It doesn’t get better than this!

Sunday, after a delicious vegetable chilli for lunch (recipe to follow shortly), my beloved and I settled down for a feast of sporting action. First up, the conclusion of a thrilling Volta a Catalunya dominated by the evergreen Movistarlet Alejandro Valverde. Next up was a spot of action from Belgium, with an exciting conclusion to Gent-Wevelgem where the victor was the in-form Olympic Champion, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). But there’s more!

After entreaties from my beloved, I have caved in and signed up for CanalPlus Sport giving us access to plenty of cycling and, more importantly, MotoGP live. Since, it moved from Eurosport to BTSport in the UK , I have had to be content with watching races the following day which tends to take the edge off of things. Now we have the luxury of watching all three classes live. I started watching MotoGP largely because of cycling, as typically the MotoGP races preceded those of cycling on Eurosport.

Joan Mir

I started watching MotoGP stars Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales when they were both in MotoGP3 and I’ll be looking hard at this class to spot the stars of the future. Most of the MotoGP3 riders look too young to be out on their own on a bicycle let alone a 125cc moto bike. Their fresh faced enthusiasm is infectious and I couldn’t believe the winners were allowed to celebrate with champagne, surely lemonade would have been more appropriate? However, having checked them out, I discovered, quite incredibly, they were all over 18 and had come up either through their national series or that of Red Bull. The race was won by a 19 year old Spanish rider, Joan Mir, sponsored by Leopard – yes, the same one that supported a WorldTour team – who was MotoGP3 rookie of the year in 2016. Runner-up was John McPhee a British racer a few years older who’s been knocking around the circuits for a while. He was in a Spanish sandwich as Jorge Martin, another 19 year old, who’s been in the same class since 2015, finished third.

Franco Morbidelli

Incredibly there were no Spaniards on the podium in the MotoGP2 class. The winner, Italian Franco Morbidella, moved up to this class in 2013 and finished fourth last year. Runner-up was the evergreen Swiss Thomas Luthi who’s been racing this class for ten years and the podium was rounded out by the Japanese rider Takaani Nakagami who was the youngest ever winner of the Japanese GP series in 2006. First Spaniard was Alex Marquez, brother of Marc, in fifth place.

Maverick Vinales

This season with Jorge Lorenzo moving from Yamaha to Ducati, Maverick Vinales  – surely the best name in the sport – replaces him and really moves into contention after winning a race last season for Suzuki. Unfortunately, the blue-riband event was plagued by rain, uncertainty and was finally reduced to 20 dramatic laps. Vinales, who had dominated pre-season testing, was on pole and had a battle royal in the desert with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati). Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) was third after coming back from way back on the grid.

Marc Marquez

Andrea Iannone (Suzuki Ecstar) got off to a great start but was soon overshadowed by French rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who zoomed into the lead in the early laps, putting daylight between himself and the rest, before dramatically sliding out. Iannone soon followed suit leaving defending champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) chasing the leading three: Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi. The first two traded places before Vinales held off Dovi on the penultimate lap to record his second MotoGP win, his first in Yamaha colours. Marquez crossed the line in fourth and admitted post-race he’d made an ill-advised tyre change just before the race start. That said, looking at previous results, the circuit has favoured the Yamaha bikes. Next up is Argentina, a new location ,followed by Austin where the Hondas have reigned supreme. It looks as if the 2017 season is off to an exciting start and I’m hoping it’ll be a close run competition.

All photographs courtesy Getty Images 

 

(Finally) Postcard from Siena and Strade Bianche

We drove along the Autostrade dei Fiori enjoying the sunshine and glorious sea views until we turned off at Genoa and headed for Tuscany and Siena. It’s a six-hour drive from home and we stopped just the once to refuel the car and my beloved. We made good time and only had a small but heavy rain shower en route and not much wind. The Smart doesn’t like wind, a bit like me on the bike, unless it’s a tailwind.

