Viva La Vuelta III

I rode with my coach yesterday morning; always a pleasure never a chore. Despite choosing a route with plenty of shade, it was extremely warm, particularly towards midday. These are the (only) times when you actively seek out a head wind but, as soon as it’s a tail wind, you can really feel the temperature. Yesterday’s exercises included bruising 20 seconds sprint intervals followed by an all too brief 20 seconds respite. The idea is to start at a reasonable pace, then build the speed and intensity until the few final sprints, where you’re aiming for close to maximum heart rate. I achieved this with ease. I wasn’t quite seeing stars, just almost.

On reaching Pont sur Loup, the choice was either to head up to Bar sur Loup before returning by way of Vallon Rouge or to return via Tourettes sur Loup. I chose the former, fearing I might be tempted to leap into the water trough if I took the latter route. My coach, who never normally sheds a bead of sweat when riding with me, opted for a cooling dip in the sea before heading on home. To be fair, he had been training with some of his marathon runners for an hour or two before riding on over to meet me.

I slipped out early for today’s recovery ride and had a quick dip in the pool on my way back before checking on the progress of the club’s walking/hobbling and wheel-chair bound wounded. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve not been having a good season with respect to injuries, on and off the bike. However, we’ve fared better than one local club who’ve had two recent fatalities.

Neither a dip in the sea or a cool fountain have been on offer to the riders in the Vuelta where the temperatures are, on average, 10 degrees higher than here. The landscape through which they’ve been riding is dry and parched, dotted here and there with with cool turquoise jewels aka swimming pools. I’m surprised no one has slipped off for a quick swim or maybe they have, hence the large time differences. While almost everyone, except maybe burly Belgians, prefers to ride in the warm sunshine, these very high temperatures are taking their toll on some of the riders.

Igor Anton, a man more used to the temperate climes of the Basque country, is quietly suffering at the back of the main bunch, conceding time here and there. Is it the weather? He certainly isn’t in the same form as he was last year, but why not? Frankly, we don’t know and can only conjecture. Meanwhile, both Joaquim Rodriguez and defending champion Vincenzi Nibali look in great shape and are riding with  purpose and confidence. As is Bradley Wiggins whom I have on very good authority is in the form of his life and weighs the same as when he was 16! I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him. The same source said that Frandy are going to be training on the Cote d’Azur this winter. Never mind the hills boys, practise your downhill skills and time-trialling.

Yesterday we saw Joaquin Rodriguez charging up that final 27% ramp, followed by Vacansoleil’s Grand Tour rookie Wout Poels trailed by  Katusha team mate Daniel Moreno, at the same speed I tackle 7% (yes, really).  JRod had been overhauled on the same finish last year by firstly Igor Anton and then Vicenzo Nibali. This year he showed he’d learnt his lesson well and impeccably timed his effort and used Moreno to good effect. Having bombed with their 100% Russian squad in the Tour, Katusha are looking the business with the inclusion of their Spanish riders for the Vuelta.

I was willing on David Moncoutie but his downhilling skills let him down. The Vuelta handily advises us from time to time of the riders’ speeds and the gradient. He was descending on a wide, non-technical, road with a great surface at between 60-75kph. Even I would have taken him on that descent, let alone the professional peloton who easily gobbled him up on the final ascent. As this might be his last year as a professional, I hope he manages to bag the King of the Mountains for a 4th successive time. He collected more points in that quest today.

Despite suffering in the heat, and helping Chavanel to defend the red leader’s jersey, Quickstep’s Boonen was looking to win today’s stage into Cordoba. I don’t think so Tom, I fancy a somewhat punchier rider for the finish. Today the final descent proved decisive, with the Liquigas boys in lime-green swooping down at 89kph: that’s more like it. Veteran Pablo Lastras threatened to spoil the party and steal the 20 seconds bonus so Vuelta babe Peter Sagan crossed the line (much to Nibali’s chagrin) to take his first (of many) Grand Tour win ahead of Lastras and team mate Agnoli, leaving Nibali sans bonus seconds. Chavanel clings onto the jersey for another day.

GC now looks like this:-

General classification after stage 6
# Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 22:41:13
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:15
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:16
4 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:23
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:25
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:41
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:44
8 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:49
9 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:52
11 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:53
12 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:57
13 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
14 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:00
15 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:01
16 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:05
17 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:13
18 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:21
19 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
20 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:26
21 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:01:43
22 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:50
23 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:53
24 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:58
25 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:13
26 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:15
27 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
28 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:34
29 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:41
30 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:02:44

Viva La Vuelta II

I’m currently enjoying a heat wave. Probably not ideal climatic conditions for cycling, just ask Mark Cavendish if you don’t believe me. To be fair, Spain is even hotter than here. When I say here, I don’t actually mean just here, I mean the whole of Southern France. Typically, temperatures reach low 30sC during August and start to tail off toward the end of the month. Instead, it’s gotten hotter. I’ve spent the past few days in Aix-en-Provence but as it’s inland it was even hotter than here. Now I do mean just here. Very pleasant it was too.

