This is from March 2013 and talks about how I encouraged a friends’ son to follow his dreams, to what he and I had hoped might be a career in professional cycling, like his father. He enjoyed much success locally and in Italy through the ranks but sadly a problem with his back halted his sporting aspirations. Fortunately, he’s a resourceful youngster and he’s followed Plan B and I still get regular calls.
My friends’ son tends to call me at least once a week. Having set him on the road – we hope – to a career as a professional rider, he likes to keep me abreast of his progress. He recently won his first race against stiff and older opposition. To say he was as pleased as punch would be a veritable understatement. Me, I regarded it as the first in the long line of many victories.
This week, the call came early, Tuesday evening. He needed to ask me for a favour. He’s racing in Marseilles this week-end and the rendezvous point is in Antibes at 6:00am on Sunday morning. Even before he asked, I confirmed he could a) stay overnight and b) I would drop him off in Antibes on Sunday morning. In truth, I haven’t changed the bed linen since he last spent a few days with us, indeed he refers to our guest bedroom and bathroom as “his bedroom and bathroom” and, you know what? No one’s arguing.
I got another call Wednesday evening which gave me an opportunity to check what he should eat Saturday evening – pasta. Plus, I need to prepare a cold pasta salad for him to take to the race. No problem, I can always rustle up a pasta dish. He needed to ask me for another favour. Would I pick him up in Antibes after the race? I’d already factored that into the equation, so again no problem. Like me he works on the basis that if “you don’t ask, you don’t get”.
You might wonder why I’m so willing to lend a hand. Frankly, I admire his determination. He organises everything himself and, if I said “no”, I’m quite sure he’d be setting off from home in the dark to get to Antibes on time. He’s deadly serious and is even working much harder at his studies at school because I’ve told him that he needs a Plan B. He also needs to work on his language skills to broaden his choice of professional team. An incentive to work even harder at his English, not that he needs much of an excuse. He’s one of my English pupils and has made really good progress.
You might be asking what do I get out of this. Nothing, I just enjoy watching his progression. While he’s young enough to be my grandson, I don’t regard him in that ilk and he, thankfully, doesn’t see me as a substitute grandmother; more an aunt. Moreover, an aunt who’s on his side, in whom he can confide and with whom he can do fun things.
Saturday evening after dinner, we’ll get everything ready for a speedy departure on Sunday morning, including having a chat about this weeks’ Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. In addition, I want to hear all about his win. I’ve read about it, but it’s not the same as hearing it first-hand. We’ll also have a brief chat about his forthcoming race, his role and tactics. I’ve already told him that his Mother should get all of his bouquets and he can dedicate his first professional win to me. Until then I’m more than happy to help out whenever and however.
I’ve been fortunate to attend ten consecutive UCI Road World Championships. I worked as a volunteer at the first few which gave me an opportunity to make a number of friends whom I continue to meet up with at various cycling events. My first WC was Salzburg 2006 and my last was Richmond 2015. I ducked out of Qatar and Bergen, and was due to attend this week’s in Innsbruck but work intervened! So I’m having a bit of a gander down memory lane revisiting the highlights of championships past with my dear friend Ute who’s manning the reception Desk in the Press Centre in Innsbruck this week.
We first met in Salzburg when we both worked as volunteers. She assisted with the podium ceremony – flags, anthems, flowers etcetera – while I dished out packed lunches to the 2,000 or so volunteers, army, police and municipal workers. Now I appreciate that hers sounds the more glamorous job but mine afforded me the opportunity to see all the racing and catch the action on the podium. Let me explain.
Valeria – another friendship cemented in Salzburg – and I were billeted in a large tent at the back of the press area right next to the all important television chow wagon. That’s right, no packed lunches for us – we were royally fed all week. Most of the volunteers dropped by to collect the lunches for their team but a few had to be delivered giving us an opportunity to get out and about and check on the action.
In Salzburg all the races took place on the same circuit. We watched the race unfold on the adjacent big screen, emerging only to watch the riders pass by from the specially adapted platform for handicapped fans. Now this is going to sound a bit callous but it was a) in a great spot right by the finish and b) they weren’t going to leap up from their wheelchairs and spoil our view. We weren’t the only fans who shared this opportunity. Guess who we met? I have to confess both Valeria and I went a bit weak at the knees, he drips sex-appeal.
Salzburg wins the award for being the best volunteer experience. Largely I think because everything was pretty much in one place, the atmosphere was terrific and, of course, it was our first. You never forget your first anything, do you?
18 months post-Puerto, the Germans were reluctant hosts and it showed. This time Valeria and I were working in the luxurious surrounding of the UCI’s Congress Hotel in the centre of Stuttgart manning their VIP welcome desk where we provided, and I’m quoting a high-ranking UCI official here, “the best service ever …”
This was where we first met Bert,who used to attend the Congress on behalf of New Zealand and whose lengthy service to the world of cycling had been recognised by the UCI, Queen and country. He was an old charmer, everyone knew and loved him. I’ve lost count of the number of World Championships he attended but it must be close to 80! (That total includes a few on the track, MTB etc.) He’d seen Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali race and had a whole raft of interesting tales to tell, if only you took the time to sit and listen.
Valeria and I both agreed our favourite moment was meeting the incredibly humble, but oh so charming, Miguel Indurain who signed what seemed like hundreds of autographs at our behest for other volunteers. I do believe Valeria still has the photo I took of her snuggled up to Miguel wearing that rather Bet Lynch-ish low-necked leopard print top!
