Can’t get enough

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!

Sodden Sheree’s sporting snippets

We may only have had 4 days of rain but Noah and his Ark could have been pressed into service to rescue the aquatic life in Marineland and a whole host of villagers whose houses have been flooded thanks to a number of local rivers bursting their banks. Despite having rain water cascading down the common parts of our apartment block yesterday morning, I’m so very glad we live in a flat, on a hill. Apart from the leaks, our only casualty appears to be one of the trees which upended itself in the gale force winds on Saturday evening. Fortunately, nothing and no one was damaged and the gardeners have had the chain saws out this morning chopping it into bite size pieces.

As we weren’t able to ride outside over the week end, or indeed go anywhere much, we increased our exposure to television sport and lapped up a number of events.

MotoGP

At the season’s curtain closer, GP Valencia, homage was fittingly paid to the late Marco Simoncelli by the competitors, the officials, the teams and the fans. There were tears too for the retiring Loris Caporossi who aged thirty-eight has spent twenty-two seasons  in GP.

Casey Stoner had already won the blue riband Championship but neither that nor the intermittent rain prevented him from winning his 10th race of the season, by the smallest of margins from Ben Spies. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on the podium clinched his third place in the Championship, behind the absent Jorge Lorenzo who’s still recovering from an injury to his finger. Any thoughts Valentino Rossi might have had of rescuing his worst season ever disappeared on the first corner of the first lap as he and fellow Ducati riders, Nicky Hayden and Randy De Puniet, were taken out by Alavara Bautista’s Suzuki.

In the continued absence of Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl won the Moto2 title despite falling on the 5th lap. Instead, three riders (Pirro, Kallio, Aergeter) made their maiden trips to the podium this season. Nico Terol won the 125cc Championship at a canter from Johann Zarco, who fell on the 3rd lap, despite finishing Sunday’s race behind the splendidly named Maverick Vignales. Hector Faubel was third. Roll on Qatar in April next year and 1000cc bikes.

Track Cycling

Sticking with two wheels, we watched the first round of the World Cup from Astana’s brand spanking new velodrome. There weren’t too many spectators but Alexandre Vinokourov was on hand, to lend a hand, with the presentation of the prizes, specifically the flowers. Is this the first time that Alex has been a podium boy? If so, he’s a natural.

Sir Chris picked up a silver in the keirin and sprint gold while Dani King won a silver in the omnium. Otherwise, it was slim pickings for the Brits. However a number of the favourites were either missing or missing in action. The next round’s in Columbia in early December.

Road Racing

Marcel Kittel beat a bunch of holidaying cyclists to take the Amstel Curacao race. As usual we were treated to the unedifying sight of topless cyclists, with scary tan lines and dodgy taste in swimming trunks,  frolicking on the beach. Absent from this year’s festivities, Alberto Contador who was instead racing down the aisle to wed his long term lady friend. I wish them both every happiness.

Football

Sir Alex’s 25-year tenure at the Theatre of Dreams was ackowledged with the naming of a stand in his honour. Those are going to be rather large shoes to fill when he finally steps down. No mention was made of their short-sighted attempt to get rid of him in 1994 before he started winning anything and everything with the Red Devils.

My beloved boys in claret and blue managed to preserve their lead and all 3 points by beating Norwich 3-2 at home. Goals were scored by the revitalised Gabby Agbonlahor and Darren Bent. AVFC are now 8th in the league one place above their week end opponents. OGC Nice were unable to keep a clean sheet in the local derby away at Marseille’s velodrome. Typically, one of goals was supplied by way of a penalty in 96th minute by OGCN old boy, Loic Remy.  We’re now occupying 17th spot in the Ligue and dicing with relegation danger.

