El número siete

I appreciate that the professional peloton has been racing in China and Japan last week, but my interest in cycling concludes with Il Lombardia. Coincidentally this is generally when the race for the blue-riband crown in MotoGP comes to the boil.

It was another early start yesterday morning to watch the race. The question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Marc Marquez would close out the championship in Japan in Honda’s backyard in front of its Head Honcho or would Andrea Dovizioso, lying second in the Championship, win from pole on board his Ducati and keep the championship race alive?

Fans of the sport will know that Marquez secured his fifth MotoGP world championship (seventh in all classes) with an eighth victory of the 2018 season in the Japanese Grand Prix as Dovi crashed with two laps to go.

How the race was won

Marquez started on the second row, in sixth place, at Motegi but quickly moved up to second on the opening lap, biding his time, before engaging in a nailbiting, seat of the pants duel with polesitter and last remaining realistic championship threat Dovizioso.

Waiting until 10 laps to go to make his first move, Marquez passed Dovi at Turn 9, but one corner later he ran wide on the dirt and lost momentum – with his rival almost piling into the back of him, and repassing for the lead.

Four laps later, Dovi recorded a new fastest lap, but Marquez went even quicker the following one and it became clear he was in no mood to settle for a safe second. Indeed, both riders needed to throw caution to the wind to achieve their objectives.

Marquez seized the lead on the 21st lap of 24 with a bold pass at the tight Turn 9 left-hander – he much prefers left to right-hand turns – but Dovi was going nowhere, stuck to his rival’s tail and looked poised to fight back until he lost the front end of his Ducati into the Turn 10 hairpin on the penultimate lap. Game over. Marquez reaches level 7!

More records fall

Titles:

– Marquez becomes the youngest rider to win five titles in the premier class at the age of 25 years and 246 days, taking the record from Valentino Rossi (26 years, 221 days).

– He becomes the youngest rider of all time to reach the milestone of seven World Championships across all classes, beating Mike Hailwood’s record, who was 26 years and 140 days old when he won his seventh title back in 1966.

– Marquez joins Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini as one of four riders who has won five or more premier class World Championships.

– He becomes one of only eight riders who have more than seven titles across all classes: John Surtees (7), Phil Read (7), Carlo Ubbiali (9), Mike Hailwood (9), Valentino Rossi (9), Angel Nieto (13) and Giacomo Agostini (15).

Victories:

– Marquez has won at least five GPs per season in the last nine years across all three classes: 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP. He’s the first rider in MotoGP’s 70 year history to achieve this.

Poles:

– With five pole positions this season, Marquez increases his overall pole position tally to 78 across all classes.

– In Thailand, the previous MotoGP, Marquez (25 years, 231 days) became the youngest rider to reach the milestone of 50 pole positions in the premier class, taking the record off Mick Doohan, who was 32 years and 122 days old when he took his 50th pole position at Philip Island in 1997.

What did Twitter have to say about it all?

Here’s where the race and championship were decided on Sunday.

Over enthusiastic celebrations resulting in a dislocated shoulder which was just popped back in. These MotoGP boys are TOUGH!

Congratulations poured in for for Marquez from other Spanish sporting legends.

I hope you carry on living the dream Marc for many years to come.

The Final Word

MotoGP is lucky to have Marquez, and Marquez is lucky to have landed in MotoGP at a time when such intense rivalries are made possible by the emergence of a generation of extremely talented riders with strong and divergent personalities – a bit like the big four in men’s tennis over the past decade. He is the kind of figure all sports dream of unearthing: a Tiger Woods, a Katarina Witt, a Usain Bolt, a unique individual whose combination of charisma and technical brilliance bursts through the limits and disciplines of their sport and engages multitudes.

Richard Williams, The Guardian

Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.

Postcard from Mugello

I love lying in bed listening to birdsong. I find it really uplifting. So I was delighted to discover our chosen hotel lay slap bang in the middle of a Tuscan forest full of trilling birds. Yes, we were back in Italy again. This time for the Oakley Italian MotoGP at Mugello which is not far from Florence.

My beloved chose our hotel but with my blessing. It’s a small family run affair, sympathetically restored with a modern interior, small bar and great restaurant. Our drive over in glorious sunshine passed smoothly with a couple of stops for lunch and refreshments. We exited the motorway at Florence skirted round the town and headed cross-country to our destination through typical Tuscan countryside, lush and green with those distinctive trees and ochre clad properties.

