Bienvenue Patrick Vieira and Danilo

The season had barely finished before there was the usual speculation as to which players OGCN was going to lose. Having missed out on European football by a measly one-point, it was inevitable that some of our more talented players would be on the move. We already knew that after two very successful seasons our manager Lucien Favre would be moving to pastures new, back in Germany. However, we have already managed to secure his replacement, a certain Patrick Vieira who hails from just down the road in Cannes.

His appeal, particularly for OGCN, is his desire to play attractive football and his experience of working with youngsters, thanks to his time looking after them at Manchester City where his path would’ve crossed with that of Super Mario. Obviously, he’s played football at the highest level but has been involved in coaching for a number of years. OGCN are hoping he’ll be able to install that winning mentality in its players, particularly the younger ones. This means Vieira will leave his position as coach for MLS side New York City mid-way through the season.

I’m hoping that Vieira will convince Super Mario to stay. Allegedly, Olympique Marseille are the only team to have shown any interest in signing him. However, he should stay as his career has been revitalized at Nice where he scored 26 goals last season – his best ever strike rate. Vieira has revealed he’s spoken to the 27-year-old Italian and expects the forward to be present for pre-season training. He confirmed:

I called Mario Balotelli to wish him a happy holiday and also to tell him that we would see each other on 2nd July for the resumption of training.

Meanwhile, just one day after the transfer window opened, the club signed Danilo, a Brazilian who previously played for Portuguese side Braga. In line with its stated philosophy, the club had targeted a youngster with great potential whom it had been following for several seasons.

A defensive midfielder who is capable of driving forward and a member of the Brazilian international youth set-up, 22 year old Danilo came through the ranks at Vasco de Gama and has already acquired some solid experience of European football. He then signed for Braga and played a full season for them in 2014/2015 before being loaned to Valencia where he’s played in La Liga, the Champions League and the Europa League. Further loan spells ensued before he returned to Braga last season.

That’s two incoming but what about potential outgoings? It appears Manchester City is interested in our Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri who comes with a €40mn. price tag though many other teams including Chelsea, Napoli, Arsenal and West Ham are also keen on the 26 year old. Though I don’t expect anything to happen until after the World Cup.  West Ham have also been eyeing up 21 year old Allan Saint-Maximin and Brazilian Marlon, on loan from FC Barcelona. However, there are more rumours about Alassane Plea who could follow Favre to Borussia Dortmund.

Of course, I might bemoan that our brightest and best may be off to pastures new at OGCN but don’t get me started on Aston Villa. My beloved boys in claret and blue are in all sorts of hot water since failing to gain promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs.

However, let’s put all that to one side and focus on the FIFA World Cup which kicks off today in Russia. Who’re you putting your money on? Obviously, I’d love France to win and I’ll be fluttering my tricolor flag, courtesy of having watched France v Italy at the Allianz Riviera stadium two weeks ago. However, it’s hard to look past the holders Germany and the mouth-watering array of talent on display from South America. Having the benefit of an enforced period of rest due to injury, I fancy Neymar for the golden boot as he’ll be fresher than most. Bring it on!

 

 

Things my beloved says: Celine Dion’s in town in July!

Yes, Celine Dion’s in town on 20 July and there are still unsold tickets! This isn’t as unusual as you might think. The French don’t like to pay for things months in advance, they like to be more spontaneous. When my beloved unleashed this astonishing news I merely advised that if he wanted to go he would  a) need to buy a ticket and b) go on his own. I’m perhaps being unfair on Celine here. I’m sure her show will be fabulous and the woman has an undeniably fantastic voice but she’s just not my cup of tea, she’s my beloved’s.

In years past, I would’ve immediately acquired two tickets for the show and then, on the night, my beloved would be unavoidably detained somewhere and unable to attend. Leaving me with two tickets to a concert I never wanted to go to in the first place. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened over the years. However, I’ve gotten wiser in my old age. If he wants to see something, and I don’t, he has to buy himself a ticket. I can tell you now, he won’t be going to the Celine Dion Show. Even though, according to the office diary – not always the most up to date record – he’s in town that night, along with Celine.

