Sheree’s sporting smorgasbord

When I go back to the UK to visit my parents I feel as if I’m in some sort of parallel universe: no internet, no L’Equipe and a dull diet of daytime TV. The world continues but I seem stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario. My mother’s illness is getting markedly worse. Of course, it’s only ever going to be a one-way bet but it seems to have gathered momentum and she’s much more overtly aggressive. I do appreciate that most of the time she’s no idea who we are and is therefore in a state of constant confusion with little way of making herself understood. There are times when you see flickers of the woman she once was but they’re becoming very few and far between. More worryingly I see the toll her disease is having on my father. While, on the one hand, I look forward to seeing them, as soon as I arrive I want to come back home.

Despite a crowded sporting calendar the only sport I saw all week end was the big match and, no, I don’t mean the Manchester Derby. We watched the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in which France gave New Zealand an unexpected run for their money and, were it not for some strange but consistent refereeing decisions, might well have rained on the All Blacks parade. Despite the scepticism beforehand, L’Equipe produced a special supplement today paying homage to the boys’ exploits which included pages of gratitude from their sponsors. They might have been beaten but they went out with heads held high.

Arriving back home late Sunday afternoon, I was intent with catching up with all the other sporting news until I saw the announcement about Marco Simoncelli’s death. You see so many shots of the motorbike riders sliding off into the kitty litter and then bouncing back to their feet that you tend to forget the sport’s inherent dangers. It seemed doubly cruel that he should lose his life on a track where he crowned his 250cc championship season in 2008 and after achieving his best result of the 2011 season (2nd) in the previous race at Phillip Island. I didn’t have the heart to check on the results in the Moto2 and 125cc races.

Sebastien Loeb closed in on the World Rally Championship after winning the Catalunya Rally. Whether or not he wins his 8th consecutive title will be decided in three weeks in Wales. He leads Mikko Hirvonen by 8 points. Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier dropped out of the rally and out of contention but looks unwilling to play second-fiddle for another season. Citroen did however wrap up the constructor’s championship.

Disappointment on the football pitch as AVFC were beaten at home for the first time since 1979 by their neighbours, The Baggies, after a contentious sending off reduced my beloved boys in claret and blue to 10 men. The phrase “we woz robbed” easily comes to mind. OGCN meekly capitulated 1-0 away at Nancy. But the big news was the 6-1 dismantling of the Red Devils in the Theatre of Dreams by their derby rivals Manchester City. When did Manchester United last concede that many goals? It was Sir Alec Ferguson’s “worst day ever”.  Down south, reduced to 9 men, Chelsea lost 1-0 away to their neighbours QPR. Derbies often throw up surprising results.

As I left for the UK on Friday a headline in L’Equipe caught my attention “Armstrong pedale encore”. Was Lance making yet another comeback? No, it was a comment about NBA player Hilton Armstrong. Thank goodness, because, quite frankly with teams disappearing left, right and centre, there’s no longer a place for Lance in the professional peloton. It seems particularly cruel that Geox have withdrawn their support just after the closing of the transfer window leaving staff and riders high and dry, with the latter’s points no longer worth a jot. I was rightly or wrongly under the impression that they’d signed on the dotted line for two years. I await with interest to see what the UCI is going to do about this.  While over on the piste, team GB appear to be underwhelmed, rather than delighted, by their haul of only 7 gold medals from Apeldoorn. It’s all relative.

Handily poised

Having devoted yesterday’s post to a round up of the cycling, today I felt I should turn my attention to the football. I will, of course, firstly address the two clubs closest to my heart: namely, AVFC and OGCN. The former didn’t play at the week and as their would-be opponents were involved in a replay. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. My beloved boys in claret and blue are the filling in a Midlands sandwich. They’re lying in 16th place with 30 points, the same as Birmingham who are above us thanks to a superior goal difference, and a game in hand. Below us, on two points less, are WBA. To put this in perspective, the league leaders, Manchester United, have twice as many points. OGCN lost 3-0 at home to PSG. They’ve played one game less than Villa and are on 27 points in 17th place, just above Monaco, who are in the relegation zone. The similarities are alarming but I don’t believe either will be relegated.

