Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

Falling leaves

We were recently in Como to watch what I regard as the last race of the cycling season, Il Lombardia, also known as the race of falling leaves. The weather was glorious and while there were fallen leaves most of these were dead from a lack of water and not the changing of the seasons. This was our third consecutive trip to the race but most definitely the best in terms of the weather. Northern Italy, in common with the South of France, has enjoyed an Indian Summer.

We drove over on Friday and spent the afternoon wandering around Como which, as usual, was busy with tourists from all over the world. After our less than convivial experience with a B&B in the town last year, we had chosen one up the hill behind Como with magnificent views of the lake but, more importantly, good sound-proofing. After a lengthy stroll around town we were ready for a bit of la dolce vita with an apero. It was still clement enough to sit outside in the late afternoon sun and people watch over an Aperol Spritz and nibbles. To be honest, we weren’t particularly hungry having stopped for lunch in Nove Liguri. I had eaten a delicious spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) which rather lingered on the taste buds and, as my beloved was quick to advise, the breathe.

The Cathedral
Lake Como

We had planned to get up early the next morning and drive over to Bergamo for the start of the race but, instead, opted for a lie in. Well, it was a very comfortable bed! After a plentiful breakfast, we strolled into town. Como was buzzing, particularly around the market where stalls were laden with glossy, plump seasonal fruit and vegetables. The sky was a deep blue and while it was warm in the sunshine, it was still chilly in the shade. We opted for a walk along the shoreline before finding a restaurant for lunch. To be honest, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bars and restaurants.

The winner, Vincenzo Nibali
The podium l to r, Julian Alaphilippe, Nibali, Gianni Moscon

After lunch, we settled down to watch the race unfold on one of the many big screens in town. We opted for the one closest to the finish line and hence had a grandstand view of the finish to an exciting race. I’d already dropped off my baked goodies at the various buses so some of the riders were in for a pleasant post-race surprise.  An Italian winner naturally proved popular with the spectators. The victor, Vicenzo Nibali, lives close by in Lugano, so these are his local roads and that knowledge was a deciding factor in his victory. In fact, it’s a lovely area to ride around. The roads are surprisingly quiet around the various lakes (Lugano, Como Varese) and while the roads are largely undulating there are some testing climbs. If you overdo it, you can just get one of the many ferry boats back to your starting point.

What a view!

After a hearty lunch, we opted once more for an apero and nibbles before heading  back to our B&B and another good night’s rest. Sunday morning, I raided the shops for a few goodies to take back with us. It’s all too easy to go overboard but I always like to buy a few local products for us and friends. Again, the weather was fabulous so we decided to drive around the lake and enjoy lunch in the open air before driving back to France. It had been a very enjoyable week-end and we resolved that, next time, we’d bring our road bikes with us.

 

Postcard from Como

One of the many advantages of living on the Cote d’Azur is its proximity to Italy and La Dolce Vita. We watched Il Lombardia for the first time last year which afforded us an opportunity to make our maiden visit to Bergamo. This year, the course was reversed and the race started in Como and finished in Bergamo. The ideal opportunity for a quick trip to Como to see the last WorldTour race of the season and one of my favourite Monuments. We set off early on Friday morning, eating breakfast en route. Or I should  say that my beloved breakfasted while I watched enviously. Sadly, I’m still forbidden coffee and pastry cream filled croissants! The sun shone and the first part of the drive along the coast is glorious. As soon as we turned left before Genoa, the clouds put in an appearance. One reason to never live anywhere other than on the coast.

lombardia-lake

We arrived in time for lunch on the lake. Sadly, it was a tad overcast but that didn’t lessen the pleasure of eating spaghetti vongole (clams). The afternoon I spent reacquainting myself with the old town. Many moons ago, I would visit Milan regularly on business and usually spend a week-end in Como, just 30 minutes away by train. However, this was a first for my beloved as we’d not really looked around much last year when the race concluded in Como. There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants, an eclectic mix of shops plus plenty of buildings of architectural interest.

My beloved always likes to check out the price of property in the local estate agencies. While, I like to lust over a spot of property porn where the price is rarely given. Of course, any view of the lake just multiplies the price by a significant factor.

We stayed in a small hotel, right in the centre of town. It was housed in an old building which had been sensitively renovated, pleasingly mixing the old with the new. The WiFi worked, the rooms were light and spacious and the bed comfortable. The polished concrete floors and slate staircase looked good but, as we were later to discover, magnified every sound. Sadly, soundproofing between the rooms had been omitted which meany even heavy sleepers like me were in for a rude awakening. That was the only blot on a lovely week-end.

