Holiday photos: day 13

A veritable smoregasbord of sport on Sunday, but what to watch, when? Our dilemna was partly resolved when Rafa lost in the semi-final at Wimbledon. It was unlikely that the final would reach similar heights and we fully expected Djokovic to win his fourth title which he did.

We ate lunch at our hotel in Saint Jean de Luz before settling down to watch a mouth watering afternoon of sport starting with the German MotoGP from Sachsenring. Nine poles and nine victories for my chou chou Marc Marquez, who’s leading the World Championship. I was a happy bunny.

Next up the Tour de France’s cobbled stage finishing in Roubaix which started a bit earlier so as not to clash with the match. Sadly crashes and inopportune mechanicals either put paid to or severely dented the ambitions of a number of riders, but hey that’s cycling. You also had to feel for those nursing injuries from earlier stages, those cobbles must’ve been really painful. It was good to see former Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb pick up his first win since recovering from a terrible accident.

Finally, the blue-riband event, the eagerly awaited World Cup final. The beach and streets emptied, as everyone tuned into the match. Finals are rarely great matches, although this one was exciting. Lady luck was wearing red, white and blue as pre-match favourites France showed flashes of both brilliance and stupidity to beat Croatia 4-2 and lift their second World Cup, twenty years after their last. I’ve become a huge fan of Kylian Mbappe who has enchanted everyone with his maturity and was rightly best young playet of the tournament.

Some of my favourite scenes were President Macron’s celebratory dance – don’t give up the day job! – and the mass huggging which followed the presentation of the trophy and medals. The hotel where we were staying broke out the bubbles to toast the team. It had been a great week-end for the French, though you had to feel for the Croats, and for anyone in France hoping for a good night’s sleep.

 

Postcard from Montmelo

The Barcelona-Catalunya circuit in Montmelo has hosted a Grand Prix every year since it was first included on the calendar in 1992. It’s a superb track, with great facilities, well-organised, and the parking is free. It’s about 25km to the north of Barcelona and is the home venue for many of the sport’s biggest stars including reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, former world champion Jorge Lorenzo, Maverick Vinales – surely the best name ever –  Dani Pedrosa and the Espargaro brothers Aleix and Pol. Fortunately, the race falls in June, a great time of the year to visit this beautiful region.

It was as if we’d never left French soil. Everyone seated around us in the MotoGP grandstand  was speaking French and, as we strolled around the circuit, our ears were naturally tuned into all the French voices. Still, it’s easy enough to just pop over the border, though the French number plates in the car park came from all over.

Between sessions, we like to wander round the stalls, see who’s buying what and look at the various edible offerings. Apart from us, everyone seemed to be wearing an item supporting one of the teams or riders, usually a cap or t-shirt. Some were impressively decked out head to toe in support of their favourite rider, often along with a tattoo of the same. In fact, tatts were very much to the fore. The two of us were a small tattoo and endorsement free zone.

This MotoGP was sponsored by Monster Energy who put on an impressive display of trick cycling, wave boarding, a DJ and lots of lovely ladies in skimpy outfits, frolicking in more water – or was it Monster Energy? – with whom you can have a selfie.

Aside from the circuit, the French had also invaded and taken over the hotel where we were staying. They came, they saw, they conquered on their powerful motorbikes, all 1000cc. That’s a lot of throbbing power and gleaming chrome between your legs. I wouldn’t know as I have never been on a motorbike. That’s not a proud boast, rather an if only………..maybe one of these days!

The last time we attended the MotoGP in Catalunya was back in 2013. I’d purchased the trip on one of those cut-price sites. It turned out to be the bargain of the century. We had a fabulous time, including a day sight-seeing in Barcelona gorging on Gaudi and jamon. This time we stayed up the coast from Barcelona, just 30 minutes from the circuit, and airport.

We flew over on Thursday morning. The flight took less time than the wait for our luggage and car! But, finally, we were speeding along the motorway to the hotel chosen by my beloved (and approved by me). The boy done good! I like to think that after 40 years together he’s finally learned something.

We stayed in the coastal resort of Mataro, which has a rich history dating back to Roman times. Aside from its marina and wide sandy beaches beaches, there’s a number of archaeological sites, including some Roman remains. But that’s not all. The first ever railway line to be built on the Iberian Peninsula in 1848 linked Barcelona to Mataro.

