Year

I was there, so it has to be Paris-Roubaix. The race had everything. Fine weather, fantastic atmosphere, favourites desperate to win beaten by an unfancied rider who, to add to the drama, proposed to his long-term girlfriend on the podium. I just love it when a non-contender, albeit hardworking and long-deserving, takes a really big win in one of the Monuments. Congratulations to Mr (and Mrs) Johan Vansummeren and commiserations to the mighty Thor.

In second place, it’s the Men’s Road Race at the World Championships in Copenhagen. While the course was made for Cavendish, the planning and preparation to get him there allied to GB’s phenomenal display of teamwork on the day, controlling the race from start to finish, was truly impressive and hugely exciting.

Had I been there, I suspect that Milan San Remo might well have been my third choice on account of Matt Goss’s uber-intelligent ride. For similar reasons, I could also have plumped for Nick Nuyen’s win in the Tour of Flanders, but I haven’t. No, I’m going for Clasica San Sebastian, a delightfully fun race with a terrific party atmosphere thanks to the Basques enduring love of cycling. This race demonstrated Phil Gil’s dominance over the peloton in hilly Classics. You could almost see the collective drooping of shoulders and the “Well that’s it then” attitude as he raced to victory after some token Basque resistance.

Best Stage Race of the Year

When the touch paper was lit in the third week in the Alps I was there to see the old-style heroics, epic defence of the yellow jersey, stages full of suspense, a French stage winner and, most importantly, some great racing culminating in a worthy winner. The Tour had it all in spades. While, we might have deplored the loss to injury in the first week of a number of favourites, that’s bike racing.

In second place, the Vuelta, the wonderful Tour of Spain which this year I was fortunate to attend albeit only for a couple of days. Unlike the Tour the atmosphere is much more relaxed, for all concerned, and the race much more accessible. The result was also wildly unpredictable and was all the better for it. It also provided my “Best Moment” of the year when Basque rider Igor Anton won the first Vuelta stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 years. The fever pitch excitement and wall of sound as he approached the finish line had to be heard and seen to be believed.

In third place, the Criterium du Dauphine, won by one Bradley Wiggins, which left us all wondering what might have been when Brad crashed out of the Tour. While it probably wasn’t his avowed intention to win the race, once in the leader’s jersey, he and team Sky rode intelligently. Opinion seems to be divided on which race provides the best preparation for the Tour. But, if you wanted to win this year’s Tour, then this race won easily as it allowed you to ride the decisive Grenoble time-trial. To be honest it’s a bit of a no brainer. Which organisation owns both the Dauphine and the Tour de France? Exactly, nuff said.

What about the Giro, I hear you ask. Well, it was over almost before it started thanks to a master coup by Bert and Riis on Nibali’s home turf. In short, it was too hard and too predictable. Also way down the list for consideration, in fact in absolute bottom place, The Tour of Beijing. No need to explain why.

Team of the Year

Who won the most races (again)? Exactly, it was HTC-High Road who have promoted young talent (including both current road race and time-trial World Champions) and bestrode the peloton like a colossus for the past few years racking up around 500 wins. Their reward – disbandment due to lack of sponsorship. Hard to believe and very worrying for the sport.

Tactical Coup of the Year

It just has to be Bjarne Riis and Nick Nuyens in the Tour of Flanders. The latter didn’t figure as one of the favourites despite his credentials and recent win in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. He was invisible until the final break. Having lost touch with the favourites on the Kwaremount, he regained contact, kept out of trouble and popped up in the right place at the right time. First over the finish line to hand Riis back-to-back wins. Who’s LeOghing now?

Surprise of the Year

There’s a couple of contenders here. Should it be Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in the Tour, team mate Pierre Roland’s win atop iconic L’Alpe d’Huez or Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome? To everyone’s total surprise, Kenyan borne adopted Brit Chris Froome finished the Vuelta ahead of Sky’s team leader Bradley Wiggins in third and might have won were it not for Cobo’s bonus seconds. Wisely he’d postponed contract negotiations with Sky until after the Vuelta so maybe it wasn’t an unexpected result for Chris who seized his opportunity with both hands while still playing the role of loyal team mate. He won’t be flying under the radar next year.