Neither of us felt particularly hungry at dinner time so we cruised a few of the bars which all have small serve yourself buffet tables of olives, grilled vegetables, pasta salad, pizza, focaccia etc to accompany their drinks, meaning we had no real need for dinner.

The sign-on for Il Lombardia took place less than 100 metres from out hotel meaning we rolled out of bed, grabbed breakfast and pitched up for a ringside seat. For many this was their last or nearly last race of the season but they were in for a long day in the saddle as the course had been reworked to include over 4,000 metres of climbing, much of it in the latter part of the race. It had rained heavily overnight and while still overcast, it was drying out as the riders departed from in front of the cathedral for their parade around the town.

lombardia-cathedral

As the crowds started to disperse, a handful of riders were racing to catch up.

lombardia-wait

Obviously, they didn’t get the memo about the time of the race start or, if they did, they hadn’t read it. These included the eventual victor Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange). It’s thirsty work watching racing, so we retired to a nearby café for fortification.

Rather than drive over to Bergamo to watch the race’s conclusion, we had arranged to meet friends for lunch at a local seafood restaurant for oysters and lobster – allowed under my regime. Dessert was a vegan ice cream from the shop next door to our hotel. It’s rare I can indulge in any dessert, let alone ice cream and I feel I showed great restraint by only darkening the shop’s door just the one time. After a disturbed night’s sleep, we had a power nap before watching the race conclusion on the television.

The route is surprisingly undulating, even alongside the lake, as the road frequently rises and falls around the surrounding hills. My beloved and I have frequently ridden around here but not this time. Having seen the forecast, we left the bikes at home. Luckily for the peloton, the rain only fell in the final kilometres of the race. Many had taken advantage of the short-cut back to Bergamo once their work for the day was done. Only a handful of riders finished the course which had been animated by two riders we know well – BMC’s Damiano Caruso and Cofidis’ Rudy Molard. We’d been enthusiastically cheering them on but sadly their early break didn’t succeed.

It was a later one which took the glory. It was a thrilling and fitting conclusion to the 2016 WorldTour season which saw Movistar finish top team for the fourth consecutive season and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) claim the UCI top rider spot. He’s had a fantastic season, dispelling the myth of the curse of the rainbow jersey which I’d love to see him retain next week in Doha.

Again, after that sumptuous lunch, it was drinks and nibbles with friends from the cycling world that evening where we enthusiastically discussed the many merits of the day’s race. A great way to pass an evening.

We were again woken up several times in the night by the other hotel guests returning to base. Consequently, we rose early and headed home where we knew warm sunshine awaited and we could go for a spin on our bikes. Lunch and dinner were courtesy of a superb delicatessen in Como. So we spent a relaxing day though opted for an early night to catch up on those lost hours of sleep.

 

Postcard from Il Lombardia

Last week-end was my beloved’s and my maiden Il Lombardia. We’ve visited and cycled in the area many times but never watched the race live. This year’s edition kicked off in Bergamo, a delightfully historic town with some truly memorable architecture, great shops and restaurants – just perfect for a week-end’s break.

A wet start to 109th Il Lombardia
A wet start to 109th “Il Lombardia”

 

One of the many churches
One of the many churches

 

Crowds forming to greet the riders despite the wet weather
Crowds forming to greet the riders despite the damp weather

 

View of the Upper Old Town of Bergamo
View of the Upper Old Town of Bergamo

 

Best view in the town
Best view in town

 

It's going to be a long, hard and probably wet day in the saddle
It’s going to be a long, hard and probably wet day in the saddle

Here’s the “Three Amigos” and my dedicated team of cake and cookie testers. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. It was nice of them to offer. Ian has recently renewed for two years with Sky thereby continuing his love affair with Nice which he now calls “home”.

Ian Boswell signing on for his last race of the season
Ian Boswell signing on for his last race of the season

Larry meanwhile has signed on for another year with IAM – still the best kit in the peloton.

Larry Warbasse of IAM Cycling
Larry Warbasse of IAM Cycling

Joe aka the King of Utah has another year with Cannondale.

Joe Dombrowski leading the way for the Cannondale boys
Joe Dombrowski leading the way for the Cannondale boys

I had hoped that twice runner-up Samu Sanchez might be third time lucky this year but he was clearly riding in support of PhilGil.

#SamuSighting
#SamuSighting

The bookies’ favourite, thanks to his win earlier win in Tre Valli Varesine, Vincenzo Nibali looked focused and set to redeem what was by his standards a miserable 2015 season.

His Nibs
His Nibs

Former Cote d’Azur resident, Max Monfort looked deadly serious before the start. Intent on his role supporting Tony Gallopin or dreading the torrential downpour?

Race face for Max Monfort
Race face for Max Monfort

A magical part of the world though (sadly) no sighting today of local resident George Clooney. He’s obviously not a cycling fan.

