Differing fortunes

On the one hand, it’s been a disappointing week end. I’ll start with the football. My beloved boys in claret and blue lost 3-0 to Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. Having played well in the first half, they were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty and Chelsea were fortunate that the referee only gave Terry a yellow card for his tackle on Milner. Sadly, the higher you are up the league, the more often decisions go in your favour, or are bottled by the referee. Having lost, we were hoping that Spurs would beat Portsmouth in the other semi-final. The runners-up (or the winners, if they beat Chelsea) in the FA Cup will get a place in the Europa Cup. Spurs are ahead of us in the League, therefore, if we were to finish 7th (worst case, and sadly, most likely scenario), Spurs having already secured a cup spot, we too would get a place in the Europa Cup. Now, that too may be out of our reach.

As expected, OGCN lost 4-1 away at Marseille who are currently leading the French championship. Nice have nothing to play for having already secured enough points to avoid relegation.

Fabian Cancellara has been sandbagging this week, and we all fell for it. Today, in Paris-Roubaix, he waited for the right moment to catch Boonen unawares, opened the throttle and cruised away from the other favourites. Game over, again. He is a truly magnificent rider and we’re all left wondering what else he’ll achieve this year, next and in the coming years: anything’s possible. The Belgian cobbled classics and semi-classics have all been won this year by riders hailing from outside Belgium. Prediction: a collective weeping and a wailing in Flanders.

That man in orange, Sammy Sanchez won the Klasica Primavera, ahead of team mate Igor Anton and Frank Schleck. He’s obviously coming into form for the forthcoming Ardennes Classics.

Depart fictif grand parcours

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. I bettered my time in La Charly Berard and really felt that I went as fast as I could. Mind you, I nearly had a disastrous start when another rider fell against me in the first 100 metres and knocked me off the bike. Of course, he wasn’t one of the 60kg wet Frenchman but a great hulking brute who easily weighted over 100kg.

I started feeling somewhat winded, understandably, and as anticipated the field rode away from me leaving me on my lonesome, as usual. Apart from the Broom Wagon, which was obviously keen to drum up some custom and persisted in trying to knock me off my bike. I managed to evade it, but only just. The course differed slightly from last year, so it’s not easy to make direct comparisons. Other than to say my time to Contes was 17 minutes quicker than last year, despite the howling headwind. This was particularly tough on the final 10km back to Nice.

I rode back with a couple of other guys who were impressed that I could keep up with them in the wind. I took my turn on the front and then sprinted past them to the finish line where I was greeted by the chap who was 2nd on the longer parcours. He’s been riding a similar length of time to me and is a very talented (much younger) local rider.

However, there was no time to lose. I wanted to get back home before it started to rain and before I’d missed too much of Paris-Roubaix. So eschewing the roses (female competitors only) and the meal (pasta salad), we headed back home where I had a hot date with the fleecy track suit, and the sofa.

I see from the results listed in today’s paper that I was first in my age group. I wonder if someone from the club picked up my trophy? Far fewer women took part this year. Indeed, there were just 5 who undertook the short parcours. The quickest (and youngest) was 40 minutes faster than me, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.

We’re on our way to Wembley (again)

My husband had told me that he was arriving from London at 20:30. He was wrong, that was his take off time. I only found this out after my abortive trip to the airport. In the end, he was delayed 2 hours and arrived home at 01:30am. Fortunately, he had taken his keys with him and so it wasn’t necessary to deprive me of my much-needed slumber. However, the gale force wind woke us both in the early hours. Such wind didn’t subside until it started to rain heavily around mid-morning. The rain cut our proposed ride in half so we decided to forgo the trip over to Monaco instead taking shelter in our local coffee shop.

After the disappointment of Nice losing 2-3 to Nancy yesterday evening in the 92nd minute I was hoping for better things in today’s FA Cup semi-final: Reading v AVFC. After the first half, my beloved boys in claret and blue were trailing 2-0. However, a motivational half-time kick up the proverbial backsides saw them scoring 4 goals in the second-half, including a hat-trick from John Carew. To the delight of Portsmouth and Fulham or Tottenham (replay), the boys have drawn Chelsea in the semis!  Yet another trip to Wembley.

Lastly, a quick round up of the cycling results. Yesterday’s La Strade Bianchi was won by Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), who beat last year’s winner Thomas Lofkvist (Sky) in a sprint to the line. Vuelta Murcia was won by Frantisek Rabon of HTC-Cloumbia with Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) joining him on the podium. A certain Lance Armstrong was 7th.

Over in Belgium, Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) the winner of last week’s Le Samyn, won Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen, picking up valuable points for his team. Only this week in L’Equipe, Eric Boyer was lamenting the lack of invites to races in Italy and Belgium now that his team are only Continental-Pro.

Today saw the start of Paris-Nice with a tough 8km time-trial won by Lars Boom (Rabobank) ahead of Jens “Hardman” Voigt (Saxo Bank), Leipheimer (Radioshack) and Bert (Astana). I’m looking forward to watching subsequent stages. The difficulty comes on Wednesday with the start of Tirreno Adriatico, there’s only so many hours one can devote to watching cycling. I forsee plenty of time on the home trainer and I can also tackle the ironing.

