For want of a spoke, the race was lost

Sign-on at GP Miguel Indurain
Sign-on at GP Miguel Indurain

Sadly my plans to ride some of the Tour of the Basque country course have gone awry. We arrived in Estella on Friday evening, dined well and enjoyed a good night’s sleep to awake to yet more glorious sunshine. We decided to ride a couple of the loops of the GP Miguel Indurain, catching the race both en route and as it passed through the town. I also rode up to the summit finish twice, please note the peloton only had to do it once!

Sunday, also dawned fair but soon turned grey and overcast. We were now in the heart of the Basque country, ideally placed to view each of the start and finishes of the six stages in the Tour of the Basque country. Undaunted, we muffled up and rode out, heading due north. I hadn’t been riding for long when my bike went “kerrching”. Never good news. I stopped to discover I had broken a spoke on my rear wheel. Initially, I wasn’t too concerned. Every small town here has a bike shop. Surely, someone would be able to fix it?

A quick search on the internet revealed a large bike shop on the outskirts of Bilbao which we could visit en route to the following day’s stage, finishing and starting in Guenes, 20km south-west of Bilbao. The shop took the wheel and suggested I call back later. My beloved elected to ride some of the day’s course while I spent an enjoyable day bombing around the Basque countryside, in the warm sunshine, in the company of my friends, Dom and Susi,who were taking photos for Cycling News. At the stage’s conclusion, we headed back to the bike shop. They hadn’t managed to find the requisite parts but suggested I leave it in their tender care for another day. I was happy to do so though rather chafing at the bit to get back into the saddle.

Chris Horner before stage 1 start
Chris Horner before stage 1 start

managed to find the requisite parts but suggested I leave it in their tender care for another day. I was happy to do so though rather chafing at the bit to get back into the saddle.

I rang the shop the following morning and they confirmed it would be ready for collection that evening after stage two’s conclusion in Vitoria-Gasteiz. This is a place I’d seriously underrated on my last visit there during the Vuelta. The stage had finished on the town’s outskirts, today we saw its delightfully charming old town.  When we returned to the bike shop, it was to bad news. They’d been unable to source replacement spokes for my Campagnolo wheel.

Undeterred, I decided I would have a chat with the men from Mavic the following morning. It just so happened that I’d previously met one of the Mavic guys at Paris-Nice. I turned to him for some words of wisdom before the start of stage three. He basically told me that the wheels were a bugger to fix and he couldn’t help me. I’m assuming that’s a technical term. He advised I carried spares in future – noted.

I then turned to see which of the ProTour teams were sporting similar wheels. A couple of the guys at Movistar had the same model but in view of the fact they were fiddly to fit, and knowing how hard the mechanics have to work, I decided not to ask. Though I did keep looking longingly at anyone who had a bike the same frame size as mine and my beloved had to keep admonishing me to step away.

In any event, it’s rained pretty much solidly for the last four days. So it’s doubtful I would have actually ridden even had I been able to fix the wheel. My beloved has been out most days, only to come back as mud-spattered as a cyclo-cross rider – thank heavens I bought plenty of kit with us. The washing machine will be going into overdrive on our return!

For my previews and reviews of both races head on over to VeloVoices.

Off on holiday

Yes, I’m dragging my beloved away for a few days’ vacation: my beloved and our bikes. We’re heading down to the Basque country to watch the GP Miguel Indurain and the Tour of the Basque country. I had originally planned this as a solo road trip where I was going to sign up for some Basque cookery classes but soon appreciated that this would be challenging to achieve given the route of the Tour. So the cookery classes went by the wayside – another time perhaps!

As my trip clashed with Easter, it seemed a bit churlish to leave my beloved behind. His wishes have been accommodated, free WiFi at our destination hotel. Apart from that I have our days mapped out. We’ll be riding some of each day’s parcours before and after watching the riders sign on for the stage and then we’ll be catching the day’s finish. The weather looks fine although it won’t be as warm as this week which has been somewhat exceptional. Conscious that I’m heading to a green and pleasant land I’ll also be taking my wet weather gear.

Apart from our cycling gear, we don’t need to take too many other clothes. This makes packing relatively simple. Rather than hiring a car we’re taking Tom III who’ll be literally stuffed to the gunwhales but not too stuffed that we can’t bring back a few goodies. I’m thinking ham, wine, cheese which we can pop into the cool bag. The car is clean, full of petrol, tyres checked and ready to go. All our packing has been done, just need to slip in the electric tooth brushes tomorrow morning. The only thing missing is my beloved. He’ll be winging his way back from London this evening.

