Finally………………….

My regular readers have been complaining about the dearth of recent posts. I can only plead pressure of work and some much needed decompression time away from the key board. But, I’m back! Sadly probably not bigger and better than before.

I need to recap on the past couple of weeks: first up, La Kivilev. Once again, fortune smiled on us and despite torrential rains on the Friday afternoon, the Saturday of the event dawned warm, sunny and dry. A few early clouds were quickly banished and the smiles on the faces of the volunteers matched those of the participants.

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev
Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

We attracted our usual stellar cast: the winner of this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Maxim Ingliskiy; the  Kazakh national road race champion, Andrey Mizurov and, well-known local father and son pairing, Stephen and Nico Roche who were making their maiden appearance in the event. Stephen’s presence was particularly welcome as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his holy trinity of Giro, Tour and World Championship. I like to think Nico was looking for that extra edge ahead of the Tour de Suisse or maybe just a welcome opportunity to stretch his legs with his Dad.

Other local riders who would have been there were it not for other commitments included Geoffroy Lequatre, Amael Moinard and Tristan Valentin. Geoffroy was however with us in spirit, if not in the flesh, as his better half animated the event village with the G4 Dimension stand showcasing their cutting edge, top notch cycling and casual wear designed by Geoffroy. It’s stylish and made from the latest hi-tec materials. It won’t make you ride as fast as Geoffroy but at least you’ll look and feel as if you could!

In terms of organisation, everyone agreed, this was our best yet but we can’t rest on our laurels and have already had our first post-mortem to look at where improvements can be made for next year’s event. It’s true that no sooner it’s over, we’re already planning for the following year.

After the Kivilev, I generally feel in need of a vacation. This year was no exception. My beloved was also much in need of some down time in a WiFi free zone. Back in October I had booked a ridiculously inexpensive trip to Barcelona to go and watch my first MotoGP live. Now, I’ve written almost nothing about MotoGP this season but that doesn’t mean to say I haven’t been glued to the action on the wide screen so I was really looking forward to this trip. Rather than drive, we had decided to fly to Barcelona and hire a car. We arrived late on the Thursday evening and drove straight to our hotel, just down the coast from Lloret del Mar.

This immediately brought back childhood memories of my first trip to Spain when I was five. We stayed in Lloret, then an unspoilt strictly Spanish holiday town with one hotel. There was a fiesta one evening while we were there and I so wanted one of those red and white spotted flamenco dresses particularly when I saw lots of cute, dark eyed moppets my age wearing them. I’m still waiting – one day!

The resort was busier than anticipated particularly with bus loads of tourists from all over Europe including what seemed like thousands of kids taking part in a local football tournament. Indeed, we had a team from Nice staying in our hotel. The resort was also ridiculously cheap by comparison with here. For example, we never paid more than a euro for coffee while here the cheapest is Euro 1.40. Just don’t get me started on the price of alcohol. Needless to say, you could easily get blind drunk on ten euros and have change to spare.

Friday morning, bright and early we braved the hotel breakfast buffet before climbing in the car and heading for Montmelo. I wasn’t going to miss a moment of the practice or qualifying sessions. Friday’s a quieter day at the circuit giving spectators the opportunity to wander at will and visit the pit lanes after the day’s practice sessions. It was noisy enough to warrant earplugs although most spectators didn’t bother. The circuit was well appointed and the eats and drinks on offer were reasonably priced which made a change from similar overpriced events in the UK.

I don’t like heights and I particularly don’t like walking up stairs where you can see through the gaps to down below so I had a few nervous moments each day ascending to our tribune seats. Once there, I never budged. Instead it was my beloved who popped up and down to fetch the assorted refreshments. Unsurpringly, many of the specatators arrive on their bikes and then strip off their leathers to sit in their skimpies to enjoy the racing, proudly displaying their tattoos. My beloved and I were a tattoo free islet in a sea of painted bodies.

Everyone's favourite rider: Valentino Rossi
Everyone’s favourite rider: Valentino Rossi

A number of things struck me. We were in Spain but the most popular guy on the circuit by a mile was Valentino Rossi. Indeed, stalls selling his branded products couldn’t take the money fast enough. Not all the riders are well known enough to sell their own brand of essentially t-shirts, caps etc. It’s basically just Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, new kid on the block Marquez and Spiess. I thought Spiess’s designs were superior but he doesn’t sell as much as the others. Rossi outsells everyone else 100 to 1, with Marquez, who’s likely to be the next Rossi, way down in second place. Stoner might be the reigning world champion but he doesn’t seem to engender much support apart from his home crowd.