The new arrangements work well from my perspective. If he wants to go to see OGCN play football, I’ll be happy to join him but he has to buy the tickets. If I want to see something, I’ll always check beforehand whether he wants to come too. He hardly ever declines. This way I’m spared seeing things I never wanted to see in the first place or wasting my money. Okay, so I sound like a bit of a philistine. I’m pretty much always up for a sporting event, less so the ballet, opera or a classical concert. Though most years, I’ll get tickets to one or more of the various Jazz events in the area and he’s happy to come along too.

Friends recently had two tickets available for a Depeche Mode concert which I’d happily have taken off their hands except we were away for the event. I’ve seen the band a number of times in the past and would have enjoyed seeing them again. My friends were surprised largely because last year I turned down their offer of two tickets for Coldplay which my beloved would’ve accepted. Again, I have nothing per se against Coldplay but I couldn’t sit through one of their concerts. My beloved was most disappointed. Well, actually he wasn’t. That night, the wind was blowing in our direction and he listened to the concert from our balcony for free. Sadly, that won’t be an option for Celine as she’s playing at OGCN’s home stadium which is way down the Var valley. No amount of wind will carry the sound of her concert to our balcony.

My beloved’s frequent business trips to London afford him the opportunity to indulge in his (misguided) love of musicals, something I abhor. Nothing would persuade me to see another one. Been there, got the t-shirt, never ever going again.

Now I love the theatre and would see at least one play per month when we lived in London. I’ve been to see plays here in France and have not had any trouble understanding what’s going on. Not so my beloved. We started going to the new multiplex that’s opened near us and watching the latest films in French. It was only when I realised that my beloved’s understanding of the plot was flawed because of a linguistic misunderstanding that we reverted to seeing films in their original language. Plays would similarly probably be a step too far. Also, he doesn’t share my interest in exploring situations. He likes plays with a start, middle and end. Yes, we’re culturally estranged though united in our love of sport, particularly live sport.

2015 Highlights

In a year of so many highs, which ones really stood out in yet another busy and thoroughly enjoyable year?

1. Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships

If I had to pick only one, this would be it for a myriad of reasons. Firstly a big shout out to the organisers and the people of Richmond for putting on a well-organised, well-supported fantastic World Championships. None will ever surpass my first in Salzburg  – a girl never forgets her first – but this one came pretty close.

Next, I (finally) got to meet Greig Leach as we began to collaborate on our second book together. On so many levels, it’s odd for him have an editor who’s not American, editing American prose. But I know that I bring my knowledge of the cycling world and obsessive eye for detail which is the perfect counter-point for Greig’s broad brush perspective. Our second book will be published in early February but you can order a copy now.

The World Championships are a great opportunity to meet up with friends old and new, including VeloVoices’ very own Panache. I’ve been working with these guys since 2012 and have still to meet everyone in person! I not only met Panache aka Chris but his lovely wife Audrey, who was nursing a broken foot, his best cycling buddy Chad and his equally lovely wife Belva. I helped Chris, Chad and another of their friends Scott have a memorable cycling holiday at the Tour a couple of years back. I think the next trip might well be in the Dolomites with their better halves! I am poised to lend a helping hand.

Sagan wins Worlds (image: Greig Leach)
Sagan wins Worlds (image: Greig Leach)

I love it when someone I know wins a race. Admittedly, Peter Sagan was one of the bookies’  favourites for the men’s road race title but, with only two team-mates and a season which had not perhaps gone the way everyone expected, the pressure was on. Peter delivered in spades with a swashbuckling attack, a risk-all descent and a hanging on for grim death finish. He was warmly congratulated by his peers and the fans after winning in style – something he does only too well.

2. Three Grand Departs

More by accident than design, this year I was fortunate to attend the start of all three of the grand tours. Impossible to pick a favourite as they were all special for many reasons. The Tour is always fantastically well-organised and I take my hat off to anyone who can organise the equivalent of 21 Royal Weddings with barely a hitch. It runs like a well-oiled machine but its sheer size mitigates against rider and fan intimacy which is much more easily achieved at both the Giro and Vuelta which are both rather more laid back affairs.

