Underdogs on top

Woke yesterday morning to find it was raining, rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke, it had stopped raining but I was too late to set off for the pointage at Beausoleil. I decided to go for a run along the seafront before heading to collect the Sunday newspapers. A quick coffee (quelle surprise, OGCN had beaten St Etienne away from home) then it was off to the airport to collect my beloved on his return from Chicago.

After a light lunch, we both changed into our matching Qatari Airways jimjams and settled back for an afternoon of full-on sport. Firstly, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and then the League Cup Final: Arsenal v Birmingham City.

The sun was shining (weakly) in Belgium and most of the Dutch and Belgian riders were in shorts and short sleeves with a couple of notable exceptions. Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was no doubt feeling the chill after his trip to the Middle East and was wearing leg warmers, arm warmers and thick gloves. I was mesmerised by Stijn Devolder’s (Vacansoleil-DCM) thick fluorescent yellow gloves which clashed with his Belgian Champion’s outfit. Try black next time, Stijn.

There was the obligatory group of escapees who, having ignored the barrier at a railway crossing, were subsequently disqualified. The mild weather and lumpy parcours seemed to encourage breakaways but none stuck, the sprinters’ teams were too strong and too determined. In the end, Chris Sutton (Team Sky) had the best organised train and, with 200 metres to go, was launched across the line  to become the first Aussie winner. He finished ahead of Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Interestingly, none of the leading trio had raced the day before.

Meanwhile over in Switzerland, Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) dedicated his win in the GP Lugano to his late trainer, Aldo Sassi. The French racked up yet another win in Les Boucles du Sud Ardeche. It was none other than last year’s viral star, Arthur Vichot (FDJ). Yesterday, according to Sport+, the French had won 24 stages to date while the Italians are in 2nd place with 19 wins. I’m not sure how this has been calculated, they didn’t explain.

After the excitement of the cycling, we settled down to what we were sure would be an Arsenal win. Frankly, as AVFC fans we were bound to support whoever played against the Blues, our arch-rivals. The Blues got a goal against the run of play, in the 28th minute. Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later with a terrific goal from Robin Van Persie who was later to retire with a knee injury.

During the second half, Arsenal had their chances but couldn’t convert any of  them. In 89th minute, a miscleared ball by the Arsenal defence gifted the winner to the Blues. Truly, it really was one of those balls from which even your granny would have scored.  Unbelievably, our bitterest rivals, who had knocked us out of the competition, had won and will be playing in Europa League next season. On the one hand, it’s good to see the underdog win but why couldn’t it have been us last season against Chelsea?

If only

I headed down to the rendezvous point for today’s club ride under a heavily overcast sky. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it was damp. There was a good turn out of members, most of whom I had to kiss on the cheeks. Once we had set off, I took the opportunity during the first few kms of the ride to update M le President on events of the past week.  The road turned up to Gattieres and, as is my wont, I slid from the front to the back of the peloton in nano-seconds. However, it was some time before they disappeared totally from view and, as our paths crossed later that morning, I realised I wasn’t too far behind the medium slow group.

Today’s programme featured a 31/2hr ride at my speed. Actually I felt much better than I had yesterday and enjoyed the ride up to Tourrettes via Vence. Where, having worked up a bit of a sweat, I was now feeling chilled so decided to descend via Vence and La Gaude to collect the Sunday papers and warm myself up with a quick cup of coffee before hurrying home for my simultaneous sporting action.

For Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the weather in Belgium was truly atrocious, not that it seemed to deter the die-hard fans. A large number of riders, having lost all hope of a decent finish, either hopped into the broom wagon or one of their team cars. In fact, there were only 26 finishers!

The light was so poor that it was difficult to distinguish the riders who were strewn all over the parcours largely thanks to the high winds. For safety reasons, the course was reduced in length (by 10km) and the winner crossed the line half-way through the first half of the League Cup final. It was Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil) who amply demonstrated Jens Voigt’s mantra that if you don’t try you’ll never win: he was one of the original breakaways. Rick Flens (Rabobank) was 2nd and Ian Stannard (Sky) who was 3rd had bridged up to Traksel from one of the splintered groups. Although a number of riders had tried to catch the trio, most notably Hushovd (Cervelo) and Roulston (HTC-Columbia), no one had gotten within 40 seconds of them.

Over on the other screen, Villa had gone ahead with a penalty (James Milner) after Vidic had brought down Gabby Agbonlahor. The pundits, to a man, agreed that the referee should have shown Vidic a red card (last defender) but he didn’t even get a yellow. Who knows how the game might have panned out with the Red Devils down to 10 men. Michael Owen scored in the 13th minute and shortly thereafter pulled his hamstring. This meant Rooney was going to have to come off the bench and play.