The combination of the trip and the heat does not account for my recent lack of blogging, no that was occasioned by my beloved demanding my translation services. I had to translate his most recent presentation into French. It was somewhat technical and not even my large Petit Robert could cope. I dropped him off at Marseille airport late this afternoon on my way home, he’s not due back until Friday evening. This will give me enough time to cook the club’s books, I mean prepare the latest accounts.

I like cycling when it’s warm but, when the temperature soars, I have problems with my feet overheating and managing my hydration. I’m sitting here now thinking about a cold shower before bed while admiring the firework display in Cannes from the office window. It’s also giving me an opportunity to reflect on the first few days of the Vuelta. Oh yes, I may have been away but I would never book a hotel that didn’t give me access to televised cycling. At home I watch it on the Spanish channel but ,while I’ve been away, I’ve had to make do with German Eurosport where the commentary is rather more prosaic and far less excitable.

It’s been a rather curious start. The team time trial in Benidorm threw up some unexpected results largely due to mechanicals, falls and the technical nature of the course. Teams which one might have expected to feature in the top 5, such as Garmin-Cervelo, Team Sky and Radioshack didn’t and Euskaltel-Euskadi fared way better than anyone could have hoped for: 12th. All those team practice sessions paid dividends for the boys in orange. The red leader’s jersey passed from defending champion, Liquigas’s Vicenzo Nibali to Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang.

Sunday’s stage from La Nucia to Playas de Orihuela, with it’s uphill sprint for the line, was a face saver for Team Sky: 20th Saturday, on the podium Sunday with Chris Sutton. Great performance in front of the only audience that counts: his Mum.  Fuglsang passed the red leader’s jersey to team mate, Daniele Bennati. Yesterday, the veteran Pablo Lastras (Movistar), one of the day’s breakaways,  gave  the most extravagent finishing line salutes in Totana I’ve ever seen to dedicate his win to the late Messrs Tondo and Weylandt and, still recovering, team mate Soler. He topped the podium and took over the leader’s red jersey.

Another day, another stage this time atop the Sierra Nevada today after a 23km slog uphill. Nothing too taxing but in this heat a number were starting to wilt. Cavendish abandonned. Lastras and Euskaltel’s Igor Anton found it hard to keep pace with the leading pack. Today’s chancer was Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, who was let off the leash by team leader, Joaquim Rodriguez, while most of the leading contenders were watching and waiting. The red jersey ended up on the shoulders of Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel who finished 2nd yesterday and heroically almost kept pace with the leading contenders today. Will anyone manage to hang onto the jersey for more than a day? Given that the action is largely in the first two weeks, maybe “not yet” is the answer to that question.

We’ve only just started and already a number of fancied (but not by me) riders are out of the running: Tony Martin +32:55, Andreas Kloden +31:28, Peter Sagan +24:54 and Rein Taaramae +17:56. Here’s the current top 30, the winner’s in here:-

General classification after stage 4
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 13:19:09
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:43
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:49
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:53
6 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:00:58
7 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:59
8 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:03
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team
10 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:01:04
11 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:06
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:07
13 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:14
14 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:17
15 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:18
16 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack
17 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:19
18 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
19 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:01:21
20 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:31
21 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
22 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:32
23 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:39
24 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack
25 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:52
26 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:11
27 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:20
28 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
29 Ruslan Pydgornyy (Ukr) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
30 Davide Malacarne (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:02:24

Unbowed and unbeaten

This morning M Le President, the Treasurer and I met with the club’s designated auditor. He’s a club member and is Treasurer of another club in the area. On behalf of the Town Hall, the supplier of most of our funds, he checks the club’s books on a regular basis. He spent 40 odd years working as an accounts clerk for a state industry and has decidedly archaic views on what constitutes good accounting practice.

In me, he has met his match. I don’t want him browbeating the Treasurer, she’s still on a steep learning curve and I don’t want her to be discouraged. So I have to take up cudgels on her behalf. This morning I took no prisoners and bludgeoned him. It was brutal but I didn’t want to waste the morning explaining the bleedin’ obvious.

As a consequence, I managed to spend a few pleasurable hours on the bike, riding one of my regular routes, exchanging greetings with other riders and generally enjoying the balmy weather. I got back just in time to watch the final 40km of the Tour of Lombardy. For me this is when the curtain falls on the cycling season and I turn my attention to football.

The race conditions were appalling: poor visibility and pouring rain. The peloton had already been whittled down to a handful as the leading group crested the  one  big climb of the day. On its descent, a combination of fallen leaves, poor road surface, narrow roads and plenty of surface water made the leaders cautious in the precarious conditions.  Although Nibali, usually an excellent descender, took a tumble on one of the corners.

