My 2009 highlights

Cyclingnews has asked a number of industry insiders for their highlights of the 2009 cycling season. Incredible as it may seem, they failed to ask me! I know, maybe their email is sitting in my spam.

Best Performance: A number of worthy candidates, but for me it has to be Fabulous Fabian’s victory in the ITT in Mendrisio. He was just so dominant, so majestic and had so much time on everyone else that he was celebrating 100 metres from the finish line. This man is in a class of his own.

Honourable mentions:- 1) The Manx Missile for his win in Milan-San Remo and his 6 wins in the Tour. 2) Philippe Gilbert for his season ending flourish.

Best Team: In anyone’s book, best team = most wins = Columbia HTC.

Biggest Disappointment(s): Rebellin, Astaloza and Colom. Need I say more.

Rider to watch in 2010: Generally I find it’s riders who have changed teams to be given a greater role on a new one. Some will deliver and some won’t. As a consequence, I suspect all eyes will be on Sky and riders such as Edvald Boassen Hagen, Simon Gerrans, Serge Pauwels, Bradley Wiggins et al. However, my tips for 2010: Alexandre Vinokourov, back to prove the UCI and critics that they were wrong; and, this man, the indefatigable Johnny Hoogerland.

Most Memorable Race: Cadel Evans attacking to win the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio and confounding all of his critics.

 

Biggest Surprise: Bert bonking in Paris-Nice but he redeemed himself the following day by continuously attacking thereby winning over the French. Though whether they’d have been as charitable if he’d knocked housewives’ favourite Sylvain Chavanel off the podium is debatable.

Do you wanna be in my team?

It’s that time of year when sports people, including cyclists, are picking up awards, left, right and centre. So I thought I would join in by nominating my cycling team of the year. I should stress that there will, alas, be no glittering award ceremony, no trophies and no champagne.  Though if any of them cares to pop around in the off-season, I will be happy to crack open a bottle of my favourite beverage. The awards will, like all these awards, be totally subjective and will involve one, well-known judge – me.

The criteria for selection to Sheree’s Superteam of 15 riders are multitudinous; but being hardworking and having a cute smile will certainly put you in the mix. I had to apply a numerical limit otherwise I’d have found it hard to stop and, before you know it, everyone would be on my team. So in no particular order, here are the winners:-

Alberto ” Big Brown Eyes” Contador: What girl wouldn’t want this year’s Tour winner on her team. Bert makes the cut thanks to his stoicism in the face of relentless provocation. Yes, he let his legs do the talking.

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen:

Tom and Susi
Tom with my friend Susi

Not his most glittering season – true – but as the winner of the first cycling race I ever saw (TdF Stage 6, 2004), Tom is guaranteed a place on my team whatever. I should add that Tom is very popular with the ladies, whether or not they’re cycling fans. It’s hard to explain his allure but suffice to say he’s a man who looks damm good in lycra.

Cadel “Cuddles” Evans: For attacking and  proving everyone wrong on his home turf (Mendrisio) and having the “guts” to leave the comfort zone of Silence-Lotto for a team (BMC) which may or may not ride in next year’s Tour.

“Fabulous” Fabian Cancellara: He showed everyone how to win a World Championship time-trial (again) with style, panache, power and with room to spare.

Sammy “Gold Medal” Sanchez: Yes, the Olympic Champion makes the cut too mainly because he’s a joy to watch going downhill and he’s nearly always got a great smile on his face.    

Philippe “Pants on Fire” Gilbert: I just couldn’t leave out the man who singlehandedly hoovered up four wins in a row at the end of the season. Plus, he’s another one with a cute smile.

Barbie Barbie
Barbie Barbie

Heinrich “Barbie Barbie” Haussler: Probably, the best smile in the peloton. That’s right, no other reason.

Alexandre “He’s Back, He’s Attacking” Vinokourov: He’s done his time, he’s back and he’s launching those trademark attacks which make him so popular with cycling fans.  

Johnny “Off the Front Again” Hoogerland: I appreciate that after the Vuelta and World Championships, Johnny’s fans are now legion. Almost single-handedly he justified Vacansoleil’s invitation to the Vuelta. Will this, plus the freres Feuillu, be enough to guarantee a Tour invite next year? We all hope so. 

Mark “Manx Missile” Cavendish: The fastest man on two bicycle wheels for giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Long may it continue.

Bradley “So-Skinny” Wiggins: For proving to me incontestably that if I lose weight I too will climb faster, though probably not as fast as Brad.  

Jens “Hardman” Voigt: A huge favourite among cycling fans for his unstinting team work. I still wince at the thought of his face plant in this year’s Tour. I also love the way the French announcers say his name “Jen-sa Voy-te”.

Kenny “Never Say Die” van Hummel: Another one who won over fans with his determination to pretty much daily beat the cut off in this year’s Tour; often after riding most of the parcours on his own. A sight we will probably be denied in next year’s Tour.

Jose Vicente “Really Long Name” Garcia Acosta: He’s finished 25 Grand Tours and he’s Valverde’s faithful and untiring domestique. This man can ride tempo all day and for that he gets on my team.

Bernard “Faithful” Eisel: The man charged with shepherding the Manx Missile to within sniffing distance of the finish line: yet another upstanding lieutenant for the team. 

David “Dodgy Bike Handler” Moncoutie: You’re probably wondering why he makes my team. It’s partly because of his climbing ability but largely because, like me, his bike handling skills leave a lot to be desired.

Now those of you who can count are possibly wondering why, when I said a team of 15, there are 16 names. Obviously, I have one reserve rider.

