Mudbath

After this morning’s ride, I settled down on the sofa, in my jimjams (what else?) to watch the French Cyclo-Cross Championships in Lanavily, Brittany. I had more than a passing interest, as one of our youngsters was taking part. His younger brother, who has swept all before him in the region, is a better rider but, sadly for us, and him, they don’t have a championship for his age category (minimes). Anyway, his older brother, despite an upset stomach managed to finish. He wasn’t lapped, but his final position didn’t do him justice.

French television kindly gave us a preview of the 2,500m course which to my untutored eyes looked tough.  It featured some very steep ascents and descents (18%), plenty of muddy, rutted tracks, wooded trails, obstacles and a wee bit of frosty road. As I understand it, the key to cyclo-cross is the start. You need to get out in front and stay there, avoiding any mechanicals. 

FDJ had the benefit of numbers in today’s race: Francis Mouray (defending champion), Steve Chainel, Arnold Jeannesson and Sandy Casar. Competition was likely to come from John Gadret of AG2R, a former champion and the best placed Frenchman in last year’s Tour and Giro. I spotted a couple of other French Pro-Tour riders in the mix, but they were unlikely to trouble the main protagonists.

It’s amazing just how quickly the better riders manage to distance the rest. Of course, the boys make riding through mud look easy. It isn’t. I once made the mistake of riding my road bike over some firmish turf, not boglike mud. I was off in a trice.

The competitors have to maintain concentration at all times as they traverse the different surfaces, dismounting and re-mounting after clearing the obstacles. You can see the intent focus on their mud-splattered faces. 

The cameras naturally rest with the leaders. You only see the other competitors as they’re lapped. Mouray quickly established a lead, while, his nearest competitors ganged up. Possibly,  the better to maintain motivation or to mark the non-FDJ competition.  Gadret rode with Jeannesson and Chainel with Blazin. All during the race, you could hear the dulcet tones of Mr Cycling (Daniel Mageas) in the background.

It’s interesting to watch how they approach the trickier sections. Riding is always preferable to running, even up some of the steeper ascents, although it can’t be avoided when overcoming the obstacles. On the steeper descents, the outside leg is often out of the cleat to help steady the rider.

As I was watching, two things occurred to me:-

  •  AG2R’s brown cycling shorts are ideal for cyclo-cross.
  • It must be difficult getting the mud stains out of the predominantly white kit of FDJ. I wonder what detergent they use?

Mouray high-fived his father in the finishing straight and took his 6th title. Gadret was some 68 seconds behind and Jeannesson was third, a further 15 seconds back. While it’s fun watching from the sofa, I’m sure it would be even better live.

Opacity obscures objectivity

A certain amount of disquiet is being expressed in the French sporting press about the UCI’s new ranking system for the 2011 cycling season. For the first time the UCI is using a deliberately “secret” system which takes the points earned in the two preceding seasons by each team’s top 15 riders plus some consideration of the team’s ranking in Grand Tour events. The end ranking guarantees entry for the top 15 teams to cycling’s 1st Division providing said teams meet the UCI commission’s ethical, financial and administrative criteria. These are rather more clear cut as they’re set out in the UCI’s Rules and Regulations. The remaining spots will go to 3 of the 5 teams ranked 16-20th: namely, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Geox-TMC, Quickstep, Cofidis and AG2R.

The French are concerned and I’ll explain why. If we look at the teams in turn. FDJ is 21st therefore, under the new system, it is automatically denied entry to the 1st Division. Bbox, along with Cofidis, were relegated last year and have decided to remain in the 2nd Division with their new sponsor Europcar. I assume they’re gambling that with the Tour starting next year in their backyard (Vendee), they’ll get a wild-card. Cofidis and AG2R are fighting it out for the remaining slots. It’s possible, though unlikely, that if neither Cofidis nor AG2R are successful that France (horror of horrors) will not have a team in the 1st Division.

The press are talking about parallels with football because French clubs, who have to balance their books, and have small budgets, constantly lose their best players to clubs in England, Spain, Italy and Germany which have greater wherewithal. By and large, those cycling teams with small budgets are unable to attract the better paid, big point’s scorers.

The UCI made a preliminary announcement on 3 November confirming the 1st Division status of Omega-Pharma Lotto, Garmin-Cervelo, Rabobank and Team Sky. The other 11 teams (in order) are:

  • Unnamed Schleck Luxembourg Team
  • HTC-Highroad
  • Lampre-ISD
  • Katusha
  • Liquigas-Cannondale
  • Saxo Bank SunGard
  • Radioshack
  • Vacansoleil – DCM
  • Astana
  • Moviestar
  • BMC

The definitive list will be published on 20 November.

