All hail

This week end I have been watching the French National Road Cycling Championship’s from Boulogne-sur Mer. The Women’s 19km Time-Trial was won in 29min 45 secs by the evergreen Jeannie Longo, a formidable competitor who continues ( I’d love to know how) to maintain her motivation. This was Jeannie’s 58th title. She’s the most successful French cyclist, ever. Most of the girls she competes against were just a twinkle in their father’s eyes when Jeannie won her first title.

She was born in 1958 in Annency,  in the French Alps, and began her sporting career as a downhill skier.  After winning the French schools’ ski championship and three university skiing championships, she switched to cycling at the urging of her coach (and later husband) Patrice Ciprelli. Within a few months, Longo had won her first (of many) French road race Championship. She was just 21. In addition to her numerous sporting achievements, Jeannie has also distinguished herself academically with a degree in Mathematics, an MBA and a doctorate in sports management.

She competes both in both road and track cycling events, is an Olympic gold-medalist and twelve-time world champion. Her impressive palmares includes:

  • Olympic Games road race: Gold Medal (1996); Silver Medal (1992)
  • Olympic Games individual time trial: Silver Medal (1996); Bronze Medal (2000)
  • 5 x UCI World Road Race Champion Champion (1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1995)
  • 4 x UCI World Time Trial Champion (1995, 1996, 1997, 2001)
  • 4 x UCI World Track Championship:
    • Points Race: Champion (1989)
    • 3 km Pursuit: Champion (1986, 1988, 1989); Silver Medal (1984, 1985, 1987); Bronze Medal (1981, 1982, 1983)
  • UCI World Mountain Bike World Championship: Silver Medal (1993)
  • 15 x French Road Race Champion: 1979 to 1989, 1992, 1995, 2006, 2008
  • 10 x French Time Trial Champion: 1995, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
  • 3 x winner of La Grande Boucle: 1987, 1988, 1989
  • 2 x Woman’s Challenge: 1991, 1999
  • Set Hour Record (45.094 km/h) in 2000 in Mexico City (14 years after setting the best hour performance record)

This is a woman who wants to win every time she gets on a bike, whether it’s the Olympic Games or a local bike race. For the past two years she’s taken part in our “gentleman event” and kindly handed out the trophies to the winners. Last year she and her husband were easily the fastest team. In a two-man event, Jeannie’s speed is limited by that of her husband. They beat a couple of lads from our club who were the French amateur Champions at this discipline. This year she was third, largely due to a problem with the traffic. She was not a happy bunny! This is a woman who hates to lose, at anything. Given that, if she were to retire, she would ride in my age group, I’m hoping she never does.  Jeannie, thanks. You’re an inspiration to thousands of women, everywhere.  It’s worth noting that on a course which didn’t suit her she finished second yesterday in the road race!

Christophe Kern, continuing his great form from the Dauphine, won the Men’s time-trial and Sylvain Chavanel won the Road Race. An impressive performance given that his only support was Jerome Pineau and a Quickstep Teamcar. This augurs well for the start of the Tour next week where Sylvain will be riding as aggressively as ever and hoping for a stage win and maybe, a couple of days (again) in yellow. A man with similar ambitions, Tommy Voeckler bravely defended the tricolour jersey to finish third.

Week one review

What a fabulous first week! Take a bow ASO. We’ve had confusion and controversy, thrills and spills, cobble calamity, tears and tantrums, rain, heatwaves, picturesque countryside, beautiful châteaux, fervent fans, the favourites are all still in contention and we’ve only just reached the first really lumpy bits.

As anticipated, Spartacus (Saxo Bank) won the 8.9km Prologue course around Rotterdam where, despite the rain, thousands of fans lined the course.  Sadly, both Mathias Frank (BMC) and Manuel Cardoso (Footon Servetto) fell heavily – Tour over for both of them.

Wind didn’t play a part in Stage 1, 223.5km from Rotterdam to Brussels, but the peloton was very skittish. In the run in, the last sharp right turn took out Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), among others, while two further crashes saw a large number of riders hitting the deck. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) avoided the carnage and was first across the line.  Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia)  bowed out.

Stage 2’s 201km stage from Brussels to Spa mirrored an Ardennes Classic but rain and diesel-slicked roads saw riders falling like nine pins, particularly on the descent from the Stockeu. Injuries to Michel Delage (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) put an early end to their participation. Meanwhile, Fabulous Fabian, still in yellow, cooled the tempo in the leading bunch to allow the contenders (particularly one Andy Schleck) to get back onto the peloton which then rode together to the neutralised finish. Up front, Sylvain Chavanel, having helped team mate Jerome Pineau to seize the spotty jersey, had pedaled away from the rest of the breakaway bunch for the stage win, snatching yellow from Fab’s broad shoulders. These two have  rescued Quick Step’s dismal season and are now well poised to negotiate contract extensions.