My team will be managed by Bob Stapleton, head of the most successful team of the last couple of years, Columbia-HTC, but they’re going to be wearing Cervelo kit;CERVELO easily the nicest and most flattering, even in white and, like me, riding BMC bikes. That’s, regrettably, where the similarities start and end.

On top of the world

Today was my first time up Mont Chauve, a short but steep climb between

View from Mont Chauve
View from Mont Chauve

Falicon and Aspremont. I had not done this one before as in previous years I would have already headed off to the World Cycling Championships to work as a volunteer. Their loss this year is my gain. I momentarily flirted with taking part in the race up the hill but eventually decided against it. Maybe next year, now that I know what’s involved. I passed the race in progress on the way down. There were no female participants and immediately regretted not having taken part. Of course, I would have been last overall but the first (and only) woman. My husband broke a spoke on the ascent and so, rather than head back  via Aspremont, we descended back into Nice and rode home along the coastal road.

Valverde
Valverde

The Vuelta finishes today and this man is going to win his first Grand Tour.  He’s looked pretty secure in gold and has ridden a smart race; for once,  sacrificing stage victories for the bigger picture. Joining him on the podium will be Sammy Sanchez (2nd) and Cadel “Cuddles” Evans (3rd). Commentators have unfairly been referring to Cadel as the “nearly man”. Wholly unjustified. Aside from the inopportune timing of that puncture, you’ve only got to look at the composition of his team and compare it to Valverde’s to understand their respective placings. 

ToB 2009 Podium
ToB 2009 Podium

The Tour of Great Britain concluded yesterday in London. Columbia HTC hoovered up most of the stages, and the overall, with Edvald Boassen Hagen, already a firm favourite with the crowds,  who will be riding next year for Britain’s new Sky Team.  Two riders, the afore-mentioned EBH and Thomas De Gendt, Topsport Vlaanderen, swiped all the jerseys. 

My beloved boys in claret and blue easily beat Pompey, my Dad’s former team, at home. Fittingly, the man of the match was Pompey’s goal-keeper, David James, one of my favourite footballers. I still rue the day that Villa sold him to West Ham. Meanwhile, Nice have continued their slide to the penultimate place in the league (thank goodness for Grenoble). Beaten 1-3 at home in the local derby with Monaco, a team whose fortunes are going in the reverse of ours.

Weapon of choice

I would have liked to be able to report that during the Vuelta my hors categorie ironing mountain has been much reduced; but that would be a lie. If anything it’s grown and having sorted it into various piles, in an effort to make it look as if I’ve done something, it now closely resembles a Vuelta

Stage 12 Almeira - Velefique or piles of ironing. You choose
Stage 12 Almeira - Velefique or piles of ironing. You choose

parcours, not dissmilar to this.  The small 3rd category climb is my pile of ironing while the remaining peaks are my husband’s. I have yet to figure out how this man generates so much ironing. I can only give thanks that his favoured sport of the moment (cycling) has kit which does not need ironing. A major improvement on tennis and golf where both kits have to be ironed. In addition, it requires some ingenuity to restore the snowy whiteness of tennis attire after he’s played on clay courts. It’s probably no different to dealing with the cycling attire of teams Francaise des Jeux, Columbia-HTC and Cervelo after a day riding in the rain. I wonder what they use? My weapon of choice is low temperature Ariel, plus Vanish (for whites), on a long, cool wash-cycle.

Random thoughts

This is the week when the football transfer season closes and it’s open season for the cyclists. Generally, it’s been the case that much speculated about transfers on various cycling websites and forums have been confirmed.  Sky, mindful of the soccer transfer deadline, has decided to keep everyone in suspense for a few days more over their new line-up for 2010.

For my mind, the most interesting aspect of the forthcoming season is how many teams want Pro-Tour licences. The UCI had always hoped that demand would exceed supply, we’ll have to wait and see whether that is indeed the case. Aside from the known new applicants, The Shack and Sky, there’s a number of teams hoping to extend their licences for another year. Will they succeed or will they be demoted to Pro- Conti status in favour of those wanting 3-year licences? Again, we’ll have to wait and see. Despite everyone’s prediction of the early demise of cycling (and its sponsors) the reverse would seem to be the case. Is it the Lance effect? Or has the global credit crunch switched more fans onto a sport that’s free to watch, either live or over the internet?

Meanwhile, the walking wounded ie most of those taking part in the Vuelta were no doubt happy to see the back of the rain soaked, diesel or dirt-slicked, crowded with traffic calming measures and liberally coverd in slide-inducing white paint  roads of Holland and Belgium for the much sunnier and warmer climes of Spain. I dare say that some of the riders on the Pro-Continental Spanish squads never want to venture that far north again. Their worst nightmare would be their DS saying ” great news we’ve got a wild card for some of the Belgian Classics.” Though, I noted some riders still had problems staying in the saddle yesterday. 

Much as I love riding my bike most days, I know that some of the most fruitful days are those that I spend off the bike, recuperating. Thanks to the return of the chest infection, I have had a quiet couple of weeks. Yesterday, I felt fully recovered and was positively flying along. I even overtook some riders (in club shirts) while going uphill: almost as rare an occurrence as hen’s teeth. 

A week or so ago I mentioned that my worse case scenario is being home sick with an incapable of dealing with the situation, healthy husband. I need to revise this. It’s actually, me being at home with tons of stuff to do while having to look after an unexpectedly, incapacitated, and even more demanding than normal husband.