3. My Beloved Aston Villa

My late father (far left) holding 1957 FA Cup won by AVFC
My late father (far left) holding 1957 FA Cup won by AVFC

The boys managed to reach the FA Cup final where they were roundly beaten by a vastly superior Arsenal but, more importantly, they managed to (again) stave off relegation. Unfortunately, key players wanted out and were sold to be replaced with a bunch of very promising youngsters, including a player from my French team OGCN. A change of managers has not managed to lift the boys off the bottom of the Premiership where they languish easily in last place. I fear for them, I really do. Let’s hope they get their act together under Remi Gard (who is a disciple of OGCN Manager Claude Puel) and play (much) better in the first half of 2016. I’m hoping Gus will lend us Loic Remy, another ex-OGCN and OC Lyon player, who can score goals.

Can’t get enough

Youngest-ever, Marc Marquez
Youngest-ever, Marc Marquez

Yesterday morphed into an almost perfect day of sporting pleasure. I dropped my beloved off at the airport and, as the sun was shining, decided an early ride was in order. It was a perfect weather for a ride. I wasn’t the only one to think that as the roads were crowded with cyclists. I’m suffering a bit at the moment with my tree pollen allergy which gives me pink scratchy eyes, a runny nose and a wheeze. It’s worse when it’s windy, like on Saturday. But yesterday the wind was relatively benign which probably accounted for the rain shower which began just as I reached home.

Freed from the restrictions of having to feed my beloved, I enjoyed a lazy soak in my spa bath and even used the spa facility – sheer bliss. Lunch was left-overs from Saturday evening which I enjoyed on a tray in front of the television, so as not to miss a second of Sunday’s jam-packed sporting action. Given conflicting schedules I’m ashamed to admit I had all three televisions tuned in to various channels and could, but didn’t, have resorted to my laptop.

First up the London Marathon. Watching this always brings back memories of my own participation in 1994 where I do believe I set a record for the slowest recorded finish, just seconds before the cut-off. That’s almost 20 years’ ago – scary thought. I keep saying I’ll do another one, but I haven’t. There’s still plenty of time! It was great to see that the shocking events in Boston had increased, rather than diminished, the support for the race.

Then I was transported to Turkey to watch the first stage of the Presidential Tour, won in fine style by German sprinter Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano). I was however on friend-watch, which always makes any event much more enjoyable, and I saw them all finish safely in the bunch. At the same time I was checking on progress over in Belgium at La Doyenne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Handily, the rain had delayed the start of the tennis final in Monte Carlo where Nadal was bidding for his ninth win. That man owns the clay courts there but unfortunately not this year. Novak Djokovic won in imperious fashion, no doubt hoping to do the same in Paris, at the French Open. Nadal showed flashes of his old self but the long injury lay-off inevitably took its toll. He wasn’t able to respond as one might have anticipated despite the urging of the crowd, hoping for a third set.

Back to racing in Belgium, where fellow-Brummie Dan Martin surprised many with an emphatic victory, well-orchestrated by his Garmin-Sharp team. It also showed that Ryder Hesjedal, the defending Giro champion is on the money two-weeks before he gets to defend his pink jersey. Mechanicals proved the undoing of a couple of the Spanish riders while the Colombians again animated the race.

Cycling over, I stayed with two wheels and watched the MotoGP races from Austin, Texas. I made a mental note to try and visit my friends who live there next year!  I have tracked with interest the last few seasons the progress of Spanish prodigy Marc Marquez who had pole for the blue riband event – the youngest-ever rider to achieve that feat. However, first up were the Moto2 and Moto3 races, the former including the wonderfully named Maverick Vinales and, the latter, Marc’s younger brother Alex.

Now for reasons I won’t pretend to understand, but which have largely to do with the track and the brakes, Honda bikes were at a considerable advantage to the Yamaha ones. The reverse of the situation two weeks ago in Qatar. It was a thrilling race of cat and mouse with the two Honda riders, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, well out in front and leaving us wondering who was going to win. Three laps from home we had our answer when Marquez built an unassailable lead to become the youngest-ever winner of a MotoGP race. He’s got an old head on very young shoulders and I’m sure I’m going to be using the description “youngest-ever” quite a lot.

Just enough time to check on OGCN’s progress at PSG – not good. We went down 3-0. Wherever the team ends up in the Ligue, it’s been a fantastic season. The team have punched well above their weight and budget for which credit has to be given to the manager. A few of you will be thinking what about the F1 from Bahrain. What about it? I’m not an F1 fan although I do know Vettel won. By which time I was more than ready for bed!

