Postcard from Nice

Yeah, I know it’s just up the road but it occurred to me that I don’t bang the drum enough about my home region and, this year, the final two stages of Paris-NeigeNice were both around Nice and the Niçois hinterland, and it WAS a race to the sun.

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Every time I attend an ASO organised event I am reminded of what a superb job they and their staff do to make the race run seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly. However, if like me, you’ve been involved in arranging or managing any mass participation events, you’ll appreciate how much work goes into it. In addition, ASO are constantly innovating. This year there was a sizeable village with plenty of stands and activities for all the family.

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And that’s not all. Last year ASO organised Challenge #ExploreNice, a multi-stage sportive showcasing the area. This year the one-day Paris-Nice challenge saw amateur riders, including my beloved, tackle Sunday’s stage on Saturday. I dropped him off nice and early in Nice on Saturday morning, well before the sign on for that day’s stage, leaving me to hang around to collect him later. He calculated he would be back at 13:30, and he was.

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Meanwhile, I watched the start of the queen stage of Paris-Nice where anyone who harboured GC ambitions would have to make their move on a parcours which proved probably more difficult that many imagined: a summit finish, seven climbs and barely any flat, apart from the roll-out on the Promenade des Anglais. The stage didn’t disappoint with the leading protagonists enjoying a ding-dong battle royal up La Madone d’Utelle where, cruelly, the steepest section is in the last 500 metres. It’s a deceptively long and difficult climb and I’m speaking from experience.

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I had whipped up my race-winning brownies for a couple of my friends (and their teammates) who were taking part. I felt they deserved a treat given the cold and snowy conditions they’d had to ride through on Wednesday. You might wonder why I call them race winning brownies. Suffice to say those who have eaten them in the past have won the stage or gone on to win the overall race. This time the teammates of my friends won the overall and finished third on the podium. Ironically, I was rooting for runner-up Alberto Contador. I really must make him some of my brownies.

At most ASO events, while the race unfolds, someone will engage with the spectators and ask them questions about the race. If you answer the question correctly, you get a prize, typically a bidon. I love Cycling Quizzes. After an embarrassingly large haul of bidons, my beloved pulled me away before the quizmaster started saying: “Does anyone other than Sheree (yes, he knows me by name) know which of today’s participants has won the most stages?” Easy, peasy that’s Tom Boonen with six stages. Am I the only person who knows the correct answer? It would appear so…………….

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Sunday morning we were down bright and early to enjoy breakfast in the Cours Saleya in the Old Town, always worth a visit. There’s a flower, fruit and vegetable market every morning save Monday (antiques) and the better stands with local producers are to be found at the far end of the market.

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Suitably fuelled, we headed back to the start area to catch up with friends and acquaintances all enjoying the warm spring sunshine and the prospect of another day’s great racing. Before the riders signed on, ASO and Astana held a touching presentation in memory of Andrei Kivilev who, while riding for Cofidis, crashed and died 13 years ago last Friday. It’s a nice touch and helps young Leonard Kivilev, who was born after his father’s death, and his mother keep his flame burning bright in their and our collective memories.

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While my beloved took photos of the sign-on, I looked around for riders to have a quick chat to for VeloVoices or team press officers to set up future longer interviews with certain riders.

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Once the boys had ridden off, I got to see my little cupcake race around the Promenade des Anglais in the Louis Nucera. He’s a little lacking in form having spent three months off the bike due to growing pains in his back. It was a tough event to debut his season thanks to the presence of a few ex-pros, now riding for amateur teams.

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Once the race was over, my beloved required feeding (again) so we headed to one of our favourites, the roof terrace at Le Meridien which affords a great view of the finish line, though we were back down in time to see the television coverage and the unfolding of an absorbing final stage. Despite his efforts, Alberto Contador couldn’t put enough time into Geraint Thomas to take the title for a third time and was noticeably disappointed on the podium.

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All in all it was a magnificent weekend and there’s more to come on 14-18 September 2016 when Nice/Monaco hosts the European Road Championships which will be organised by ASO.

