Bidding a fond farewell to Igor Anton

Like many cycling fans, I’m experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a thrilling Vuelta a Espana 2018. I just love it when you don’t know who’s going to win until the last few stages. It’s so much more exciting. I was bitterly disappointed not to go to any stages this year, particularly as the race started in Andalucia, and also visited Asturias and the Basque country. All places I love to visit.

Our first Vuelta was 2011, when we went to watch the stages which started and finished in Bilbao. Stage 19, the first stage of the Vuelta to be held in the Basque country for over 30 years, was fittingly won by Basque rider Igor Anton, then riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi #Carrots.

I say fittingly because the previous year Anton had crashed out of the Vuelta while wearing the red leader’s jersey. His brave soldier face and bloodied body as he was folded into his team car is an abiding memory. Sadly, he never again reached such heady heights and on Sunday bought the curtain down on his illustrious 14 year professional career (incl. GC win in Vuelta Asturias, 4 stages in Vuelta a Espana, 1 stage Giro d’Italia, 2 stages Tour de Romandie, 3rd on GC at Tour de Suisse).

The 35 year-old Basque from Galdakao in Vizcaya started his professional career with the Euskaltel ‚Äď Euskadi team in 2005 and when it sadly folded nine years later, he joined Movistar in 2014 before signing for what was to be his last team, Dimension Data in 2016.

Anton explained why he was retiring in an open letter:

The Vuelta a Espana has defined me as a person in many aspects, it is where I achieved my best results, it gave me some of my best moments and some of my worst moments. Therefore, after thinking well about my career, I have decided that tomorrow I will end my career with my final race number, 102.

It is a fitting scenario and race to bring this adventure I have been on to an end. This chapter of my life has been unbelievable, and I would not want to change anything because I have been privileged to make a small contribution to the long and magnificent history of the sport of cycling.

I want to say a big THANKS to all the partners that supported me at my 3 teams; Euskaltel-Euskadi, Movistar Team and Dimension Data for Qhubeka. From the first day of my career until this very last moment I have been backed by these incredible organisations. At Team Dimension Data I had three very special years and it was a great experience to be part of this unique project, it made my career so much more interesting.

I want to remember my mother MaryJose in this time, who I dearly miss. She sacrificed a lot for me and put in great effort to help me achieve my dream. Also, my father, he allowed me to pursue this career. My wife, she suffered with me through all of the bad moments but always stayed by my side to help me through the tough situations. Then to my loving daughter Udane, because she is my engine now.

I’d like to wish Anton all the best, much happiness and every success in whatever he decides to do next.

Saved by a man on four wheels

Saved by Alonso
Saved by Alonso

Rumours started circulating on Friday evening not long after publication of my little homage to Euskaltel-Euskadi on the VeloVoices website. The hope was that an as yet unnamed bank, but¬†thought to be¬†Santander,¬†would step into the breach and #SaveourCarrots. Finally, the news broke mid-day yesterday that F1’s Fernando Alonso¬†had reached agreement to acquire the squad. Twitter timelines everywhere were filled with joy and happiness. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch.

I had speculated on this possibility a few years ago and am now wondering whether or not it might set a trend. That is cycling fans who compete at the highest levels, in better remunerated and sponsored sports, leveraging their financial muscle for the good of another sport. Are some of the F1 pilots who live in Monaco and regularly ride with the resident pro cyclists also going to set up squads?

It’s an interesting business model and at a stroke Alonso has won himself a whole new set of fans around the globe, not just in the Basque country. The news certainly bucked up the boys in orange with three of them finishing in the top ten on yesterday’s monster stage in the Vuelta¬†a Espana and being top squad on the day. I’m sure a few glasses were clinked¬†over the dinner table after yesterday evening’s monster transfer and they’re probably still talking about it over breakfast on today’s rest day. While a number of the riders had been actively courted by other squads – whose aspirations have now been dented by the news – many plus the team staff were facing uncertainty and probable unemployment.

It’s also been a shot in the arm for other teams looking for sponsors. Even now team managers are probably scanning the Forbes list of the 50 highest paid sportsmen, of which Alonso is one, and checking whether any list cycling as an interest or hobby. It’s got to be worth a try!

