With blogging over on VeloVoices absorbing much of my free time, I’ve not really mentioned much about my sporting year. And when I say “my” I mean the one I watched either in person or on the television. So in no particular order, here’s my personal sporting highlights of 2012.
1. Being in Paris to watch Bradley Wiggins on the podium as the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a quite magical and rather surreal experience, despite the fact that it had been pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of the race. He’s given me bragging rights down at the cycling club for perpetuity. Thanks Bradley, or should I say Sir Bradley!
2. Alberto Contador winning the Vuelta a Espana with his never say die attitude when most of us, me included, thought the pocket-sized Joaquim Rodriguez had it in the bag. I love the fact that Alberto never just turns up at a race, he always rides to win. Chapeau Alberto!
3. Another lesson in persistence and proving that you do have to be “in it, to win it”. Lady luck smiled on Alexander Vinokourov when Fabian Cancellara fell and the rest of the leading bunch hesitated long enough for Alex to seize his chance with both hands and sail off into the sunset on a golden wave.
4. London 2012, both the Olympics and Paralympics were magic from start to finish and put down a marker that other cities will find hard to follow, let alone emulate. It was a glorious few weeks of sporting highs, sufficient to make everyone forget their economic woes.
5. Marc Marquez being crowned Moto2 World Champion and making the move to the blue riband event riding next season with Dani Pedrosa who pushed the MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo all the way. I so enjoyed my trip to watch the racing at the GP Catalunya that I’m hoping to schedule another trip next year, possibly to Italy. Mugello here we come!
6. Sebastien Loeb winning his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship and being voted most admired French sporting hero 2012. What took you so long? The guy’s a god on four wheels.
7. Rafa Nadal showing once more that he’s the clay court King at Rolland Garros.
8. Introducing my friend’s son to road racing. He’s now hooked, too exhausted to get into any naughty escapades and has his sights firmly set on a career in professional road racing.
9. OGCN punching once more well above their weight and hanging onto to their spot in the French first division of football. Sadly, I cannot say the same about AVFC’s dreadful season even though they too managed to avoid relegation.
10. Visiting more of the Basque country during the Tour of the same name and this year’s Vuelta. I can’t wait to go back next year, the place is visually spectacular with a truly interesting culture and don’t even get me started on their gastronomy. I’d move there in a nano second if it wasn’t for the weather. Yes, it’s green for a reason.
I leave the country for a few days to visit dear friends and suddenly we’re chock-a-block with sporting news. Here’s what I’ve missed:-
Many thought that Sunday’s stage in the Vuelta, taking in the fearsome climb up the Angliru, might be decisive and they were correct. Geox’s Juan Jose Cobo, who had been looking lively in finishing 2nd on Saturday’s stage, positively cantered up the ramp in the fog on Sunday’s queen stage, leaving the other contenders trailing in his wake, to take the leader’s jersey. Sky’s Froome and Wiggins lost a handful of seconds on yesterday’s benign stage, while Katusha’s Purito fell and, having finished over 10 minutes back, took himself out of contention.
On today’s 5.9km steep climb to Pena Cabarga, Cobo couldn’t resist trying to gain further advantage. Sky’s Froome was having none of it, matching him and finally emerging triumphant. Cobo was 2nd so that’s 8 seconds back but they could be decisive. In any event, even though Wiggins is still in 3rd, Sky will be putting all their eggs into Froome’s baskets. Tomorrow’s stage into Noja looks more suitable for a breakaway, while the two stages in the Basque country simply must be won by the boys in orange, if they’re to rescue their Vuelta. The last realistic opportunity to snatch the red jersey is on Saturday’s 187km stage from Bilbao to Vitoria which finishes with 50km on the flat. Surely Sky can time-trial their way into red?
Over in Italy, the new Giro di Padania (ie Tour of N Italy) started with a win for Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox) who’s been garnering plenty of headlines this summer. In France, young Aussie Rohan Dennis is leading the Tour de l’Avenir, which started on Sunday and showcases emerging talent.
Of course, the really big news is the recently, hotly denied Radioshack-Leopard Trek merger. It allegedly came as a shock to the riders, with the possible exception of Frandy. However, I was delighted to read in L’Equipe that the UCI’s primary concern would be the riders. A large number of whom will now be looking for gainful employment. Indeed, a number with contracts for next year, may not be too happy at this turn of events.
Team Sky have announced the signing of pint-sized Aussie Richie Porte whose departure from Saxobank will further weaken Alberto’s support squad for 2012. No news yet as to where the Manx missile is heading. Maybe he just wants to keep us all in suspense or perhaps it’ll be announced on the eve of the Tour of Britain.
