For want of a spoke, the race was lost

Sign-on at GP Miguel Indurain
Sign-on at GP Miguel Indurain

Sadly my plans to ride some of the Tour of the Basque country course have gone awry. We arrived in Estella on Friday evening, dined well and enjoyed a good night’s sleep to awake to yet more glorious sunshine. We decided to ride a couple of the loops of the GP Miguel Indurain, catching the race both en route and as it passed through the town. I also rode up to the summit finish twice, please note the peloton only had to do it once!

Sunday, also dawned fair but soon turned grey and overcast. We were now in the heart of the Basque country, ideally placed to view each of the start and finishes of the six stages in the Tour of the Basque country. Undaunted, we muffled up and rode out, heading due north. I hadn’t been riding for long when my bike went “kerrching”. Never good news. I stopped to discover I had broken a spoke on my rear wheel. Initially, I wasn’t too concerned. Every small town here has a bike shop. Surely, someone would be able to fix it?

A quick search on the internet revealed a large bike shop on the outskirts of Bilbao which we could visit en route to the following day’s stage, finishing and starting in Guenes, 20km south-west of Bilbao. The shop took the wheel and suggested I call back later. My beloved elected to ride some of the day’s course while I spent an enjoyable day bombing around the Basque countryside, in the warm sunshine, in the company of my friends, Dom and Susi,who were taking photos for Cycling News. At the stage’s conclusion, we headed back to the bike shop. They hadn’t managed to find the requisite parts but suggested I leave it in their tender care for another day. I was happy to do so though rather chafing at the bit to get back into the saddle.

Chris Horner before stage 1 start
Chris Horner before stage 1 start

managed to find the requisite parts but suggested I leave it in their tender care for another day. I was happy to do so though rather chafing at the bit to get back into the saddle.

I rang the shop the following morning and they confirmed it would be ready for collection that evening after stage two’s conclusion in Vitoria-Gasteiz. This is a place I’d seriously underrated on my last visit there during the Vuelta. The stage had finished on the town’s outskirts, today we saw its delightfully charming old town.  When we returned to the bike shop, it was to bad news. They’d been unable to source replacement spokes for my Campagnolo wheel.

Undeterred, I decided I would have a chat with the men from Mavic the following morning. It just so happened that I’d previously met one of the Mavic guys at Paris-Nice. I turned to him for some words of wisdom before the start of stage three. He basically told me that the wheels were a bugger to fix and he couldn’t help me. I’m assuming that’s a technical term. He advised I carried spares in future – noted.

I then turned to see which of the ProTour teams were sporting similar wheels. A couple of the guys at Movistar had the same model but in view of the fact they were fiddly to fit, and knowing how hard the mechanics have to work, I decided not to ask. Though I did keep looking longingly at anyone who had a bike the same frame size as mine and my beloved had to keep admonishing me to step away.

In any event, it’s rained pretty much solidly for the last four days. So it’s doubtful I would have actually ridden even had I been able to fix the wheel. My beloved has been out most days, only to come back as mud-spattered as a cyclo-cross rider – thank heavens I bought plenty of kit with us. The washing machine will be going into overdrive on our return!

For my previews and reviews of both races head on over to VeloVoices.

Independence Day

Yes, it’s the day that Americans hold so dear. It was therefore only fitting that Tyler Farrar, led out by the maillot jaune, won today’s stage which he dedicated to his late-best-buddy, Wouter Weylandt. Garmin Cervelo rack up two wins in a row proving that nice guys do win, just not all the time. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) was 2nd while Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took 3rd place and the points jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands leaving Thor in yellow, Geraint Thomas (Sky) in white and  PhilGil with the spots.  However, Thor’s battle for the points jersey, as well as Cavendish’s, has taken a bit of a knock. They’ve lost the points gained in the intermediate sprint for a bit of playful pushing and shoving.