You can understand the concerns of  management of the individual teams. When seeking sponsorship they cannot give potential sponsors certainty that the team will be present at the prestigious events. I was involved in a project last year with a group of potential sponsors. While they wanted to enter initially at the Continental-Pro level, their long-term aim was Pro-Tour status and “guaranteed” entry into the all important Tour de France. After significant ground work and due diligence, my advice to the potential sponsors was to co-sponsor an existing Pro-Tour team. While this doesn’t afford them the  same level of involvement and control, it does give them exposure at the desired level.

Postscript: UCI announced today, 22 November, that the two teams to lose out in the battle for a place in the 1st division are Geox (with Sastre and Menchov) and Cofidis. The French can heave a sigh of relief that they have one team (AG2R) in the 1st Division.

It’s probably safe to assume that when it comes Grand tour wild cards, preference will be given to domestic teams. So, if you’re a 2nd Division side, from a country other than France, Spain or Italy, it’s unlikely you’ll be riding any of the Grand Tours. Progression into the upper echelons won’t be easy without a big budget to buy in those stars who have earned plenty of points in the preceding seasons. However, I do worry that the increased pressure to win could have unfortunate side-effects.

Not in the script

I have spent an enjoyable week end with my beloved who’s back from his transatlantic jaunt. Yesterday we rose late, as a consequence of his jet lag, and, after a leisurely breakfast,  set off for a ride. We had just exited the domaine when my beloved punctured. I said I would continue on our trajectory and he could catch me up after he’d returned home and swapped bikes.

I rode for an hour and then waited for ten minutes. Surprisingly, still no sign of my beloved. I continued and indulged in some interval training: low gear/high cadence. I was still bouncing around but probably not as much as before. It’s a surprisingly tiring exercise. I stopped by the fountain  to replenish my bidon and along came my beloved. He’d decided to mend his puncture, hence the additional delay. We continued on enjoying the heat of the day and the quietness of the roads. The tourists have gone home.

I spent the afternoon pottering in the kitchen before settling down, after dinner, to watch the opening team time trial of the Vuelta a Espana. This was won by HTC-Columbia, putting Mark Cavendish in the red leader’s  jersey. Surprisingly diffident performances from SaxoBank, Sky and Garmin-Transitions but, as anticipated, no big time differences between the leading contenders.

This morning we rode together, eschewing the club ride. In truth, we’d overslept again. A strong breeze sprang up before midday which seemed to suck some of the heat out of the day, leaving it altogether fresher. Perfect riding weather. Having collected the Sunday newspapers on the way back, after a cold shower and lunch, I settled down on the sofa to read said newspapers and enjoy today’s 173km lumpy stage from Alcala de Guadaira to Marbella. Despite the climbs, the final descent I felt would ensure a bunch sprint finish.

Everything was going according to plan. HTC-Columbia had worked on the front to pull back the escapees before the run in to the finish. The other sprinters teams then shared the work load, the protagonists were all well positioned as they hit Marbella. Tyler Farrar led the sprint with Cavendish in his wheel, leaving the others flailing in their wake. Cavendish overtook Farrar and was poised to cross the line first, when up popped Yauheni Hutarovich on his left hand side. The Belarussian hadn’t read the script and crossed the line a wheel ahead of Cavendish. If you’re wondering Yauheni who? This is the lanterne rouge from 2009’s Tour de France. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall his palmares. He won a stage in the recent Tour of Poland but this is his maiden win in a Grand Tour.

Pyrotechnics

On the eve of Bastille Day many towns, including mine, host a spectacular fireworks display. In fact, sitting on my balcony with a view of the coast from Cap Ferrat to Cap d’Antibes, I can witness two concurrent displays.

The hot and heavy weather is continuing and most days I seek out routes in the shade but even so when I arrived at Tourettes sur Loup this morning I could’ve happily dived right into the fountain. However, mindful of my position of Club Secretary, I decided against it.

Back home, I took a cold shower and slipped into something  light and flimsy to watch this afternoon’s stage: 204km from Morzine-Avoriaz to St-Jean-de Maurienne. I needed to wear something light because I was in the home straight of my hors categorie ironing mountain which had been hanging around since the start of the Giro. Luckily my beloved has an extensive wardrobe dating back to when we had three apartments.