The Euskaltel¬†team, which moved away from it’s purely Basque or Basque developed origins this season, will probably stay relatively close to its Northern Spanish roots as it moves just along the coast to Asturias – home of both team leader Samu¬†Sanchez and Alonso –¬†as there’s a veritable hot bed of talent thanks to the support the sport enjoys at the grass roots¬†level. Wisely, team management and indeed Samu¬†himself have played this very close to their chests and even now are reluctant to go into too much detail. Frankly, they need to focus on the task in hand, amassing enough UCI points between now and the end of the season to justify¬†remaining a¬† WorldTour team.

And the winners are………………….

The UCI announced today (see list below) in effect the 18 teams which will make up next season’s premier division, the World Tour. While two are still pending, one assumes they’ll be ratified in due course. The French will have the bunting out as there are now two teams in the top-tier as FDJ¬†joins AG2R. No room at the inn for Tommy Voeckler’s¬†Europcar¬†but one assumes they’ll be in the races which matter to them, including next year’s Tour de France, joined probably by¬†Saur¬†Sojasun, Cofidis¬†and Bretagne Schuller.

I was delighted¬†to see that despite the “carrots cash crisis”, Euskaltel-Euskadi¬†remain¬†in the first division. The other team which has “lost out” is Geox¬†but given the sponsor walked away¬†at the¬†last minute, it was to be expected. Rumours have abounded of the management seeking sponsors as far afield as Venezuela. If they’re successful, the team will have to settle for a place, once again, in the second division.

2012 World Tour Teams

  • AG2R¬†La Mondiale
  • Astana Pro Team
  • BMC Racing Team
  • FDJ
  • Euskaltel ‚Äď Euskadi
  • Garmin ‚Äď Cerv√©lo
  • Katusha Team
  • Lampre¬†– ISD
  • Liquigas ‚Äď Cannondale
  • Lotto Cycling Project
  • Movistar Team
  • Omega Pharma ‚Äď Quick-Step Cycling Team
  • Rabobank
  • Saxo Bank
  • Sky Procycling
  • Vacansoleil ‚Äď DCM Pro Cycling Team

Pending:

  • GreenEdge Cycling
  • Team RadioShack ‚Äď Nissan

Postscript: The pending have been ratified.

Viva La Vuelta I

The Vuelta a Espana, the 3rd and last of the Grand Tours, starts tomorrow. It’s the 17th running of the race since it was moved from its original springtime slot to the autumn. As a consequence of its place in the cycling calendar, many of the top riders give it a miss. It tends to be targeted more by domestic riders, as a number in the peloton will have effectively hung up their cleats for the season, while other participants will use it to fine tune their preparation for the World Championships, at the end of September, and therefore may not finish the race. Not so this year, as a number, whose ambitions in the Tour de France were dashed by injury, are riding the Vuelta. So this edition promises to be way more exciting but the lack of time-trialling kilometers and numerous steep summit finishes favour the 60kg when wet brigade, all largely Spanish.

This typically perceived lack of depth tends to give the Vuelta less credence than its sibling Tours and, as a consequence, the owners of the Vuelta (Unipublic and now ASO) have tried to inject some excitement into the race, such as last year’s night time TTT in Seville. This year’s novelty sees the Vuelta’s first visit to the Basque country in 33 years and I’ll be there to watch those two stages (19 and 20) before the final leg in Madrid on Sunday 11 September. For a concise and articulate rundown on the Vuelta and it’s likely protagonists, can I suggest you pop over to http://thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This year’s race starts in Benidorm which brings back fond memories of a family holiday there when I was 14, many, many moons ago, and my pink fringed bikini. I thought I looked the bee’s knees, and the local male population seemed to concur. My father never let down his guard once, which was probably just as well.

Benidorm

Anyway, back to the Vuelta’s¬†3rd visit to Benidorm, one of Spain’s most popular tourist resorts lying on the eastern¬†Mediterranean coastline between Valencia and Alicante, in the province of Valencia, in a region better known as the Costa Blanca. It‚Äôs split into four areas: The Old Town, Levante, Poniente, and Rincon de Loix.

Benidorm’s Old Town is a maze of cobbled streets populated with bars, restaurants and shops situated on the promontory that separates the 2 main beaches. This was the original fishing village which mutated into a tourist mecca thanks to those long, lovely beaches.

The Levante¬†beach area, with over 2kms¬†of golden sand, awash with hotels, theme parks and night clubs, is for the young at heart. It merges into Rincon de Loix, the newer part of Benidorm, which with its mixture of hotels and apartments is popular with the British. The refurbished and recently revitalised Poniente beach lies west of Benidorm’s old Town.

