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.

We’re on our way to Wembley (again)

My husband had told me that he was arriving from London at 20:30. He was wrong, that was his take off time. I only found this out after my abortive trip to the airport. In the end, he was delayed 2 hours and arrived home at 01:30am. Fortunately, he had taken his keys with him and so it wasn’t necessary to deprive me of my much-needed slumber. However, the gale force wind woke us both in the early hours. Such wind didn’t subside until it started to rain heavily around mid-morning. The rain cut our proposed ride in half so we decided to forgo the trip over to Monaco instead taking shelter in our local coffee shop.

After the disappointment of Nice losing 2-3 to Nancy yesterday evening in the 92nd minute I was hoping for better things in today’s FA Cup semi-final: Reading v AVFC. After the first half, my beloved boys in claret and blue were trailing 2-0. However, a motivational half-time kick up the proverbial backsides saw them scoring 4 goals in the second-half, including a hat-trick from John Carew. To the delight of Portsmouth and Fulham or Tottenham (replay), the boys have drawn Chelsea in the semis!  Yet another trip to Wembley.

Lastly, a quick round up of the cycling results. Yesterday’s La Strade Bianchi was won by Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), who beat last year’s winner Thomas Lofkvist (Sky) in a sprint to the line. Vuelta Murcia was won by Frantisek Rabon of HTC-Cloumbia with Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) joining him on the podium. A certain Lance Armstrong was 7th.

Over in Belgium, Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) the winner of last week’s Le Samyn, won Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen, picking up valuable points for his team. Only this week in L’Equipe, Eric Boyer was lamenting the lack of invites to races in Italy and Belgium now that his team are only Continental-Pro.

Today saw the start of Paris-Nice with a tough 8km time-trial won by Lars Boom (Rabobank) ahead of Jens “Hardman” Voigt (Saxo Bank), Leipheimer (Radioshack) and Bert (Astana). I’m looking forward to watching subsequent stages. The difficulty comes on Wednesday with the start of Tirreno Adriatico, there’s only so many hours one can devote to watching cycling. I forsee plenty of time on the home trainer and I can also tackle the ironing.

We must stop meeting like this

I woke to brilliant sunshine and the promise of a great day’s riding. I dressed warmly, suspecting it might be chilly on Col de Vence. Yes, I decided today would be my first ascent of the year of the Col. The last two Saturday’s I have felt a bit fatigued, and today was no exception. As I wound my way up L’Ara to Vence I was feeling decidedly wobbly. It was also much colder, thanks to the Mistral-like wind, than I’d thought. Time for a change of plan.

Rather than turning straight up towards the Col, I turned right and headed for St Jeannet. On the way there I passed none other than Mr Boonen and assorted cycling buddies, chatting away and merrily proceeding in the opposite direction. Again, he wasn’t wearing a helmet or sunglasses. Tom, you’re setting a really bad example for impressionable youngsters. There’s no way I’m going to be seen riding with someone without a helmet – sorry!

Having foregone the climb up Col de Vence, I set off up towards the village of St Jeannet. I know, it’s only a couple of kms rather than 10km but that’s all I was capable of today. In addition, this is one of my favourite downhills. It’s steep, relatively straight and, traffic permitting, I can get down it without having to apply the brakes. I descended via La Gaude, passing several club mates huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and headed for my usual pit-stop for the newspapers and a coffee.

A piece in L’Equipe caught my eye. Vino has the same dental problems as Cavendish and won’t be riding in today’s La Strade Bianchi. I must send him my email on how to treat this. No need to compromise his season, or lose a tooth if he and his dentist follow my advice.

I felt considerably better after lunch, making me wonder if I’ve been a little too severe in the calorie cutting. The flat is now spotless and I’m enjoying the last few hours of peace and quiet before the return of my beloved who’ll be working from the home office all next week. This means, of course, that I’ll be in for a busy week.

In addition, I’ve guests arriving Thursday evening for a few days. It’s my friend Susi, she of the world-class performances in three disciplines: speed skating, cycling and triathlon. She’s bringing her partner and they’ll be taking photographs at the last two stages of Paris-Nice.

Tomorrow’s pointage is on the seafront at Cagnes sur Mer so I’ll be able to have a bit of a lie in. I’m then going to ride over to Monaco to watch our “racers” and juniors compete in a crit in Monaco. Let’s hope the weather stays fine. In the afternoon, I’ll be slumped in front of the tv, in the fleecy track suit, watching the first stage of Paris-Nice where I’m pretty sure Bert will want to take top honours overall to erase the memory of last year’s unfortunate “bonk”.