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.

The next chapter……………………..

Since returning from the Road World Championships in Richmond, I have been busy editing Greig’s latest opus. This time we don’t have to worry about raising sufficient finance. The book, The Art of Cycling: Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships, is being underwritten by the local newspaper which will also be handling its nationwide marketing.

 

Cobbles climb: iconic view from the races
Cobbles climb: iconic view from the races

I learnt a massive amount from editing Book de Tour and I’m delighted to be able to put that into practice. I follow a rigorous routine whereby I initially correct all the typographical errors. I then check the facts to make sure Greig’s correctly interpreted the race, appreciating that, this time around, he had many distractions. He painted from a live feed in the Greater Richmond Convention Center right opposite the podium and not from his home studio.

He enjoyed a very visible presence while painting and selling his original artwork, and prints, meeting many of the competitors, their family, television crews, and a number of his own admirers. Greig tells his wonderful tale in the book’s introduction.

Double art whammy as racer goes past Greig's mural
Double art whammy as racer goes past Greig’s mural

It was also the first time we had met in person, but sadly our respective schedules precluded too much interaction. Cue another visit to Richmond!

I then try to weave the story of the individual races from the individual narratives under each of Greig’s paintings. Obviously, as a resident, he was able to add plenty of local colour and individual perspective. However, unlike Book de Tour, the landscape was pretty much the same for every event. In addition, many of the competitors were completely unknown to either of us. But we tried not to let these be limiting factors.

One particular hurdle for Grieg was the lack of television coverage of any of the junior events. Luckily, he had friends out on the course who sent him photographs which he could then reproduce in his own inimitable fashion.

Having got the story straight, I meticulously check all the wording. Who knew there was such a wide variation in American-English and English-English? And then there’s the grammar! Our transatlantic cousins are mighty fond of the comma. I also have to be careful to keep Greig’s “voice”. He has a particular way of talking that I am at pains to preserve. We pore over the narrative regularly via Skype.

Flying flag in support of
Flying flag in support of France

 

Team time-trial World Champions
Team time-trial World Champions

Meanwhile, Greig’s still painting: flags, team jerseys and course maps. These help to further illustrate the narrative and results. I do my bit with the start lists. These I can download from the UCI site and transfer from pdf to word documents. We want to ensure that everyone who took part is included in the book. It’s a painstaking task converting pdf documents into word ones and re-checking every detail.

Each race has its own map showing where on the course the riders were painted
Each race has its own map showing where on the course the riders were painted

Then there’s the thorny question of who to ask for a foreword plus quotes for the sleeve jacket. Again, with Greig’s growing reputation, this proved a much easier task than with Book de Tour. Kathryn Bertine, one of the better known and higher-profile figures in women’s cycling provided a glowing, but well-deserved, foreword. I had no trouble getting a quote from newly crowned world champion Peter Sagan, despite asking him the week before his nuptials.

After a day spent editing, I like to leave checking the draft [book] until the following day to get better perspective. Yesterday, I sent everything to Amy, the publisher’s designer, who’ll set the book into the previously agreed format. She does this with Adobe InDesign, a programme with which I have no familiarity.

This will then allow Grieg and I to pore over the book from cover to cover to check its consistency. There’s a couple of things we’ve done differently this time. Specifically, we’ve omitted accents, largely because the UCI ignored them in the official start lists but also because of the vast amount of time I spent checking and re-checking the correct spelling of participants’ names last time.

In Book de Tour, Greig used the start list from a respected and popular website which contained no less than 60 errors! A pretty startling number given there were only 198 starters!

One of Richmond's many Monuments
One of Richmond’s many Monuments

We’ve also avoided the use of typical cycling terms such as bidons. The Americans call them drinks bottles and so have we. This avoids having to provide a glossary, though we have a section on Frequently Asked Questions based on Greig’s post-worlds experience. It appears that a number of Richmonders have seen the light, embraced cycling, become fans, and sought further information from Greig

Greig’s now working on the book cover, using one of the striking paintings which shows a readily recognisable Richmond scene. While, I’ll be checking and re-checking the content with the designer.

Sadly, the book won’t be available before Xmas though the newspaper will be pre-selling the book and offering book certificates to be exchanged in February. I do know one thing, I will not be collecting autographs on a copy of the book though I may ask Peter Sagan to sign a number for Greig and his supporters – a nice memento.

