2010 Highlights

We’ve reached the time of year when it’s difficult to fill newspaper and cycling magazine columns without taking a retrospective look at the season. This seemed like a suitable discussion topic for my English class on Wednesday evening. We were surprisingly of similar minds:-

Rider of the Year

One day races:- There were only two candidates: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both were competitive throughout the season and both wore Grand Tour leader’s jerseys but, after much debate, we settled on Spartacus: the 4th ITT rainbow jersey tipping the balance in his favour.

Stage races:- As winner of the Tour de France, the most difficult Grand Tour to win, Alberto should have been a shoe in but, sensitive to post-Tour issues such as that itsy, bitsy trace of Clenbuterol, our gong went to Vicenzo Nibali: 3rd in the Giro and winner of the Vuelta.

Memorable Performance of the Year

Actually, there were so many this year that it was hard to whittle it down to just one. Among others, we considered: Fabian’s wins in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, PhilGil’s wins at Amstel and Lombardy, Cadel Evans at Fleche Wallonne, Bobbie Traskel at K-B-K, Thor at the World Championships, Vino at L-B-L. Finally, we settled on Thor’s performance at the World Championship’s in Geelong. Given that the Norwegian team numbered only three riders, his win demonstrated perfectly his ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time to power to the line.

Best One-day Race of the Year

Here too we had plenty of contenders, but we finally plumped for PhilGil’s win in the Tour of Lombardy, his second consecutive win in the race. It was not just the manner of his win but that he gave no quarter despite the appalling weather conditions.

Best Stage Race of the Year

While we all agreed that the Tour is the most difficult Grand Tour to win, largely because of the depth of competition and the psychological pressures, it can be predictable. Both the Giro and Vuelta raised their games this year to produce thrilling and, at times, unpredictable racing. Finally, we agreed on the Giro d’Italia.

Team of the Year

Hands down, no contest. Liquigas were the best stage racing team and HTC-Columbia the team that racked up the most wins.

Best Kit

No argument: Cervelo Test Team.

Worst Kit

Unanimously awarded to Footon-Servetto

Unsung Hero of the Year

Again, we found it difficult to whittle down the contenders as so many team mates sacrifice their own chances of glory for their leaders. In addition, the work of many riders is done and dusted before the television cameras hove into view. In the end, we decided that the unsung heroes were the hard working domestiques in every team without whom no leader would ever win races.

Best French Rider

Loyal, and ever-smiling, Tommy Voeckler of Bbox without whom his team manager might not have reeled in replacement sponsor Europcar.

Breakout Rider of the Year

Votes were split between the loquacious Peter Sagan of Liquigas and the cherubic faced Richie Porte of Saxobank.

Worst Pro-Tour Race of the Year

There aren’t any, we all love cycle racing wherever and whenever.

Story/Issue of the Year

Sadly, we all agreed these had to be the doping issues. Namely,

  • Pellizotti  being banned from racing due to (unfounded?) passport irregularities
  • Floyd Landis’s accusations against Lance, plus his own confessions
  • Contador and Clenbuterol

Disappointment of the Year

UCI’s unilateral changes to the way teams are evaluated which demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding of the evolution of the sport.

At long last

My legs are nowhere near as tired this week as they were last. I’m not sure what that says: maybe, I could have gone even faster on Sunday. This week end we’ve got the l’Antiboise, which was cancelled last year due to rain. In 2008, I did the 100km course, which at the time represented quite a feat for me. I remember being totally exhausted afterwards and, close to the finish, we had to stop in Mandelieu Napoule for a comfort break and a reviving hot chocolate.

This year I have signed up for the 150km. I think I have already done most of the route with the Tuesday UFOLEP group, so I don’t feel too daunted. Although I am hoping to finish in a reasonable time so that I can get back to watch the Amstel Gold Race before we head off to Alassio for a few days. My beloved is meeting a client there on Monday so it seemed opportune to take our bikes and spend a couple of days visiting the places we didn’t see when we were there last year with the club.

Fuel is always an issue for me on longer rides. I have yet to find an energy drink which doesn’t give me intestinal troubles. I’m also not a fan of gels, for the same reason. I find that a reviving coke at the mid-way point, plus my own home-made energy bars, and dried fruit, do the trick. Providing, of course, I remember to take them with me.