I’d chosen our tickets well. We had an excellent view of the straight, the leader board, a big screen, the first corner, the first hill and the descent giving us a grandstand seat where most of the action unfolded during practice, qualifying, warm-up and race-day. The weather was excellent throughout the three days albeit with some rain on the Saturday which quickly dried up. Everything worked as per the programme and there’s more than enough action and variety to retain one’s interest throughout the three days. The only thing missing was the excellent commentary from British Eurosport’s crack team of Toby Moody, Julien English and Neil Spalding which I adore as it greatly adds to my knowledge of the sport. It just wasn’t the same in Spanish. Would I go again? You bet.

The Monday after the MotoGP was spent in Barcelona, a place my beloved has visited frequently for work but has never had an opportunity to look around. I was happy to be his guide as we wandered around enjoying Barcelona’s magnificent architecture. Arriving at the airport for our 20:00 flight we were told that the flight had been switched to 08:00 that morning. My beloved had been advised but hadn’t noted the change! Thank goodness he’s a “gold” card holder. We were booked onto the following morning’s flight and put up in the airport hotel where we were fed and watered.

Isola 2000 40 years ago
Isola 2000 40 years ago

This last week end we went up to Isola 2000 with some friends. It was kinda nice having the entire resort to ourselves apart from the assorted wildlife. I drove up there on Friday afternoon while my beloved rode. However, he couldn’t face the ride from the village to the resort so I had to cram him and his bike on the car. After a delicious dinner, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for anything. The descent from the Col de la Lombarde is technical, lots of hairpin bends. I overshot a couple but fortunately without serious consequence largely because the road’s wide and the surface excellent. We rode as far as St Etienne sur Tinee which is where you start the climb for Col de la Bonette conquered by  me and my beloved two years ago. We stopped for coffee and chocolate before turning around and heading back to Isola 200o and that Col.

I let everyone else go at their own pace ie faster than mine. We’d half thought we’d conquer the 17km climb in around 2 hours but as I glanced down at my Garmin I realised I was certainly slo-mowing. The incline’s an average of 8% but for the first five kilometres  my Garmin never dropped below 9%. In fact, 9% was starting to feel like a false flat. It’s only as you start to approach the village (3km from the summit), and a series of tunnels, that the road flattens for a bit. I’m unaccustomed to long, steep hills so this was good training. At least that was what I kept telling myself. Three days later, my legs still ache!

Falling temperatures and leaves

Although this week’s weather has remained warm and sunny, with temperatures rising to the early 20s by midday, next week’s forecast shows the midday temperatures falling, for the first time in ages, below 20C. Despite struggling with the after effects of my post-Copenhagen cold, I have continued to pursue my training plan. Largely because next week will be a rest while I’m back in the UK, visiting my parents. While out training I have been thinking about this week end’s races and specifically the Tour of Lombardy. For an excellent summary of the route, please check out www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This is a race which tends to be slightly tinkered with each year. Tomorrow’s race finishes in Lecco which has rather mitigated against me going to watch it live. Of course, I was even more disappointed when I learned on Tuesday that one of my friends would be riding it. Sadly, the organisers don’t seem to know he’s riding, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the various start lists. He only found out he would be riding on his return from the Tour of Beijing on Monday, so his wife has had to re-submit his whereabouts report. If only we’d known sooner, we’d have hired a larger car and taken his entire family along to watch. It would have been a fun day out.

It’s highly unlikely that my friend will win, although it’s a parcours that suits him. He’ll be riding in support of one of the team’s other riders. So, who is going to win? I have been pondering the front runners and looking back at the results of the most recent races, including yesterday’s Tour du Piemont.

Omega Pharma Lotto’s Fast Phil

Lacking in support at last week end’s Paris-Tours and MIA yesterday, Fast Phil will be looking for his 3rd consecutive win while the rest of the peloton, barring maybe BMC, will be out to stop him. According to the start lists, he’s currently missing 2 team mates and the other 5 riders listed could hardly be described as stellar. Yes, as Omega Pharma Lotto morphs into Quick Omega or whatever next year, everyone’s rather lost interest. It’s going to be tough Phil, but you can do it.

Euskaltel’s Samu Sanchez

The man with more 2nds to his name than Pou Pou comes with a team choc ful of experience but, in yesterday’s race, he was obviously saving himself for Saturday. Either that or he’s not yet fully recovered from his bout of Beijing Belly. Aupa Samu!

Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a TV cameo, expect him to launch at least one of his trademark attacks. Finished 4th yesterday, so obviously on song.

BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet

Winner of Paris-Tours and 2nd yesterday, he’s likely to find tomorrow’s parcours a little too hilly for his liking. However, he might earn some brownie points for himself, his team and next year’s team mate Fast Phil by giving the latter some discreet support.

Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego

Expect both of these riders to be in the mix but keep an eye out for their more in-form team mate Przemyslaw Niemiec.

Liquigas’s Ivan Basso and Vicenzo Nibali

Could they cook up something together tomorrow a la Sidi? Who knows. Basso lives in Varese so should know this route like the back of his hand but Nibali seems the man on form with solid performances yesterday and in Giro dell’Emilia. Could Nibali make a decisive break on one of the descents?

Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema

Probably sharing team leader’s duties with Carlos Barredo, performed well in GP Berghelli and Giro dell’Emilia, but sadly rides for a tactically inept team.

Sky’s Rigoberto Uran

Could be their main man on a parcours that suits his abilities.

Katusha

A team full of recent race winners: Daniel Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez , Luca Paolini and Pippo Pozzato.

HTC

The team most likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Cavendish, having flashed us the rainbow jersey, may  climb off (as he did yesterday) when the race passes close to his place.

Other contenders who may or may not feature in the mix

In no particular order: Movistar’s Pablo Lastras, Garvelo’s Dan Martin, AG2R’s Nico Roche, Radioshack’s Jani Brajkovic, Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang and Farnese’s Giovanni Visconti.

Next year’s race will be moved to the week end after the World Championships, so it’ll be the race of “soon to be Falling Leaves”.

Topsy turvy

I’ve been thrown a little off kilter this week by the Tour of Beijing, television coverage of which understandably has been in the morning. As a consequence, I have sacrified my pre-ride work to watch the racing. Unfortunately, this has added to the work which has piled up while I’ve been feeling under the weather with my cold. The cold has almost, but not quite, disappeared. More importantly, I’m finally managing to get a good night’s sleep. Everything is so much better after 8 hours in the land of nod. Back to the Tour of Beijing, a race which wouldn’t suit me at all. That thick haze of smog which perpetually shrouds the city would have me in respiratory distress.

Pretty much as anticipated, HTC’s Tony Martin blitzed the opening day 11.3km prologue on Wednesday and, in the process, overtook what seemed like half the field but, in reality, was only a couple of riders. He shot by Sammy Sanchez who, while intent on re-living some of his Olympic glory, had sadly been  felled by gastro-troubles: Beijing belly. The British, en masse, occupied the subsequent key places on GC.

The event was taking place during one of the official Chinese holiday periods and one can only assume that the good citizens of Beijing, despite being fervent bike fans, were in the country visiting relatives, hitting a few golf balls, shopping in Hong Kong or sunning themselves on the beach. They were not watching the cycling. However, it later emerged that the Chinese authorities, fearful of any incident marring the race, had once again made it difficult for anyone to watch the race live. However, as it progressed, particularly on Friday’s Queen stage, numbers of spectators increased or maybe it was just the same ones being bussed around to key points. Nonetheless, I do support the UCI’s globalisation initiative. It’s unthinkable that the world’s largest nation doesn’t get a look in, even though they produce most of the bikes. Cycling has to become less parochial if it’s to remain viable. It was particularly pleasing to see the Chinese team getting in breaks and generally holding their own in the peloton. It augurs well for the future of the sport which needs global sponsors, not sugar daddies.

It was generally accepted that whoever won the prologue would probably hang on for the overall as the following stages were largely sprint finishes with the exception of Stage 3, which would be unlikely to unduly perturb Martin. Stage 2 was won by Garvelo’s Heinrich Haussler who’s had a torrid season by anyone’s account. Nice to see him back to winning ways as he probably heads Down Under for a winter of racing. Irish eyes were smiling on Stage 3 which was won by AG2R’s Nico Roche, another rider (and team) badly in need of a win, followed by Radioshack’s Philip Deignan and Sky’s Chris Froome. Wins are like buses, once you’ve got one under your belt, others follow.

Day 4 saw a Liquigas Cannondale double header as Peter Sagan, leading out Elia Viviani for the win, finished 2nd. Today’s final stage, another sprint, where Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov rode the lime-green train to seal the win, and the green points jersey. Radioshack’s Ben King was the best young rider and Eukaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton won the mountain’s jersey. Martin led this race from start to finish with Garvelo’s David Millar (2nd) and Sky’s Chris Froome (3rd) rounding out the podium.

