Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.

Date Nights: Football and Fireworks

Not long after we purchased our holiday flat in Nice, its football team OGCN were promoted to the first division – total coincidence. They used to play at a small and rather tatty stadium in the north of the city and, for their first few seasons back in Ligue 1, we had season tickets. However, I got fed up of always being surrounded by heavy smokers and my beloved missing 50% of the home games because of business trips. We decided to cancel our season tickets but continued to support them at a number of home matches throughout the season.

When the team moved a couple of seasons ago to its swanky new stadium in the Var valley, I had hoped that there might just be a small totally smoke-free corner, but there isn’t. In theory, fans shouldn’t smoke in their seats during the match. In practice they do and why oh why do they always sit in the row just in front of me? I’ve tried complaining to the stewards, to no avail. I generally just have to move seats. Not a problem providing the match isn’t a sell-out.

It was OGC Nice’s first home game of the season against Troyes on Friday and I readily agreed to go when my beloved suggested it. There’s nothing I love more than watching live sport with him. On the face of it this should have been an easy win for the boys in black and red who had already beaten the Mighty Ajax to progress to the next round of the Champions League play-offs. They hadn’t lost to Troyes in their last 10 encounters, either home or away.

As usual, in the off-season we’d lost a number of players but had managed to hang onto the mercurial Mario Balotelli and had just acquired former-Dutch international, Wesley Sneijder, neither of whom would be playing that evening. We’d also managed to retain our manager, Lucien Favre and, for the time being, Jean-Michael Seri, our very own Iniesta. We were home debuting a number of new players, including the on-loan from Monaco, Allan Saint-Maximim, who was everyone’s man of the match.

Sadly, despite having 70% possession and numerous shots millimetres wide of the target, we went down 1-2 from a “smash & grab” raid by Troyes who deployed that old defensive trick “11 men behind the ball” – well their manager is a former goal keeper – and hit us twice on the break. Having already lost away at St Etienne, we’re now languishing in the bottom half of the table. Let’s hope we fare rather better against Naples in Wednesday’s Champion’s League match.

Heading away from the match on the bus back to the car parking, the fans were in a sombre mood although this may have been because the heavens had opened towards the end of the match and many were soaking wet!

We were out again on Saturday evening albeit to a “free” event put on by the local community. Three times during the summer months (June – Aug), the promenade is closed for a musical extravaganza and firework display. We’d missed the previous two events so decided to head down after dinner on foot. Although free parking is provided at the Hippodrome, we know from past experience that the traffic is so bad it’s actually quicker on foot.

Many of the restaurants along the front are allowed to increase the number of tables on their terraces. They typically put on special fixed price menus and generally do a roaring trade on these evenings. There are also plenty of less expensive options with a number of food trucks and loads of picnickers on the beach.

Security was reassuringly tight though we were much amused when one of the police horses left his calling card on the closed road. Quick as a flash, his rider leapt out of the saddle, pulled a shovel from his saddle bag and shovelled the dung onto the roots of the nearest tree. I’ve never seen anyone do that before but, given how many kids were enjoying running, riding, scooting or skating up and down the road, it was a sensible precaution.

Aside from the six stages featuring different DJs and musical acts there are plenty of activities to wear out the kids such as bouncy castles, huge slides and so on. To be honest we were feeling a little weary from that morning’s ride and, after walking the length of the promenade, fortified by an ice cream, we wandered back home to watch the fireworks from our balcony.  We also wanted to watch Usain Bolt run in the 4 x 100m relay. Sadly limping from the stadium wasn’t a fitting way for him to end his splendid career. But not even the biggest sporting stars are guaranteed a fairy tale ending. At best they just get to choose when and where, not how.

 

Sheree’s 2016 Sporting Highlights

Wishing you all good health, much happiness and every success in 2017.
There were so many lowlights in 2016 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five  – early new year discipline is no bad thing!
(There are no photographs because I have limited WiFi capabilities).

Football

The inevitable descent of my beloved boys in claret and blue to the Championship was more than offset by the performance of OGC Nice who resurrected the career of Hatem Ben Arfa and qualifed for European football for the first time in around 20 years. As anticipated, at the start of the 2016/17 season, we lost our two frontmen and the manager, but the team’s confidence was boosted by the arrival of Mario Balotelli and the new manager has built on last season’s foundations. We’re currently riding high at the top, yes the top, of the league and, hopefully, will push PSG and Monaco all the way.

