Gripping stuff

My beloved left for yesterday’s pointage in the early morning fog. I rolled over for another hour’s sleep. Eschewing the ride up Ste Agnes to see one of my favourite one day races, the Tour of Flanders, where Belgian television coverage was starting at midday. I settled for a run along the sea front, followed by a quick coffee and collected the Sunday newspapers. Back home I prepared lunch before settling in for a marathon viewing session.

No where and no one is more passionate about cycling than Belgium and the Belgians. And this is their race,  their day in the sun. They line every kilometer of the course, standing over 10 deep on the bergs, quaffing beer and consuming their beloved frites with mayo. The sun was indeed shining, it wasn’t overly windy, near perfect riding conditions.

Rabid fans (picture courtesy of Getty Images)

The parcours starts in the beautiful city of Bruges and zigzags 258km to Meerbeke over 18 steep, sharp climbs and 26 sections of cobbles. The climbs come thick and fast after 70km of flat. If one can refer to cobbles as flat. The cobbles are smaller and more regular than those in Paris-Roubaix but, as the riders traverse them, their upper arms judder as if they’re undergoing some form of electric shock therapy.

The race is largely held on dirty, narrow farm roads which wind through the villages en route. To be in contention you need to remain vigilant and towards the front of the peloton. The slightly-built Spaniards from Euskaltel-Euskadi and Moviestar who would, no doubt, prefer to be riding in the Basque country, but they got the short straw, cling to the back of the peloton, grateful for assistance on the climbs from the beefier Belgian spectators, wondering when they’ll be able to climb off their bikes.

One innovation this year was cameras in four of the team cars (Quickstep, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Garmin Cervelo and SaxoBank Sungard). From time to time, you  could hear the instructions being barked to the riders, although you might not have understood what was being said in every instance, unless you understood Flemish.

Given the opportunity, I could happily watch every minute of this race from start to finish.  As television coverage commenced, there was a group of 5 riders out in front who were being gradually hauled back in. The second group of 18 riders on the road contained a lot of team leaders’ wingmen sparing their teams the effort of chasing them down. Although the pace was pretty frenetic with teams trying to keep their protected riders at the front of the pack, and out of harm’s way.

The main peloton splintered with a number of riders losing contact and there were plenty of spills but, thankfully, none looked to be serious. The group of 18 was hauled back in and the chasing pack now consisted entirely of favourites with their key riders. With 86km to go Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) takes off on the Ould Kwaremont, hotly pursued by Simon Clarke of Astana. With 79km remaining they bridge up to the lead group, initially giving it fresh impetus, but ultimately leaving it behind.

Meanwhile, behind them on the Taaienberg, Boonen (Quickstep), Flecha (Sky) and Van Avermaert (BMC) are forcing the pace. Others, such as Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Lars Boom (Rabobank) have pinged off the front, followed by Van Avermaert, Guesdon (FDJ), Hayman (Sky) and Leezer (Rabobank). Among the favourites, everyone seems to be waiting for Cancellara to make his move.

Up front on the Molenberg, Chavanel is now on his lonesome at the head of affairs with 44km to the finish, the gap back to the peloton is 55 seconds. Finally, unable to wait any longer Thor Hushovd (Garmin Cervelo), resplendent in his rainbow jersey, heads to the front of the bunch quickly followed and then overtaken by Tom Boonen (Quickstep) and his  shadow aka Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and  Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek).

Fabian goes into TT mode and rides away, the others start looking at one another waiting to see who’ll chase. Too late, he’s gone and swiftly heading for Chavanel. Wilfred Peeters tells Chavanel to stick on Fabian’s wheel as he goes past and to do no work. He does as he’s told. The bunch don’t seem to be making much of an inroad into the gap back to Chavanel and Cancellara, they need to get themselves organised. Back to the team cars, Peeters is telling Leopard Trek’s DS that Chavanel is unfortunately too tired to contribute.  Over at Garmin Cervelo, Jonathan Vaughters is telling his troops to do no work at all, just sit in and sprint for 3rd.

