Topsy turvy

I’ve been thrown a little off kilter this week by the Tour of Beijing, television coverage of which understandably has been in the morning. As a consequence, I have sacrified my pre-ride work to watch the racing. Unfortunately, this has added to the work which has piled up while I’ve been feeling under the weather with my cold. The cold has almost, but not quite, disappeared. More importantly, I’m finally managing to get a good night’s sleep. Everything is so much better after 8 hours in the land of nod. Back to the Tour of Beijing, a race which wouldn’t suit me at all. That thick haze of smog which perpetually shrouds the city would have me in respiratory distress.

Pretty much as anticipated, HTC’s Tony Martin blitzed the opening day 11.3km prologue on Wednesday and, in the process, overtook what seemed like half the field but, in reality, was only a couple of riders. He shot by Sammy Sanchez who, while intent on re-living some of his Olympic glory, had sadly been  felled by gastro-troubles: Beijing belly. The British, en masse, occupied the subsequent key places on GC.

The event was taking place during one of the official Chinese holiday periods and one can only assume that the good citizens of Beijing, despite being fervent bike fans, were in the country visiting relatives, hitting a few golf balls, shopping in Hong Kong or sunning themselves on the beach. They were not watching the cycling. However, it later emerged that the Chinese authorities, fearful of any incident marring the race, had once again made it difficult for anyone to watch the race live. However, as it progressed, particularly on Friday’s Queen stage, numbers of spectators increased or maybe it was just the same ones being bussed around to key points. Nonetheless, I do support the UCI’s globalisation initiative. It’s unthinkable that the world’s largest nation doesn’t get a look in, even though they produce most of the bikes. Cycling has to become less parochial if it’s to remain viable. It was particularly pleasing to see the Chinese team getting in breaks and generally holding their own in the peloton. It augurs well for the future of the sport which needs global sponsors, not sugar daddies.

It was generally accepted that whoever won the prologue would probably hang on for the overall as the following stages were largely sprint finishes with the exception of Stage 3, which would be unlikely to unduly perturb Martin. Stage 2 was won by Garvelo’s Heinrich Haussler who’s had a torrid season by anyone’s account. Nice to see him back to winning ways as he probably heads Down Under for a winter of racing. Irish eyes were smiling on Stage 3 which was won by AG2R’s Nico Roche, another rider (and team) badly in need of a win, followed by Radioshack’s Philip Deignan and Sky’s Chris Froome. Wins are like buses, once you’ve got one under your belt, others follow.

Day 4 saw a Liquigas Cannondale double header as Peter Sagan, leading out Elia Viviani for the win, finished 2nd. Today’s final stage, another sprint, where Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov rode the lime-green train to seal the win, and the green points jersey. Radioshack’s Ben King was the best young rider and Eukaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton won the mountain’s jersey. Martin led this race from start to finish with Garvelo’s David Millar (2nd) and Sky’s Chris Froome (3rd) rounding out the podium.

Next up, Mark Cavendish’s first race showcasing the rainbow jersey, Paris-Tours, won last year by Oscar Freire. Phil Gil resplendent in his Belgian national jersey was also racing today and I note he’s got “Fast Phil” written on his bike. I wonder should I get “Slow Sheree” inscribed on mine? The race was animated by two breakaway groups who, having made the junction, left the main peloton behind to contest the win. A lot of work was put in by Leopard Trek’s Stuart O’Grady and Radioshack’s Geoffroy Lequatre early on to keep the breakaways well ahead of a disorganised peloton. You may remember that last year Lequatre was cruelly caught by the bunch 300m from the line thanks to a strong head wind.

With 15km to go, FDJ youngster Arnaud Gerard set off on his own. Team Type 1’s Laszlo Bodrogi and Rubens Bertogliati gave chase, but the group didn’t want to let two fine time-triallists off the leash and they were brought back. Next off the front were BMC’s Greg Van Avermaert and Vacansoleil’s Marco Mercato who overhauled Gerard and, even though the latter was subsequently joined by team mate Mickael Delage and then the rest of the breakaways, it was that duo who went on to contest the win. Van Avermaert, the better sprinter of the two prevailed with 3rd place going to Saxobank’s Kasper Klostergaard. I assume Fast Phil and the Manx Missile rolled in 90 seconds later with everyone else.

Good save

It’s always enjoyable watching the professional peloton suffer on the same routes and roads that one regularly rides. This week end was no exception other than to say none of us would willingly ride in this sort of weather. Not even if someone were paying us. For the first time in many years, riders in Paris-Nice were welcomed to the Cote d’Azur with snow, gail-force winds, rain and cold temperatures. It’s at times like these you have to admire their fortitude and perseverance in the face of so many climatic obstacles.