Today’s parade from the Vendee into cycling mad Brittany, showcased France’s beautiful coastline, countryside and wealth of historical buildings. Yes, it’s a race but it’s also touristic propaganda for the Hexagon as the race is beamed to 190 other countries. The globe’s fleet of camper vans were drawn up alongside the roads which were lined with spectators rendering it more and more difficult for the riders to find a quiet place for a comfort break.  The day’s breakaway of 5 riders earned plenty of tv time for their sponsors but, despite working well together, were, as anticipated, reeled in with 9km to go by those teams with aspirations in today’s sprint fest.

With under 8km to go, the boys were bowling along at 65km/hr. HTC seemed to have their train in place, albeit a little precipitously. Petacchi and Boonen were lying in wait on Cavendish’s wheel. A couple of riders took flyers off the front, with 600 metres to go the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin fell at the final bend which disturbed the train’s rhythm and played directly  into the hands of Garmin who guided Tyler to victory.

The GC contenders were kept well to the fore by their team mates today and out the way of any potential problems. The wind was not a factor although it was clearly a little stronger over the St Nazaire bridge, re-classified as a Cat 4 climb, a magnificent piece of French civic engineering which unites the two sides of the Loire estuary, as the peloton momentarily broke into several groups. On a lighter note, Antony Charteau was let off the leash for a quick greet and meet with his family in Chauve before remounting to join the peloton as they whizzed past.

Phil Gil has his eye on tomorrow’s stage from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne, but I’m sure he’s not the only one. If he gains more than 1 second on Thor tomorrow, Cadel will take over the maillot jaune. My beloved is in Australia and he texted me saying that the Aussies, particularly the press, are in 7th heaven over Cadel’s progress. He certainly would be a popular winner but there’s still a few more days and kilometers to go.

Mundane

The past few days have followed a similar pattern. I have risen early, done my household chores and then gone for a short ride to turn the legs over. Afternoons have been spent watching the Giro,  baking, ironing and completing tasks on my Kivilev “to do” list. Not for nothing am I the mistress of multi-tasking. As ever, I find it easier to achieve more in my beloved’s absence. He’s due back this evening from an exhibition in Montpelier. Weather permitting, tomorrow we’ll ride the shorter course of La Vencoise.

I thought Tuesday’s annulled stage, and the demeanor of both the fans and riders, was a fitting tribute to the late Wouter Weylandt. I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan with a lump in her throat as his team mates with his best mate, Tyler Farrar, crossed the finishing line. More importantly, the Giro organisers are treating seriously the riders’ concerns and re-checking the descent of the Monte Crosis.

Wednesday’s stretches of strade bianchi were not well received by some riders. Others, like Vincenzo Nibali, seemed to revel in it. The Shark treated us to a master class in descending although, if he was hoping to rattle Alberto, he was sorely disappointed. Indeed, the favourites have been eyeing one another all week while remaining close to the head of the peloton, uber-protected by their team. This has given a number of riders an opportunity to shine, particularly in the breakaways. Rabobank’s Peter Weening, launching a late attack,  time-trialled into the maillot rose on Wednesday, taking it from the shoulders of Scotland’s David Millar. Yesterday, Lampre’s Ale-jet’s rocket blasters died just before the line, allowing Movistar’s Ventoso to cross the line first. Today neo-pro, and tour virgin, Omega’s Bart de Clercq launched an audacious attack on the final climb and just managed to hang on to bag his first big win. Tomorrow’s one for the sprinters before the action erupts on Etna on Sunday.

This week end sees the Monster Energy French Moto GP from Le Mans. I have been keeping tabs on the practice and qualifying sessions. Casey Stoner has broken Valentino Rossi’s circuit record, twice. Second fastest to date is Marco Simoncelli with Dani Pedrosa in third spot. Moto2’s top threesome are Bradl, Luthi and Corsi while in 125cc class Nico Terol is leading (yet again), from Efren Vasquez and Sandro Cortese. But it could all change tomorrow.