Finally, the bunch gets themselves organised and they catch  Chavanel and Cancellara on the iconic Muur, just 15km to the finish and the favourites are all back together again.  Phil Gil (Omega Pharma-Lotto) makes his trade mark attack on the last climb, the Bosberg, but is soon caught by Cancellara, Ballan (BMC), Leukemans (Vacansoleil), Chavanel and Schierlinckx (Veranda Willems).  Flecha (Sky), Nuyens (Saxobank Sungard), Hincapie (BMC), Boonen, Langeveld (Rabobank) and Thomas (Sky) join them. Ballan puts in a dig, Phil Gil follows. The attacks are coming thick and fast as riders chase one another down. With 4km left, Langeveld attacks,  a 3-man group of Cancellara, Chavanel and Nuyens follows and stays clear to contest the sprint finish which is won by the fresher man. The Belgians have a Belgian winner, Nick Nuyens, who rode a very intelligent race. Cancellara didn’t get back-to-back victories, but Bjarne Riis did.

The winners (photo courtesy of Getty images)

Vuelta Ciclista al Pays Vasco Postscript: There is something enormously satisfying in watching the professional peloton suffer on roads on which you too have suffered. The finishing line for today’s 151.2km stage around Zumarraga was just 3km from the top of the rather brutal Alto de la Antigua. Some of those boys got off and walked up. I knew just how they felt. Purito held off Sammy’s (too?) late charge for the line to take the leader’s jersey.

Ducking and diving

It’s that time of year when caution needs to be exercised when descending  the Domaine on two wheels thanks to the birds and the bees or, more precisely, the ducks. Our feathered friends are in an amorous mood. There’s evidently a sexual imbalance as these sorties on webbed foot involve a lady duck being hotly pursued by a couple of drakes. Now, I’m not sure how this works. Do they strut their stuff and she picks which one she fancies, or is it less consensual? In any event, they freeze in the centre of the road as you approach on two wheels and then waddle back and forth making a duck for dinner the more likely outcome.

I have been trying to profit from the milder weather as the forecast for the week end and into next week is not favourable. That’s right, this year’s Race to the Sun will in fact be a race to the rain. Descending the Grande Corniche will be particularly treacherous. The drop out rate in this year’s race, despite the clement weather they’ve been enjoying, seems particularly high. If it’s not the effects of crashing, it’s raging temperatures or intestinal troubles.

Afternoons have been particularly busy with coverage of Paris-Nice being followed by that of Tirreno-Adriatico. Still, the wide screen television in the office (one of my beloved’s better ideas) means I can easily multi-task.

Wednesday morning’s L’Equipe was full of praise for French champion Tommy Voeckler (Europcar), venturing to suggest that more French riders should follow his example. Having been thwarted on Tuesday, Tommy returned to the fray and won Wednesday’s stage from a breakaway of largely French riders, who’d obviously decided to heed L’Equipe’s advice, helping Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) to recover the yellow jersey.

Yesterday’s stage, another lumpy one, into Vernoux-en-Vivarais, was won from a late 8-man breakaway of contenders built up on the descent of the Cat 1 Col de la Mure, by 2000 Paris-Nice winner Andreas Kloden (Radioshack) just ahead of Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Andreas is now in yellow for today’s 27km time-trial from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence, with those in contention for the overall handily poised to pounce. This stage race is throwing up a few surprises and is all the better for it.

Proceedings got off the ground in Italy on Wednesday with a team time trial won by Rabobank, putting Lars Boom in the blue leader’s jersey for yesterday’s 202km stage from Carrara to Indicatore. Interestingly, man of the moment in yesterday’s L’Equipe was Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar. So, guess who won yesterday’s stage? Yes, Tyler Farrar led out by his wing man, Thor Hushovd. Alessandro Pettachi (Lampre) was 2nd and JJ Haedo 3rd (SaxoBank-Sungard).

The bruises from my fall on the pavement a couple of weeks ago have started to fade so yesterday I added to them by falling off my bike. How did it happen? A momentary lapse of concentration and I was on the tarmac with skinned elbows, bruised knees and an imprint from my big chain ring etched on my right calf.

