Nice, really nice

Last week’s club discussion was the recent news that the Tour de France 2013, for its 100th edition, would start in Corsica, an island not so far from us and where most of the club have ridden at one time or another.  A couple of us, me included, are already planning our trips to go and watch the first three stages and the team presentation. It won’t be easy as there’s not a lot of accommodation on the island. We’ll probably have to rent an apartment for a week.

On your marks, get set..................

Talk then turned, not unnaturally, to the later stages one of which we rather assumed would be in Nice. After all, the ferry back from Corsica would most likely lead to an overnight stop in Nice. So it was more than nice to have our suspicions confirmed in Friday’s Nice Matin. Indeed we were going to be rewarded with two stages. A team time trial along the Promenade des Anglais (Nice-Antibes-Nice), 20km on the flat, everyone’s favourite spectacle. According to the newspaper, more than 250 towns had asked to stage this particular event. Then stage 5 will be starting in Cagnes sur Mer, most probably from the Hippodrome. Meaning, of course, that Stage 6 would also be within easy reach. That’s the first 10 days of July 2013 sorted.

In addition, as there isn’t enough accommodation on Corsica, the Tour Village is going to be based in Nice for the first four days of the Tour where there will also be a huge screen to watch all the action. I don’t know how much the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has paid for the privilege but I for one can hear the cash tills ringing now.

As I read the newspaper reports, it became apparent that there’d been a presentation to the great and good in the cycling world, by none other than Christian Prudhomme, at the Opera House in Nice. However, no one I knew had been invited. Had it been a spur of the moment thing or planned weeks in advance? It’s not unknown for invitations from the Mayor to arrive just a couple of days before the event.  But I had checked the post box on both Tuesday and Wednesday. There were quotes from a few of the professional riders who live on the Cote d’Azur but I learned on Friday evening, when one of them came to dinner, that he hadn’t been at the presentation nor had the other local riders. The quote had been given over the phone. Indeed, the only riders of any note in attendance had been Brice Feillu (who lives in Frejus) and Charly Berard, Bernard Hinault’s faithful lieutenant. However, looking at the photographs of the event it would appear that it was mostly attended by the press and local dignatories.

In year’s gone by, Nice figured prominently in the Tour. It’s been used on 35 occasions, most notably during the period of 1906 – 1937. But, in 2009, it was just one of the towns the peloton rode through as Stage 2 departed from Monaco en-route to Brignoles. It hasn’t been one of the staging towns since 1981. That year it figured heavily. The morning’s stage finished in a sprint on the Promenade des Anglais, won by Freddy Maertens, ahead of Sean Kelly. The former went on to win the green jersey and subsequently, the World Championship. In the afternoon’s team time trial (Nice-Antibes-Nice), Raleigh led Cyrille Guimard’s Renault Elf team by 43 seconds. However, it was Renault’s Gerrie Knetemann who assumed the leader’s jersey. But he was just keeping it warm for his team leader, Bernard Hinault, who took it five days later and kept it until Paris, his third Tour win. That had been Charly Berard’s first Tour de France.

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.

20 March: T-day

 

Christian Prudhomme has said that he will advise on the 22 teams to be invited to the Tour de France on 20 March, so that’s 35 days left for the rest to impress. The sixteen with an invite are those remaining teams which were Pro-tour back in September 2008: namely, AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ, BBox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Omega-Pharma Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Liquigas-Doimo, Lampre-NGC, Astana, Saxo Bank, HTC-Columbia, Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel Euskadi, Milram and Footon-Servetto.

Parcours 2010

ASO, in making their selection, will be mindful of the rising popularity of cycling in countries such as USA, UK, Australia and Russia with their potential for increased TV revenues. However, they also need teams who are grateful for their inclusion and understand that it is their role to animate the race by sending riders up the road most days. A slot that in previous years has been filled by Barloworld, Agritubel and Skil Shimano. Given that there are a number of teams who will be looking for new sponsors (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne, Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and hence riders looking for new teams, this may be less of a concern for ASO this year.