I feel rather guilty about the amount of time I spend glued to the Tour which I partially alleviate by multi-tasking. I have ironed over 80 shirts and around 100 t-shirts. Tomorrow, I’ll start on the pile of mending: missing buttons, hems and the like. Usually, I manage to sort out and tidy all the cupboards and drawers in the lounge and re-organise my dressing room. Sadly, this year they’ll have to wait for the Vuelta.

Meanwhile, back to the action. With Lance’s hopes of adding to his Tour crowns crushed on Sunday, everyone else was still pretty much in contention as the peloton rolled out for today’s testing stage. 

Stage 9

An early breakaway including 5 French riders was established.  BMC was controlling the peloton but there were riders popping off the back from quite early on thanks to a flurry of attacks and the profile of today’s leg sapping stage.

By the time they reached the foot of the Col de la Madelaine, the breakaway had been whittled down, the gruppetto was well established and the leading contenders were being shelled out the back like peas under pressure from first Saxo Bank, and then Astana. 

With 40km to go, Andy Schleck turned the screw but couldn’t distance Alberto Contador. Indeed the two rode together to the crest and then down the other side, Alberto looking the more comfortable, until they joined up with Christophe Moreau (one of the original escapees) with around 18km to go to the finish. Samu Sanchez had been trying to bridge up to them but, despite treating us to a master class in descending, never quite managed to close the gap. With 10km to go, he was out grimacing Nikki Sorensen. 

Schleck and Contador caught the remainder of the breakaway on the run in to the finish which was won by Sandy Casar (FDJ): yet another French win. Schleck the younger was now in yellow, Contador was sitting comfortably at 41 seconds behind with Samu in 3rd, 2:45 down. Barring a disaster, it’s now a two horse race.

Don’t call us

The teams for the Giro were announced today by RCS Sport and, as a result, there’s bound to be a few long-faced team managers and sponsors. Here’s the list of  successful applicants, 15 Pro-Tour teams and 7 wild cards:-

AG2R-La Mondiale
Astana
Caisse d’Epargne
Footon-Servetto
Garmin-Transitions
HTC-Columbia
Katusha
Lampre Farnese Vini
Liquigas-Doimo
Milram
Omega Pharma-Lotto
Quick Step
Rabobank
Saxo Bank
Team Sky

Wild Cards

Acqua & Sapone
Androni-Diquigiovanni
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
BMC Racing
Cervelo
Cofidis-Le Credit en Ligne
Colnago-CSF Inox

The selection is pretty self-explanatory. Either you’re a team covered by the September 2008 agreement, a new, too big to ignore, Pro-Tour team, or your recent (and past) results justify your inclusion.

Probably of more note are the obvious omissions from the Pro-Tour ranks such as Radioshack, FDJ and Euskatel Euskadi. The Shack have given, not unnaturally, precedence to the Tour of California, are not covered by the September agreement with the Pro-Tour teams and, apparently, eschewed an invite. While the other two are covered by the agreement, one has to assume they too didn’t seek  invitations. However, I’m surprised to see Footon-Servetto on the list given that they didn’t receive invites to either Milan-San Remo or Tirreno-Adriatico.

Let’s now look at those Continental-Pro teams which didn’t get an invite. First up, the two Dutch squads, Skil Shimano and Vacansoleil; after all the Giro is starting in Amsterdam on 8 May. Neither team has any Italians in their squad and, while Vacansoleil livened up last year’s Vuelta, Skil (apart from Kenny Van Hummel) were damp squibs at the Tour.

A number of Italian Pro-Continental teams haven’t received an invite. Riccardo Ricco’s presence on team Ceramica Flaminia  presumably scuppered their chances; Carminooro-NGC have only just upgraded from Continental; while, ISD Neri and De Rosa-Stac Plastic haven’t posted much in the way of results. Maybe, next year…………………………….

Home advantage

I’ve just watched a re-run on television of yesterday’s final stage of Paris-Nice. Given that I saw the stage “live”, you might think it odd. Not so, there’s always something that one misses first time around. In any event, it was great to watch once more one of the riders who both lives locally and is a friend of our cycling club win big. Indeed, he enjoyed the best win to date of his career, also scooping the spotted jersey. I, for one, am looking forward to him gracing the podium on many, many more occasions. 