Postcard from Richmond, VA

My beloved’s halo has slipped. Having downloaded the instructions on how to get to Richmond from Long Island, he decided to ignore them and go off-piste. I can’t tell you how often he does this but usually GPS gets us back on track – not this time, no GPS.

We were staying in a hotel just outside of Richmond, far enough away from the madding crowd. This was my tenth consecutive World Championships and expectations were high after one of the organising committee told me it was to  modelled on my first, and still my favourite championships, which were held in Salzburg, Austria.

We drove in early Sunday morning for our preliminary reconnaissance of the course, when Richmond more closely resembled a ghost town, which allowed us to marvel at the splendour of their civic buildings before the crowds came out and, more importantly, decide where we wanted to stand and watch the racing.

2015-09-20 WCHogwarts
Hogwarts?
Typical colonial building
Typical colonial building next to statue of George Washington

We based ourselves in The Marriott Hotel on the finish line: television, great WiFi, restrooms and refreshments readily available and right opposite the convention centre for the podium ceremony and press conference.

The racing kicked off with the trade team time-trials with BMC successfully defending their crown, as did Velocio-SRAM in the women’s. It was somewhat poignant victory as four-time winners Velocio are disbanding at the end of the season.

Rohan Dennis: BMC defended their World Championship crown
Rohan Dennis: Proud of his second gold medal
It’s Monday, the sun has gone, the crowds have thinned, volunteers outnumber the crowd, my beloved has departed for a two-day business trip to Baltimore and I’m flying solo, sans camera. Happily, he was back for Wednesday’s elite men’s time-trial where Belorussian Vasil Kiryienka prevailed –  to the surprise of many.
Gold medal winning performance
Gold medal winning performance
Thursday there was no racing which gave us ample opportunity to explore Richmond. We spent a delightful morning at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, built around a number of very generous donated local collections, and explored the historic area of Carytown which has the finest examples of Victorian housing in the US. We ventured along W. Cary St littered with property porn which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Surrey commuter belt.
Richmond Historical Society
Richmond Historical Society
 I was amused to see they had a “Downton” Exhibition. They do know it’s only a television programme, don’t they?
VMFA
VMFA

A month away from Halloween and many houses had pots of matching chrysanthemums and gi-normous pumpkins on their porches.

Bountiful harvest
Bountiful harvest

While we were sightseeing the teams were out training in glorious sunshine on the road race course.

Kazak team out training
Kazak team out training

The biggest group of fans, apart from those supporting the US, were the Eritreans. Over 400 – or was it 4,000? – had come in hired coaches from all over the US. They were enthusiastic and very noisy supporters – just what the riders ordered.

Teams training
Teams training including the Eritreans

Back to the racing and on Friday, USA’s Chloe Dygert and Emma White, who had won gold and silver in the time-trial respectively, got in the day’s break with Dygert going solo to take her second gold. She had such a large time gap over the chasing group that she cruised over the line. I could easily have kept pace with her. White collected her second silver.

Double gold medal winner USA's Chloe Dygart
Double gold medal winner USA’s Chloe Dygart

Changes to the men’s U23 meant that riders in ProContinental teams were now eligible to take part and the French, who have a great record in this competition, were much fancied. France’s Kevin Ledanois and Anthony Turgis didn’t disappoint going one-two on the day.

France's Kevin Ledanois: the winner!
France’s Kevin Ledanois: the winner!
Austria springs a surprise in the junior men's race.
Austria’s Felix Gall springs a surprise in the junior men’s race.

The elite women’s race was very aggressive with riders constantly pinging off the front and being brought to heel. Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead capped a glittering season with a gold medal – next stop Rio and Olympic gold.

Offensive riding by the women along the leafy and historic Boulevard
Offensive riding by the women along the leafy and historic Boulevard

Finally, the blue riband event which had supporters out in force, particularly on Libby Hill which resembled a mini Alp d’Huez. In my book, there was only one favourite and he prevailed – a very popular winner.

2015-09-27 WCmensRRbreak
The early break
The Dutch giving chase
The Dutch giving chase
The Germans preparing to lend the Dutch a hand
The Germans preparing to lend the Dutch a hand

Former world champion Tom Boonen looked lively throughout the race even getting into one of the breaks. He’s keeping a close eye on Alejandro Valverde who, despite five trips to the podium, has yet to stand on the top step. Would that change today?

