Stick to your knitting

On Friday evening I indulged my two great sporting passions football and cycling.

LeGrandMinvite

Velo Magazine had assembled two teams of cyclists for what they called the inaugural “Le Grand Match” in Nice which coincided with the announcement of the Velo d’Or prize winners.

LesBluesCupcake

The boys had arrived well before kick-off so that they could warm up and familiarise themselves with their team-mates and have their photos taken with local racers, including my “little cup-cake” (second from left).

RahBou

Prior to the start, the Velo d’Or prizes were presented to “Best French Rider” Jean-Christophe Peraud, who fought off stiff opposition from Julien Absalon and Pauline Ferand-Prevot to succeed his team-mate Christophe Riblon – coincidentally playing in goal for Les Bleus. Best Junior was Rayane Bouhanni, the younger, taller and – it has to be said – better looking brother of Nacer Bouhanni, the latter also turning out for Les Bleus.

No expense had been spared. Les Bleus and the “Rest of the World” teams filed onto the pitch hand in hand with their mascots, children from local cycling clubs. Someone obviously had a bit of a sense of humour as both the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin and Bryan Coquard had mascots who towered above them. Each of the players had their names writ large on the back of their blue or red football shirts.

LeGrandMatch

After being presented to the crowd of largely local cyclists and the great and the good in cycling in the region, we sang “Nissa La Bella,” the anthem of local club OGC Nice, and play got underway. The boys got an “A” for effort and clearly more than national pride was at stake but by half-time Les Bleus led easily 3-1 after impressive goals from  Thibaut Pinot, Remi di Gregorio and Nacer Bouhanni.

Urgent action was needed in the second half and the trainer for the reds, Oscar Pereiro, took to the field. You may recall that after retiring from cycling, Oscar played  football for a third division side in Spain. He has a nifty pair of feet.

PereiroHis play proved decisive and the rest of the world mounted a stout defence finishing 5-4 down at the final whistle. National honour was preserved and a good time was had by all.

Winners

When I interview riders I often enquire whether they’ve played any other sports and I’ve discovered scratch golfers, artistic ice-skaters, ice-hockey and tennis players and quite a few footballers. In truth, their attitude and competitive spirit serves them well in whatever sport they choose to pursue. But I was impressed with the play from FDJ, particularly Pinot, Bouhanni and Vichot. I learnt later that another of the French team, Jerome Pineau, had a trial at FC Nantes.

After the match Velo magazine put on a splendid spread for the players and guests and I took the opportunity to chat to a number of the players, including Europcar’s Dan Craven who had played for the rest of the world. He agreed he wasn’t one of their star players and I ventured to suggest that he might be happier with an oval ball. But no, it appears he’s much more content with pedals.

It was a great idea from Velo Magazine and I hope they do it again next year and I’m sure the participants would agree with me.

Les Bleus: Riblon – C Pineau, Blain, Cherel, Chainel, Di Gregorio, Soupe, J Pineau (c), Vichot Subs: Engoulvent, Reza, Corbel, Coquard, Dumoulin, Jurdie

Rest of the World: Fumeaux – Hutarovich, Craven, Baggio, Rebellin, Guttierez, Gatto, Agnoli, Capecchi, Van Avermaet, Nuyens (c) Subs: Van Hecke, Siskevicius, Camano, Pereiro

Hanging up their helmets

A number of riders have announced their intention to retire. For some it’s recognition that it’s time to step down and for others it’s the realisation that injuries have called time on their careers. So in 2011 we’re bidding a fond farewell to a number of luminaries, most notably 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, Ag2r’s Cyril Dessel who graced the yellow jersey in 2007 and long serving domestiques Inigo Cuesta, Kurt Asle Arvesen, Charlie Wegelius, Sylvain Calzati and, one of my faves, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta.

On Tuesday evening this week, at the Hotel Castillo de Gorraiz, in Pamplona, 39-year old “Txente” called time on a career that had spanned 17 seasons in the pro-peloton after starting as a stagiare in 1994. The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are not going to be quite the same without him setting tempo on the front of the peloton for a large part of the race. At 186cm and 76kg, he’s a member of that very select sub-set of riders who weigh more than me. However, with a resting heart beat of 50, he’s obviously in better shape. He’s one of the few current riders (along with Frederic Guesdon, Pablo Lastras and David Moncoutie) to have spent his entire professional career with the same team throughout it’s various guises and has ridden in support of some notable riders such as Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano (with whom he won GP Eddy Merckx in 1998), Alex Zuelle, Jose Marie Jiminez, Oscar Pereiro and (the soon to return) Alejandro Valverde under the guidance of first Jose Miguel Echavarri and, since 2008, Eusebio Unzue.

He has a modest, but nonetheless impressive, palmares which includes a stage win in the Tour de France. He won from a breakaway on Bastille Day 2000, on 185km Stage 13 from Avignon to Draguignan, ahead of a Frenchman. He also won two stages in the Vuelta (1997 Stage 14 and 2002 Stage 19), a stage win and the overall in the 1996 Tour of Navarra, 2nd stage of the 2003 Vuelta a Burgos, 3rd stage in 2006 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and been part of 4 team time trial victories. He’s taken part in 27 Grand Tours (12 Tours, 14 Vueltas), finishing 26. He failed to finish this year’s Vuelta after a fall on stage 5, on the Alto de Valdepenas de Jaen, where he fractured his arm, ribs and vertebrae, forcing the temporary postponement of his retirement announcement which he’d planned to make in Madrid. With 14 completed Vuelta’s under his belt only Inigo Cuesta and Federico Echave have completed more. Txente claims his favourite race is the Tour de France, not the Vuelta.

A Basque by birth (Pasaia, Guipuzcoa), he now resides in nearby Tafalla in Navarra where he’s going to be spending the next couple of months enjoying his retirement and pondering his next move. Whatever it is I wish him, and all the other retirees, the best of luck in their new careers.

Bouleversement

I got caught in the rain this morning as I went out for a quick training ride ahead of tomorrow’s marathon: 175km and 2,713m of climbing.  I then rushed around, like the mad woman that I am, fulfilling my long list of must do chores for today. I arrived back home in time to watch today’s stage of the Giro, a fairy innocuous (or so I thought), long (262km) stage to L’Aquila.

I switched on the tv to discover one-third of the peloton (56 riders) were having a Perreiro moment. They’d gone away in the 20th kilometer and had built up an advantage of 17 minutes in the pouring rain. Yes, after yesterday’s sunshine, the weather gods are once more displeased.

Most of those occupying the top 15 spots on GC, including the maglia rosa, were in Group 2. Those who we were all (wrongly) figuring might be out of contention, were in Group 1. How they were allowed to build up such an advantage remains a mystery but, is bound to be a talking point at the dinner table this evening. By the time the favourites started taking their turn on the front of Group 2, having exhausted their troops, it was definitely a case of far too little, too late.

The stage was won by Evgeni Petrov (Katusha) ahead of Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo); so, still no Italian stage win.  Ritchie Porte (Saxo Bank) now has both the pink and white jerseys.  David Arroyo (Casse d’Epargne) is in 2nd place while Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas) is 3rd.

Group 2 containing Vinokourov, Basso, Nibali, Evans, Garzelli, Scarponi, Pozzato, Karpets, Cunego and Pinotti (among others) came in over 12 minutes and 46 seconds down and they are now way back on GC. This is turning into one hell of a Giro, I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s stage. What better incentive to finish tomorrow’s ride in a reasonable time so that I can watch the highlights. What, you thought I’d be back in time to watch it live?  Sadly, no way, but I’m hoping to break 10 hours.