Bountiful

My beloved departed yesterday afternoon which is probably just as well given how busy the last couple of days have been. The weather’s not been ideal: grey, chilly and drizzly. Not great for Carnival but the lower temperatures and more snow have assured great skiing in the mountains close to Nice.

Monday I collected Tom III. Who would have thought that a few extra horses under the bonnet (or, in the case of a Smart, in the boot) would have made such a difference? Why didn’t I get a Brabus version before? I am so loving driving the new car and putting it through its paces. It’s got all the boys toys, some of which I’ll never use, but they’ll serve to amuse my beloved.

Monday, is also administration day and, as it was also a month end, cue invoices, expenses and salaries. Yesterday, after my weigh-in, I continued with the administration, this time for the club, specifically ensuring that everything is in good order for the Treasurer’s return.

Only the truly faithful made it down to the club yesterday evening in the pouring rain. These are, however, the ones who always volunteer and turn out for the club whatever and whenever. As none of them are getting any younger, we do need to start looking for replacements in the ranks of the more recently retired and about to retire.

One of the professional riders, who lives locally, popped in with his other half, to hand over his spare and old kit for our youngsters. In recent years he’s raced for Cofidis, Agritubel and now RadioShack who have changed their kit for this season – thanks. We’re looking forward to seeing him, and some of our other local riders, in next week’s Paris-Nice which I am hoping will be a race to the sun. The long-range forecasts look promising.

This donation is really generous of him and all this kit will be a great boon to the parents. While the youngsters do receive free kit from the club’s sponsors, it’s really for race days. Riding every day soon takes a toll on the kit which, when you add it all up, particularly with the stuff required for winter riding, is not cheap, even at cost.

Article in March's Velo Magazine

Talking about our youngsters, as you can see from above, there was a small piece on one of them in this month’s Velo magazine. Sadly, he wasn’t wearing club kit in the photo, and they got the club’s name wrong (I’ve  since dropped them a line with the corrections). Let’s hope this is just the first of many mentions for our riders.

I had completely forgotten that Nice were playing their Cup game away at division 2 Reims yesterday evening. They managed to win 3-2 in extra time and are now into the semi-finals. The draw for the next round will take place this week end. A trip to Paris for the final in May would be very welcome so I hope we don’t get Lille or PSG in the next round.. I also see there was some consolation for Arsenal yesterday, Chelsea beat Manchester United: a silver lining to Sunday’s cloud.

Underdogs on top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handily poised

Having devoted yesterday’s post to a round up of the cycling, today I felt I should turn my attention to the football. I will, of course, firstly address the two clubs closest to my heart: namely, AVFC and OGCN. The former didn’t play at the week and as their would-be opponents were involved in a replay. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. My beloved boys in claret and blue are the filling in a Midlands sandwich. They’re lying in 16th place with 30 points, the same as Birmingham who are above us thanks to a superior goal difference, and a game in hand. Below us, on two points less, are WBA. To put this in perspective, the league leaders, Manchester United, have twice as many points. OGCN lost 3-0 at home to PSG. They’ve played one game less than Villa and are on 27 points in 17th place, just above Monaco, who are in the relegation zone. The similarities are alarming but I don’t believe either will be relegated.

I will now turn my attention to the Champion’s League which tends to be a bit of a closed shop. There’s 4 English sides (Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real, Barca, Valencia), 3 Italian teams (Inter, AC Milan, Roma), 2 German teams (Bayern, Schalke), 2 French teams (OL, OM) plus 2 others (Copenhagen, Shaktar Donetsk).  Following the results of the first leg, there’s only one side which looks likely to be eliminated: FC Copenhagen who were beaten 2-0 at home by Chelsea.

If we look at the results from the remaining first legs, there are at first glance some surprising results: most notably Spurs winning 1-0 away at AC Milan and Manchester United drawing 0-0 away from home at OM. In other instances,  while the favoured team lost, they do have that all important away goal as in Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Lyon 1 – 1 Real Madrid which should provide the platform for a home, and overall, win in the next leg.