Boonen’s back

Today, having safely delivered my beloved to the airport, I raced back home to get on with Monday’s usual pile of administration for both our company and the cycling club. The day started off a little damp and humid but the sun soon burnt through the cloud. I was very tempted to go for a ride but today’s a rest day and the outlook is for more of the same.

At 13h, I was able to check out the action in the Tour of Qatar, and continue working, thanks to the big screen in the office. Lars Boom surprised everyone by winning yesterday’s 2km prologue, 4 seconds ahead of Cancellara. All those kilometers on the cyclo-cross tracks this winter bearing early fruit. However, he was indisposed with a tummy upset today,  finishing well down and out of the gold leader’s jersey.

Today’s 145km stage finished on the Al Khor Corniche and was contested by an 18-man break away group, containing a number of sprinters, who had worked well together on the windy, sandswept roads to maintain their advantage over a splintered peloton. Actually, that’s not strictly true, it was more of a one-man show. Quickstep’s Tom Boonen took a  flier into the headwind and powered across the finish line to record his 18th stage win in the event, catching everyone else by surprise. He also took over the leader’s jersey.

Over in Mallorca, the UCI’s attempts to ban race radios fell on deaf ears. Tyler Farrar won the stage but it won’t count as UCI officials had walked off the job. Also, this week end, Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) won the GP Costa degli Etruschi while Antony Ravard (AG2R-La Mondiale) wrapped up his first stage race win in the Etoile de Besseges. It’s worth noting that Johnny Hoogerland was 3rd, Jerome Coppel 5th and Arthur Vichot (2010’s viral star of the Tour Down Under) finished 9th. These boys will probably be riding the Tour of the Med, the final stages of which I’ll be watching this week end.

How was yours?

Christmas Eve

After our usual festive feast of oysters and lobster, swilled down with champagne, my beloved fell asleep on the sofa – early night.

Christmas Day

I woke my beloved at 08:30am with a cup of coffee and his presents. I prepared breakfast and we took an executive decision. While it was going to rain all day, evidently it wasn’t raining too hard. We decided to go for a longish ride. We passed a handful of other die-hards but otherwise it was just us and the joggers enjoying the drizzle.  

On the way back, my beloved, powering up the hill from Juan-les-Pins, snapped his chain and mangled his derailleur. He limped into Antibes where I  left him at a cafe and, churning away in my 53 x 13, raced back home  so that I could go back and pick him up in the car.

By the time we both reached home, it was well past lunch time, so we opted for a delicious pulled pork sandwich with salad, electing to save the fois gras for Boxing Day.  We should have spent the afternoon tackling the office, instead we decided to laze on the sofa and read.

Boxing Day

No pointage today and only the committed, hard-core turned out for the club ride. The boys, having been cooped up all week, were feeling frisky and set an impressive pace along the coast road. I dropped off the back and rode along at mine. I’m so enjoying riding the new BMC with its 53 x 39 gears, and new set up, rather than the compact 50 x 34. Of course, I won’t be saying that once I’m back up in the hills. But for now, along the coast, it’s great.

I got back home before my beloved and prepared lunch:  hot fois gras with grilled figs on brioche. Served, once again with my favourite beverage. We skipped dessert as the fois gras is so rich. I’ve made a terrine with the rest of the duck lobe to enjoy on toast later in the week.

It started to pour down with rain again so we decided to stay indoors. I slipped into my jimjams, slumped onto the sofa and enjoyed the Sunday newspapers. I was, of course, awaiting the start of the big match: my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. With the ever growing French connection (Houllier and Pires) the boys are earning themselves plenty of column inches in L’Equipe: not all of it favourable.

It was an entertaining match but my beloved, youthful team were humbled by Harry’s more seasoned players. It’s disappointing to lose to ten men but the boys never gave up trying. You cannot ask for more. This season will be one of transition and while I don’t expect a sparkling finish to the season nor do I expect us to be battling relegation. We have some promising youngsters on whom the future of the club depends. If that means we languish in the 2nd half of the table this year and maybe next, so be it.