Mataro’s Old Town is partly ringed by a 16th-century wall, within which is the 15th century Basilica of Santa Maria. La Wrier and La Rambla are the town’s main arteries along which lies its 17th century City Hall and, where the two roads converge, in Plaza de Santa Anna, there’s a lovely pink Baroque church.

It’s interesting to wander around the narrow lanes of the Old Town, wondering what you’ll find and/or see. We chanced upon Spain’s answer to Green Day conducting a sound check in one of the town’s many squares, plus some oddly dressed characters. Were they connected? Who knows! More importantly, we found an impressive cake shop and enjoyed its wares in its sunlit garden.

We combined the MotoGP with watching some of the World Cup football, including the opening match, plus Ronaldo v Spain. We missed France’s first game, as we were at the circuit, but much enjoyed seeing Mexico get the better of Germany. I also got to celebrate World Lobster Day, albeit a day late, with fried lobster – a first!

The sessions at the circuit kicked off early with Moto3 whose engines sound like pesky mosquitos that you’d like to swat before the full-throttled and ear shattering MotoGP engines take to the stage. Your entire body seems to throb in time with those revs. Friday is typically quieter in terms of spectators, building to capacity on Sunday. But whichever day, VR46 or Valentino Rossi fans outnumbered all the others combined.

We were in Spain but, Marc Marquez aside, fans of the other Spanish riders, including former world champion Jorge Lorenzo, are very much in the minority. Not so French rider Johann Zarco who mustered an impressive fan base. We’ve met his Dad who lives in Cannes and rides for one of the local cycling clubs.

I like to watch all the action at the circuit, not wishing to miss any of the Free Practice sessions, nor Qualifying or Warm Up. Throughout the three-days, there were thrills and spills, plus one bike combusted. Importantly no one was seriously injured. Unusually, three different nationalities topped the podiums in their respective classes including, for those sitting around us, a Frenchman in Moto2.

Funnily enough the least interesting race was probably the blue riband event, as the podium was settled fairly early on. But the week-end was nonetheless extremely enjoyable and, should we decide to go again, we’ll definitely stay in the same hotel.

 

Dolce far niente

It’s official, we’re enduring a heat wave similar to that of 2003, La Grande Canicule, which this time is appropriately called Lucifer. The problem with heatwaves is that it’s too hot to do much of anything, particularly housework. Iron a few garments and you’ve worked up enough sweat to re-soak said items. Sweep the floor and within seconds you’re perspiring all over the floor. Well, that’s my excuse for taking a rain check on housework. A few hours in the office, and you slump across the desk.

When it’s really hot you feel languid, as if everything’s just too much effort. Now, unlike my two sisters, I’m not one for sunbathing. I last about 30 minutes in the sun. I get bored lying still and doing nothing. While the cool waters of our pool beckon, it’s even hotter beside the pool as it’s sheltered from what little breeze is around. Plus, at this time of year, it’s pretty busy. My beloved prefers to swim either when it opens, or just before it closes. I prefer to sit outside, in the shade, while carrying on with a few chores, maybe read a book or just sit back and enjoy the scenery. I regularly return to the kitchen to check on whatever I have simmering on the hob or cooking in the oven. Plus, I can throw another pile of clothes into the washing machine. I find it hard to do absolutely nothing but have scaled back during the heat wave which looks to continue.

Fortunately, if we open all the windows in the apartment we can enjoy the slight through breeze. While I’m not a fan of air conditioning, just getting into the car and turning it on is blissful. As is turning the hairdryer on full-blast, cold to cool the sweat pouring from my brow after just brushing my teeth.

Yesterday, I relaxed on the balcony, in the shade, where there was a mere hint of a welcome breeze. The cicadas were rubbing their legs together to no avail. It’s the omnipresent sound of summer which typically dies down at night, but not this year. Those poor insects have been at it night and day. I sympathise, not even the linen sheets are cool but that could be because of the heat being given off by my beloved on the far side of the bed. Heat that’s welcome in winter but not now. I keep conjuring up scenes from that 1980s film Body Heat where Kathleen Turner and William Hurt cooled down in a bath full of ice cubes but the ice cube maker on the fridge-freezer isn’t working!