I’ve wanted to attend another live MotoGP race since we last went to Catalunya in 2012. While the television coverage of all 18 events is excellent you can’t beat live sport for its atmosphere and noise. With MotoGP, I love the mix of Free Practice, Qualifying and Sunday Race Days. Lots of short, sharp, action packed sessions, none of which extend beyond 45 minutes. In between it’s good to stretch one’s legs and wander round the circuit and merchandise stalls. No rider sells more merchandise than Valentino Rossi and, with this being his home GP, pretty much everyone is decked out in blue and yellow.

We picked up our tickets at the accreditation centre where we bumped into a German guy who was staying in our hotel and was looking for a lift to Mugello. He works for Oakley, principal sponsor of the event, and had been parachuted in at the last moment to help. We happily obliged.

Quite by chance we parked near the entrance closest to the stand where I’d booked our tickets, which was under cover, in the shade, on the home straight, opposite the boxes. We were a tiny spot of red and black in a sea of blue and yellow, right opposite the Yamaha box. The stand was well served by refreshment stalls and facilities with proper toilets, unlike those scattered around the circuit which offered hole in the ground amenities which I (thankfully) haven’t seen in donkey’s years.

My hopes had been raised by a sign advertising vegetarian panini but they were dashed when the vendor revealed they were tomato and mozzarella. Ah well, I won’t pass away if I miss lunch though I was regretting not bringing some fruit and snacks from home.

Mugello Teaser

This weekend, a third of the way into the championship, Michelin (the sole tyre provider) changed its front tyre for the remaining 13 races to one which features a stiffer casing, which I’m reliably informed deforms less during braking. You might be thinking, so what? But in MotoGP nothing is more important than the front tyre. Everything comes from the front tyre: the all-important rider feel, corner-entry speed, mid-corner speed and therefore corner-exit speed. So, would the tyre change be a game-changer?

Preliminaries

Crowds were sparse on Friday, largely those who were staying under canvas or in their camper vans at the circuit. The main grandstand was about 30% full while the others were pretty much empty though there was a goodly number on the grassy hill overlooking the circuit which sits in a bowl surrounded by the Tuscan hills, thickly clad with forest and basking in the sunshine. Had it rained, it would have been Dantesque with mud and water everywhere.

The crowds increased by a factor of twenty over the week-end and, despite arriving in time for the start of the day’s action, we were some way back in the car park. This meant it was much easier to exit the circuit. As anticipated, many of the race favourites had shone in both free practice and qualifying. While to the delight of the partisan crowd, Italian riders were well placed though championship leader, Maverick Vinales – surely the best name in MotoGP – was on pole for the blue riband event despite not favouring the tyre change. His team-mate Rossi was second on the front row.  Obviously, the crowd was hoping for nothing less than a Rossi victory in the blue riband event and for Italian riders to shine

Throughout the week-end, the press were always at least 10 deep at the Yamaha garage, though largely only over at Rossi’s box. He only had to appear on the many screens around the track for a massive cheer to erupt from the crowd. Barely anyone, not even the other Italians, got a look in. Makes you wonder what’ll happen to the sport when Rossi (now aged 38) finally retires.

My beloved likens MotoGP to chariot racing of old and there’s something very gladiatorial about the whole spectacle, including when, and in what order, riders emerge from their boxes and the pit lanes.

I mentioned the noise. It’s not as noisy as F1. But if Moto3 bikes sound like mosquitos, the bigger bikes throb like Concord and your whole body vibrates as they pass flat out on the home straight. It’s not quite loud enough for ear plugs, but almost.

On Saturday, at half- time, a few brave/foolhardy souls have the opportunity to ride pillion on a Ducati once round the circuit. I’d love to do this but I suspect once on the back of the bike I’d be holding on so tight I’d probably suffocate the pilot.

Race Day

On Sunday, the place was stuffed to the gills with over 160,000 spectators, many of whom were sitting on the hill overlooking the circuit.

After warm up for all three classes, a moving homage was paid to the late 2005 World Champion Nicky Hayden who recently died from injuries sustained from being hit by a vehicle while riding his bicycle. You could tell how well he was regarded by current riders and crew from the emotions of their face during the 69 seconds (Hayden’s MotoGP number was 69) of silence followed by applause.

