No response

As predicted, young Alan Gilbert made his second podium appearance yesterday afternoon in front of an adoring home crowd. Looking a bit blase, bored even, he tried to enliven proceedings by eating the RTBF microphone. Maybe he was feeling peckish, teething or just at that stage where everything goes in his mouth. With those cute chubby cheeks, he looks like a baby who enjoys his food. His Dad, to whom he bears a striking resemblance, had just completed the Ardennes treble. Strictly speaking, it was the Ardennes quadruple and no one else has ever done this, not even the mighty Eddy. This was the one race PhilGil really wanted to win as it finishes in his back garden.  This brings his total of Classics wins to 8, the same number as the Badger, Bernard Hinault. No doubt Phil’ll be back later in the year to hoover up more wins in the autumn Classics and overtake the Badger.

L’Equipe published some advice on how one might beat Gilbert in this race, but obviously no one read it, certainly not the Schlecks. The pair  went clear with Phil Gil in the final few kilometres of the race on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons. The showdown that everyone wanted to see. However, it was more of a damp squib, as the Schlecks obligingly carried Phil to the line. They seemed powerless to resist. You might have expected a flurry of attacks to try and tire out PhilGil but, no, they meekly submitted: all hail to the Classics King.

Here endeth the Spring Classics season. It’s enjoyed unprecedented weather and some spectacular racing. The first half was graced by a load of unanticipated wins while the second half was dominated by Alan’s Dad, who will now surely be spending a couple of well earned weeks off the bike. He’ll probably need a couple of days to recover from yesterday’s celebrations with his fan club who had erected an enormous tent for the proceedings. Large though it was, I doubt that it could even begin to house all of PhilGil’s fans as he’s been equally, and deservedly, embraced by the Walloons and Flandrians.  One of the few things to truly unite Belgium.

Despite the forecast, the weather was fine here too. We set off just ahead of the club for the pointage in Biot where my beloved elected to wait for his team mates  while I decided to continue in anticipation of shortly being overtaken. Surprisingly, I managed to stay ahead of the club, riding instead with a number of other groups, before returning home via Valbonne and Sophia Antipolis. This gave me an opportunity to finish lunch and have a leisurely shower before my beloved returned. He had ridden his new bike and was enthusiastically describing the experience to me. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say he’s very, very pleased with it.

Bit of a roundup

After four days off the bike, it was a pleasure to resume my training programme. I’ve been riding really strongly this week, particularly on the climbs, and feel on track for this week end’s brevet, the l’Antiboise, organised by a neighbouring club. Last year, I unwisely and unsuccessfully rode the 150km parcours, bonking spectacularly after 103km. This year, I’m riding the 100km course which, with the ride to and from the start, will be a 120km round trip. We’ll be setting off relatively early so as to be back in time to watch the Amstel Gold Race. I understand from an article on Cyclingnews that some, as yet unidentified, locals have been sabotaging the course with tacks!

We have friends who live in Valkenberg, just a stone’s throw from the Cauberg, and were fortunate to be in the area on business a few year’s ago and watched the race from a good spot (near the big screen) on that hill which is decidedly leg sapping. I was riding my friend’s “sit up and beg bike” which I would have been hard pushed to indeed push it up the hill, let alone ride. On race day, the hill is thronged with spectators, particularly on the lower sections which are bordered by bars and restaurants, and it has a fantastic atmosphere.

While we’re all awaiting the next monument in the Classics season, those cute boys in lycra have still been racing. PhilGil, last year’s Amstel winner, won Wednesday’s Fleche Brabanconne, so he’s on form for his objectives of next Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and next weekend’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard), Igor Anton (Euskatel-Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (Geox) and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) are the main protagonists in the 5-day Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon, which is chock full of 2nd and 3rd division teams. This isn’t an overly bumpy parcours, indeed, the first two stages have featured the sprinters and have both been won by Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), clocking up his 6th stage win in this race. The French teams have been racing in the Coupe de France whose leader is young Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). In the 4th round, Sandy Casar (FDJ) emerged as the big cheese in Paris-Camembert while Jimmy Casper won his 4th GP de Denain Porte du Hainault.

