12 Days of Christmas – day 6

Racing in old kit and on old bikes is seemingly very popular in Italy. This group of cyclists were crossing posing at the finish line at this year’s Milan-San Remo which concludes just up the road from us. It’s the first Monument of the year and we really enjoy our day out in Italy, particularly if the weather’s fine. We generally head over for breakfast and a read of La Gazzetta, a stroll around town before lunch, then we settle down to watch the race unfold on the big screen on the via Roma. I’m not sure if any of these riders had actually ridden the entire route, I suspect they’d just rolled along the coast and into town to soak up the atmosphere.

xmas10

 

At almost 300km long and with all the hills coming in the latter part of the parcours, Milan San Remo is not a race for the faint-hearted and the outcome is notoriously difficult to predict. Having survived the climbs, it’s generally a limited bunch sprint to the finish on the via Roma. 2016’s edition was won by Frenchman Arnaud Demare (FDJ).

 

 

 

Here one minute, gone the next

Yesterday’s big story was the (one assumes) accidental leaking of next year’s Tour de France route ahead of its official launch next week. ASO have neither confirmed nor denied that it’s the correct route but for those of you requiring confirmation, just try and book an Accor hotel at any of the start or finish towns. My beloved and I had already decided that next year, for the first time since 2006, we would not be watching any Tour stages live. Although it’s possible we might make it to Paris to watch the final stage.

Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t do a day trip to watch a stage. The closest one for me would be that allegedly on 14 July from St Paul Trois Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde. However, there’s no way you’d find me willingly on the roads at the start of the French holiday season where traffic jams reach nightmare proportions, particularly on routes leading from Lyon. So 2012 well might be a Tour de France free year. Yes, that’s right, I’ll just watch it all on the television.

I am however hoping to make it to both the Giro (at long last) and the Vuelta. In fact my programme is shaping up quite nicely with the early season races such as Tour of Med and Tour of Haut Var, followed, of course, by Paris-Nice and Milan- San Remo. I’m then hoping to spend a week in the Basque Country watching the Tour of the same name, and the GP Miguel Indurain, while fitting in a cookery course. This clashes with the start of the cobbled Classics, but a girl can’t always have everything.

Details of the Giro’s course which starts next year in Denmark have also been leaked. The stage to watch is the penultimate one but, as it clashes with the Kivilev, you know where I’ll be and it won’t be up the Stelvio. I’ll have to make do with watching it on my laptop. However, the stage starting in Savona on 18 May is a real possibility.

After the Giro, I’ll either go and watch the Tour of Switzerland prologue in Lugano or maybe take in a couple of stages in the Dauphine, depending, of course, on its route: southern Alps Yes, northern Alps No. There’s still a huge question mark over whether I’m going to London to watch the Olympic road race and time-trials. Without tickets the former might be a logistical nightmare while the ticket-free latter very crowded. I will however be heading back to Spain for the Clasica San Sebastian and the Vuelta. I’ve already made my hotel booking for the World Championships in Limburg where my trusty steed and I will be riding around the area, and the course. Booking early ensures I get a 4* hotel, at a reasonable price, with free WiFi and parking in central Maastricht.

I had toyed with the idea of spending this coming week end in Varese to watch the Tour of Lombardy, particularly as the weather’s so fine. But this year’s finish is in Lecco, some 41/2hrs from home, rather than Como, so again, I’ll be watching it on the television. Maybe, next year.

Stunning victory

Be afraid, be very afraid. If anything, Spartacus (Leopard Trek) is in even better form than last year. How is this possible? I don’t know, he just is. He was 2nd last week end in Milan-San Remo. Today, after a couple of punctures and a bike change, he literally rode from the back of the peloton to win the race.

