Handily poised

Having devoted yesterday’s post to a round up of the cycling, today I felt I should turn my attention to the football. I will, of course, firstly address the two clubs closest to my heart: namely, AVFC and OGCN. The former didn’t play at the week and as their would-be opponents were involved in a replay. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. My beloved boys in claret and blue are the filling in a Midlands sandwich. They’re lying in 16th place with 30 points, the same as Birmingham who are above us thanks to a superior goal difference, and a game in hand. Below us, on two points less, are WBA. To put this in perspective, the league leaders, Manchester United, have twice as many points. OGCN lost 3-0 at home to PSG. They’ve played one game less than Villa and are on 27 points in 17th place, just above Monaco, who are in the relegation zone. The similarities are alarming but I don’t believe either will be relegated.

I will now turn my attention to the Champion’s League which tends to be a bit of a closed shop. There’s 4 English sides (Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real, Barca, Valencia), 3 Italian teams (Inter, AC Milan, Roma), 2 German teams (Bayern, Schalke), 2 French teams (OL, OM) plus 2 others (Copenhagen, Shaktar Donetsk).  Following the results of the first leg, there’s only one side which looks likely to be eliminated: FC Copenhagen who were beaten 2-0 at home by Chelsea.

If we look at the results from the remaining first legs, there are at first glance some surprising results: most notably Spurs winning 1-0 away at AC Milan and Manchester United drawing 0-0 away from home at OM. In other instances,  while the favoured team lost, they do have that all important away goal as in Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Lyon 1 – 1 Real Madrid which should provide the platform for a home, and overall, win in the next leg.

At this stage, it’s not easy to forecast who will win. There’s so many variables not just the opponents in the forthcoming rounds, domestic situations but,  more crucially, the availability of key players. However, I’m all for sticking my neck out and I’m going to predict that the last 8 teams will be Spurs, Schalke, Shaktar, Barca, Real, Chelsea, Man U, Bayern. I would have liked to include Arsenal in that list but cannot see them beating Barcelona at home. I hope, in this case, I’m proved wrong.

 Of course, it’s difficult to work up enough interest if your own team isn’t playing, nor shows any sign of qualifying to play Champions League in my remaining lifetime. I will however always be able to treasure the moment when Peter Withe’s knee struck the ball in Rotterdam and put in the back of the Bayern net enabling my beloved boys to bring home the trophy in 1982. I watched the game after barracading myself into the tv lounge of the hotel where I was staying in Taunton while auditing Somerset CC.

Triple honours

This morning’s ride allowed my beloved and I to check out the route for today’s 4th stage of 38th Tour Mediterraneen, 155km from La Londe les Maures to Biot by way of St Tropez. The same stage last year was neutralised thanks to adverse climatic conditions. Today the sun shone and Spring was very definitely in the air.

Stage 4

We parked Tom II and strolled to the finish past all the team buses which ranged from the deluxe Pro-Tour team ones to the man and a van Continental team transport.  We rolled up about an hour before the riders which gave me an opportunity to distribute copies of the brochure for the Kivilev to the assembled throng which, unsurprisingly, included a number of my clubmates. The Tour isn’t televised so we had just the dulcet tones of Mr Cycling (Daniel Mangeas) to spark our imagination, made easier by our own intimate knowledge of the route.

Finishing straight in Biot
Appolonio leading out Feillu

I had ridden up the finishing straight a few hours beforehand which features a shortish hill rising in places by 13%. You could tell by the grimaces on their faces that the leading trio were giving it their all as they shot up the hill at a similar speed to that which I might descend. David Appolonio (Sky Procycling) led the charge with the yellow jersey, Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM ProCycling Team) on his wheel, closely tracked by Team Garmin-Cervelo’s Dan Martin.

Feillu took his third consecutive stage, in front of his young family but, with the next 9 riders within 34 seconds, doesn’t expect to conserve the yellow jersey after tomorrow’s stage which finishes atop Mont Faron. Thomas Voekler (Europcar) is only 21secs back while by Dan Martin (nephew of Stephen Roche who’s on the organising committee) lies at 26 seconds. In any event, the management of Vacansoleil will have welcomed the positive news after Riccardo Ricco’s DIY fiasco.