2015-09-27 WCmensRRtom
Tom Boonen looking lean and mean

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan followed an attack by Greg Van Avermaet and just kept on going from 2.7km out. Some daredevil descending and superb cornering allowed him to build a three second cushion which was enough to see him solo over the line.

A very popular victor
A very popular victor

This man captured all the action which will be in a book edited by me and published in time for Christmas. Be sure to add it to your letter to Santa.

Official Richmond 2015 artist Greig Leach.
Official Richmond 2015 artist Greig Leach.

Well, what do you know!

It’s the end of the first week of racing in the Tour de France and who would’ve thought the GC would like this? No? Me neither! Of course, that’s part of cycling’s charm – it’s unpredictability!

Scores on Doors

That said, there’s been some predictability. Everyone thought Peter Sagan (Cannondale) would run away with the green jersey for the third year in a row. He’s doing just that while also leading the “Best Young Rider” competition. He’s been around for so long that people forget he’s only just 24.

Commentators are fond of saying you can’t win the Tour in the first week but you can lose it. We’ll have to wait until Paris to see whether they were right or wrong about the first bit. However, they were correct in their assumptions that some would be down and out in the first week. That category included the defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) who, having fallen and broken his wrist on stage four, didn’t live to fight much of another day. While there was a lot of discussion of the dangers of racing on cobbles, only Froome was a DNF on that stage and well before any of the cobbled sections.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) now firmly in possession of the race leader’s jersey was a beast on the cobbled stage, as were his team. Some commentators seemed surprised but, come on, this is the man who’s a fearless descender and who triumphs in bad weather – Giro d’Italia 2013 anyone? He put precious time into Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and the other contenders so they’re going to have to attack wherever and whenever. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks with relish. It’s going to be a Classic Tour de France.

I was fortunate to be in the UK for Le Grand Depart. I’d planned this trip last August and assumed I’d pay my Dad a visit before heading to Yorkshire to watch the first of the three UK stages. With the former no longer an option, I’d gone to Yorkshire earlier than planned to re-acquaint myself with the area. We’d previously been regular visitors to Leeds when watching my beloved football team play away from home and I’d always enjoyed looking around the town’s splendid Victorian architecture.

We – my beloved was with me – stayed in a small, family run hotel in Wakefield, just outside of Leeds and, while he was working, I was able to watch the team presentation and attend the team press conferences. This was my third grand depart after London (2007) and Monaco (2009), both held outdoors, free of charge. So imagine my surprise to discover that this year’s presentation was ticketed and being held in the Leed’s Arena. I suppose they needed to recoup the cost of all the decorations around town.
TdFyellowphoneboxa
I should add the organisers did a simply superb job, more akin to Italian towns that  submerge themselves in a sea of pink during the Giro, only this time largely yellow. The presentation was sold out, providing food for thought for Utrecht 2015 and ASO.
TdFYork

In truth, Britain and specifically Yorkshire did a fantastic job organising the first three stages. Despite the simply ginormous crowds, there were plenty of facilities for everyone to enjoy a day out. Stalls selling refreshments, big screens to enjoy the action and everyone came in their droves. The atmosphere was simply wonderful. The start of the second day was held at York racecourse and again people were willing to pay for a grandstand view of the sign-in. More food for thought. And, once more, the race course made a day of it by providing family style entertainment long after the riders had headed for Sheffield.

The riders were surprised but ultimately delighted at their reception in the UK though it was evident that a few spectators hadn’t heeded the ASO’s advisory videos specifically those about dogs and selfies! The roads were so crowded that taking a comfort break must have been problematical for the riders.

Apart from a spot of rain in London, the sun shone in the UK, as it did back in 2007. Once more back on home soil in France, the weather’s been wet and miserable but that should improve as the riders head further south.

Since returning home, I’ve been watching the stages on my own big screen in the office: viewing while I work. I’ve particularly enjoyed those stages shown in their entirety. Now the peloton is heading for the real mountains, the race should become even more action packed. I’m going to catch the last bit of racing in the Alps and all the action in the Pyrenees live. I’ll be taking my bike, always the best mode of transport for watching any bike race, and pootling my way up a few of those cols. It’s only when you tackle them yourself that you truly appreciate the endeavours of the pros!

Are you gonna go my way?