And we have sunshine in Como
And we have sunshine in Como

 

And boats bobbing in the lake
And boats bobbing in the lake

The race takes a first pass through Como en route to the final climb of the day. Messrs Kwiatkowski and Wellens leading here, were overhauled by eventual race winner Vincenzo Nibali.

Kwiatkowski and Wellens lead first pass through Como
Kwiatkowski and Wellens lead first pass through Como

 

Rosa leading the chase for Nibali
Rosa leading the chase for Nibali

It’s game over for these boys quite a few of whom didn’t bother with the final assault and headed directly for their team buses.

The rest, led by Peter Kennaugh
The rest, led by Peter Kennaugh

Tom Jelte Slagter catching his breath just past the finish line.

Slagter at the finish line
Slagter at the finish line

I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the photos of the winner crossing the finish line and the podium? You may well ask. Sadly my photographer was not well placed on the barricades and we were far too far from the podium to take any photos of the presentation of the prizes.

We’d seen (on the television) a great race, enjoyed the atmosphere and finally the sunshine before we drove back home. Of course, that’s the reality of watching live racing. You see the riders sign-on, set off, sometimes catch them en route and watch the rest of the race (and the podium) ceremony on the big screen.

Four in a row

From last week to this, we’ve gone from an Indian summer to autumn. Today I wore my long sleeved club jersey and gilet, teamed with ¾ bib shorts for what might well be my last assault this year on the Col de Vence. It was a chilly descent back home and I was forced to don my windproof.

After my 100km ride I was back home in time to watch the Tour of Lombardy on Rai Tre. I prefer, if at all possible, to watch racing on the host broadcaster’s channel.  Of course, I should have been tackling the Vuelta and post Vuelta ironing mountains, but what the heck!

I see the weather around Como was a little chillier than here and the sky somewhat greyer, but at least it was dry. Obviously the Italian commentators were hoping for and even anticipating a 4th Cunego victory.

Philippe “Pants on Fire” Gilbert had other ideas. Going for his 4th consecutive win in 10 days, he took off in the last 6km and only Sammy Sanchez was able to bridge up to him. Vino tried too but dropped back to the chasing group.

Both riders worked together until the final few hundred metres. Sammy gave it his best shot but he was never going to beat Gilbert in a sprint. Let’s not forget this is the man who bested Tom Boonen in a sprint at Paris-Tours last week end. The Italians had to settle for Cunego’s team mate, Santambrogio, winning the “most combative”.

Podium Boys
Podium Boys

So, two of my favourite riders finishing 1st and 2nd; a highly satisfactory result which could  have been bettered only if Vino, rather than Kolobnev, had also finished on the podium. This wasn’t the only good bit of sporting news. Villa beat Chelsea 2-1 at home. Let’s see if OGCN can make it three in a row tomorrow evening.

Tomorrow we’re off to Beausoleil, followed by a climb up Mont des Mules to La Turbie, weather permitting. Yes, there’s a storm brewing with spectacular flashes of lightening illuminating the shoreline. With any luck it’ll have cleared up by tomorrow morning.

Postscript: Chilly, but sunny and very enjoyable ride today; Vino won the Chrono des Nations (3rd in a row) but OGC Nice failed to give me 4 in a row by losing 4-1 away at Lorient.

Postcards from Mendrisio II

I rode into Mendrisio this morning ostensibly to meet my friend Ute for a coffee. She’s working as a part-time volunteer in the Press Centre. Of course, the real reason was to ride on the same course, at the same time  as the Elite and U23 riders who were just out spinning their legs and checking  the parcours. While the roads weren’t closed, there were police at every junction waving us through.

Who did I see? Who didn’t I see might be an easier question. Undoubtedly the highlight was riding behind Fabulous Fabian for the last 5km of the course. I saw Vino and the rest of the Kazakhs and, while I would have liked to say hello, I had no spare breath as I was scaling the bottom half of Monte Generoso; short and sharp.  I appeared to be the only non-elite, female rider on the course and therefore on the receiving end of plenty of support from the roadside spectators. This is always tremendously encouraging.

On the way back to Lugano, I was passed by the Spanish squad who had evidently decided that it was way too dangerous to lodge, as previously planned, in Como. As we were going downhill I was able to smile at Messrs Valverde and Sanchez, congratulate them on their performances in the Vuelta and wish them well for Sunday.

The course reminds me of an Ardennes Classic. So we should be looking to riders who have previously performed well in those and who showed form in the Vuelta: Cunego, Valverde, Sanchez, Evans, Vinokourov. Nor would I discount Cancellara, after last year’s performance on a more difficult course in Beijing. Of course, given the strength and depth of the Spanish and Italian squads, it’s hard to bet against them.