Of the remaining 6 slots, I think it’s safe to assume that 4 will go to the Pro-Tour teams of Katusha, Sky, Radioshack and Garmin Transitions. This leaves two berths for Cervelo, BMC, Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur-Sojasun. Prudhomme was quoted as saying he’d like to see 25 teams but that would probably mean reducing the team size to 8, a move which is unlikely to be popular with those already clutching an invite.

Since Cervelo have a former Tour winner (Sastre), last year’s green jersey (Hushovd) and generous sponsors, you would have to reckon on them getting a slot. BMC, managed by well-connected to ASO John Lelangue,  includes the holder of the rainbow jersey and a man who’s finished 2nd twice (Evans) may well get the nod over the other three teams. However, Vacansoleil have done their case no harm by winning the Tour of Qatar (an ASO event) with Wouter Mol.

Postscript: Apologies from Mr Prudhomme who’s still not made up hs mind which of the 12 teams in waiting will get the final 6 Tour invites. Is he trying to prolong the agony in the manner of all reality TV shows? Or is he hoping for a bigger cheque in the post? Just pick the names out of a hat and put everyone out of their misery.

Astana au Tour

This coming week-

end we have once again a combined pointage and cyclosportif. I took part in this last year because, having already completed my maiden trip up Col D’Eze during Paris-Nice, I knew exactly what to expect. This, you may recall, was the year Astana were banned from the Tour de France as a consequence of events at the previous year’s Tour. The club had planned to cycle up to the summit of the Col wearing “Astana au Tour” t-shirts, thoughtfully provided by Vino, to highlight the team’s plight to one Christian Prudhomme.

Having refueled at Vino’s restaurant in Nice over lunchtime, we split into groups to head off up the Col. I was partnered with a much younger couple who promised to take it slowly on my account. It took us some time to find our way onto the Grande Corniche and I therefore anticipated that my club mates would arrive at the summit well ahead of me. The first few kms are quite tough and it was a very warm afternoon in early March. The younger couple started to flag, so I left them behind.

I ascended at my pace (painfully slow), stopping every so often for a quick drink. As I reached the last km, there were a number of club mates watching from the roadside who gave me plenty of verbal encouragement. Soon others had joined in and I felt emboldened to go as fast as I could: still pretty slow. At the summit there was no sign of the other riders.

A quick call to M le President confirmed they’d been delayed by a puncture and could no longer ascend to the summit, as the road had been closed by the police.  This was going to be a one woman protest: probably not so visually forceful. However, I did manage to attract the eye of Prudhomme as he was driven past and I featured prominently in the television coverage!

 

 

Questions now answered

A number of questions,  posed a few days ago, have now been answered. Valverde’s a “no show”. Tom had a last minute reprieve, however, as he’s been missing in action so far, it’s hard to justify his sponsor’s calculations of Euros 25 million in lost “advertising” if he’d not been allowed to participate. The Tour is still young but he’s most unlikely to dislodge Cav from the firm grip he has on the green jersey. He’s 91 points ahead of Tom after only 3 sprint stages.

At the team presentation last Thursday, Lance said,  as a 7-times Tour winner, he had nothing to prove and was just looking forward to taking part. Methinks he doth protest too much. I, for one, didn’t believe a word of it and neither should Alberto, who’s wearing the Astana leader’s jersey, something which has obviously riled Lance.

By chance, I spent yesterday evening in the same hotel as Astana who have twice as many motorised vehicles as the other teams, giving credence to the two clans, one team theory propounded by journalists, and confirmed by Benjamin Noval. I’m now wondering, after Lance showed his hand on Monday by putting time into all his rivals, including Contador, whether we’re going to see scenes reminiscent of 2005 where Vino was chased down by his T-Mobile team mates.

Prudhomme assured us that the Tour course would prolong the suspense until the penultimate stage. However, the only outstanding question is which Astana riders, and in what order, will they top the podium. Everyone else seems down and out. Does this mean that the Spaniards will be helping out Bert or has Lance already bought them off, after all his pockets are deeper? Though it couldn’t buy him 22 hundredths of a second yesterday to snatch yellow from Spartacus.