It was anticipated that some of the favourites might come a cropper on the cobbled sections on Stage 3’s 213km from Wanze to Arenburg. It was a truly spectacular stage, hot and dusty, reminiscent of when Stuart O’Grady won Paris-Roubaix in 2007. The first crash of the day took out David Le Lay (Ag2R – La Mondiale) while falls yesterday for Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) left both nursing hairline fractures of the wrist: pretty painful on the pave. Nikki Terpstra (Milram) was a non starter with the flu.

Frank Schleck’s fall (collar bone broken in three places) precipitated splits in the peloton. The smart guys were on Fabian’s wheel and got a tow to the finish. The stage was won by Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team), fitting given that he’d forfeited sprint points the previous day at the behest of one Fabian Cancellara. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) worked with the guys from Sky to bridge up to the group behind Cancellara and minimise the time lost by Alberto Contador (Astana) and Bradley Wiggins Team Sky). Lance (Radioshack) had been in this second group but an untimely puncture saw him surrender time to a number of the other contenders. End result, Cancellara was back in yellow and the World Champion, Cadel Evans (BMC) was now up in third place, 1min and 1 second ahead of Alberto Contador.   

The contenders must have breathed a sigh of relief, the first obstacles had been conquered and they could keep their powder dry for the next few sprinter friendly days. Stage 4’s 153kms from Cambrai to champagne producing Reims, saw Alessandro Petacchi record his 2nd stage win of this Tour. Next up, 187.5km from Epernay to Montargis saw Mark Cavendish win  by a mile. Queue floods of tears as the monkey was now off his back. A bit like buses, stage win no 2 followed on the morrow, on the longest stage, 227.5km from Montargis to Gueugnon. Meanwhile an altercation with a musette saw Amets Txurruka (Euskatel-Euskadi) bid farewell to the peloton. A couple of small girl’s blouses traded blows and bike wheels. The judges awarded a points decision to Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) over Rui Costa (Caisse d’Epargne). Both were fined. 

Let’s just pause and put in context my own endeavours: 550km and 27hours in the saddle. Spartacus, still in yellow, has taken 93minutes longer to complete 1,215km. The conclusion: I’d have missed the cut-off on Stage 1 and joined the non-walking wounded!  Today the boys hit the Jura and a rejuvenated Chavanel, who I feel has usurped Michael Boogerd and Mikel Astarloza to become “The Teeth of the Tour”, recorded his second stage win and again seized yellow. This is going to cost Patrick Lefevre dear.

Cadel Evans has moved into second place  so we could see him in yellow as early as tomorrow. I’m sure it would suit Astana to have BMC working their butts off to defend the yellow jersey.

Slip, sliding away

A bit of a hiatus this week due largely to  pressure of work and not an extended absence, as planned, watching the Giro. And what a Giro it has been. Cloud bursts made the TTT trial somewhat of a lottery and those men in lime green seized the opportunity to occupy the first three places on GC, and hence the maglia rosa, and the young rider’s jersey.

Thursday’s 5th stage to Novi Ligure was won by someone in the breakaway. Don’t you just love that when it happens? I do. Jerome Pineau won ahead of his breakaway companions, Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Yukira Arashiro (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) to record Quick Step’s 2nd stage win of this Giro, just 100 metres ahead of the advancing peloton.

And what do you know, a breakaway succeeded on Friday too. Matt Lloyd (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Rubens Bertogliati (Androni Giocattoli-Diquigiovanni) went away after 46kms and stayed away. The former beating the latter to the line in Marina di Carrara by over a minute. Danilo Hondo (Lampre Farnese-Vino) won the sprint for 3rd.

So, here we are, stage 7 to Montalcino and Liquigas are still occupying the podium. Yet another Aussi won today. Yes, Cadel “Cuddles” Evans won the mud fight on the strade bianche which had been turned brown by the rain. Indeed, it was hard to make out who was who as they were all literally covered in mud. The pink jersey slid off the wet, tarmac road taking out a number of his team mates and forcing a break in the leading group. Those ahead continued but, as per peloton protocol, didn’t force the pace. Evans bridged up to this group and, along with Vino, was responsible for finally whittling it down.

As they approached the finish line, Evans was ahead of Cunego with Vino in 3rd place. That’s how it stayed, as Evans rode strongly to victory. He’s really been a different rider since donning the rainbow jersey and now lies 1 min 12 secs back on Vino who’s looking pretty in pink again. Today’s biggest losers were Carlos Sastre and Xavier Tondo (Cervelo). But there’s still an awful long way to go.

We watched today’s stage after getting back from completing La Vencoise: 2000m of climbing over 105km. It’s the first time I’ve done this course which was well marshalled and organised. My beloved kindly kept me company until the final feed point at which point I set him free. I managed to avoid the cloud burst on the climb from St Pons to the top of Col de Vence on the run in for home. Riders faster than me, including my beloved, weren’t so lucky. Amazingly, I wasn’t the lanterne rouge, finished strongly and turned in a reasonable time (for me) of 5hr 48 minutes.  This should stand me in good stead for Thursday’s 175km ride  (2,713m) with the other volunteers for the Kivilev.  I guess I should do a time of around 11 hours which sounds like an awfully long time in the saddle.