Hanging up their helmets

A number of riders have announced their intention to retire. For some it’s recognition that it’s time to step down and for others it’s the realisation that injuries have called time on their careers. So in 2011 we’re bidding a fond farewell to a number of luminaries, most notably 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, Ag2r’s Cyril Dessel who graced the yellow jersey in 2007 and long serving domestiques Inigo Cuesta, Kurt Asle Arvesen, Charlie Wegelius, Sylvain Calzati and, one of my faves, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta.

On Tuesday evening this week, at the Hotel Castillo de Gorraiz, in Pamplona, 39-year old “Txente” called time on a career that had spanned 17 seasons in the pro-peloton after starting as a stagiare in 1994. The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are not going to be quite the same without him setting tempo on the front of the peloton for a large part of the race. At 186cm and 76kg, he’s a member of that very select sub-set of riders who weigh more than me. However, with a resting heart beat of 50, he’s obviously in better shape. He’s one of the few current riders (along with Frederic Guesdon, Pablo Lastras and David Moncoutie) to have spent his entire professional career with the same team throughout it’s various guises and has ridden in support of some notable riders such as Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano (with whom he won GP Eddy Merckx in 1998), Alex Zuelle, Jose Marie Jiminez, Oscar Pereiro and (the soon to return) Alejandro Valverde under the guidance of first Jose Miguel Echavarri and, since 2008, Eusebio Unzue.

He has a modest, but nonetheless impressive, palmares which includes a stage win in the Tour de France. He won from a breakaway on Bastille Day 2000, on 185km Stage 13 from Avignon to Draguignan, ahead of a Frenchman. He also won two stages in the Vuelta (1997 Stage 14 and 2002 Stage 19), a stage win and the overall in the 1996 Tour of Navarra, 2nd stage of the 2003 Vuelta a Burgos, 3rd stage in 2006 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and been part of 4 team time trial victories. He’s taken part in 27 Grand Tours (12 Tours, 14 Vueltas), finishing 26. He failed to finish this year’s Vuelta after a fall on stage 5, on the Alto de Valdepenas de Jaen, where he fractured his arm, ribs and vertebrae, forcing the temporary postponement of his retirement announcement which he’d planned to make in Madrid. With 14 completed Vuelta’s under his belt only Inigo Cuesta and Federico Echave have completed more. Txente claims his favourite race is the Tour de France, not the Vuelta.

A Basque by birth (Pasaia, Guipuzcoa), he now resides in nearby Tafalla in Navarra where he’s going to be spending the next couple of months enjoying his retirement and pondering his next move. Whatever it is I wish him, and all the other retirees, the best of luck in their new careers.

Garibaldi’s Giro IV

Celebrating Garibaldi's Giro

Five, four, three, two, one and they’re away. It’s Omega Pharma-Lotto who kick off this year’s Giro. The team descends the starting ramp, rides out the gate of the Castello della Venaria Reale, 9km north of Turin, and speeds away in line along a road thronged with enthusiastic spectators, enjoying  both the fine weather and the spectacle. The pan-flat route is more technical at the start, challenging the team’s ability to establish a  rhythm, followed by wide straight tree-lined avenues with some 90 degree bends around the old town before ending up on the cobbles.

Route for Stage 1 Team Time-Trial

The key to team time trialling is consistency. Invariably you’ll have riders of differing strengths however you need to maintain a speed which everyone can follow. The more able members of the team take longer pulls on the front. Some teams opt for finishing with as many of the original nine as possible, while others progressively spit out riders, crossing the line with the bare minimum (5). Liquigas employed one rider to ride at the back of the paceline to shepherd rotating team members back into line in front of him – neat trick.

