Hanging up their helmets

A number of riders have announced their intention to retire. For some it’s recognition that it’s time to step down and for others it’s the realisation that injuries have called time on their careers. So in 2011 we’re bidding a fond farewell to a number of luminaries, most notably 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, Ag2r’s Cyril Dessel who graced the yellow jersey in 2007 and long serving domestiques Inigo Cuesta, Kurt Asle Arvesen, Charlie Wegelius, Sylvain Calzati and, one of my faves, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta.

On Tuesday evening this week, at the Hotel Castillo de Gorraiz, in Pamplona, 39-year old “Txente” called time on a career that had spanned 17 seasons in the pro-peloton after starting as a stagiare in 1994. The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are not going to be quite the same without him setting tempo on the front of the peloton for a large part of the race. At 186cm and 76kg, he’s a member of that very select sub-set of riders who weigh more than me. However, with a resting heart beat of 50, he’s obviously in better shape. He’s one of the few current riders (along with Frederic Guesdon, Pablo Lastras and David Moncoutie) to have spent his entire professional career with the same team throughout it’s various guises and has ridden in support of some notable riders such as Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano (with whom he won GP Eddy Merckx in 1998), Alex Zuelle, Jose Marie Jiminez, Oscar Pereiro and (the soon to return) Alejandro Valverde under the guidance of first Jose Miguel Echavarri and, since 2008, Eusebio Unzue.

He has a modest, but nonetheless impressive, palmares which includes a stage win in the Tour de France. He won from a breakaway on Bastille Day 2000, on 185km Stage 13 from Avignon to Draguignan, ahead of a Frenchman. He also won two stages in the Vuelta (1997 Stage 14 and 2002 Stage 19), a stage win and the overall in the 1996 Tour of Navarra, 2nd stage of the 2003 Vuelta a Burgos, 3rd stage in 2006 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and been part of 4 team time trial victories. He’s taken part in 27 Grand Tours (12 Tours, 14 Vueltas), finishing 26. He failed to finish this year’s Vuelta after a fall on stage 5, on the Alto de Valdepenas de Jaen, where he fractured his arm, ribs and vertebrae, forcing the temporary postponement of his retirement announcement which he’d planned to make in Madrid. With 14 completed Vuelta’s under his belt only Inigo Cuesta and Federico Echave have completed more. Txente claims his favourite race is the Tour de France, not the Vuelta.

A Basque by birth (Pasaia, Guipuzcoa), he now resides in nearby Tafalla in Navarra where he’s going to be spending the next couple of months enjoying his retirement and pondering his next move. Whatever it is I wish him, and all the other retirees, the best of luck in their new careers.

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

 

Vive La Vuelta V

Yesterday’s summit finish atop the ski station Manzaneda was won by one of my favourite riders, David Moncoutie. He looked absolutely delighted with his Vuelta stage win en route to what I hope will be his 4th consecutive spotted, mountain’s jersey. He’s also decided to ride for another year in Cofidis’s colours a decision which will, no doubt, have found favour with his team manager, team sponsor and team mates.

Sky perfectly marshalled yesterday’s stage and we were treated to the rare sight of the GC leader, Sky’s red-jersey clad Chris Froome, working tirelessly at the front of the peloton, as promised, for team mate and, the better bet for the overall, Bradley Wiggins. Brits in the leader’s jersey, rarer than hen’s teeth? Not as rare as you might think.

British born but Belgian bred, Michael Wright first flew the flag and wore the jersey for one day in 1968’s Vuelta. Winning a 2nd stage into Salou enabled him to take the leader’s jersey for a day. Rudi Altig seized it the next day. The following year he did rather better, winning the first road stage and holding onto the jersey for 2 days.

More success followed, almost 20 year’s later, when, in 1985, the Scottish climber, Robert Millar pulled on the jersey at the end of the 10th stage and successfully defended it until the 17th (of 19 stages). Unfortunately, on stage 17, he punctured and Pedro Delgado attacked. Millar was isolated from his team mates and no one else would work with him to chase down the leaders. He finished the Vuelta second overall to Delgado. The following year, Millar was again second overall having led for 5 days in the middle of the race before losing the jersey to the eventual winner, Alvaro Pino, in the individual time-trial. Coincidentally, Pino comes from where today’s Vuelta stage started: Pontreareas.