Early this morning we awoke to thunder and lightning, but no rain. That arrived later. It poured, but not for long, and 30 minutes later everything was dry. The thirsty earth had sucked up every drop of available moisture and the rain merely made conditions more humid. There was nothing for it, we’d have another lazy day, pottering around the flat and watching the MotoGP from Brno. Not that we need any excuse to watch sport!

 

 

 

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.

 

Playing Tag Along

2016-2017-tag

Okay, I’m taking part in a game of tag just because I can and because it’s fun. I was tagged by Dippy Dotty Girl who blogs at http://www.thetravellingdiaryofadippydottygirl.com.

Describe your 2016 in three words

Reducing an entire year to just three words is going to be tricky, but here goes:-

  • Busy
  • Rewarding
  • Fun

I try to pack as much as I can into each year, time is a finite commodity. I maintain the key is plenty of planning and preparation which is something I love doing. So you’ll be unsurprised to learn that much of 2017 is already planned out and it’s going to be another amazing year.

Two people who made 2016 what it was

Life is what YOU make it. So that would be my beloved and I.

The most beautiful place you visited in 2016 and why you chose it

We stayed in so many lovely places. Some for the first time, while others were revisits. However, given that we spent the start and finish of 2016 in Australia, I guess it gets my vote. Now Australia’s a big place, and I’ve only visited a very small part of it, nonetheless, I put together a mosaic of some of my favourite spots.

The most delicious dish you have tasted in 2016

Funnily enough that was probably something I cooked for friends for dinner, a lobster curry from Adam Handling’s Smile or Get Out of the Kitchen. Mine didn’t look quite as beautiful as his but it tasted spectacular. I had a bit of a wobble while cooking it and his restaurant, The Frog in London E1, kindly responded to my queries – how’s that for service?

Chicken & Lobster Yellow Curry by Adam Handling (image: Tim Green)
Chicken & Lobster Yellow Curry by Adam Handling (image: Tim Green)

An event which left its mark upon you in 2016 (even a global event counts) 

Brexit – nuff said.

The finest purchase you made in 2016 (and if you want you can link up a photo of it)

I’m always on the hunt for the perfect (for me) pair of trousers and I found them in a shop in Chicago. It’s a German company, has been around for a while but had slipped under my radar. Since buying my first pair in February 2016, I have acquired many more, along with some tops and dresses. I’m what might be called a serial purchaser, when I find something I like, I buy in bulk. Probably won’t need to worry about buying another pair of trousers ever again!

Three good intentions for 2017 

  • Work less, ride more
  • Spend more time in the kitchen
  • Make the most of every day

One place you want to visit in 2017

I’ve promised myself that we’ll go and watch another MotoGP race this year, either at Catalunya or Mugello

One dish you want to eat in 2017

There’s lots of dishes I’d like to be able to eat but I’ve kinda accepted I’m going to have to stick with the fish eating vegan regime from now on if I want to remain healthy. So my dish would be a great plate of seafood – lobster, octopus, oysters, prawns, clams, mussels.

I would like to Tag………

I’m going to follow the example set by my tagger. I tag whoever reads this and wants to do this tag. Your choice but looking back on 2016 might just bring a smile to your face as you recall recent fond memories.

Rules for this Tag

  1. Mention the creator of the blog:  David from The Guy Who Said Always No
  2. Use the image that you find in this article
  3. Mention the blogger who has chosen you
  4. Answer the questions
  5. Mention 9 blogger friends and let them know through a comment on their blog

My work is done here. Now it’s your turn. Have a great day!

Just what I needed

What I want to know is where can I get one of these?

Alternatively, I might get a dog if I could find one like Harvey that does the washing and irons.

Yes, I’m feeling decidedly time-pressured. This is the first time in ages I’ve had a few spare minutes to devote to my own blog. For a woman who’s allegedly “retired”, I seem to be mighty busy. I gave up a high pressured job in the City to spend time doing what I wanted to do and not the things everyone else wanted me to. Where did it all go wrong?

Don’t mind me. I’m just feeling a bit reflective after my epic fail on yesterday’s ride. At this time of year my tree pollen allergy makes me feel as if I’m riding with a heavy cold and I struggled up a climb I can usually do with ease. It was a truly glorious day. The sun shone, the countryside was green, lush and ablaze with meadow flowers, yellow broom and wild herbs whose scents seem the very essence of here. We’d rendezvoused with the boys mid-ride and enjoyed a quick cup of coffee, while gazing longingly at the sandy beach with the waves lapping the shoreline, before heading into the L’Esterel hills.