I haven’t passed much comment on the football of late. There’s not a lot to say about either of my teams whose fortunes seem to mirror one another. OGCN, with one of the smallest budgets in the French first division, generally punch above their weight and are playing Lille in next week’s semi-final of the French Cup and should finish the season a couple of places above the relegation zone. My beloved boys in claret and blue are going through what I hope is a transition phase and, despite the inevitable end of season loss of one of their best players (again), should survive to rebound next season.

My beloved has been away for a couple of days which has enabled me to complete a number of tasks for the club before I leave for next week’s break in Varese. My beloved has decided to take a week’s holiday but if I don’t get him out of the office, he’ll just be working away on his emails. We’re staying in the same B&B I stayed in while volunteering at the 2008 Road Cycling World Championship’s in Varese. We’ve become good friends with the owners and stay a couple of times a year either visiting clients or friends nearby. It’s a lovely area to cycle around; witness the large number of professional riders who live and train in the area. I particularly enjoy cycling around the lakes and covering some of the route of the tour of Lombardy.

2010 Highlights

We’ve reached the time of year when it’s difficult to fill newspaper and cycling magazine columns without taking a retrospective look at the season. This seemed like a suitable discussion topic for my English class on Wednesday evening. We were surprisingly of similar minds:-

Rider of the Year

One day races:- There were only two candidates: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both were competitive throughout the season and both wore Grand Tour leader’s jerseys but, after much debate, we settled on Spartacus: the 4th ITT rainbow jersey tipping the balance in his favour.

Stage races:- As winner of the Tour de France, the most difficult Grand Tour to win, Alberto should have been a shoe in but, sensitive to post-Tour issues such as that itsy, bitsy trace of Clenbuterol, our gong went to Vicenzo Nibali: 3rd in the Giro and winner of the Vuelta.

Memorable Performance of the Year

Actually, there were so many this year that it was hard to whittle it down to just one. Among others, we considered: Fabian’s wins in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, PhilGil’s wins at Amstel and Lombardy, Cadel Evans at Fleche Wallonne, Bobbie Traskel at K-B-K, Thor at the World Championships, Vino at L-B-L. Finally, we settled on Thor’s performance at the World Championship’s in Geelong. Given that the Norwegian team numbered only three riders, his win demonstrated perfectly his ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time to power to the line.

Best One-day Race of the Year

Here too we had plenty of contenders, but we finally plumped for PhilGil’s win in the Tour of Lombardy, his second consecutive win in the race. It was not just the manner of his win but that he gave no quarter despite the appalling weather conditions.

Best Stage Race of the Year

While we all agreed that the Tour is the most difficult Grand Tour to win, largely because of the depth of competition and the psychological pressures, it can be predictable. Both the Giro and Vuelta raised their games this year to produce thrilling and, at times, unpredictable racing. Finally, we agreed on the Giro d’Italia.

Team of the Year

Hands down, no contest. Liquigas were the best stage racing team and HTC-Columbia the team that racked up the most wins.

Best Kit

No argument: Cervelo Test Team.

Worst Kit

Unanimously awarded to Footon-Servetto

Unsung Hero of the Year

Again, we found it difficult to whittle down the contenders as so many team mates sacrifice their own chances of glory for their leaders. In addition, the work of many riders is done and dusted before the television cameras hove into view. In the end, we decided that the unsung heroes were the hard working domestiques in every team without whom no leader would ever win races.

Best French Rider

Loyal, and ever-smiling, Tommy Voeckler of Bbox without whom his team manager might not have reeled in replacement sponsor Europcar.

Breakout Rider of the Year

Votes were split between the loquacious Peter Sagan of Liquigas and the cherubic faced Richie Porte of Saxobank.

Worst Pro-Tour Race of the Year

There aren’t any, we all love cycle racing wherever and whenever.