Now that I’ve almost finished my workload, I’m going for a slightly longer ride tomorrow, just to loosen the legs. I’ve had a very light training schedule this week which ramps up for the following three weeks to take account of the randonnees I aim to complete. With any luck, I’ll be able to schedule my laser eye treatment towards the end of next month when, for several subsequent days, I’ll be totally occupied with the Brevet Kivilev.

Sadly, I haven’t had much time to watch the action from the various stage and one-day races taking place this week. Though I have found time to read the results. Hurrah, at last a Belgian (albeit a Wallon) has won one of the semi-classics – La Fleche Brabaconne. Yes, a Shack attack from Sebastien Rosseler (one of those riders who weighs more than me) saw him leapfrog over two Flandriens to the top step of the podium. Theo Bos 2 -0 rest of the peloton in Tour de Castille et Leon. While over in the Tour of Turkey, it’s  Greipel 3  and Visconti 2 (plus the leader’s jersey).

And the winning tickets are………………

Ten days later than previously promised, Christian Prudhomme has opined. The 22 teams for the 2010 Tour de France are as expected: the sixteen teams covered by the September 2008 agreement, the four new Pro-Tour Teams (Katusha, Sky, Garmin, Radioshack), and the two most promising Continental Pro-Tour teams (Cervelo and BMC). So there’s no room at the Tour for Saur-Sojasun, Vacansoleil or Skil Shimano although they are on the substitutes bench.

One can only imagine the long faces over at Vacansoleil HQ. The Tour starts in their home town, they’re guaranteed to animate any race, they sponsored Paris-Nice and they bought the brothers Feillu. They’ve also been shut out of the Giro and a number of other ASO races.

Pat McQuaid had been openly critical of  the length of time ASO was taking to make a decision. However, three months before the start of the Tour is not unreasonable, nor is taking two months to assess the strengths of the contenders’ teams. It’s not been an easy decision. Teams are bound to be disappointed and sponsors may well question the benefits of sponsorship if they don’t get the global exposure afforded by the Tour.

However, those teams who were disappointed this year need to be patient. There is no agreement in place as to who is guaranteed a spot next year. There are a number of sponsors withdrawing from the sport (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne) and some considering withdrawing (Bbox Bouygues Telecom). Teams, like last year, may be relegated from or promoted to the Pro-Tour ranks. And, assuredly,  there will be new sponsors. This changing landscape is what makes the sport so interesting for the fans but a wee bit nerve-racking for the riders.

Postscript: Prudhomme today defended his decision in L’Equipe. However, he might as well have said that it was a no-brainer.  The two Continental Pro Tour teams selected have a former Tour Winner (Sastre) and a former green jersey wearer (Hushovd) and the current World Champion, who’s twice been second (Evans). These outweigh any French riders on Dutch teams or, indeed, French riders on French teams.

Moral victory

Just look who turned up to take part in Sunday’s Gentleman and show us all exactly how it’s done. Afterwards, she kindly handed out the cups to the winners, signed autographs and posed for endless photographs. Despite the urging of my clubmates, I wisely declined to have my photograph taken with a woman who weights 43kg – maybe, next year.

Tough competition

My girlfriend and I were the fastest (and only) all female team. While, the organisers are quite happy to have all male single category teams, this generosity is not extended to the fairer sex. Discrimination? Absolutely! Accordingly, we were lumped in with the mixed pairs where we were a very respectable 2nd (not last) in the over 40s.

In hot pursuit

Not content with riding the short course with my girlfriend, I also decided to ride the longer course with my beloved. I had a pretty quick turn around; with just enough time to change my numbers between races. Sadly, I finished (like last year) with the wooden spoon. However, I had closed the gap quite considerably on my nearest rivals (a couple of very spritely over 65s) but was still some way down on Jeannie and her husband. After the inevitable apero, it was back home to relax on the sofa and watch some real racing.

This week end there’s been a veritable smorgasbord of cycling on the TV. Indeed, it’s been difficult choosing what to watch, such has been the choice. In the end I plumped for the “Clash of the Titans” (ie Bert v Lance) in the Criterium International (aka Jens Voigt Invitational) and the World Track Cycling Championships.

