Postcards from Melbourne I

Thankfully our luggage, including the two bike boxes, fitted into our hire car and we sped away to our first destination – a discount electrical store to buy a GPS. Yes, you can hire them but Herz’s hire charges equate to the cost of three sat navs. Then it was off to our first stop in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran for four days.

We stayed in a well-appointed, bright, penthouse apartment with a large balcony just off the High St intersection with Chapel St. For once, we raised the hip neighbourhood’s average age and no doubt looked like tourists to the locals. My beloved looked particularly out of place lacking tats, man-bun and a bushy beard.

We spent our first day thoroughly checking out the locale and finding loads of great restaurants that catered for vegans (and me), including a great breakfast (Amici Bakery) spot with superfast broadband. Prahran has its own daily covered market, which saved me from feeling homesick. I could and did spend hours wandering around there.

2016-01-09 Prahran

The area was also home to a vibrant mix of retail outlets, including several excellent bike shops and bookstores. By day three I’d already bought my full quota of cookery books! The older Victorian buildings reminded me of those in the Midlands and N England, many of which have been beautifully restored and re-purposed.

Prahran proved to be an ideal location from which to explore as yet unvisited areas of sprawling Melbourne and was just a stone’s throw from the coast road, ideal for our daily morning rides. The cycling scene has exploded since our last visit which has much to do with the recent success of Australian cyclists, particularly local lad Cadel Evans’ 2011 Tour de France victory.

2016-01-07 Southbank

Thursday, while my husband dropped in on a client, I opted for a Pedi. See how easily I’m slipping into the local vernacular. This included another in-chair back massage – my third in as many days. Reunited, we enjoyed lunch at a well-known riverside restaurant, followed by a gentle stroll along Melbourne’s Southbank, people watching and taking photos in the warm late afternoon sunshine.

2016-01-10 Mornington

Friday we ventured further along the coast to Mornington, which invoked memories of last September’s trip to Sag Harbor with its eclectic mix of upmarket stores, spectacular coastline, soft sandy beaches and plenty of property porn.

2016-01-09 St Kilda.jpg

Saturday we enjoyed a very long ride along the coast returning to St Kilda for a late lunch and a stroll along the boardwalk. The weather has been just perfect with temperatures in the mid-20s. Ideal for plenty of activities though I have been slathering on the Factor 100. My two sisters would be shocked, they rarely venture above Factor 4 and have the wrinkles to prove it!

Our few days in Melbourne passed all too quickly. Sunday, we sadly waived good-bye to Prahran and set off on the next leg of our journey to Sydney.

 

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.

L’Equipe poll

At the beginning of each year, L’Equipe journalists pose ten key questions about the forthcoming cycling season and ask their readership to vote “Yes” or “No” to each question. Here’s the questions and the all-important results:-

1. Are the Olympic Games going to be good for the French?   67% said YES

Leaving aside the road races, the French have always done well on the track and in MTB. Last time out they also shone in BMX. There’s no reason to suppose they won’t do similarly well in London 2012. They’ve been less convincing on the road and could only offer up the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin who finished 3rd in the pre-Olympic dry run. While it’s not entirely impossible that someone of the stature of Dumoulin – and when I say stature, I’m thinking palmares not size – or Feillu could nick a place on the podium. Just don’t bet your shirt on it.

2. Will Arnaud Demare be the seasons’ revelation?   56% said NO

This is the lad who won the U23 Road Race in Copenhagen and who’s now a neo-pro at FDJ where he’ll have an opportunity to grow without too much pressure being placed on his young shoulders too early. He’s only 2o (21 in August) and one shouldn’t expect that, like Marcel Kittel before him,  he’ll rack up 18 sprint victories in his first season. But he will win races, just not yet. Remember, he was 4th in U23’s in last year’s  Paris-Roubaix and will no doubt benefit from Frederic Guesdon’s guidance.

3. Are we going to see a duel again between Cancellara and Boonen in the Cobbles Classics?   56% said NO

Go Tom go

The sentiment was that these two will play a role but there are others who will enter the fray. They’ll probably never repeat their respective golden years of 2010 and 2005 respectively. However, I sensed, that nonetheless, this was exactly what everyone was hoping for. Kitty Fondue and I are going to be hotly debating this very topic over on www.velovoices.com.

4. Will TAS exonerate Condator?   67% said YES

Now I’m not sure whether readers felt this was the most likley and most expedient outcome for cycling or whether, as time has gone on, Contador has impressed everyone more and more with his demeanor thus they’re more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The French are not overly fond of what we might call “the authorities” and this may have just tipped the balance in Bertie’s favour.