At this stage, it’s not easy to forecast who will win. There’s so many variables not just the opponents in the forthcoming rounds, domestic situations but,  more crucially, the availability of key players. However, I’m all for sticking my neck out and I’m going to predict that the last 8 teams will be Spurs, Schalke, Shaktar, Barca, Real, Chelsea, Man U, Bayern. I would have liked to include Arsenal in that list but cannot see them beating Barcelona at home. I hope, in this case, I’m proved wrong.

 Of course, it’s difficult to work up enough interest if your own team isn’t playing, nor shows any sign of qualifying to play Champions League in my remaining lifetime. I will however always be able to treasure the moment when Peter Withe’s knee struck the ball in Rotterdam and put in the back of the Bayern net enabling my beloved boys to bring home the trophy in 1982. I watched the game after barracading myself into the tv lounge of the hotel where I was staying in Taunton while auditing Somerset CC.

How was yours?

Christmas Eve

After our usual festive feast of oysters and lobster, swilled down with champagne, my beloved fell asleep on the sofa – early night.

Christmas Day

I woke my beloved at 08:30am with a cup of coffee and his presents. I prepared breakfast and we took an executive decision. While it was going to rain all day, evidently it wasn’t raining too hard. We decided to go for a longish ride. We passed a handful of other die-hards but otherwise it was just us and the joggers enjoying the drizzle.  

On the way back, my beloved, powering up the hill from Juan-les-Pins, snapped his chain and mangled his derailleur. He limped into Antibes where I  left him at a cafe and, churning away in my 53 x 13, raced back home  so that I could go back and pick him up in the car.

By the time we both reached home, it was well past lunch time, so we opted for a delicious pulled pork sandwich with salad, electing to save the fois gras for Boxing Day.  We should have spent the afternoon tackling the office, instead we decided to laze on the sofa and read.

Boxing Day

No pointage today and only the committed, hard-core turned out for the club ride. The boys, having been cooped up all week, were feeling frisky and set an impressive pace along the coast road. I dropped off the back and rode along at mine. I’m so enjoying riding the new BMC with its 53 x 39 gears, and new set up, rather than the compact 50 x 34. Of course, I won’t be saying that once I’m back up in the hills. But for now, along the coast, it’s great.

I got back home before my beloved and prepared lunch:  hot fois gras with grilled figs on brioche. Served, once again with my favourite beverage. We skipped dessert as the fois gras is so rich. I’ve made a terrine with the rest of the duck lobe to enjoy on toast later in the week.

It started to pour down with rain again so we decided to stay indoors. I slipped into my jimjams, slumped onto the sofa and enjoyed the Sunday newspapers. I was, of course, awaiting the start of the big match: my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. With the ever growing French connection (Houllier and Pires) the boys are earning themselves plenty of column inches in L’Equipe: not all of it favourable.

It was an entertaining match but my beloved, youthful team were humbled by Harry’s more seasoned players. It’s disappointing to lose to ten men but the boys never gave up trying. You cannot ask for more. This season will be one of transition and while I don’t expect a sparkling finish to the season nor do I expect us to be battling relegation. We have some promising youngsters on whom the future of the club depends. If that means we languish in the 2nd half of the table this year and maybe next, so be it.

27 December

Back to work today. Yes, while my beloved enjoyed the sunny, wintry weather on two wheels, I had a meeting to finalise the rules for next year’s Kivilev which is going to be both a brevet and a cyclosportive. The afternoon was spent tidying up the office which is now ready to receive its new, big screen. 

28 December

We set off early for our trip. The hotel is only a 40 minute car ride away. We parked the car and disappeared on our bikes into the glorious countryside with nary another car in sight. We’ve ridden around here a number of times as it forms part of the parcours of both the L’Antiboise and La Lazarides. Also, we know the area well as it frequently features in the routes for Paris-Nice, Tour de Haut Var and Tour de Mediterranee.

We rode along the main road to Draguignan and I had no problems powering up the undulating course. It had evidently been a little frosty first thing but the warm sunshine had dried the roads. As the sun started to dip in the sky, it began to feel chilly again and we rode back to the hotel to check in before heading off to the Spa to burn a few more calories. We worked out in the well equipped gym then retreated to the pool, specifically the outdoor, heated, hydrotherapy, pool. I stayed in there until my skin started to shrivel. Time to return to our villa. Yes, on checking in, we had been upgraded to a villa with two bathrooms. I had bagged the larger one.