27 December

Back to work today. Yes, while my beloved enjoyed the sunny, wintry weather on two wheels, I had a meeting to finalise the rules for next year’s Kivilev which is going to be both a brevet and a cyclosportive. The afternoon was spent tidying up the office which is now ready to receive its new, big screen. 

28 December

We set off early for our trip. The hotel is only a 40 minute car ride away. We parked the car and disappeared on our bikes into the glorious countryside with nary another car in sight. We’ve ridden around here a number of times as it forms part of the parcours of both the L’Antiboise and La Lazarides. Also, we know the area well as it frequently features in the routes for Paris-Nice, Tour de Haut Var and Tour de Mediterranee.

We rode along the main road to Draguignan and I had no problems powering up the undulating course. It had evidently been a little frosty first thing but the warm sunshine had dried the roads. As the sun started to dip in the sky, it began to feel chilly again and we rode back to the hotel to check in before heading off to the Spa to burn a few more calories. We worked out in the well equipped gym then retreated to the pool, specifically the outdoor, heated, hydrotherapy, pool. I stayed in there until my skin started to shrivel. Time to return to our villa. Yes, on checking in, we had been upgraded to a villa with two bathrooms. I had bagged the larger one.

Before dinner, I curled up on the sofa to watch some cyclo-cross on the television. The riders were competing on a snow lined course in Belgium. Lars Boom lead from the gun with a posse of Belgians in hot pursuit. This was my first cyclo-cross race and I now understand why it’s such a popular spectator sport. The riders slither and stumble around the course, barely averting disaster at every turn. It lasts a thrill packed 40 minutes and there’s plenty of food and warming beverages to hand. I look forward to watching more of this on the new TV in the office.

29 December

Sadly, the rain had returned in earnest. It was too slippy to ride. Having enjoyed a splendid breakfast, we once again visited the Spa before deciding to return home. It had been a pleasurable break and one  which we vowed to repeat in 2011.

30 December

It was still overcast, but dry. We ventured out along the coast greeting our team mates who were returning from their early morning ride. After ours, we went and ordered the main ingredients for tomorrow’s dishes for our Anglo-Franco-Russian New Year Feast. While our skiing trip might have been thwarted at the last minute, we had decided we would at least spend New Year’s Eve together. With my friends kindly providing the starters, the main side dish and dessert, there wasn’t too much for me to do. It would really be more of an assembly job.

New Year’s Eve

The menu was as follows:-

  • Canapes and nibbles including blinis with smoked salmon and caviar served with champagne, beer or coke
  • Russian herring salad with vodka
  • Oven baked whole salmon stuffed with fennel, herbs and confit lemon served with new potatoes and “Olivier” salad washed down with a local white wine
  • Cheese, including my beloved’s favourite brie with truffles
  • Tiramisu or apple crumble, or both
  • Coffee, tea and petit fours

We sat down for dinner at 21hr and rose, sated but not stuffed, and, more importantly, still sober at 01:30hr. A great time had been enjoyed by all. We vowed that next, rather, this year we would make our skiing arrangements way earlier, so as to avoid disappointment.

New Year’s Day and a Happy New Year

It dawned bright and sunny before clouding over. Keen to profit from the sunshine, we rode along the coast to blow away the cobwebs. The afternoon was spent catching up on those all too inevitable chores.

2 January

A ride with our club mates, lunch, the Sunday newspapers and a football match. The perfect Sunday, well, at least  in my book.  Having been beaten at home by Spurs and thrashed 4-0 away from home by Manchester City, I was hoping for at least a draw, to steady the ship. According to today’s L’Equipe, Houllier has 15 days to turn things around.

An old work colleague and fervent Chelsea fan sent me a message before the game. I had imagined he was skiing in the Pyrenees, but no, he was tucked up in bed with the flu and looking forward to watching the game. And what a game it was.