MotoGP

I was delighted when Marc Marquez won the blue riband event in his rookie year (2013). When he won back to back victories I grew concerned that the sport was following In the footsteps of F1. Last year’s battle royal between the winner, Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo, and his team mate – easily the most popular MotoGP rider by a country mile – Valentino Rossi, whose clash with Marquez arguably denied the former another championship victory, rather dented the popularity of the two Spanish riders who were booed on home turf. Another fascinating battle this year with nine different victors ignited the competition, invoked greater interest and ultimately led to a wiser and more mature Marquez lifting his third title. One of my new year’s resolutions is a 2017 trip to watch another MotoGP race, probably either in Mugello or again in Catalunya.

Cycling

While we didn’t achieve three grand departs like last year, attending all three grand tours afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations either on the race route or along the way. Aside from watching perennial race favourites,  the Tour of the Basque Country and Clasica San Sebastian, we spent a very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which we’ll definitely watch again this year. In fact, the hotel’s already booked! As are those for all of this year’s races we intend to watch, including those for the starts of all three grand tours, in respectively Sardinia, Germany and France. That’s right, apart from the Giro, the other two are starting outside their home turf. But my cycling season highlight didn’t take place on the road. Instead, on my maiden visit to a velodrome, I witnessed Aussie rider Bridie O’Donnell set a new world record for the hour. It was an inspiring,  perfectly paced and commentated, absorbing ride which I consider I was so lucky to see.

Cricket

My father, a keen cricketer, taught me to play cricket at a young age. This probably contributed greatly to my eye-hand-ball co-ordination in games such as tennis and squash. School champion at throwing the rounders’ ball, I was also a bit of a demon on the cricket pitch on the rare occasions the school played the sport. However, I’ve never had the patience to sit through test cricket, even though I love the stats. Early this year in Australia I watched my first Twenty20 match live and fell in love. This time around we’ll see at least four live games in support of the Melbourne Renegades – great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing.

My Health

I struggled a bit to find a fifth sporting highlight until I had a lightbulb moment. Of course, it’s my return to good health without which any sport is difficult. For someone who’s used to running everyone ragged and having oodles of energy, this past 18 months has been hard, at times even depressing. But the good news is that, after my last disfiguring bout of eczema, over a month ago, I appear to (finally) be heading in the right direction with a big energetic bounce in my step. I can’t wait to get back to riding and running regularly. I’m going to maintain my regime as a fish eating vegan because it’s had so many positive side effects on my health. Sure, I look on enviously as my beloved tucks into a slice of rare roast beef, a Wiener Schnitzel, a bacon sandwich or a plate of pata negra but I can do without them and I’ve discovered so many more interesting ways to eat fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And, please, don’t get me started on the health benefits of tumeric!

Differing fortunes

Yesterday evening, my beloved and I made one of our all too infrequent trips to the Allianz stadium to watch OGCN’s last home match of the season. It was a six-pointer against St Etienne who were one point and one position ahead of us in the league. Both teams are fighting for an all-important place in the Europa Cup.

That OGCN, a team which has spent the last few seasons defying the odds to remain in the top league, was in contention for Europe was nothing short of a miracle. A miracle wrought by the manager Claude Puel and two of the league’s leading goal scorers. Hatem Ben Arfa, who has risen like a phoenix from the ashes at Nice and who’ll no doubt figure strongly in the French squad for this year’s Euro Championships, and Valere Germain, a player on loan from neighbouring AS Monaco.

While qualification for Europe won’t help us retain the services of either of those three, it will help us attract reasonable replacements. Barcelona FC are eyeing up Ben Arfa, while AS Monaco, who were thrashed 6-1 away from home yesterday evening, will surely welcome back Germain with open arms. After all, he’s scored more goals than any of their first team players this season. Unhappy wealthy football club owners will undoubtedly also be eyeing up Puel, and the success he’s brought to OGCN, before bringing out the big bucks to tempt him away. It’s inevitable!

Of course, Nice have other players, such as Ricardo and Mendy, who will also no doubt have attracted the attention of richer clubs so once again the 2016/17 season will be one of rebuilding the team, but it’ll be much easier to do it from a position of strength with a place in the Europa League.