His namesake, no relation, Scot David Millar won the 12.3km time trial in Salamanca in 2001 and held onto the leader’s jersey until stage four, losing it to Santiago Botero in a crash on the run in to Gijon. Last year, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish became the 4th Brit to lead the Vuelta when his team won the night time TTT in Seville. He was the first rider to wear the new red leader’s jersey and he held it for 2 days.

On Monday, Brit registered, Kenyan-born, Chris Froome became the surprise leader of the Vuelta after coming second to stage winner HTC’s Tony Martin in the race’s only individual time trial, one place ahead of Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Froome had been riding tirelessly in support of  Wiggins since the start of the race, a job he confirmed he would continue to perform, red jersey or no red jersey.

Bradley Wiggins, a rider in the form of his life according to those in the know, took over the race lead from his team mate yesterday after the pair had upped the pace on the final climb of stage 11. This didn’t stop JRod from zipping off the front to recoup a bit of time, but at this rate he’s not going to gain back enough time before Madrid.

Today’s stage, 167.3km into Pontevedra didn’t present any real difficulties for the GC contenders, it being a rare stage for the sprinters, many of whom (Cavendish, Goss, Farrar, Freire) have already departed. So, would it be an opportunity for the “old guard” (Boonen, Bennati, Patacchi) or one of the new (Kittel, Degenkolb, Sagan)?

Fabulous Fabian gave Leopard Trek team mate Daniele Bennati the perfect lead out, but it was Liquigas’s Peter Sagan, who had been astutely hopping from wheel to wheel, who prevailed ahead of HTC’s John Degenkolb. Astana’s Frederik Kessiakoff and Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema seized the opportunity to grab back a handful of seconds on the other GC contenders. Nonetheless, Sky’s Bradley Wiggins retains the overall leader’s red jersey.

Here’s the current top 20 GC standings:-

General classification after stage 12
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 46:53:47
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:09
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:10
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:19
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:06
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:27
9 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:53
10 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:00
11 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:01
12 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:22
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
14 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:03
16 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:39
17 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:47
18 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:50
19 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:04:06
20 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:21

Trifling pleasures

My beloved returned on Friday evening feeling a bit fatigued from an exhausting schedule of meetings. Yesterday, given he hadn’t ridden for a week, we had a pleasurable 65km meander around the area. Week ends I’m happy to follow his lead as I’ve plenty of opportunity to practise my prescribed exercises during the week. We’ll probably do a ride of a similar length today in the company of our friend who’s recovering from a collision with a car a few month’s back. Then it’ll be back up the Col de Vence on Monday morning before my afternoon departure to the UK.

We had dinner with a group of friends yesterday evening on the beach. It was a fun evening. With all three girls contributing to the veritable feast, no one was overburdened with work. I had prepared guacamole to stave off their hunger pangs while I cooked the burgers in our friend’s nearby apartment. She provided the accompanying chips and ice cream dessert while our other friend made a trio of delicious salads. The boys enjoyed being waited on hand and foot and worked off any excess calories with a swim and games of waterpolo, football and volleyball. This is my second trip to the beach in recent weeks, and something of a record for me, however the silly cycling sun tan lines persist.  I was in good company yesterday with five out of eight of us bearing similarly distinguishing marks.

Our friend is off on Wednesday to take part in the Vuelta during which he’ll be absent for his wife’s birthday, an occupational hazard. As a consequence, we’re all getting together again this evening for sushi at their place. This is something I have never attempted to make but his wife is a superb cook, so I know it’ll be fabulous. This time I’ve offered to make dessert. I had thought about something vaguely Japanese, such as green tea ice cream, which I adore. But it’s an acquired taste, so I’ll probably make more of a crowd pleaser and something which will appeal to their two hollow legged sons. I have some lemon scented sponge hangingabout in the cake tin which when drenched in my special liquer-enhanced raspberry sauce and then covered in layers of fresh raspberries, custard and cream will make a rather sinful ending to a virtuous dinner.

