Out of sight, out of my mind (not)

Visits to my family in the UK are such rare occurrences that I never take my laptop with me. Not, of course, that my parents have access to the internet. But, even if they did, I would feel guilty spending even half an hour of the few precious hours I spend with them checking out what’s happening in the two-wheeled world. I’m not completely out of touch, I do have my Blackberry but emails and tweets tend to give me tantalising glimpses of what I’m missing. But I can be patient, every now and then.

My last UK trip was in October. This visit was arranged because of its proximity to my birthday, Xmas and ahead of next week’s start of the 2012 cycling season.  So for just a few days, while I’m seeing my family, and catching up with a few friends, I feel bereft of my usual daily anchors. The Times is a poor substitute for L’Equipe. But it’s better than nothing, and this week it did feature an interview with Sky’s World Champion, Mark Cavendish (seen right), and the planning and preparation that’s going into (possibly) making him Olympic Champion. A far harder task than securing the rainbow jersey he’ll be gracing all season long. My family sadly don’t share my love of all things two-wheeled, nor do some of my friends, though they all kindly show some interest which I repay by not talking too much or overlong (I hope) about my velo passions.

On my return home to the sunshine this morning, there were two items high on my agenda: a bike ride and a quick catch up on what I’d missed during the past four days (was it only four?). So much seems to have happened. A bit of a dust up over who’s on who’s side in the Contador v UCI/WADA decision and the fear that it might be delayed, once again. The wild cards for the Giro have been announced with German Team NetApp springing a bit of a surprise while Acqua & Sapone’s hopes and dreams went down the plughole. OPQS’s Tom Boonen deciding to up sticks and head back to Belgium, passing up on an opportunity to ride with me this winter. He must have had a savage pay cut so the team could pay for Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin.

The route of this year’s Vuelta was unveiled on Wednesday. I’ve planned to be there at the start, shortly after the Clasica San Sebastian but, with the entire race taking part in northern Spain, I am now being tempted to linger longer. I’ve looked at the parcours and winced. This is most definitely a route for Spanish mountain goats, particularly those that weigh less than me. You know who you are!

Sylvain plots Fabian's downfall

There’s also been numerous team presentations, broadcast over the net, where riders have been forced to wear outfits they’d rather not and assume daft poses for publicity shots they’d rather not. It’s a tough life, even without the hours spent in the saddle.

We’re all (aren’t we?) poised in the starting blocks for next weeks’ season opener, the Santos Tour Down Under. The Australian viewing public have chosen their man to follow Vacansoleil’s and 2010 Tour of Qatar winner, “Wouter Mol”, and we’re all chomping at the bit for the action to commence. Fortunately my beloved is going to be heading to the UK on Monday leaving me ample opportunity to view proceedings. The speculation has already started as to who might win but the beauty of cycling is that none of us really has any idea. But it won’t be me.

Trifling pleasures

My beloved returned on Friday evening feeling a bit fatigued from an exhausting schedule of meetings. Yesterday, given he hadn’t ridden for a week, we had a pleasurable 65km meander around the area. Week ends I’m happy to follow his lead as I’ve plenty of opportunity to practise my prescribed exercises during the week. We’ll probably do a ride of a similar length today in the company of our friend who’s recovering from a collision with a car a few month’s back. Then it’ll be back up the Col de Vence on Monday morning before my afternoon departure to the UK.

We had dinner with a group of friends yesterday evening on the beach. It was a fun evening. With all three girls contributing to the veritable feast, no one was overburdened with work. I had prepared guacamole to stave off their hunger pangs while I cooked the burgers in our friend’s nearby apartment. She provided the accompanying chips and ice cream dessert while our other friend made a trio of delicious salads. The boys enjoyed being waited on hand and foot and worked off any excess calories with a swim and games of waterpolo, football and volleyball. This is my second trip to the beach in recent weeks, and something of a record for me, however the silly cycling sun tan lines persist.  I was in good company yesterday with five out of eight of us bearing similarly distinguishing marks.