The dynamics of each race are very different. In Moto3, all the bikes have the same engine (different chassis) and the front group is highly competitive with the race lead swapping frequently. The leading twosome only managed to break free from the pack on the final lap, with a spectacular duel on the home straight. Italian Andrea (a Rossi protegé) taking his maiden GP victory, and on home turf, with fellow Italian Fabio di Giannontonio coming in as runner-up. Needless to say the crowd were delighted.

Moto2 featured a stunning three-way fight with veteran racer Mattia Pasini – yes, another Italian – recording his first victory since 2009. Another veteran, Thomas Luthi was runner-up.  Another home win and already the Italian commentators were running out of superlatives.

Finally, the race everyone was waiting for. Would Rossi avenge his defeat last season at the hands of the current world champion, Marc Marquez, back in sixth place on the grid?

Yet another Italian, Andrea Dovizioso, took only his third GP victory with a significant margin and amazing turn of speed on the straight. Current championship leader, Vinales was second, with Italian, Danilo Petrucci, on another Ducati, was third. Rossi was fourth. Three Italian wins! We heard more  Mama Mia’s from the commentators than you’d find in an Abba song.

Time to go Home

With most of the crowd heading for the track, we raced back the car park and headed for the motorway. I would’ve stayed until Monday but my beloved had a business trip on Monday, despite it being a Bank Holiday in most of Europe. Our quick get away meant we avoided potential hold ups and arrived home at a reasonable time. We’d enjoyed our trip to the MotoGP in Mugello and vowed not to leave it so long again before visiting another circuit.

 

It doesn’t get better than this!

Sunday, after a delicious vegetable chilli for lunch (recipe to follow shortly), my beloved and I settled down for a feast of sporting action. First up, the conclusion of a thrilling Volta a Catalunya dominated by the evergreen Movistarlet Alejandro Valverde. Next up was a spot of action from Belgium, with an exciting conclusion to Gent-Wevelgem where the victor was the in-form Olympic Champion, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). But there’s more!

After entreaties from my beloved, I have caved in and signed up for CanalPlus Sport giving us access to plenty of cycling and, more importantly, MotoGP live. Since, it moved from Eurosport to BTSport in the UK , I have had to be content with watching races the following day which tends to take the edge off of things. Now we have the luxury of watching all three classes live. I started watching MotoGP largely because of cycling, as typically the MotoGP races preceded those of cycling on Eurosport.

Joan Mir

I started watching MotoGP stars Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales when they were both in MotoGP3 and I’ll be looking hard at this class to spot the stars of the future. Most of the MotoGP3 riders look too young to be out on their own on a bicycle let alone a 125cc moto bike. Their fresh faced enthusiasm is infectious and I couldn’t believe the winners were allowed to celebrate with champagne, surely lemonade would have been more appropriate? However, having checked them out, I discovered, quite incredibly, they were all over 18 and had come up either through their national series or that of Red Bull. The race was won by a 19 year old Spanish rider, Joan Mir, sponsored by Leopard – yes, the same one that supported a WorldTour team – who was MotoGP3 rookie of the year in 2016. Runner-up was John McPhee a British racer a few years older who’s been knocking around the circuits for a while. He was in a Spanish sandwich as Jorge Martin, another 19 year old, who’s been in the same class since 2015, finished third.

Franco Morbidelli

Incredibly there were no Spaniards on the podium in the MotoGP2 class. The winner, Italian Franco Morbidella, moved up to this class in 2013 and finished fourth last year. Runner-up was the evergreen Swiss Thomas Luthi who’s been racing this class for ten years and the podium was rounded out by the Japanese rider Takaani Nakagami who was the youngest ever winner of the Japanese GP series in 2006. First Spaniard was Alex Marquez, brother of Marc, in fifth place.

Maverick Vinales

This season with Jorge Lorenzo moving from Yamaha to Ducati, Maverick Vinales  – surely the best name in the sport – replaces him and really moves into contention after winning a race last season for Suzuki. Unfortunately, the blue-riband event was plagued by rain, uncertainty and was finally reduced to 20 dramatic laps. Vinales, who had dominated pre-season testing, was on pole and had a battle royal in the desert with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati). Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) was third after coming back from way back on the grid.