It was a Spanish clean sweep of the podiums at Misano in Italy this week end with winners Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Nico Terol. All three are back on home soil for the next round at Aragon on 18 September.
As we were driving back yesterday from Italy, we passed a number of MotoGP trucks including those of the Yamaha Racing team. Only one day after his 3rd victory of the season, which allowed him to close the championship gap to Honda’s Casey Stoner to 35 points, reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo and team-mate Ben Spies were back on track at Misano testing the 2012 1000cc M1.
During the 2011 season, manufacturers can test 2012 bikes for a total of 8 rider/days with their MotoGP riders. Yamaha has now completed 4 rider/days, the same number as Honda, but one less than Ducati. Suzuki is yet to announce a 1000cc project.
First hurricanes and now torrential rain is causing scheduling chaos at the US Open, where most of the fancied players are still in contention.
Eurosport have signed Rafa Benitez to their commentary team. Having managed in Spain, England and Italy, he has the right credentials to be commentating on European Cup matches along with Arsene Wenger.
My beloved is currently sitting on a plane on the runway of an airport to which his plane has been diverted. He’s had a long day having flown back from Japan via Vienna. He was looking forward to having dinner with me and an early night. Both options now out of the question. After a fruitless wait at the airport, I’ve returned home. Either they’ll bus him back to Nice, a journey of at least 3 hours plus however long it takes to organise the coach. Alternatively, they may fly him back. The latter is less likely as those promised storms have arrived. Will he get back home this evening? We’ll just have to wait and see.
More importantly, the BIG question on everyone’s lips, can Wiggo win? Yesterday, today and tomorrow hold the key to that question. He’s safely navigated two out of three difficult days. Yesterday, Liquigas’s defending champion, Vicenzo Nibali, sneaked a 6 second bonus by taking the first intermediate sprint to go 2nd on GC while the stage was won by contract seeking, HTC’s Michael Albsini. It was the 30-year old’s first GT win. Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, holder of the combined jersey, was another who took back time, rising on GC to 9th. In addition, Cofidis’s David Moncoutie garnered sufficient points to pull on the spotted jersey.
Out of Galicia and into Asturia, Stage 14’s lumpy 173kms culminated in Lagos de Somiedo, a tough climb, particularly the final 5kms. The stage was won by fellow Cote d’Azur resident, the baby-faced Estonian, Rein Taaramae, who rides for Cofidis. It was his maiden GT win and his first win since 2009.
Back in the leading group, the attacks were coming thick and fast on the slopes of the final climb but Wiggo was tranquillo. Aided by the faithful Froome he turned up the pace and riders were shelled out the back like peas in a pod: Moreno, Rodriguez, Nibali, Kessiakoff……………… By the end of the stage, Sky were firmly occupying first and second places again while others were slip, sliding down the GC.
Here’s the top 20 General classification after stage 14:-
Today’s individual time trial takes place in Salamanca, the capital of the Spanish province of the same name in the region of Castilla-Leon, located 118 kilometres east of the Portuguese border and 204 kilometres to the north west of Madrid. This is a beautiful historic city boasting the oldest university in Spain and some truly magnificent ancient buildings. Its streets and plazas are brimming with history and humming with vibrancy thanks to the large Spanish and foreign student population. UNESCO has declared the entire city a world heritage site and in 2002, along with Bruges, it was a European Capital of Culture.
They call Salamanca “La Dorada” ( the Golden City) because its buildings are made from the Villamayor golden sandstone which shimmers with ever-changing hues according to the position and strength of the sun. Even the more modern buildings have been constructed from this special stone which at times appears almost golden though you might also see shades of ochre, red, pink and yellow depending on the sunlight. It’s also called the Land of the Bulls because Spain’s fighting bulls are reared in the pastures beyond the city.
Salamanca’s historic centre is confined to a smallish area, surrounded by wide roads that keep most of the traffic out. There is something beautiful to see around every corner. First stop, the Plaza Mayor, arguably the finest main square in Spain, and where today’s stage finishes, dating from the early 18th century, is the heart of the city, to which all roads seemingly lead, and is surrounded by colonnaded walkways containing 88 semi-circular arches. Most of the arches contain cafes and bars, whose tables spill out on to the square.
While Salamanca had been important in Roman times and the centuries thereafter, the turning point in its history was 1218, when the university was founded. The period around the end of the 15th century was the city’s high point, which lasted well into the 17th century. The architecture from this era remains throughout the city, and it seems every street has a building decorated with elaborate plateresque (lavishly ornamental) and Renaissance plasterwork.