With a couple of groups up the road, at 33km to the finish, Fabulous Fabian left the peloton behind on the Oude Kwaremont climb. He quickly caught and passed the 2nd group. Realising this was their bus to the next group, they lined out behind him, clinging grimly to his wheel as he powered up to the first group, containing team mate Stuart O’Grady. There’s now only 25km to go. O’Grady took a few turns on the front before dropping back, only to regain the group a bit later.

With 17Km to the finish, Bram Tankink (Rabobank) put in a dig, Cancellara went with him and past him. Tankink cramped and was unable to follow. A moment’s hesitation, who was going to give chase? Too late, he’s gone. Legs pumping like pistons, Fabian disappeared from view. It was all over. In truth, it had been over for some time, they just didn’t realize it. It was now only about the minor places.

Cancellara finished a whole minute ahead of his pursuers (Jurgen Roelands, Omega Pharma-Lotto 2nd, Vladimir Goussev, Katusha 3rd) to emphatically retain the crown he won last year.  He’s not racing Gent-Wevelgem tomorrow, he doesn’t need to race again before next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. You wouldn’t bet against him doubling up there too.

I enjoyed watching the race on the big screen in the office, my feet resting on the corner of the desk after my exertions this morning. I put the alarm on for 05:30 but never heard it go off. I woke at 07:00 and after a light breakfast decided to venture back up the Col de Vence.

It was a warm and sunny, with a light breeze which strengthened as the morning wore on. I rode up to Vence via l’Ara and began my ascent with purpose. I felt so much better than on Thursday and covered the first few kilometers in a much better time. I had my customary stop at Chateau St Martin to blow my nose and have a good drink. Riders kept whizzing past me, in both directions, proffering words of encouragement which were gratefully received.

With 6km to go, I met a group of mountain bikers descending including my playmate of last autumn. His mum had obviously followed my advice. He was looking pleased as punch in his club kit as he swooped past calling out my name. I waved  and returned his greeting.

For some reason I have yet to fathom, the two kilometers between 6km and 4km to the finish I find the most difficult. However, once there’s only 4km to go, I manage to pick up my pace. I even sprinted out of the saddle for the last 200 meters. A result, only 70 minutes today. An improvement on Thursday, but still nothing to write home about. I’m hoping the rain stays away long enough tomorrow morning for me to have another go. Thrice in a week will be something of a record for me.

My beloved’s back this evening at midnight. He’s just rung to say he’s had a very successful but tiring exhibition. He’ll be looking forward to his ride tomorrow, I do hope he’s not going to be disappointed.

Seal of approval

Yesterday’s birthday celebrations continued well into the small hours without us. We had all been asked to arrive early at the venue to preserve the element of surprise. The hall had been beautifully decorated with cycling artifacts and mementoes. All of us from the cycling club were seated together on the Criterium International table. When the star guest turned up it was evident that he’d had no idea and was genuinely delighted to see so many friends and family gathered in his honour.

It goes without saying that the food was spectacular, despite it being catering on a grand scale. As the afternoon wore on, many of the guests danced off the feast. The cycling quiz was a bit of a damp squib as my team mates clearly don’t share my obsession with the sport. Only ex M Le President made a stab at it and, frankly, did rather well without resorting to checking up on the internet via his mobile.

Chocolate and raspberry delice

If I say so myself, the birthday cake looked rather splendid and was reduced to a few crumbs within moments of it being cut. Fortunately, the birthday boy managed to snag a piece. One of my clubmates is a professional chef and he was highly complimentary which was very satisfying. It looks somewhat dwarfed in the photo by the other creations but they were intended to feed the 60 odd guests. My beloved called my creation “Chocolate Fort Cake”. I think there’s an intended pun in there.

We were reduced to watching the dying kilometers of what had evidently been an exciting Milan-San Remo on my beloved’s mobile phone. On a screen that size it’s difficult to work out who’s who, but it was easy to see that a number of the favoured riders were in contention until Matt Goss pipped them on the line.  The result was confirmed by my friends watching the race live.