Sheree’s Sporting Highlights of 2012

With blogging over on VeloVoices absorbing much of my free time, I’ve not really mentioned much about my sporting year. And when I say “my” I mean the one I watched either in person or on the television. So in no particular order, here’s my personal sporting highlights of 2012.

1. Being in Paris to watch Bradley Wiggins on the podium as the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a quite magical and rather surreal experience, despite the fact that it had been pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of the race. He’s given me bragging rights down at the cycling club for perpetuity. Thanks Bradley, or should I say Sir Bradley!

Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year's Vuelta
Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year’s Vuelta

2. Alberto Contador winning the Vuelta a Espana with his never say die attitude when most of us, me included, thought the pocket-sized Joaquim Rodriguez had it in the bag. I love the fact that Alberto never just turns up at a race, he always rides to win. Chapeau Alberto!

Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache
Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache

3. Another lesson in persistence and proving that you do have to be “in it, to win it”. Lady luck smiled on Alexander Vinokourov when Fabian Cancellara fell and the rest of the leading bunch hesitated long enough for Alex to seize his chance with both hands and sail off into the sunset on a golden wave.

4. London 2012, both the Olympics and Paralympics were magic from start to finish and put down a marker that other cities will find hard to follow, let alone emulate. It was a glorious few weeks of sporting highs, sufficient to make everyone forget their economic woes.

Marc%20Marquez

5. Marc Marquez being  crowned Moto2 World Champion and making the move to the blue riband event riding next season with Dani Pedrosa who pushed the MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo all the way. I so enjoyed my trip to watch the racing at the GP Catalunya that I’m hoping to schedule another trip next year, possibly to Italy. Mugello here we come!

6. Sebastien Loeb winning his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship and being voted most admired French sporting hero 2012. What took you so long? The guy’s a god on four wheels.

7. Rafa Nadal showing once more that he’s the clay court King at Rolland Garros.

8. Introducing my friend’s son to road racing. He’s now hooked, too exhausted to get into any naughty escapades and has his sights firmly set on a career in professional road racing.

9. OGCN punching once more well above their weight and hanging onto to their spot in the French first division of football. Sadly, I cannot say the same about AVFC’s dreadful season even though they too managed to avoid relegation.

peloton-atlantic

10. Visiting more of the Basque country during the Tour of the same name and this year’s Vuelta. I can’t wait to go back next year, the place is visually spectacular with a truly interesting culture and don’t even get me started on their gastronomy. I’d move there in a nano second if it wasn’t for the weather. Yes, it’s green for a reason.

Just another week end

The incredibly mild weather is continuing which isn’t great news for those planning on going skiing. This, of course, has meant I have been out and about on the bike since my return from the Big Apple. Yesterday was the Telethon, France’s version of “Children in Need” but I was too busy with my guests to take part in the Club’s ride.

One of my English students is contemplating what to do after leaving school. French schools appear to be no better than English when it comes to dishing out career advice, so we’re lending a helping hand. I had invited around a couple of family friends for dinner. One’s an accountant and the other’s Head of HR at a bank in Monaco so they were both able to impart some words of wisdom and advice to our young friend.

Having guests for dinner’s an excuse to try out some new recipes. I decided on English cooking with a twist as my theme for the evening. I cooked a silky smooth cauliflower soup with black pudding, fish and chips with home-made tomato ketchup and for dessert, apple crumble and custard. Obviously, nothing was quite as it seemed. 

I dusted the monkfish in curry powder and fried it for a few minutes and served it with celeriac chips which had first been confit in goose fat before being fried too. The crumble was perched atop cored apple halves stuffed with rum soaked raisins and served with my home made custard, not a tin of Bird’s in sight. There was also a cheese course and my petit fours to finish. I believe the boys have quite changed their minds about English cooking.

Our young guest stayed over and rode Saturday morning with my beloved and his friends. He returned to collect his stuff and the two of them polished off the remaining crumble doused in custard. Who knew raw crumble tasted so good? Yes, the “spare” crumble hadn’t been cooked. Still both declared it ideal cycling food.  I went for a 3 hour ride after they’d left but returned too late to prevent them eating it. 

Following on from my Garmin malfunction, still waiting to hear from my LBS on that one, the screen went blank on my 7 month old Dell.  Now I’d had the same problem with my old Dell, but only after 7 year’s use. I immediately spoke to their Support Desk but I’ve got to make contact with them again tomorrow morning.