I have spent most of the Vuelta keeping a look out for my two friends who are riding. Both perform similar support functions within their teams and. therefore, unsurprisingly are positioned well within the pack and not too far apart from one another on GC. While both are good time-triallists, they prefer a more undulating parcours. Today is definitely one for the specialists: Cancellara, Martin, Phinney and Grabsch. These four will have fresher legs than some of the GC contenders. Nonetheless, I would expect Bradley Wiggins to challenge strongly and seize the opportunity to put time into his GC opponents.
Individual time trials: just a man and his bike, against the clock. Well, not exactly, you also have to ride quicker than the competition. The later you start, in theory, the better as you’ve everyone else’s time checks. The weather conditions are secondary as the GC contenders all ride within a short time period of one another. This is the only individual time-trial and coming midway in the tour will give those who will inevitably lose time here today an opportunity to attack in the remaining stages. This time-trial puts riders such as JRod on the back foot but potentially could lead to exciting racing in the coming days.
I think it’s fair to say that today’s stage went pretty much as anticipated with one very BIG exception. Tony Martin won the stage but the man in second place pulled on the red jersey. No, it wasn’t Wiggo, he’s 3rd on GC. It was, surprise, surprise, his Kenyan born, UK registered Sky team mate, Chris Froome ,who has been ever-present at Bradley’s side during the Vuelta. Has this set the cat among the pigeons, or what? It’s certainly got the British presenters waxing lyrical about Robert Millar in his heyday, and his successes in the same race.
How did my friends fare? Amazingly, they finished one after the other.
I rode with my coach yesterday morning; always a pleasure never a chore. Despite choosing a route with plenty of shade, it was extremely warm, particularly towards midday. These are the (only) times when you actively seek out a head wind but, as soon as it’s a tail wind, you can really feel the temperature. Yesterday’s exercises included bruising 20 seconds sprint intervals followed by an all too brief 20 seconds respite. The idea is to start at a reasonable pace, then build the speed and intensity until the few final sprints, where you’re aiming for close to maximum heart rate. I achieved this with ease. I wasn’t quite seeing stars, just almost.
On reaching Pont sur Loup, the choice was either to head up to Bar sur Loup before returning by way of Vallon Rouge or to return via Tourettes sur Loup. I chose the former, fearing I might be tempted to leap into the water trough if I took the latter route. My coach, who never normally sheds a bead of sweat when riding with me, opted for a cooling dip in the sea before heading on home. To be fair, he had been training with some of his marathon runners for an hour or two before riding on over to meet me.
I slipped out early for today’s recovery ride and had a quick dip in the pool on my way back before checking on the progress of the club’s walking/hobbling and wheel-chair bound wounded. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve not been having a good season with respect to injuries, on and off the bike. However, we’ve fared better than one local club who’ve had two recent fatalities.
Neither a dip in the sea or a cool fountain have been on offer to the riders in the Vuelta where the temperatures are, on average, 10 degrees higher than here. The landscape through which they’ve been riding is dry and parched, dotted here and there with with cool turquoise jewels aka swimming pools. I’m surprised no one has slipped off for a quick swim or maybe they have, hence the large time differences. While almost everyone, except maybe burly Belgians, prefers to ride in the warm sunshine, these very high temperatures are taking their toll on some of the riders.
Igor Anton, a man more used to the temperate climes of the Basque country, is quietly suffering at the back of the main bunch, conceding time here and there. Is it the weather? He certainly isn’t in the same form as he was last year, but why not? Frankly, we don’t know and can only conjecture. Meanwhile, both Joaquim Rodriguez and defending champion Vincenzi Nibali look in great shape and are riding with purpose and confidence. As is Bradley Wiggins whom I have on very good authority is in the form of his life and weighs the same as when he was 16! I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him. The same source said that Frandy are going to be training on the Cote d’Azur this winter. Never mind the hills boys, practise your downhill skills and time-trialling.
Yesterday we saw Joaquin Rodriguez charging up that final 27% ramp, followed by Vacansoleil’s Grand Tour rookie Wout Poels trailed by Katusha team mate Daniel Moreno, at the same speed I tackle 7% (yes, really). JRod had been overhauled on the same finish last year by firstly Igor Anton and then Vicenzo Nibali. This year he showed he’d learnt his lesson well and impeccably timed his effort and used Moreno to good effect. Having bombed with their 100% Russian squad in the Tour, Katusha are looking the business with the inclusion of their Spanish riders for the Vuelta.