The organising committee had amassed so many former luminaries of French cycling that the podium was in danger of collpasing under their (not inconsidserable) combined weights. 

A handful of heavyweights

While all this was taking place my beloved boys in claret and blue, reduced to 10 men, managed to salvage a point away at Blackpool. OGCN are playing away at Rennes tomorrow afternoon who are managed by a former OGCN manager and feature a number of former players. This has banana skin writ large all over it.

I’m now settling down to watch a local derby on the new big screen: St Etienne v Olympique Lyonnais, the latter featuring (ex-OGCN saviour) Hugo Lloris and my chouchou, Yoan Gourcuff.

(photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Wasteful

As a manager, you always want your team to give of their best. After all, a manager is only as good as the people who work for him or her. Management is not an art, nor is it rocket science. It’s grounded in common sense. In my experience, if someone isn’t performing to the level you expect, you need to sit down with them and try to get to the bottom of the matter. Don’t assume, it’s all down to the individual either, it’s far more likely to be your fault. You cannot expect anyone to work well if they do not know or understand what it is you expect of them. This is true of whomever or whatever you’re managing. Clearly, some managers are better than others in unlocking and developing an individual’s potential.

My chouchou of the French beautiful game is one Yoann Gourcuff who was the subject of several pages of conjecture in L’Equipe this week which may have contributed to him being unfairly whistled at by the French crowd when he was substituted in 86th minute in yesterday’s friendly against Brazil.

My take on the issue is that he feels crushed by the overwhelming burden of expectation. The French public regard Gourcuff as Zizou’s natural successor. Those are mighty boots for anyone to fill, let alone someone who, let’s not forget, is only 24. True he plays in a similar position, behind the strikers, and displays the same kind of creativity and technique as Zidane.
 
He’s the son of Lorient’s manager and until his teen years played tennis to a competitively high standard too but, having been beaten by one Raphael Nadal, he chose to concentrate on his football. After a successful debut in the professional game at Rennes, he moved to  AC Milan in 2006. It was not a good move. He couldn’t get a game. 
 
He returned to France in 2008, initially on loan, to Bordeaux where he flourished under Laurent Blanc leading Les Girondins to the League and League Cup titles as well as being named the French League’s Player of the Year after scoring 12 goals and claiming 11 assists. He continued to play well and was shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or award in 2009.
 
After the departure of Blanc, Gourcuff signed for Olympique Lyonnais in 2010 where he has failed to build on that early promise. Promise that is evident when he plays for France under Blanc. He played well yesterday evening, as did Karim Benzema who scored the only goal of the match. He’s another player who can’t get  a game at his club: Real Madrid.
 
For whatever reason, neither of these players are playing to their full potential at club level. I don’t know why this is and no doubt many columns have been written speculating on the various reasons. It just strikes me as a great shame that their respective managers can’t or won’t make best use of these talented players.
   

Early bird

The alarm went off at 07:30 and I really didn’t want to know. I’d not slept well thanks to my beloved’s snoring. He’s now on a yellow card, one more and it’ll be the spare room for him. I’d left my kit handily placed so that not too much effort was required to get me ready to head down to the club’s rendezvous point. Usually I don’t bother, but there were a couple of licences I wanted to distribute so  we could register maximum points at today’s regional concentration.

I set off with the superfast group and soon realised the error of my ways but I wanted to get to the pointage relatively early so that if anyone had forgotten their licence, I could lend them one. Yes, I know it’s cheating but, trust me, this is a common practice. All’s fair in love, war and pointages. Unbelievably a couple of new members had forgotten their licences so I “lent” them ones from members who were missing from today’s ride.

Despite the brisk pace to Antibes, I was feeling chilled to the bone and, job done, decided to head for the relative warmth of one of my favourite watering holes to prevent hypothermia and/or the onset of frostbite in my feet. Nonetheless, I rode back along the coast road enjoying the clarity of the light, the pewter stillness of the sea and the thickly snow-dusted mountains on the horizon. It was one of those days where you could see for miles, or even kilometers. The temperature was rising slowly but it was still far too cold for me.

I grabbed the Sunday newspapers and a coffee before heading home to prepare lunch. Instead of collapsing on the sofa, we went for a long walk along the seafront and basked in the sun’s rays. The place was heaving with families, all with the same thought as us: enjoy it while you can.