Our friend is off on Wednesday to take part in the Vuelta during which he’ll be absent for his wife’s birthday, an occupational hazard. As a consequence, we’re all getting together again this evening for sushi at their place. This is something I have never attempted to make but his wife is a superb cook, so I know it’ll be fabulous. This time I’ve offered to make dessert. I had thought about something vaguely Japanese, such as green tea ice cream, which I adore. But it’s an acquired taste, so I’ll probably make more of a crowd pleaser and something which will appeal to their two hollow legged sons. I have some lemon scented sponge hangingabout in the cake tin which when drenched in my special liquer-enhanced raspberry sauce and then covered in layers of fresh raspberries, custard and cream will make a rather sinful ending to a virtuous dinner.

After this morning’s ride, my beloved and I will be checking out the final stage of the Eneco Tour which has turned into a rather more absorbing contest than anticipated. This race is generally won by a good time-triallist, another one of whom may win this year. Former race winner, Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen is currently leading while Garvelo’s David Millar and BMC rookie and prologue winner Taylor Phinney are respectively third and fourth on GC . Up there in the mix, and for whom today’s stage (22 bergs) might have been specifically planned, is Thursday’s stage winner, Classics King, PhilGil who is 12 seconds back. It’s going to be close but Belgium might be just about to get it’s first winner of this race.

Over in the Tour de L’Ain, Vuelta-bound David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in search of a 4th consecutive mountain’s jersey, took the GC from Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) on the final day’s stage which was won by his much younger compatriot, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The Vuelta’s looking a more interesting race this year with a number of riders who exited the Tour early thanks to injuries (Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck) deciding to contest the final three week stage race of the year. On the other side of the pond, ahead of tomorrow’s final stage, RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer seems to have a lock on the leader’s jersey. in the Tour of Utah.

When I’m going to fit in watching today’s MotoGP racing from Brno in the Czech Republic has yet to be determined. It would appear as if I’ve been ignoring my most recent sporting interest, I haven’t. It’s just that I’ve not had time to do it justice in my blog, but I will. I promise. I managed to catch a bit of the qualifying yesterday. Dani Pedrosa has seized his first pole start of the season in MotoGP, while Marc Marquez has his 3rd consecutive pole in Moto2 and Nico Terol, as usual, is on pole in 125cc class.

Helping hands

Volunteers

Sport in general, particularly at the grass roots level, and many sporting events, rely upon the generosity of a few. The running of our cycling club and the events we organise would not be possible without the assistance of volunteers. For the most part, they are long serving, retired members who simply enjoy lending a helping hand.  So how might one define a volunteer?  Most agree it’s someone who willingly gives their time freely, without thought of any gain, monetary or otherwise, to assist others.

My first experience of volunteering was while I still worked in the City. With the support and encouragement of our Chairman, I set up a scheme whereby we adopted a primary school in one of the more-deprived areas of London. We worked with a group of children on their literacy, numeracy, IT and musical skills, mentored the head teacher and helped raise much-needed funds. We also organised school trips and involved the children in a number of out-of-school activities. Everyone was surprised at how much personal enjoyment they got out of their involvement.

Since moving to France, I have worked as a volunteer at a number of major sporting events. Each time I’ve been fortunate to work with a great crowd of people, some of whom have become good friends, and learnt more about what makes events of this type successful. My day-to-day volunteering revolves around my work for the cycle club. Most clubs are run by those who are retired. However, all our team work either full or part-time, we are therefore hugely reliant on the assistance of many club members. Inevitably this tends to be those who have time on their hands ie the retirees.