Before dinner, I curled up on the sofa to watch some cyclo-cross on the television. The riders were competing on a snow lined course in Belgium. Lars Boom lead from the gun with a posse of Belgians in hot pursuit. This was my first cyclo-cross race and I now understand why it’s such a popular spectator sport. The riders slither and stumble around the course, barely averting disaster at every turn. It lasts a thrill packed 40 minutes and there’s plenty of food and warming beverages to hand. I look forward to watching more of this on the new TV in the office.

29 December

Sadly, the rain had returned in earnest. It was too slippy to ride. Having enjoyed a splendid breakfast, we once again visited the Spa before deciding to return home. It had been a pleasurable break and one  which we vowed to repeat in 2011.

30 December

It was still overcast, but dry. We ventured out along the coast greeting our team mates who were returning from their early morning ride. After ours, we went and ordered the main ingredients for tomorrow’s dishes for our Anglo-Franco-Russian New Year Feast. While our skiing trip might have been thwarted at the last minute, we had decided we would at least spend New Year’s Eve together. With my friends kindly providing the starters, the main side dish and dessert, there wasn’t too much for me to do. It would really be more of an assembly job.

New Year’s Eve

The menu was as follows:-

  • Canapes and nibbles including blinis with smoked salmon and caviar served with champagne, beer or coke
  • Russian herring salad with vodka
  • Oven baked whole salmon stuffed with fennel, herbs and confit lemon served with new potatoes and “Olivier” salad washed down with a local white wine
  • Cheese, including my beloved’s favourite brie with truffles
  • Tiramisu or apple crumble, or both
  • Coffee, tea and petit fours

We sat down for dinner at 21hr and rose, sated but not stuffed, and, more importantly, still sober at 01:30hr. A great time had been enjoyed by all. We vowed that next, rather, this year we would make our skiing arrangements way earlier, so as to avoid disappointment.

New Year’s Day and a Happy New Year

It dawned bright and sunny before clouding over. Keen to profit from the sunshine, we rode along the coast to blow away the cobwebs. The afternoon was spent catching up on those all too inevitable chores.

2 January

A ride with our club mates, lunch, the Sunday newspapers and a football match. The perfect Sunday, well, at least  in my book.  Having been beaten at home by Spurs and thrashed 4-0 away from home by Manchester City, I was hoping for at least a draw, to steady the ship. According to today’s L’Equipe, Houllier has 15 days to turn things around.

An old work colleague and fervent Chelsea fan sent me a message before the game. I had imagined he was skiing in the Pyrenees, but no, he was tucked up in bed with the flu and looking forward to watching the game. And what a game it was.

The boys overcame the disappointment of a dodgy penalty decision and, through persistent play, also earned a penalty in the first half to leave things level at half-time. We scored early in the second half and then defended like mad, garnering yellow cards like confetti. It wasn’t to be, as Drogba, who’d been missing in action for most of the game, popped up 7 minutes from full-time to level the score. The boys were tiring but tried hard to resist the irresistible tide. John  Terry put the home side ahead and within a minute we’d levelled the tie again. Tellingly, Sky’s MOM was the Villa goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.

Villa finished the tie having broken their duck. It was the first game this season where, after having gone behind in the match, the boys had taken any points. The Villa owner, Randy Lerner, who was at the match, must surely have seen the promise in the mix of youth and experience. The boys had given their all and done him proud. You simple cannot ask or expect for more.

3 January

It’s not a bank holiday in France, so we were both back at work. I caught up on those financial year end chores, making sure I had invoiced all of our clients, while my beloved prepared for his forthcoming US trip. This didn’t prevent us from riding over the lunch period. Indeed, the clouds parted and a thin sun shone weakly along the coast. The on-shore cross wind kept the rain at bay and we weren’t the only ones out enjoying ourselves on two wheels.