We’d much enjoyed watching the racing in Strade Bianche last year and it’s now a fixture on our sporting calendar. I particular like that there’s a women’s and men’s race – both providing a cracking spectacle. We dropped the car and luggage at the hotel, on the edge of the old town and close by the race start, and walked to pick up our accreditations before reacquainting ourselves with the town. Specifically, I was looking for a restaurant for dinner. Once I’d found a couple of likely candidates I treated my beloved to a coffee and crostata (delicious Italian jam tart). While I had fruit tea with a local biscuit,  a cavaillucci, made without eggs or fat, studded with fennel seeds, walnuts and citrus peel. The town was buzzing in anticipation of tomorrow’s race, the local population significantly swelled by the thousands of amateur riders taking part in Sunday’s Gran Fondo. We even spotted a few of the pros drinking coffee after a leisurely reconnaissance.

My choice of restaurant was spot on. A family-run affair for several generations with the almost obligatory white linen tablecloths and napkins. We were the first couple to be seated but the restaurant subsequently filled up rapidly. We were greeted with a glass of Prosecco and a small serving of soup, one of the house specialities. I love a good home-made soup, just what you need to keep the cold and damp at bay. I ordered a vegetable soup to start and could happily have eaten the whole tureen but then I’d have had no room for my lobster spaghetti. Sated we happily strolled around the old town taking in the sites, marveling at the splendid architecture and trying to burn-off the calories consumed at dinner.

The forecast for Saturday was rain and riders in both races left warmly dressed with their rain jackets in their pockets. They knew the conditions were going to be difficult for them. It was going to be epic! While my beloved took photos, I popped to the buses to drop of some of my race-winning brownies for two lucky teams to enjoy post-race and chatted with a few acquaintances.

After the men’s race had departed, I headed to the food shops to stock up on some Italian goodies. Laden down with artisan cold meats, cheeses, tomatoes, artichokes, olive oil, pici (local pasta, a sort of thicker and rougher spaghetti) cavaillucci (see above), and ricciarelli (soft almond biscuits) we staggered back to the hotel and left it in the chilly car.

By now it was time for an early lunch in a small bar overlooking the main Piazza, more soup, this time ribollita, before heading to the finish line to cheer on the ladies. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) won with an audacious attack to cross the finish line arms aloft. The girls all looked exhausted and were covered from head to foot in wet mud. They looked more like they’d taken part in a cyclo-cross rather than road race. Sadly, my photographer had left his camera in the hotel. Honestly, I sometimes wonder why I take him to races!

We then retired to a bar near the final climb to watch the television coverage of the men’s race before taking our positions to see the finish.The light was such it was hard to see the riders as they emerged from the gloom on that final climb. It was evident that Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski had victory in the bag from the sizeable time gap between himself and his pursuers, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens.

The riders streamed up the hill in ones and twos to raucous applause and cries of encouragement, they were grimed with dirt though not quite as much as on that famous 2010 Giro d’Italia stage. They all looked chilled to the bone and in need of some hot chocolate and my brownies. It’s the first time my race-winning brownies have occupied the top two spots on the podium even before being consumed. Obviously, they’re powerful incentives.

Both races had provided spectacle and, despite the conditions, it was clear from the riders’ comments, it’s a race they enjoy. In the post race press conference, you could sense Kwiatkowski’s pleasure at once more ascending to the top step of the podium. The Sky boys assured me they’d saved him a large brownie, surely a fitting reward for his efforts.

All this race watching is pretty exhausting and our minds soon turned to dinner. We opted for lighter fare – tagliolini with truffles and a mixed salad  – in one of our favourite restaurants before heading back to the hotel for an early night. We woke the next day to heavy skies and much more rain.

We watched the brave 5,000 amateurs stream out of Siena on the heels of some notable former pros including Fabian Cancellara, Ivan Basso and Paolo Bettini. Rather them than us, many were already cold and wet through from waiting in line for the depart. It was going to be a very long day in the saddle.