Bit of a roundup

After four days off the bike, it was a pleasure to resume my training programme. I’ve been riding really strongly this week, particularly on the climbs, and feel on track for this week end’s brevet, the l’Antiboise, organised by a neighbouring club. Last year, I unwisely and unsuccessfully rode the 150km parcours, bonking spectacularly after 103km. This year, I’m riding the 100km course which, with the ride to and from the start, will be a 120km round trip. We’ll be setting off relatively early so as to be back in time to watch the Amstel Gold Race. I understand from an article on Cyclingnews that some, as yet unidentified, locals have been sabotaging the course with tacks!

We have friends who live in Valkenberg, just a stone’s throw from the Cauberg, and were fortunate to be in the area on business a few year’s ago and watched the race from a good spot (near the big screen) on that hill which is decidedly leg sapping. I was riding my friend’s “sit up and beg bike” which I would have been hard pushed to indeed push it up the hill, let alone ride. On race day, the hill is thronged with spectators, particularly on the lower sections which are bordered by bars and restaurants, and it has a fantastic atmosphere.

While we’re all awaiting the next monument in the Classics season, those cute boys in lycra have still been racing. PhilGil, last year’s Amstel winner, won Wednesday’s Fleche Brabanconne, so he’s on form for his objectives of next Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and next weekend’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard), Igor Anton (Euskatel-Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (Geox) and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) are the main protagonists in the 5-day Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon, which is chock full of 2nd and 3rd division teams. This isn’t an overly bumpy parcours, indeed, the first two stages have featured the sprinters and have both been won by Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), clocking up his 6th stage win in this race. The French teams have been racing in the Coupe de France whose leader is young Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). In the 4th round, Sandy Casar (FDJ) emerged as the big cheese in Paris-Camembert while Jimmy Casper won his 4th GP de Denain Porte du Hainault.

I haven’t passed much comment on the football of late. There’s not a lot to say about either of my teams whose fortunes seem to mirror one another. OGCN, with one of the smallest budgets in the French first division, generally punch above their weight and are playing Lille in next week’s semi-final of the French Cup and should finish the season a couple of places above the relegation zone. My beloved boys in claret and blue are going through what I hope is a transition phase and, despite the inevitable end of season loss of one of their best players (again), should survive to rebound next season.

My beloved has been away for a couple of days which has enabled me to complete a number of tasks for the club before I leave for next week’s break in Varese. My beloved has decided to take a week’s holiday but if I don’t get him out of the office, he’ll just be working away on his emails. We’re staying in the same B&B I stayed in while volunteering at the 2008 Road Cycling World Championship’s in Varese. We’ve become good friends with the owners and stay a couple of times a year either visiting clients or friends nearby. It’s a lovely area to cycle around; witness the large number of professional riders who live and train in the area. I particularly enjoy cycling around the lakes and covering some of the route of the tour of Lombardy.

7-year itch

Yesterday was pretty blissful. My beloved and I rose late, largely thanks to the clocks going forward and his tardy arrival back into Nice the night before. We breakfasted, dressed, mounted our bikes and headed for that morning’s pointage, just up the road in St Paul de Vence. The sky was overcast and it was obviously going to rain at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

We enjoyed our ride before collecting the newspapers and heading for home. Narrowly avoiding the rain, which fell all afternoon, evening and overnight. After lunch, I settled down on the sofa (suitably attired) to enjoy the newspapers and a veritable smorgasbord of cycling.

Up first was all three stages of the Criterium International, or Jens Voigt Invitational as it’s more commonly known. As if by magic, guess who was a sole breakaway on  stage 1? None other than Jens himself, putting the hurt on the other teams and paving the way for Frank Schleck’s (Leopard Trek) win atop L’Ospedale, ahead of Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). My beloved and I know this area well having ridden around here on a trip with the cycling club. Stage 2’s 75km sprint stage was won by  Skil-Shimano’s Simon Geschke, his first pro-win, while Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack) won the 7km time-trial around Porto Vecchio. The results of those subsequent stages left the podium unchanged.