He tends to make a speciality of returning just before we go away. This ensures that everything will have been done for him, all he has to do is turn up. I have had a few wobbly moments when he’s done this in the past and either missed his plane – occurrences far too frequent to enumerate – or it’s been delayed. Rather than try and return the same day as we leave, I now insist he returns the night before.  A small but sensible precaution.

Drying out

We had our first downpour in ages yesterday afternoon and evening, but already it’s starting to dry out. By mid-day, I’ll be off out on the bike for a ride. The good weather is set to return for the finale of this week’s Paris-Nice. Last year, sadly, it was a race to the rain and we all felt miserable huddled in the VIP caravan watching the race unfold on the screen. Not as miserable as the riders, many of whom crashed on the rain slicked roads. Crashes which compromised their seasons. A significant number were also taken out with pulmonary infections robbing them of crucial racing and training kilometers.

In this year’s race, it started to rain towards the back end of Sunday’s short individual time trial. The conditions no doubt affected those riders and their results, but they didn’t suffer for too long. Yesterday, they were treated to a couple of deluges and they came home mud spattered, cold and wet. The washing machines in the team buses would have been working overtime yesterday evening. Today’s forecast shows low temperatures but probably no rain which will be a welcome relief after yesterday. The weather should improve as they travel further south.

When my beloved returns from Canada (four days of peace and quiet), we’re going to drive over to Sisteron on Friday, ride some of the parcours and watch the race finish. We’ve been to Sisteron a number of times and it’s lovely cycling around there. We’ll do the same on Saturday morning before bidding the peloton farewell. We’ll then drive back to watch the finish. I haven’t yet decided whether to watch on the Col de Vence or head to the finish on the Promenade, or attempt both. My beloved will miss Sunday’s time-trial up Col d’Eze as he’s heading to Bordeaux for a meeting the following morning. I’ve already warned him he’ll have to make alternative arrangements to get to the airport. Tom III and I will be otherwise engaged.

More cycling related good news: the GP Miguel Indurian, the Vuelta al  Pais Vasco and Clasica San Sebastian have all been saved, for now. I am of course delighted as my two holidays this year have been planned around these very races when I shall again be riding some of the parcours and watching the racing. Our first trip, over Easter, will give us an opportunity to explore the Basque country between Bilbao and San Sebastian. One of the advantages of watching the Tour of the Basque country is that it takes place in quite a small geographic area. There’s no need for the teams, or us, to change hotels and the finish is within easy reach of the start. This will enable us to see the sign-on, drive to the finish and the cycle some of the route before watching the riders arrive across the finish line.

We’ll need to do plenty of cycling to burn off the calories we’ll be consuming in the Basque restaurants. We won’t this time be going on a trawl of Michelin starred establishments, instead we’ll be seeking out “neighbourhood” restaurants. I shall still need to take care however so as not to set my regime back ahead of my forthcoming season of sportifs.

Here one minute, gone the next

Yesterday’s big story was the (one assumes) accidental leaking of next year’s Tour de France route ahead of its official launch next week. ASO have neither confirmed nor denied that it’s the correct route but for those of you requiring confirmation, just try and book an Accor hotel at any of the start or finish towns. My beloved and I had already decided that next year, for the first time since 2006, we would not be watching any Tour stages live. Although it’s possible we might make it to Paris to watch the final stage.

Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t do a day trip to watch a stage. The closest one for me would be that allegedly on 14 July from St Paul Trois Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde. However, there’s no way you’d find me willingly on the roads at the start of the French holiday season where traffic jams reach nightmare proportions, particularly on routes leading from Lyon. So 2012 well might be a Tour de France free year. Yes, that’s right, I’ll just watch it all on the television.

I am however hoping to make it to both the Giro (at long last) and the Vuelta. In fact my programme is shaping up quite nicely with the early season races such as Tour of Med and Tour of Haut Var, followed, of course, by Paris-Nice and Milan- San Remo. I’m then hoping to spend a week in the Basque Country watching the Tour of the same name, and the GP Miguel Indurain, while fitting in a cookery course. This clashes with the start of the cobbled Classics, but a girl can’t always have everything.