Italian television showcased the delights of Turin, home to Fiat cars, and its beautiful, old town, which I found quite reminiscent of Nice. Well, they were both part of the House of Savoy. The centre of Turin is the large quadrangular area lying between Corso Vittoro Emanuele, Corso Galileo Ferraris (shouldn’t that be Fiat?), Corso Regina Margherita, Corso San Maurizio and the Po river. Roughly bisecting this area is the fashionable via Roma, lined with wide arcades, which connects the main railway station with Piazzo Castello. It’s skyline is dominated by extraordinarily shaped Mole Antonelliana designed by Piedmontese architect Alessandro Antonelli. It started life in 1863 as a synagogue and was completed in 1897 as a monument of Italian unity. As to be expected there’s a via Garibaldi, pedestrianised and lined with 18th century palaces. The via Po, to the east of the centre, is full of funky shops, including many bookshops where you would have expected me to pick up a few cycling books and enjoy an espresso in one of the many fashionable cafes.

Alas, I never made it to Turin and am beginning to feel that all my Giro trips are jinxed. It  started to go downhill on Thursday afternoon at our Commission Kivilev meeting where I raised a number of as yet unresolved issues. Accordingly, I was given the job of sorting these out. I set to with gusto on Thursday evening with a view to leaving early for Turin the following morning. Inevitably, there were people with whom I needed to speak that I couldn’t reach until the following day. By lunchtime, I was still working away. I made an executive decision, I would cancel my hotel room and drive to Turin early on Saturday morning. I’d missed the team presentation, and wouldn’t have so much time to look around Turin, but I would still see the team time-trial. However, without my parking spot in the hotel garage, handily placed for a quick getaway, it was unlikely I would be home in time to collect my beloved from the airport.

The weather was fabulous on Friday so I nipped out for a quick ride over lunch, my path crossing that of Amael Moinard. He was descending fast (ergo I was ascending, more slowly) so we only had time to exchange greetings. I returned home refreshed by my ride and continued with my work. In addition, I was trying to organise a celebratory lunch for our friend who’s just signed a contract with a Pro-tour cycling team. The limiting factor in all such arrangements is the availability of my beloved. I had circulated dates, basically a few Friday, Saturday or Sunday evenings over the coming weeks. I had qualified this by saying, he was also available Sunday lunchtime. Later that afternoon, I received a call to say that everyone could make this Sunday lunchtime.  A few rapid calculations and I realised that something would have to give and it was going to be my trip to Turin.

I planned the menu and wrote out my shopping list. Our friend would be riding the Vuelta, so I went with a Spanish theme: tapas, paella, finishing with the ubiquitous orange-flavoured “flan” with strawberries. We would all be riding on Sunday morning, and our friend’s eldest son was racing, so I went for things which could either be  prepared in advance, or thrown together once everyone had arrived. I shopped early on Saturday morning, preparing in advance as many of the dishes as possible, before settling down to watch the time-trial on the television. I looked enviously at the crowds thronging the route in the sunshine and the hordes of Alpini in their jaunty feathered hats, I should have been there: one day.

Needless to say it was the well-drilled teams who held sway. HTC-High Road were fastest and contrived to put Marco Pinotti, the Italian time-trial champion and hugely popular rider, into the pink jersey. RadioShack, another disciplined team, were second, with Liquigas securing third place.  While the gaps were not, for the most part, significant, it’s still time that has to be won back at some stage. Of the leading contenders, Nibali is the best placed with Scarponi, hot on his heels, at just 2 seconds behind. Lampre arrived into Turin a day early specifically to practise the team time-trial. It paid off.  Contador is 8 secs off Nibali, with Menchov and Sastre at 31 secs and Joaquim Rodriguez at 42 seconds. Euskaltel-Euskadi were the team maglia nera, but team leader Igor Anton has revealed that he’s at the Giro just to hunt for stage wins and not the pink jersey.

Having garnered a large number of brownie points in Saturday’s time-trail, HTC-High Road might have hoped to cash these in on Sunday when Mark Cavendish was pipped on the line into Parma by an in-form Alessandro Petacchi whom they adjudged to have sprinted off his line, not once but thrice. In vain, two stages, two Italian wins: the Giro’s off to a great start.