Next up was Gent-Wevelgem, shorn of Fabulous Fabian, but still choc full of talent vying for the win and those valuable UCI points. Allegedly, Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was left to watch yesterday’s win on the television so that he could better perform today and “justify his salary” so-said his manager, Patrick Lefevre. As the television coverage started, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was leading a small group of escapees, validating beyond any shadow of a doubt his team’s invitation.

After Voeckler was re-absorbed into the peloton, various attacks were launched and brought back, the last one just a few hundred kilometers before the finish. The narrow, twisting, farm roads had snapped the peloton into several bunches, but the main contenders barr Goss, Cavendish, Hushovd and Pozzato were in the leading group which sprinted for the line. Boonen powered past everyone to snatch victory, 7 years after his last win here in 2004. Danieli Bennati (Leopard Trek) was 2nd and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) finished 3rd.

To win in the Classics, you need legs, luck and good positioning. Boonen had endured a long wait for the team car after a problem at the foot of the Monteberg, 74km from the finish, before expending not inconsiderable energy chasing back to the front of the peloton. While the manner of his victory was quite different from that of Cancellara’s, it will have boosted his confidence ahead of next week’s Tour of Flanders.

We then watched video highlights of the final day’s stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya won by the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, his 2nd stage win. Collecting not only precious UCI points for his team Cofidis, but also justifying their invitation to the event. The overall was won by Contador who had assumed the lead after Wednesday’s queen stage. If anything, his popularity in Spain, where he’s perceived as being victimised, has grown as the doping case has progressed. If I were Pat McQuaid, I would eliminate Spain from my immediate travel plans.

Finally, we caught up with the last day’s action from the track World Championships where Australia have dominated and others have disappointed. Sated, we opted for an early night. All that cycling’s exhausting.

Good save

It’s always enjoyable watching the professional peloton suffer on the same routes and roads that one regularly rides. This week end was no exception other than to say none of us would willingly ride in this sort of weather. Not even if someone were paying us. For the first time in many years, riders in Paris-Nice were welcomed to the Cote d’Azur with snow, gail-force winds, rain and cold temperatures. It’s at times like these you have to admire their fortitude and perseverance in the face of so many climatic obstacles.

As forecast, it started raining heavily just as the peloton hit the descent from Gourdon, a broad, sinuous and steep road which dangerously narrows at Chateauneuf. Roads are always at their most dangerous with a little rain: they’re greasy and very slippy. Many were cautious, indeed one could say over cautious. But with good reason, no one wants their season compromised.

Yesterday, it was a case of right team wrong rider, Alexandre Vinokourov had said that they were going to put an Astana rider on the podium. I assumed he would be that rider. I was wrong. It was instead, Remy di Gregorio who, after a couple of years in the FDJ wilderness, showed that he’s been revitalised by the Astana lifeline.

Right on Remy

Remy set off with around 13km to the finish with no one quite believing that he would manage to stay away, particularly given the narrow margin of his advantage.  His team had controlled the peloton for the first 80km or so and by the time we had television coverage, Garmin-Cervelo were on the front picking up points to preserve the green jersey of Heinrich Haussler. In the final stretch, Movistar took over, one assumes, to catapult Xavier Tondo up the GC. Instead, he slid off his bike just before the finish line.

The favourites all looked to be in preservation mode, not willing to gamble in the perilous conditions. Haussler fell over three times, the last time sliding into a wall. Robbert Kiserlovski (Astana) ended up under a parked van. Those two weren’t the only riders to fall. With 2km to go, Remy’s back wheel slid and  his right leg shot out of the pedal, allowing him to steady himself. Miraculously, he remained upright and continued to press his slim advantage.

Sammy Sanchez decided to use the work done by Movistar to move up on GC, finishing behind di Gregorio to record his 33rd runners-up position. Does this make him a Spanish Poulidor? There was no change to any of the jersey holders, nor the podium.