As forecast, it started raining heavily just as the peloton hit the descent from Gourdon, a broad, sinuous and steep road which dangerously narrows at Chateauneuf. Roads are always at their most dangerous with a little rain: they’re greasy and very slippy. Many were cautious, indeed one could say over cautious. But with good reason, no one wants their season compromised.

Yesterday, it was a case of right team wrong rider, Alexandre Vinokourov had said that they were going to put an Astana rider on the podium. I assumed he would be that rider. I was wrong. It was instead, Remy di Gregorio who, after a couple of years in the FDJ wilderness, showed that he’s been revitalised by the Astana lifeline.

Right on Remy

Remy set off with around 13km to the finish with no one quite believing that he would manage to stay away, particularly given the narrow margin of his advantage.  His team had controlled the peloton for the first 80km or so and by the time we had television coverage, Garmin-Cervelo were on the front picking up points to preserve the green jersey of Heinrich Haussler. In the final stretch, Movistar took over, one assumes, to catapult Xavier Tondo up the GC. Instead, he slid off his bike just before the finish line.

The favourites all looked to be in preservation mode, not willing to gamble in the perilous conditions. Haussler fell over three times, the last time sliding into a wall. Robbert Kiserlovski (Astana) ended up under a parked van. Those two weren’t the only riders to fall. With 2km to go, Remy’s back wheel slid and  his right leg shot out of the pedal, allowing him to steady himself. Miraculously, he remained upright and continued to press his slim advantage.

Sammy Sanchez decided to use the work done by Movistar to move up on GC, finishing behind di Gregorio to record his 33rd runners-up position. Does this make him a Spanish Poulidor? There was no change to any of the jersey holders, nor the podium.

Today’s stage was much shorter and took in the usual sights of Nice which, one has to say, still looked magnificent on the television coverage despite the constant falling rain and huge waves crashing onto the beach. Sheltering under our brollies, warmly wrapped up, we watched the riders depart and them promptly retired to a bar to warm ourselves and watch the tv coverage. We were joined by many of the walking wounded: riders who have retired thanks to niggling injuries, colds and stomach upsets.

Only 134km to go!

Seizing the opportunity of last year’s last stage winner’s absence (Amael Moinard has retired with a heavy cold), Thomas Voeckler rode away from his breakaway companions to record his 2nd win (3rd French stage win) of this edition of Paris-Nice. You would be hard pressed to find a more popular winner. Sammy set off again, this time with a team mate from the breakaway,  to pull back a few seconds which moved him up another place on GC into 5th. That aside, there were no changes on the podium nor with the jerseys. Tony Martin rode a well judged race to record his first stage-race GC win and provide HTC with another Grand Tour card to play. Andreas Kloeden was 2nd and Bradley Wiggins 3rd. Jean-Christoph Peraud was the best placed Frenchman in 6th place. Rein Taaramae (4th on GC) was the best young rider, Henrich Haussler won the green point’s jersey and Remi Pauriol the spotted mountain one.

(all photographs courtesy of my beloved)

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.

Double rations

We left for this morning’s ride under a cloudy sky which, thankfully, soon cleared. The club’s ranks had been depleted by a number of riders racing elsewhere today. Nonetheless, those remaining set a cracking pace and, once let off the leash, weren’t seen again; at least, not by me. I rode along at my own pace enjoying the warm sunshine, the fresh air and the arrival of Spring.

I shortened the prescribed club ride to get back home in time to finish preparing lunch. French television coverage of Paris-Nice was scheduled for 13:30 and I wanted lunch to be long over by then so that I could lounge on the sofa and enjoy the race.

With 70km to go, the peloton, under sunny skies, were reeling back in the two breakaway artists, Euskaltel’s Gorka Izagirre and Europcar’s Damien Gaudin. It took them another 30km to accomplish that feat. Two kms later Jeremy Roy (FDJ) set off, pursued by Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil). They never got more than 50 seconds ahead but worked well together, took advantage of the confusion in the chasing peloton, particularly through the urban streets, and a strong tail-wind in the final 6kms.

Belgian Thomas De Gendt prevailed in the sprint to land the biggest win of his career ahead of Roy. Voigt was swallowed by the advancing herd, Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) took 3rd. Most riders came home in the bunch but the wind had provoked a number of breaks in the peloton and those lingering down the back had been tailed off, most notably David Moncoutie (Cofidis). He was keeping Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky), who had crashed, company 8 minutes back.