We watched the action unfold on the screen television in the company of our friend who’s ridden the Giro himself and twice been on winning teams: with Marco Pantani (2002) and with Alberto Contador (2008). It was interesting to hear his observations on the riders, the parcours and the race. As is the case with television commentary, the most brilliantly observed remarks are those from past (or even current) riders who understand intimately the ways and language of the peloton. They add colour, insight and comprehension for the observer. Thus it was with us all gathered around the television after a relaxing and enjoyable lunch.

However, we’re going to have to do it all over again as one couple were missing from the celebration. The husband had been knocked off his bike early on Sunday morning and was under observation in the local hospital for facial and cranial injuries. It’s not serious, just painful, and we all wish him a speedy recovery.

If you’re seeking an excellent summation of the first two stages of the Giro d’Italia, please pop over to www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

Bit of a roundup

After four days off the bike, it was a pleasure to resume my training programme. I’ve been riding really strongly this week, particularly on the climbs, and feel on track for this week end’s brevet, the l’Antiboise, organised by a neighbouring club. Last year, I unwisely and unsuccessfully rode the 150km parcours, bonking spectacularly after 103km. This year, I’m riding the 100km course which, with the ride to and from the start, will be a 120km round trip. We’ll be setting off relatively early so as to be back in time to watch the Amstel Gold Race. I understand from an article on Cyclingnews that some, as yet unidentified, locals have been sabotaging the course with tacks!

We have friends who live in Valkenberg, just a stone’s throw from the Cauberg, and were fortunate to be in the area on business a few year’s ago and watched the race from a good spot (near the big screen) on that hill which is decidedly leg sapping. I was riding my friend’s “sit up and beg bike” which I would have been hard pushed to indeed push it up the hill, let alone ride. On race day, the hill is thronged with spectators, particularly on the lower sections which are bordered by bars and restaurants, and it has a fantastic atmosphere.

While we’re all awaiting the next monument in the Classics season, those cute boys in lycra have still been racing. PhilGil, last year’s Amstel winner, won Wednesday’s Fleche Brabanconne, so he’s on form for his objectives of next Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and next weekend’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard), Igor Anton (Euskatel-Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (Geox) and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) are the main protagonists in the 5-day Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon, which is chock full of 2nd and 3rd division teams. This isn’t an overly bumpy parcours, indeed, the first two stages have featured the sprinters and have both been won by Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), clocking up his 6th stage win in this race. The French teams have been racing in the Coupe de France whose leader is young Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). In the 4th round, Sandy Casar (FDJ) emerged as the big cheese in Paris-Camembert while Jimmy Casper won his 4th GP de Denain Porte du Hainault.

I haven’t passed much comment on the football of late. There’s not a lot to say about either of my teams whose fortunes seem to mirror one another. OGCN, with one of the smallest budgets in the French first division, generally punch above their weight and are playing Lille in next week’s semi-final of the French Cup and should finish the season a couple of places above the relegation zone. My beloved boys in claret and blue are going through what I hope is a transition phase and, despite the inevitable end of season loss of one of their best players (again), should survive to rebound next season.

My beloved has been away for a couple of days which has enabled me to complete a number of tasks for the club before I leave for next week’s break in Varese. My beloved has decided to take a week’s holiday but if I don’t get him out of the office, he’ll just be working away on his emails. We’re staying in the same B&B I stayed in while volunteering at the 2008 Road Cycling World Championship’s in Varese. We’ve become good friends with the owners and stay a couple of times a year either visiting clients or friends nearby. It’s a lovely area to cycle around; witness the large number of professional riders who live and train in the area. I particularly enjoy cycling around the lakes and covering some of the route of the tour of Lombardy.

Wrong place, wrong time

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues apace. The last two mornings we’ve been woken by the roar of saws. I think it’s fair to say that with the exception of our olive trees, which were pruned last year, everything on the Domaine is fair game. No bush or tree has emerged unscathed. Now, I have no doubt this was long overdue. Witness what happened to one of my neighbours just before Xmas: Buche de Noel indeed!