Saturday afternoon, I replaced my Blackberry. The mouse on the old one had given up the ghost. It would only work in two rather than four directions so, sadly, it had to go. Of course, the functionality on the new one is completely different and I’m still grappling with it.

Today was the Departmental pointage at Menton. We lost our crown last year and I don’t expect we’ve recovered it. Nevertheless, as M Le President was working, I was on hand to chivy the boys. After the pointage we continued on in to Italy for a coffee with a few clubmates. The coffee’s good in France but it’s cheaper and better in Italy. This added a few extra kilometers to the ride, just over 100km by the time we got back home.

We collected the papers, showered and then I whipped up a quick lunch before we settled down on the sofa to read the papers and watch the television. It’s allowed, we’ve expended a significant number of calories.

Profiting from the brief respite from live cycling, I’ve been reconnecting with the world of round balls. Football and tennis to be exact, and with mixed fortunes. My beloved boys in claret and blue lost 1-0 at home to the Red Devils, a disappointing result from a strange team selection. OGC Nice were at home to Rennes and frankly I feared the curse of the returning former manager and players. Not a bit,  the boys won 2-0 to keep them connected with those teams sloshing around in the final quarter of the league. A loss would have had unthinkable consequences.

It was the Davis Cup Final this week end, Spain v Argentina. Naturally, the boys playing on home turf were favourites to lift the cup for the 5th time in 11 years. They didn’t disappoint, despite heroic performances from Del Potro and Nalbandian, Nadal wrapped it up today with a thrilling reverse singles which swung first in favour of Argentina and then back again like a pendulum. But no one really doubted the outcome: Spain victorious again.

A fan’s lot

I gave up my long-held Aston Villa season ticket at the end of the 2005/06 season when we made our permanent move to France. I did so believing that I would be back and forth to UK on a regular basis to watch my boys. But I haven’t watched them live since, just on the television. It’s no real substitute and I oft cite Premiership football and my team as the things I miss most about living in France.

My beloved’s and my first date was at a football match, which Villa won. At football matches, other spectators would often comment that it was nice the missus had come too to which my beloved always replied that he was accompanying me, not the other way around. He often jokes that when we married he vowed to “loved, honour, obey and support Aston Villa”. I’m fortunate that he had no clear football allegiances having occasionally watched Spurs with his Dad, who hailed originally from north London, and Swindon with his maternal grandfather.

On the other hand my blood runs claret and blue. My mother was born not far from the club and all her relatives were Villa fans and my father moved from the south coast to play for the youth team. It was a no brainer really. I first started going to matches in the company of my Dad’s best friend and his father. Thereafter, I would either go on my own or with friends. You just cannot beat the atmosphere of a live football match. There’s something quite primeval and tribal about the whole thing.

In some season’s past, I saw every match home and away. No mean feat for a woman with a demanding job. While, Villa Park is obviously my favourite ground there’s many others I’ve enjoyed visiting. Unfortunately, as an away fan, you tend to get put in the worst spots in the ground and spend the entire match on your feet, despite having parted for a small fortune for a seat. Some grounds have great atmospheres, such an Anfield, but IMHO the ground with the most electric atmosphere is St James’s Park. It’s right in the centre of Newcastle and everyone, and I do mean everyone, on match day wears that familiar black and white striped shirt. I’ve even seen grannies with shopping trollies proudly wearing them. Away supporters are relegated to the gods, so there’s just a Geordie wall of sound around the ground.

Initially, we had season tickets for OGCN but my beloved’s travel commitments meant he missed more games than he saw, plus there’s never any problem getting tickets, despite the small capacity. The one things I hate about French stadia, as it’s outside, you can smoke whereas I’d long sat in a no smoking area in Villa Park. I have written to OGCN asking if, in the new stadium, we can have a no smoking area. I’m still awaiting a response.

For me yesterday’s match against Spurs summed up Villa’s current plight. We were played off the pitch (30% v 70% possession) by a vastly superior side who’ve invested long and hard in their team, no doubt hoping to recapture their glory days and a constant diet of European football. Our alleged 4-4-2 formation was just a thinly veiled excuse for 11 men behind the ball. Former Villa keeper Brad Friedel was rarely troubled. All we managed was 1 shot on target and 2 off. Of course, that one shot might have levelled the score and changed the face of the game. But, sadly, I suspect not.