Marc Marquez

Andrea Iannone (Suzuki Ecstar) got off to a great start but was soon overshadowed by French rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who zoomed into the lead in the early laps, putting daylight between himself and the rest, before dramatically sliding out. Iannone soon followed suit leaving defending champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) chasing the leading three: Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi. The first two traded places before Vinales held off Dovi on the penultimate lap to record his second MotoGP win, his first in Yamaha colours. Marquez crossed the line in fourth and admitted post-race he’d made an ill-advised tyre change just before the race start. That said, looking at previous results, the circuit has favoured the Yamaha bikes. Next up is Argentina, a new location ,followed by Austin where the Hondas have reigned supreme. It looks as if the 2017 season is off to an exciting start and I’m hoping it’ll be a close run competition.

All photographs courtesy Getty Images 

 

Sheree’s 2016 Sporting Highlights

Wishing you all good health, much happiness and every success in 2017.
There were so many lowlights in 2016 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five  – early new year discipline is no bad thing!
(There are no photographs because I have limited WiFi capabilities).

Football

The inevitable descent of my beloved boys in claret and blue to the Championship was more than offset by the performance of OGC Nice who resurrected the career of Hatem Ben Arfa and qualifed for European football for the first time in around 20 years. As anticipated, at the start of the 2016/17 season, we lost our two frontmen and the manager, but the team’s confidence was boosted by the arrival of Mario Balotelli and the new manager has built on last season’s foundations. We’re currently riding high at the top, yes the top, of the league and, hopefully, will push PSG and Monaco all the way.

MotoGP

I was delighted when Marc Marquez won the blue riband event in his rookie year (2013). When he won back to back victories I grew concerned that the sport was following In the footsteps of F1. Last year’s battle royal between the winner, Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo, and his team mate – easily the most popular MotoGP rider by a country mile – Valentino Rossi, whose clash with Marquez arguably denied the former another championship victory, rather dented the popularity of the two Spanish riders who were booed on home turf. Another fascinating battle this year with nine different victors ignited the competition, invoked greater interest and ultimately led to a wiser and more mature Marquez lifting his third title. One of my new year’s resolutions is a 2017 trip to watch another MotoGP race, probably either in Mugello or again in Catalunya.

Cycling

While we didn’t achieve three grand departs like last year, attending all three grand tours afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations either on the race route or along the way. Aside from watching perennial race favourites,  the Tour of the Basque Country and Clasica San Sebastian, we spent a very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which we’ll definitely watch again this year. In fact, the hotel’s already booked! As are those for all of this year’s races we intend to watch, including those for the starts of all three grand tours, in respectively Sardinia, Germany and France. That’s right, apart from the Giro, the other two are starting outside their home turf. But my cycling season highlight didn’t take place on the road. Instead, on my maiden visit to a velodrome, I witnessed Aussie rider Bridie O’Donnell set a new world record for the hour. It was an inspiring,  perfectly paced and commentated, absorbing ride which I consider I was so lucky to see.

Cricket

My father, a keen cricketer, taught me to play cricket at a young age. This probably contributed greatly to my eye-hand-ball co-ordination in games such as tennis and squash. School champion at throwing the rounders’ ball, I was also a bit of a demon on the cricket pitch on the rare occasions the school played the sport. However, I’ve never had the patience to sit through test cricket, even though I love the stats. Early this year in Australia I watched my first Twenty20 match live and fell in love. This time around we’ll see at least four live games in support of the Melbourne Renegades – great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing.

My Health

I struggled a bit to find a fifth sporting highlight until I had a lightbulb moment. Of course, it’s my return to good health without which any sport is difficult. For someone who’s used to running everyone ragged and having oodles of energy, this past 18 months has been hard, at times even depressing. But the good news is that, after my last disfiguring bout of eczema, over a month ago, I appear to (finally) be heading in the right direction with a big energetic bounce in my step. I can’t wait to get back to riding and running regularly. I’m going to maintain my regime as a fish eating vegan because it’s had so many positive side effects on my health. Sure, I look on enviously as my beloved tucks into a slice of rare roast beef, a Wiener Schnitzel, a bacon sandwich or a plate of pata negra but I can do without them and I’ve discovered so many more interesting ways to eat fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And, please, don’t get me started on the health benefits of tumeric!