After this morning’s ride, my beloved and I will be checking out the final stage of the Eneco Tour which has turned into a rather more absorbing contest than anticipated. This race is generally won by a good time-triallist, another one of whom may win this year. Former race winner, Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen is currently leading while Garvelo’s David Millar and BMC rookie and prologue winner Taylor Phinney are respectively third and fourth on GC . Up there in the mix, and for whom today’s stage (22 bergs) might have been specifically planned, is Thursday’s stage winner, Classics King, PhilGil who is 12 seconds back. It’s going to be close but Belgium might be just about to get it’s first winner of this race.

Over in the Tour de L’Ain, Vuelta-bound David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in search of a 4th consecutive mountain’s jersey, took the GC from Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) on the final day’s stage which was won by his much younger compatriot, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The Vuelta’s looking a more interesting race this year with a number of riders who exited the Tour early thanks to injuries (Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck) deciding to contest the final three week stage race of the year. On the other side of the pond, ahead of tomorrow’s final stage, RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer seems to have a lock on the leader’s jersey. in the Tour of Utah.

When I’m going to fit in watching today’s MotoGP racing from Brno in the Czech Republic has yet to be determined. It would appear as if I’ve been ignoring my most recent sporting interest, I haven’t. It’s just that I’ve not had time to do it justice in my blog, but I will. I promise. I managed to catch a bit of the qualifying yesterday. Dani Pedrosa has seized his first pole start of the season in MotoGP, while Marc Marquez has his 3rd consecutive pole in Moto2 and Nico Terol, as usual, is on pole in 125cc class.

Swimmingly

As part of my training programme I’ve been swimming on alternate days. I verified with my coach that he didn’t expect me to be steaming up and down the pool during my 30 minute session. Instead, the pressure from the water is intended to help my legs recover from the previous day’s exertions. I should add that operation “Elimination of silly tan lines” is going nowhere. I typically swim as soon as the pool opens, while the pool is still partly in the shade, and then beat a hasty retreat. On the other mornings, I’ve ridden for 3-4hours in the sunshine which has only exacerbated the situation. I feel it’s now reached irretrievable proportions.

My beloved, having spent all day yesterday (a French Bank Holiday) meeting with potential clients in Nice,  is spending today with the same clients before heading off to a meeting in London on Saturday. We were supposed to be departing on vacation on Saturday morning. Our departure has been postponed by a day. However, strict rules on the use of Blackberries and the internet will be in-force while we’re away. I have to take this draconian approach otherwise my beloved will say “I’ve just got to tend to a couple of emails” and two hours later I’ll still be waiting. The only reason I drag him away on vacation is to get him away from the office and work. In this respect cycling is an excellent distraction. My beloved, like me, has not mastered the art of cycling while answering his mobile and once, in situ, near the big screen, at the arrival town, it’s almost impossible to hear oneself think let alone conduct a conversation on one’s mobile. So I’ll be encouraging him to post a holiday message on all his email accounts and mobile phone.

The French newspapers are full of Thomas Voeckler’s heroic defence of the yellow jersey and, to a lesser extent, the exploits of the other French riders on yesterday’s stage. The stage winner, Olympic Champion Sammy Sanchez recording his first ever Tour win, barely gets a look in. However, one would expect parochial and partisan reporting. I’ve no doubt that the pink pages of Gazzetta will have been evaluating the performances and chances of Messrs Cunego and Basso. The pages of La Marca have given more than adequate coverage to Sanchez, both his win and his on-going opportunities. Naturally enough, Contador’s form, or lack of, is examined in detail. So I thought if I really wanted to appreciate Sammy’s win I should head on over to check out the pages of Berria, the only newspaper written in Basque.  And sure enough:-

Super Samu

“Frantziako Tourra

Luz Ardiden Sanchezena izan da

Euskaltel-Euskadikoak “ametsa bete” du Tourreko Luz Ardidengo etapa irabazita. Samuel Sanchezek, arriskatuta eta urrutitik erasoa jota, gogor eutsi dio helmugaraino, eta azkenean Vanendert atzean uztea lortu eta 12. etapa irabazi du. Laranja izan zen atzoko kolore nagusia. Ehunka euskal zale izan ziren atzo, festa giroan, etapaz gozatzen. “

While, I’m assuming none of my readers speak Basque , I think it’s pretty easy to work out what’s being said in the introductory paragraph. Needless to say Samu was awarded more than adequate coverage for his magnificent win.