While my beloved boys in claret and blue played well in the first-half they were overrun by Manchester United, the cup holders, in the second half. That man Rooney popped his head onto a wonderful pass from Valencia and it was game over with less than 15 minutes to play. While Villa threw everything at their opponents, they held firm to retain their title.  

Last night, predictably, OGCN lost 2-0 away at Olympique Lyonnais and remain one place above the drop zone.

Finally a bride

Another gorgeous day and I could hardly wait to get out on the bike for today’s 3hr training ride, with interval sprints. I decided to go through Sophia-Antipolis to Valbonne and then onto Pre du Lac, returning by way of Pont du Loup, Vallon Rouge and La Colle sur Loup. The countryside was looking really verdant interspersed with big yellow clouds of Mimosa. I adore this time of year, when the trees are starting to bud and the bulbs are in flower.

As you well know, my greatest fear is that I will be despatched to meet my Maker by a lippy/mobile/cigarette (perm any two from three) waving, middle-aged woman in an aging, small, French car. Today while descending a hill a small, red, clapped out Renault overtook me and then slammed on the brakes, coming to a complete standstill,  before turning right across my bows: no signal, nothing.  Fortunately, I was concentrating, rather than contemplating the scenery, and was able to take last-minute evasive action. The driver had his side window open so I was able to let him know, in no uncertain words, exactly what I thought of this manoeuvre. I think it’s fair to say, he wasn’t a cyclist.

I arrived home in one piece and time to refuel before the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which I happily watched for over two hours in Flemish on the internet. Luckily, I can understand a fair amount of the language. I love watching races in Belgium where enthusiastic fans line every kilometer of the course. In fact, just about anything with a pulse in Belgium is a knowledgable fan of cycling. 

Obviously, I was hoping that Tom Boonen might add this race to his already impressive palmares. But Tom was undone by a puncture at an inopportune moment. Instead, it was Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), who soloed away from another of the favourites (Philippe Gilbert) with 19km to go and stayed away, winning his first Belgian Classic and becoming the first Spaniard to win this race. Given that he’s graced the podium on a number of occasions, you have to say this was a popular and well-deserved win.

Sky almost grabbed 2nd place as well but Edvald Boassen Hagen launched his sprint too early and was overtaken by Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions). Expect Omega-Pharma Lotto and Quickstep to try and exact revenge tomorrow.

Light rain is forecast for tomorrow so I may find myself on the home trainer cycling along while simultaneously watching Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and the League Cup Final. Fortunately, us girls know how to multi-task.

It always pays dividends

During Monday, my beloved sent me a number of text messages. The first to confirm that he had arrived at the British Consulate and was at the head of the queue. The second to tell me that his replacement passport was being processed and would be ready for collection at 16:00, so he’d be home that evening. Of course, it’s unlikely that any of  this would have happened so swiftly without the groundwork I undertook last week and over the week end. I hope my beloved appreciates it, but sadly I fear not. I have smoothed his path for so long that he has no idea of what life would be like without me. Am I replaceable? Hell yes, everyone is. But we all know he’ll never find anyone that does as much for him as I do. Let’s hope he never has to find that out.

It was raining steadily on Monday morning, so I stuck to the programme and undertook  a one hour ride on the flat, albeit on the home trainer, in a fasted state, before undertaking my exercises, with some stretching to finish. Tuesday’s interval training went well and then, joy of joys, my Garmin had arrived so I popped down to my LBS to have it fitted. Once, I’ve dropped my beloved at the airport this morning, I’m going to be spending some time this afternoon understanding exactly how it functions.

It’s a 3hr ride today so I’m hoping it’ll stay fine for long enough. The outlook seems to be improving and it looks as if it’s not going to be as wet this week as originally forecast, though the week end does not look promising. But then that’s days away.

I note that Mark Cavendish has returned to racing at Ruta Ciclista del Sol. However, the man of the moment appears to be Oscar Freire (Rabobank) who’s notched up two stage wins. Cav’s probably still suffering the after-effects of antibiotics taken to clear up his dental problems. Mark, it could have been oh so different if only someone at HTC-Columbia HQ had forwarded my email to you.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of sporting action, apart from the winter Olympics, on the horizon. Starting with this evening’s FA Cup replay (AVFC v Crystal Palace). Then, this week end, there’s Omloop Het Nieuwsbald and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the later unfortunately clashes with the League Cup Final (Man U V AVFC) hence I’ll simultaneously be watching two tv screens – multitasking. This also clashes with my husband’s arrival back from Chicago. Maybe, I’ll ask him to get a taxi!