Today’s stage was much shorter and took in the usual sights of Nice which, one has to say, still looked magnificent on the television coverage despite the constant falling rain and huge waves crashing onto the beach. Sheltering under our brollies, warmly wrapped up, we watched the riders depart and them promptly retired to a bar to warm ourselves and watch the tv coverage. We were joined by many of the walking wounded: riders who have retired thanks to niggling injuries, colds and stomach upsets.

Only 134km to go!

Seizing the opportunity of last year’s last stage winner’s absence (Amael Moinard has retired with a heavy cold), Thomas Voeckler rode away from his breakaway companions to record his 2nd win (3rd French stage win) of this edition of Paris-Nice. You would be hard pressed to find a more popular winner. Sammy set off again, this time with a team mate from the breakaway,  to pull back a few seconds which moved him up another place on GC into 5th. That aside, there were no changes on the podium nor with the jerseys. Tony Martin rode a well judged race to record his first stage-race GC win and provide HTC with another Grand Tour card to play. Andreas Kloeden was 2nd and Bradley Wiggins 3rd. Jean-Christoph Peraud was the best placed Frenchman in 6th place. Rein Taaramae (4th on GC) was the best young rider, Henrich Haussler won the green point’s jersey and Remi Pauriol the spotted mountain one.

(all photographs courtesy of my beloved)

In the bag

While I spend a lot of time cycling on my own, I am equally at home riding with my clubmates. Even so there are certain wheels I would prefer not to follow as their owners either have a propensity to kiss the tarmac with alarming frequency or tend not to keep their line, particularly when  descending. Of course, given my (still) superior bodyweight, I  descend faster and therefore prefer to be at the head of the peloton.

Such riders are not the sole preserve of the amateur peloton. Should I ever find myself riding with the pros, there are a number whose wheels I would prefer to avoid. Most notably, Frank Schleck who found himself on the ground (again) today. He wasn’t the only one. Heinrich Haussler, lost concentration, and slipped off the road into a ditch. Both got back into the peloton after some mechanical assistance delivered from the team car window.

Coverage of today’s 199km sprinter’s stage from Monfort l’Amaury to Amilly started with around 47km remaining and most of the peloton 50 seconds behind breakaways Maxime Bouet (AG2R) and Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). A few kilometers later the entire procession was halted by a level crossing and, after the barriers re-opened, officials were hard pressed to maintain the leaders’ advantage as riders tried to slip around the cars. A lot seized the opportunity to indulge in one of my practices whereby, whenever the club peloton stops, I ghost to the front of the bunch (again).

The breakaways were re-absorbed with about 30km to go. The bunch appeared quite nervous today as the sprinters’ teams were determined not to forgo one of the remaining opportunities for a stage win. To be fair most of the better-known sprinters have elected to take part in Tirreno-Adriatico as the more undulating terrain better suits their preparation for the Spring classics.

In the run into the finish, the helm was assumed in turn by a number of different teams: Astana, Movistar, HTC-HighRoad. But it was Sky who got their act together in the final stretch with Geraint Thomas leading out Kiwi Greg Henderson for the win. He finished ahead of Matt Goss (HTC) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), who set off on his own with 1.5km to go, was taken back after 300km but  retained the yellow jersey making his recent sausage and salami sacrifice worthwhile.

As well as dealing with the week’s inevitable administrative burden, I have whipped up a delicious dinner for my beloved. I’m very fond of Indian cuisine but rarely make it just for myself. This evening we’re having tandoori spiced lamb with pilau rice and cauliflower curry.

Out the loop

I was only in London for a few days but, away from all that is dear and familiar, I felt really out of the loop on my return. Races had finished without me knowing who had won and, even worse, races had started and finished without me knowing the victor. Of course, I could have checked on the internet but I was trapped in the wedding bubble and couldn’t break free of the programme. There’s little if nothing in the UK newspapers on cycling, although, as the wedding coincided with the World Cup races in Manchester, there was some mention of Britain’s track superstars.