I was willing on David Moncoutie but his downhilling skills let him down. The Vuelta handily advises us from time to time of the riders’ speeds and the gradient. He was descending on a wide, non-technical, road with a great surface at between 60-75kph. Even I would have taken him on that descent, let alone the professional peloton who easily gobbled him up on the final ascent. As this might be his last year as a professional, I hope he manages to bag the King of the Mountains for a 4th successive time. He collected more points in that quest today.
Despite suffering in the heat, and helping Chavanel to defend the red leader’s jersey, Quickstep’s Boonen was looking to win today’s stage into Cordoba. I don’t think so Tom, I fancy a somewhat punchier rider for the finish. Today the final descent proved decisive, with the Liquigas boys in lime-green swooping down at 89kph: that’s more like it. Veteran Pablo Lastras threatened to spoil the party and steal the 20 seconds bonus so Vuelta babe Peter Sagan crossed the line (much to Nibali’s chagrin) to take his first (of many) Grand Tour win ahead of Lastras and team mate Agnoli, leaving Nibali sans bonus seconds. Chavanel clings onto the jersey for another day.
I’m currently enjoying a heat wave. Probably not ideal climatic conditions for cycling, just ask Mark Cavendish if you don’t believe me. To be fair, Spain is even hotter than here. When I say here, I don’t actually mean just here, I mean the whole of Southern France. Typically, temperatures reach low 30sC during August and start to tail off toward the end of the month. Instead, it’s gotten hotter. I’ve spent the past few days in Aix-en-Provence but as it’s inland it was even hotter than here. Now I do mean just here. Very pleasant it was too.
The combination of the trip and the heat does not account for my recent lack of blogging, no that was occasioned by my beloved demanding my translation services. I had to translate his most recent presentation into French. It was somewhat technical and not even my large Petit Robert could cope. I dropped him off at Marseille airport late this afternoon on my way home, he’s not due back until Friday evening. This will give me enough time to cook the club’s books, I mean prepare the latest accounts.
I like cycling when it’s warm but, when the temperature soars, I have problems with my feet overheating and managing my hydration. I’m sitting here now thinking about a cold shower before bed while admiring the firework display in Cannes from the office window. It’s also giving me an opportunity to reflect on the first few days of the Vuelta. Oh yes, I may have been away but I would never book a hotel that didn’t give me access to televised cycling. At home I watch it on the Spanish channel but ,while I’ve been away, I’ve had to make do with German Eurosport where the commentary is rather more prosaic and far less excitable.
It’s been a rather curious start. The team time trial in Benidorm threw up some unexpected results largely due to mechanicals, falls and the technical nature of the course. Teams which one might have expected to feature in the top 5, such as Garmin-Cervelo, Team Sky and Radioshack didn’t and Euskaltel-Euskadi fared way better than anyone could have hoped for: 12th. All those team practice sessions paid dividends for the boys in orange. The red leader’s jersey passed from defending champion, Liquigas’s Vicenzo Nibali to Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang.
Sunday’s stage from La Nucia to Playas de Orihuela, with it’s uphill sprint for the line, was a face saver for Team Sky: 20th Saturday, on the podium Sunday with Chris Sutton. Great performance in front of the only audience that counts: his Mum. Fuglsang passed the red leader’s jersey to team mate, Daniele Bennati. Yesterday, the veteran Pablo Lastras (Movistar), one of the day’s breakaways, gave the most extravagent finishing line salutes in Totana I’ve ever seen to dedicate his win to the late Messrs Tondo and Weylandt and, still recovering, team mate Soler. He topped the podium and took over the leader’s red jersey.
Another day, another stage this time atop the Sierra Nevada today after a 23km slog uphill. Nothing too taxing but in this heat a number were starting to wilt. Cavendish abandonned. Lastras and Euskaltel’s Igor Anton found it hard to keep pace with the leading pack. Today’s chancer was Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, who was let off the leash by team leader, Joaquim Rodriguez, while most of the leading contenders were watching and waiting. The red jersey ended up on the shoulders of Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel who finished 2nd yesterday and heroically almost kept pace with the leading contenders today. Will anyone manage to hang onto the jersey for more than a day? Given that the action is largely in the first two weeks, maybe “not yet” is the answer to that question.