We left the party early anticipating arriving home in time to watch the race highlights on Eurosport only to discover a scheduling change meant it wouldn’t be on again until 1 o’clock in the morning. Far too late for someone with a 6 o’clock start the following day. Luckily the armchair sports fan had summarised the race. I read his as-ever excellent report, made my savoury cakes and pissaladiere for the following day’s “Gentleman”, took the cakes out of the freezer to defrost and was fast asleep in bed by 21:30.

Today, I rose as programmed at 06:00, washed, dressed and packed everything into the car before heading down to the finish line to set out my wares to feed the ravening hordes of the “Gentleman”, a two-person time-trial where the combined ages of the two must exceed 60. The weather was fortunately kind to us and before long the sun was shining. Proceedings started at 08:30, made more difficult by heavier than anticipated traffic round the industrial estate.  I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure numbers were up on last year’s edition.

The homemade cakes were well received with some riders finding it necessary to sample at least one of each. Disappointingly, I only received one enquiry as to my marital status but plenty of compliments, including one from Jeannie Longo who ate a piece of my fruit cake. I have managed to keep back a few pieces of it  for my sister Lynn who is something of a fruit cake connoisseur but everything else disappeared pronto.

After two (long) weeks at home, my beloved departs early tomorrow morning for a week long business trip leaving me to savour the peace and quiet. I plan on spending plenty of time out on two wheels enjoying the fine Spring weather. My cycling coach has a test ride up Col de Vence on Thursday for which I feel ill-prepared after my heavy cold. Hopefully, a few gentle but long rides will help me refind my form. Assuredly, I will post the slowest ascension of the group but, hopefully, be faster than at a similar time last year.

Progress report

Yesterday was pretty hectic. Nonetheless, I managed to fit in a ride with my beloved. It was short, but tough, thanks to the gale force cross-winds. The afternoon and evening were spent down at the club. Firstly with our regular monthly rendezvous to ascertain progress on the Kivilev. Everything is going according to plan although we still need more volunteers.

In between the end of that meeting and the start of the next one, I managed to check on the progress of Stage 3 of Paris Nice. In short, escapees brought back before final climb, Thomas Voeckler went on ultimately unsuccessful attack, bunch sprint finish, one of the favourites fell in final straight taking out a few others (no harm done), yellow jersey changed hands, Matt Goss, winner of sprint,  now GC leader.

Our next meeting was a weekly catch up for members of the club’s management team followed  by the club’s monthly meeting of its members. We finished with a BBQ and crepes. Well, it was Pancake Day. This ensured a greater than usual turn out. The wives, on International Women’s Day, had made 100s of pancakes. My 50 were the first to be devoured. I make them rather thicker than is the practice in France, all the better for soaking up the Grand Marnier. I also sweeten them, so there’s no need to add sugar and, quite frankly, they’re as delicious cold as they are hot.  Luckily I had held a few back for my beloved, otherwise he would have missed out.

The Treasurer, whose partner’s surprise birthday party a number of us are attending next Saturday (clashing with Milan-San Remo), has asked me to make a cake. I think she’s hoping for something rather more glamorous than my pain d’epice and I shan’t disappoint. After my training ride this morning, I  spent a couple of hours combing the recipe books for something suitably celebratory and I think I’ve found it in Eric Lanlard’s “Master Cakes”.  It’s going to be quite challenging finding enough time to make this and the cakes for the Gentleman.  I may have to make more cakes this week end and then pop them into the freezer down at the club (mine’s full) until next week end.  

Unusually, I’ve got my training plan for the next couple of months which I will be following steadily. This month I have the 8km, two-man, time-trial with my beloved next week end and then an 150km Audax (av. speed of 22km/hr) the following one. In the subsequent three months there are sportifs most week ends. My aim is, as always, to improve on my times of the previous year. Having had my Garmin now for just over 12 months, I can more readily appreciate the progress I’ve made. Of course, it’s less easy to understand what has brought about the improvement: weight loss, training, improved technique, or a combination of all of them?  Frankly, who cares? I’m getting quicker and that’s what really matters.