Stage 1 parcours

Tomorrow‚Äôs team time trail actually starts from a ramp on the beach before dipping and then heading back to the coast. With the Spanish still on holiday, and at the b each, expect massive crowds the length of the parcours. It’s short, just 13.5km, so any time differences are sure to be¬†small and not decisive. Nonetheless, riders with GC ambitions, such as Igor Anton from Euskaltel,¬†will start stage 2 on the back foot as his team will most probably finish among the slowest. Tipped for tomorrow’s win will be¬†teams such as HTC¬†High Road, Garmin¬†Cervelo¬†and Radioshack.

My interest in the Vuelta¬†has increased because two professional riders I know really well are taking part. While it would be fantastic to see them take a stage, they’ll be riding selflessly in support of their respective leaders, even if one of them is his country’s road race champion. They’re the type of rider that every team leader would like to have in their team and I hope this’ll be recognised when it comes to both of them getting new contracts for next season.

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 Sebasti√°n¬†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.

Back from the Basque country

I’m back from a number of¬†days of unintended blog silence.¬†Although the hotel we stayed in San¬†¬†Sebasti√°n¬†had free WiFi, I decided not to take my notepad with me. On these short trips, I really want my beloved to have a break. If I start using my notepad he’ll get out his laptop and start working. I do allow him to remain in contact via his Blackberry but somehow that seems less intrusive.

I had so enjoyed my trip last year to the Basque country that I was looking for any excuse for another visit. The Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian was happy to oblige. It also gave me an opportunity to meet up with my friends Susi and Dom whose excellent photographs of the event you can find on www.cyclingnews.com. It was originally planned as a solo trip, while my beloved was in the Far East, but, when his trip was delayed for a couple of weeks, he decided to join me.

I flew from Nice to Bordeaux, took the bus to Bordeaux station and then a train to San Sebastian. The hotel was a 15 minute walk from the station and within sight of the start and finish line of the race.¬†I could have waited for my beloved, who was going to fly into Bordeaux later that day, but experience has taught me never to wait for him unless there’s absolutely no alternative. In any event his flight was¬†late¬†and, still suffering from¬†jet lag, he decided to stay overnight in an airport hotel and drive up the next morning. Meanwhile, I spent many hours happily wandering around San Sebastian enjoying it’s¬†architecture, sights, sounds and smells. This place is foodie heaven.

On our trip last year we had made the pilgrimage to Arzak, a restaurant with¬†3 Michelin stars and rated 8th best restaurant in the world.¬† About three months before our trip it took me endless emails to finally secure a table¬†one lunch time. This year it took just one. I always say when you can easily get a table in a city’s top restaurant, you know it’s enjoying tough times. Initially, unsure whether¬†I would be able to secure a booking at Arzak, I also tried to book tables at two of the city’s other 3 starred restaurants. Again, there was absolutely no problem in obtaining a table. Yes, I know three x 3 starred restaurants is way over the top. I agree. I cancelled one of them.

Not only were there gastronomic delights in store but I found out¬† Bon Jovi were in town Friday evening for the penultimate date of their 2010/11 World Tour. There was no problem in buying tickets which ranged in price from Euros 20 (standing) to Euros 275 (Diamond VIP Circle). Now I’m not sure exactly what you got for your money for the top priced ticket but, at the very least,¬†I’d want a night with Jon Bon Jovi himself. I plumped for tickets costing Euros 60, allocated seats. It’s official, I’m old. This is the first concert I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended plenty,¬†where I’ve deliberately opted for a seat.

Despite, or because of, his Garmin, my beloved arrived in San Sebasti√°n, minus his jacket, which he’d left in the¬†airport hotel bedroom, and with barely enough time to make our lunch date at Arzak. It was just as good as we remembered. It’s not a restaurant that you could eat at regularly because there’s a real sense of drama and theatre when you eat there which would be lost with regular visits.¬†We had a mind-bogglingly fantastic meal (again) and left feeling truly sated. We’d work off those calories at that evening’s Bon Jovi concert.

After a long walk along one of San Sebastian’s beaches, cooling our feet off in the warm water lapping the sand, we drove over to the football stadium¬†to see Bon Jovi. The boys didn’t disappoint, despite it being the end of a very lengthy tour, belting out 27¬†songs from their repertoire¬†with gusto. I did however think that in the big screen close ups they looked tired, too many nights with the Diamond VIP circle perhaps?