4 January

I love spending time with my beloved, indeed there’s no one else I more enjoy spending time with, except perhaps myself. However, after more than two weeks together, I was equally glad to see him leave this morning. I can now revel in the undisturbed peace and quiet. My nights, and sleep, will not be disturbed by excessive decibel levels of snoring. Nor will I be required to produce snacks and meals at regular intervals. The flat will stay in a state of cleanliness and tidiness. He’ll be gone for 10 days – sheer, unadulterated bliss. He’s back on the morning of my birthday and, bearing in mind the Xmas present fiasco, have insisted that he doesn’t buy me any birthday presents, at all, not one.

My beloved was on the very early flight to Frankfurt.  At that hour in the morning, despite the 21 sets of traffic lights, a mere ten minute trip in the car. I was soon back home, tucked back up in bed and in the land of nod. The phone rang, I had totally forgotten that the wine fridge was being repaired this morning. It had thrown an irretrievable wobbly just before Xmas which had necessitated a whole new control panel. It was a quick but expensive job. Cue quick wash and change.

Next up one of my elderly neighbours rang the doorbell. She used to park (I use that word guardedly) in the space next but one to us but had only been renting the space as hers was in the second underground parking garage. This is understandably not popular with a lot of the very elderly residents as it’s two sets of stairs back up to the ground floor. She had previously enquired if she could rent my spare parking space as she’d been told by one of the other residents that it was available. It wasn’t. I allow a neighbour in the next block to use it in exchange for bottles of excellent champagne. I didn’t mention the last bit to her.

She had returned this morning because one of the ladies who cleans in the block had told her the person who uses the parking spaces, travels a lot. I confirmed that my husband did indeed travel frequently, and was rarely here, but that I still didn’t have a spare car parking space. I use one and the other is used by a friend who is now on vacation for a week or so in Morzine.  I wouldn’t wish to share a car parking space with her as I’m quite sure it would only be a matter of time before she rammed her car into mine. Her inability to park is legendary in the Domaine. 

I had no sooner sat back down again when the postman rang to “sell” me a calendar. No point in telling him that I’d got plenty, I just handed over my money, chose one featuring pictures of cute puppies and wished him all the best for 2011. He reciprocated.

Resolving not to answer any more calls, I returned to my paperwork. Rain is forecast for today. It’s overcast, but dry. I’m going out for a couple of hours, as per the programme, before our regular get together down at the cycling club this evening – more paperwork.

In short, my Festive period has been very enjoyable. Just what was ordered, apart from some of the football results. My beloved has had a much needed short break. A few chores have been cleared off the “to do” list, I’m up to date with my paperwork and looking forward to 2011. Only two weeks before the start of the Tour Down Under, bring it on.

Lightweight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll have mustard with mine

Yesterday was my first attempt at La Lazarides. I did the shorter parcours (107km) accompanied by my beloved. Or should that be part accompanied, since he lost me on the way back. I know: careless, foolish, misguided or what? It’s not a good idea to lose the person with the map, the money, the car keys and the mobile phone.

The club was severely underrepresented: only three of us. But when I’d questioned a few of the regulars as to why they weren’t taking part, they all said it was more like a race than a randonnee. Actually, that was true. Fewer participants, generally only the better club riders (me being one of the exceptions), police assistance, cars covering the breakaways on both parcours and two pro-Tour riders who kindly just kept pace with the (amateur) leaders.

Riders at the start

 

It was a lovely parcours and we both agreed we should ride more often over this terrain. It starts using the back-end of the smaller l’Antiboise parcours and then heads on past the dreaded Lac St Cassien (again, loads of traffic) before ascending to Mons via Fayence, but thankfully not using the Mur de Fayence (26%). Weaving one’s way through market day in Fayence was a little tricky. Thereafter, the roads were quiet and it was a great climb up to Mons and the feed zone where they had real coke, albeit lukewarm, and some delicious ham rolls. Then there was a fast descent back down via  Callian and Montaroux which was were I overtook my beloved. The leaders of the 150km parcours came steaming past me and I tucked onto the end of the group. Much to everyone’s surprise, I manage to stay with them on the descent. My beloved claimed he was waiting for me at the Montaroux fountain. I never saw him as I zoomed through the town. Of course, as soon as the gradient changed, I was back on my lonesome.