Can’t get enough

Youngest-ever, Marc Marquez
Youngest-ever, Marc Marquez

Yesterday morphed into an almost perfect day of sporting pleasure. I dropped my beloved off at the airport and, as the sun was shining, decided an early ride was in order. It was a perfect weather for a ride. I wasn’t the only one to think that as the roads were crowded with cyclists. I’m suffering a bit at the moment with my tree pollen allergy which gives me pink scratchy eyes, a runny nose and a wheeze. It’s worse when it’s windy, like on Saturday. But yesterday the wind was relatively benign which probably accounted for the rain shower which began just as I reached home.

Freed from the restrictions of having to feed my beloved, I enjoyed a lazy soak in my spa bath and even used the spa facility – sheer bliss. Lunch was left-overs from Saturday evening which I enjoyed on a tray in front of the television, so as not to miss a second of Sunday’s jam-packed sporting action. Given conflicting schedules I’m ashamed to admit I had all three televisions tuned in to various channels and could, but didn’t, have resorted to my laptop.

First up the London Marathon. Watching this always brings back memories of my own participation in 1994 where I do believe I set a record for the slowest recorded finish, just seconds before the cut-off. That’s almost 20 years’ ago – scary thought. I keep saying I’ll do another one, but I haven’t. There’s still plenty of time! It was great to see that the shocking events in Boston had increased, rather than diminished, the support for the race.

Then I was transported to Turkey to watch the first stage of the Presidential Tour, won in fine style by German sprinter Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano). I was however on friend-watch, which always makes any event much more enjoyable, and I saw them all finish safely in the bunch. At the same time I was checking on progress over in Belgium at La Doyenne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Handily, the rain had delayed the start of the tennis final in Monte Carlo where Nadal was bidding for his ninth win. That man owns the clay courts there but unfortunately not this year. Novak Djokovic won in imperious fashion, no doubt hoping to do the same in Paris, at the French Open. Nadal showed flashes of his old self but the long injury lay-off inevitably took its toll. He wasn’t able to respond as one might have anticipated despite the urging of the crowd, hoping for a third set.

Back to racing in Belgium, where fellow-Brummie Dan Martin surprised many with an emphatic victory, well-orchestrated by his Garmin-Sharp team. It also showed that Ryder Hesjedal, the defending Giro champion is on the money two-weeks before he gets to defend his pink jersey. Mechanicals proved the undoing of a couple of the Spanish riders while the Colombians again animated the race.

Cycling over, I stayed with two wheels and watched the MotoGP races from Austin, Texas. I made a mental note to try and visit my friends who live there next year!  I have tracked with interest the last few seasons the progress of Spanish prodigy Marc Marquez who had pole for the blue riband event – the youngest-ever rider to achieve that feat. However, first up were the Moto2 and Moto3 races, the former including the wonderfully named Maverick Vinales and, the latter, Marc’s younger brother Alex.

Now for reasons I won’t pretend to understand, but which have largely to do with the track and the brakes, Honda bikes were at a considerable advantage to the Yamaha ones. The reverse of the situation two weeks ago in Qatar. It was a thrilling race of cat and mouse with the two Honda riders, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, well out in front and leaving us wondering who was going to win. Three laps from home we had our answer when Marquez built an unassailable lead to become the youngest-ever winner of a MotoGP race. He’s got an old head on very young shoulders and I’m sure I’m going to be using the description “youngest-ever” quite a lot.

Just enough time to check on OGCN’s progress at PSG – not good. We went down 3-0. Wherever the team ends up in the Ligue, it’s been a fantastic season. The team have punched well above their weight and budget for which credit has to be given to the manager. A few of you will be thinking what about the F1 from Bahrain. What about it? I’m not an F1 fan although I do know Vettel won. By which time I was more than ready for bed!

Sheree’s Sporting Highlights of 2012

With blogging over on VeloVoices absorbing much of my free time, I’ve not really mentioned much about my sporting year. And when I say “my” I mean the one I watched either in person or on the television. So in no particular order, here’s my personal sporting highlights of 2012.