Back home and I retreated to the sofa to watch the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under, a 91km circuit race around Adelaide. I had deliberately not read anything which might give me a clue as today’s winner. Would Garmin-Cervelo manage to preserve Cam Meyer’s grip on the ochre jersey or would it be ripped from his grasp by the sprinters Matt Goss and Michael Matthews? Let battle commence.

Garmin’s strategy was obviously one of attrition and they largely succeeded, although both Goss and Matthews picked up bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint, but not the second one. It went down to the wire with Goss and Matthews vying to win the sprint finish. In the event their respective parties were spoiled by Sky who set Ben Swift up for the stage win. The relentless pace since the off had probably taken the sting out of the legs of both HTC-High Road and Rabobank. Next up is the GP Marseillaise (30 January) and the Etoille de Besseges (2-7  February).

My sporting fun was not yet over, I still had the cup match, OGCN v OL, to watch.  It was a tightly contested game  with the goalkeepers, both of whom are Nicois, playing at the top of their games. Fittingly, OL were undone in extra time by the “curse of the returning player”. Shortly, thereafter, OL were reduced to 10-men and it was game over. I’m off to bed a happy bunny.

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.

Twinkle, twinkle

Gratifyingly good performances from both England and France yesterday evening as they look to distance the disappointment of the World Cup in South Africa. For Capello it is business as usual, though injuries have prompted (forced) him to give opportunities to some promising players, notably Adam Johnson. Revelations about Wayne Rooney’s off field escapades have fortunately not affected his on-field form, quite the opposite. However, is it only me who thinks Capello might be better off leaving Lampard on the side-lines?  After two resounding wins, England top their Group.

Laurent Blanc has a much harder task with his “blanc piece of paper” but the signs are promising and, once many of his players return from injury and/or suspension, expect more score-lines like yesterday evening. Help may be at hand as I understand that Zinadine Zidane’s eldest is playing for Real Madrid’s youth squad. He’ll be 17 come the European Cup in 2012.

There may soon be a Gallic flavour at Villa Park. Rumour has it that Gerard Houllier is mulling over an offer to step into Martin O’Neill’s shoes. They have a potential banana skin away at Stoke this Sunday, after riding their luck to most recently scrape past Everton. They’ve been a bit of a curate’s egg and, with no additions to the squad following the sale of James Milner, will quickly need to bring on some of their promising youngsters.

OGCN are also playing on Sunday, when they’ll be home to Bordeaux now bereft of my favourite French player Yoann Gourcuff who’s hightailed it to Lyon. However, the first installment from the sale of Loic Remy has finally arrived into the OGCN coffers, allowing them to balance (cook?) the books. Nonetheless, OGCN have done their usual last minute shopping in football’s equivalent of Filene’s basement. Let’s hope they have unearthed some gems.

If only

I headed down to the rendezvous point for today’s club ride under a heavily overcast sky. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it was damp. There was a good turn out of members, most of whom I had to kiss on the cheeks. Once we had set off, I took the opportunity during the first few kms of the ride to update M le President on events of the past week.  The road turned up to Gattieres and, as is my wont, I slid from the front to the back of the peloton in nano-seconds. However, it was some time before they disappeared totally from view and, as our paths crossed later that morning, I realised I wasn’t too far behind the medium slow group.

Today’s programme featured a 31/2hr ride at my speed. Actually I felt much better than I had yesterday and enjoyed the ride up to Tourrettes via Vence. Where, having worked up a bit of a sweat, I was now feeling chilled so decided to descend via Vence and La Gaude to collect the Sunday papers and warm myself up with a quick cup of coffee before hurrying home for my simultaneous sporting action.

For Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the weather in Belgium was truly atrocious, not that it seemed to deter the die-hard fans. A large number of riders, having lost all hope of a decent finish, either hopped into the broom wagon or one of their team cars. In fact, there were only 26 finishers!