I rode to the control point at the foot of the Tanneron and advised them I’d lost my husband before continuing on up the hill. I assumed he’d soon catch me up. I was wrong, it took him until the final couple of kilometers. But what a welcome when we got back to the Stade Maurice Chevalier, a BBQ no less. Never have sausages, bread and mustard tasted so good. I’m going to suggest this for the Kivilev. Having consumed this feast, it started to rain in earnest, so we skipped the tombola and headed for home.

Once home we had to check our stats on the Garmin: more climbing and a faster average speed than La Louis Caput. Who would have thought it? It was a very rolling parcours with the final climb up the Tanneron coming at just after 80kms. There were even a few uphill stretches in the final couple of kilometers.

My legs felt tired today and I really laboured up the hill to Pre du Lac but after a gentle ride this morning they’re now feeling a lot better. The promised stormy weather held off and, as a result, I’m hoping that the forecast for the forthcoming days will improve. I’ve plenty of mileage on the programme for next week.

My beloved boys in claret and blue went down 3-1 away at Man City, effectively blowing any lingering chance of 4th or 5th spot in the Premiership. Still, with Liverpool losing to Chelsea today, we should hold onto 6th: no mean feat.

Ten minutes before full-time OGCN were comfortably leading 3-0 away at Boulogne, a team heading for relegation. Final score: 3-3! Yes, pretty unbelievable but, sadly, all too true. Goodness knows what happened to our defence – totally MIA. 

Over in the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Valverde pounced on the final stage to take the overall, Spilak was 2nd and Menchov 3rd. The weather was again truly awful and 56 riders, who were out of contention, got off their bikes. Can’t say I blame them.

Differing fortunes

On the one hand, it’s been a disappointing week end. I’ll start with the football. My beloved boys in claret and blue lost 3-0 to Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. Having played well in the first half, they were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty and Chelsea were fortunate that the referee only gave Terry a yellow card for his tackle on Milner. Sadly, the higher you are up the league, the more often decisions go in your favour, or are bottled by the referee. Having lost, we were hoping that Spurs would beat Portsmouth in the other semi-final. The runners-up (or the winners, if they beat Chelsea) in the FA Cup will get a place in the Europa Cup. Spurs are ahead of us in the League, therefore, if we were to finish 7th (worst case, and sadly, most likely scenario), Spurs having already secured a cup spot, we too would get a place in the Europa Cup. Now, that too may be out of our reach.

As expected, OGCN lost 4-1 away at Marseille who are currently leading the French championship. Nice have nothing to play for having already secured enough points to avoid relegation.

Fabian Cancellara has been sandbagging this week, and we all fell for it. Today, in Paris-Roubaix, he waited for the right moment to catch Boonen unawares, opened the throttle and cruised away from the other favourites. Game over, again. He is a truly magnificent rider and we’re all left wondering what else he’ll achieve this year, next and in the coming years: anything’s possible. The Belgian cobbled classics and semi-classics have all been won this year by riders hailing from outside Belgium. Prediction: a collective weeping and a wailing in Flanders.

That man in orange, Sammy Sanchez won the Klasica Primavera, ahead of team mate Igor Anton and Frank Schleck. He’s obviously coming into form for the forthcoming Ardennes Classics.

Depart fictif grand parcours

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. I bettered my time in La Charly Berard and really felt that I went as fast as I could. Mind you, I nearly had a disastrous start when another rider fell against me in the first 100 metres and knocked me off the bike. Of course, he wasn’t one of the 60kg wet Frenchman but a great hulking brute who easily weighted over 100kg.

I started feeling somewhat winded, understandably, and as anticipated the field rode away from me leaving me on my lonesome, as usual. Apart from the Broom Wagon, which was obviously keen to drum up some custom and persisted in trying to knock me off my bike. I managed to evade it, but only just. The course differed slightly from last year, so it’s not easy to make direct comparisons. Other than to say my time to Contes was 17 minutes quicker than last year, despite the howling headwind. This was particularly tough on the final 10km back to Nice.

I rode back with a couple of other guys who were impressed that I could keep up with them in the wind. I took my turn on the front and then sprinted past them to the finish line where I was greeted by the chap who was 2nd on the longer parcours. He’s been riding a similar length of time to me and is a very talented (much younger) local rider.