We’ve only just started and already a number of fancied (but not by me) riders are out of the running: Tony Martin +32:55, Andreas Kloden +31:28, Peter Sagan +24:54 and Rein Taaramae +17:56. Here’s the current top 30, the winner’s in here:-
General classification after stage 4
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad
7 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana
8 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team
10 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team
11 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
13 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
14 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
15 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack
16 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack
17 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
18 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
19 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
20 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
21 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
22 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC
23 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
24 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack
25 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC
26 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
27 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard
28 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
29 Ruslan Pydgornyy (Ukr) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
While the Tour is over and many of it’s protagonists take part in a seemingly endless round of criteriums, the racing rolls on. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of Poland generally an opportunity for the young guns to shine, and shine they have. While fellow Brummie and defending champ Garvelo’s Dan Martin put up a spirited defence of his title and won the queen stage, it’s been pretty much one way traffic at the Pete and Marcel show. After putting in a highly determined performance to win two stages and, more importantly, the overall, I’m looking forward to see what Liquigas’s Peter Sagan can do in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta. I appreciate he’ll be riding in support of Vicenzo Nibali, but should the Shark falter…….. The other four stages were won in imperious fashion by Skil Shimano’s Marcel Kittel whom I last saw on the podium of the U23 ITT in Melbourne. He has a turn of speed to match Cavendish, but doesn’t seem to require a train, and he left names such as Tom Boonen, Romain Feillu and John Degenkolb trailing in his wake.
I’ve also been dipping into the Vuelta a Burgos where riders were fine tuning their performances ahead of the Vuelta which starts on 20 August in Benidorm. The first stage stage was won by defending champ, Euskaltel’s Samu, who won’t be riding the Vuelta, ahead of Katusha’s JRod, who will. JRod also took out the 2nd stage and the overall. Samu was undone (again) by the team time trial and tired legs on the final stage where the boys in orange were attempting to rip the field apart and put time into JRod. Sadly, Samu was unable to keep pace and the stage was won by his rookie team mate Mikel Landa, recording his maiden win. Purito is looking in great shape for the upcoming race which, with plenty of mountain top finishes and few time-trialling kms, clearly favours the climbers but Igor Anton and the orange-clad boys are looking equally strong.
Over in the Tour of Denmark, Sky’s Simon Gerrans took his first stage win since the Herald Sun Tour in 2006 and his first win this year thanks to some clever mopping up of intermediate sprint points (and seconds) to remain ahead of Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati. Elsewhere, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin won Paris-Correze.
The football season commenced this week end in France and Nice were served up a tough opener, home to Lyon, against whom we’ve enjoyed some great results in recent seasons largely thanks to OL’s Champion’s League commitments. No such worries this time for OL, we lost 3-1 and languish one from the bottom of the league. With such a high turnover of players, it’ll take the team a while to gel but there were some promising signs, though we’re still lacking firepower up front. Finally, work has commenced on OGCN’s new stadium which should be finished in time for the 2013/14 season and where we’ll be hosting some matches in Euro 2016. I’m hoping my beloved boys in claret and blue have a better start to their Premiership campaign this week end.
After a few days off the bike last week, I was keen to get back into my training plan. My coach has introduced some new home-trainer based exercises where I have to pedal while holding my breath. Not sure what that’s all about but I’ll get a chance to quiz him when we ride together on Wednesday. It’s only for a short period, but it’s more difficult than you might think. He’s also making me do a series of push ups. Probably trying to firm up the non-areodynamic batwings. He’s also persisting with the swimming to assist my legs to recuperate. But my legs rarely get tired and I never ever, suffer from a build up of lactic acid. My feet, on the other hand, are not faring so well. I spent much time on them while walking around San Sebastián and have been on my feet most of this week preparing for yesterday’s La Ronde and pointage where we usually cater for over 500 cyclists. It was a wash out. The race was cancelled as the course was too dangerous with water lying on the circuit’s corners. Still around 60 people turned up and enjoyed my home baked goodies. Of course, most of the provisions can go back into the club store cupboard to be brought out for the re-scheduled event while I can put my remaining cakes into the freezer, disaster averted.
Five, four, three, two, one and they’re away. It’s Omega Pharma-Lotto who kick off this year’s Giro. The team descends the starting ramp, rides out the gate of the Castello della Venaria Reale, 9km north of Turin, and speeds away in line along a road thronged with enthusiastic spectators, enjoying both the fine weather and the spectacle. The pan-flat route is more technical at the start, challenging the team’s ability to establish a rhythm, followed by wide straight tree-lined avenues with some 90 degree bends around the old town before ending up on the cobbles.
The key to team time trialling is consistency. Invariably you’ll have riders of differing strengths however you need to maintain a speed which everyone can follow. The more able members of the team take longer pulls on the front. Some teams opt for finishing with as many of the original nine as possible, while others progressively spit out riders, crossing the line with the bare minimum (5). Liquigas employed one rider to ride at the back of the paceline to shepherd rotating team members back into line in front of him – neat trick.