Stuttgart stands alone in not winning any prizes whatsoever, rather we’ve awarded it a big fat raspberry.
Home to the Mapei centre, the town of Varese embraced and celebrated the World Championships with a style not seen before or since, by me at least. I was staying in a small guest house not far from the town centre where I was working in the accreditation centre: more long but enjoyable days.
Mine hosts served breakfast whenever I wanted and would rush to comfort me when I arrived back from a long day’s work with herbal tea and home-made cake. I never wanted to leave, have remained in touch and visited many times since. Ute was again manning the flagpoles. I worked with a great crowd of largely local students and bonded with fellow fan Nathalie. We’ve kept in touch and frequently meet up at Italian races.
Varese wins my prize for the nicest volunteer outfit by a street mile. Grey trousers, light blue polo shirt, navy blue v-necked sweater and quite my favourite backpack which I still use. Sadly, the trousers had matchstick legs, they probably only fitted the hostesses and podium girls.
Again I’d volunteered but as it was only 10km up the road from the previous year’s event, the organisers were swamped with applications and decided not to take anyone from outside the region. Ute threw a wobbly and, fearful of an international incident, the organisers wisely gave her a position in the Press Centre. I stayed with my friend in Lugano, helped out on the Santini stand, saw all of the racing and rode my bike on the road race circuit. My friend Nathalie was a hostess in the VIP stand where, with the exception of Sunday, staff outnumbered guests. We chatted using sign language as I was camped out on the 50m to go line opposite.
My favourite moment came when I was riding along the flatter part of the circuit and seemed to be drawing a fair amount of excited interest from the fans on the roadside. I looked around to find none other than FabianCancellara sucking my wheel. I flicked my elbow and he obligingly came through. I stayed on his wheel for another five or so kilometres, admiring his fluid pedal stroke, until the road turned upwards and I slid off said wheel.
Mendrisio wins my prize for the most exciting racing. You may recall Cancellara won the time trial so easily he was celebrating 100m from the line and Cadel Evans won the men’s road race having demonstrated he was indeed an attacking rider.
Should you wish to know more about my trip and the racing, here’s the links to the posts I wrote back in 2009, the year I started the blog:-
This wins my prize for the best organised and most fan-friendly event despite it being staged some 70-odd kilometres from Melbourne in Geelong. Fans had access to both sides of the finish line while the UCI’s guests and sponsors tents were at the base of the final drag. Viewing spots with refreshments and a big screen were dotted all over the course and given different nationalities. I was again camped out on the 50m line next to the hard-core Tom Boonen fan club that had turned up even though their hero hadn’t. Shame, really, the course would’ve suited him.
I again rode the course, this time on a hired mountain bike. I was glad of the lower gearing on both of those strenuous climbs. One moment sticks in my memory from Melbourne. I was enjoying a coffee in the Spanish team hotel when they found out about Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol. They were shocked, devastated and extremely upset. That news effectively killed off the Spanish challenge.
Again, here are the links to some of the posts I wrote about the racing:-
Three day hiatus for the Clasica San Sebastian, our return home the following day and then yesterday’s corporate video shoot of my beloved for his Chinese clients.
This was our ninth consecutive Clasica and it’s one of our favourite races on the calendar largely because of its location, field of quality riders and overall ambience. We’ve also ridden the entire parcours, just not all on the same day!
Using my beloved’s photos, here’s how the day unfolded, starting with the sign on which is always a good opportunity to catch up with the riders, staff, announcers, journalists and photographers that we’ve gotten to know over the years in a more relaxed atmosphere than say, the Tour de France.
The organisers have tinkered with the race route with over the years but it still aims to showcase the area’s beautiful beaches and landscapes, plus major attractions. We next caught up with the riders just over half-way through the race, on the first of two ascents of the famous Jaizkibel climb. The roadside was chock-a-block with fans, many enjoying lavish picnics.
Unless you’re familiar with the Basque country, you’ll fail to appreciate there’s very little flat and average gradients tend to mislead because they’ll always contain a few stinging ramps at over 25%. I speak from (bitter) experience. It’s a great place to cycle around simply because so many locals do, the roads are quiet and the traffic respectful.
After the peloton has toured the Basque countryside, it sweeps through the finish line before its assault of the final barrier. Unfortunately, 20km before the finish, a crash in the peloton either took out (Mikel Landa, Pierre Latour and Egan Bernal) or waylaid (Tony Gallopin, Izagirre brothers, Primoz Roglic, Greg Van Avermaet) a number of favourites.
Despite changes to the parcours three years ago, where the organisers added the final brutal Murgil Tontorra climb, the race is typically won by a rider exiting the Tour in fine fettle, after a successful attack near the summit of the last climb. This year was no different with former winner (2016) Bauke Mollema (Trek) counter-attacking just before the summit and, overhauling the duo upfront, rapidly followed by Musketeer Julian Alaphilippe. The latter won the sprint for the line with FDJ’s Anthony Roux best of a small chasing bunch.
That made it 36 out of 38 that a Tour rider had won the race, though Alaphilippe was the first to win Fleche Wallone, KOM jersey and the Clasica in the same year, underlining his versatility as a rider.
Alaphilippe was rightly delighted with his victory and chose to wear the Basque black beret (txapala) at a rather jaunty angle – very French! One of those from the early break, Cyril Barthe (Euskadi-Murias), won the KOM, intermediate sprints and most aggressive plaudits while Ion Izagirre was the best placed Basque rider. All in all it was a very enjoyable day’s racing.