However, there was no time to lose. I wanted to get back home before it started to rain and before I’d missed too much of Paris-Roubaix. So eschewing the roses (female competitors only) and the meal (pasta salad), we headed back home where I had a hot date with the fleecy track suit, and the sofa.

I see from the results listed in today’s paper that I was first in my age group. I wonder if someone from the club picked up my trophy? Far fewer women took part this year. Indeed, there were just 5 who undertook the short parcours. The quickest (and youngest) was 40 minutes faster than me, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.

We’re on our way to Wembley (again)

My husband had told me that he was arriving from London at 20:30. He was wrong, that was his take off time. I only found this out after my abortive trip to the airport. In the end, he was delayed 2 hours and arrived home at 01:30am. Fortunately, he had taken his keys with him and so it wasn’t necessary to deprive me of my much-needed slumber. However, the gale force wind woke us both in the early hours. Such wind didn’t subside until it started to rain heavily around mid-morning. The rain cut our proposed ride in half so we decided to forgo the trip over to Monaco instead taking shelter in our local coffee shop.

After the disappointment of Nice losing 2-3 to Nancy yesterday evening in the 92nd minute I was hoping for better things in today’s FA Cup semi-final: Reading v AVFC. After the first half, my beloved boys in claret and blue were trailing 2-0. However, a motivational half-time kick up the proverbial backsides saw them scoring 4 goals in the second-half, including a hat-trick from John Carew. To the delight of Portsmouth and Fulham or Tottenham (replay), the boys have drawn Chelsea in the semis!  Yet another trip to Wembley.

Lastly, a quick round up of the cycling results. Yesterday’s La Strade Bianchi was won by Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), who beat last year’s winner Thomas Lofkvist (Sky) in a sprint to the line. Vuelta Murcia was won by Frantisek Rabon of HTC-Cloumbia with Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) joining him on the podium. A certain Lance Armstrong was 7th.

Over in Belgium, Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) the winner of last week’s Le Samyn, won Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen, picking up valuable points for his team. Only this week in L’Equipe, Eric Boyer was lamenting the lack of invites to races in Italy and Belgium now that his team are only Continental-Pro.

Today saw the start of Paris-Nice with a tough 8km time-trial won by Lars Boom (Rabobank) ahead of Jens “Hardman” Voigt (Saxo Bank), Leipheimer (Radioshack) and Bert (Astana). I’m looking forward to watching subsequent stages. The difficulty comes on Wednesday with the start of Tirreno Adriatico, there’s only so many hours one can devote to watching cycling. I forsee plenty of time on the home trainer and I can also tackle the ironing.

Good news comes in threes

Yes, I’ve had three pieces of excellent news this weekend. First up, my cycling club has retained its departmental championship (2eme series). We were 3rd overall, just behind the two much larger local clubs. Seventy-three team mates turned out for the pointage, just over 75% of our cyclists.

Second, I have reduced my percentage  body fat with the 6-week challenge, despite the blow-out meals in Paris. I will, of course, be continuing with the works outs over the winter months. 

Man U 0 - 1 AVFC

Best of all, my beloved boys in claret and blue became the first team to win at the Theatre of Dreams this season. A header from Gabi in the 21 minute secured all three points. Both teams had chances and it was an exciting match right to the final whistle. The last time we beat Manchester United, Becks was a promising young player. We won 3-1 at home in 1995 at the start of 1995-96 season. Conversely, we haven’t won at Old Trafford since 1983.

It was a key match for both teams. With Chelsea drawing 3-3 at home to Everton, winning would allow Man U to draw level on points, albeit with an inferior goal difference. While, AVFC’s nearest rivals, Spurs lost at home 0-1 to Wolves, Villa’s neighbours – thanks boys! Villa  now go 3rd and will stay there if Liverpool beat Arsenal tomorrow.

I spoke to a friend’s husband before the match and he revealed himself to be a supporter of the Red Devils. Since he doesn’t hail from Manchester, I just had to call him a glory hunter, though he claims to have supported the team from boyhood. So he’ll remember when Villa beat Man U in the 1957 FA Cup Final, the very last time we won it.