 

 

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Cards from Copenhagen III

Eshewing the race start in downtown Copenhagen, I went directly to the finish at Rudersdal to claim my spot on the 50m to go marker. The Danes were expecting crowds of 400,000 tall Scandinavians. I needed to be in the front row, against the barriers. I could watch the start on the nearby screen. The Championship’s website claims that the nearest train station is 10 minutes from the finish line. That would be 10 minutes as driven by Sebastian Vettell. On foot, it’s a good 20 minutes and we’ve already established I’m a quick walker. Today I took my own supplies as the choice on offer is somewhat spartan: Carlsberg or Carlsberg. Although I did buy some coffee the other day from some enterprising youngsters, pretty much the cheapest and best coffee I’ve found in pricy Copenhagen.

I arrived in Rudersdal to discover that the locals had laid out their towels the night before and my spot on the 50m marker had been colonised by some very large Danes who, at 09:30 in the morning, were already swigging Calsberg. I am however, if nothing adroit, and by the second circumnavigation of the circuit by the peloton I had claimed my rightful place. The race had been pretty lively from the start and a breakaway of 7 riders had gone clear which included Anthony “it isn’t a break if I’m not in it” Roux and three riders from Team Astana, albeit all different nationalities. The race unfolded much as expected, with the British , whom the American announcer kept calling “the English” –   I bet David Millar and Geraint Thomas loved that – controlling the peloton with assistance from firstly the Germans, and secondly the Americans.

PhilGil sent his lieutenants up the road to form a second break away group which, with 5 laps to go, joined up with the first. But the British remained tranquillo. Not so the back of the peloton, where Team New Zealand, Tony Martin and defending champ Thor Hushovd, among others, were caught up in a crash and never regained the main peloton. Meanwhile, riders were pinging off the front of the bunch, particularly the Danes, to the delight of the local crowd, only to be recaptured by the GB steam roller. Two of the escapees were, as anticipated, French favourite Tommy  Voeckler and Johnny “Scarred Legs” Hoogerland, making their trademark attacks.  But nothing and no one stood in the way of the GB train. A train PhilGil had missed.

The final escapees were brought back on the last lap, where the Brits fought for control with a number of other teams trying to set up their sprint trains, until finally mayhem ensued. Cavendish, shorn of support, picked his way through the pack on the right-hand barrier to burst free of the bunch with 150m (where else) to go, beating team mate Matt Goss by half a wheel. Ex- team mate Andre Greipel was a bike length back in 3rd ,separated from Fabulous Fabian by just a fag paper. The British had won their second gold medal in this event: the first going to the late Tommy Simpson in 1965. Bradley Wiggins was right when he said Cavendish would be unlikely to have a better chance to win gold. The course was made for his style of riding. Even so the Brits had apparently been planning this for the past 3 years. See, proves my point, planning and preparation deliver results every time.

Top 15 Results
1.   Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) Time 5:40:27
2.   Matthew Harley Goss (Australia)
3.   André Greipel (Germany)
4.   Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
5.   Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
6.   Romain Feillu (France)
7.   Borut Bozic (Slovenia)
8.   Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
9.   Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain)
10. Tyler Farrar (USA)
11.  Denis Galimzyanov (Russia)
12. Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
13. Anthony Ravard (France)
14. Daniele Bennati (Italy)
15. Rui Costa (Portugal)

Here’s the medal table which clearly shows Sheree 6 – 5 Ute.

Medal table by country

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain 2 2 2 6
Australia 2 1 2 5
France 2 1 0 3
Germany 2 0 3 5
Denmark 1 1 1 3
Italy 1 0 0 1
New Zealand 0 2 0 2
Belgium 0 2 0 2
Netherlands 0 1 1 2
Switzerland 0 0 1 1

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.

Independence Day

Yes, it’s the day that Americans hold so dear. It was therefore only fitting that Tyler Farrar, led out by the maillot jaune, won today’s stage which he dedicated to his late-best-buddy, Wouter Weylandt. Garmin Cervelo rack up two wins in a row proving that nice guys do win, just not all the time. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) was 2nd while Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took 3rd place and the points jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands leaving Thor in yellow, Geraint Thomas (Sky) in white and  PhilGil with the spots.  However, Thor’s battle for the points jersey, as well as Cavendish’s, has taken a bit of a knock. They’ve lost the points gained in the intermediate sprint for a bit of playful pushing and shoving.