When the race finished we decided to take a walk along the seafront in the sunshine. Everyone else had the same idea. The promenade was packed with people strolling, dog-walking, cycling, in-line skating, scooting or just sitting and watching. Business was booming at most of the cafes and restaurants.

We came back to discover Eurosport had delayed its transmission, so I watched the race again. If I were Jeremy Roy, I would have offered thanks to the gods when I saw that Jens Voigt, eminence grise of the peloton, had joined the breakaway, along with Thomas De Gendt. They worked well together, no one shirked their turn on the front and all three gave it their all. Wondering whether or not the peloton would catch them in the new radio-free environment made for an exciting race. Interestingly, commentators on both channels felt that, if the breakway managed to stay away,  De Gendt would win. I recall him hoovering up the KOM and points jersey in the 2009 Tour of Britain when he was riding for Topsport Vlaaderen.

Lost but not lonely

Thanks to a  48 hour  bug, my week has been sent a bit off kilter. The first warning sign was late Tuesday afternoon, when I couldn’t get warm. My hands and feet, usually so toasty, were freezing cold. I left the boys making merry after the monthly cycling club meeting and returned home for an early night. I didn’t even bother with dinner. I wasn’t hungry: another worrying sign. I woke on Wednesday morning, still feeling weary, cold and rather nauseous. Several hours later, I felt even worse so cancelled my evening English class.

I wisely spent all day Wednesday and Thursday indoors venturing out only late last night to collect my beloved from the airport. While the hands and feet have recovered some of their previous warmth, and my appetite has returned, I felt I was still lacking a bit of power when I rode today. I’ll need to make up the lost hours of training this week end.

Of course, a couple of days not eating can only help my regime. Indeed, my nutritionist is so pleased with my progress, she said I could eat whatever I liked one day a week. Of  course, the unspoken phrase was “within reason”. I’ve now lost almost 8kgs over 4 months and, once I start regularly climbing the hills behind Nice, would hope to maintain that rate of loss until I reach my target weight. Sometime around the end of 2012 – no, only joking!

Inevitably, I have spent the last couple of days getting the club’s administration up to date, particularly anything and everything to do with the forthcoming La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev whose Facebook page has gone live today. I’ve sent invitations to everyone, and I mean everyone.

While I have been enjoying the tussle over the gold jersey in the Tour of Qatar, I was not unsurprised to see it go to one of the in-form Aussies whose season debuts early thanks to the timing of their national championships. It seemed only fitting that Mark Renshaw, generally loyally employed in the service of Mark Cavendish, should prove he can hold his own with the world’s best sprinters. It was also good to see Tom Boonen and Heinrich Haussler coming back into form for the early season Classics after both of their seasons were wreaked when they were taken out in a sprint finish in last year’s Tour of Switzerland.

While there’s been no television coverage, I have also been keeping a check on results in the races in Mallorca and, nearer to home, the Tour of the Mediterranean whose stage tomorrow  finishes just up the road from me. I’ll be there to capture the action and on Sunday on Mont Faron, after the morning’s pointage at Aspremont.

Carambolage!

I love watching cycling but I hate seeing anyone fall, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. You see, I’m not too good with blood, mine or anyone else’s, the mere sight of it makes me feel very faint. I go green, need to put my head between my knees and take great gulps of oxygen. This is somewhat unfortunate as I generally give the impression that I’m someone you could rely upon in an emergency and I am, providing there’s no blood or tangled limbs.

One of the participants in the recent Brevet Kivilev came to grief on the run in to the finish. He was cut up by a car coming in the opposite direction and ended up leaving vast swathes of skin on the road. Worryingly, as he was lying in 3rd position, he was just behind the lead car and two motorcycle outriders, the former bearing a large sign saying ” Take Care Cyclists” which must have been totally ignored by the oncoming vehicle. Calling upon his paramedic skills, M le President bandaged him up before sending him to outpatients.

Another local rider and M le President both came to grief this week end. While neither broke anything, they seem to have cornered the market in sticky plaster, both suffering severe road rash and contusions to their right sides.  I was called upon to sympathise and inspect their various war wounds, fortunately well after the event.

Yesterday, there was a huge pile-up in the sprint for the line in the Tour of Switzerland. Cavendish swerved into Haussler, taking them both down, and then the riders behind piled into them. There was a picture of the event in today’s L’Equipe and you can see the looks of dawning horror on the faces of the riders behind Cav and Haussler as they comprehend exactly what is about to befall them.  As someone who has a significant amount of experience of falling off things, I can confirm that it’s best to be first. Generally, one minute you’re where you’re supposed to be and the next minute you’re on the ground. Often without knowing how you’ve gotten there because it’s all happened so quickly: no time to react. The problem with knowing what’s about to happen is that you naturally tense and try, generally in vain, to take evasive action. In addition, the whole thing seems to happen in slow motion. The end result is generally worse injuries than those that caused the incident: and so it was.