Today’s Stage 13 has been billed as one of transition where it’s highly probable that a breakaway containing those riders way out of contention on GC might succeed. The slightly mitigating factor being the distance on the flat to the finish in Lourdes from the base of the Col du Soulor. I rode part of this last year. We cycled from Bagneres du Bigorre to the top of the Col d’Aubisque and then retreated to just below the summit of the  Col du Soulor to have lunch and watch the race unfold both on the road and on the television. You might remember  this was the day Lance got into a small breakaway.  After the race had finished, we rode back. The descent is fast but not technical. Maybe Alberto should light a few candles in Lourdes at the end of today’s 152.5km stage from Pau before climbing into the Saxobank team bus. It’s just a thought.

Stage Postscript: When they showed birds of prey feeding on a carcass during today’s stage I was relieved to see it was a lamb and not a rider. Everyman and his dog tried to get in this morning’s breakaway but it was only when FDJ’s Jeremy Roy, Mr Breakaway 2011, joined a group of 9 other riders that the break stuck. That break blew apart on the Col d’Aubisque but it was on the descent that Thor Hushovd (Garmin), one of the breakaways,  made what was to be the winning move to catch first David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and then the luckless Roy, within 2.3km of the finish, to register his 63rd win. Roy was in tears as he crossed the line in third place. He has taken the spotted jersey and the prize for the day’s most combative rider, but he knew these were scant consolation.  He’d narrowly missed the big one – a Tour stage win.

Double rations

We left for this morning’s ride under a cloudy sky which, thankfully, soon cleared. The club’s ranks had been depleted by a number of riders racing elsewhere today. Nonetheless, those remaining set a cracking pace and, once let off the leash, weren’t seen again; at least, not by me. I rode along at my own pace enjoying the warm sunshine, the fresh air and the arrival of Spring.

I shortened the prescribed club ride to get back home in time to finish preparing lunch. French television coverage of Paris-Nice was scheduled for 13:30 and I wanted lunch to be long over by then so that I could lounge on the sofa and enjoy the race.

With 70km to go, the peloton, under sunny skies, were reeling back in the two breakaway artists, Euskaltel’s Gorka Izagirre and Europcar’s Damien Gaudin. It took them another 30km to accomplish that feat. Two kms later Jeremy Roy (FDJ) set off, pursued by Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil). They never got more than 50 seconds ahead but worked well together, took advantage of the confusion in the chasing peloton, particularly through the urban streets, and a strong tail-wind in the final 6kms.

Belgian Thomas De Gendt prevailed in the sprint to land the biggest win of his career ahead of Roy. Voigt was swallowed by the advancing herd, Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) took 3rd. Most riders came home in the bunch but the wind had provoked a number of breaks in the peloton and those lingering down the back had been tailed off, most notably David Moncoutie (Cofidis). He was keeping Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky), who had crashed, company 8 minutes back.

When the race finished we decided to take a walk along the seafront in the sunshine. Everyone else had the same idea. The promenade was packed with people strolling, dog-walking, cycling, in-line skating, scooting or just sitting and watching. Business was booming at most of the cafes and restaurants.

We came back to discover Eurosport had delayed its transmission, so I watched the race again. If I were Jeremy Roy, I would have offered thanks to the gods when I saw that Jens Voigt, eminence grise of the peloton, had joined the breakaway, along with Thomas De Gendt. They worked well together, no one shirked their turn on the front and all three gave it their all. Wondering whether or not the peloton would catch them in the new radio-free environment made for an exciting race. Interestingly, commentators on both channels felt that, if the breakway managed to stay away,  De Gendt would win. I recall him hoovering up the KOM and points jersey in the 2009 Tour of Britain when he was riding for Topsport Vlaaderen.

Contenders

I had a good ride this morning with my beloved and, given the great weather, we decided to go out for a late lunch, followed by a long walk along the coast. As a consequence, I’ve only just had time to cast my eye over the start list for tomorrow’s 69th edition of Paris-Nice and think about who might win this year, in the absence of the defending champion, Alberto Contador, who won today’s 2nd stage in the Tour of Mucia ahead of Denis Menchov and Jerome Coppel (going from strength to strength at Saur-Sojasun).