Initially, those who were part of the club’s previous administration continued to assist us but most have now resigned as they were not wholly in sync with the way in which we run the club. While we have no problem with reimbursing members for expenses validly incurred on behalf of the club we do not support what I like to call “blanket reimbursement of expenses”. That’s to say reimbursing members for expenses which also have a personal element such as internet and telephone subscriptions. Put bluntly we don’t believe that donating your time to the club should be rewarded with additional perks above and beyond what is available to all the membership. Every committee member has to pay their own membership fees and we no longer hold  the annual dinner for the management team and their wives. It may not sound very much, but I estimate that with this approach we have saved over 3.ooo Euros per annum, just under a quarter of our subvention from the local authority, which equates to 19,50 Euros per member.

I appreciate that I’m beginning to sound like a killjoy but I do believe that everything should be above board when it comes to handling the club’s finances. Indeed, we have been much lauded by the Town Hall for our approach. Instead, I much prefer we hold events that everyone can attend: members, local dignitaries, sponsors and friends of the club.

Of course, running a club is not a popularity contest, nor should it ever be viewed as such. There are always members who think they could do it so much better. Typically, these are the members who never, ever give you a hand. Instead they are always on the receiving end. Sadly, every club has them. Similarly, there are members who are always willing to help and one should endeavour never to take them for granted. But often a simple “Thank you,” an all too often overlooked management tool, will suffice. Others require a bit of cajoling or inducement. A free t-shirt often does the trick.  I like to remind people that you get out of a club what you put into it. Put in nothing and………………………….

La Ronde is fast approaching. This is a race we organise in conjunction with a pointage every August. M le President sent out an email asking for volunteers, it fell on stony ground. Many of those who volunteer aren’t on the internet. Unbelievable, I know but there it is. In addition, a lot of members only check their mailboxes periodically, like once a week! I decided that a telephone call would probably work better. I’ve rung all those that volunteered last year, plus others, and we now have enough volunteers. Calls may take longer than an email but when you’re asking someone for essentially a favour, the personal approach is often better. Now, I’d better get stuck into replenishing my cake stocks.

Tour Postscript: Tom Boonen succumbs to his injuries and abandons the Tour. A crash takes out Bradley Wiggins and Remi Pauriol with collarbone/shoulder injuries. The subsequent pile up delays large numbers of riders including all those from Sky who drop out of Top 20 on GC. Thomas concedes the white jersey to Gesink. Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner lose more time. The road has decided, Radioshack’s GC rider is Andreas Kloden. Rojas snatches back the green jersey but, with his stage win, Cavendish inches ever closer to green. Thor hangs onto yellow for probably the last time, likewise Hoogerland who will probably concede the spotted jersey tomorrow.

Men on a mission

The fabulous weather is continuing and this morning I rode with my coach. I always look forward to our rides together. Not only do we have an enjoyable discussion as we’re rolling along but I always have a few take-aways to help improve my riding skills.  This morning I was keen to pick his brain as to how we might find additional funds for the club. As ever, he had a number of useful contacts and some good advice.

It took me an hour to ride to our rdv point and thereafter we continued along the Var valley, into the usual headwind, before turning off down the Vesubie valley. We were riding the route of the last club championship. Sadly, it’s not been held for the past two years so I’m still the reigning ladies club champion. It’s a route I enjoy, with some climbing, but none of it too steep: ideal terrain for a spot of interval training.

On the way back, I was waived down by a rider in distress. His pump had failed to inflate his inner tube after a puncture: Wonderwoman and her pump to the rescue. He was decked out in Astana kit version 2009 with a Trek bike. I could tell that French wasn’t his native tongue. I suspect he might well have been Eastern European. Wheel inflated we rode off together. I intended to ride with him just in case he had further problems. However, while we had established that we lived not far from one another, we failed to check we intended going the same way. I turned off the main road to return by way of the cycling path along the Var while he continued on the main road. I hope he got safely back home.

