Viva La Vuelta VII

I’m back from getting up close and personal with the Vuelta in the Basque country. It was the Vuelta’s first visit to the cycling mad region in 33 years and the fans did not disappoint, lining the route whenever they could, and particularly on the climbs, to encourage all the Basque riders. Despite the cessation of hostilities in the region, the Vuelta organisers were taking no chances and both days there was a significant, albeit discrete, police presence. Despite that, the Vuelta is much more intimate than the Tour and it’s possible to get much closer to the riders and the race. To be fair, the Tour is a much bigger affair, attracting much more interest internationally, and therefore one can appreciate the necessity of the measures put in place by ASO.

Stage 19 started in Noja, a charming seaside town in Cantabria, with fabulous beaches, just an hour’s drive from Bilbao. At the sign on I happened to be standing next to some friends of JuanJo who came over to greet them. He had the look of a man who couldn’t quite believe what was happening to him. Lots of young local riders were there in their cycling kit and the riders were only too happy to pose with them and make their day. I easily managed to attract the attention of both of my friends and wish them luck. At this stage of the race, many are just counting down the hours until they reach Madrid and finally home. Most have been away for almost a month.

Geoffroy Lequatre
Nice smile

I managed to handover the cakes my friend ordered after the race. Picking my way carefully through the streams of water issuing forth from the coaches as the riders enjoyed a post-race shower, I handed them over to one of the mechanics. I’d wisely made enough for the entire crew. I only hoped they would enjoy them.

Stage 20 started in Bilbao with a perambulation around the city, showcasing it’s various monuments, before wending its way to the third main town in the Basque country, Vitoria. While San Sebastian and Bilbao have much to recommend them, the same cannot be said for Vitoria’s new part of town. Again, after a pleasant lunch in a local bar, we took our places on the finish line in full view of the big screen to watch the action unfold. This was going to be a stage for the sprinters and their teams, including that of one of my friend’s, were driving the peloton in the last 15km. Clearly, the cakes had worked their magic and given everyone a fillip. The team’s sprinter finished 2nd behind Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.

Andrey Mizurov
Nice smile

 

Panacea for post-Tour blues

While the Tour is over and many of it’s protagonists take part in a seemingly endless round of criteriums, the racing rolls on. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of Poland generally an opportunity for the young guns to shine, and shine they have. While fellow Brummie and defending champ Garvelo’s Dan Martin put up a spirited defence of his title and won the queen stage, it’s been pretty much one way traffic at the Pete and Marcel show.  After putting in a highly determined performance to win two stages and, more importantly, the overall, I’m looking forward to see what Liquigas’s Peter Sagan can do in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta. I appreciate he’ll be riding in support of Vicenzo Nibali, but should the Shark falter…….. The other four stages were won in imperious fashion by Skil Shimano’s Marcel Kittel whom I last saw on the podium of the U23 ITT in Melbourne. He has a turn of speed to match Cavendish, but doesn’t seem to require a train, and he left names such as Tom Boonen, Romain Feillu and John Degenkolb trailing in his wake.

I’ve also been dipping into the Vuelta a Burgos where riders were fine tuning their performances ahead of the Vuelta which starts on 20 August in Benidorm. The first stage stage was won by defending champ, Euskaltel’s Samu, who won’t be riding the Vuelta, ahead of Katusha’s JRod, who will. JRod also took out the 2nd stage and the overall. Samu was undone (again) by the team time trial and tired legs on the final stage where the boys in orange were attempting to rip the field apart and put time into JRod. Sadly, Samu was unable to keep pace and the stage was won by his rookie team mate Mikel Landa, recording his maiden win. Purito is looking in great shape for the upcoming race which, with plenty of mountain top finishes and few time-trialling kms, clearly favours the climbers but Igor Anton and the orange-clad boys are looking equally strong.

Over in the Tour of Denmark, Sky’s Simon Gerrans took his first stage win since the Herald Sun Tour in 2006 and his first win this year thanks to some clever mopping up of intermediate sprint points (and seconds) to remain ahead of Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.  Elsewhere, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin won Paris-Correze.

The football season commenced this week end in France and Nice were served up a tough opener, home to Lyon, against whom we’ve enjoyed some great results in recent seasons largely thanks to OL’s Champion’s League commitments. No such worries this time for OL, we lost 3-1 and languish one from the bottom of the league. With such a high turnover of players, it’ll take the team a while to gel but there were some promising signs, though we’re still lacking firepower up front. Finally, work has commenced on OGCN’s new stadium which should be finished in time for the 2013/14 season and where we’ll be hosting some matches in Euro 2016. I’m hoping my beloved boys in claret and blue have a better start to their Premiership campaign this week end.