1. Being in Paris to watch Bradley Wiggins on the podium as the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a quite magical and rather surreal experience, despite the fact that it had been pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of the race. He’s given me bragging rights down at the cycling club for perpetuity. Thanks Bradley, or should I say Sir Bradley!

Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year's Vuelta
Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year’s Vuelta

2. Alberto Contador winning the Vuelta a Espana with his never say die attitude when most of us, me included, thought the pocket-sized Joaquim Rodriguez had it in the bag. I love the fact that Alberto never just turns up at a race, he always rides to win. Chapeau Alberto!

Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache
Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache

3. Another lesson in persistence and proving that you do have to be “in it, to win it”. Lady luck smiled on Alexander Vinokourov when Fabian Cancellara fell and the rest of the leading bunch hesitated long enough for Alex to seize his chance with both hands and sail off into the sunset on a golden wave.

4. London 2012, both the Olympics and Paralympics were magic from start to finish and put down a marker that other cities will find hard to follow, let alone emulate. It was a glorious few weeks of sporting highs, sufficient to make everyone forget their economic woes.

Marc%20Marquez

5. Marc Marquez being  crowned Moto2 World Champion and making the move to the blue riband event riding next season with Dani Pedrosa who pushed the MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo all the way. I so enjoyed my trip to watch the racing at the GP Catalunya that I’m hoping to schedule another trip next year, possibly to Italy. Mugello here we come!

6. Sebastien Loeb winning his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship and being voted most admired French sporting hero 2012. What took you so long? The guy’s a god on four wheels.

7. Rafa Nadal showing once more that he’s the clay court King at Rolland Garros.

8. Introducing my friend’s son to road racing. He’s now hooked, too exhausted to get into any naughty escapades and has his sights firmly set on a career in professional road racing.

9. OGCN punching once more well above their weight and hanging onto to their spot in the French first division of football. Sadly, I cannot say the same about AVFC’s dreadful season even though they too managed to avoid relegation.

peloton-atlantic

10. Visiting more of the Basque country during the Tour of the same name and this year’s Vuelta. I can’t wait to go back next year, the place is visually spectacular with a truly interesting culture and don’t even get me started on their gastronomy. I’d move there in a nano second if it wasn’t for the weather. Yes, it’s green for a reason.

Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.

Sheree’s sporting slingshots

Records were set at Sunday’s Velocio, but not by me. In the Men’s over 80 category, a rider from the largest club in Nice ascended the 13km in 66 minutes 40 seconds. Furthermore a gentleman, just a few years younger, from the same club set a new record in the 74-79 age group of 54 minutes and 12 seconds. Both would have shown me a clean pair of heels. Chapeau chaps!

Rather than leave with the club and have to hang around for over an hour until the start of our races, my beloved and I elected for an extra hour in bed. My chesty cough had kept both of us up most of the night and neither of us had slept well. Not exactly a recipe for a top performance. We cycled together, against a strong headwind, into Nice and the start of the race, safety pins at the ready.

The usual suspects turned up for the ladies race. I didn’t take part last year as I was in Australia and it would appear in the intervening years that most have now passed into the same age category as me. So of the 12 contestants taking part, we had one in the 18- 35 years group, one in the 35-49 years and everyone else in the 50-54 years category.

I have learnt from bitter experience not to try and stay with the quick climbers, they go way faster than me and I then regret it for the rest of the ride. The start is the steepest part of the course and averages 10%. As we set off, I tried to keep two of the ladies, at the back of the field, in sight. They remained tantalizingly just a couple of hundred metres ahead. Two things  were immediately apparent: my legs felt heavy and my lungs were labouring. I tried to remain positive and look on the bright side, only 10 more kms to go, Jeannie hadn’t turned up and I was nearing the end of the steepest bit.

The lead motorcycle from the next group on the road came past me. It was the group my beloved was riding with and which had started 10 minutes after mine. The leaders raced past with the rest of the group in hot pursuit in twos and threes. No sign of my beloved; I laboured on. I was not feeling too good and started seeing stars, time to dismount. As I did so my beloved rode into view. He stopped, we made an executive decision, turned around and descended. We headed for the recently opened coffee shop near the foot of the climb where we ate a late breakfast before heading back home. Yet another DNF.