L’Equipe devoted half a page today to last year’s revelation, Peter Sagan who, having shone in the recent Tour of Sardinia, is obviously on form and keen to seize his opportunities. He’s not the only young gun keen to cement his credentials. Over at HTC-High Road, there’s Tony Martin and Tejay van Garderen plus Ritchie Porte at SaxoBank-Sungard and Jurgen van den Broeck at Omega Pharma-Lotto. The latter’s team mate, Philippe Gilbert sparkled on the Strade Bianchi today finishing in Siena ahead of Allessandro Ballan, Damiano Cunego and Spartacus.

Let’s not forget the old guard,  those who have triumphed before in the race to the sun, such as Luis Leon Sanchez and Alexandre Vinokourov. The latter’s bought plenty of support with Tomas Viatkus, Robert Kisverlovski and Roman Kreuziger. Also in the reckoning for the overall, Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack).

If we’re looking for stage winners, we should look to the French who are always “en forme” in the early season: Voeckler, Fedrigo, Le Mevel, Moinard, Peraud, Moncoutie, Pauriol. Personally, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the boys in orange: Sammy Sanchez, Romain Sicard and Gorka Izagirre.

The 1,307km route kicks off tomorrow with 154.5km from Houdan to Houdan. Yes, they’re going round in circles. Monday’s one for the sprinters too. Look out for Grega Bola (Lampre-ISD) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). The rest of the sprinters, with an eye on the Classics, are doing Tirreno-Adriatico.

After two flattish stages, it gets progressively lumpy on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday. (I’ll be there), sees a 27km ITT from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence. This could be the decisive stage. Next up is 215km, and the longest stage, from Brignoles to Biot followed by 124km around Nice, including the Category 1 climbs up La Turbie and Col d’Eze. Never one to miss an opportunity to watch live racing in my backyard, I’ll be seeing both of these stages.

There are no testing climbs in the race and one wouldn’t expect them at this stage of the season. The winner will be a puncheur who can time-trial. I would suggest we should look no further than Alexandre Vinokourov who last won the race in 2003 (homage to Andrei Kivilev) and 2004. He’s made it one of his priorities this year and he’s a guy who can focus – go Alex go.

Don’t look

My beloved has departed for the US and I finally have some free time. When I say “free”, I mean free from looking after him. To illustrate my point, this morning I found, on the laundry floor, the shirt he’d worn yesterday for a 2 hour  business meeting. Obviously, this wasn’t all he wore yesterday. Now you understand why I’m constantly battling a mountain of ironing

Sunday’s pointage at Aspremont was run under similar climatic conditions to the last two Sundays: damp and overcast. Which is a bit of a shame as you can’t enjoy the spectacular views over Nice that this route normally affords. Although it did allow me to check on the progress of a couple of newly built, rather magnificent properties.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Aspremont as it was the location of my first ever pointage with the club. This is the second one of the season which we ascend by way of Pessicart. Obviously, we’re the only club to chose this route. I say that because no one overtook me, once I’d been dropped by my clubmates. The other clubs had chosen to ascend either via Falicon or Castagniers.

By the time I arrived at the pointage, just before 10 o’clock, my team mates had already supped and left. I have to say, it was pretty poor fare at the pointage: remnants of a madeira cake, slices of salami and very wrinkly prunes. Definitely a case of “could do better.” No toques to be awarded here. I left promptly and descended via Castagniers passing Christophe Le Mevel coming in the other direction. Obviously, no lasting effects from his fall last week which caused him to abandon the Tour of the Med.

My hasty retreat enabled me to get back home and prepare a quick pasta lunch for my beloved so we could drive to Toulon and atop Mont Faron before the riders arrived on the ultimate stage of the Tour of the Med. Sadly our GPS system tried in vain to get us to the top of Mont Faron by a non-existent route. We eventually found the correct road, but not before it was closed to traffic. Cue park car and walk.