I will now turn my attention to the Champion’s League which tends to be a bit of a closed shop. There’s 4 English sides (Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real, Barca, Valencia), 3 Italian teams (Inter, AC Milan, Roma), 2 German teams (Bayern, Schalke), 2 French teams (OL, OM) plus 2 others (Copenhagen, Shaktar Donetsk).  Following the results of the first leg, there’s only one side which looks likely to be eliminated: FC Copenhagen who were beaten 2-0 at home by Chelsea.

If we look at the results from the remaining first legs, there are at first glance some surprising results: most notably Spurs winning 1-0 away at AC Milan and Manchester United drawing 0-0 away from home at OM. In other instances,  while the favoured team lost, they do have that all important away goal as in Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Lyon 1 – 1 Real Madrid which should provide the platform for a home, and overall, win in the next leg.

At this stage, it’s not easy to forecast who will win. There’s so many variables not just the opponents in the forthcoming rounds, domestic situations but,  more crucially, the availability of key players. However, I’m all for sticking my neck out and I’m going to predict that the last 8 teams will be Spurs, Schalke, Shaktar, Barca, Real, Chelsea, Man U, Bayern. I would have liked to include Arsenal in that list but cannot see them beating Barcelona at home. I hope, in this case, I’m proved wrong.

 Of course, it’s difficult to work up enough interest if your own team isn’t playing, nor shows any sign of qualifying to play Champions League in my remaining lifetime. I will however always be able to treasure the moment when Peter Withe’s knee struck the ball in Rotterdam and put in the back of the Bayern net enabling my beloved boys to bring home the trophy in 1982. I watched the game after barracading myself into the tv lounge of the hotel where I was staying in Taunton while auditing Somerset CC.

Close run thing

I finally got around to taking my beloved BMC I down to my LBS (Local Bike Shop) to have the set up changed to that of my beloved BMC II. I also splashed out on a new saddle, as the old one was looking kinda sad after close on 30,000km. I had suffered a puncture while out riding this morning thanks to a tack which had left a large hole in my rear tyre and deflated the inner tube.

The hole was so big that there was absolutely no point in replacing the inner tube without first replacing the tyre. I would only have been setting myself up for multiple punctures.  Of course, I cannot possibly have mismatched tyres. So both back and front tyres had to be changed. However, nothing will go to waste. All the rejected bits and bobs went straight into the Burkina Faso box.

We rode back home and, after a shower, I slipped into my favourite lounge wear,the Qatari Airways freebie jimjams, and settled down to watch Stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under, 131km to Willunga. We only caught the last 5 kilometers which ended with a sprint finish among the small leading pack , won by Movistar’s Francisco Ventoso ahead of in-form Michael Matthews and Matt Goss. Cameron Meyer, a world champion on the track and Australian time-trial champion, remains in the leader’s ochre jersey and is poised to take his first stage race in Gamin-Cervelo’s colours.

Euskatel’s Gorka Izagirre, whom we’d last seen winning  in the Basque country, took a bit of a flier but was reeled in just before the line. He’s animated a number of stages and races in Australia and I’ll be keeping a look out for him this year.

Meanwhile my beloved football team were hosting Man “Money’s no Object” City at Villa Park. I was praying that we would not suffer the fickle finger of fate from the returning players (Gareth Barry and James Milner). Furthermore, I was hoping for some sign that £18m spent on Darren Bent had been a wise investment on the part of Houllier.

We won 1-0, after Bent had scored on his debut in the 18th minute. A spirited display, particularly by the back four and the first clean sheet for months. Let’s hope that this is a turning point in our season.

After last week’s 2-0 home defeat by Lille, OGCN are  hosting Olympique Lyonnais tomorrow evening in the French League Cup where, frankly, anything could happen.

We’ll be watching the match on the television after (I hope) having successfully defended our Regional Championship. Like the Departmental Championship, which we narrowly lost this season, competition will be fiercest from two clubs which, unlike us, are chock full of veterans (maximum point scorers). M Le President has rallied the troops and I’ll be there to chivy everyone as, unfortunately, he’ll be working.