As we drove home, the sky brightened and the sun shone, particularly once we were back on the coast. It’s lovely to travel but sometimes even nicer to return home.

Falling temperatures and leaves

Although this week’s weather has remained warm and sunny, with temperatures rising to the early 20s by midday, next week’s forecast shows the midday temperatures falling, for the first time in ages, below 20C. Despite struggling with the after effects of my post-Copenhagen cold, I have continued to pursue my training plan. Largely because next week will be a rest while I’m back in the UK, visiting my parents. While out training I have been thinking about this week end’s races and specifically the Tour of Lombardy. For an excellent summary of the route, please check out www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This is a race which tends to be slightly tinkered with each year. Tomorrow’s race finishes in Lecco which has rather mitigated against me going to watch it live. Of course, I was even more disappointed when I learned on Tuesday that one of my friends would be riding it. Sadly, the organisers don’t seem to know he’s riding, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the various start lists. He only found out he would be riding on his return from the Tour of Beijing on Monday, so his wife has had to re-submit his whereabouts report. If only we’d known sooner, we’d have hired a larger car and taken his entire family along to watch. It would have been a fun day out.

It’s highly unlikely that my friend will win, although it’s a parcours that suits him. He’ll be riding in support of one of the team’s other riders. So, who is going to win? I have been pondering the front runners and looking back at the results of the most recent races, including yesterday’s Tour du Piemont.

Omega Pharma Lotto’s Fast Phil

Lacking in support at last week end’s Paris-Tours and MIA yesterday, Fast Phil will be looking for his 3rd consecutive win while the rest of the peloton, barring maybe BMC, will be out to stop him. According to the start lists, he’s currently missing 2 team mates and the other 5 riders listed could hardly be described as stellar. Yes, as Omega Pharma Lotto morphs into Quick Omega or whatever next year, everyone’s rather lost interest. It’s going to be tough Phil, but you can do it.

Euskaltel’s Samu Sanchez

The man with more 2nds to his name than Pou Pou comes with a team choc ful of experience but, in yesterday’s race, he was obviously saving himself for Saturday. Either that or he’s not yet fully recovered from his bout of Beijing Belly. Aupa Samu!

Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a TV cameo, expect him to launch at least one of his trademark attacks. Finished 4th yesterday, so obviously on song.

BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet

Winner of Paris-Tours and 2nd yesterday, he’s likely to find tomorrow’s parcours a little too hilly for his liking. However, he might earn some brownie points for himself, his team and next year’s team mate Fast Phil by giving the latter some discreet support.

Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego

Expect both of these riders to be in the mix but keep an eye out for their more in-form team mate Przemyslaw Niemiec.

Liquigas’s Ivan Basso and Vicenzo Nibali

Could they cook up something together tomorrow a la Sidi? Who knows. Basso lives in Varese so should know this route like the back of his hand but Nibali seems the man on form with solid performances yesterday and in Giro dell’Emilia. Could Nibali make a decisive break on one of the descents?

Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema

Probably sharing team leader’s duties with Carlos Barredo, performed well in GP Berghelli and Giro dell’Emilia, but sadly rides for a tactically inept team.

Sky’s Rigoberto Uran

Could be their main man on a parcours that suits his abilities.

Katusha

A team full of recent race winners: Daniel Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez , Luca Paolini and Pippo Pozzato.

HTC

The team most likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Cavendish, having flashed us the rainbow jersey, may  climb off (as he did yesterday) when the race passes close to his place.

Other contenders who may or may not feature in the mix

In no particular order: Movistar’s Pablo Lastras, Garvelo’s Dan Martin, AG2R’s Nico Roche, Radioshack’s Jani Brajkovic, Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang and Farnese’s Giovanni Visconti.

Next year’s race will be moved to the week end after the World Championships, so it’ll be the race of “soon to be Falling Leaves”.