As a fan, it’s hard to accept, perhaps, a team’s glory days are behind them and 6th in the Premiership, achieved in three successive seasons under Martin O’Neill, is as good as it’s ever going to get for the forseeable future. Our role is as a developmental squad, where we either train young players or bring on more seasoned ones for the “better” clubs. In recent seasons we’ve lost an entire midfield: Ashley Young, Stuart Downing, Gareth Barry and James Milner. Yesterday evening, it showed.

So if indeed our best days are behind us, allow me to wallow in them. AVFC are the 5th most decorated club in English football (no prizes for guessing the others) with 19 major domestic honours, 7 League championships and one of only five English clubs to have won a European Cup (again no prizes for guessing the others). We even beat mighty Barcelona to win the 1982-83 European Super Cup. We’re the only club to have hosted international matches over three centuries and have provided more England international players than any other club.

I’ve been fortunate to watch my beloved team at Wembley, and see them win the League Cups in 1994 and 1996. My most favourite moment

Thanks for the memories

remains, not unnaturally, that evening in late May 1982 when, having won the First Division Championship in 1980-81, we took on the might of Bayern Munich at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, and won.

Sodden Sheree’s sporting snippets

We may only have had 4 days of rain but Noah and his Ark could have been pressed into service to rescue the aquatic life in Marineland and a whole host of villagers whose houses have been flooded thanks to a number of local rivers bursting their banks. Despite having rain water cascading down the common parts of our apartment block yesterday morning, I’m so very glad we live in a flat, on a hill. Apart from the leaks, our only casualty appears to be one of the trees which upended itself in the gale force winds on Saturday evening. Fortunately, nothing and no one was damaged and the gardeners have had the chain saws out this morning chopping it into bite size pieces.

As we weren’t able to ride outside over the week end, or indeed go anywhere much, we increased our exposure to television sport and lapped up a number of events.

MotoGP

At the season’s curtain closer, GP Valencia, homage was fittingly paid to the late Marco Simoncelli by the competitors, the officials, the teams and the fans. There were tears too for the retiring Loris Caporossi who aged thirty-eight has spent twenty-two seasons  in GP.

Casey Stoner had already won the blue riband Championship but neither that nor the intermittent rain prevented him from winning his 10th race of the season, by the smallest of margins from Ben Spies. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on the podium clinched his third place in the Championship, behind the absent Jorge Lorenzo who’s still recovering from an injury to his finger. Any thoughts Valentino Rossi might have had of rescuing his worst season ever disappeared on the first corner of the first lap as he and fellow Ducati riders, Nicky Hayden and Randy De Puniet, were taken out by Alavara Bautista’s Suzuki.

In the continued absence of Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl won the Moto2 title despite falling on the 5th lap. Instead, three riders (Pirro, Kallio, Aergeter) made their maiden trips to the podium this season. Nico Terol won the 125cc Championship at a canter from Johann Zarco, who fell on the 3rd lap, despite finishing Sunday’s race behind the splendidly named Maverick Vignales. Hector Faubel was third. Roll on Qatar in April next year and 1000cc bikes.

Track Cycling

Sticking with two wheels, we watched the first round of the World Cup from Astana’s brand spanking new velodrome. There weren’t too many spectators but Alexandre Vinokourov was on hand, to lend a hand, with the presentation of the prizes, specifically the flowers. Is this the first time that Alex has been a podium boy? If so, he’s a natural.

Sir Chris picked up a silver in the keirin and sprint gold while Dani King won a silver in the omnium. Otherwise, it was slim pickings for the Brits. However a number of the favourites were either missing or missing in action. The next round’s in Columbia in early December.

Road Racing

Marcel Kittel beat a bunch of holidaying cyclists to take the Amstel Curacao race. As usual we were treated to the unedifying sight of topless cyclists, with scary tan lines and dodgy taste in swimming trunks,  frolicking on the beach. Absent from this year’s festivities, Alberto Contador who was instead racing down the aisle to wed his long term lady friend. I wish them both every happiness.

Football

Sir Alex’s 25-year tenure at the Theatre of Dreams was ackowledged with the naming of a stand in his honour. Those are going to be rather large shoes to fill when he finally steps down. No mention was made of their short-sighted attempt to get rid of him in 1994 before he started winning anything and everything with the Red Devils.