Park in the wrong spot at your peril

The temperature has dipped by at least 8 degrees and so I’m back to being muffled like Michelin man and am restricting my rides to the coast road. The outlook for the next ten days is similar but I can live with cold but dry and sunny. This weather is, of course, good news for skiers.

Most evenings I’ve been catching up on the Santos Tour Down Under. While, I, and probably everyone else, had been expecting a Cav v Greipel sprint-fest, nothing could have been further from reality. The stages have by and large been owned by the young guns, and all bar one of these has been Australian. Good news then for the crowds of home supporters.

ASO has announced the teams for this year’s Paris-Nice and Tour de France. As anticipated, they have handed wild cards to the home teams.  I would anticipate that the organisers of the Giro and Vuelta will follow suit and also award wild cards to the home sides. Carlos Sastre has expressed his disappointment at not riding the Tour and is to focus on the Giro. Given that they may not receive an invite to the Vuelta,  one has to assume that too will be the focus of Denis Menchov. Tirreno-Adriatico will not feature in either of their training plans as Geox hasn’t received one of the two wild cards on offer.

Members of the UCI have ill-advisedly been opining on the case of Contador, a man who is still innocent until his home Federation comes to a decision. This is unlikely to be anytime before 15 February. Should the outcome be appealed, Contador will not be able to defend his Tour title (assuming he still holds it).

Will Contador’s absence make the outcome of this year’s Tour any less likely? Probably not as riders, in my opinion, tend to ride far too defensively and are unwilling to gamble a good placing on GC. However, the lack of individual time-trial kilometres should not unduly disadvantage the Schlecks and Basso by comparison with Evans and Vinokourov. Oh yes, I may not expect my favourite Kazakh to top the podium but I do anticipate he’ll be on one of the steps. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out early on and say the podium will be 1. Basso 2. Evans 3.Vinokourov.  What no Schlecks you cry. Indeed not, the other three are all made of far sterner stuff and, baring injury, will prevail.

Post Tour postscript: Better not give up the day job. So much for my Tour prognostications.

Rider in red

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

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

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

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

1960 - 2010 RIP

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

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

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

Postcards from Pays Basque IV

Saturday morning we rode down to the start of the Classica San Sebastian and secured a position as close as possible to the sign-on and team

Crowd pleaser

presentation. This is a race which attracts a great field and almost all the big names who rode the Tour were here, save Contador, Menchov and Evans. Not unnaturally, the mainly partisan crowd’s loudest cheers were reserved for the Spanish and particularly the Basque riders. However, it was clear that Andy Schleck and Alexandre Vinokourov are held in high regard.

Andy Schleck

This is also a race which is generally won by a rider who’s just completed the Tour as they’re in fine racing form. Having seen the peloton set off, we headed out of town to watch them ride the final loop around the Altos de Jaizkibel and de Arklare. Our vantage point allowed us to watch the peloton advancing through the village of Oiartzun and up the Arklare twice before we sped back to San Sebastian, over the same finishing straight as the peloton, to watch the finish. We were not alone. A large number of riders, whose day was done, headed back into town with us.

We found a tv screen in a local bar just 75 metres from the finish and watched the final and decisive attacks. One of the things I love about watching Vinokourov race is that he’s never there to make up the numbers, he always tries to win. The leading trio of Gutierrez, Garate, Verdugo and Florencio had been whittled down when Vino attacked and formed a leading group with Rodriguez, Roche and Sanchez. Richie Porte had tried to bridge but was eventually caught by a larger group who were leading the chase. As the two groups were about to merge on the second ascent of the Jaizkibel, Luis Leon Sanchez accelerated away. Only Vino and Sastre were able to stay with him. These three worked to establish a sensible lead on the last descent into San Sebastian. While the chasing group was larger, it was less organised, and despite the efforts of Gesink, it failed to make any impact on the leaders.