5. Will Evans succeed in retaining his Tour title?   56% said NO

Despite his excellent team, experience and the favourable parcours, readers felt his age would count against him and, in particular, his declining powers of recuperation. If he takes part, most expect Contador to win.

6. Will Thomas Voeckler get onto the Tour podium?   89% said NO

The French know their cycling. Voeckler ended up in the leader’s jersey when he profited from the misfortune visited on Messrs Hoogerland and Flecha. His defence of the jersey was heroic, but he was in it by chance. The verdict: top 10 placing is the best he can expect.

7. Will Bruyneel get Andy to win the Tour in 2012?   89% said NO

Most recognise that Bruyneel does have what it takes to make Andy win the Tour, but not this year. He needs a more favourable parcours, the absence of one Bertie Contador and to be uncoupled from his elder brother. Like I said, the French know their cycling. They’re not wrong about this.

8. Will Cavendish become Olympic Champion?   56% said YES

While most agreed it would be more difficult than winning the World Championship’s Copenhagen – fewer team mates, hillier parcours – they felt his experience in winning Grand Tour stages, his mental strength and home advantage might just see him grab gold.

9. Will Team BMC crush everything it its path this season?   100% said NO

Can’t get more emphatic than that! History has shown  – Teams Sky and Leopard-Trek – that it takes a while for a team to bed down. In addition, when there are changes to a number of key personnel, it takes time for them to become cohesive. A case of too many chiefs and not enough (red) Indians perhaps?

10. Will Valverde give Gilbert a run for his money?   67% said YES

Readers think that this could well be the duel of the season particularly in the Ardennes Classics. PhilGil may be numero uno at the moment but let’s not forget Valverde occupied that slot in 2006 and 2008 plus he’s got a point to prove – always dangerous.

Be careful what you wish for

In addition, L’Equipe asked each of the 10 journalists who had posed the questions what they would like to see happen this season. Their replies, in no particular order were:-

  • Frederic Guesdon to win Paris-Roubaix  – sadly he won’t be doing that after crashing in 1st stage of the Tour Down Under. Curse of the Journo!
  • Juan Jose Cobo to ride up the 25% incline of le Caitu Negru (16th stage of Vuelta) in his big ring.
  • Bruyneel to stop Frandy from waiting for one another.
  • Peta Todd, Cav’s partner, to become the front woman for Cochonou (cold meat producer) in the Tour caravan.
  • Lionel Messi to take French citizenship and start cycling. (With those sublime feet, he could be a shoe in).
  • David Moncoutie wins Milan- San Remo in a sprint after having headbutted Mark Renshaw (Now they’re getting silly!)
  • Another’s a rather saucy reference to the fact that Mark Cavendish got his partner pregnant during last years Tour. However, it does acknowledge that Cav’s a brill Tweeter.
  • Tom Boonen wins a fourth Paris Roubaix title and snubs Roger De Vlaeminck on the podium. (I know exactly what SHE means, but I’m sure Tom’s too nice to do that).

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!

No surprises

The “Velo d’Or“, awarded annually by an international jury of 19 journalists to the best performer, was created in 1992 and is widely regarded as the most prestigious individual award in cycling. Lance holds the record with five wins and, until 2006, the winner of the Tour de France had always been placed first or second in the award classification.

Unsurprisingly, with 18 victories under his belt in 2011, Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert has picked up the 2011 trophy. The decision was pretty much unanimous with only journalists from Germany, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg preferring Evans, while the British journalist patriotically put Cavendish in first place. Tour de France winner Cadel Evans was runner up, while World Champion and sprint-kingpin Mark Cavendish was third. Messrs Contador and Tony Martin tied for 4th place. I have to say it’s hard to disagree with this decision. No doubt this is going to be one of many awards for PhilGil this season who’s already been voted “Flamand of the Year”. Yes, I know he’s a Walloon, but nationality doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor in this annual award. PhilGil’s setting his sights in 2012 on those Classics which have so far eluded him and, in particular, Milan – San Remo.