Today’s parade from the Vendee into cycling mad Brittany, showcased France’s beautiful coastline, countryside and wealth of historical buildings. Yes, it’s a race but it’s also touristic propaganda for the Hexagon as the race is beamed to 190 other countries. The globe’s fleet of camper vans were drawn up alongside the roads which were lined with spectators rendering it more and more difficult for the riders to find a quiet place for a comfort break.  The day’s breakaway of 5 riders earned plenty of tv time for their sponsors but, despite working well together, were, as anticipated, reeled in with 9km to go by those teams with aspirations in today’s sprint fest.

With under 8km to go, the boys were bowling along at 65km/hr. HTC seemed to have their train in place, albeit a little precipitously. Petacchi and Boonen were lying in wait on Cavendish’s wheel. A couple of riders took flyers off the front, with 600 metres to go the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin fell at the final bend which disturbed the train’s rhythm and played directly  into the hands of Garmin who guided Tyler to victory.

The GC contenders were kept well to the fore by their team mates today and out the way of any potential problems. The wind was not a factor although it was clearly a little stronger over the St Nazaire bridge, re-classified as a Cat 4 climb, a magnificent piece of French civic engineering which unites the two sides of the Loire estuary, as the peloton momentarily broke into several groups. On a lighter note, Antony Charteau was let off the leash for a quick greet and meet with his family in Chauve before remounting to join the peloton as they whizzed past.

Phil Gil has his eye on tomorrow’s stage from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne, but I’m sure he’s not the only one. If he gains more than 1 second on Thor tomorrow, Cadel will take over the maillot jaune. My beloved is in Australia and he texted me saying that the Aussies, particularly the press, are in 7th heaven over Cadel’s progress. He certainly would be a popular winner but there’s still a few more days and kilometers to go.

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.

Gripping stuff

My beloved left for yesterday’s pointage in the early morning fog. I rolled over for another hour’s sleep. Eschewing the ride up Ste Agnes to see one of my favourite one day races, the Tour of Flanders, where Belgian television coverage was starting at midday. I settled for a run along the sea front, followed by a quick coffee and collected the Sunday newspapers. Back home I prepared lunch before settling in for a marathon viewing session.

No where and no one is more passionate about cycling than Belgium and the Belgians. And this is their race,  their day in the sun. They line every kilometer of the course, standing over 10 deep on the bergs, quaffing beer and consuming their beloved frites with mayo. The sun was indeed shining, it wasn’t overly windy, near perfect riding conditions.

Rabid fans (picture courtesy of Getty Images)

The parcours starts in the beautiful city of Bruges and zigzags 258km to Meerbeke over 18 steep, sharp climbs and 26 sections of cobbles. The climbs come thick and fast after 70km of flat. If one can refer to cobbles as flat. The cobbles are smaller and more regular than those in Paris-Roubaix but, as the riders traverse them, their upper arms judder as if they’re undergoing some form of electric shock therapy.

The race is largely held on dirty, narrow farm roads which wind through the villages en route. To be in contention you need to remain vigilant and towards the front of the peloton. The slightly-built Spaniards from Euskaltel-Euskadi and Moviestar who would, no doubt, prefer to be riding in the Basque country, but they got the short straw, cling to the back of the peloton, grateful for assistance on the climbs from the beefier Belgian spectators, wondering when they’ll be able to climb off their bikes.

One innovation this year was cameras in four of the team cars (Quickstep, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Garmin Cervelo and SaxoBank Sungard). From time to time, you  could hear the instructions being barked to the riders, although you might not have understood what was being said in every instance, unless you understood Flemish.

Given the opportunity, I could happily watch every minute of this race from start to finish.  As television coverage commenced, there was a group of 5 riders out in front who were being gradually hauled back in. The second group of 18 riders on the road contained a lot of team leaders’ wingmen sparing their teams the effort of chasing them down. Although the pace was pretty frenetic with teams trying to keep their protected riders at the front of the pack, and out of harm’s way.