I’m delighted that it was finally a race to the sun and the broadcasts on both Saturday and Sunday beautifully showcased the wonderful area in which I’ve chosen to live. Sunday, M le President and I, in the company of our better halves, enjoyed the corporate hospitality of our club sponsors, Skoda, while savouring the final stage. Indeed, given that the Spaniards were likely to dominate the podium, we expressed the desire for a French winner on the final day. It was therefore fitting that a rider who lives locally, one we know, and who regularly trains on these roads won. Sometimes home advantage helps.   

Also worthy of note were the 9th and 10th places on GC for Jean-Christophe Peraud and Jerome Coppel respectively. The first is a former mountain biker (and current French time-trial champion) who, fed up with playing second fiddle to the incomparable Julian Absalon, turned to the road this year with Omega Pharma Lotto. The latter is a former U23 time trial silver medallist who floundered, rather than flourished, for a couple of years at FDJ and now seems to have found his feet (or should that be legs?) again at Saur-Sojasun.  

Talking of former mountain bikers, I cannot ignore double stage and points jersey winner, Peter Sagan (a former junior world mountain biking champion) who has exploded onto the road racing scene this season and delivered on the promise he showed in the Tour Down Under. His teammate Roman Kreuziger won best young rider and was 4th on GC. Liquigas are surely a team loaded with talent.

Another young, talented rider who lives locally much animated the race and finished 8th on GC. He’s Rein Taamarae, the Estonian national champion and a team mate of the stage winner, Amael Moinard.  Cofidis team management must be feeling very pleased with their overall performance. 

Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur Sojasun were obviously hoping to sufficiently impress ASO to gain that oh-so-coveted invitation to The Tour this summer. Vacansoleil heavily sponsored Paris-Nice while Saur Sojasun, along with Etap Hotels, made up the Paris-Nice caravan. It all helps boys but I can’t help feeling that money talks loudest, so mine’s on Vacansoleil. 

Alberto Contador Paris-Nice 2010Last, but not least, Bert let his legs do the talking. Yes, like any rider who weighs only 61kg, he’s always going to suffer in the wind. However, let’s not forget, the one rider who did get blown off his bike in the Prologue weighs more than me – Gert Steegmans. I saw him sitting on the steps of the RadioShack bus on Sunday looking well on the road to recovery. But, back to Bert. He raced intelligently and was well shepherded by his Astana team mates who, from their performances here and in Tirreno-Adriatico, are showing they’re nowhere near as lacking in talent as some would have us believe. My money’s on Bert for a consecutive Tour win.   

Both photographs courtesy of my very good friend Susi Goertze

One down, plenty more to go

I’ve really enjoyed my first week’s training. It’s given me something to aim for every time I ride. I can’t say whether it’s been too hard or too easy, it’s really too soon to say.  The Polar however is a rather inadequate measure of effort and I can’t wait for the Garmin to arrive: hopefully, this week.

I’ve had to content myself with watching the Tour du Haut Var on the small screen, and not in person. Yesterday, we had a number of things to sort out in connection with my husband’s replacement passport. So, instead, we rode with some of the people with whom I’ll be riding L2P  at the end of June. They rode in “SHORTS”. I know, I don’t get into shorts until mid-May. I’m still in my winter tights and  have yet to transition into leg warmers and then into my 3/4 quarter bib-shorts.

Today’s pointage was at Le Rouret. Having started a little ahead of the club, I was overhauled by the super-fast boys at the entrance to Roquefort les Pins. There were smoking at an average speed of 28km while I was positively plodding along at 12km. I was overtaken by most, but not all, of my clubmates before the pointage where I hooked up with one of my cycling buddies. I rode with her up the next rise to Pre du Lac and then left her to wait for her clubmates. Yes, most clubs have regular regroupments where they wait for their clubmates.

I descended via Bar sur Loup to Pont du Loup and decided to practice my sprinting on the rise up to Tourrettes sur Loup. Helpfully, there were a number of riders up the road giving me a target.  I continued on the downhill stretch home and shot past a number of groups of riders. Men do not like being overtaken by a woman but they seem to mind most if it happens on the downhill. Sorry guys, but superior body weight, a fast bike and a love of speed are going to carry the day.

Back to the Tour du Hat Var, which was won today by Christophe Le Mevel who attacked on the insanely steep climb up to Montauroux. FDJ are having a cracking start to the season.  I get a real kick from seeing the pro-peloton race on roads I’ve ridden on. It seems to increase my pleasure in the viewing knowing we’ve both suffered there.