Italian television showcased the delights of Turin, home to Fiat cars, and its beautiful, old town, which I found quite reminiscent of Nice. Well, they were both part of the House of Savoy. The centre of Turin is the large quadrangular area lying between Corso Vittoro Emanuele, Corso Galileo Ferraris (shouldn’t that be Fiat?), Corso Regina Margherita, Corso San Maurizio and the Po river. Roughly bisecting this area is the fashionable via Roma, lined with wide arcades, which connects the main railway station with Piazzo Castello. It’s skyline is dominated by extraordinarily shaped Mole Antonelliana designed by Piedmontese architect Alessandro Antonelli. It started life in 1863 as a synagogue and was completed in 1897 as a monument of Italian unity. As to be expected there’s a via Garibaldi, pedestrianised and lined with 18th century palaces. The via Po, to the east of the centre, is full of funky shops, including many bookshops where you would have expected me to pick up a few cycling books and enjoy an espresso in one of the many fashionable cafes.
Alas, I never made it to Turin and am beginning to feel that all my Giro trips are jinxed. It started to go downhill on Thursday afternoon at our Commission Kivilev meeting where I raised a number of as yet unresolved issues. Accordingly, I was given the job of sorting these out. I set to with gusto on Thursday evening with a view to leaving early for Turin the following morning. Inevitably, there were people with whom I needed to speak that I couldn’t reach until the following day. By lunchtime, I was still working away. I made an executive decision, I would cancel my hotel room and drive to Turin early on Saturday morning. I’d missed the team presentation, and wouldn’t have so much time to look around Turin, but I would still see the team time-trial. However, without my parking spot in the hotel garage, handily placed for a quick getaway, it was unlikely I would be home in time to collect my beloved from the airport.
The weather was fabulous on Friday so I nipped out for a quick ride over lunch, my path crossing that of Amael Moinard. He was descending fast (ergo I was ascending, more slowly) so we only had time to exchange greetings. I returned home refreshed by my ride and continued with my work. In addition, I was trying to organise a celebratory lunch for our friend who’s just signed a contract with a Pro-tour cycling team. The limiting factor in all such arrangements is the availability of my beloved. I had circulated dates, basically a few Friday, Saturday or Sunday evenings over the coming weeks. I had qualified this by saying, he was also available Sunday lunchtime. Later that afternoon, I received a call to say that everyone could make this Sunday lunchtime. A few rapid calculations and I realised that something would have to give and it was going to be my trip to Turin.
I planned the menu and wrote out my shopping list. Our friend would be riding the Vuelta, so I went with a Spanish theme: tapas, paella, finishing with the ubiquitous orange-flavoured “flan” with strawberries. We would all be riding on Sunday morning, and our friend’s eldest son was racing, so I went for things which could either be prepared in advance, or thrown together once everyone had arrived. I shopped early on Saturday morning, preparing in advance as many of the dishes as possible, before settling down to watch the time-trial on the television. I looked enviously at the crowds thronging the route in the sunshine and the hordes of Alpini in their jaunty feathered hats, I should have been there: one day.
Needless to say it was the well-drilled teams who held sway. HTC-High Road were fastest and contrived to put Marco Pinotti, the Italian time-trial champion and hugely popular rider, into the pink jersey. RadioShack, another disciplined team, were second, with Liquigas securing third place. While the gaps were not, for the most part, significant, it’s still time that has to be won back at some stage. Of the leading contenders, Nibali is the best placed with Scarponi, hot on his heels, at just 2 seconds behind. Lampre arrived into Turin a day early specifically to practise the team time-trial. It paid off. Contador is 8 secs off Nibali, with Menchov and Sastre at 31 secs and Joaquim Rodriguez at 42 seconds. Euskaltel-Euskadi were the team maglia nera, but team leader Igor Anton has revealed that he’s at the Giro just to hunt for stage wins and not the pink jersey.
Having garnered a large number of brownie points in Saturday’s time-trail, HTC-High Road might have hoped to cash these in on Sunday when Mark Cavendish was pipped on the line into Parma by an in-form Alessandro Petacchi whom they adjudged to have sprinted off his line, not once but thrice. In vain, two stages, two Italian wins: the Giro’s off to a great start.
We watched the action unfold on the screen television in the company of our friend who’s ridden the Giro himself and twice been on winning teams: with Marco Pantani (2002) and with Alberto Contador (2008). It was interesting to hear his observations on the riders, the parcours and the race. As is the case with television commentary, the most brilliantly observed remarks are those from past (or even current) riders who understand intimately the ways and language of the peloton. They add colour, insight and comprehension for the observer. Thus it was with us all gathered around the television after a relaxing and enjoyable lunch.