As soon as we hit the climb I started to wheeze like an asthmatic granny. No need to point out that I’m old enough to be a granny, that’s not helpful. I set my riding companion free and watched her soar up the incline, dancing away into the distance. The road was unusually busy with traffic. Depending on whether they were on two or four wheels, they seemed respectively to be practising for this week-end’s MotoGP at Le Mans or channeling their inner Sebastien Loeb.

Towards the top of the climb, on a stretch of fresh tarmac, a convoy of vehicles rushed past me. Obviously oblivious to the “A Metre Matters” campaign for cyclist safety. Their draft caught me unawares, I bobbled and my front wheel slipped unintentionally off the new tarmac and I landed ignominiously in the grass verge. I quickly leapt to my feet and brushed myself down. No one had seen my faux pas and only my pride had been bruised. I remounted and swiftly crested the summit. It was (thankfully) pretty much all downhill from there and I soon rejoined my companions who’d been topping up their tans while waiting for me to reappear. It’ll be a recovery ride for me today!

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.

Sheree’s sporting shots

I leave the country for a few days to visit dear friends and suddenly we’re chock-a-block with sporting news. Here’s what I’ve missed:-

Cycling

Many thought that Sunday’s stage in the Vuelta, taking in the fearsome climb up the Angliru, might be decisive and they were correct. Geox’s Juan Jose Cobo, who had been looking lively in finishing 2nd on Saturday’s stage, positively cantered up the ramp in the fog on Sunday’s queen stage, leaving the other contenders trailing in his wake, to take the leader’s jersey. Sky’s Froome and Wiggins lost a handful of seconds on yesterday’s benign stage, while Katusha’s Purito fell and, having finished over 10 minutes back, took himself out of contention.

On today’s 5.9km steep climb to Pena Cabarga, Cobo couldn’t resist trying to gain further advantage. Sky’s Froome was having none of it, matching him and finally emerging triumphant. Cobo was 2nd so that’s 8 seconds back but they could be decisive. In any event, even though Wiggins is still in 3rd, Sky will be putting all their eggs into Froome’s baskets.  Tomorrow’s stage into Noja looks more suitable for a breakaway, while the two stages in the Basque country simply must be won by the boys in orange, if they’re  to rescue their Vuelta.  The last realistic opportunity to snatch the red jersey is on Saturday’s 187km stage from Bilbao to Vitoria which finishes with 50km on the flat. Surely Sky can time-trial their way into red?

Over in Italy, the new Giro di Padania (ie Tour of N Italy) started with a win for Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox) who’s been garnering plenty of headlines this summer. In France, young Aussie Rohan Dennis is leading the Tour de l’Avenir, which started on Sunday  and showcases emerging talent.

Of course, the really big news is the recently, hotly denied Radioshack-Leopard Trek merger. It allegedly came as a shock to the riders, with the possible exception of Frandy. However, I was delighted to read in L’Equipe that the UCI’s primary concern would be the riders. A large number of whom will now be looking for gainful employment. Indeed, a number with contracts for next year, may not be too happy at this turn of events.

Team Sky have announced the signing of pint-sized Aussie Richie Porte whose departure from Saxobank will further weaken Alberto’s support squad for 2012. No news yet as to where the Manx missile is heading. Maybe he just wants to keep us all in suspense or perhaps it’ll be announced on the eve of the Tour of Britain.

MotoGP

It was a Spanish clean sweep of the podiums at Misano in Italy this week end with winners Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Nico Terol. All three are back on home soil for the next round at  Aragon on 18 September.

As we were driving back yesterday from Italy, we passed a number of MotoGP trucks including those of the Yamaha Racing team. Only one day after his 3rd victory of the season, which allowed him to close the championship gap to Honda’s Casey Stoner to 35 points, reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo and team-mate Ben Spies were back on track at Misano  testing  the 2012 1000cc M1.

During the 2011 season, manufacturers can test 2012 bikes for a total of 8 rider/days with their MotoGP riders. Yamaha has now completed 4 rider/days, the same number as Honda, but one less than Ducati. Suzuki is yet to announce a 1000cc project.