Philippe Gilbert, everyone’s favourite for a back to back win after his mid-week triumph in the Tour of Piedmont,  built a lead on the descent which he consolidated once joined by Michele Scarponi. Even though  Euskaltel Euskadi and Caisse d’Epargne had two riders in the chasing group, it seemed as if the appalling weather conditions had robbed them of the will to organise the chase.

The two leaders increased their lead to over a minute with just 10kms remaining. They then rode shoulder to shoulder on the final ascent, eyeballing one another and occasionally brushing shoulders. Who was going to prove to be the stronger rider?

With 5km remaining, Phil Gil rode away from a tired Scarponi to solo to the third consecutive back-to-back win in this race (2005/6 Bettini, 2007/8 Cunego). Scarponi was 2nd and Pablo Lastras 3rd. My beloved had enjoyed a meaningful conversation with Gilbert in Melbourne Airport. He expressed his disappointment with the World Championships but said he was now focussed on winning the Tour of Lombardy and, while he would like a repeat win at Paris-Tours, felt that jet lag would mitigate against it. Omniscient or what?

It’s Day 3 of my new regime and far too early for boredom to have set in. It’s proving quite a culinary challenge but I’m falling back on a lot of Asian herbs and spices to counteract the blandness. I’m eating either oat or millet porridge flavoured with cinnamon for breakfast, steamed meat or fish for lunch with heaps of steamed or raw vegetables. My one piece of fruit per day forms my mid-afternoon snack and for dinner I’ve been enjoying mixed vegetable soup thickened with “pasta” made from protein rather than flour and water. No substitute for the real thing but in soup, it’s difficult to tell the difference. Fortunately, I’ve been too tired to dream about what I’m forgoing.

It will, however, be more of a challenge next week when my parents arrive. I’ll have to cook completely different meals for them. My father will be looking forward to something other than his own cooking, which is coming along in leaps and bounds. While, my mother will have to be tempted with things I know she enjoys eating, otherwise she won’t eat. When we eat out, I’ll either have oysters or fish and salad (no dressing) followed by an espresso. I will resist leaping on the scales until the end of the week

Postcards from Pays Basque I

This morning we set off 50km south-west of where we’re staying in Oiartzun in order to watch the LXXXVII edition of the Ordiziako Klasika. A 165,7km circuit on the UCI Europe Tour, around the town of Ordizia, which takes  in 5 ascents of the Alto de Abaltzisketa and 2 of the Alto de Altzo.

The participants included teams from Euskaltel-Euskadi, Footon-Servetto and Caisse d’Epargne and well-known riders such as Igor Anton, Benat Intxausti, Romain Sicard, David Arroyo, Francisco Mancebo and Ezequiel Mosquera.

Thrashing out team tactics

There was a huge, local, crowd to welcome the riders which swelled considerably as the race progressed. Most proclaimed their support for the Basque riders by either wearing the Basque flag or the orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi. The spectators watched the peloton pass before retreating once again to their local bars, of which there were aplenty.

A  3-man break away was quickly established which was whittled down to just Romain Sicard and Egoitz Garcia (Caja Rural) but they never gained more than  3 minutes on the peloton which broke and then came back together again.  The break away was  finally absorbed but another Euskatel rider soloed to victory ahead of the mass sprint uphill to the line.

To the delight of the spectators, the winner was local boy, neo-pro, Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who finished ahead of Manuel Ortega (Andalucia Cajasur) and Pablo Lastras (Caisse d’Epargne) to record his 2nd win of the season. His first was the last stage of the Tour of Luxembourg in June.

The winner

Burgos 2016 – Castilla Leon won the team prize, Sicard carried off best U23, most aggressive, the mountain’s classification and the longest escape while Garcia won the points. The winner, Izaguirre, also won the prize for the ¨Most Elegant Rider¨ (I kid you not). I hope Euskaltel bought a large van to carry off all the swag: 6 trophies, 6 bouquets, 6 cheeses, 6 Cava, 1 red beret and 1 framed certificate.

We then hopped  in the car to head back to the hotel to watch the last stage of this year’s Tour de France. While I appreciate that it’s largely a procession, there was still the points (green) jersey to be decided.

As I watched the peloton riding over the cobbles on the Champs Elysees heading, towards the l’Arc de Triomphe, I was reminded of my own recent ride in London-Paris. Those cobbles are painful; no wonder they try to ride in the gutter. To no one’s surprise, Cavendish won at a canter to make it 5 wins this Tour and 15 in total but Petacchi retained the green jersey and becomes one of only 4 men to have won the points jersey in all three Grand Tours.

Radioshack had started the stage wearing unsanctioned special black Livestrong shirts but were obliged by the UCI to revert to their usual authorised grey kit: cue quick roadside kit change. However, as winners of the Best Team, they reprised the Livestrong shirts for the presentation. These shenanigans garnered plenty of column inches which I’m sure was the intent.