The boys overcame the disappointment of a dodgy penalty decision and, through persistent play, also earned a penalty in the first half to leave things level at half-time. We scored early in the second half and then defended like mad, garnering yellow cards like confetti. It wasn’t to be, as Drogba, who’d been missing in action for most of the game, popped up 7 minutes from full-time to level the score. The boys were tiring but tried hard to resist the irresistible tide. John  Terry put the home side ahead and within a minute we’d levelled the tie again. Tellingly, Sky’s MOM was the Villa goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.

Villa finished the tie having broken their duck. It was the first game this season where, after having gone behind in the match, the boys had taken any points. The Villa owner, Randy Lerner, who was at the match, must surely have seen the promise in the mix of youth and experience. The boys had given their all and done him proud. You simple cannot ask or expect for more.

3 January

It’s not a bank holiday in France, so we were both back at work. I caught up on those financial year end chores, making sure I had invoiced all of our clients, while my beloved prepared for his forthcoming US trip. This didn’t prevent us from riding over the lunch period. Indeed, the clouds parted and a thin sun shone weakly along the coast. The on-shore cross wind kept the rain at bay and we weren’t the only ones out enjoying ourselves on two wheels.

4 January

I love spending time with my beloved, indeed there’s no one else I more enjoy spending time with, except perhaps myself. However, after more than two weeks together, I was equally glad to see him leave this morning. I can now revel in the undisturbed peace and quiet. My nights, and sleep, will not be disturbed by excessive decibel levels of snoring. Nor will I be required to produce snacks and meals at regular intervals. The flat will stay in a state of cleanliness and tidiness. He’ll be gone for 10 days – sheer, unadulterated bliss. He’s back on the morning of my birthday and, bearing in mind the Xmas present fiasco, have insisted that he doesn’t buy me any birthday presents, at all, not one.

My beloved was on the very early flight to Frankfurt.  At that hour in the morning, despite the 21 sets of traffic lights, a mere ten minute trip in the car. I was soon back home, tucked back up in bed and in the land of nod. The phone rang, I had totally forgotten that the wine fridge was being repaired this morning. It had thrown an irretrievable wobbly just before Xmas which had necessitated a whole new control panel. It was a quick but expensive job. Cue quick wash and change.

Next up one of my elderly neighbours rang the doorbell. She used to park (I use that word guardedly) in the space next but one to us but had only been renting the space as hers was in the second underground parking garage. This is understandably not popular with a lot of the very elderly residents as it’s two sets of stairs back up to the ground floor. She had previously enquired if she could rent my spare parking space as she’d been told by one of the other residents that it was available. It wasn’t. I allow a neighbour in the next block to use it in exchange for bottles of excellent champagne. I didn’t mention the last bit to her.

She had returned this morning because one of the ladies who cleans in the block had told her the person who uses the parking spaces, travels a lot. I confirmed that my husband did indeed travel frequently, and was rarely here, but that I still didn’t have a spare car parking space. I use one and the other is used by a friend who is now on vacation for a week or so in Morzine.  I wouldn’t wish to share a car parking space with her as I’m quite sure it would only be a matter of time before she rammed her car into mine. Her inability to park is legendary in the Domaine. 

I had no sooner sat back down again when the postman rang to “sell” me a calendar. No point in telling him that I’d got plenty, I just handed over my money, chose one featuring pictures of cute puppies and wished him all the best for 2011. He reciprocated.

Resolving not to answer any more calls, I returned to my paperwork. Rain is forecast for today. It’s overcast, but dry. I’m going out for a couple of hours, as per the programme, before our regular get together down at the cycling club this evening – more paperwork.

In short, my Festive period has been very enjoyable. Just what was ordered, apart from some of the football results. My beloved has had a much needed short break. A few chores have been cleared off the “to do” list, I’m up to date with my paperwork and looking forward to 2011. Only two weeks before the start of the Tour Down Under, bring it on.