Don’t call us

The teams for the Giro were announced today by RCS Sport and, as a result, there’s bound to be a few long-faced team managers and sponsors. Here’s the list of  successful applicants, 15 Pro-Tour teams and 7 wild cards:-

AG2R-La Mondiale
Astana
Caisse d’Epargne
Footon-Servetto
Garmin-Transitions
HTC-Columbia
Katusha
Lampre Farnese Vini
Liquigas-Doimo
Milram
Omega Pharma-Lotto
Quick Step
Rabobank
Saxo Bank
Team Sky

Wild Cards

Acqua & Sapone
Androni-Diquigiovanni
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
BMC Racing
Cervelo
Cofidis-Le Credit en Ligne
Colnago-CSF Inox

The selection is pretty self-explanatory. Either you’re a team covered by the September 2008 agreement, a new, too big to ignore, Pro-Tour team, or your recent (and past) results justify your inclusion.

Probably of more note are the obvious omissions from the Pro-Tour ranks such as Radioshack, FDJ and Euskatel Euskadi. The Shack have given, not unnaturally, precedence to the Tour of California, are not covered by the September agreement with the Pro-Tour teams and, apparently, eschewed an invite. While the other two are covered by the agreement, one has to assume they too didn’t seek  invitations. However, I’m surprised to see Footon-Servetto on the list given that they didn’t receive invites to either Milan-San Remo or Tirreno-Adriatico.

Let’s now look at those Continental-Pro teams which didn’t get an invite. First up, the two Dutch squads, Skil Shimano and Vacansoleil; after all the Giro is starting in Amsterdam on 8 May. Neither team has any Italians in their squad and, while Vacansoleil livened up last year’s Vuelta, Skil (apart from Kenny Van Hummel) were damp squibs at the Tour.

A number of Italian Pro-Continental teams haven’t received an invite. Riccardo Ricco’s presence on team Ceramica Flaminia  presumably scuppered their chances; Carminooro-NGC have only just upgraded from Continental; while, ISD Neri and De Rosa-Stac Plastic haven’t posted much in the way of results. Maybe, next year…………………………….

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

Swopsies

This week’s training programme has 14 1/2hrs on the bike, on the road. However, I have something of a dilemma. I’m planning on spending all day Saturday in San Remo so, no riding. Yes, I could take my bike and go for a ride around the Poggio and Cipressa but I’m then literally left holding the bike to watch the finish. Not a great idea, as it’s always a bit of a squeeze near the finish. And no, I can’t put the beloved bike back on the car. If I do, it most definitely won’t be there when I get back.

I was planning on doing my one-legged interval training on the home trainer on Saturday evening and doing Saturday’s ride today. In preparation, I did today’s ride yesterday. Please note, yesterday’s ride should have been the one-legged interval training.

Sadly, the weather forecast for Sunday, and indeed Monday, indicates rain. On the programme for Sunday is a 4hr ride while Monday’s a rest day. As a consequence, I have decided to go for a longer ride today so that, if it does indeed rain on Sunday, I won’t have to spend too long on the home trainer. 

Prior to embarking on this rigorous training regime, Friday was the day on which I did my shopping, housework and cooking. You can see where I’m going with this. Fortunately, my beloved is not back from his trip until late tomorrow evening so, if it does indeed rain on Sunday, that’s when I’ll be doing the afore-mentioned chores.

Of course, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll be out on the bike (so no housework, cooking or shopping) either for the club ride or I may go over to Menton and return via La Turbie and Eze. In fact, thinking about it, the latter’s a better option since I’d like to time myself for the ride over to Menton. The concentration at Ste Agnes is on Sunday 4 April. You may recall, last year it was cancelled due to the rain. But I’ve been looking forward to doing this one ever since the “nul points” incident in 2008, which still rather rankles.