Fortunately events were rather more exciting elsewhere in the sporting world. Radioshack-Nissan-Trek new recruit Tony Gallopin tied up the season long, 14-round, French Cup at the Tour de Vendee while veteran, pocket rocket, Robbie McEwen,  and Green-edge bound next season, won the  Circuit Franco-Belge. So, two results from rather opposite ends of the age spectrum.

Sticking with two wheels, over at the Japan GP in Montegi, home manufacturer Honda won the MotoGP event but it was Dani Pedrosa, rather than Casey Stoner, astride the winning machine. The latter had spun off into the kitty litter after a massive wobble on the bike in one of the early laps but had fought back to 3rd place. Reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo completed the podium. All three riders rather benefitted from Messrs Dovizioso, Crutchlow and Simoncelli jumping the gun at the start and being forced to take a ride through the pit lane. After feeling that he was finally getting somewhere with the Ducati, Rossi made contact with Lorenzo on turn 3, on the 1st lap, and slide into the gravel, and out of the race. Casey Stoner still leads the Championship.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone took his 3rd win after a long battle with Marc Marquez, the latter now leads Stefan Bradl in the Championship by a point. Nico Terol still heads the 125cc Championship, but Frenchman Johann Zarco took his maiden win  in Japan. The Japanese crowds were delighted that the MotoGP circus had come to town as there were fears earlier in the season that they would give it a miss. Tests at the track revealed levels of radiation no greater than at any of the other tracks.

Excitement is mounting over on 4 wheels, specifically as to whether 7-time champ Sebastien Loeb will be able to hold onto to his WRC Rally crown having been unable to complete his home tour of Alsace after his engine blew up. There’s only two rounds remaining and Loeb’s level on points with Mikko Hirvonen and just 3 points ahead of fellow Frenchman, Citroen stablemate, Sebastien Ogier who won the Tour. Can Loeb make it 8 in a row or will he be dethroned by his younger team mate?

Heading “Down Under” to New Zealand, France will play England in the next round of the World Cup. Neither team seem to be having a great championship. France’s troubles appear to be on the field while England’s are most definitely off it. Whoever wins the tie will face the in-form Irish in the next round.

Moving onto round balls, OGCN were held to yet another draw this week end away at Caen which leaves them in 16th place in the league and one of three clubs on 7 points. We’re going to have to do better to keep out of the relegation zone. Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue have had a quiet and unspectacular start to the season, winning 2-0 at home to Wigan on Saturday, to leave them in 7th place. Long may it continue.

It’s not just about the [motor] bike

He's on pole again today

Spanish sensation, Marc Marquez, first attracted my attention when he won last season’s 125cc class and it struck me that he had a mature head on very young shoulders. Given that he’s currently challenging for the Moto2 title in his rookie season, I thought him worthy of closer examination and it’s evident he’s been a record setter from day one.

Marc first climbed astride a bike aged five to compete in motocross and minibike races. It took him  just three years to become the Catalan 50cc motocross champion. A switch to track riding brought even more success and by the time he was 10, he had claimed the Catalan Open title. Moving up to 125cc engines, he continued his rich vein of form with back-to-back Catalan titles in 2005 and 2006. A successful debut season in the world renowned CEV Buckler Spanish Championship saw him achieve his first victory in Jerez. In 2008, promoted to Moto 125cc class for Team Repsol KTM, aged just 15 years and 56 days, he made his championship debut in April at the Portuguese GP. In the British GP at Donnington, he became the youngest ever Spaniard (15 years and 127 days) to earn a podium finish and in 2009, as a factory KTM rider,  he became the youngest Spanish rider to claim pole position at the French GP (16 years and 89 days) and, that season, finished a creditable 8th overall.

With KTM pulling out of the 125cc championship, Marc secured the backing of Red Bull in 2010 to switch to Derbi bikes as he joined Finnish team Ajo Motorsport. Marc took his first pole at the 2010 Spanish GP but crashed heavily, injuring his shoulder, when his exhaust pipe fell off and went under the rear wheel. His first win  came in June at Mugello. Further victories followed in succession at Silverstone, Assen and Catalunya making Marc the youngest rider to win four successive races. His fifth successive win came in Germany, at the Sachsenring, giving Derbi their 100th victory in GP racing.  Marc was the first rider since Rossi in 1997 to win five successive races in 125cc racing.