Best Young Rider was won by Liquigas’s precocious Peter Sagan, one point ahead of Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagan. HTC’s Matti Goss was third. Also in the mix, but way down on the points, (in order) were Pierre Rolland, Marcel Kittel, Jack Bobridge, Rui Costa, Rein Taaramae, John Degenkolb, Steven Kuijswijk, Denis Galimzyanov and Ben Swift. The “Best of” French categories are voted for solely by the French media. Frenchman of the year, for the second successive year, with a massive haul of 116 points, was Thomas Voeckler followed by Pierre Roland and trackstar Gregory Bauge. Julie Bresset, the U23 World Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion, and the only female rider to figure in any of the awards, was seventh.

The award for the best “Espoir” was given to U23 World Road Race Champion Arnaud Demarre, Best Junior was Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier, the recently crowned Junior World Road Race Champion and, finally, rising trackstar Julien Delerin was awarded the Vel d’Or Cadet.

Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

How much?

A recent article in L’Equipe looked into how much it costs to run a Pro-Tour team and how much it costs to organise a race. To illustrate the latter they used the recent Tour de L’Ain, a 2.1 UCI race whose budget of Euros 552,000 is financed as follows:-

  • 60% from the local communes, departments and regions
  • 40% from 60 private sponsors, for which the principal sponsors paid around Euros 35,000

So how was all this money spent?

  • Security: Euros 45,000 was spent on motor outriders, ambulances and police escorts. In addition, 200 police officers were provided free of charge by the region.
  • Transport for the 16 teams taking part: Euros 25,000 is the amount determined by the UCI’s sliding scale which depends on the teams’ status.
  • Accommodation for the 16 teams: Euros 75,000 for 5 day’s of half-board, in 3 starred hotels, for 12 people in each team which equates to 960 nights in total.
  • TV transmission on France 3 regional costs Euros 85,000
  • Administration costs for UCI, Anti-doping etc totals Euros 25,000
  • Prizes for the riders Euros 57,000
  • Organisational costs total Euros 120,000 split between accommodation for the organising committee, mounting and demounting the installations at the start and arrival towns.
  • Sundry costs of Euros 120,000 for the announcers, tour radio, public announce system, petrol for the cars, neutral assistance vehicles, marketing and communication etc etc

Of course, none of this would ever take place if it were not for a large and willing band of volunteers, usually from the local cycling clubs who are more than happy to lend a hand, probably in return for a couple of t-shirts. According to the organisers, they’ve managed to break even in each of the last 10 years. I know how much it costs to stage a local cyclosportive so, to my mind, these figures check out. If for any reason the organisers didn’t balance their books, then in all likelihood the principal sponsors would bail them out.

Show me the money

To illustrate how much it costs to run a team, L’Equipe had access to information from France’s only Pro-Tour team, Ag2R La Mondiale whose budget for 2011 was Euros 8.5 million, consistent with it’s ranking of around 14-15th out of the 18 teams.  This sum is provided by its principal sponsor AG2R, Kuoto who provides the bikes plus some financing, a further 12 sponsors who all provide some level of sponsoring and the team makes a further Euros 160,000 at the end of each year from the sale of bikes.

By far the biggest expense, as is the case for most sports’ teams, is salaries and associated costs which accounted for 68% of AG2R’s budget (Euros 5.78 milllion). This percentage is lower at AG2R than at other teams because they don’t have a roster of really big names, their principal riders being Nico Roche, John Gadret, Jean Christophe Peraud and Christophe Riblon. Two-thirds of this (Euros 3.853million) goes to the 27 riders and the remainder is spent on the 23 support staff. The range of gross monthly salaries varies from Euros 3,000 to Euros 35,000 per month making their highest paid rider (before image rights and bonuses) on Euros 420,000 pa. The salary of the 5th highest paid rider (ie it excludes those named above)  is Euros 180,000 pa. One should not forget that being a French team, with largely French riders, carries a heavy price tag in terms of social costs. Hence a lot of multi-national teams are based in countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg where, unless the riders are based there, they’re generally paid gross and are responsible for making their own contributions.

After salary related costs, the next biggest expense relates to taking part in competitions. Costs here amount to some Euros 1.275 million, (15% of the budget) of which Euros 750,000 cover transport, around Euros 550,000 of which are covered by the race organisers, leaving the team to pick up Euros 200,000. The remainder is spent largely on training camps and food during the races.

General costs of some Euros 850,00 of which Euros 270,000 covers membership of UCI, French Federation, licences, AIGCP, participation in the bio-passport. The rest is spent on consultancy fees for physiotherapists amongst others, costs of running the office, rent. It costs Euros 450,000 to lease and run the vehicles and the remaining 1.7% covers sundry costs such as telephone bills.