Details of the Giro’s course which starts next year in Denmark have also been leaked. The stage to watch is the penultimate one but, as it clashes with the Kivilev, you know where I’ll be and it won’t be up the Stelvio. I’ll have to make do with watching it on my laptop. However, the stage starting in Savona on 18 May is a real possibility.

After the Giro, I’ll either go and watch the Tour of Switzerland prologue in Lugano or maybe take in a couple of stages in the Dauphine, depending, of course, on its route: southern Alps Yes, northern Alps No. There’s still a huge question mark over whether I’m going to London to watch the Olympic road race and time-trials. Without tickets the former might be a logistical nightmare while the ticket-free latter very crowded. I will however be heading back to Spain for the Clasica San Sebastian and the Vuelta. I’ve already made my hotel booking for the World Championships in Limburg where my trusty steed and I will be riding around the area, and the course. Booking early ensures I get a 4* hotel, at a reasonable price, with free WiFi and parking in central Maastricht.

I had toyed with the idea of spending this coming week end in Varese to watch the Tour of Lombardy, particularly as the weather’s so fine. But this year’s finish is in Lecco, some 41/2hrs from home, rather than Como, so again, I’ll be watching it on the television. Maybe, next year.

Place your bets please

The sun burnt through yesterday’s early fog leaving  perfect conditions for riding. My beloved and I decided to head up to La Turbie and lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. The chef used to work in a Michelin-starred establishment but left to run the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. The menu is chalked up daily on the blackboard: 5 starters, 5 mains and 5 desserts. When a dish is sold out, it’s scrubbed from the board. It’s a modest establishment which punches well above its weight.

We rode the short cut to La Turbie from Cap d’Ail to avoid the numerous traffic lights in Monaco. Skip one and you’re sure to incur a fine. This route includes a particularly steep bit 11-12% near Monaco football club’s training ground. I was struggling with the 39 x 27 but, nevertheless, managed it. Lunch was a fitting reward.

After lunch we climbed up Col d’Eze. Down on our left-hand side,  Eze village was shrouded in mist and looked like something out of a fairy tale. I have fond memories of my very first ascension of Col d’Eze for my one-woman protest against Astana’s exclusion from the 2008 Tour de France during Paris-Nice. It wasn’t supposed to be a solo effort, but my teammates never made it to the summit after falling victim to a couple of punctures. I am constantly amazed at how many punctures they suffer and can only assume they keep patching their inner tubes. Ours get sent to Burkina Faso.

After arriving home I started on the serious business  of  studying the form for today’s race. My middle sister, renowned for enjoying a flutter on the horses might have been able to impart some of her wisdom. She wins far more than she loses. But, unlike a horse race, one has to take account not only of the form of the team’s leader but also the strength of his support. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Fabian Cancellara who has to be odds on favourite whatever the state of his support. Setting him aside, there are a number of other riders one has to consider, although, I appreciate that they might only be fighting it out for the minor places.

One cannot exclude the usual suspects: Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro Ballan, Juan Antonio Flecha,  Heinrich Haussler, Stijn Devolder, Thor Hushovd, Filippo Pozzato and rookie, Peter Sagan. The papers have been suggesting that a coalition against Cancellara might be the only way to defeat him. It’s true that teams who have two or even three strong candidates should seek to tire out Spartacus’s troops by having them chase down constant attacks. My advice: just don’t take your eyes off Fabulous Fabian, not even for a second.

L’Equipe, who have Cancellara as their 5 starred favourite, have added a few more names into the mix: Sylvain Chavanel, Greg Van Avermaet, Juergen Roelandts and Nick Nuyens. Their advice is however pretty much the same as mine. They too suggest a coalition of interests, staying with Fabian and beating him in a sprint finish, or praying for a mechanical a la 2009.

Yesterday saw the traditional start of cycling in the Basque country with the GP Miguel Indurain won by none other than Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Olympic Champion, Sammy Sanchez. His first win since last August and his team’s first of the season. I note from the results that a Columbian called Robinson Eduardo Chalapud Gomez was 6th. Is this the longest name in cycling? The Tour of the Basque country starts tomorrow and I’ll be tuning into Basque tv to watch proceedings. The commentary will be incomprehensible but the pictures tell their own story.

This week end also sees the second MotoGP race in Jerez, Spain. Pole positions have been seized for today’s races by Messrs Stoner (MotoGP), Bradl (Moto2) and Cortese (125cc). Since the races run concurrent with the Tour of Flanders, I’ll settle for watching the highlights on Eurosport.