The main peloton splintered with a number of riders losing contact and there were plenty of spills but, thankfully, none looked to be serious. The group of 18 was hauled back in and the chasing pack now consisted entirely of favourites with their key riders. With 86km to go Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) takes off on the Ould Kwaremont, hotly pursued by Simon Clarke of Astana. With 79km remaining they bridge up to the lead group, initially giving it fresh impetus, but ultimately leaving it behind.

Meanwhile, behind them on the Taaienberg, Boonen (Quickstep), Flecha (Sky) and Van Avermaert (BMC) are forcing the pace. Others, such as Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Lars Boom (Rabobank) have pinged off the front, followed by Van Avermaert, Guesdon (FDJ), Hayman (Sky) and Leezer (Rabobank). Among the favourites, everyone seems to be waiting for Cancellara to make his move.

Up front on the Molenberg, Chavanel is now on his lonesome at the head of affairs with 44km to the finish, the gap back to the peloton is 55 seconds. Finally, unable to wait any longer Thor Hushovd (Garmin Cervelo), resplendent in his rainbow jersey, heads to the front of the bunch quickly followed and then overtaken by Tom Boonen (Quickstep) and his  shadow aka Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and  Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek).

Fabian goes into TT mode and rides away, the others start looking at one another waiting to see who’ll chase. Too late, he’s gone and swiftly heading for Chavanel. Wilfred Peeters tells Chavanel to stick on Fabian’s wheel as he goes past and to do no work. He does as he’s told. The bunch don’t seem to be making much of an inroad into the gap back to Chavanel and Cancellara, they need to get themselves organised. Back to the team cars, Peeters is telling Leopard Trek’s DS that Chavanel is unfortunately too tired to contribute.  Over at Garmin Cervelo, Jonathan Vaughters is telling his troops to do no work at all, just sit in and sprint for 3rd.

Finally, the bunch gets themselves organised and they catch  Chavanel and Cancellara on the iconic Muur, just 15km to the finish and the favourites are all back together again.  Phil Gil (Omega Pharma-Lotto) makes his trade mark attack on the last climb, the Bosberg, but is soon caught by Cancellara, Ballan (BMC), Leukemans (Vacansoleil), Chavanel and Schierlinckx (Veranda Willems).  Flecha (Sky), Nuyens (Saxobank Sungard), Hincapie (BMC), Boonen, Langeveld (Rabobank) and Thomas (Sky) join them. Ballan puts in a dig, Phil Gil follows. The attacks are coming thick and fast as riders chase one another down. With 4km left, Langeveld attacks,  a 3-man group of Cancellara, Chavanel and Nuyens follows and stays clear to contest the sprint finish which is won by the fresher man. The Belgians have a Belgian winner, Nick Nuyens, who rode a very intelligent race. Cancellara didn’t get back-to-back victories, but Bjarne Riis did.

The winners (photo courtesy of Getty images)

Vuelta Ciclista al Pays Vasco Postscript: There is something enormously satisfying in watching the professional peloton suffer on roads on which you too have suffered. The finishing line for today’s 151.2km stage around Zumarraga was just 3km from the top of the rather brutal Alto de la Antigua. Some of those boys got off and walked up. I knew just how they felt. Purito held off Sammy’s (too?) late charge for the line to take the leader’s jersey.

All shook up

We set off yesterday lunchtime for Aix-en-Provence. I let my beloved drive Tom III, largely because I was feeling lousy with my head cold. We arrived, easily parked and went to stand at the finish, within sight of the big tv screen. The team cars and buses were parked behind us and I realised I should have liberated “the shirt for signature” from my LBS, as I’d have had no trouble collecting further signatures – damn. I’ll do that today and see if I can collect a few over the week end.

