All hail

This week end I have been watching the French National Road Cycling Championship’s from Boulogne-sur Mer. The Women’s 19km Time-Trial was won in 29min 45 secs by the evergreen Jeannie Longo, a formidable competitor who continues ( I’d love to know how) to maintain her motivation. This was Jeannie’s 58th title. She’s the most successful French cyclist, ever. Most of the girls she competes against were just a twinkle in their father’s eyes when Jeannie won her first title.

She was born in 1958 in Annency,  in the French Alps, and began her sporting career as a downhill skier.  After winning the French schools’ ski championship and three university skiing championships, she switched to cycling at the urging of her coach (and later husband) Patrice Ciprelli. Within a few months, Longo had won her first (of many) French road race Championship. She was just 21. In addition to her numerous sporting achievements, Jeannie has also distinguished herself academically with a degree in Mathematics, an MBA and a doctorate in sports management.

She competes both in both road and track cycling events, is an Olympic gold-medalist and twelve-time world champion. Her impressive palmares includes:

  • Olympic Games road race: Gold Medal (1996); Silver Medal (1992)
  • Olympic Games individual time trial: Silver Medal (1996); Bronze Medal (2000)
  • 5 x UCI World Road Race Champion Champion (1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1995)
  • 4 x UCI World Time Trial Champion (1995, 1996, 1997, 2001)
  • 4 x UCI World Track Championship:
    • Points Race: Champion (1989)
    • 3 km Pursuit: Champion (1986, 1988, 1989); Silver Medal (1984, 1985, 1987); Bronze Medal (1981, 1982, 1983)
  • UCI World Mountain Bike World Championship: Silver Medal (1993)
  • 15 x French Road Race Champion: 1979 to 1989, 1992, 1995, 2006, 2008
  • 10 x French Time Trial Champion: 1995, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
  • 3 x winner of La Grande Boucle: 1987, 1988, 1989
  • 2 x Woman’s Challenge: 1991, 1999
  • Set Hour Record (45.094 km/h) in 2000 in Mexico City (14 years after setting the best hour performance record)

This is a woman who wants to win every time she gets on a bike, whether it’s the Olympic Games or a local bike race. For the past two years she’s taken part in our “gentleman event” and kindly handed out the trophies to the winners. Last year she and her husband were easily the fastest team. In a two-man event, Jeannie’s speed is limited by that of her husband. They beat a couple of lads from our club who were the French amateur Champions at this discipline. This year she was third, largely due to a problem with the traffic. She was not a happy bunny! This is a woman who hates to lose, at anything. Given that, if she were to retire, she would ride in my age group, I’m hoping she never does.  Jeannie, thanks. You’re an inspiration to thousands of women, everywhere.  It’s worth noting that on a course which didn’t suit her she finished second yesterday in the road race!

Christophe Kern, continuing his great form from the Dauphine, won the Men’s time-trial and Sylvain Chavanel won the Road Race. An impressive performance given that his only support was Jerome Pineau and a Quickstep Teamcar. This augurs well for the start of the Tour next week where Sylvain will be riding as aggressively as ever and hoping for a stage win and maybe, a couple of days (again) in yellow. A man with similar ambitions, Tommy Voeckler bravely defended the tricolour jersey to finish third.

Place your bets please

There’s always a lively debate about whether it’s best to ride the Dauphine or the Tour of Switzerland and what one can read into the form of each of the participants.  Personally, I feel it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions. History is rarely an accurate predictor of the future, just ask any actuary. It’s entirely possible that the eventual winner of the Tour participated in neither race (Alberto Contador). It’s a question of which race best fits the ambitions of the respective teams and their riders.

Bradley Wiggins win in the Dauphine is to be applauded. Was that Sky’s ambition before the race? Who knows? Or, having seized the opportunity, and the yellow jersey, did Wiggo and Sky merely do what needed to be done to stay atop of the podium. I often feel that you’re in a much stronger position when you’re in the leader’s jersey. You get a huge confidence boost and someone then has to try and take the jersey away from you. You just have to defend it.  No doubt this win, the biggest of Wiggins’ career on the road, should not be taken lightly, nor should one assume that Wiggins is battling for no better than 3rd. Shorn of Riis’s strategic and tactical support, I feel the Schleck’s will be at more of a disadvantage. In addition, it looks as if Andy has kept faith with his mechanic – was this wise?

Of course, it’s not so much whether it’s easier to win a one week tour than it is a three week one, more that the pool of riders capable of doing the former is greater than the latter. Nor should one make assumptions about the form, or lack thereof, of those who finished further down the GC, such as Schleck Jr, Basso and Samu. There’s still a couple of weeks for riders to find their form. Some find it easier and quicker to find than others. Again, we don’t know what their ambitions were going into the respective races. Was it just a training ride, were they sand bagging, fine tuning their form or were they going for the win?

Generally, the two races give those on the teams’ reserve lists an opportunity to prove their worth. Riders want to be at the Tour, it’s the largest, global, annual sporting spectacle and an ideal opportunity to conclude a deal for the following year, particularly if you’re in the last year of your contract.  Again, speculation is already rife as to who’s going where. But as the UCI’s window is closed, neither side can officially confirm the rumour mongering.

This year will be the debut Tour for a number of riders, including some who have already invested a number of years in the professional ranks. Nice Matin today featured an interview with a rider who lives locally and rides for Cofidis, Tristan Valentin. After breaking his elbow in Paris-Roubaix in 2008, he’s had a torrid time of it over the past three years.  I’d like to wish him good luck for this year’s Tour and I’ll be rooting for him to at least get in a breakaway and snaffle some airtime.