The Press had speculated that Bert had changed his programme to gain some sort of psychological advantage over Lance ahead of the Tour. However, I’m wondering whether it wasn’t a case of ASO flexing its muscles and demanding the presence of two riders guaranteed to generate sufficient revenues from the Criterium’s inaugural television coverage. Just call me a cynic.

While neither Contador nor Lance won, both of their teams demonstrated their respective strengths. Individual stages were won respectively by Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bouygues Telecom (who held on to win overall), Russell Downing of Sky and David Millar of Garmin Transitions. However, the question I’m left pondering is this. Now that Vinokourov has ridden in an ASO event is it more likely that he’ll be allowed to ride the Tour in support of Contador? I for one certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, Australia bossed GB on the track. There were excellent performances by some of the younger riders: most notably, Cameron Meyer and Taylor Phinney. However, Sir Chris Hoy and Queen Victoria Pendleton still picked up gold medals.

Over in Belgium, Saxo Bank continued their recent good vein of form yesterday with Spartacus peddling away from Tommeke in the final kilometer of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke. Today, in Gent Wevelgem, Bernard Eisel, Mark Cavendish’s fairy god-mother, won the sprint finish from a break away group. I can hardly wait for next week’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Finally, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) justified his move away from Caisse d’Epargne by picking up the overall at Volta a Catalunya. He was joined on the podium by Xavier Tondo (Cervelo) and Rein Taaramae (local boy, local to me that is) of Cofidis. So that means HTC-Columbia and Cofidis are still on level pegging, with 12 wins apiece.

If only

I headed down to the rendezvous point for today’s club ride under a heavily overcast sky. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it was damp. There was a good turn out of members, most of whom I had to kiss on the cheeks. Once we had set off, I took the opportunity during the first few kms of the ride to update M le President on events of the past week.  The road turned up to Gattieres and, as is my wont, I slid from the front to the back of the peloton in nano-seconds. However, it was some time before they disappeared totally from view and, as our paths crossed later that morning, I realised I wasn’t too far behind the medium slow group.

Today’s programme featured a 31/2hr ride at my speed. Actually I felt much better than I had yesterday and enjoyed the ride up to Tourrettes via Vence. Where, having worked up a bit of a sweat, I was now feeling chilled so decided to descend via Vence and La Gaude to collect the Sunday papers and warm myself up with a quick cup of coffee before hurrying home for my simultaneous sporting action.

For Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the weather in Belgium was truly atrocious, not that it seemed to deter the die-hard fans. A large number of riders, having lost all hope of a decent finish, either hopped into the broom wagon or one of their team cars. In fact, there were only 26 finishers!

The light was so poor that it was difficult to distinguish the riders who were strewn all over the parcours largely thanks to the high winds. For safety reasons, the course was reduced in length (by 10km) and the winner crossed the line half-way through the first half of the League Cup final. It was Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil) who amply demonstrated Jens Voigt’s mantra that if you don’t try you’ll never win: he was one of the original breakaways. Rick Flens (Rabobank) was 2nd and Ian Stannard (Sky) who was 3rd had bridged up to Traksel from one of the splintered groups. Although a number of riders had tried to catch the trio, most notably Hushovd (Cervelo) and Roulston (HTC-Columbia), no one had gotten within 40 seconds of them.

Over on the other screen, Villa had gone ahead with a penalty (James Milner) after Vidic had brought down Gabby Agbonlahor. The pundits, to a man, agreed that the referee should have shown Vidic a red card (last defender) but he didn’t even get a yellow. Who knows how the game might have panned out with the Red Devils down to 10 men. Michael Owen scored in the 13th minute and shortly thereafter pulled his hamstring. This meant Rooney was going to have to come off the bench and play.

While my beloved boys in claret and blue played well in the first-half they were overrun by Manchester United, the cup holders, in the second half. That man Rooney popped his head onto a wonderful pass from Valencia and it was game over with less than 15 minutes to play. While Villa threw everything at their opponents, they held firm to retain their title.  

Last night, predictably, OGCN lost 2-0 away at Olympique Lyonnais and remain one place above the drop zone.