Disappointment(s) of the Year

Where shall I start? Here’s my list, in no particular order:-

  • UCI’s lack of comprehension about the importance of segregation of duties
  • Continued postponement of Alberto Contador’s CAS hearing
  • HTC-Highroad being unable to find a sponsor
  • Geox pulling out at the last moment
  • Crowd booing Bert at Tour de France team presentation
  • Paris-Nice not being a race to the sun this year
  • Andy Schleck happy to be second again and again
  • Leopard Trek, style over substance
  • Budget polarisation of the Pro-tour teams
  • More and more Pro-tour  teams sponsored by “Sugar Daddies”
  • UCI’s system of attribution of points to races and riders

It would be wholly inappropriate to call this event a disappointment. Instead it was for me the real low point of the cycling year. I am, of course, talking about Wouter Weylandt’s death from a high speed fall during the Giro. It reminded us in the strongest possible terms that cycling is a very dangerous sport. If I close my eyes I can still see that short cameo shot of the medics trying to revive his lifeless body.

The point was further underlined with Juan Mauricio Soler’s fall in the Tour of Switzerland for which he is still undergoing rehabilitation. Many more of us watched with horror during this year’s Tour de France as 1) a motorbike deprived  Nicki Sorenson of his bike, depositing him at a roadside picnic and 2) an official car from France TV, driven with scant regard for rider safety, sent Messrs Flecha and Hoogerland flying, the latter into barbed wire.

Unsung Hero(s) of the Year

These are legion in the peloton and the UCI pays them little regard. Many have that Eurovision chilling score of “nul points” and therefore little negotiable value in the transfer market. There’s not enough space (or time) to list them all but let’s have a round of applause for all the teams’ hard working, selfless domestiques. Also, hats off to those team leaders who always recognise the invaluable contribution of their team mates.

My Best Bits of the Year

Again, these are in no particular order:-

  • Watching Astana get their best stage result at this year’s Vuelta fuelled by my home made cake
  • Getting Mark Cavendish’s autograph for a friend as promised
  • Seeing Sammy win atop Luz Ardiden to record (unbelievably) his maiden Tour win. How good was that?
  • Riding around Antibes with Phil Gil
  • Cadel Evans finally winning Tour de France
  • Amael Moinard, Geoffroy Lequatre, Alex Vinokourov, Max Iglinsky, Andrey Grivko (and everyone else)  for turning out to support La Kivilev
  • Lots of young, exciting, emerging talent such as Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb,  Elia Viviani, Tony Gallopin, Andrea Guardini, Thibaud Pinot, Jesse Sergent and Steven Kruiswijk to name but a few
  • Golden oldies such as Jens Voigt and Robbie McEwan for proving there’s no such thing as “too old”

You see, too much thinking time results in my longest blog ever!

Cards from Copenhagen III

Eshewing the race start in downtown Copenhagen, I went directly to the finish at Rudersdal to claim my spot on the 50m to go marker. The Danes were expecting crowds of 400,000 tall Scandinavians. I needed to be in the front row, against the barriers. I could watch the start on the nearby screen. The Championship’s website claims that the nearest train station is 10 minutes from the finish line. That would be 10 minutes as driven by Sebastian Vettell. On foot, it’s a good 20 minutes and we’ve already established I’m a quick walker. Today I took my own supplies as the choice on offer is somewhat spartan: Carlsberg or Carlsberg. Although I did buy some coffee the other day from some enterprising youngsters, pretty much the cheapest and best coffee I’ve found in pricy Copenhagen.

I arrived in Rudersdal to discover that the locals had laid out their towels the night before and my spot on the 50m marker had been colonised by some very large Danes who, at 09:30 in the morning, were already swigging Calsberg. I am however, if nothing adroit, and by the second circumnavigation of the circuit by the peloton I had claimed my rightful place. The race had been pretty lively from the start and a breakaway of 7 riders had gone clear which included Anthony “it isn’t a break if I’m not in it” Roux and three riders from Team Astana, albeit all different nationalities. The race unfolded much as expected, with the British , whom the American announcer kept calling “the English” –   I bet David Millar and Geraint Thomas loved that – controlling the peloton with assistance from firstly the Germans, and secondly the Americans.