By the time I arrived home I had spent just 1 minute less in the saddle than the winner of today’s Tour stage into Lisieux although, in all fairness, I had ridden a rather shorter albeit much lumpier stage. My timing was impeccable. I was soon washed and changed ready for my afternoon’s viewing. Sadly, the peloton had another wet and windy day where caution was the watchword on the slippy roads.  Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco was another non-starter this morning as yesterday’s tumble into the barriers had resulted in him breaking his collarbone.  At the start, there was plenty of white tape in evidence on the limbs of those who fell yesterday.

It’s much easier in the earlier stages of the Tour to target one of the jerseys. This morning Cadel Evans was wearing the spotted jersey but, with more points on offer today, the “Group of 5”  set off with purpose, one of whom attained his goal. This evening the spotted jersey is on the shoulders of Johnny “Hardman” Hoogerland who eschewed a rain jacket today in his quest for the spots.

The GC favourites, keen to keep out of trouble, spent the day massed at the front, sheltering behind their team mates. The last of the Group of 5 was taken back just before the final climb. Both Thomas Voeckler and Alex Vinokourov attacked but it was to be another day for the sprinters. Led out by Sky team mate Geraint Thomas, after a powerful well-timed sprint, Edvald Boassen Hagen took his maiden Tour win in front of his parents. HTC’s Matt Goss was second, sandwiched between two Norwegians. That’s right, Thor was 3rd, retaining the yellow jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands. The only “loser” today was Levi Leipheimer who crashed before the final climb and lost over a minute. We’ve now passed from Hinault into Anquetil country. Tomorrow’s flat stage will be another one for the sprinters.

Big boys go bump

On a windy, shortish, stage alongside the English Channel, I lost count of the number who hit the deck, largely in multiple pile-ups, in the hour from 15:10 – 16:10h. Many remounted and made their way back to the peloton via the doctor’s car for some TLC on their bumps and abrasions. While others trailed in ahead of the cut-off. One, Janez Brajkovic, having been patched up on the side of the road, departed in an ambulance.  The second retiree from the Tour. Europcar’s Christophe Kern, the French time-trial champion, who’d been suffering since the start with tendonitis, also climbed off his bike.

Given that teams often ride together protecting their leader, if one of them goes down it’s rarely a solitary fall. In the Radioshack Team, apart from the afore-mentioned Brajkovic, Horner, Leipheimer and Popovych also kissed the tarmac. Wiggins went down from Team Sky. Quickstep’s bad luck from the cobbled Classics reappeared taking out 5 riders: most notably Boonen, Ciolek, Steegmans and Chavanel. I also saw a number of Rabo boys on the roadside, including GC threat Robert Gesink. Contador lost his chain (possibly a case of what goes around comes around) and found himself flat on his back. While his team mate Nikki Sorenson had his bike swept from under him by one of the motobikes. One minute he was riding along on his bike and the next he had gatecrashed a picnic on the side of the road but sans velo!

After the podium ceremonies the overly zealous commissioners were studying the video highlights of today’s intermediate sprint and decided to declassify Boonen (cut the guy some slack) and Rojas. As a result, the latter loses the green jersey to PhilGil who finished ahead of him on today’s finish line, but behind Cavendish. None of the other jersey’s changed hands.

Cavendish won today’s stage, taking his Tour total to 16, and got to meet one of his biggest fans. I lost count of the number of times the lady Mayoress kissed Cavendish. Indeed, I was tempted to cry “For goodness sake, put him down”.  But then I remembered that, like me, she’s probably keen to seize any opportunity to kiss a few fit, young guys. Oh yes, I’m shortly going to be reprising my role as the world’s oldest podium girl.

Back to the riding wounded. I speak from experience when I say that, if at all possible, having fallen, one should get back on one’s bike and continue pedalling. Pain tends to kick in once you’re off the bike and relaxing. There’s going to be a fair number in the peloton nursing some sizeable portions of road rash, particularly on their buttocks, which will probably make for an uncomfortable night. To add to their discomfort, tomorrow’s 226.5km stage from Dinan to Lisieux is the longest of this year’s Tour.