Finally a bride

Another gorgeous day and I could hardly wait to get out on the bike for today’s 3hr training ride, with interval sprints. I decided to go through Sophia-Antipolis to Valbonne and then onto Pre du Lac, returning by way of Pont du Loup, Vallon Rouge and La Colle sur Loup. The countryside was looking really verdant interspersed with big yellow clouds of Mimosa. I adore this time of year, when the trees are starting to bud and the bulbs are in flower.

As you well know, my greatest fear is that I will be despatched to meet my Maker by a lippy/mobile/cigarette (perm any two from three) waving, middle-aged woman in an aging, small, French car. Today while descending a hill a small, red, clapped out Renault overtook me and then slammed on the brakes, coming to a complete standstill,  before turning right across my bows: no signal, nothing.  Fortunately, I was concentrating, rather than contemplating the scenery, and was able to take last-minute evasive action. The driver had his side window open so I was able to let him know, in no uncertain words, exactly what I thought of this manoeuvre. I think it’s fair to say, he wasn’t a cyclist.

I arrived home in one piece and time to refuel before the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which I happily watched for over two hours in Flemish on the internet. Luckily, I can understand a fair amount of the language. I love watching races in Belgium where enthusiastic fans line every kilometer of the course. In fact, just about anything with a pulse in Belgium is a knowledgable fan of cycling. 

Obviously, I was hoping that Tom Boonen might add this race to his already impressive palmares. But Tom was undone by a puncture at an inopportune moment. Instead, it was Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), who soloed away from another of the favourites (Philippe Gilbert) with 19km to go and stayed away, winning his first Belgian Classic and becoming the first Spaniard to win this race. Given that he’s graced the podium on a number of occasions, you have to say this was a popular and well-deserved win.

Sky almost grabbed 2nd place as well but Edvald Boassen Hagen launched his sprint too early and was overtaken by Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions). Expect Omega-Pharma Lotto and Quickstep to try and exact revenge tomorrow.

Light rain is forecast for tomorrow so I may find myself on the home trainer cycling along while simultaneously watching Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and the League Cup Final. Fortunately, us girls know how to multi-task.

Brutal but honest

No 1 fan
My Swiss friend was a big CSC fan, largely because they rode Cervelo bikes. He had all the gear, as you can see in the photograph, and they’ve retained his interest, despite now riding Specialized, because of, fellow Swiss, Fabulous Fabian.  

 At the week end he brought me the DVD “Overcoming” . This is a, warts and all, behind the scenes documentary about Team CSC from their early season training camp through to the end of the 2004 Tour de France. This you may recall was my first Tour.   

While the film pays homage to the whole crew, its stars are Riis, Sastre and Basso. It focuses in particular on the relationships between the team’s two leaders and their relationship with Riis. Overcoming shows Riis not only to be a very skilful tactician but also a man enduring the psychological strains and stresses of the Tour. He clearly expects too much of his riders and questions everything. This environment of sparse praise and high expectations takes its toll on everyone which Riis recognises towards the end of the film.   

Sastre is shown to be an uncomplicated, laid-back guy on a high at the start of the Tour after the birth of his second child. The contrast in approach between Riis (logical) and Sastre (instinctive) is also clear in the early season training where Riis tries (and fails) to convince Sastre to use a power meter. Instead, he prefers to listen to his own body.  

By contrast, Basso comes across as very eager to please and, as the documentary progresses, it becomes clear that Basso is the star of Team CSC.  Sastre sacrifices himself to help Basso win at La Mongie where he dedicates the stage to his mother who, he’s just learnt, has cancer. Basso consults with Lance who, as the Tour continues, demonstrates his formidable mental fortitude in the face of any and all competition.  

Seeing Riis’ reaction in the team car to Basso’s win is priceless. Nonetheless, he doesn’t forget to thank Sastre for his selflessness. This is in stark contrast to Riis’s knee-jerk disappointment a few days later on the L’Alpe d’Huez time-trial where Basso is cruelly and easily overtaken by Lance and drops to 3rd place on the podium.  

All in all, it’s a grim but honest look at the life of a professional bike rider: only Jens Voight provided a few light-hearted moments. The documentary starkly reveals the fraility of riders bodies  and the work required each evening to get them back on their bikes the following day. The most notable take aways are: 1)  the team spirit among the riders and their willingness to do whatever it takes for one another and 2) Bjarne Riis’s recognition and admission that he was often too quick to criticise and didn’t dish out enough compliments.