Story/Issue of the Year

Sadly, we all agreed these had to be the doping issues. Namely,

  • Pellizotti  being banned from racing due to (unfounded?) passport irregularities
  • Floyd Landis’s accusations against Lance, plus his own confessions
  • Contador and Clenbuterol

Disappointment of the Year

UCI’s unilateral changes to the way teams are evaluated which demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding of the evolution of the sport.

Way to go!

I’ve just finished watching a thrilling Liege-Bastogne-Liege. With so many favourites on form it was going to be hard to pick a winner from the galaxy of stars. Indeed, the big names remained pretty much in contention until a certain Alex Vinokourov launched a trademark attack 16km from the finish. He was rapidly joined by another man much on form, Alexandre Kolobnev. 

He just wanted it more

Gilbert, Valverde and Evans gave chase but the hard men prevailed. Gilbert gave a massive kick to try and get up to the two lead men but was ultimately caught and overhauled by Valverde. The two Alexs battled it out with the Kazakh getting the better of the Russian in the final couple of hundred meters. No one should have been surprised. He’s won in before and said that this race was one of his targets for this year.  He was clearly on top form, as shown by his GC win Friday in the Giro del Trentino. It probably suited him to have the press and the rest of the peloton focus on Contador – good bluff. Roll on the Giro, it’s going to be an exciting tour and I’m looking forward to following it and riding some of its parcours.

Prior to L-B-L, I watched my beloved boys in claret and blue win 1-0 in the local derby match against Birmingham City. An important win, as it keeps us in the chase for 4th place, after Spurs lost to the Red Devils and Arsenal drew with Man City. Closer to home,  OGCN won 2-1 and finally erased any lingering relegation fears.

This morning’s pointage was replaced by a three-line whip attendance at the official opening of the recently completed cycling lane between Cagnes sur Mer and St Laurent du Var. To be honest, our legs still bore the lingering effects of yesterday’s La Louis Caput, so a gentle stroll on the bike was much appreciated.

At yesterday’s La Louis Caput, the mass start of earlier years had been abandoned in favour of a policy of “start when you like”. We set off at 08:00am but saw so few other riders that we concluded either there had been a poor turn-out or, everyone else had started before us. My beloved kindly rode with me to the half-way point when, with rain threatening, I suggested he might like to ride on ahead.

At this point I was passed by a few riders doing the 150km loop but they were all going too fast for me to tag on the back. I slogged on alone into a head wind and a darkening sky. It wasn’t until I started the descent for home that I managed to ride with anyone else. I got onto the back of a group of 4 guys. I also overhauled a group of triathletes who had ridden most of the route just ahead of me. If only I could ascend as well as I descend! Still I bettered last year’s time by a considerable margin, so I must be getting faster – musn’t I?

Brits on top

Britons win atop Mur de Huy! Yes, that’s right, two British girls finished on the podium at the Fleche Wallonne feminine: Emma Pooley (Cervelo) was first and Nicole Cooke (GB) was second. Sadly, neither will probably get as much column space as, say Bradley Wiggins who was well down the order in the men’s race.

I got back from this morning’s training ride just in time to watch La Fleche Wallonne. The legs were feeling much better than yesterday though they didn’t take too kindly to the interval sprint training. However, I was somewhat mollified by watching the professional peloton ride up the Mur de Huy. Sometimes, it’s good to watch the pros suffer on an incline. It’s a timely reminder that cycling’s a really tough sport – whoever you are. I think it was Greg Lemond who said “it doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster”.

It was a finely judged win by Cadel Evans. Gracing the rainbow jersey, he overtook Alberto Contador, who had probably accelerated too soon past Igor Anton, just before the line and dragged Joachim Rodriguez to 2nd place. I think Alberto can be pleased with his 3rd place and this portends well for Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It is to be hoped that the strike at L’Equipe will soon be over as not only am I getting serious withdrawal symptoms but I’m also badly missing its incisive run down on the Ardennes Classics.

Meanwhile, over in the Giro del Trentino, Riccardo Ricco beat off Vino and Basso to claim the 2nd stage. Vino’s still leading on GC after yesterday’s impressive performance in the TT. Evans and Vino are gunning for victory in next month’s Giro and both are coming nicely into form.