However, we’re going to have to do it all over again as one couple were missing from the celebration. The husband had been knocked off his bike early on Sunday morning and was under observation in the local hospital for facial and cranial injuries. It’s not serious, just painful, and we all wish him a speedy recovery.
Next up it’s the Giro which starts on Saturday. Last year’s version was an absorbing contest played out in dreadful climatic conditions. This year, Italy’s grand tour, with its 40 major climbs and 8 summit finishes, will celebrate the 150 years since Italy’s unification. The route has been described as a climber’s nirvana, so expect the winner to weigh substantially less than me. A mountainous parcours is bound to favour riders such as Alberto Contador. With Basso absent, the weight of Italian expectation will fall on Nibali’s young shoulders. Michele Scarponi, who triumphed in the Giro de Trentino, will also be among the fancied home-grown starters along with Italian champ Giovanni Visconti and former winner Stefano Garzelli. Also riding are former Grand Tour winners Menchov and Sastre, and riders with Tour pretensions such as Joaquim Rodriguez, Igor Anton and David Arroyo. One thing for sure, it’s going to be a fiercely contested and thrilling battle.
Leaving aside the favoured riders and teams which have been beautifully summarised in www.thearmchairsportsfan.com, let’s look instead at the magnificent route and the challenges strewn along the way. The Giro starts in Turin with a 19.3km team time-trial which will favour well-drilled teams such as HTC-High Road, Liquigas, SaxoBank Sungard, Sky and Garmin-Cervelo. It’s likely that one of the sprinters will pull on the pink jersey for Sunday’s 242km ride from Alba to Parma which is one of the few flat stages this year. Sadly, there’ll be no time for truffle hunting or, indeed, any other gastronomic delights.
The next four days I would classify as moderately mountainous during which the GC contenders will be vigilant but discrete.
Stage 3’s 178km from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo goes gently up the Passo del Bocco and the Madonna del Grazie, the latter 8km from the finish line.
Stage 4’s 208km along the coast from Quarto dei Mille to Livorno goes back over the Passo del Bracco early on and then it’s flat until the Poggio-like bump 10km before the San-Remo like finish.
Depending on the weather, the 23km of strade bianchi towards the end of Stage 5’s lumpy 201km from Piombino to Orvieto could provoke some time gaps. The favourites will all be marking one another.
Stage 6’s 195km to Fiuggi Terme along the Apennines is again very lumpy with an uncategorised climb before the descent to the finish.
There’s the first summit finish on Stage 7, 100km from Maddoloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano, the climb up Monte Taburno will tire the rider’s legs before the final 17km climb which could ensure a bit of a shake out among the favourites. Stage 8’s 214km to Tropea hugs the Tyrrhenian coastline and is perfect for a face off among the sprinters. In honour of the 1908 earthquake victims, Stage 9 is on Nibali’s home territory of Sicily and features two ascents of Mount Etna which the organisers are hoping will provide more than a few sparks. One would anticipate that Nibali will target this stage which might also land him the pink jersey.
After a well-earned rest day, the route heads back up north on Stage 10, 156km from Termoli to Teramo. In theory, it’s another day for the sprinters’ teams. The coastline can be windy, so the favourites will need to ensure that they’re not distanced by breaks in the peloton. Stage 11 features what many feel will be a key battleground with its many peaks providing scope for attacks, particularly among the GC contenders. The 160km stage from Tortoreto Lido inland to Castelfidardo never goes over more than 600m but it’s a day of tiring, leg sapping, constant ups and downs. On the following day, Stage 12’s pan flat 171kms from Castelfidardo to Ravenna hugs the coastline and has sprint finish written all over it.
Stage 13’s 159km, which finishes at 1,908m atop Austria’s Grossglockner, is pretty much uphill, all day, all the way. First up is the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico at 1,336m, followed by two further climbs, before the final grind up to the finish. But this is just a taster of what’s to come the following day: Stage 14’s 210km from Lienz to the top of Monte Zoncolan features five tough climbs, by way of 1,982m Monte Crostis, which averages 9% for 15km. Finally, the main dish of the day on Stage 15, 230km from Conegliano to Val di Fassa, again features five climbs including the Passo Giau at 2,236m but it’s the final 15km on gravel roads to the finish which could prove decisive. Could the overall winner be decided here?