PhilGil sent his lieutenants up the road to form a second break away group which, with 5 laps to go, joined up with the first. But the British remained tranquillo. Not so the back of the peloton, where Team New Zealand, Tony Martin and defending champ Thor Hushovd, among others, were caught up in a crash and never regained the main peloton. Meanwhile, riders were pinging off the front of the bunch, particularly the Danes, to the delight of the local crowd, only to be recaptured by the GB steam roller. Two of the escapees were, as anticipated, French favourite Tommy  Voeckler and Johnny “Scarred Legs” Hoogerland, making their trademark attacks.  But nothing and no one stood in the way of the GB train. A train PhilGil had missed.

The final escapees were brought back on the last lap, where the Brits fought for control with a number of other teams trying to set up their sprint trains, until finally mayhem ensued. Cavendish, shorn of support, picked his way through the pack on the right-hand barrier to burst free of the bunch with 150m (where else) to go, beating team mate Matt Goss by half a wheel. Ex- team mate Andre Greipel was a bike length back in 3rd ,separated from Fabulous Fabian by just a fag paper. The British had won their second gold medal in this event: the first going to the late Tommy Simpson in 1965. Bradley Wiggins was right when he said Cavendish would be unlikely to have a better chance to win gold. The course was made for his style of riding. Even so the Brits had apparently been planning this for the past 3 years. See, proves my point, planning and preparation deliver results every time.

Top 15 Results
1.   Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) Time 5:40:27
2.   Matthew Harley Goss (Australia)
3.   André Greipel (Germany)
4.   Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
5.   Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
6.   Romain Feillu (France)
7.   Borut Bozic (Slovenia)
8.   Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
9.   Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain)
10. Tyler Farrar (USA)
11.  Denis Galimzyanov (Russia)
12. Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
13. Anthony Ravard (France)
14. Daniele Bennati (Italy)
15. Rui Costa (Portugal)

Here’s the medal table which clearly shows Sheree 6 – 5 Ute.

Medal table by country

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain 2 2 2 6
Australia 2 1 2 5
France 2 1 0 3
Germany 2 0 3 5
Denmark 1 1 1 3
Italy 1 0 0 1
New Zealand 0 2 0 2
Belgium 0 2 0 2
Netherlands 0 1 1 2
Switzerland 0 0 1 1

The King is dead, long live the King

This afternoon HTC’s Tony Martin capped a stellar season by winning the rainbow jersey in the individual time-trial event. Twice runner-up to 4-time winner Fabian Cancellara, Tony was gunning for Spartacus’s crown and, indeed, was many people’s favourite to de-throne him. This was based largely on the success he’s enjoyed this year in a number of stage races. As well as winning the overall in Paris-Nice and Volto ao Algave, he’s won the time trails in those two races as well as those in the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Criterium du Dauphine.

I prefer to watch time-trials live as you get to see each individual rider. Of course, in stage races, with the exception of those gunning for GC or a win, most riders endeavour to get around the course in the permitted time. At the World Championships, whatever your ability, you get an opportunity to record a time. This isn’t the case in the road race as those who are lapped are obliged to drop out. In addition, those taking part in the time-trial are generally specialists and often their countries champion in the discipline. Even so, there were some interesting gear choices today. The two tail-end Charlies from Albania were pushing huge gears in what looked like slow motion. On the other hand, former champ Bert “too big to” Grabsch was pedalling a ginormous gear with admirable speed and fluidity.

Luckily, the weather co-operated and, despite a few scattered raindrops, all 65 riders negotiated the 46.4km, 2-lap race in dry conditions. Astana and Kazakh’s Alexandr Dyachenko, fresh from his bottle carrying duties in the Vuelta, was in the hot seat for some considerable time until the more fancied raiders knocked him off his perch. He finished a very creditable 9th overall. A number of the younger riders such as Taylor Phinney (15th), Jonathan Castelviejo (11th), Jesse Sergent (18th) and Jack Bobridge (5th) turned in fine performances. The future of the sport is assured.

Germany’s Tony Martin radiated confidence and purpose as he steam rollered down the ramp and very quickly overtook Scotland’s David Millar. He was smoking and recording the fastest times at all of the checkpoints. To be fair Fabulous Fabian didn’t just roll over. He gave it everything, and probably lost the silver medal when he overcooked a right hand turn coming off the cobbles on the second lap. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins,  another man in fine post-Vuelta form, pedaled with grace and suppleness to take the silver medal some 65 seconds behind Martin. The 26 year-old German recorded an average speed of 51.8km/hr. I cannot begin to explain how difficult it is to maintain this speed on a flat course. I feel inordinately pleased with myself if I can keep close to 40km/hr,  for more than 5km, aided by a strong tailwind.