I’ve also been keeping an eye on the Volta ao Algave where Bert (Astana) has been claiming that he’s 2kg over his ideal weight and not in such good shape as at the same time as last year – sandbagging?  He won the mountain stage and  was 2nd to Luis Leon Sanchez  (Caisse d’Epargne) in today’s TT, having had the bike he originally planned to ride banned by the UCI. He, nonetheless, scooped the overall: early season mind games.

There were wins this week end for both my football teams. Luckily for the manager of OGCN, a penalty early in the 2nd half saved his bacon. While the boys in claret and blue downed another team, who also wear claret and blue, though obviously not in the same match, 5-2 at home.

Excitement in the UK as Britain won a gold medal in the ladies skeleton. This is where you hurtle, head first, on a metal tray, down an ice chute at insane speeds. One of the few sports I’ve yet to try!

20 March: T-day

 

Christian Prudhomme has said that he will advise on the 22 teams to be invited to the Tour de France on 20 March, so that’s 35 days left for the rest to impress. The sixteen with an invite are those remaining teams which were Pro-tour back in September 2008: namely, AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ, BBox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Omega-Pharma Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Liquigas-Doimo, Lampre-NGC, Astana, Saxo Bank, HTC-Columbia, Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel Euskadi, Milram and Footon-Servetto.

Parcours 2010

ASO, in making their selection, will be mindful of the rising popularity of cycling in countries such as USA, UK, Australia and Russia with their potential for increased TV revenues. However, they also need teams who are grateful for their inclusion and understand that it is their role to animate the race by sending riders up the road most days. A slot that in previous years has been filled by Barloworld, Agritubel and Skil Shimano. Given that there are a number of teams who will be looking for new sponsors (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne, Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and hence riders looking for new teams, this may be less of a concern for ASO this year.

Of the remaining 6 slots, I think it’s safe to assume that 4 will go to the Pro-Tour teams of Katusha, Sky, Radioshack and Garmin Transitions. This leaves two berths for Cervelo, BMC, Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur-Sojasun. Prudhomme was quoted as saying he’d like to see 25 teams but that would probably mean reducing the team size to 8, a move which is unlikely to be popular with those already clutching an invite.

Since Cervelo have a former Tour winner (Sastre), last year’s green jersey (Hushovd) and generous sponsors, you would have to reckon on them getting a slot. BMC, managed by well-connected to ASO John Lelangue,  includes the holder of the rainbow jersey and a man who’s finished 2nd twice (Evans) may well get the nod over the other three teams. However, Vacansoleil have done their case no harm by winning the Tour of Qatar (an ASO event) with Wouter Mol.

Postscript: Apologies from Mr Prudhomme who’s still not made up hs mind which of the 12 teams in waiting will get the final 6 Tour invites. Is he trying to prolong the agony in the manner of all reality TV shows? Or is he hoping for a bigger cheque in the post? Just pick the names out of a hat and put everyone out of their misery.

Snowed in

Just when we’d been fooled into thinking that Spring was around the corner, the cold weather has returned with a vengeance. Yes, last night’s rain has 

Where's the sea gone?

turned into snow. It’s snowing all along the coast! The surrounding hills and mountains are also receiving further snowfalls: good news for winter sports enthusiasts. I wonder if we can sell some of it to Vancouver 2010? 

The boys riding the Tour Mediterraneen Cycliste Professionnel and the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca respectively must be wishing they’d opted/been selected for the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as they’ve both been enduring adverse climatic conditions. Indeed, the manager (Marc Madiot) of yesterday’s stage winner (Yauheni Hutarovich – FDJ) in the Tour of the Med had the foresight to take him on a quick warm up ride before the start. This obviously did the trick. 

Over in Qatar the winds have died down. Stages 3 and 4 ended in bunch sprints with wins for Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo). The former reached a speed of 72.4km/hr on his sprint to the line. Coincidentally, the same as my top speed ever which was recorded last year in Austria  descending a 10% incline!  Condolences to Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) who had four punctures yesterday: careless rider or crap kit, you decide. 

Mindful of yesterday’s VO2max test, I had been practising riding flat out on the home trainer. My appointment was at 09:00am, which necessitated an early start to avoid the traffic. I wanted to ride part of the way as a warm up. I drove as far as Beaulieu sur Mer, where the parking is free while they change over the parking meters, parked the car and hopped on the bike.  My beloved has accused me of becoming “very French” as I seek out free places to park. 

