Almost home

To kill a bit of time yesterday, and give my weary feet a bit of a rest, I watched “Eat Pray Love”. An undemanding film which will no doubt boost tourism to Rome, Indian Ashrams and Bali. If I was going to “find myself” none of these destinations would be on my list of must see/visit places.

I’m not an adventuresome traveller. When I was younger, my friends inter-railed around Europe, sleeping whenever and wherever. I, meanwhile, found gainful employment and then spent two weeks in a luxury hotel. To me “tent” has always been a 4-lettered word. I will only stay in places that have clean toilets, and hot and cold running water. Hence, certain continents are a definite”no go” as are many countries. Call me chicken, but I know what I like and what I don’t like.

I had to change flights at Doha. On the way out, there was a 2 hour wait, but on the way back it’s 19 hours. Not wishing to spend all that time cooped up in the admittedly swanky Qatar Airways lounge, I decided to venture into downtown Qatar. My only experience of the Middle East has been numerous, largely business, trips to Dubai and a plane change in Muscat. I have however seen bits of Qatar on the television during the Tour of Qatar. This is largely a sprint fest which provides some warm weather training for those not taking part in the Tour down Under, and is followed by the Tour of Oman.

Qatar looks like Dubai did 15 years ago and its oil and gas rich rulers have ambitious plans for the place with a significant amount of construction planned in the hopes of attracting the World Cup in 2022. However, from what I’ve seen, I couldn’t recommend it as a holiday destination.

I can’t wait to get home but while I’m hanging around in Doha I hope to be able to see the Commonwealth Men’s Road Race. I have been watching the Australians hoover up almost all of the track medals at the Commonwealth Games. I had thought that Pom bashing was a bit of a myth and certainly never encountered any of it while in Melbourne and Sydney. However, the press seemed to make a big deal out of Australia whupping Britain in the Commonwealth Games, as if we were the only other team in town. It’s clear that they take the Games far more seriously, having sent their A team in all disciplines: not so the English.

With any luck and a good internet connect, I may also be able to see Paris-Tours. Can PhilGil can make it three in a row ? He’s probably still feeling the effects of jetlag but then so will most of his main competitors: Freire, Pozzato, Breschel, Feillu. However, I think he’ll have a point to prove after the World’s. Tom Boonen who’s still recovering from the after effects of his knee surgery is unlikely to be in contention.

Postscript: That man Oscarito popped up to take it on the line from Angelo Furlan and Gert Steegmans, whose team mate Geoffroy Lequatre, having soloed from 8km out, was swamped 400m from the line.

Postpostscript: Australia make it 14 out of 15 golds on offer in the Commonwealth cycling with Allan Davis winning gold in the Men’s, ahead of Hayden Roulston and David Millar while Rachel Gilmore won the Ladies’.

It’s raining, it’s pouring

The depression over the Cote d’Azur sadly lingers on. All this week I’ve been playing dodge the rain in order to fit in my training programme. Typically, it was sunny on Monday morning – a rest day. I was really tempted to go for a ride, particularly when I sighted Boonen (sans helmet again) and friends heading along the coast at a positively pedestrian pace. I say “friends” because as usual he was leading the group and on its outside thereby effectively obscuring the others whom I assume were the other Monegasque resident Belgians (Steegmans and Gilbert) plus Pozzato.

It started raining in earnest on Monday afternoon and continued all day Tuesday. Tuesday’s ride was executed on the home trainer. It looked as if Wednesday’s ride was heading in the same direction but, luckily,it ceased raining around lunchtime and the roads were starting to dry out when I dropped my beloved off at the airport: peace and tranquility assured until Saturday evening. I came back and went out on the bike for a few hours returning as soon as the sky looked menacing. The temperature has dropped, so it was back into the long sleeved winter shirt and leg warmers. Afterwards, the fleecy tracksuit made a welcome re-appearance. 

Today the temperature has dropped even further and, for this morning’s ride, I opted for my winter tights and winter jacket.  The rain’s held off, but it’s awfully dark overhead particularly back into the hills, with only the littoral enjoying some brighter, dryer weather. As a result, there were a lot of riders  circumnavigating Cap d’Antibes this morning. The rain’s forecast to return this afternoon but tomorrow should be dryer.