Saturday heralded the main event and we were handily poised to soak up the pre-race atmosphere which is very relaxed and familiar, not at all like the Tour de France. The event is obviously well supported by the Basque riders who earned the loud, vocal support of the crowd. Equally well received were such luminaries as Sylvain Chavanel, Frank Schleck and Philippe Gilbert. This is an event typically won by an in form rider off the back of the Tour and merry go round of criteriums. Indeed, Phil Gil had flown in on a private jet in the early hours. Nonetheless, he looked as fresh as a daisy and once the orange led peloton had reeled in the early escapees, Sammy Sanchez launched his offensive to escape from the Belgian flag clad Walloon.

Check out those gloves!

A flurry of attacks, the leading contenders constantly splitting¬†and re-grouping, but there was a certain¬†inevitability as PhilGil¬†soloed¬†away on the Alto Miracruz, just a couple of kilometres from the finishing line. He gained enough time to sit up¬†in the finishing straight and enjoy his win. Rabobank’s Carlos Barredo¬†was the Spanish sausage in the Belgian sarnie, he’d attacked on the run in to the finish from the leading group and was book ended by BMC’s¬†Greg Van Avermaet, who won the sprint to the line. Spanish races give out prizes for pretty much anything and everything:¬†winner, mountains, most courageous, most elegant,¬†best-placed Basque, youngest rider, most aggressive. PhilGil¬†bemusedly picked up 4 awards. My beloved suggested that one of which was for best hairstyle. Methinks he was joking, but maybe not.

Sunday heralded a visit to another 3 starred establishment, Arkelarre, situated beyond Monte Igueldo, with a panoramic view of the sea. This was pure Basque cuisine ratched up several notches. The only slightly jarring note was the ameuse geule: a clever idea but one at odds with the leitmotif of the restaurant. Again, it was a highly enjoyable meal in very relaxing surroundings. However, for me, the highlight was a guided tour of the kitchen by the chef and restaurant owner.

While we’re heading back to the Basque country in early September to watch the stages of the Vuelta¬†near Bilbao, I am already plotting my return to San Sebastian next year. I am hoping to combine the Tour of the Basque Country (early April) with a cookery course in Basque cuisine. As a consequence, I have been trying my hand at a few words in Basque.¬†I just need the Basque made simple or Basque for idiots course, then I’ll be all set.

(Photo of Sammy [any excuse] courtesy of my friend Susi. My beloved has taken some great photos too but I’m still waiting for them.)

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.

Endurance

In preparation for next week’s hills, I’ve been doing endurance intervals. Basically, riding in a higher gear than I would normally to replicate¬†effort on a steeper ascent. I don’t mind these exercises as my natural inclination is to churn a higher gear, and lower cadence, as my legs are much stronger¬†than my lungs. The weather was fabulous today with yesterday’s storm having eliminated the humidity of¬†previous¬†days. I enjoy riding during this time of year as the number of cyclists¬†on the roads increases substantially, many of whom are tourists and unused to the terrain, allowing me to overtake many more riders. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to blast past¬†a group of cyclists when riding uphill.

With television coverage of today’s important stage starting earlier than usual, I wanted to be¬†in my optimal¬†viewing position¬†on a timely basis. Having completed my prescribed exercises, I had just enough time to collect the newspapers before heading home. My beloved having been fed, watered and packed off to a business meeting in Nice. I was hoping for some clarification of form after of days of speculation.

It was widely accepted that Thomas Voeckler¬†would lose the yellow jersey. He didn’t. The occasion combined with the support of his team mates and, of course, the magical yellow jersey allowed Monsieur Panache, Monsieur Chouchou¬†to remain¬†in contention to the delight of the French viewing public, despite a spill on the descent of¬†the 1st Cat. Horquette¬†d’Anzican¬†80km from the finish. They weren’t the only ones to be pleased with today’s events. The Basque fans lining the route also had cause to celebrate as one of my favourites Olympic Champion Sammy Sanchez recorded his maiden Tour win atop Stage 12’s fabled Luz-Ardiden. Sammy looked mightily relieved and close to tears on the podium. To be fair, everyone expected him to use the occasion to gain back some time. He also takes over the spotted jersey from Johnny Hoogerland. Cavendish remains in green.