Sky's Geraint Thomas cooling down
Sky’s Geraint Thomas set the earliest best time only to be superceded by Vacansoleil’s Liewe Westra. Obviously, if you’re riding for a team with GC ambitions,  you’re probably advised to ride within yourself, saving something in the legs for this week end’s stages. As a result, riders come and go without unduly disturbing the results. However, I enjoy time trials as it’s one of the very few occasions you get to see individual riders. On the big screen, you can also appreciate the differences between the time-triallers and the others. The former keep rock solid still on the bike with the legs working like pistons. However, with 25 riders within 90 seconds of the leader, this time-trial was going to finish with a flourish.
Serious bike bling

Richie Porte (SaxoBank-Sungard),  or as he’s called by the French Ritchee Poorty, set the next best time. He ultimately finished 3rd, 29 seconds behind the eventual winner. Yes, this was one stage that went according to expectations. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) wearing his GB champion’s kit blasted around 9 seconds faster than Richie Porte to finish 2nd on the day. The winner, as widely anticipated, was Tony Martin whose fluid pedalling style is a joy to behold. He rode at an average speed of 48.5km/hr and finished 20 seconds ahead of Wiggo.

As predicted, the time-trial results shook up the GC. Martin is now in yellow 36 seconds ahead of Kloeden (RadioShack) and 39 seconds ahead of Wiggins. Locally based Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) is 70 seconds back in 4th, and holder of the best young jersey, with Jean Christophe Peraud (AG2R), the highest placed Frenchman, in 5th, a further 4 seconds down. Given the week end’s topography and forecast weather conditions, the top 12 placed riders can still challenge on GC, but Tony Martin looks pretty determined to hang onto yellow. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) looks to have a stranglehold on the points jersey, as does Remi Pauriol (FDJ) on the spotted one.

Something left in the tank
It’s official, I have a cold which probably wasn’t helped by my standing in yesterday’s humid and chilly conditions watching the racing. But a girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. My tip for today? Alexandre Vinokourov wasn’t totally blown when he finished yesterday. He’d like to win a stage to honour his late friend, Andrei Kivilev, and maybe today’s the day. We’ll see.

In the bag

While I spend a lot of time cycling on my own, I am equally at home riding with my clubmates. Even so there are certain wheels I would prefer not to follow as their owners either have a propensity to kiss the tarmac with alarming frequency or tend not to keep their line, particularly when  descending. Of course, given my (still) superior bodyweight, I  descend faster and therefore prefer to be at the head of the peloton.

Such riders are not the sole preserve of the amateur peloton. Should I ever find myself riding with the pros, there are a number whose wheels I would prefer to avoid. Most notably, Frank Schleck who found himself on the ground (again) today. He wasn’t the only one. Heinrich Haussler, lost concentration, and slipped off the road into a ditch. Both got back into the peloton after some mechanical assistance delivered from the team car window.

Coverage of today’s 199km sprinter’s stage from Monfort l’Amaury to Amilly started with around 47km remaining and most of the peloton 50 seconds behind breakaways Maxime Bouet (AG2R) and Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). A few kilometers later the entire procession was halted by a level crossing and, after the barriers re-opened, officials were hard pressed to maintain the leaders’ advantage as riders tried to slip around the cars. A lot seized the opportunity to indulge in one of my practices whereby, whenever the club peloton stops, I ghost to the front of the bunch (again).

The breakaways were re-absorbed with about 30km to go. The bunch appeared quite nervous today as the sprinters’ teams were determined not to forgo one of the remaining opportunities for a stage win. To be fair most of the better-known sprinters have elected to take part in Tirreno-Adriatico as the more undulating terrain better suits their preparation for the Spring classics.

In the run into the finish, the helm was assumed in turn by a number of different teams: Astana, Movistar, HTC-HighRoad. But it was Sky who got their act together in the final stretch with Geraint Thomas leading out Kiwi Greg Henderson for the win. He finished ahead of Matt Goss (HTC) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), who set off on his own with 1.5km to go, was taken back after 300km but  retained the yellow jersey making his recent sausage and salami sacrifice worthwhile.

As well as dealing with the week’s inevitable administrative burden, I have whipped up a delicious dinner for my beloved. I’m very fond of Indian cuisine but rarely make it just for myself. This evening we’re having tandoori spiced lamb with pilau rice and cauliflower curry.