Postscript: Get well soon Juan Mauricio Soler

Happily back home again for a few days

Bereft of the internet and L’Equipe for a few days at my parents’, I feel seriously out of the loop. It’s as if the pillars of my daily existence have gone walk about, leaving me floundering. That, combined with the work involved pre-and- post Kivilev, means I’ve not had enough time to watch, let alone ponder or comment on, recent sporting events.

The third week of the Giro passed without me seeing too much of the action. It’s only now that I appreciate what a master coup Contador (and Riis) delivered atop Mount Etna, and on subsequent days, to bludgeon the competition into submission. At the start of the second week, there were enough riders still within sniffing distance of the pink jersey willing to chance their arms and those of their team mates, saving the arms and, more importantly, the legs of Alberto’s team mates. Having taken his maiden Giro stage, Alberto was happy to forge useful alliances by ceding wins to other Spanish speakers. It never pays to be too greedy. We’re now all waiting to see whether he will ride the Tour. Frankly, it won’t be the same without  him sublimely dancing away on the pedals.

The Premiership football season finished with my beloved boys in claret and blue in 9th place thanks to Mr Houllier who, due to ill health, will not be with us next season. Neither will Ashley Young who benefited greatly from Houllier’s guidance and is most probably going to be playing for Manchester United. OGCN diced with danger all season only avoiding the drop thanks to the misfortune of our closest neighbours, Monaco, who we’ll not be playing next season which is pity as I always enjoy a trip to their magnificent stadium. More importantly, funding has been secured for our new stadium, where we will be hosting games at Euro 2016. Additional funding has also been found to strengthen the squad.

In Paris, Li Na became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament ensuring her immortality in Chinese sporting history. In the men’s finals, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to take his Borg-equalling 6th title. He was no doubt grateful that Roger had beaten  Novak Djokavic in the semis. So who’s going to lift the Wimbledon crown? I suspect the same four players in the French semis will also be contesting the ones at Wimbledon. Although I’m sure the great British public will be hoping for a different outcome. Don’t bet on it.

Today I finally watched the highlights of last week end’s GP Aperol de Catalunya held at Europe’s most modern race track in Montmelo, 20km north of Barcelona. I’m determined to go and watch some live MotoGP action next year and this is the closest racetrack to us. Yes, it’s a mere 5 hours away by car. Second closest is Mugello in Tuscany but that’s held during The Tour, so it’s a no no.

The usual suspects featured in all three classes where there were plenty of spills but, more importantly, no injuries, except to their pride. In 125cc, Nico Terol took his 4th win in 5 races and 14th consecutive podium appearance. However, if Johann Zarco had not been adjudged to have illegally overtaken him in the home straight, and gotten a 20 second penalty, the result would have been oh, so different. Not unnaturally the French were up in arms, but it was the right decision. Le Mans winner Maverick Vinales, the Paris Hilton sponsored rider, led briefly only to finish 2nd with Jonas Folger completing the podium. Terol is romping away with the championship.

In Moto2, Stefan Bradl used his 5th consecutive pole to register his 3rd win of the season ahead of Le Mans winner Marc Marquez and, local boy, Aleix Espargaro, making his maiden podium appearance. Bradl leads the championship ahead of Simone Corsi and Andrea Iannone.

Despite his pole position, Marco Simoncelli finished back in 6th place while Casey Stoner cruised into first place on the first lap and stayed there. The two boys from Yamaha took 2nd (Jorge Lorenzo) and 3rd (Ben Spies). This was Spies’s first podium of the season and the Texan’s just extended his contract with Yamaha. The Air Asia British GP from Silverstone starts tomorrow but with our trip to Lugano, I might well have to settle for the highlights again.

The Criterium du Dauphine is one of my favourite races, more intimate and immediate than the Tour. In previous years, I’ve gone to watch the final week end’s stages but not this year. Sadly, I missed Alex seizing yellow though today I did see the highlights of him losing it to Bradley Wiggins. However, it’s the Germans who are the talking point at this year’s race with Tony Martin winning yesterday’s time-trial and John Degenkolb winning on Tuesday and again today.  Admittedly most of the sprinters, but not all, are going to ride the Tour de Suisse. The Tour favourites, with the exception of Basso, look to be in fine form ahead of the Tour and, not unnaturally, were unwilling to risk all in yesterday’s rain soaked stage when they’ve bigger fish to fry in July.  I’ll probably have to settle for watching the concluding highlights of this race.

My beloved is due back on this evening’s late, late flight from Frankfurt which is inevitably delayed. Happily, I don’t have to either collect him or wait up. He’s got his own wheels and his keys. I’m planning on profiting from the good weather with a ride tomorrow morning ahead of our departure for Lugano. However, the weather forecast there is not looking at all good while we’re forecast to have plenty of sunshine here. We may have to make yet another executive decision tomorrow morning. That way, I’ll at least get to watch all the action live on the television.

No room at the Vuelta

Fans will be denied the chance to see a repeat of Johnny Hoogerland’s daily daring escapes during this year’s Vuelta a España. Yes, that’s right Vacansoleil weren’t invited to yet another grand tour and neither were Skil Shimano.  However, to give Unipublic their due they have invited two smaller Spanish outfits,  Xacobeo-Galicia and Andalucia Caja-sur, whose very existence probably depends on their annual appearance in the Vuelta.

The organisers have however made the (brave?) decision not to invite either BMC or The Shack as neither Cadel nor Lance respectively were scheduled to ride. I understand BMC didn’t seek an invite but The Shack had proposed a pretty strong  line up which included recent Criterium Dauphine winner Janez Brajkovic, Andreas Kloeden, Chris Horner, Haimer Zubeldia and  Levi Leipheimer – not too shabby. Instead rsvps have been sent to those 16 teams covered by the September 2008 agreement with UCI (which expires at the end of this season) and Team Sky, Garmin-Transitions, Katusha and Cervelo Test Team.

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.