Who’s a happy boy? (Photo courtesy of AFP)

There’s more good news for the French. The most aggressive rider in the Tour thus far, Jeremy Roy (FDJ), who I recall getting hell last year From Marc Madiot¬†(not a man to mince his words) for contending the lanterne¬†rouge, won the¬†Goddet¬†prize for being first over the Tourmalet. Sylvain Chavanel showed off the tricolour jersey with an attack on the first climb in the company of Johnny Hoogerland. In addition, another of FDJ’s¬†promising young riders, tour rookie Arnold Jeannesson¬†is now in possession of¬†the¬†white, best young rider, jersey. Geraint Thomas, one of the day’s breakaways,¬†was adjudged¬†to be¬†the most combative. Fitting given that he was¬†pipped¬†by Roy over the Tourmalet and worried us¬†with some kamikaze descending off the opening climb.

The BIG news is that Alberto hasn’t been sandbagging. He lost further time today after enduring successive attacks from the brothers Schleck. Of course, it’s too soon to write him off.¬† Cadel Evans, the Schlecks and Ivan Basso all looked¬†very comfortable. Also looks like Tom Danielson is finally fulfilling his promise as Garmin’s annual surprise Tour rider.

Not unnaturally a large number of riders slid out of contention and the GC now looks like this:-

Rank Dossard Name Country Team Time Gap
1 181 Thomas Voeckler FRA EUC 51h54’44” 00”
2 018 Frank Schleck LUX LEO 51h56’33” 1’49”
3 141 Cadel Evans AUS BMC 51h56’50” 2’06”
4 011 Andy Schleck LUX LEO 51h57’01” 2’17”
5 091 Ivan Basso ITA LIQ 51h58’00” 3’16”
6 161 Damiano Cunego ITA LAM 51h58’06” 3’22”
7 001 Alberto Contador ESP SBS 51h58’44” 4’00”
8 021 Samuel Sanchez ESP EUS 51h58’55” 4’11”
9 052 Tom Danielson USA GRM 51h59’19” 4’35”
10 101 Nicolas Roche IRL ALM 51h59’41” 4’57”

Men on a mission

The fabulous weather is continuing and this morning I rode with my coach. I always look forward to our rides together. Not only¬†do we have an enjoyable¬†discussion as we’re rolling along but I always have a few take-aways to help improve my riding skills. ¬†This morning I was keen to pick his brain as to¬†how we might find additional funds for the club. As ever, he had a number of useful contacts and some good advice.

It took me an hour to ride to our rdv¬†point and thereafter¬†we continued along the Var valley, into the usual headwind, before turning off down the Vesubie¬†valley. We were riding the route of the last club championship. Sadly, it’s not been held for the past two years so I’m still the reigning ladies club champion.¬†It’s a route I enjoy, with some climbing, but none of it¬†too steep: ideal terrain for a spot of interval training.

On the way back, I was waived¬†down by a rider in distress. His pump had failed to inflate his inner tube after a puncture: Wonderwoman¬†and her pump to the rescue. He was decked¬†out in Astana kit version 2009 with a Trek bike. I could tell that French wasn’t his native tongue. I suspect he might well have been Eastern European. Wheel inflated we rode off together. I intended to ride with him just in case¬†he had further problems. However, while we had established that we lived not far from one another, we failed to check we intended going the same way. I turned off the main road to return by way of the cycling path along the Var while he continued on the main road. I hope he got safely back home.

By the time I arrived home I had spent just 1 minute less in the saddle than the winner of today’s Tour stage into Lisieux although, in all fairness, I had ridden a rather shorter albeit much lumpier¬†stage. My timing was impeccable. I was soon washed and changed ready for my afternoon’s viewing. Sadly, the¬†peloton had another wet and windy day where caution was the watchword on the slippy¬†roads. ¬†Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco was another non-starter this morning as¬†yesterday’s tumble into the barriers had resulted in him breaking his collarbone. ¬†At the start, there was plenty of white tape in evidence on the limbs of those who fell yesterday.

It’s much easier in the earlier stages of the Tour to target one of the jerseys. This morning Cadel Evans was wearing the spotted jersey but, with more points on offer today, the “Group of 5”¬† set off with purpose, one of whom attained his goal. This evening the spotted jersey is on the shoulders of Johnny “Hardman” Hoogerland who eschewed a rain jacket today in his quest for the spots.

The GC favourites, keen to keep out of trouble, spent the day massed at the front, sheltering behind their team mates. The last of the Group of 5 was taken¬†back just before the final¬†climb. Both Thomas Voeckler¬†and Alex Vinokourov¬†attacked but it was to be¬†another day for the sprinters. Led out by Sky team mate¬†Geraint Thomas, after a powerful well-timed sprint, Edvald¬†Boassen¬†Hagen took his maiden Tour win in front of his parents. HTC’s Matt Goss was second, sandwiched between two Norwegians. That’s right, Thor was 3rd, retaining the yellow jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands. The only “loser” today was Levi Leipheimer¬†who crashed before the final¬†climb and lost over a minute. We’ve now passed from Hinault¬†into Anquetil country. Tomorrow’s flat stage will be another one for the sprinters.

