Dead cert, no really

A bit of a mix up with my cycling coach this morning. Last week, he asked me if I could ride with him on Thursday. I said Tuesday would be fine and wrote the date in my diary. My coach is not particularly punctual so I didn’t start to worry until I’d been waiting for 15 minutes with no word from him. I generally receive a text saying he’s going to be a few minutes late. It then occurred to me that perhaps he was waiting on the other side of the bridge from where I was waiting. I sent him a text and left a message on his mobile. It wasn’t looking good. I finally made contact and he said he was sure he’d suggested Thursday. I said it was no problem, I’d see him on Thursday and headed toward Carros village. Thereafter, I followed one of my regular summer rides to Bouyon, Coursegoules and back by way of the Col de Vence. I had a great ride there was hardly any traffic, the humidity was much less following yesterday evening’s downpour and the sun was shining.  I arrived home in time to watch Stage 4 which everyone believed was going to be won by the birthday boy, Phil Gil.

Again, there was a breakaway of 5 riders, including two Frenchmen and two Spaniards. The fifth rider was Johnny Hoogerland. Well it was only matter of time before he appeared in a breakaway. Omega Pharma Lotto were controlling the peloton, leaving the breakaways with a manageable time gap. Sadly, their team mate Jurgen Van De Valle, who had been felled by a sleeping policeman on the first stage, was the first retiree from this year’s Tour.

It was raining for most of today’s lumpy stage and many riders will not have appreciated the sudden 15 degree dip in temperature. When it’s raining it doesn’t really matter what you wear, you’re going to get wet. I find that wet feet are the worst but if my legs get both wet and cold, it’s game over. Most, but not all, of the peloton were wearing rain jackets. It’s at times like these that AG2R’s brown shorts come into their own while those teams wearing white ones rue the day. I’ve oft pondered what the teams use to eliminate the road grease stains from the kit. I’ve since found out that they don’t. Most of the dirty shirts, bib shorts and socks are thrown out. However, the climatic conditions didn’t quell the enthusiasm of the cycling-mad spectators lining the roadside and the countryside still looked magnificent, even viewed through a misty veil.

Most of the work on the front today was done by PhilGil’s team. In the latter part of the stage, BMC gave them a significant helping hand and, with about 30km to go, Garmin crashed the birthday party. Well as Phil was to find out the professional peloton doesn’t give anyone birthday presents. With the rain having let up, the Group of 5 were taken back, the GC faves were massing near the front, handily poised to respond to any attacks, as the road headed up the Cote de Mur-de-Bretagne. With 1.4km remaining, Alberto attacked, provoking a response from a number of other riders, including Cadel Evans, Alexandre Vinokourov, Rigoberto Uran and Phil Gil who, led out by Jurgen Van Den Broeck, surged with 500m to go. It was countered and it was to be Cadel’s day, again, as he pipped Alberto on the line to win the stage, but not the yellow jersey. Thor had amazingly managed to hang on in with the leading contenders. Alex finished an honourable 3rd. Andy, along with Basso and Wiggins finished in the second group, losing a handful of seconds.

Stage races are won as much in the head as they are with the legs and lungs. A few important psychological blows were struck today, but there’s still a long way to go. However, the armchairsportsfan’s bet on a podium placing for Cadel is beginning to  look like money well spent.

Contenders

I had a good ride this morning with my beloved and, given the great weather, we decided to go out for a late lunch, followed by a long walk along the coast. As a consequence, I’ve only just had time to cast my eye over the start list for tomorrow’s 69th edition of Paris-Nice and think about who might win this year, in the absence of the defending champion, Alberto Contador, who won today’s 2nd stage in the Tour of Mucia ahead of Denis Menchov and Jerome Coppel (going from strength to strength at Saur-Sojasun).

L’Equipe devoted half a page today to last year’s revelation, Peter Sagan who, having shone in the recent Tour of Sardinia, is obviously on form and keen to seize his opportunities. He’s not the only young gun keen to cement his credentials. Over at HTC-High Road, there’s Tony Martin and Tejay van Garderen plus Ritchie Porte at SaxoBank-Sungard and Jurgen van den Broeck at Omega Pharma-Lotto. The latter’s team mate, Philippe Gilbert sparkled on the Strade Bianchi today finishing in Siena ahead of Allessandro Ballan, Damiano Cunego and Spartacus.