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Coincidentally, we won yesterday’s match 2-0. A tight and exciting goalless first half but then the Greens lost their heads and two men in the second half allowing Germain to strike twice in quick succession in the last 10 minutes of play. The fans were ecstatic. We had flares and a laser light show to bring down the curtain on a very successful season.

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A total contrast to the fortunes of my beloved Aston Villa who were ignominiously demoted without a whimper to the Championship. The clear out of dead wood has already begun and the quicker someone relieves Randy Lerner of his ownership of the club, which has stagnated under his stewardship, the better. Surely, there must be more Thai billionaires who’d like to have their own football team?

Killed off

Yesterday morning I killed the perpetrator of some unspeakable acts of gluttony. He’d spent the previous night gorging himself on my right shoulder, as the raised red welts bore witness. He’d also dined off my right hand and fingers. Death was the only reasonable response.

The weather has been both cold and chilly this week end, with rain yesterday afternoon and evening. This has not prevented us from riding though it has restricted us to the coastal roads. Our disappointment with the weather was much ameliorated by yesterday’s football scores. After a unsatisfactory loss in the dying minutes to West Ham last Wednesday, the Villa boys bounced back to thump Bolton 5-1. This was particularly gratifying as the number of ex-Villa players at Bolton is legion. Not to be outdone, OGC Nice registered their third win on the trot, treating PSG to their first home loss of the season.

 My beloved’s gout was bothering him again this morning, so I left him in bed and cycled to the club’s rendezvous. A heated discussion ensued on how best to avoid the routes closed to traffic and cyclists alike thanks to the marathon. A solution was rapidly found and off we cycled, shortly to be joined by those from a neighbouring club. Clearly a popular solution which afforded us glimpses of the runners heading in the opposite direction. In Nice, we profited from a closed Promenade des Anglais, cycling merrily across all four of the lanes – what a treat.

 We had somehow misplaced one of our groups and I found myself cycling with the better ie faster riders who dropped me as soon as we climbed out of Nice. I didn’t see most of them again until the pointage although I did pass a few who’d punctured.  The club was continuing on to Menton and returning by way of the same route as last week end. But, given the weather, I decided to cycle straight back. That way I’d have plenty of time to prepare and enjoy lunch before settling down to watch the Chelsea v Manchester United match.

 After yesterday’s frolic in the sun, the Amstel Curacao race won by one

Bert and companion
Bert and companion in Curacao

Alberto Contador, there’s no real racing until the Tour Down Under so it’s during this period that my interest turns to football and cross-country skiing. Yes, yet another sport where the participants wear lycra!

Guilty pleasures

The alarm went off at 07:00 and we went through our usual Sunday morning routine, leaving the flat an hour later. The sky was overcast, the air was chilly but rain wasn’t forecast.

As we cycled into Nice I remarked on the lack of cyclists. Indeed, we’d only passed joggers, no doubt preparing for next Sunday’s Nice-Cannes marathon. My husband then fessed up that he’d not thought to put any of the clocks forward an hour last week end. Yes, that’s right, we’d gotten up at 06:00 am.

It was more humid and even more overcast as we rode through Monaco towards, Menton. Not knowing the location of the pointage, we headed for the beach road eventually turning off it into the town. My husband, as is his wont, disappeared up ahead. While I, unafraid to ask for directions, did just that and easily located the pointage. My husband, along with a host of other cyclists, forged on ahead to the border with Italy only to return 20 minutes later!

We returned by way of La Turbie which, this week, afforded us very little in the way of scenic views thanks to the low lying mist. We stopped off at our usual feedzone for coffee and newspapers before heading home for a hot shower and lunch. I had no plans to go out later even though OGC Nice were playing at home against Le Mans, a fixture I fully expected them to win. 

After lunch, wearing my night attire, I like to put my feet up on my sofa (yes, we have one each), read the Sunday newspapers, do the Sudoku in The Sunday Times and watch whatever sport there’s on TV. Today we were able to watch the Brits rack up another impressive array of medals in the first track cycling World Cup of the season in Manchester. 

Now, you may be wondering why I don’t  get dressed. My logic is that I’m not going anywhere, so why bother. I apply the same reasoning in the morning. If I’m going cycling around 11:00am, I’ll lounge in my nightwear before donning my lycra.  Countless courier companies and the postman, who all tend to deliver early in the morning, often catch me in my all enveloping, white, waffle dressing gown.