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.

Lightweight

The weather’s been a bit of a curate’s egg this week as we slide inexorably towards winter.  Rain on the coast has translated into snow in the mountains where they may well be about to experience their third consecutive great winter. Many of the resorts are opening next week end. This has spurred me on to go cross-country skiing this winter – great cross-training for my cycling.

Despite the almost incessant rain, I have managed to fit in my training thanks largely to the sunshine on both Wednesday and Friday. I had feared for Sunday’s pointage, after torrential rain overnight, but it had stopped by the time we awoke. Indeed a stiff, chilly breeze rapidly dried the wet roads although the sky looked threatening all morning. As a consequence, only the die-hards turned up. Normally the roads are thronged with cyclists but it was play “spot the cyclist” this Sunday as large numbers chose to remain under the covers.

We returned home to a bowl of hearty vegetable soup and my beloved boys in claret and blue away at Ewood Park. Sadly, the roll-call of injuries is such that Houlier has had to decimate the ranks of the youth squad. While they proved to be a match for the Red Devils last week end, their efforts fell on stonier ground today.

Friedel, normally so reliable, had a poor game and was constantly under pressure from the set pieces which characterise all of Sam Allardyce’s well-organised squads. If my memory serves me correctly, didn’t Houlier sell Friedel to Blackburn when he was the Liverpool manager?

Man for man, my beloved boys in claret and blue, with few exceptions, were head and shoulders smaller (and hence lighter) than their Blackburn counterparts who effectively muzzled both Gabi Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, thereby snuffing out any potential Villa threat. Key to the result however, aside from Pedersen’s two goals, was Blackburn’s control of the midfield.

Robert Pires came on after the second goal to inject some much needed experience and Gallic flair but had no impact whatsoever on the game. It’s still early days, but I’m sure he’ll prove to be a valuable addition to the squad.

Villa are now 13th with 17 points, just one more than their blue-nosed neighbours who, incredibly, beat Chelsea at the week end. Equally amazing was Spurs win at the Emirates. However, the top of the table  is starting to look all too familiar. Chelsea lead with 28 points, the same number as Man U in 2nd place, while Arsenal are 3rd with 26. Man City, after beating Fulham today, are 4th with 25 points.

OGCN went down 0-1 at home to Montpelier. Once again, Ospina was our “man of the match”. Knowing that he’ll be lured away (sold for as much money as possible) at the end of the season, and with goalkeeper number 2 retiring, OGCN have already bought his replacement. The boys are lying in 15th place with 16 points, just one less than AVFC.

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.

I’ll have mustard with mine

Yesterday was my first attempt at La Lazarides. I did the shorter parcours (107km) accompanied by my beloved. Or should that be part accompanied, since he lost me on the way back. I know: careless, foolish, misguided or what? It’s not a good idea to lose the person with the map, the money, the car keys and the mobile phone.

The club was severely underrepresented: only three of us. But when I’d questioned a few of the regulars as to why they weren’t taking part, they all said it was more like a race than a randonnee. Actually, that was true. Fewer participants, generally only the better club riders (me being one of the exceptions), police assistance, cars covering the breakaways on both parcours and two pro-Tour riders who kindly just kept pace with the (amateur) leaders.

Riders at the start

 

It was a lovely parcours and we both agreed we should ride more often over this terrain. It starts using the back-end of the smaller l’Antiboise parcours and then heads on past the dreaded Lac St Cassien (again, loads of traffic) before ascending to Mons via Fayence, but thankfully not using the Mur de Fayence (26%). Weaving one’s way through market day in Fayence was a little tricky. Thereafter, the roads were quiet and it was a great climb up to Mons and the feed zone where they had real coke, albeit lukewarm, and some delicious ham rolls. Then there was a fast descent back down via  Callian and Montaroux which was were I overtook my beloved. The leaders of the 150km parcours came steaming past me and I tucked onto the end of the group. Much to everyone’s surprise, I manage to stay with them on the descent. My beloved claimed he was waiting for me at the Montaroux fountain. I never saw him as I zoomed through the town. Of course, as soon as the gradient changed, I was back on my lonesome.