After a few days off the bike last week, I was keen to get back into my training plan. My coach has introduced some new home-trainer based exercises where I have to pedal while holding my breath. Not sure what that’s all about but I’ll get a chance to quiz him when we ride together on Wednesday. It’s only for a short period, but it’s more difficult than you might think. He’s also making me do a series of push ups. Probably trying to firm up the non-areodynamic batwings. He’s also persisting with the swimming to assist my legs to recuperate. But my legs rarely get tired and I never ever, suffer from a build up of lactic acid. My feet, on the other hand, are not faring so well. I spent much time on them while walking around San Sebastián and have been on my feet most of this week preparing for yesterday’s La Ronde and pointage where we usually cater for over 500 cyclists. It was a wash out. The race was cancelled as the course was too dangerous with water lying on the circuit’s corners. Still around 60 people turned up and enjoyed my home baked goodies. Of course, most of the provisions can go back into the club store cupboard to be brought out for the re-scheduled event while I can put my remaining cakes into the freezer, disaster averted.

7-year itch

Yesterday was pretty blissful. My beloved and I rose late, largely thanks to the clocks going forward and his tardy arrival back into Nice the night before. We breakfasted, dressed, mounted our bikes and headed for that morning’s pointage, just up the road in St Paul de Vence. The sky was overcast and it was obviously going to rain at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

We enjoyed our ride before collecting the newspapers and heading for home. Narrowly avoiding the rain, which fell all afternoon, evening and overnight. After lunch, I settled down on the sofa (suitably attired) to enjoy the newspapers and a veritable smorgasbord of cycling.

Up first was all three stages of the Criterium International, or Jens Voigt Invitational as it’s more commonly known. As if by magic, guess who was a sole breakaway on  stage 1? None other than Jens himself, putting the hurt on the other teams and paving the way for Frank Schleck’s (Leopard Trek) win atop L’Ospedale, ahead of Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). My beloved and I know this area well having ridden around here on a trip with the cycling club. Stage 2’s 75km sprint stage was won by  Skil-Shimano’s Simon Geschke, his first pro-win, while Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack) won the 7km time-trial around Porto Vecchio. The results of those subsequent stages left the podium unchanged.

Next up was Gent-Wevelgem, shorn of Fabulous Fabian, but still choc full of talent vying for the win and those valuable UCI points. Allegedly, Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was left to watch yesterday’s win on the television so that he could better perform today and “justify his salary” so-said his manager, Patrick Lefevre. As the television coverage started, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was leading a small group of escapees, validating beyond any shadow of a doubt his team’s invitation.

After Voeckler was re-absorbed into the peloton, various attacks were launched and brought back, the last one just a few hundred kilometers before the finish. The narrow, twisting, farm roads had snapped the peloton into several bunches, but the main contenders barr Goss, Cavendish, Hushovd and Pozzato were in the leading group which sprinted for the line. Boonen powered past everyone to snatch victory, 7 years after his last win here in 2004. Danieli Bennati (Leopard Trek) was 2nd and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) finished 3rd.

To win in the Classics, you need legs, luck and good positioning. Boonen had endured a long wait for the team car after a problem at the foot of the Monteberg, 74km from the finish, before expending not inconsiderable energy chasing back to the front of the peloton. While the manner of his victory was quite different from that of Cancellara’s, it will have boosted his confidence ahead of next week’s Tour of Flanders.

We then watched video highlights of the final day’s stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya won by the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, his 2nd stage win. Collecting not only precious UCI points for his team Cofidis, but also justifying their invitation to the event. The overall was won by Contador who had assumed the lead after Wednesday’s queen stage. If anything, his popularity in Spain, where he’s perceived as being victimised, has grown as the doping case has progressed. If I were Pat McQuaid, I would eliminate Spain from my immediate travel plans.

Finally, we caught up with the last day’s action from the track World Championships where Australia have dominated and others have disappointed. Sated, we opted for an early night. All that cycling’s exhausting.

Rider in red

I have had a busy couple of days. Tuesday we held our second meeting on next year’s Brevet Kivilev which we’re hoping to run as both a cyclosportif (timed) and a randonnee. Offering both should attract a wider field of entrants but will involve much more work and expense, the feasibility of which we’re currently exploring. This was followed by the regular Tuesday meeting where the licence renewals are started to trickle in.