Tennis

First hurricanes and now torrential rain is causing scheduling chaos at the US Open, where most of the fancied players are still in contention.

Football

Eurosport have signed Rafa Benitez to their commentary team. Having managed in Spain, England and Italy, he has the right credentials to be commentating on European Cup matches along with Arsene Wenger.

Run, run, runaway

After yesterday’s early start and busy morning, it was with some relief I sat down to watch the Moto GP season opener from Qatar. I hadn’t had either the time, or frankly the inclination, to watch the practice sessions, so had no idea who was where on the grids.

For me, one of the many charms of MotoGP is Eurosport’s commentary team of Toby Moody and Julian English. Catherine Riley of The Times  said ” …they could make a lap of a supermarket exciting and if there’s a better motorsport commentary team anywhere, I’ll eat my armchair”. No need to go that far Catherine. I would echo her opinion and say that there isn’t a better English language sports commentary team. If only the commentators who covered cycling were as knowledgable, witty and amusing.

Toby Moody and Julian English in pole position
Toby (bald) and Julian (beard)

As the picture shows, neither are spring chickens but, first and foremost, as long time  journalists, they bring to their commentary a rare depth of knowledge and a real love of the sport combined with a rare ability to pronounce correctly riders’ names.

Given I know so little about this sport, I decided to acquire a veneer of knowledge. I am indebted to www.motogp.com for their articulate explanations.

MotoGP is the motorcycling equivalent  of F1. An 18-race series visiting fourteen countries, four continents, with global television viewing figures totalling 337 million in over 200 countries. In 2010, over 2.2 million made the pilgrimage to watch the world’s best and most skilled riders line a grid astride cutting-edge motorcycle technology with prototype machinery from just four manufacturers: Ducati, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.

Established as a World Championship by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) in 1949. MotoGP is the oldest motorsport championship and the blue riband of three racing classes that take place on a Grand Prix weekend.

Each GP event takes place over three consecutive days. The first two  comprise practice and qualification for each class; the third is race-day. There are free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, and a single qualification practice on Saturday afternoon which determines grid order for Sunday’s race. In each category, the three fastest riders take positions on the first row of the grid, with the rest lining up in threes behind.

After warm-up sessions for each category on race-day, the 125cc race kicks off the programme, followed by the Moto2 class and then, last but not least,  the jewel in the crown, MotoGP.  Races vary in length between 95-130km and normally last between 40-45 minutes.

So what’s the difference between the various categories?

  • 125cc – Is the first step on the World Championship ladder for young competitors. Maximum engine size is 125cc (single-cylinder units). The maximum age for riders is 28 years (25 for wild-card riders or those newly contracted and competing in a 125cc GP for the first time) and the minimum age is 16 years.
  • Moto2 – This 4-stroke, 600cc class was introduced in 2010 to replace the 250cc category.  Moto2 aims to be a prestigious yet cost-effective adjunct to the premier league, MotoGP. Honda is the sole engine supplier, Dunlop provide the tyres while the prototype chassis are provided by a number of engineering firms such as Suter (Swiss), Kalex (German) and Moriwaki (Japanese).  The minimum age for riders is 16.
  • MotoGP – This provides the ultimate test on two wheels for its finest talents. The maximum engine capacity is 800cc (4-stroke engines) and the machines are all prototypes.  The minimum age for riders is 18.
125cc winner Nico Terol

So, on to Moto2 where German, Stefan Bradl (1989) surged away from his first pole position to record his 2nd ever win. Andrea Iannone leapfrogged from 16th on the grid into 2nd place after battling with Yuki Takahashi. Tom Luthi came through in the final laps to take 3rd. Last year’s 125cc champion and Moto2 rookie,  Marc Marquez, crashed out on lap 4: a  touch too much of youthful exuberance.

Riding his first season for Honda, whose bikes were quickest in pre-season testing and practice, former MotoGP champion, Aussi Casey Stoner (1985) won at Qatar for the 4th time in 5 years. His team mate Dani Pedrosa surged past him on pole and led for half a lap before being overtaken by last season’s champion, Jorge Lorenzo.  But by the end of lap 2, Stoner was back in the lead with Lorenzo in 2nd place.

Honda boys

Pedrosa