Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

Easy, easy, easy

I don’t know about the UCI checking out Cancellara’s bike for an engine,  they should check Cavendish’s for an extra gear. He won yesterday with ease, even having time to check behind him twice. He truly is the world’s fastest sprinter and has already exceeded the number of sprints won by that perennial green jersey winner, Erik Zabel. He could possibly accumulate as many wins in the Tour as Super Mario did in the Giro. Alessandro Petacchi is back in green but this is a jersey, unlike the others, that’s going to go to the wire.

Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise followed yesterday’s 198km from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux and were presented with signed, yellow jerseys by Alberto Contador. I have seen a number of photos of the trio in the press and it’s interesting to note that where Cameron is standing next to Contador, it’s just a head shot, while the full-length photos show her keeping her distance. Do you think she’s been reading my blog and specifically the entry “Don’t stand so close to me”?

Today, like Alberto Contador, we were on the edge of our seats as, quelle surprise, Andy Schleck appeared to be putting time into Alberto in the final time trial: 52km from Bordeaux to Pauillac.  However, it was simply a question of difference in approach. Andy understandably gave everything from the start, while Alberto better measured his effort.

Sadly, and as anticipated, Denis Menchov put time into Sammy Sanchez and replaced him on the 3rd step of the podium.  Also, as anticipated, Fabulous Fabian, the Olympic and World Champion, won the time trial.

Alberto looked close to tears as he received the maillot jaune today perhaps realising that it had been a closer shave than he would have liked. Andy however was left to reflect on what might have been if only he’d had the support of his elder brother Frank for the length of the Tour.

Another year, another day

We arrived in San Remo before 11:ooam, parked the car, bought La Gazzetta dello Sport and went for a coffee to read who the pundits in Gazzetto and L’Equipe favoured for a win. La Gazzette favoured Boonen while L’Equipe hedged their bets with Boonen, Gilbert and Boassen Hagen. After Boonen, La Gazzetta plumped for Boassen Hagen, Bennati, Pozzato, Cancellara, Paolini, Gilbert and two-time former winner, Freire. Cavendish, it was felt, was pretty much out of the running following his lack lustre performance in Tirreno Adriatico.

We scouted out a good location, opposite the TV screen and podium, just past the finish line and took up our positions at around 01:00pm, two hours before the television coverage started. Watching cycling is not for the faint-hearted or for those who lack patience. To be fair we were entertained with some sporting action albeit cross-country skiing. The time passed quickly and the crowds got thicker. Only the early birds get the front rows. Super Mario arrived: queue frisson of excitement amongst the crowd.

Before

As the transmission went on air it was evident that the boys had been enjoying some inclement weather en route. However, it was dry in San Remo and, while the sky looked menacing, rain was not anticipated. In any event, we’d both dressed warmly and comfortably: we’re old hands at this. The favourites all looked to be well placed and well protected by their team mates. I always think that you need patience to win Milan-San Remo, you have to wait for the right moment. Go too soon, like Pippo and Philippe,  and your bolt is shot.

Riders started to become distanced on the Cipressa and Poggio but again the favourites were still in touch coming down into San Remo and the final kilometres. Bennati was being led out with Freire on his wheel followed by Boonen. Freire shot out from behind Bennati like a rocket and there was no catching him. Third-time lucky for Freire (previous wins in 2004 and 2007) who recorded his 4th win of the season. Boonen hung on for 2nd (his best finish to date) while Petacchi was 3rd, which cheered the largely Italian spectators. We couldn’t resist one more delicious coffee before heading home, job done.

After

Friends along the way

I took up cycling really on a challenge from my husband who said I either had to start playing tennis again, take up golf or cycle. He kind of snorted out the third alternative and I’m quite sure he never expected me to take up cycling. It wasn’t even a case of reverse psychology.

I had just gotten back from working as a volunteer at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg. One of the few occasions when the guys, the gals and the youngsters all take part and one gets to see six races in a few days. I had originally intended just to go and watch but when I went on the site to buy tickets, I noted that they were looking for volunteers, so I volunteered.

I had said that I was happy to do anything and, given my relative availability the organisers asked me to turn up a week before the racing started. I found myself a small, family-run,  B&B just outside of Salzburg and set off into the unknown on what turned out to be the first of many solo, cycling-related, road trips.  

I spent my time in Salzburg largely looking after the volunteers. Firstly, I sorted and handed out the uniforms. These had been made in China and the sizing was all over the place. For example, I wore an XL t-shirt, a small jacket and medium trousers. Caps and bum-bags were thankfully all one-size. Thereafter, my new-found friend Valeria and I were in charge of distributing the packed lunches each day to the 2,000 volunteers. Yes, an army of volunteers does march on its stomach.

Fortunately, our billet was round the back of the podium, next to all the TV wagons and their chow truck. Needless to say we were sitting pretty with refreshments on tap all day long.

We ensured that the packed lunches were distributed well before any racing started and then settled down in our ringside seats to enjoy the action.

During the podium ceremonies we were entrusted with the handbag of the Lady Governor of the province of Salzburg. This was our equivalent of a backstage pass and, as a consequence, got to meet and have our photos taken with some of the winners.

Vino and Sheree
Vino and Sheree

On the last day, after presenting the medals in the men’s road race, the presentation party left the podium via the back stairs. We were standing at the foot of the stairs, undertaking our bag guarding duties, and we duly shook hands and were thanked in turn by the afore-mentioned Governor, the Mayor of Salzburg and the President of Austria.

The best thing about this event wasn’t meeting the riders, or even seeing all the cycling up close and personal, it’s all the people that you meet along the way that make it such fun. Like this gentleman in the photo.

Super Mario
Super Mario

He’d retired before my interest in cycling was borne and was therefore fairly ambivalent until I met him – what a charmer!

I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the people I met at Salzburg at this year’s Le Grand Depart in Monaco, where I’ll be a volunteer and they’ll be spectators.

Chapeau Cav!

I recently told a friend that, while Cav would never win The Tour de France, he would definitely win one of the big classics. Well that someday was Saturday, 21 March 2009. He won by a cat’s whisker in a truly exciting, heart stopping finish: yet another wonderful, wonderful day for British cycling. I was so glad I’d decided to go down to San Remo to watch.

The trick to watching live racing is to find somewhere you can both watch and hear the race unfold, plus see the finish. Of course, when I said see the finish, I should have said feel the finish. They just go past in a blur. This time it was a black and white blur.

Almost no one thought Cav would win this year. Quite rightly both he and his team downplayed his chances. But he looked as cool as a cucumber over the Cipressa and Poggio, quietly staying in contact until the final run in to the line where he pipped Heinrich Haussler to the post.

Interviewed after the race, Cipo said Cav had an “extraordinary talent” and Eddy was equally complimentary. But the most emotional response was from Eric Zabel, who had tears in his eyes. Smarts to Bob Stapleton for hiring Mr Z to advise Cav. Money well and wisely spent.