Clouds in the Sky

After dropping my beloved off at the airport this morning I returned home. The storm clouds were gathering so, mindful of my VO2max test on Wednesday morning, I opted for an hour on the home trainer followed by a full frontal attack on the pile of administrative matters.

I stopped at lunchtime to watch Stage II of the Tour of Qatar where  cross-winds were creating havoc in the peloton. Mind you, Sky’s bad luck started in the neutralised zone when Kurt-Asle Arvesen crashed, breaking a collar bone. Sky were then caught out by Quick Step and Cervelo, who attacked, as echelons formed in the strong cross-winds, splintering the peloton. Boassen Hagen then punctured. They do say bad luck comes in threes.

As I started watching the transmission, there were a couple of escapees up the road, with over a 12 minute advantage, being chased by a group of 28, containing most of the favourites, although no one from HTC-Columbia or Sky. Joy upon joy, the two managed to stay away with Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) taking the stage win and Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) seizing the gold jersey. The two now have a 2 minute advantage over their nearest rivals. So much for me thinking that Edvald Boassen Hagen would hang on to gold.

Elsewhere, the more mature riders continue to rock. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) held off Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) to win the Trofeo Cala Millor in Majorca.

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

Putting your foot in it

I got back from my trip to St Raphael feeling pleasurably fatigued and sank gratefully into my spa bath to soothe my aching parts. I really don’t use it often enough. Generally because, when I return from a ride, I’m endeavouring to produce sustenance for my beloved as soon as he emerges from his ablutions.

Given that a little R&R was in order, I donned my fleecy tracksuit, flopped onto the sofa and picked up this month’s copy of Velo Magazine which had been delivered  LAST WEEK and had remained unread. What can I say? Too much to do.

There’s a picture of Cav on the front, sporting a beard, endeavouring to look mean and moody and failing. This month’s a bit of a bumper issue as, among other things, it contains details of all the French cyclosportifs, a team guide, the season’s calendar, features on afore-mentioned Cav and Boassen Hagen plus a list of the 50 top cyclists most likely to be hitting the headlines this season. I thought I’d check out this list to see if we’re in accord.

Their top 3 are Bert, Cav and Lance. I think that’s wishful thinking. Whichever continent you’re on, Lance generates more news than all the other riders put together. This is obviously a French perspective and they’re assuming (and why wouldn’t you) that Bert is going to retain his Tour title while Cav is going to win loads of sprints.  The next three, in order, are Schleck the Younger, Fabulous Fabian and Cuddles Evans – hard to disagree there. They’ve ranked Philippe Gilbert (7th) ahead of Tom Boonen (11th). I’m not sure I agree with that one. Though, to be fair, Tom is probably hoping for more coverage of his cycling, rather than non-cycling, activities than last year.

Surprisingly, there’s a dearth of Frenchmen in the top 50. First up in 25th place is the U23 Road Race Champion, Romain Sicard who this season will be riding as a neo-pro for the boys in orange, Euskatel-Euskadi. Just behind him in 28th place is Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), the so-called French housewives’ favourite. Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ), 10th last year in the Dauphine and Tour, is only in 37th place. There are three further Frenchmen bringing up the rear: Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), the younger of the brothers, is 42nd, 45th is Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) is 48th. No place for Amael Moinard, David Moncoutie, Tommy Voekler, Pierrick Fedrigo, Romain Feillu or, indeed, the Frenchman who’s garnered the most column inches to date, the viral celebrity, young Arthur Vichot (FDJ).

Turning next to the team guide, I check out the new teams and kit changes. By and large, I favour simple colour schemes which are easy to pick out in the peloton: such as, Cervelo, BMC, Sky and FDJ. Omega Pharma Lotto’s shirt is a big improvement on previous years.  I rather like the retro styling and black shorts for Quick Step, but the shorts are too short. Quel horreur, what were the folks at Footon-Servetto thinking? There’s an Italian team (Carminooro NGC) who wear a black kit edged in gold which looks quite classy. Though it would look even classier if  they dropped the outline round the crotch. 

Better in black

If only Footon-Servetto had gone for all black shorts. I really feel for those boys. You just know that those “gold” shorts are going to look “nude”  and turn see-through in the wet. You have been warned.