Fellow Germans, and HTC team mates, have won gold in both elite TT disciplines. My friend Ute, who’s working as a volunteer on the UCI Welcome Desk, will be delighted with the German dominance and will, no doubt, have already secured their respective autographs. So, there were 2 Brits in the top 10, 2 Germans and 2 Australians. The locals had Jakob Fuglsang, who finished 10th, to support. Tomorrow’s a rest day, enabling the teams to check out the road race course which heads out from the town centre to this circuit around Rudersdal.

Viva La Vuelta VII

I’m back from getting up close and personal with the Vuelta in the Basque country. It was the Vuelta’s first visit to the cycling mad region in 33 years and the fans did not disappoint, lining the route whenever they could, and particularly on the climbs, to encourage all the Basque riders. Despite the cessation of hostilities in the region, the Vuelta organisers were taking no chances and both days there was a significant, albeit discrete, police presence. Despite that, the Vuelta is much more intimate than the Tour and it’s possible to get much closer to the riders and the race. To be fair, the Tour is a much bigger affair, attracting much more interest internationally, and therefore one can appreciate the necessity of the measures put in place by ASO.

Stage 19 started in Noja, a charming seaside town in Cantabria, with fabulous beaches, just an hour’s drive from Bilbao. At the sign on I happened to be standing next to some friends of JuanJo who came over to greet them. He had the look of a man who couldn’t quite believe what was happening to him. Lots of young local riders were there in their cycling kit and the riders were only too happy to pose with them and make their day. I easily managed to attract the attention of both of my friends and wish them luck. At this stage of the race, many are just counting down the hours until they reach Madrid and finally home. Most have been away for almost a month.

Geoffroy Lequatre
Nice smile

I managed to handover the cakes my friend ordered after the race. Picking my way carefully through the streams of water issuing forth from the coaches as the riders enjoyed a post-race shower, I handed them over to one of the mechanics. I’d wisely made enough for the entire crew. I only hoped they would enjoy them.

Stage 20 started in Bilbao with a perambulation around the city, showcasing it’s various monuments, before wending its way to the third main town in the Basque country, Vitoria. While San Sebastian and Bilbao have much to recommend them, the same cannot be said for Vitoria’s new part of town. Again, after a pleasant lunch in a local bar, we took our places on the finish line in full view of the big screen to watch the action unfold. This was going to be a stage for the sprinters and their teams, including that of one of my friend’s, were driving the peloton in the last 15km. Clearly, the cakes had worked their magic and given everyone a fillip. The team’s sprinter finished 2nd behind Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.

Andrey Mizurov
Nice smile

 

Sheree’s sporting shots

I leave the country for a few days to visit dear friends and suddenly we’re chock-a-block with sporting news. Here’s what I’ve missed:-

Cycling

Many thought that Sunday’s stage in the Vuelta, taking in the fearsome climb up the Angliru, might be decisive and they were correct. Geox’s Juan Jose Cobo, who had been looking lively in finishing 2nd on Saturday’s stage, positively cantered up the ramp in the fog on Sunday’s queen stage, leaving the other contenders trailing in his wake, to take the leader’s jersey. Sky’s Froome and Wiggins lost a handful of seconds on yesterday’s benign stage, while Katusha’s Purito fell and, having finished over 10 minutes back, took himself out of contention.

On today’s 5.9km steep climb to Pena Cabarga, Cobo couldn’t resist trying to gain further advantage. Sky’s Froome was having none of it, matching him and finally emerging triumphant. Cobo was 2nd so that’s 8 seconds back but they could be decisive. In any event, even though Wiggins is still in 3rd, Sky will be putting all their eggs into Froome’s baskets.  Tomorrow’s stage into Noja looks more suitable for a breakaway, while the two stages in the Basque country simply must be won by the boys in orange, if they’re  to rescue their Vuelta.  The last realistic opportunity to snatch the red jersey is on Saturday’s 187km stage from Bilbao to Vitoria which finishes with 50km on the flat. Surely Sky can time-trial their way into red?