It always pays dividends

During Monday, my beloved sent me a number of text messages. The first to confirm that he had arrived at the British Consulate and was at the head of the queue. The second to tell me that his replacement passport was being processed and would be ready for collection at 16:00, so he’d be home that evening. Of course, it’s unlikely that any of  this would have happened so swiftly without the groundwork I undertook last week and over the week end. I hope my beloved appreciates it, but sadly I fear not. I have smoothed his path for so long that he has no idea of what life would be like without me. Am I replaceable? Hell yes, everyone is. But we all know he’ll never find anyone that does as much for him as I do. Let’s hope he never has to find that out.

It was raining steadily on Monday morning, so I stuck to the programme and undertook  a one hour ride on the flat, albeit on the home trainer, in a fasted state, before undertaking my exercises, with some stretching to finish. Tuesday’s interval training went well and then, joy of joys, my Garmin had arrived so I popped down to my LBS to have it fitted. Once, I’ve dropped my beloved at the airport this morning, I’m going to be spending some time this afternoon understanding exactly how it functions.

It’s a 3hr ride today so I’m hoping it’ll stay fine for long enough. The outlook seems to be improving and it looks as if it’s not going to be as wet this week as originally forecast, though the week end does not look promising. But then that’s days away.

I note that Mark Cavendish has returned to racing at Ruta Ciclista del Sol. However, the man of the moment appears to be Oscar Freire (Rabobank) who’s notched up two stage wins. Cav’s probably still suffering the after-effects of antibiotics taken to clear up his dental problems. Mark, it could have been oh so different if only someone at HTC-Columbia HQ had forwarded my email to you.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of sporting action, apart from the winter Olympics, on the horizon. Starting with this evening’s FA Cup replay (AVFC v Crystal Palace). Then, this week end, there’s Omloop Het Nieuwsbald and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the later unfortunately clashes with the League Cup Final (Man U V AVFC) hence I’ll simultaneously be watching two tv screens – multitasking. This also clashes with my husband’s arrival back from Chicago. Maybe, I’ll ask him to get a taxi!

Round up of sporting action

It’s been a busy week end for me what with trying to keep track of football, cycling, rugby and the Winter Olympics from Vancouver.  Midweek, my beloved boys in claret and blue drew at home against Manchester United whom they will play in the League Cup final at the end of the month. Unfortunately, United were reduced to 10 men fairly early on in the game making them even more difficult to break down. Still AVFC have picked up 4 points out of a possible 6 in the Premiership which augurs well for the League Cup Final. Sadly, however, they drew against a very spirited Crystal Palace yesterday in the FA Cup meaning a mid-week replay before their date at Wembley – not ideal preparation. OGCN sadly lost away at Valenciennes in the dying minutes of the match and are now staking their claim on 17th place in the French League. I fear for the manager. I’m just waiting for that death knell “support from the Board” and it’ll all be over.

Having got into gold, Wouter Mol stayed there to win the GC in the Tour of Qatar. Last year’s winner, Tom Boonen, had to be content with two stage wins. The boys now move on to Oman where Jimmy Casper of Saur-Sojasun (another team looking to impress ASO) wrapped up the opening evening criterium, beating Edvald Boassen Hagen into second place. Meanwhile, the Tour of the Med, having had stage 4 neutralised thanks to the weather, finished yesterday on Mont Faron with a stage win for Aqua & Sapone and an overall win for Alejandro Valverde. Astana were 3rd and 5th with respectively Max Iglinsky and Alexandre Vinokourov.

The French are justifiably cockahoop after beating Ireland in Paris. They’re also currently leading the medal table in Vancouver having picked up two golds: one with Jason Lamy-Chappuis (current World Cup Leader) in the nordic combined and the other with Vincent Jay in the 10km biathlon sprint. The former was anticipated, but not the latter.

What you might ask of my own sporting endeavours. Well I have at last received my training plan. Indeed, today is Day 1 of the plan and it’ll be interesting to see how I progress over the next 6 months. The trainer guarantees at least a 5% improvement but, quite frankly, I’m hoping for a lot, lot more.

Quelle surprise!

Yesterday evening, Ryan Giggs (PFA Player of the Year) was voted BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year. He’d obviously not expected to win as he’d not prepared, or even thought to prepare, a speech. Nonetheless, it was a well deserved and popular award. He’s always struck me as the “model professional” footballer having spent the last twenty years or so loyaly toiling on Man United’s wings and, very regrettably, as he’s Welsh, never on England’s. He’s a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goal scorer. Indeed, his goal a few year’s back against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final makes it into my top 5 goals of all time.

Cavendish was one of the ten contenders but never really in with a shout among the likes of Jensen Button (2nd) and Ryan Giggs. But I’ve no doubt his time will come. 

I’m not sure why they call the award the “Sports Personality” when, with few exceptions, that’s exactly what they are patently not. Please don’t take this as anything other than censure of the title. Winners need to be focused and self-centred, not well-rounded, witty, and amusing dinner companions.

Of course, some develop into sporting personalities after retiring, others simply never do. Whenever I’ve been lucky to meet one I’ve found the safest topics of conversation to be themselves and their sport.