One of the small advantages of being club secretary is that I receive all the notices about all the concentrations giving full details of location and timing. I have already noted with interest that the pointage at Ste Agnes, via the Col de la Madone, now closes at 11:30hr. Woe betide them if I arrive once more at 11:10 to find they’ve packed up and gone home!

Good choice

I was feeling in particularly fine fettle this morning as I set off to meet my trainer (no laughing please) for our first ride together in the great outdoors. He very kindly rode in front of me while we were riding into a headwind. Laughable really as, while he’s tall, he’s easily half my width and with a single digit BMI. So, not much protection from the wind at all, but I appreciated the gesture. He too must have realised it was futile as we quickly switched to doing relays.

Today’s ride included some sprint intervals where sadly I was able to amply demonstrate my lack of explosivity. Still, I persevered. My trainer politely enquired whether my legs were aching. No, not a bit. Like Lance, I don’t readily build up lactic acid. In fact, I suspect I use it as a source of energy rather like other people use their fat stores. On the subject of fat, I’m happy to report that last week’s tummy troubles have melted off a couple of kilos.  Of course, this could account for why I’ve been feeling so spritely or maybe it’s just the return of Spring. 

After the training, I rode into Cannes to meet up with an old friend who was at MIPIM, the annual property fest. The place was buzzing. So clearly the property market is picking up, though it’s still a long way off from the heady early noughties. I first met my friend when he bid to act for my previous employer in a professional category on a major property project. Only two firms answered all the questions in our brief and the decision as to which one to pick was delegated to me by the rest of the team. I sought advice from a colleague with more experience in these matters. She gave me some wise counsel. “You’re going to be working closely with these guys for a number of years so pick the one you like the best”. So I did. It’s a decision, I’ve never regretted.

I’m now making plans for Saturday and Milan-San Remo. I had such a blast last year, I’ve simply got to go again this year. I’m hoping to meet up with a girlfriend whom I first met when we were both volunteers in Varese 2008. However, rather than go alone, I’m going with one of my girlfriends. We’ll be able to catch up with all our respective news, over a cup of excellent Italian coffee (the best) while we await the start of the live transmission. I’m hoping that Boonen’s first win on Italian soil (last week in Tirreno Adriatico) may presage his second on Saturday. We’ll just have to wait and see.

My 2009 highlights

Cyclingnews has asked a number of industry insiders for their highlights of the 2009 cycling season. Incredible as it may seem, they failed to ask me! I know, maybe their email is sitting in my spam.

Best Performance: A number of worthy candidates, but for me it has to be Fabulous Fabian’s victory in the ITT in Mendrisio. He was just so dominant, so majestic and had so much time on everyone else that he was celebrating 100 metres from the finish line. This man is in a class of his own.

Honourable mentions:- 1) The Manx Missile for his win in Milan-San Remo and his 6 wins in the Tour. 2) Philippe Gilbert for his season ending flourish.

Best Team: In anyone’s book, best team = most wins = Columbia HTC.

Biggest Disappointment(s): Rebellin, Astaloza and Colom. Need I say more.

Rider to watch in 2010: Generally I find it’s riders who have changed teams to be given a greater role on a new one. Some will deliver and some won’t. As a consequence, I suspect all eyes will be on Sky and riders such as Edvald Boassen Hagen, Simon Gerrans, Serge Pauwels, Bradley Wiggins et al. However, my tips for 2010: Alexandre Vinokourov, back to prove the UCI and critics that they were wrong; and, this man, the indefatigable Johnny Hoogerland.

Most Memorable Race: Cadel Evans attacking to win the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio and confounding all of his critics.

 

Biggest Surprise: Bert bonking in Paris-Nice but he redeemed himself the following day by continuously attacking thereby winning over the French. Though whether they’d have been as charitable if he’d knocked housewives’ favourite Sylvain Chavanel off the podium is debatable.