Again, having spent some time looking at the costs of running a Continental pro-team, this summation rings very true. So, when you see figures of Euros 20 million being bandied around for the cost of BMC bear in mind that most of the difference between their budget and that of AG2R’s is salary related. Messrs Evans, Gilbert and Hushovd don’t come cheap.

In fact, the article in L’Equipe goes on to focus on salaries in cycling and how they compare to other sports. The average annual salaries of French riders are as follows:-

  • Pro-tour team Euros 122, 512
  • Continental pro team Euros 87,838
  • Continental team  Euros 22,243

Please note this refers only to French riders on French teams, so would exclude Sylvain Chavanel riding for Quickstep or Amael Moinard at BMC. The average salary for a French rider compares favourably with average salaries for rugby and basketball players, and is considerably higher than for those playing handball and volleyball in France. Wisely, the article excludes any comparison with the average salary of a football player in France who, if memory serves me correctly, earns in a week what a cyclist will earn in a month.

Finally, L’Equipe turns its attention to the 30 highest paid riders in the sport in 2011. It groups them in bands rather than giving exact figures and I would say that it’s a not unreasonable assessment. However, I think there may be a couple of errors in their figures and two notable omissions. Unsurprisingly, the man on the highest salary, which is estimated as between Euros 4-5 million pa, is Alberto “November can’t come quick enough” Contador. On around Euros 3 million pa are PhilGil and Cadel Evans. On just under Euros 2 million are Messrs Schleck Jr, Cancellara and Boonen. The first Frenchmen appear in the category “above Euros 500,000 but below Euros 1 million” and they are, unsurprisingly Messrs Chavanel, Voeckler and Fedrigo. However, with a large number of names in this list having had a stellar season and who are moving teams at the end of this season, it’ll be out of date all too soon.

Countdown to Copenhagen

World Championships Copenhagen 2011

As the World Road Race Championships kick off today in Copenhagen, I find myself in the unusual position of still being at home. Pressure of work and flight schedules mean that I’ll be watching only the Road Races and not the Individual Time Trials. Of course, the latter are often much easier races to predict than the former. However, I cannot pretend to know enough about the juniors, ladies or even the U23s to even think about making any sort of prediction. Of course, this won’t hold me back in the Men’s Races. However, before turning our attention to this year’s races, let’s have a quick look at a few historical facts and figures, some of which feature this year’s location:-

History:

  • The first Cycling Championships took place in 1927 at the Nuerburgring in Germany  and was won by Alfredo Binda, of Italy.
  • Belgium has the most wins per country with 25 victories from 17 different riders followed by Italy (19 wins), France (8 wins),
    Netherlands (7 wins) and Spain (5 wins).
  • Only five cyclists have successfully defended their title (three Belgians and two Italians): Georges Ronsse (Belgium, 1928–29); Rik Van
    Steenbergen (Belgium, 1956–57); Rik van Looy (Belgium, 1960–61); Gianni Bugno (Italy, 1991–92); Paolo Bettini (Italy, 2006–07).

Multiple winners:

  • 3 wins: Alfredo Binda (Ita), Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel), Eddy Merckx (Bel), Oscar Freire (Spa)
  • 2 wins: Georges Ronsse (Bel), Briek Schotte (Bel), Rik Van Looy (Bel), Freddy Maertens (Bel), Greg Lemond (USA), Gianni Bugno (Ita),
    Paolo Bettini (Ita)

Most medals:

  • Alfredo Binda (Ita): 1927(1),1929(3),1930(1),1932(1)
  • Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel): 1946(3),1949(1),1956(1),1957(1)
  • André Darrigade (Fra): 1957(3),1958(3),1959(1),1960(2)
  • Rik Van Looy (Bel): 1956(2),1960(1),1961(1),1963(2)
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra): 1961(3),1964(3),1966(3),1974(2)
  • Greg Lemond (USA): 1982(2),1983(1),1985(2),1989(1)
  • Oscar Freire (Esp): 1999(1),2000(3),2001(1),2004(1)

Sundry points:

  • Twelve riders have won a world title in their home country so far, the last one was Alessandro Ballan (ITA) who won in gold in Varese, Italy in 2008.
  • Abraham Olano (Esp) is the only rider to have won gold in both the road race (Duitama, Colombia, 1995) and the time trial (Valkenburg,
    Netherlands, 1998).
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra) has participated in 18 world championship road races.
  • Fastest edition: 46.538km/h (Zolder, Belgium, 2002)
  • Slowest edition: 27.545km/h (Nürburgring, Germany, 1927)
  • Longest edition: 297.5km (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1937)
  • Shortest edition: 172km (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1931)
  • Largest group to sprint for victory: 46 (Lisbon, Portugal, 2001)
  • Biggest margin between gold and silver: 19.43 seconds (Budapest, Hungary, 1928)

