Finally a bride

Another gorgeous day and I could hardly wait to get out on the bike for today’s 3hr training ride, with interval sprints. I decided to go through Sophia-Antipolis to Valbonne and then onto Pre du Lac, returning by way of Pont du Loup, Vallon Rouge and La Colle sur Loup. The countryside was looking really verdant interspersed with big yellow clouds of Mimosa. I adore this time of year, when the trees are starting to bud and the bulbs are in flower.

As you well know, my greatest fear is that I will be despatched to meet my Maker by a lippy/mobile/cigarette (perm any two from three) waving, middle-aged woman in an aging, small, French car. Today while descending a hill a small, red, clapped out Renault overtook me and then slammed on the brakes, coming to a complete standstill,  before turning right across my bows: no signal, nothing.  Fortunately, I was concentrating, rather than contemplating the scenery, and was able to take last-minute evasive action. The driver had his side window open so I was able to let him know, in no uncertain words, exactly what I thought of this manoeuvre. I think it’s fair to say, he wasn’t a cyclist.

I arrived home in one piece and time to refuel before the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which I happily watched for over two hours in Flemish on the internet. Luckily, I can understand a fair amount of the language. I love watching races in Belgium where enthusiastic fans line every kilometer of the course. In fact, just about anything with a pulse in Belgium is a knowledgable fan of cycling. 

Obviously, I was hoping that Tom Boonen might add this race to his already impressive palmares. But Tom was undone by a puncture at an inopportune moment. Instead, it was Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), who soloed away from another of the favourites (Philippe Gilbert) with 19km to go and stayed away, winning his first Belgian Classic and becoming the first Spaniard to win this race. Given that he’s graced the podium on a number of occasions, you have to say this was a popular and well-deserved win.

Sky almost grabbed 2nd place as well but Edvald Boassen Hagen launched his sprint too early and was overtaken by Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions). Expect Omega-Pharma Lotto and Quickstep to try and exact revenge tomorrow.

Light rain is forecast for tomorrow so I may find myself on the home trainer cycling along while simultaneously watching Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and the League Cup Final. Fortunately, us girls know how to multi-task.

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.

Clouds in the Sky

After dropping my beloved off at the airport this morning I returned home. The storm clouds were gathering so, mindful of my VO2max test on Wednesday morning, I opted for an hour on the home trainer followed by a full frontal attack on the pile of administrative matters.

I stopped at lunchtime to watch Stage II of the Tour of Qatar where  cross-winds were creating havoc in the peloton. Mind you, Sky’s bad luck started in the neutralised zone when Kurt-Asle Arvesen crashed, breaking a collar bone. Sky were then caught out by Quick Step and Cervelo, who attacked, as echelons formed in the strong cross-winds, splintering the peloton. Boassen Hagen then punctured. They do say bad luck comes in threes.

As I started watching the transmission, there were a couple of escapees up the road, with over a 12 minute advantage, being chased by a group of 28, containing most of the favourites, although no one from HTC-Columbia or Sky. Joy upon joy, the two managed to stay away with Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) taking the stage win and Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) seizing the gold jersey. The two now have a 2 minute advantage over their nearest rivals. So much for me thinking that Edvald Boassen Hagen would hang on to gold.

Elsewhere, the more mature riders continue to rock. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) held off Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) to win the Trofeo Cala Millor in Majorca.

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

My 2009 highlights

Cyclingnews has asked a number of industry insiders for their highlights of the 2009 cycling season. Incredible as it may seem, they failed to ask me! I know, maybe their email is sitting in my spam.

Best Performance: A number of worthy candidates, but for me it has to be Fabulous Fabian’s victory in the ITT in Mendrisio. He was just so dominant, so majestic and had so much time on everyone else that he was celebrating 100 metres from the finish line. This man is in a class of his own.

Honourable mentions:- 1) The Manx Missile for his win in Milan-San Remo and his 6 wins in the Tour. 2) Philippe Gilbert for his season ending flourish.

Best Team: In anyone’s book, best team = most wins = Columbia HTC.

Biggest Disappointment(s): Rebellin, Astaloza and Colom. Need I say more.

Rider to watch in 2010: Generally I find it’s riders who have changed teams to be given a greater role on a new one. Some will deliver and some won’t. As a consequence, I suspect all eyes will be on Sky and riders such as Edvald Boassen Hagen, Simon Gerrans, Serge Pauwels, Bradley Wiggins et al. However, my tips for 2010: Alexandre Vinokourov, back to prove the UCI and critics that they were wrong; and, this man, the indefatigable Johnny Hoogerland.

Most Memorable Race: Cadel Evans attacking to win the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio and confounding all of his critics.

 

Biggest Surprise: Bert bonking in Paris-Nice but he redeemed himself the following day by continuously attacking thereby winning over the French. Though whether they’d have been as charitable if he’d knocked housewives’ favourite Sylvain Chavanel off the podium is debatable.

On top of the world

Today was my first time up Mont Chauve, a short but steep climb between

View from Mont Chauve
View from Mont Chauve

Falicon and Aspremont. I had not done this one before as in previous years I would have already headed off to the World Cycling Championships to work as a volunteer. Their loss this year is my gain. I momentarily flirted with taking part in the race up the hill but eventually decided against it. Maybe next year, now that I know what’s involved. I passed the race in progress on the way down. There were no female participants and immediately regretted not having taken part. Of course, I would have been last overall but the first (and only) woman. My husband broke a spoke on the ascent and so, rather than head back  via Aspremont, we descended back into Nice and rode home along the coastal road.

Valverde
Valverde

The Vuelta finishes today and this man is going to win his first Grand Tour.  He’s looked pretty secure in gold and has ridden a smart race; for once,  sacrificing stage victories for the bigger picture. Joining him on the podium will be Sammy Sanchez (2nd) and Cadel “Cuddles” Evans (3rd). Commentators have unfairly been referring to Cadel as the “nearly man”. Wholly unjustified. Aside from the inopportune timing of that puncture, you’ve only got to look at the composition of his team and compare it to Valverde’s to understand their respective placings. 

ToB 2009 Podium
ToB 2009 Podium

The Tour of Great Britain concluded yesterday in London. Columbia HTC hoovered up most of the stages, and the overall, with Edvald Boassen Hagen, already a firm favourite with the crowds,  who will be riding next year for Britain’s new Sky Team.  Two riders, the afore-mentioned EBH and Thomas De Gendt, Topsport Vlaanderen, swiped all the jerseys. 

My beloved boys in claret and blue easily beat Pompey, my Dad’s former team, at home. Fittingly, the man of the match was Pompey’s goal-keeper, David James, one of my favourite footballers. I still rue the day that Villa sold him to West Ham. Meanwhile, Nice have continued their slide to the penultimate place in the league (thank goodness for Grenoble). Beaten 1-3 at home in the local derby with Monaco, a team whose fortunes are going in the reverse of ours.