I rode to the control point at the foot of the Tanneron and advised them I’d lost my husband before continuing on up the hill. I assumed he’d soon catch me up. I was wrong, it took him until the final couple of kilometers. But what a welcome when we got back to the Stade Maurice Chevalier, a BBQ no less. Never have sausages, bread and mustard tasted so good. I’m going to suggest this for the Kivilev. Having consumed this feast, it started to rain in earnest, so we skipped the tombola and headed for home.

Once home we had to check our stats on the Garmin: more climbing and a faster average speed than La Louis Caput. Who would have thought it? It was a very rolling parcours with the final climb up the Tanneron coming at just after 80kms. There were even a few uphill stretches in the final couple of kilometers.

My legs felt tired today and I really laboured up the hill to Pre du Lac but after a gentle ride this morning they’re now feeling a lot better. The promised stormy weather held off and, as a result, I’m hoping that the forecast for the forthcoming days will improve. I’ve plenty of mileage on the programme for next week.

My beloved boys in claret and blue went down 3-1 away at Man City, effectively blowing any lingering chance of 4th or 5th spot in the Premiership. Still, with Liverpool losing to Chelsea today, we should hold onto 6th: no mean feat.

Ten minutes before full-time OGCN were comfortably leading 3-0 away at Boulogne, a team heading for relegation. Final score: 3-3! Yes, pretty unbelievable but, sadly, all too true. Goodness knows what happened to our defence – totally MIA. 

Over in the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Valverde pounced on the final stage to take the overall, Spilak was 2nd and Menchov 3rd. The weather was again truly awful and 56 riders, who were out of contention, got off their bikes. Can’t say I blame them.

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?

Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.

Week end musings

My beloved returned from Germany suffering from a cold and feeling very sorry for himself. A ride on Saturday morning soon restored his good humour which was further boosted by our boys in claret and blue who struck two goals to win away from home at Fulham. The chase for the 4th spot in the Premiership is heating up with Liverpool, Man City, Spurs and AVFC all in hot and heavy pursuit.

Sadly, OGCN lost 3-2 away at Monaco. After a couple of contentious refereeing decisions, which arguably cost the Aiglons the match, their fans, despite a heavy police presence, angrily stormed onto the pitch. The penalty is likely to be either a heavy fine or a match played behind closed doors, just what a cash-strapped club needs. Nice haven’t won for two months and are slipping ominously into the relegation zone. While we await the return of most of the first team from the African Cup, rumours abound that our one good striker could be leaving before the transfer window closes.

This morning we set out for a ride with the club. It was very cold, the sky looked ominous all along the coast but back in the hills the sun was sparkling off the snowy hill tops. On the outskirts of Antibes, the sleet started to fall and two-thirds of the peloton turned tail and headed home into a fierce headwind. Why get wet when you can always ride tomorrow?

After a warming coffee at our local watering hole, pouring over the Sunday newspapers, we headed back home. Perversely, by mid-day the sun was out in full-force and the weather was truly glorious. I was sorely tempted to get back on the bike and go out again however I was having the windows and terrace cleaned this afternoon. With friends coming for dinner on Monday evening, and guests arriving next week end, this was a task I couldn’t postpone.

Instead, I checked out what had happened overnight. Was Andy Murray going to be the first Brit for many a long year to lift a Grand Slam singles title? No, razor sharp Roger Federer disposed of him in 3 straight sets to win his 16th Grand Slam title. Later I checked on the results of French cycling season opener, GP La Marseillaise. This was won by Jonathon Hivert of newly-promoted Pro-Continental team Saur Sojasun, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil was 2nd and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis was 3rd. 

On a final note, I’d like to wish Christophe Le Mevel a speedy recovery. The other day he attempted to make running repairs to his TT bike while in the saddle but merely succeeded in almost severing his little finger. Christophe, if your bike needs fixing, please take it to your’s and my LBS: Stars’n’Bikes.

Postscript: Loic Remy is (thankfully) remaining at OGCN.