Vino attempted to time trial away from LL Sanchez where there’s a slight uphill drag on the run in, but couldn’t shake him off. As they rode the final few kilometers to the finish, the three re-grouped and Luis Leon just pipped

Almost there

Vino on the line. Later I learned that Vino had arrived in San Sebastian in the early hours of Saturday morning having competed the night before in a criterium in Belgium. He wasn’t the only one, but the others, including Andy Schleck, were DNFs.

We watched the podium celebrations before cycling back up that hill to the hotel. The assembled throng were delighted with the Spanish win. As ever, my beloved and I had enjoyed riding over the same terrain as the professional peloton, albeit at a more sedate pace.

Triumphant trio

(All photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Double or quits

We had to abandon our plans to cycle up the Tourmalet to watch yesterday’s Queen stage on account of the thunderstorms. Instead, we settled for watching it from the foot of  the Tourmalet. We arrived early to secure a parking place beside the road and tried to set up our portable TV. The signal was too weak, ditto for our portable WiFi. Undaunted, we left the safe confines of the car and braved the elements to find a bar, appropriately named Le Refuge, which had a large flat screen TV.

Not long after Sammy Sanchez had regained the peloton, following his fall at around 24km from the start, the thunder and lightning started again. This time it struck the local relay station taking out all the digital transmissions. Time to invoke, Plan D. We returned to the car, turned on the radio and watched the action on my beloved’s mobile while awaiting the arrival of the peloton.

Finally, it was starting to dry out, although the fog was still swirling around the final ascent. The road was lined with spectators of every age and nationality. The sense of anticipation in the air was palpable. The children, having consumed all the edible freebies dispensed by the caravan, were practising their encouragements with the inflatable batons.  After a veritable procession of cars and bikes the all important cavalcade hove into view with the lead group just behind. Sky were leading the charge up the Tourmalet, closely followed by Carlos Sastre, on his tod.

Sastre solo

The  peloton was over 3 minutes back where Contador and Schleck were eyeballing one another. Andy had promised to attack today, recognising that his options were running out like the sands of time. Attack he did, 10km from the summit: not once, not twice, but three times. He couldn’t shake Bert who, to demonstrate his strength, also launched an attack. Game over. They rode to the finish and, having overhauled those in the break, Bert graciously allowed Andy to take the stage. The war was over.

Surprising result

The alarm went off at 06:00 this morning. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was not. My beloved turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. I, on the other hand, never even heard it. We awoke two hours later, too late to attempt the concentration at Venanson. Instead, we decided on one of our favourite summer rides which takes in the perched village of Gourdon, home to the baker of my favourite pain d’epice.

Today was just as hot as the previous one but there was a cool, rather than warm, breeze which was deliciously refreshing on the run in to home. We had picked up the newspapers on the way back and, once home, I had a cold shower and slipped into something cool and flimsy. I fed my beloved and settled down to watch stage 14: 184.5km from Revel to Ax-3 Domaines. The showdown in the Pyrenees was about to begin.

I was expecting things to kick off on the Port de Pailheres. Astana took control on the ascent and their pace shattered the peloton while leaving the contenders together. The remnants of the day’s breakaway were still up the road and a number of riders, including Carlos Sastre, had set off in hot pursuit.

A rider who lives locally, Amael Moinard, was one of two riders still up ahead from that morning’s breakaway but he’d been distanced by the other, Christophe Riblon, probably better known for his exploits on the track. Riblon hung on to give the French their 4th stage win. Meanwhile, Alberto and Andy were eyeballing one another, but neither was prepared to concede. Sensing a stalemate, both Sammy Sanchez and Denis Menchov decided to profit from the stalemate.  They gained 13 seconds. Roll on tomorrow.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

My beloved returned yesterday evening from a hectic week in the UK. I let him sleep in this morning as there was no pointage, just a club ride to Aspremont. Instead, we decided to ride over to Menton and tackle the Col de la Madone. However, my beloved was feeling really fatigued so rather than ride over to La Turbie, we descended to Menton and retraced our steps.