The light was so poor that it was difficult to distinguish the riders who were strewn all over the parcours largely thanks to the high winds. For safety reasons, the course was reduced in length (by 10km) and the winner crossed the line half-way through the first half of the League Cup final. It was Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil) who amply demonstrated Jens Voigt’s mantra that if you don’t try you’ll never win: he was one of the original breakaways. Rick Flens (Rabobank) was 2nd and Ian Stannard (Sky) who was 3rd had bridged up to Traksel from one of the splintered groups. Although a number of riders had tried to catch the trio, most notably Hushovd (Cervelo) and Roulston (HTC-Columbia), no one had gotten within 40 seconds of them.

Over on the other screen, Villa had gone ahead with a penalty (James Milner) after Vidic had brought down Gabby Agbonlahor. The pundits, to a man, agreed that the referee should have shown Vidic a red card (last defender) but he didn’t even get a yellow. Who knows how the game might have panned out with the Red Devils down to 10 men. Michael Owen scored in the 13th minute and shortly thereafter pulled his hamstring. This meant Rooney was going to have to come off the bench and play.

While my beloved boys in claret and blue played well in the first-half they were overrun by Manchester United, the cup holders, in the second half. That man Rooney popped his head onto a wonderful pass from Valencia and it was game over with less than 15 minutes to play. While Villa threw everything at their opponents, they held firm to retain their title.  

Last night, predictably, OGCN lost 2-0 away at Olympique Lyonnais and remain one place above the drop zone.

Hands off

I’m picking my husband up from the airport in an hour or so, around 23:15. He’s been in UK and Poland for the past 10 days. I’d like to be able to tell you that while he’s been away I’ve demolished the Vuelta and post-Vuelta ironing mountain, but I haven’t; maybe, next week.

No, while the weather’s fine, I’ve been out on my bike. Plus, let’s not forget, I’ve been baking biscuits for the dental students at Nice University where my beloved in lecturing tomorrow. I’ve made American-style squidgy raisin and oatmeal cookies (my fave), classic chocolate chip cookies and some elegant lemon thins.  In addition, I’ve been toiling with my translations and chasing up those members of the cycling club who have yet to pay their subs.

One of the (few) advantages of being club secretary is that I’m now on the mailing list for the details of each week’s pointage. So, no need to rely on the instructions on the club’s website or check the location on a map, I’ve got my own directions. The pointage is typically held in a car park. This week’s is in Stade Charpin in Les Semboules, which is behind Decathlon in Antibes.  

Lloris looms large

Of course, today’s big story has been Thierry Henry’s “hand of God” goal-assist which has prompted the Irish to ask FIFA for a replay (no chance). My estimate of six pages of commentary and two of adverts in today’s L’Equipe was a page shy of the mark. Man of the match, once again, was home-boy, Hugo Lloris. I can’t help thinking that he’ll be off to pastures new (and better paid) next season – Arsenal peut-etre? I do hope OGCN put a sell-on clause in the contract when they sold Hugo to Olympique Lyonnais. If so, they’ll be quids in. If not, they’ll be kicking themselves.

While the cat’s away…………………

I’ve been away for less than a week but a lot has happened in that time. On the football front, my team, the team that beat Chelsea and Liverpool, drew with Wolves at the week end – unbelievable, but true. More shocking and equally unbelievable, the team that beat Liverpool in the Champions League, Olympique Lyonnais, lost 4-1 away at OGC Nice.

Alberto “Big Brown Eyes” Contador won a 3rd consecutive Velo d’Or – who else were they going to give it to? Many will assume it was for his Tour win but I suspect it was really for standing up to Lance – a real crowd pleaser with the French.  

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen says his counseling is going well. Glad to hear it Tom particularly as you’re now off the bike, on vacation and again at a bit of a loose end.

A number of Pro-Tour teams, including Astana, didn’t have all their paperwork ready by 20 October. Have you seen the dossier that needs to be completed for the UCI? I have and therefore quite understand. I don’t imagine that the riders on the affected teams (Sky, Euskatel, Caisse d’Epargne, Astana and Saxo Bank) will be looking for new homes anytime soon and I’m sure their paperwork will shortly be in apple pie order.

Sebastien Loeb wrapped up a 6th consecutive World Rally Championship while Valentino Rossi won his 7th Moto GP World Championship.

More shocking news: I came home to find the flat relatively clean and tidy. My husband had been using the vacuum. He’d obviously been a bit bored while I was gone. Maybe, that’s the solution to keep Tom out of trouble – housework!