Under repair - La Croisette - Cannes

Tuesday’s storms caused massive waves to again pound the beaches all along the Cote d’Azur, sending sand and stones crashing all over  the coast road, which was subsequently closed, and destroying beach restaurants in its wake. This was particularly poignant as many restauranters have endured similar problems throughout this winter and were just getting ready to open for the summer season.

I’m hoping and praying for better weather next week because I’m off to watch several stages of the Giro d’Italia starting with the TTT in Cuneo and continuing along the Ligurian coastline into Tuscany where, hopefully, I’ll also be logging plenty of training miles.

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

Hold onto your handlebars

Paris-Nice is often referred to as the race to the sun. Looking at the long-range weather forecast that’s unlikely to be the case this year. Following on from the hurricane like winds, the temperatures have dropped 10 degrees Celsius, there’s snow on Col de Vence and more forecast.

I rode with my beloved on Monday and we both struggled to contain our bikes in the cross winds. If there was a tail wind, we never found it. High winds have plagued the first two days of Paris-Nice. On Sunday, Gert Steegmans (no lightweight) was swept off his bike on one of the downhill sections, crashed and broke his collarbone. What with being concussed in the Tour of the Algave, he’s not having a good start to 2010.

Monday, the peloton seemed very nervous and there were lots of coming together of bikes which, combined with the wind, ultimately fractured the peloton. I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt, but the Caisse d’Epargne riders in contention on GC and Lars Boom, the wearer of the yellow jersey, managed to put time into Messrs Contador, Leipheimer and Sanchez (Sammy). Bert even got entangled with Barbie Barbie Haussler and is now nursing a sore leg. Yesterday’s run in was marred by another crash though none of the GC contenders were involved.

The work load in the fourth week of my training programme is much lighter and I even have a few rest days. Meaning I don’t have to go out in the cold, which is good. I had thought my beloved was going to be home all week but he’s gone off to Germany today and tomorrow, so more good news.

Sadly, since Monday evening I have been sufferring from a savage dose of gastroenteritis. I haven’t eaten anything for the last 48 hours and can barely keep down water, which is leaving me dangerously short of fluids and feeling really weak. Good for the weight loss? Not really as it lowers one’s metabolic rate. I just hope I recover enough to do this week end’s rides.

Pipped at the post

Another sunny day which I kicked off with a ride. I hadn’t gone far when I met up with two club mates and so I rode with them. I hadn’t seen either of them for a while. One was just recovering from a nasty dose of man flu while the other has been kept busy by his 12 grand-children.

We passed a number of club mates, going in the opposite direction, who had been out on that morning’s earlier club ride. Like me these two see no reason to ride when it’s really cold, preferring to leave an hour or so later. They also like to stop for a coffee and a chat on the way back: much more companiable.

Mind you I’d no sooner gotten back home, showered, changed and had lunch than I was off down to the club for our monthly meeting on the forthcoming Brevet Kivilev. Who knew that there were so many small details that needed to be taken care of – not me. For example, as the routes criss-cross 16 communes that’s 16 letters that have to be written to 16 mayors advising them of our plans. We’re also short of around 20 volunteers and while we’ve not yet resorted to press-ganging members and their families, or even strong arming them, don’t put it past us.

Nor have we started to solicit donations for the all-important tombola, the key prize of which is usually a bike frame. I’m donating one of those string vests (wouldn’t be seen dead in it), a Mellow Johnny’s T-shirt and a couple of cycling books. We’re hoping to drum up a few pieces of kit from the locally resident pros and anything else we can lay our hands on. M le President has done an excellent job on the tombola for the last couple of years. After all, if you had a local business, you’d want to keep on the right side of the head honcho down at the fire station – wouldn’t you?

The meeting ran into the regular monthly club meeting for which there was a particularly good attendance. All the better to hear that we had retained our regional championship, 2nd division on account of the number of members. Not only that but we’d come 2nd overall, beating off two larger clubs from nearby Antibes. I think this gives M le President bragging rights at the next UFOLEP meeting.   

Got back home (again) just in time to watch the highlights of today’s first stage in Adelaide of the Tour down Under which was won by Andrei Greipel (HTC-Columbia) who narrowly beat Gert Steegmans (Radio Shack) whom we’ve not seen competitively on a bike for a while – welcome back Gert. I last saw him in the tribune watching the team presentation at last year’s Tour de France in Monaco, where he resides.