Three faves don’t fare well

An afternoon lazing on the sofa watching those cute boys in lycra¬†has to be¬†earned. We’ve now reached that time of year when Sunday club rides extend beyond 100kms, so that means a 07:30 start. I left home at 07:10 and reached the rdv¬†point with just enough time to greet the 20-strong crowd before we headed off down the Var valley into a strong headwind. It was a little fresh first thing but I knew¬† it was going to heat up later. Almost immediately the group split into two, with the fast group disappearing off into the wide blue yonder. I stayed with the second group who nonetheless set a steady pace. We were heading for Marie sur Tinee¬†which, as it’s name¬†suggests, is an old walled town along the Tinee¬†valley, which leads up and over the Col de la Bonette.

As we headed up the valley proper I waived the boys on and stopped for a comfort break at one of the few cafes en route. Freed from the restrictions of riding in a group, and taking advantage of the uphill gradient, I practiced some intervals as I spun along. Groups from other clubs passed, calling out greetings or clapping me on the back.¬†I prefer to be¬†one of the later arrivals at Marie which one ascends by way of a twisting 2km road which averages 7%. There’s hardly any traffic and if one descends, as¬†I did, when everyone else has gone, you can really give it some gas. The ride back is pretty much downhill all the way back until Plan du Var. I caught up with a group from Nice containing none other than the Mayor with whom I rode¬†until our paths diverged.¬†I picked up the¬†newspapers, headed for home and a soak in my spa bath. I really only get to enjoy this when my beloved is away.¬† He’s in Australia. Lunch was the remains of my dinner with friends the night before then I settled back on the sofa to watch the 23km TTT¬†around Les Essarts.

Well drilled

Who can forget 2009’s TTT, particularly the sight of Bbox’s¬†riders scattered all over the ground after a perilous left bend? I was sure 2011’s was going to be¬†just as¬†exciting¬†but, unlike L’Equipe, I fancied Garmin¬†for the win. I’d¬†read¬†they’d arrived¬†in the Vendee several days ahead of the other teams to practise the TTT¬†and, as a consequence,¬†had substituted Paris-Roubaix winner Johann van Summeren¬†with Ramunas¬†Navardauskas. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely as, despite their relatively early start, they nailed the event and put Thor in yellow. However, the surprise of the day was BMC. Cadel is on fire. Not only had he scored a few extra seconds in Saturday’s stage but he drove his well-drilled team to finish second thereby gaining more precious¬† seconds on his main rivals. Sky finished third with Geraint Thomas narrowly missing out again on taking the yellow jersey; third time lucky maybe?

I had also¬†read that Euskaltel¬†had opted for¬†some TTT¬†practice. Sadly, they still finished last.¬†As a result, Sammy is hosed. He’s 2:36secs¬†off the lead and will have to attack if he’s to claw back time and get back into contention.¬†He also lost time on Saturday when, like Contador, he was held up by Max Iglinsky’s¬†unfortunate clash with a yellow-clad spectator. Yesterday, Alberto Contador’s¬†SaxoBank¬†were first off the ramp and set a not unreasonable¬†time which leaves him 1:42secs¬†off the lead and well behind his main rivals. Both Spanairds¬†will need to remain vigilant, and at the head of the bunch, if they’re to avoid getting caught out by the wind on today’s¬†likely sprint-fest.

HTC’s¬†Bernie Eisel, normally Mr Dependable, hit the deck after a touch of wheels on the first corner and irreparably¬†compromised his team’s efforts. HTC¬†will be gunning for a win today but they face stiff opposition from the team with the yellow jersey, Garmin¬†Cervelo who will be brimming with confidence. Who knows we may see the yellow jersey leading out¬†Tyler Farrar for the win. Or, while everyone’s concentrating on those two contenders, someone else could pop out of the bunch and nick it on the line.

Having watched and enjoyed the cycling I turned over to catch the tennis only to discover I was too late. Novak Djokovic¬†had beaten¬†Rafael Nadal in four sets. He also takes over Rafa’s world number one ranking today. So that’s the three Spaniards who haven’t fared as well as I had hoped: Alberto, Sammy and Rafa.