Medallists by nations:

  • 1. Belgium 25-11-11
  • 2. Italy 19-20-16
  • 3. France 8-11-15
  • 4. Netherlands 7-4-6
  • 5. Spain 5-5-9
  • 6. Switzerland 3-6-4
  • 7. USA 3-2-0
  • 8. Germany 2-7-5
  • 9. Ireland 1-1-3
  • 10. Australia 1-1-1
  • 14. Denmark 0-3-2

World Road Race Cycling Champions (last 10 years only):

  • 2001 Oscar Freire, Spain
  • 2002 Mario Cipollini, Italy
  • 2003 Igor Astarloa, Spain
  • 2004 Oscar Freire, Spain
  • 2005 Tom Boonen, Belgium
  • 2006 Paolo Bettini, Italy
  • 2007 Paolo Bettini, Italy
  • 2008 Alessandro Ballan, Italy
  • 2009 Cadel Evans, Australia
  • 2010 Thor Hushovd, Norway

Reflections on the Tour

I’m still wallowing in post-Tour euphoria; and you thought it only applied to the riders. I’ll come crashing back to earth later this week when I start to miss my daily fix. Fortunately, help is at hand, as I’m heading to the Basque country this week end to watch a star-studded Clasica San Sebastian. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate everyone who reached Paris: no mean feat.  Secondly, a huge thanks to all  the stage winners and the wearers of the various jerseys for making the last three weeks so entertaining, enthralling and absorbing. It’s much appreciated.

Now, let’s examine some of the firsts:

  • Cadel Evans, first Tour de France winner from Australia
  • Frank and Andy Schleck, first brothers on the podium
  • Mark Cavendish, first Brit (and Manx man) to win the green jersey
  • First time the Norwegians have taken 4 individual stages

I’m sure there were many more firsts but these were the ones which sprang to mind.

Not forgetting, of course, that there was plenty of cheer for the home nation:-

  • Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler’s 4th place was the first since 2000 (Christophe Moreau) having spent 10 days in the maillot jaune
  • Five Frenchmen (Voeckler, Peraud, Rolland, Coppel, Jeannesson) in the top 15 was the best result since 1991
  • First best young rider classification (Pierre Rolland) since 1999
  • First winner (Pierre Rolland) atop Alpe d’Huez since 1986 (Hinault)
  • FDJ’s Jeremy Roy voted most combative rider
  • Amael Moinard, the only Frenchman on the winner’s team (BMC)

The hopes and dreams of a number of notable riders were dashed largely due to crashes in the first week. Some struggled on to Paris, others departed the Tour in ambulances. A speedy recovery and return to two wheels to you all. Sadly, one of my favourite riders has decided to retire. It was on the cards and his fall in the Tour only accelerated matters. You’ll be sorely missed Alex but I’m sure you’ll lead your team to many more victories albeit from the team car.

Finally, congratulations to the winners of the various jerseys and classifications. I’m sure Dave Z was touched to see his full-sized cardboard cut out atop the podium as part of the winning team. I wonder, does Garmin Cervelo have one for each of the team?

It seems as if the entire world has proclaimed this the best Tour for the past 20 years. I can’t comment as I’ve only been addicted since 2004.

Finally and thankfully

Postcards from the Alps IV, V and VI

According to L’Equipe, spectators wait an average of six hours to watch the peloton pass. At one end of the spectrum are those who watch it at home on television nipping out just before the riders zoom past their front garden. At the other end are those who, generally with their motorhomes, bag a spot on a key climb 3-4 days before the riders arrive. L’Equipe fails to take account of the time it takes to get in situ. This is where the bike trumps all other forms of transport. When key routes are closed to traffic, you can generally still ascend and descend by bike on the day of the stage. Watching the Tour on key stages makes for very long, but highly enjoyable, days hence the absence of any reports for the past few days.

The last three stages have been absorbing, fascinating and have made this year’s Tour truly memorable. Consequently, it seems inappropriate  to lump them together when each is deserving of it’s own fulsome report. Nonetheless, that’s what I’m going to do. Sadly, we sacrified the space normally dedicated to my beloved’s camera in the backpack for more clothes. I’ve spent many holidays in the Alps and while it’s often been wet I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold as this summer. I wasn’t one of those idiots risking hypothermia to grab my 15 seconds of fame in a skimpy outfit. No, we were the mummified couple huddled together sharing a little body heat.