I’ve been so busy catching up that I’ve had little time to reflect on the past few days of racing. However, one thing is clear, the promising young guns of the past few years are starting to emerge more strongly. Witness Gesinks’s (Rabobank) win in the Tour of Oman, a hilly parcours than last year, intended as a counterpoint to the earlier sprinters’ fest in Qatar.  Joining him on the podium were Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli).

Over the weekend the Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var, with a title almost as long as the race itself, was won by perennial French housewives favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), second was Julien Antomarchi of VC-La Pomme Marseille and, another former yellow jersey wearer, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) was third.

Further south in the Volta ao Algave, Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) took the final day’s time-trial and the GC ahead of Tejay Van Garderen (HTC) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil). The defending champion Alberto Contador (SaxoBank Sungard), in his first race back since his suspension,  faded into fourth place on the final day.

This week it’s the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol which kicked off with a 6.8km prologue around Benahavis won by Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun. Jonathon Hivert (Saur) won Stage 2’s 161.8km print into Adra while Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) won Stage 3’s sprint into Jaen. Markel Irizar (RadioShack) leads on GC from Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharam-Lotto) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).

Over in Italy at the Trofeo Laigueglia, Daniele Pietropoli (Lampre-ISD) beat off Simone Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli) in a sprint for the line. The Giro di Sardegna got underway this week and in yesterday’s 138km first stage from Olbia to Porto Cervo, Peter Sagan proved too strong on the uphill finish for Allessandro Ballan (BMC) and his Liquigas teammate, Daniel Oss. Sadly, very little of this afore-mentioned action has been televised.

I haven’t even glanced at what’s been happening in the Tour of South Africa and Vuelta Independencia Nacional. A girl’s got to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Meanwhile, I will be looking forward to this week end’s Belgian semi-classics: Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Close run thing

I finally got around to taking my beloved BMC I down to my LBS (Local Bike Shop) to have the set up changed to that of my beloved BMC II. I also splashed out on a new saddle, as the old one was looking kinda sad after close on 30,000km. I had suffered a puncture while out riding this morning thanks to a tack which had left a large hole in my rear tyre and deflated the inner tube.

The hole was so big that there was absolutely no point in replacing the inner tube without first replacing the tyre. I would only have been setting myself up for multiple punctures.  Of course, I cannot possibly have mismatched tyres. So both back and front tyres had to be changed. However, nothing will go to waste. All the rejected bits and bobs went straight into the Burkina Faso box.

We rode back home and, after a shower, I slipped into my favourite lounge wear,the Qatari Airways freebie jimjams, and settled down to watch Stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under, 131km to Willunga. We only caught the last 5 kilometers which ended with a sprint finish among the small leading pack , won by Movistar’s Francisco Ventoso ahead of in-form Michael Matthews and Matt Goss. Cameron Meyer, a world champion on the track and Australian time-trial champion, remains in the leader’s ochre jersey and is poised to take his first stage race in Gamin-Cervelo’s colours.

Euskatel’s Gorka Izagirre, whom we’d last seen winning  in the Basque country, took a bit of a flier but was reeled in just before the line. He’s animated a number of stages and races in Australia and I’ll be keeping a look out for him this year.

Meanwhile my beloved football team were hosting Man “Money’s no Object” City at Villa Park. I was praying that we would not suffer the fickle finger of fate from the returning players (Gareth Barry and James Milner). Furthermore, I was hoping for some sign that £18m spent on Darren Bent had been a wise investment on the part of Houllier.

We won 1-0, after Bent had scored on his debut in the 18th minute. A spirited display, particularly by the back four and the first clean sheet for months. Let’s hope that this is a turning point in our season.

After last week’s 2-0 home defeat by Lille, OGCN are  hosting Olympique Lyonnais tomorrow evening in the French League Cup where, frankly, anything could happen.

We’ll be watching the match on the television after (I hope) having successfully defended our Regional Championship. Like the Departmental Championship, which we narrowly lost this season, competition will be fiercest from two clubs which, unlike us, are chock full of veterans (maximum point scorers). M Le President has rallied the troops and I’ll be there to chivy everyone as, unfortunately, he’ll be working.