Postcards from Melbourne III

It’s still far colder than I anticipated for this time of year and I’m regretting not bringing my down vest but the forecast is for warmer weather at the week end. As well as checking out the course in Geelong, we’ve been exploring the Melbourne shoreline on our rental bikes.  The scenery has been quite spectacular and, as we’ve ridden further south, the properties have grown in size and there are some splendid examples of both colonial and modern architecture. The former are generally clapboard with wrap around verandas decorated with filigree ironwork while the latter are seemingly built largely from glass affording the owners panoramic views of the sea.

When questioned as to the difference between Sydney and Melbourne, the natives have advised that Sydney was founded by convicts while Melbourne was founded by immigrants from mainly Scotland and Italy. Do I sense some rivalry?

We again set off for Geelong at a reasonable hour to watch the U23 individual time-trial where Taylor Phinney was odds on favourite to win. He does have an impeccable pedigree and the results this year, most recently in the Tour de l’Avenir, to back up those claims. However, he faced stiff completion from the locals, last year’s silver medalist and GB’s Alex Dowsett.

We easily positioned ourselves near the start/ finish line with a clear view of the big screen, close to refreshments and cover from the promised rain squalls. This is my 5th Worlds and easily the best so far from an organizational perspective. Everything has been done for the viewing public. Instead of the usual banks of seating, there’s one small one for the press after and a small one before the finish line for local dignitaries. The UCI and sponsors’ lounges are at the foot of the final climb.

Many local shopkeepers have a cycling-related focus in their windows while the bars, cafes and restaurants are competing hard for business with lots of themed events.  There are screens all over the course, particularly in key areas such as the climbs and in the family-friendly parks.  They’ve even established hubs for the supporters of the major foreign teams all handily located near purveyors of alcoholic beverages. No stone has been left unturned. There’s even screens in the centre of Melbourne for those that can’t make the journey to Geelong. But then Australians really love their sport, don’t they?

Sadly, the cycling is being overshadowed by this Saturday’s replay of the AFL finals. You only have to look at the local press or watch the TV to have this amply confirmed. Residents of Geelong were asked if they’d be watching the cycling, most seemed to be annoyed at the inconvenience of road closures while others were aghast at having seen professional riders jump red lights. The inclement weather and that apathy accounted for the poor showing at today’s races. You could literally count the numbers of spectators, many of whom had arrived by bike.

The first rider off, Frayre Moctezuma Eder from Mexico, was visibly shivering in the chill wind and took some time to attain rhythm and speed.  No sooner had he set off than the heavens opened, making the course treacherous for those in Groups 1 and 2. Subsequently, the sun and gentle breeze combined to quickly dry out the course for those in the subsequent two groups. The few fans gathered mostly in the finishing straight did their best to loudly cheer and encourage the future of the sport. This was great to see and heart-warming for the riders as generally the U23’s and women’s events unfairly attract less coverage and support. This is a race with a great pedigree. Just look at a few of the winners of recent years;  Lars Boom,  Jose Ivan Guttierez and Thor Hushovd.

To win a rainbow jersey, you need luck. This was Phinney’s fifth. He was lucky that Luke Durbridge endured wet roads, while he didn’t. Alex Dowsett was unlucky to have a problem with his tyre which ended his potential challenge.  Phinney won by 1.90secs ahead of 19-year old Durbridge, while German Marcel Kittel was a further 20 secs back in 3rd. The future of cycling looks rosy.

Next up, the ladies. Pre-race favourite, German, Judith Arndt finished 2nd, some 15secs behind the diminutive, feisty Emma Pooley from GREAT BRITAIN. Linda Villumse was 3rd on her maiden outing for NZ. The evergreen Jeannie Longo was 5th.   A great day’s racing; I can’t wait for the men’s TT tomorrow.

Postcards from Melbourne II

Today my beloved had a business meeting in Geelong (fortuitous or what!) which gave me an opportunity to check out the course. The ride from Melbourne to Geelong was open and very windy although the forecast for later in the week is for less wind. The circuit around Geelong is on wide, well-maintained roads and the drag up to the finish could well mitigate against a true sprinter, like Cavendish. The two climbs are short and steep but riders like Gilbert and Cancellara will just power up them. Short steep ascents also mean fast ascents which could play into the hands of someone like Fabulous Fabian, enabling him to solo away. On the circuit, the wind may play a part either as a strong head or tailwind. The latter will make it difficult for someone to take a flyer, the latter will assist.