Postscript: OGC Nice beat Le Mans 1-0

Four in a row

From last week to this, we’ve gone from an Indian summer to autumn. Today I wore my long sleeved club jersey and gilet, teamed with ¾ bib shorts for what might well be my last assault this year on the Col de Vence. It was a chilly descent back home and I was forced to don my windproof.

After my 100km ride I was back home in time to watch the Tour of Lombardy on Rai Tre. I prefer, if at all possible, to watch racing on the host broadcaster’s channel.  Of course, I should have been tackling the Vuelta and post Vuelta ironing mountains, but what the heck!

I see the weather around Como was a little chillier than here and the sky somewhat greyer, but at least it was dry. Obviously the Italian commentators were hoping for and even anticipating a 4th Cunego victory.

Philippe “Pants on Fire” Gilbert had other ideas. Going for his 4th consecutive win in 10 days, he took off in the last 6km and only Sammy Sanchez was able to bridge up to him. Vino tried too but dropped back to the chasing group.

Both riders worked together until the final few hundred metres. Sammy gave it his best shot but he was never going to beat Gilbert in a sprint. Let’s not forget this is the man who bested Tom Boonen in a sprint at Paris-Tours last week end. The Italians had to settle for Cunego’s team mate, Santambrogio, winning the “most combative”.

Podium Boys
Podium Boys

So, two of my favourite riders finishing 1st and 2nd; a highly satisfactory result which could  have been bettered only if Vino, rather than Kolobnev, had also finished on the podium. This wasn’t the only good bit of sporting news. Villa beat Chelsea 2-1 at home. Let’s see if OGCN can make it three in a row tomorrow evening.

Tomorrow we’re off to Beausoleil, followed by a climb up Mont des Mules to La Turbie, weather permitting. Yes, there’s a storm brewing with spectacular flashes of lightening illuminating the shoreline. With any luck it’ll have cleared up by tomorrow morning.

Postscript: Chilly, but sunny and very enjoyable ride today; Vino won the Chrono des Nations (3rd in a row) but OGC Nice failed to give me 4 in a row by losing 4-1 away at Lorient.

On top of the world

Today was my first time up Mont Chauve, a short but steep climb between

View from Mont Chauve
View from Mont Chauve

Falicon and Aspremont. I had not done this one before as in previous years I would have already headed off to the World Cycling Championships to work as a volunteer. Their loss this year is my gain. I momentarily flirted with taking part in the race up the hill but eventually decided against it. Maybe next year, now that I know what’s involved. I passed the race in progress on the way down. There were no female participants and immediately regretted not having taken part. Of course, I would have been last overall but the first (and only) woman. My husband broke a spoke on the ascent and so, rather than head back  via Aspremont, we descended back into Nice and rode home along the coastal road.

Valverde
Valverde

The Vuelta finishes today and this man is going to win his first Grand Tour.  He’s looked pretty secure in gold and has ridden a smart race; for once,  sacrificing stage victories for the bigger picture. Joining him on the podium will be Sammy Sanchez (2nd) and Cadel “Cuddles” Evans (3rd). Commentators have unfairly been referring to Cadel as the “nearly man”. Wholly unjustified. Aside from the inopportune timing of that puncture, you’ve only got to look at the composition of his team and compare it to Valverde’s to understand their respective placings. 

ToB 2009 Podium
ToB 2009 Podium

The Tour of Great Britain concluded yesterday in London. Columbia HTC hoovered up most of the stages, and the overall, with Edvald Boassen Hagen, already a firm favourite with the crowds,  who will be riding next year for Britain’s new Sky Team.  Two riders, the afore-mentioned EBH and Thomas De Gendt, Topsport Vlaanderen, swiped all the jerseys. 

My beloved boys in claret and blue easily beat Pompey, my Dad’s former team, at home. Fittingly, the man of the match was Pompey’s goal-keeper, David James, one of my favourite footballers. I still rue the day that Villa sold him to West Ham. Meanwhile, Nice have continued their slide to the penultimate place in the league (thank goodness for Grenoble). Beaten 1-3 at home in the local derby with Monaco, a team whose fortunes are going in the reverse of ours.