Let’s not forget the old guard,  those who have triumphed before in the race to the sun, such as Luis Leon Sanchez and Alexandre Vinokourov. The latter’s bought plenty of support with Tomas Viatkus, Robert Kisverlovski and Roman Kreuziger. Also in the reckoning for the overall, Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack).

If we’re looking for stage winners, we should look to the French who are always “en forme” in the early season: Voeckler, Fedrigo, Le Mevel, Moinard, Peraud, Moncoutie, Pauriol. Personally, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the boys in orange: Sammy Sanchez, Romain Sicard and Gorka Izagirre.

The 1,307km route kicks off tomorrow with 154.5km from Houdan to Houdan. Yes, they’re going round in circles. Monday’s one for the sprinters too. Look out for Grega Bola (Lampre-ISD) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). The rest of the sprinters, with an eye on the Classics, are doing Tirreno-Adriatico.

After two flattish stages, it gets progressively lumpy on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday. (I’ll be there), sees a 27km ITT from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence. This could be the decisive stage. Next up is 215km, and the longest stage, from Brignoles to Biot followed by 124km around Nice, including the Category 1 climbs up La Turbie and Col d’Eze. Never one to miss an opportunity to watch live racing in my backyard, I’ll be seeing both of these stages.

There are no testing climbs in the race and one wouldn’t expect them at this stage of the season. The winner will be a puncheur who can time-trial. I would suggest we should look no further than Alexandre Vinokourov who last won the race in 2003 (homage to Andrei Kivilev) and 2004. He’s made it one of his priorities this year and he’s a guy who can focus – go Alex go.

Out the loop

I was only in London for a few days but, away from all that is dear and familiar, I felt really out of the loop on my return. Races had finished without me knowing who had won and, even worse, races had started and finished without me knowing the victor. Of course, I could have checked on the internet but I was trapped in the wedding bubble and couldn’t break free of the programme. There’s little if nothing in the UK newspapers on cycling, although, as the wedding coincided with the World Cup races in Manchester, there was some mention of Britain’s track superstars.

I’ve been so busy catching up that I’ve had little time to reflect on the past few days of racing. However, one thing is clear, the promising young guns of the past few years are starting to emerge more strongly. Witness Gesinks’s (Rabobank) win in the Tour of Oman, a hilly parcours than last year, intended as a counterpoint to the earlier sprinters’ fest in Qatar.  Joining him on the podium were Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli).

Over the weekend the Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var, with a title almost as long as the race itself, was won by perennial French housewives favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), second was Julien Antomarchi of VC-La Pomme Marseille and, another former yellow jersey wearer, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) was third.

Further south in the Volta ao Algave, Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) took the final day’s time-trial and the GC ahead of Tejay Van Garderen (HTC) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil). The defending champion Alberto Contador (SaxoBank Sungard), in his first race back since his suspension,  faded into fourth place on the final day.

This week it’s the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol which kicked off with a 6.8km prologue around Benahavis won by Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun. Jonathon Hivert (Saur) won Stage 2’s 161.8km print into Adra while Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) won Stage 3’s sprint into Jaen. Markel Irizar (RadioShack) leads on GC from Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharam-Lotto) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).

Over in Italy at the Trofeo Laigueglia, Daniele Pietropoli (Lampre-ISD) beat off Simone Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli) in a sprint for the line. The Giro di Sardegna got underway this week and in yesterday’s 138km first stage from Olbia to Porto Cervo, Peter Sagan proved too strong on the uphill finish for Allessandro Ballan (BMC) and his Liquigas teammate, Daniel Oss. Sadly, very little of this afore-mentioned action has been televised.

I haven’t even glanced at what’s been happening in the Tour of South Africa and Vuelta Independencia Nacional. A girl’s got to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Meanwhile, I will be looking forward to this week end’s Belgian semi-classics: Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.