Next up, Mark Cavendish’s first race showcasing the rainbow jersey, Paris-Tours, won last year by Oscar Freire. Phil Gil resplendent in his Belgian national jersey was also racing today and I note he’s got “Fast Phil” written on his bike. I wonder should I get “Slow Sheree” inscribed on mine? The race was animated by two breakaway groups who, having made the junction, left the main peloton behind to contest the win. A lot of work was put in by Leopard Trek’s Stuart O’Grady and Radioshack’s Geoffroy Lequatre early on to keep the breakaways well ahead of a disorganised peloton. You may remember that last year Lequatre was cruelly caught by the bunch 300m from the line thanks to a strong head wind.

With 15km to go, FDJ youngster Arnaud Gerard set off on his own. Team Type 1’s Laszlo Bodrogi and Rubens Bertogliati gave chase, but the group didn’t want to let two fine time-triallists off the leash and they were brought back. Next off the front were BMC’s Greg Van Avermaert and Vacansoleil’s Marco Mercato who overhauled Gerard and, even though the latter was subsequently joined by team mate Mickael Delage and then the rest of the breakaways, it was that duo who went on to contest the win. Van Avermaert, the better sprinter of the two prevailed with 3rd place going to Saxobank’s Kasper Klostergaard. I assume Fast Phil and the Manx Missile rolled in 90 seconds later with everyone else.

Vuelta wrap

What a fantastic Vuelta which maintained the suspense right up until the final summit on the pen-ultimate day. But the “Shark”, having gotten his teeth into the red jersey (again) wasn’t going to be shaken loose and he managed to claw (not that sharks have claws) his way back onto Mosquera’s wheel. As a consolation, Mosquera won his first Grand Tour stage while Nibali sealed the leader’s and combined jerseys. As predicted (by me and pretty much everyone else), Cavendish won the points and Moncoutie the mountain’s. Consolation for Joaquin Rodriguez as he has now climbed atop the UCI rankings.  

The Vuelta threw up some surprises, not all of them pleasant:

1) Denis Menchov, 2nd in the time-trial, who finished 41st on GC. Clearly, despite nicking 3rd spot in the Tour thanks to his performance in the time-trial from my beloved Samu Sanchez, it took more out of Denis than anyone realised. He woz rubbish!

2) Peter Velits on the podium – no one saw that one coming. HTC-Columbia’s first GT podium. The Velits twins and Peter Sagan: don’t mess with Slovakia.

3) Some consolation for my beloved boys in orange: 3 stage wins and Mikel Nieve’s 12 place on GC. All good omens for 2011.

4) David Moncoutie’s mountains jersey (3rd consecutive) and his re-signing for another (final?) year with Cofidis.

5) He’s on his way back from the wilderness: Andrey Kashechkin’s 18th place on GC in his first real ride in 3 years.

6) Christophe Le Mevel’s 15th place on GC: some consolation late in the season.

7) Nico Roche 7th on GC: clearly a chip off the “old block”.

8) Jan Bakelandts 19th on GC: keep an eye on him.

9) Will he, won’t he? Fabulous Fabian jumps ship, leaving both SaxoBank and the Vuelta in the lurch. He may not even go to the World’s after being beaten by both Velits and Menchov in the Vuelta ITT. The SaxoBank cupboard is starting to look rather bare.

10) Using the Vuelta as a predictor of form for the World Championships, you have to say watch out for Philippe Gilbert in Geelong.

 What more can I say? A brilliant 3 weeks of racing, much appreciated by the viewing public, whether on the roadside or in front on the screen. In fact the lack of some of the bigger names may have made the outcome, and the racing, less predictable. It also helped that the Vuelta finished 2 weeks before the Men’s Road Race at the World Championship’s in Melbourne. Full credit must go to the organisers, Unipublic, for staging what most people feel is the best Vuelta in a long time. Long may it continue.

Vuelta Espana 2010 Final Overall Classification

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 87hrs 18’ 33”
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia + 41”
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia + 3’ 02”
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha + 4’ 20”
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank + 4’ 43”
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 4’ 52”
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale + 5’ 03”
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 6’ 06”
9 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions + 6’ 09”
10 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne + 7’ 35”

Mountain Classification
1 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 51pts
2 Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 43
3 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 36

Points Classification
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Team HTC-Columbia 156pts
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions 149
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 119

Team Classification
1 Team Katusha 261hrs 48’ 04”
2 Caisse d’Epargne + 35”
3 Xacobeo Galicia + 12′ 33”