This was my maiden ascension of Mont Faron. Given the narrowness of the road and the lack of barriers along its sheer drops, I was grateful for the grey mist which obscured the view, although I could see the outline of Toulon spread out before me. It looks like a French version of Portsmouth. As we walked I handed out the flyers for the Kivilev: never one to waste any opportunity.

We found a great spot to view the race’s progress and my beloved would have had some superb photos if he had remembered to replace his memory card! Nonetheless, it’s always interesting witnessing the riders’ pain at close quarters. The ascent is tricky. I’ve mentioned that it’s narrow. In addition, the surface is in poor condition and it winds round and round in rapidly undulating gradients, some of which are rather steep.

As Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) passed, you could tell he was “on the rivet”. He was closely followed by David Moncoutie (Cofidis) who was looking much more at ease and in control. His experience of this particular hill showed. He knew when, how and where to measure his effort.

The peloton shattered about 4km from the top under the various attacks. Riders who were handily placed on GC behind Romain Feillu, and who you might have expected to finish well up the order, with the exception of Thomas Voeckler, were suffering. So the three who finished atop Mont Faron also finished atop the podium: Moncoutie, Peraud and Poels (Vacansoleil).  

Descending was equally dangerous, as the riders sped back down to get to their buses. I didn’t fear the professionals, just the amateurs trying (in vain) to stay on their wheels. While I would like to ride up Mont Faron, descending on such narrow roads without the benefit of a barrier might be too much. I would probably have to take the cable car (hands over eyes) back down. The Mont is also crisscrossed with eye-wateringly steep mountain bike trails: again, only for the brave and skilful.

Omnipresent

A headline in last week end’s Nice Matin caught my eye “je ne suis pas prete pour le cyclotourisme”. This was said by Jeannie Longo in a recent, frank  interview on the occasion of her 52nd birthday. I, for one, am delighted. It’s bad enough having to compete with the one or two local riders who fall into my age group without adding Jeannie into the mix. 

Always a winner

I have an enormous amount of admiration for this lady who is head and shoulders “France’s greatest ever cyclist” of either sex. Just look at her impressive palmares: 4 Olympic medals in 7 participations, 13 World Championships, 57 French titles, 3 Tours de France  and those are just the highlights! On the two occasions I have encountered her this year she has been generous with her time, modest to a fault and very encouraging of younger cyclists.

She puts her longevity down to her ability to adapt. I would put it down  her mental fortitude, professionalism and will to win. She also gives a few tips on how she maintains her svelte frame at 43 kilos: plenty of “Bio” fruit and vegetables and only whole grain bread spread with unpasteurised butter. I’ve taken note.

Interestingly, she cites Cancellara as her favourite sports person. He’s not just Jeannie’s. This year, for the first time, he was awarded the prestigious Velo d’Or, although he has podiumed for the last four years. This trophy is presented by French magazine Velo to the outstanding cyclist of the season based on votes cast by an international jury of journalists. It’s an award that tends to favour Grand Tour winners. The last Classics riders to win it were Bettini in 2006 and Boonen in 2005, who also combined Classics wins with  rainbow jerseys.

Contador had won the Velo d’Or for the last three successive years but, this year, after recent revelations, finds himself in 2nd place, well down on Cancellara. In third place was Andy Schleck, who also picked up the award for best young rider.  Obviously, 2nd, or even maybe 1st, in the Tour tops Nibali’s 3rd in the Giro and 1st in the Vuelta. The award for the best French rider went to the ever-smiling Tommy Voeckler, just pipping French housewives’ favourite, Sylvain Chavanel. Velo do not have an equivalent award for the ladies. If they did, Jeannie would easily have won it the most number of times.

Due to some administrative oversight, Velo did not canvass my opinion in this year’s competition. However, I’m broadly in agreement with the results, save my top three would have been: 1. Fabulous Fabian, 2. Vicenzo Nibali, 3. Andy Schleck. This preference would be reflected in my podium for best young rider: 1. Vicenzo Nibali, 2. Andy Schleck, 3. Mark Cavendish. My favourite Frenchman would have been Davide Moncoutie (sorry Tommy!).