So who are the favourites in the Men’s road race? You cannot discount anyone from those  teams fielding 9 riders. I think Bettini, wily fox that he is, has done his planning and preparation well and chosen a strong squad to support Pozzato who’s obviously in form after the Vuelta and his win in Sunday’s Sun Herald Classic in Ballarat.

I had a chance meeting with the Spanish squad today, who are throwing their weight behind Oscarito, and he certainly fancies that uphill 150m drag to the finish. The boys were wrapped up against the biting cold wind and delayed the start of their practice ride until the squally rain showers had passed. The boys were obviously concerned about the weather and spent sometime checking out the weather forecast for the coming days. Luckily for them (and me) the mercury is set to rise at the week end.

I would categorize it as an Ardennes Classic type of course, although the climbing is concentrated in the latter 2/3rds of the race, so should suit my tip for the top, Gilbert, as well as others who have fared well in these types of races, such as Frank Schleck. That’s why I think it’s a shame that my favourite Kazakh has passed on this race. It would have suited his attacking style and one can always rely on him to enliven any race he enters.

One cannot discount Kolobnev who has performed well in the past (Stuttgart and Mendrisio). Nor can one ignore the home team, the Aussies, who will be keen to not only defend the rainbow jersey but also win on their turf. They should know the course better than anyone.

So am I saying it’s all to play for? No, even assuming that the weather is not a major factor, the stronger, larger teams will seek to put the pure sprinters under pressure and whittle down the peloton to ensure they are not duking it out in the final stretch. It’ll be a fast race and my pick is as follows: Gilbert (1), Pozzatto (2), Oscarito (3).

It’s hard to look beyond Cancellara and Tony Martin for the time trial. This tends to be a much more predictable race. I favour Fabulous Fabian over Tony and I’m going for Lars Boom to place 3rd rather than Edvald Boassen Hagen or Ritchie Porte.

Both women’s races look to be very open with no clear favourites. Though again, I expect riders from the larger teams to hold sway likewise, in the U23 races. In these races I shall be cheering for the French and, in particular, Jeanni Longo who’s old enough to have a grandson riding in the U23 race. That woman is my inspiration.

Hold onto your handlebars

Paris-Nice is often referred to as the race to the sun. Looking at the long-range weather forecast that’s unlikely to be the case this year. Following on from the hurricane like winds, the temperatures have dropped 10 degrees Celsius, there’s snow on Col de Vence and more forecast.

I rode with my beloved on Monday and we both struggled to contain our bikes in the cross winds. If there was a tail wind, we never found it. High winds have plagued the first two days of Paris-Nice. On Sunday, Gert Steegmans (no lightweight) was swept off his bike on one of the downhill sections, crashed and broke his collarbone. What with being concussed in the Tour of the Algave, he’s not having a good start to 2010.

Monday, the peloton seemed very nervous and there were lots of coming together of bikes which, combined with the wind, ultimately fractured the peloton. I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt, but the Caisse d’Epargne riders in contention on GC and Lars Boom, the wearer of the yellow jersey, managed to put time into Messrs Contador, Leipheimer and Sanchez (Sammy). Bert even got entangled with Barbie Barbie Haussler and is now nursing a sore leg. Yesterday’s run in was marred by another crash though none of the GC contenders were involved.

The work load in the fourth week of my training programme is much lighter and I even have a few rest days. Meaning I don’t have to go out in the cold, which is good. I had thought my beloved was going to be home all week but he’s gone off to Germany today and tomorrow, so more good news.

Sadly, since Monday evening I have been sufferring from a savage dose of gastroenteritis. I haven’t eaten anything for the last 48 hours and can barely keep down water, which is leaving me dangerously short of fluids and feeling really weak. Good for the weight loss? Not really as it lowers one’s metabolic rate. I just hope I recover enough to do this week end’s rides.

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.