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.

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

Do you wanna be in my team?

It’s that time of year when sports people, including cyclists, are picking up awards, left, right and centre. So I thought I would join in by nominating my cycling team of the year. I should stress that there will, alas, be no glittering award ceremony, no trophies and no champagne.  Though if any of them cares to pop around in the off-season, I will be happy to crack open a bottle of my favourite beverage. The awards will, like all these awards, be totally subjective and will involve one, well-known judge – me.

The criteria for selection to Sheree’s Superteam of 15 riders are multitudinous; but being hardworking and having a cute smile will certainly put you in the mix. I had to apply a numerical limit otherwise I’d have found it hard to stop and, before you know it, everyone would be on my team. So in no particular order, here are the winners:-

Alberto ” Big Brown Eyes” Contador: What girl wouldn’t want this year’s Tour winner on her team. Bert makes the cut thanks to his stoicism in the face of relentless provocation. Yes, he let his legs do the talking.

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen:

Tom and Susi
Tom with my friend Susi

Not his most glittering season – true – but as the winner of the first cycling race I ever saw (TdF Stage 6, 2004), Tom is guaranteed a place on my team whatever. I should add that Tom is very popular with the ladies, whether or not they’re cycling fans. It’s hard to explain his allure but suffice to say he’s a man who looks damm good in lycra.

Cadel “Cuddles” Evans: For attacking and  proving everyone wrong on his home turf (Mendrisio) and having the “guts” to leave the comfort zone of Silence-Lotto for a team (BMC) which may or may not ride in next year’s Tour.

“Fabulous” Fabian Cancellara: He showed everyone how to win a World Championship time-trial (again) with style, panache, power and with room to spare.

Sammy “Gold Medal” Sanchez: Yes, the Olympic Champion makes the cut too mainly because he’s a joy to watch going downhill and he’s nearly always got a great smile on his face.    

Philippe “Pants on Fire” Gilbert: I just couldn’t leave out the man who singlehandedly hoovered up four wins in a row at the end of the season. Plus, he’s another one with a cute smile.

Barbie Barbie
Barbie Barbie

Heinrich “Barbie Barbie” Haussler: Probably, the best smile in the peloton. That’s right, no other reason.

Alexandre “He’s Back, He’s Attacking” Vinokourov: He’s done his time, he’s back and he’s launching those trademark attacks which make him so popular with cycling fans.  

Johnny “Off the Front Again” Hoogerland: I appreciate that after the Vuelta and World Championships, Johnny’s fans are now legion. Almost single-handedly he justified Vacansoleil’s invitation to the Vuelta. Will this, plus the freres Feuillu, be enough to guarantee a Tour invite next year? We all hope so. 

Mark “Manx Missile” Cavendish: The fastest man on two bicycle wheels for giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Long may it continue.

Bradley “So-Skinny” Wiggins: For proving to me incontestably that if I lose weight I too will climb faster, though probably not as fast as Brad.  

Jens “Hardman” Voigt: A huge favourite among cycling fans for his unstinting team work. I still wince at the thought of his face plant in this year’s Tour. I also love the way the French announcers say his name “Jen-sa Voy-te”.

Kenny “Never Say Die” van Hummel: Another one who won over fans with his determination to pretty much daily beat the cut off in this year’s Tour; often after riding most of the parcours on his own. A sight we will probably be denied in next year’s Tour.

Jose Vicente “Really Long Name” Garcia Acosta: He’s finished 25 Grand Tours and he’s Valverde’s faithful and untiring domestique. This man can ride tempo all day and for that he gets on my team.

Bernard “Faithful” Eisel: The man charged with shepherding the Manx Missile to within sniffing distance of the finish line: yet another upstanding lieutenant for the team. 

David “Dodgy Bike Handler” Moncoutie: You’re probably wondering why he makes my team. It’s partly because of his climbing ability but largely because, like me, his bike handling skills leave a lot to be desired.

Now those of you who can count are possibly wondering why, when I said a team of 15, there are 16 names. Obviously, I have one reserve rider.

My team will be managed by Bob Stapleton, head of the most successful team of the last couple of years, Columbia-HTC, but they’re going to be wearing Cervelo kit;CERVELO easily the nicest and most flattering, even in white and, like me, riding BMC bikes. That’s, regrettably, where the similarities start and end.