Thanks to the gloriously warm summer-like conditions, the roads were busy with holiday traffic (Monday’s a Bank holiday here). We spotted 2 Rolls Royces, 6 Ferraris, 1 Lambourghini, I Bentley and only 1 Aston Martin. Yes, we take note of the number of high value cars we see when we ride over in the direction on Monaco. We do not include Porsches, Mercedes or BMWs, far too common, though we do include Audi R8 Spyders.

With lunchtime almost over, we stopped at a small Italian roadside restaurant in Eze, where we could leave the bikes in the courtyard garden, and enjoyed a magnificent spaghetti with clams, followed by that Italian classic “Tiramisu”, which was deliciously light. Seriously fortified, we pedalled home strongly to catch the action on the Monte Zoncolan.

As anticipated the man who saved his legs yesterday, Ivan Basso, distanced everyone on that 11.9% average climb to the finish. He was followed in by (in order) Evans, Scarponi, Cunego, Vino, Sastre and Nibali. David Arroyo is still sitting pretty in pink, ahead of Ritchie Porte in white, followed by Basso, Sastre, Evans, Vino ( looking good in the red point’s jersey), Nibali and Scarponi.  I’m sure they’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day, I know I am.

Slip, sliding away

A bit of a hiatus this week due largely to  pressure of work and not an extended absence, as planned, watching the Giro. And what a Giro it has been. Cloud bursts made the TTT trial somewhat of a lottery and those men in lime green seized the opportunity to occupy the first three places on GC, and hence the maglia rosa, and the young rider’s jersey.

Thursday’s 5th stage to Novi Ligure was won by someone in the breakaway. Don’t you just love that when it happens? I do. Jerome Pineau won ahead of his breakaway companions, Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Yukira Arashiro (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) to record Quick Step’s 2nd stage win of this Giro, just 100 metres ahead of the advancing peloton.

And what do you know, a breakaway succeeded on Friday too. Matt Lloyd (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Rubens Bertogliati (Androni Giocattoli-Diquigiovanni) went away after 46kms and stayed away. The former beating the latter to the line in Marina di Carrara by over a minute. Danilo Hondo (Lampre Farnese-Vino) won the sprint for 3rd.

So, here we are, stage 7 to Montalcino and Liquigas are still occupying the podium. Yet another Aussi won today. Yes, Cadel “Cuddles” Evans won the mud fight on the strade bianche which had been turned brown by the rain. Indeed, it was hard to make out who was who as they were all literally covered in mud. The pink jersey slid off the wet, tarmac road taking out a number of his team mates and forcing a break in the leading group. Those ahead continued but, as per peloton protocol, didn’t force the pace. Evans bridged up to this group and, along with Vino, was responsible for finally whittling it down.

As they approached the finish line, Evans was ahead of Cunego with Vino in 3rd place. That’s how it stayed, as Evans rode strongly to victory. He’s really been a different rider since donning the rainbow jersey and now lies 1 min 12 secs back on Vino who’s looking pretty in pink again. Today’s biggest losers were Carlos Sastre and Xavier Tondo (Cervelo). But there’s still an awful long way to go.

We watched today’s stage after getting back from completing La Vencoise: 2000m of climbing over 105km. It’s the first time I’ve done this course which was well marshalled and organised. My beloved kindly kept me company until the final feed point at which point I set him free. I managed to avoid the cloud burst on the climb from St Pons to the top of Col de Vence on the run in for home. Riders faster than me, including my beloved, weren’t so lucky. Amazingly, I wasn’t the lanterne rouge, finished strongly and turned in a reasonable time (for me) of 5hr 48 minutes.  This should stand me in good stead for Thursday’s 175km ride  (2,713m) with the other volunteers for the Kivilev.  I guess I should do a time of around 11 hours which sounds like an awfully long time in the saddle.