My beloved boys in claret and blue managed to preserve their lead and all 3 points by beating Norwich 3-2 at home. Goals were scored by the revitalised Gabby Agbonlahor and Darren Bent. AVFC are now 8th in the league one place above their week end opponents. OGC Nice were unable to keep a clean sheet in the local derby away at Marseille’s velodrome. Typically, one of goals was supplied by way of a penalty in 96th minute by OGCN old boy, Loic Remy.  We’re now occupying 17th spot in the Ligue and dicing with relegation danger.

Marathon

Kenyan Geoffroy Mutai (54kg) won yesterday’s New York marathon in an astonishing 2hrs 5′ 6″ without the assistance of a pace-setter, to add to his Boston title. Another Mutai, Emmanuel (no relative) was second, having previously scooped the honours in London. These two are part of a formidable Kenyan team of six who are competing for three marathon places in the London 2012 Olympics. Wonder what these boys would be like on bikes?

Sheree’s sporting smorgasbord

When I go back to the UK to visit my parents I feel as if I’m in some sort of parallel universe: no internet, no L’Equipe and a dull diet of daytime TV. The world continues but I seem stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario. My mother’s illness is getting markedly worse. Of course, it’s only ever going to be a one-way bet but it seems to have gathered momentum and she’s much more overtly aggressive. I do appreciate that most of the time she’s no idea who we are and is therefore in a state of constant confusion with little way of making herself understood. There are times when you see flickers of the woman she once was but they’re becoming very few and far between. More worryingly I see the toll her disease is having on my father. While, on the one hand, I look forward to seeing them, as soon as I arrive I want to come back home.

Despite a crowded sporting calendar the only sport I saw all week end was the big match and, no, I don’t mean the Manchester Derby. We watched the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in which France gave New Zealand an unexpected run for their money and, were it not for some strange but consistent refereeing decisions, might well have rained on the All Blacks parade. Despite the scepticism beforehand, L’Equipe produced a special supplement today paying homage to the boys’ exploits which included pages of gratitude from their sponsors. They might have been beaten but they went out with heads held high.

Arriving back home late Sunday afternoon, I was intent with catching up with all the other sporting news until I saw the announcement about Marco Simoncelli’s death. You see so many shots of the motorbike riders sliding off into the kitty litter and then bouncing back to their feet that you tend to forget the sport’s inherent dangers. It seemed doubly cruel that he should lose his life on a track where he crowned his 250cc championship season in 2008 and after achieving his best result of the 2011 season (2nd) in the previous race at Phillip Island. I didn’t have the heart to check on the results in the Moto2 and 125cc races.

Sebastien Loeb closed in on the World Rally Championship after winning the Catalunya Rally. Whether or not he wins his 8th consecutive title will be decided in three weeks in Wales. He leads Mikko Hirvonen by 8 points. Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier dropped out of the rally and out of contention but looks unwilling to play second-fiddle for another season. Citroen did however wrap up the constructor’s championship.

Disappointment on the football pitch as AVFC were beaten at home for the first time since 1979 by their neighbours, The Baggies, after a contentious sending off reduced my beloved boys in claret and blue to 10 men. The phrase “we woz robbed” easily comes to mind. OGCN meekly capitulated 1-0 away at Nancy. But the big news was the 6-1 dismantling of the Red Devils in the Theatre of Dreams by their derby rivals Manchester City. When did Manchester United last concede that many goals? It was Sir Alec Ferguson’s “worst day ever”.  Down south, reduced to 9 men, Chelsea lost 1-0 away to their neighbours QPR. Derbies often throw up surprising results.

As I left for the UK on Friday a headline in L’Equipe caught my attention “Armstrong pedale encore”. Was Lance making yet another comeback? No, it was a comment about NBA player Hilton Armstrong. Thank goodness, because, quite frankly with teams disappearing left, right and centre, there’s no longer a place for Lance in the professional peloton. It seems particularly cruel that Geox have withdrawn their support just after the closing of the transfer window leaving staff and riders high and dry, with the latter’s points no longer worth a jot. I was rightly or wrongly under the impression that they’d signed on the dotted line for two years. I await with interest to see what the UCI is going to do about this.  While over on the piste, team GB appear to be underwhelmed, rather than delighted, by their haul of only 7 gold medals from Apeldoorn. It’s all relative.

Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.