Marathon

Kenyan Geoffroy Mutai (54kg) won yesterday’s New York marathon in an astonishing 2hrs 5′ 6″ without the assistance of a pace-setter, to add to his Boston title. Another Mutai, Emmanuel (no relative) was second, having previously scooped the honours in London. These two are part of a formidable Kenyan team of six who are competing for three marathon places in the London 2012 Olympics. Wonder what these boys would be like on bikes?

Panacea for post-Tour blues

While the Tour is over and many of it’s protagonists take part in a seemingly endless round of criteriums, the racing rolls on. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of Poland generally an opportunity for the young guns to shine, and shine they have. While fellow Brummie and defending champ Garvelo’s Dan Martin put up a spirited defence of his title and won the queen stage, it’s been pretty much one way traffic at the Pete and Marcel show.  After putting in a highly determined performance to win two stages and, more importantly, the overall, I’m looking forward to see what Liquigas’s Peter Sagan can do in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta. I appreciate he’ll be riding in support of Vicenzo Nibali, but should the Shark falter…….. The other four stages were won in imperious fashion by Skil Shimano’s Marcel Kittel whom I last saw on the podium of the U23 ITT in Melbourne. He has a turn of speed to match Cavendish, but doesn’t seem to require a train, and he left names such as Tom Boonen, Romain Feillu and John Degenkolb trailing in his wake.

I’ve also been dipping into the Vuelta a Burgos where riders were fine tuning their performances ahead of the Vuelta which starts on 20 August in Benidorm. The first stage stage was won by defending champ, Euskaltel’s Samu, who won’t be riding the Vuelta, ahead of Katusha’s JRod, who will. JRod also took out the 2nd stage and the overall. Samu was undone (again) by the team time trial and tired legs on the final stage where the boys in orange were attempting to rip the field apart and put time into JRod. Sadly, Samu was unable to keep pace and the stage was won by his rookie team mate Mikel Landa, recording his maiden win. Purito is looking in great shape for the upcoming race which, with plenty of mountain top finishes and few time-trialling kms, clearly favours the climbers but Igor Anton and the orange-clad boys are looking equally strong.

Over in the Tour of Denmark, Sky’s Simon Gerrans took his first stage win since the Herald Sun Tour in 2006 and his first win this year thanks to some clever mopping up of intermediate sprint points (and seconds) to remain ahead of Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.  Elsewhere, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin won Paris-Correze.

The football season commenced this week end in France and Nice were served up a tough opener, home to Lyon, against whom we’ve enjoyed some great results in recent seasons largely thanks to OL’s Champion’s League commitments. No such worries this time for OL, we lost 3-1 and languish one from the bottom of the league. With such a high turnover of players, it’ll take the team a while to gel but there were some promising signs, though we’re still lacking firepower up front. Finally, work has commenced on OGCN’s new stadium which should be finished in time for the 2013/14 season and where we’ll be hosting some matches in Euro 2016. I’m hoping my beloved boys in claret and blue have a better start to their Premiership campaign this week end.

After a few days off the bike last week, I was keen to get back into my training plan. My coach has introduced some new home-trainer based exercises where I have to pedal while holding my breath. Not sure what that’s all about but I’ll get a chance to quiz him when we ride together on Wednesday. It’s only for a short period, but it’s more difficult than you might think. He’s also making me do a series of push ups. Probably trying to firm up the non-areodynamic batwings. He’s also persisting with the swimming to assist my legs to recuperate. But my legs rarely get tired and I never ever, suffer from a build up of lactic acid. My feet, on the other hand, are not faring so well. I spent much time on them while walking around San Sebastián and have been on my feet most of this week preparing for yesterday’s La Ronde and pointage where we usually cater for over 500 cyclists. It was a wash out. The race was cancelled as the course was too dangerous with water lying on the circuit’s corners. Still around 60 people turned up and enjoyed my home baked goodies. Of course, most of the provisions can go back into the club store cupboard to be brought out for the re-scheduled event while I can put my remaining cakes into the freezer, disaster averted.

Postcards from Melbourne III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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