The boys take a well earned day’s break before the uphill time-trial. It’s only 12.7km and starts with a 1.5km descent before ascending. The middle 4km averages 10% before ramping up to 14% as the road reaches the midway point at Tornante from whence it’s a steady grind to the top which flattens out for the last 2km. Stage 17 is this year’s longest at 246km from Feltre downhill to Sondrio taking in the Passo Tonale and Aprica. It’s unlikely that any of the GC contenders will venture out of the peloton on this stage. It’ll be perfect for a breakaway among those whose GC aspirations have long since evaporated.
Stage 18’s 147km from Morbbegna to San Pellegrino Terme crosses Italy’s cycling heartland which is home to many Italian and foreign riders. Again, it’s probably one for the breakaway artistes but the downhill finish could tempt one of the GC favourites. Stage 19 is yet another summit finish, this time the Macugnaga, 211kms from Bergamo by way of the Mottarone. There’s a fast descent before the final ascent which could be beguiling for those breakaway riders while the GC contenders keep their powder dry ahead of the penultimate stage: 242km from Verbania to Sestriere. Stage 20 is pretty flat for 200km before climbing up the Colle delle Finestre, dropping down 700km and then finishing at 2,035m in the ski station. The ultimate stage is a 32.8km, simple out and back, flat individual time-trial around Milan. It’s unlikely to be a decisive stage and will probably be won by someone other than a GC contender.
I’m back from a 4-day trip to Varese and a 4-day enforced internet silence. Yes, we took my beloved’s laptop. Yes, we had WiFi on tap. My beloved forgot to take his charger. Yes, we bought a spare charger in MediaMarkt. No, it didn’t work, but the instructions said they’d sent us the correct Dell connector if we identified it on line. We didn’t bother. It did of course mean that my beloved had a real break from work (no bad thing) and was able to answer the most pressing emails and calls via his Blackberry.
The purpose of our trip was 2-fold: check out our Swiss friend’s new bike shop and afore-mentioned break. We stayed in the same B&B I stayed in for the 2008 World Championships’s in Varese. Indeed, we’re now quite regular visitors and the owners (and their cats) treat us like family. They’re very busy with their flower shop over Easter, so generally don’t accept guests during this period. We therefore had the run of the place which feels pretty much like home.
Our friend has opened his shop on a busy stretch of road between Lugano and Mendrisio along which absolutely every cyclist in the area travels. In the three weeks that he’s been open, he’s been exceedingly busy and has sold a complete bike and a set of carbon wheels each week, along with assorted repairs and sundries. More importantly, he’s enjoying himself. I’m sure he’s going to make a success of it.
The riding around Varese is different to the Core d’Azur: not better, just more undulating. On Tuesday, we rode along the lake from Como to Bellagio, up the Ghisallo and back. The route is constantly up and down and therefore it’s difficult to establish any kind of rhythm. Despite it being the run up to Easter, there was little traffic and the roads were peaceful. The weather was gorgeous. Warm enough to encourage me to wear my bib-shorts for the first time this year. The climb up to Ghisallo is brutal, it hits over 18% at one point. My cadence was so low, the legs were barely turning. The view was however worth it.
Wednesday, we opted for a gentler ride around the eastern side of Lake Maggiore which, while still undulating, is much kinder on the legs. Again, there was little traffic. We returned to base after lunch to watch La Fleche Wallone. La Gazzeta dello Sport favoured a Spanish win largely on account of the finish being on the brutal Mur de Huy. They speculated that this would suit either Contador (SaxoBank Sungard) or Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). But mostly, they bemoaned the lack of an Italian challenge.
The Italians were enjoying better luck in the Giro del Trentino which had started with a 13.4km time trail around Lake Garda the day before. This had been won by Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack), his 4th win of the season. He was a second ahead of Andrea Malori (Lampre-ISD) and a couple ahead of team mate Tiago Machado. Another man in fine early-season form, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), had taken Wednesday’s 184km stage ahead of Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) to record his 6th win of the season. The Italian moved into the lead on GC where he remains going into today’s final stage. Yesterday’s queen stage, which finished atop the cat 1 climb of Fai della Paganella, was won by the latest Columbian climbing sensation, Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC), former 2008 Varese U23 world champion.
Meanwhile, back in Belgium, the peloton had reeled back in the early escapees and was steeling itself for the final ascent of the Mur. The favourites were pretty much all in contention but who would prove to have the best legs? It was Phil Gil, again. With 300 metres to go, he powered off the front of the peloton leaving himself ample time to celebrate, as he crossed the line ahead of Roaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), his third win in a week and his first in this particular classic. So, there you have it, two of my favourite smiles atop the podium. Who’s going to have the will to beat him this Sunday?