Many nations seem to have awards for their top cyclists of the season. Here’s my guess on who should get what, where:-

  • Belgium – Phil Gil
  • Holland – Gesink
  • Spain – Hot Rod
  • Italy – Nibali
  • Norway – Hushovd
  • Denmark – Breschel
  • Sweden – Larsson
  • Finland – Veikkonen
  • Britain – Cavendish
  • USA – Phinney
  • Canada – Hesjedal
  • Ireland – Martin D
  • Kazakhstan – Vino
  • Columbia – Duque
  • Portugal – Machado
  • Russia – Menchov
  • Australia – Evans
  • Luxembourg – Schleck Jr
  • Switzerland – Fabulous Fabian
  • Germany – No one, cycling has been banished from the public conscience, but it should be Greipel
  • Japan – Arashiro
  • Czech Republic – Kreuziger
  • Slovakia – Sagan
  • Estonia – Taaramae
  • Austria – Eisel
  • Poland – Niemiec
  • Ukraine – Grivko

Apologies, I was starting to get carried away there but this is only reflective of the sport’s globalisation. I’m aware that I’ve made no distinction between older and younger riders and I’ve omitted numerous countries, but c’est la vie.

Vuelta wrap

What a fantastic Vuelta which maintained the suspense right up until the final summit on the pen-ultimate day. But the “Shark”, having gotten his teeth into the red jersey (again) wasn’t going to be shaken loose and he managed to claw (not that sharks have claws) his way back onto Mosquera’s wheel. As a consolation, Mosquera won his first Grand Tour stage while Nibali sealed the leader’s and combined jerseys. As predicted (by me and pretty much everyone else), Cavendish won the points and Moncoutie the mountain’s. Consolation for Joaquin Rodriguez as he has now climbed atop the UCI rankings.  

The Vuelta threw up some surprises, not all of them pleasant:

1) Denis Menchov, 2nd in the time-trial, who finished 41st on GC. Clearly, despite nicking 3rd spot in the Tour thanks to his performance in the time-trial from my beloved Samu Sanchez, it took more out of Denis than anyone realised. He woz rubbish!

2) Peter Velits on the podium – no one saw that one coming. HTC-Columbia’s first GT podium. The Velits twins and Peter Sagan: don’t mess with Slovakia.

3) Some consolation for my beloved boys in orange: 3 stage wins and Mikel Nieve’s 12 place on GC. All good omens for 2011.

4) David Moncoutie’s mountains jersey (3rd consecutive) and his re-signing for another (final?) year with Cofidis.

5) He’s on his way back from the wilderness: Andrey Kashechkin’s 18th place on GC in his first real ride in 3 years.

6) Christophe Le Mevel’s 15th place on GC: some consolation late in the season.

7) Nico Roche 7th on GC: clearly a chip off the “old block”.

8) Jan Bakelandts 19th on GC: keep an eye on him.

9) Will he, won’t he? Fabulous Fabian jumps ship, leaving both SaxoBank and the Vuelta in the lurch. He may not even go to the World’s after being beaten by both Velits and Menchov in the Vuelta ITT. The SaxoBank cupboard is starting to look rather bare.

10) Using the Vuelta as a predictor of form for the World Championships, you have to say watch out for Philippe Gilbert in Geelong.

 What more can I say? A brilliant 3 weeks of racing, much appreciated by the viewing public, whether on the roadside or in front on the screen. In fact the lack of some of the bigger names may have made the outcome, and the racing, less predictable. It also helped that the Vuelta finished 2 weeks before the Men’s Road Race at the World Championship’s in Melbourne. Full credit must go to the organisers, Unipublic, for staging what most people feel is the best Vuelta in a long time. Long may it continue.

Vuelta Espana 2010 Final Overall Classification

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 87hrs 18’ 33”
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia + 41”
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia + 3’ 02”
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha + 4’ 20”
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank + 4’ 43”
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 4’ 52”
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale + 5’ 03”
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 6’ 06”
9 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions + 6’ 09”
10 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne + 7’ 35”

Mountain Classification
1 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 51pts
2 Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 43
3 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 36

Points Classification
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Team HTC-Columbia 156pts
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions 149
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 119

Team Classification
1 Team Katusha 261hrs 48’ 04”
2 Caisse d’Epargne + 35”
3 Xacobeo Galicia + 12′ 33”