I had timed it to perfection, a quick 10km, at maximum effort, terminating in the climb out of the port in Monaco had left me “glowing”. I arrived with enough time to fill out the forms and take a comfort break. After a number of detailed questions about my medical history and that of my family, we moved on to the highly unpleasant bit: height, weight (Assos kit must be really, really heavy, I hope they took that into consideration) and BMI. I then had to inhale and exhale, as hard as possible, into a machine. The conclusion: average for a woman of my age! 

Then the test itself which was conducted on my bike, fitted with a power tap, and with a machine to gauge my effort fitted over my nose and mouth. I began to feel decidedly claustrophobic. In addition, I was wired up to an ECG and the doctor frequently measured my blood pressure. I started at a max output of 60watts and increased it at regular intervals by 30 watts. First off it was difficult to ride at a constant wattage, nothing like riding those static bikes in the gym. It was pretty easy pedalling to start off with but very soon it became much more arduous. I started to “glow” profusely despite being topless (thank goodness I’d worn one of my prettier sports bras). I have no idea how long the intervals were but it felt like 10 secs to start with and 10 minutes to finish. Their conclusion: I could be an excellent endurance athlete if only I lost the surplus 10kilos around my middle which is restricting my breathing!

Postscript: Nice airport closed, my beloved stranded at Heathrow!

Putting your foot in it

I got back from my trip to St Raphael feeling pleasurably fatigued and sank gratefully into my spa bath to soothe my aching parts. I really don’t use it often enough. Generally because, when I return from a ride, I’m endeavouring to produce sustenance for my beloved as soon as he emerges from his ablutions.

Given that a little R&R was in order, I donned my fleecy tracksuit, flopped onto the sofa and picked up this month’s copy of Velo Magazine which had been delivered  LAST WEEK and had remained unread. What can I say? Too much to do.

There’s a picture of Cav on the front, sporting a beard, endeavouring to look mean and moody and failing. This month’s a bit of a bumper issue as, among other things, it contains details of all the French cyclosportifs, a team guide, the season’s calendar, features on afore-mentioned Cav and Boassen Hagen plus a list of the 50 top cyclists most likely to be hitting the headlines this season. I thought I’d check out this list to see if we’re in accord.

Their top 3 are Bert, Cav and Lance. I think that’s wishful thinking. Whichever continent you’re on, Lance generates more news than all the other riders put together. This is obviously a French perspective and they’re assuming (and why wouldn’t you) that Bert is going to retain his Tour title while Cav is going to win loads of sprints.  The next three, in order, are Schleck the Younger, Fabulous Fabian and Cuddles Evans – hard to disagree there. They’ve ranked Philippe Gilbert (7th) ahead of Tom Boonen (11th). I’m not sure I agree with that one. Though, to be fair, Tom is probably hoping for more coverage of his cycling, rather than non-cycling, activities than last year.

Surprisingly, there’s a dearth of Frenchmen in the top 50. First up in 25th place is the U23 Road Race Champion, Romain Sicard who this season will be riding as a neo-pro for the boys in orange, Euskatel-Euskadi. Just behind him in 28th place is Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), the so-called French housewives’ favourite. Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ), 10th last year in the Dauphine and Tour, is only in 37th place. There are three further Frenchmen bringing up the rear: Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), the younger of the brothers, is 42nd, 45th is Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) is 48th. No place for Amael Moinard, David Moncoutie, Tommy Voekler, Pierrick Fedrigo, Romain Feillu or, indeed, the Frenchman who’s garnered the most column inches to date, the viral celebrity, young Arthur Vichot (FDJ).

Turning next to the team guide, I check out the new teams and kit changes. By and large, I favour simple colour schemes which are easy to pick out in the peloton: such as, Cervelo, BMC, Sky and FDJ. Omega Pharma Lotto’s shirt is a big improvement on previous years.  I rather like the retro styling and black shorts for Quick Step, but the shorts are too short. Quel horreur, what were the folks at Footon-Servetto thinking? There’s an Italian team (Carminooro NGC) who wear a black kit edged in gold which looks quite classy. Though it would look even classier if  they dropped the outline round the crotch. 

Better in black

If only Footon-Servetto had gone for all black shorts. I really feel for those boys. You just know that those “gold” shorts are going to look “nude”  and turn see-through in the wet. You have been warned.