He was less successful in the following races, dropping to third in the standings at one point behind Nico Terol and Pol Espargaro, after being taken out by Randy Krummenacher at the first corner at Aragon’s Motorland circuit, where he’s again racing this week end. Four successive wins from Motegi in Japan moved Marc into a 17-point lead over Terol with only two races remaining. At Estoril, due to heavy rain, the race was red-flagged with Marc  running second to Terol. On his return to the grid for the second race, due to a fall and a trip to the pits, Marc started at the back of the field. Nonetheless, he recovered to take the race and extend his lead before the Valencia finale. His 10th victory of the season moved him to within one point of tying the record set by Rossi in 1997. However, Marc fell short of tying the record as he took a measured and intelligent 4th place at the final race to become the second-youngest World Champion after Loris Capirossi. He stepped up to Moto2 this season where he’s Monlau Competicion team’s sole rider on a 600cc Suter bike.

The 2011 season started badly with Marquez not recording any points in the first three races as he struggled to remain upright on the bike. Since recording his first win at the Monster Energy GP in Le Mans, he’s turned the Moto2 class into a thrilling spectacle as he closes the gap between himself and championship leader Stefan Bradl. In the previous race at Misano, Marc took victory ahead of Bradl to narrow the margin to 23 points with five races left to decide the 2011 title.

Bradl, whose last victory came at Silverstone in round 6, has maintained his lead by virtue of his impressive consistency in finishing on the podium, although Marc’s fearsome form of five wins in the last six races has rocketed the rookie up the standings to challenge his more experienced rival. In addition, the 2010 125cc World Champion, starting today on pole, will hope to derive some benefit, in front of his home crowd, from 3 days of private testing recently undertaken at Valencia.

The most intriguing possibility, however, is that Marc Marquez will move up to MotoGP in 2012. Honda is rumoured to have a spare RC2123V just waiting for the Spanish prodigy. Given the huge budget of his current Catalunya Caixa/Repsol Moto2 team, a switch to MotoGP would be perfectly feasible. Whether he wins the Moto2 title this year or not, staying in Moto2 for another year possibly carries more downsides than upsides. Everyone will expect him to win the title, possibly for a second year in a row. But, he might not win. Losing a title is a great deal easier than winning it. Going to MotoGP when the formula changes will level the playing field somewhat, with everyone new to the 1000cc machines (though Casey Stoner has said that they will be very similar indeed to the 800s, with only the greater braking distance offering extra opportunities for passing), while waiting another year means that everyone has an extra year to learn the 1000s while Marc Marquez tries to repeat in Moto2.

Not unnaturally, his opponents in Moto2 would be delighted if he went to MotoGP. Indeed, one Moto2 team member commented that their goal for 2012 would be winning the title assuming Marquez would not be contesting it. However, Marc’s move could spell trouble for Dani Pedrosa who currently heads Spanish petroleum giant Repsol’s assault on the MotoGP class.  Marquez would give Repsol another string to their bow, particularly if Pedrosa fails to get close to winning a title again in 2012. As per the rules, Marquez will have to spend his rookie MotoGP year on a non-factory team. But in 2013, moving to the factory team might be the perfect opportunity for Repsol/Honda to replace one Spanish superstar with another.

The MotoGP rookie rule prevents Marquez from going directly to a factory team, but you would be mistaken in thinking that the team Marc would be riding for was  in any way inferior. It is likely that Marquez will have full factory support albeit with a separate Catalunya Caixa team. While it will not be the factory Repsol Honda team, and will therefore comply with the letter of the law. It will, however, be a “Repsol Honda Lite”, and drive a coach and horses through the spirit of the rules. The team will exist solely to house Marquez until he is ready to take over the mantle of top Spanish representative for Repsol. That moment looks ever more likely to be 2013 unless Dani Pedrosa stays healthy and in contention for another season.

Sunday Postscript: Marquez crashed! Fortunately, it was only on the podium, after one of the most thrilling races of the season, where the lead changed hands so many times even the commentators lost count. Finally, Marquez was able to put daylight between himself and the very large chasing pack to take his 17th career victory and 7th this season. Bradl limped home in 8th, so the gap at the top of the leader board narrows to only 6 points, ahead of the race in 2 weeks time in Japan. Meanwhile, Casey Stoner and Nico Terol both won their respective classes and consolidated their championship positions.