This wasn’t the only bad news today in France where at 17:20 this afternoon, they learnt that the 2018 winter Olympics had been awarded to Pyeongchang, in S Korea. France’s candidate, Annency, polled a miserly 7 votes. Obviously, France is another country not prepared to pay the going rate for Olympic votes.

Relaxing week end

Starting point

We had planned to spend the week end in Manosque and ride two of the sportifs in La Sisteronne but, sadly, the organisers (Stephen Roche and Lucien Aimar) didn’t receive prefectural permission, no idea why, so we cancelled the trip. At least they found this out 2 weeks before the event, we only received a copy of the prefectural permission for La Kivilev on the Friday before the big day, nonetheless costs will have been incurred and it makes it much more likely that they’ll abandon attempts to hold future events. Instead we rode a randonnee in the l’Esterel, just up the road in the Var.

This is a lovely area to ride. A far less dense population means very much less traffic. The very rolling parcours and attractive terrain make it an interesting and picturesque ride. We elected (thankfully) to ride the shortest course which was nonetheless taxing as we were either ascending or descending. There was hardly any flat at all on the parcours. Sadly, and despite it being a well run event, it only attracted about 70 entrants. I only knew about it because I received an email directly from the president. Probably because the club is a member of FFCT (one of the few federation of which we’re not members), it’s not on our radar. We also tend to be highly insular and promote only those events in the Alpes Maritimes. I’ve made a mental note to look out for more events like this. I also gained another cup for my ever expanding collection. I’m not sure what it was for and didn’t like to ask as it might have  been for “La Doyenne”, oldest female participant. More likely, as there were so few of us, they gave a cup to every female entrant (all 3 of us) to encourage us.

En route

Yesterday’s exertions meant I fell asleep on the sofa only rousing in time to see Peter Sagan bag another stage win in the Tour de Suisse, this time a sprint. That boy is a phenomenal talent and I’m going to be looking forward to see how he fares in this year’s Vuelta. Today’s stage is an individual time trial which, barring a major accident or major mechanical, will be won by Fabulous Fabian. Cunego’s not renowned for his time-trialling prowess but the leader’s jersey, rather than Red Bull, often gives you wings. If not, Levi Leipheimer is handily poised to pounce and wrest it from him.

This morning’s pointage was close by in Sophia Antipolis. I rode with the club and discovered how the boys often manage to put 10 minutes into my time – they cheat. Yes, the entire peloton took a short cut and eliminated over 5km of undulating road. I was reported as having “gone the wrong way”. No boys, I write the route remember: you’ve taken a short cut. It left me wondering how often this happens. I follow the prescribed route, one minute they’re in sight, the next they’ve gone. Gone down a short cut more like! This left me free to follow the route at my own pace before rendezvousing with my beloved for a coffee over the Sunday newspapers.

Postscript: Spartacus won the time-trial and Levi leapfrogged  Damiano by 4 seconds!

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.

No room at the Vuelta

Fans will be denied the chance to see a repeat of Johnny Hoogerland’s daily daring escapes during this year’s Vuelta a España. Yes, that’s right Vacansoleil weren’t invited to yet another grand tour and neither were Skil Shimano.  However, to give Unipublic their due they have invited two smaller Spanish outfits,  Xacobeo-Galicia and Andalucia Caja-sur, whose very existence probably depends on their annual appearance in the Vuelta.

The organisers have however made the (brave?) decision not to invite either BMC or The Shack as neither Cadel nor Lance respectively were scheduled to ride. I understand BMC didn’t seek an invite but The Shack had proposed a pretty strong  line up which included recent Criterium Dauphine winner Janez Brajkovic, Andreas Kloeden, Chris Horner, Haimer Zubeldia and  Levi Leipheimer – not too shabby. Instead rsvps have been sent to those 16 teams covered by the September 2008 agreement with UCI (which expires at the end of this season) and Team Sky, Garmin-Transitions, Katusha and Cervelo Test Team.

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.