When Andy Schleck rode off on the slopes of the Col d’Izoard on Thursday’s stage from Pinerolo to the top of the Galibier with 60km still remaining, you could hear the collective holding of breath. Was this a suicide mission or Andy’s response to the incessant sniping of the Press? In a move reminiscent of days of yore in the Tour and, fittingly on the 100th birthday of the Tour’s first visit  to the Galibier, Andy’s escape proved Merckxesque.  But that wasn’t all, to the delight of the French public, a last gasp effort from Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler ensured he would spend yet another day in yellow. Evans responded and singlehandedly dragged everyone else up the Galibier. After their exertions of the previous two day’s, sadly Bertie and Sammy weren’t able to remain with the contenders and they both slipped back in the final kilometers and down on GC. Tour over for some and just igniting for others. Only the white jersey changed shoulders, passing from Sky’s Rigoberto Uran to Cofidis’s Rein Taaramae. The eighty-nine riders who finished outside of the day’s time limit were reinstated but, with the loss of 20 points, the margin between Mark Cavendish and Jose Joaquin Rojas, in the fight for the green jersey, was reduced to 15 points.

Another day another fight, you write Bertie off at your peril. If he was going to lose his Tour crown, he was going to go down fighting. Anything Andy could do, he could do too. On Friday’s stage, which finished atop the iconic Alpe’d’Huez, Alberto attacked 15km into the stage. Initially the others responded  but Voeckler and Evans dropped back into the bunch before the summit of the first climb while Andy rode with Bertie, clearly hoping to put time into Evans who tried to organise the chasing group. Cadel had both the brothers for company when Contador soloed off on the Alpe and while they encouraged him to continue the pursuit he desisted. After all, who was the better time triallist? Who needed to put time into who? Exactly.

While Contador was leading the charge up the Alpe to what many assumed would be a Tour stage win, Sammy Sanchez, second on this stage in 2008 to Carlos Sastre, was in hot pursuit tailed by Pierre Rolland who’d been let off the leash by his leader, Thomas Voeckler. With 5km to go, Bertie was visibly fading. 3km later he was overtaken by Rolland who became the only French stage winner of the Tour, the first Frenchman to win here since Bernard Hinault in 1986 and he also took the white jersey of best young rider. Sammy was 2nd again, his 2nd 2nd place of the Tour but, as consolation, he landed the spotted jersey. Alberto was a gallant third and was adjudged the most aggressive rider which was to be his only podium appearance of this Tour. The maillot jaune slipped from the shoulders of Thomas Voeckler onto those of Andy Schleck. Cavendish remained in green, while both he and Rojas lost a further 20 points apiece for again finishing outside the time limit.

Most commentators felt that while the actions of the freres Schleck had been heroic, their time-trialling skills were much inferior to those of Cadel, who had the added advantage of having ridden the same course in the Dauphine. The stage was set and, while those going earlier in the order had to cope with damp conditions, the roads had dried by the time the top riders set off. HTC’s Tony Martin, heir apparent to Spartacus, set a blistering and ultimately winning pace. The body language of Cadel and Andy in the start gate was interesting to observe: the first focused and intent, the latter nervous. The brothers posted similar times to remain on the podium, a first for the Tour. Cadel Evans posted the second best time to leapfrog over Andy and take the treasured yellow jersey: the first winner from Down Under. The realisation of a long held dream and just reward for a very intelligently ridden Tour. Thomas Voeckler rode the time-trial of his life to remain in 4th place, the best finish for a Frenchman for a very long time. Pierre Rolland resisted the challenge of Rein Taaramae, a superior time triallist, to retain the white jersey. Bertie and Sammy both turned in very respectable times in the time trial to finish in 5th and 6th places respectively ahead of the Italian duo of Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego.

Okay, the Tour’s not yet over but today is largely a procession around the suburbs of Paris followed by a criterium around the capital. Etiquette dictates that the yellow jersey is not attacked on the final day. There still remains the question of the green jersey but I would be very surprised to see anyone other than Cavendish win today, his 5th win of the Tour and his 3rd consecutive win on the Champs Elysees. As an aside, I love the fact that all of BMC are wearing yellow Oakley’s today – nice touch.