Of course, four hours down the club meant I had to watch the highlights of that day’s Vuelta. Tuesday’s stage 4 totalling 183.8km from Malaga to Valdepenas de Jaen, was another hot day which included 3 categorized and 1 uncategorized climb plus a very steep ascent to the finish line. The heat and intestinal troubles accounted for yet another rider, Mark Cavendish’s wing man Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel abandoned, putting in jeopardy his participation in Melbourne.

Omega-Pharma Lotto led the chase to pull back the 4-man breakaway to protect Phil’s red jersey. The peloton splintered on the last col of the day with Katusha trying to set up “Purito”  for the win. The main contenders, apart from Sastre, were in the first group over the hill and down the other side to the last leg sapping climb of the day which looked to be well over 20%. It was won by Igor Anton ahead of Vicenzo Nibali and Peter Velits. As a consequence, Igor Anton moved into 2nd place behind Phil, with Joaquin Rodriguez in 3rd. Both are 10 seconds behind the leader.

Wednesday’s 198.8km stage from Guardix to Lorca commenced with a minute’s silence to honour Laurent Fignon, who sadly passed away the previous day. The media has been full of tributes for a rider much admired for his panache on the bike and his humility off it. Sadly, I never saw the “Professor” ride but I much enjoyed his commentary on French tv. He wasn’t a man to mince his words.

1960 - 2010 RIP

Wednesday was slightly cooler and while there were no cols to speak of the terrain was pretty much up and down all afternoon. The 4-man breakaway was hauled back in 12km from the finish line thanks to the efforts of the sprinter teams. Cavendish started his sprint too soon and provided Tyler Farrar with the perfect launch pad. They finished, in order, Farrar, Koldo Fernandez, Cavendish. No change on GC.

I meanwhile had spent the morning riding over to Monaco for another VO2max test. There was good news. I have lost weight, lost fat and improved my endurance. I think I’m going to concentrate on improving further these three aspects over the autumn and winter months. This means that exclusive subset of riders who weigh more than me will become much more inclusive.

Today’s Stage 6, a lumpy, 155km from Caravaca to Murcia, the home region of Luis Leon Sanchez (and Alejandro Valverde) saw the inevitable break away taken back into the peloton on the last ascent of the day. A number of the sprinters had managed to stay with the lead group and duked it out on the line. Thor Hushovd, resplendent in his Norwegian jersey, beat Danieli Bennati and Grega Bole. Phil maintained his grip on the leader’s jersey but it’s still far too early to rule out any of the favourites.

So much for global warming

A quick glance at the long-range weather forecast reveals a dismal outlook for the next two weeks: rain, rain and more rain. This will be particularly frustrating for those doing London-Paris who have signed up for either the one or two-week stage based at Stephen Roche’s hotel, just up the road in Villeneuve Loubet. It’s being organised by ex-pro and Eurosport commentator Emma Davies whom I’ll be meeting later this afternoon.

I had volunteered to lend Emma a helping hand but I generally don’t ride in the rain. There’s no need. But if it does rain solidly for two whole weeks, even I will be tempted to brave the elements. I have almost 15 hours of training scheduled in next week’s programme. I really can’t see me doing all that on the home trainer.

While this morning’s downpour has now desisted and there was even a few rays of sunshine around lunchtime, the sky has once more clouded over. Tomorrow the forecast is favourable and I may well go over to St Tropez to see the start of the Tour du Haut Var. No, I won’t ride all the way there. I’ll probably take the train to St Raphael, but may well ride all the way back.

I caught a glimpse of the Volta ao Algave yesterday where the peloton endured 6 hours in the driving rain. Good training maybe for the Belgian Classics but more will be wishing they were enjoying the temperate climes of  Oman, the Tour of which finishes with today’s decisive time-trial.  Tom Boonen (Quick Step) seems well placed at only 2 seconds back from current race leader, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).

Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) had a wee (no pun intended) bit of a dilemma the other day while wearing the race leader’s jersey which seems to have divided both fans and the peloton. Namely, should other teams have attacked the race leader while he was taking a comfort break? Normally not, but this was within 50km of the finish and hence he was fair game. My advice: Edvald you should have gone earlier.

Postscript: EBH won the ITT in Oman finishing 2nd on GC behind Fabulous Fabian, who was 2nd on the stage. Tommeke dropped to 11th overall. He’s going to have to do much better if he wants to enter Belgium on 4 July in yellow.