Over in Italy, the new Giro di Padania (ie Tour of N Italy) started with a win for Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox) who’s been garnering plenty of headlines this summer. In France, young Aussie Rohan Dennis is leading the Tour de l’Avenir, which started on Sunday  and showcases emerging talent.

Of course, the really big news is the recently, hotly denied Radioshack-Leopard Trek merger. It allegedly came as a shock to the riders, with the possible exception of Frandy. However, I was delighted to read in L’Equipe that the UCI’s primary concern would be the riders. A large number of whom will now be looking for gainful employment. Indeed, a number with contracts for next year, may not be too happy at this turn of events.

Team Sky have announced the signing of pint-sized Aussie Richie Porte whose departure from Saxobank will further weaken Alberto’s support squad for 2012. No news yet as to where the Manx missile is heading. Maybe he just wants to keep us all in suspense or perhaps it’ll be announced on the eve of the Tour of Britain.

MotoGP

It was a Spanish clean sweep of the podiums at Misano in Italy this week end with winners Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Nico Terol. All three are back on home soil for the next round at  Aragon on 18 September.

As we were driving back yesterday from Italy, we passed a number of MotoGP trucks including those of the Yamaha Racing team. Only one day after his 3rd victory of the season, which allowed him to close the championship gap to Honda’s Casey Stoner to 35 points, reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo and team-mate Ben Spies were back on track at Misano  testing  the 2012 1000cc M1.

During the 2011 season, manufacturers can test 2012 bikes for a total of 8 rider/days with their MotoGP riders. Yamaha has now completed 4 rider/days, the same number as Honda, but one less than Ducati. Suzuki is yet to announce a 1000cc project.

Tennis

First hurricanes and now torrential rain is causing scheduling chaos at the US Open, where most of the fancied players are still in contention.

Football

Eurosport have signed Rafa Benitez to their commentary team. Having managed in Spain, England and Italy, he has the right credentials to be commentating on European Cup matches along with Arsene Wenger.

Viva La Vuelta VI

My beloved is currently sitting on a plane on the runway of an airport to which his plane has been diverted. He’s had a long day having flown back from Japan via Vienna. He was looking forward to having dinner with me and an early night. Both options now out of the question. After a fruitless wait at the airport, I’ve returned home. Either they’ll bus him back to Nice, a journey of at least 3 hours plus however long it takes to organise the coach. Alternatively, they may fly him back. The latter is less likely as those promised storms have arrived. Will he get back home this evening? We’ll just have to wait and see.

More importantly, the BIG question on everyone’s lips, can Wiggo win? Yesterday, today and tomorrow hold the key to that question. He’s safely navigated two out of three difficult days. Yesterday, Liquigas’s defending champion, Vicenzo Nibali, sneaked a 6 second bonus by taking the first intermediate sprint to go 2nd on GC while the stage was won by contract seeking, HTC’s Michael Albsini. It was the 30-year old’s first GT win. Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, holder of the combined jersey, was another who took back time, rising on GC to 9th. In addition, Cofidis’s David Moncoutie garnered sufficient points to pull on the spotted jersey.

Not for the faint hearted

Out of Galicia and into Asturia, Stage 14’s lumpy 173kms culminated in Lagos de Somiedo, a tough climb, particularly the final 5kms. The stage was won by fellow Cote d’Azur resident, the baby-faced Estonian, Rein Taaramae, who rides for Cofidis. It was his maiden GT win and his first win since 2009.

Back in the leading group, the attacks were coming thick and fast on the slopes of the final climb but Wiggo was tranquillo. Aided by the faithful Froome he turned up the pace and riders were shelled out the back like peas in a pod: Moreno, Rodriguez, Nibali, Kessiakoff……………… By the end of the stage, Sky were firmly occupying first and second places again while others were slip, sliding down the GC.

Here’s the top 20 General classification after stage 14:-

 
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 55:54:45
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
4 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:00:55
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:58
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:01:23
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
8 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:37
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:16
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:24
11 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
12 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:11
13 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:03:23
14 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:30
15 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:32
16 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:03:43
17 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:12
18 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:04:17
19 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:04:40
20 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:05:19