Frankly, if Lenny Kravitz were to ask me, my answer would be affirmative. Sadly, Lenny wasn’t asking but I continue to live in hope rather than  expectation. I’ll explain the connection, but first I have to back track.

The mercury had risen a few degrees, the sun was shining so my beloved and I decided to venture up into the hills for a ride. It was still chilly in the shade, and one had to exercise caution in the corners, but I was riding really well.  I suspect Peter Sagan (winner of today’s stage in the Tour of Oman) and I had the same breakfast this morning.

My husband turned round early to get back for a conference call while I pressed onwards and upwards. I was riding strongly even though I was doing high cadence intervals. I was channelling my inner Alberto and spinning without too much movement on the bike. Not quite as supple as Bertie, but I’m getting there. I even overtook a few groups of cyclists but almost came to grief as a Monaco registered black Porsche passed by me way too close. Still, on the positive side, they’d have been able to afford to compensate my beloved for losing the woman who makes his life heaven [and hell] or, at best, replace my beloved bike.

A gentleman, probably in his early sixties, rode up to me and expressed concern with antics of the Porsche. We exchanged a few disparaging words about foreigners and tax dodgers. Then he accelerated gently away. I was determined to keep him in view. I picked up my pace and maintained the distance between us. As we crested the hill, at the entrance to the village, the road flattens out and I shot past him. I was well ahead as I started the descent but he caught me as I was delayed by a small traffic jam. He stayed on my wheel until the roundabout. I turned left after the roundabout, while he cut it. This was war! I tracked him. I didn’t know where he was going, but I was going too.

I stayed on his wheel until the next roundabout. I was hoping he was going to turn right. He did. I followed him up the slight rise, shifted into my big ring and then attacked on the downhill: game over. I know this descent like the back of my hand and I powered down it. I never saw him again.

This is one of my favourite games when I’m out riding. I like to get someone in my sights, ride up to them and past. Guys generally don’t like being overtaken by a female and will often give chase. I can hold my own on the flat, am vulnerable on any climbs but will crush anyone on the downhills.  Most rides around here involve a long ascent, then a few ups and downs, followed by a long descent. If you’re still in my sights come the descent, you’re toast!

Of course, some resolutely refuse to play ball and ride me off their wheels on the ascent, never to be seen again. But if I don’t at least try, I’ll never get into a winning position. I wonder if Lenny cycles?

Cards from Copenhagen II

For the last two years I’ve been able to ride the World Championship circuit. Not this year, this year I walked it during this morning’s Junior Boys race. It’s only 13.5kms and I’m a very brisk walker. It’s not quite as good as cycling it, but it did give me a better perspective of the course, the profile of which is shown below. The important scale here is the vertical one. Hardly any real elevation at all. It’s undulating, but the inclines are really neither long nor steep enough to trouble anyone in the professional peloton. There’s all too few places to launch a successful attack. It’s not technical, despite a number of the younger riders coming to grief on some of the corners. There’s a lot of road furniture but it’s very visible, well padded and the riders will all know where it is from their reconnaissance rides. In yesterday’s U23 race, the feed-zone proved pivotal in launching some of the breakaways but this was made easier by the less than aggressive pace set by the bunch.

This morning’s race demonstrated that it is possible to win from a breakaway but it was won by the team with the greatest number of riders who had been omnipresent throughout the race. The racing was aggressive from the start and dominated by a flurry of attacks with the successful break getting free only in the final laps of the race and managing to maintain it’s slender margin despite the advancing peloton. The winner, 18-year old Pierre Henri Lecuisinier, who raced clear in the final 150m, completed the 126km race at an average speed of 44km/hr and finished ahead of two of his breakaway companions, Belgium’s Martijn Degreve and Holland’s Steven Lammertink. France’s Florian Senechal, winner of this year’s junior Paris-Roubaix, finished 4th and 5th was Germany’s Rick Zabel, son of the great Erik Zabel who was supporting enthusiastically, along with Frau Zabel, from the sidelines.

The sunny but chilly weather persisted for the 140km ladies Elite race where I resumed my place on the 50m line. Again, the winner came from the largest team. Clearly, size matters. ln women’s races there tends to be far fewer escapees instead it’s just pretty hectic racing. Like the race this morning, there was a bit of a pile up on the final lap ,where the peloton took back lone escapee Canada’s Clara Hughes (or Huge as she was called by the Danish commentator) on the run in to the line. The Dutch took charge, hoping to lead out Marianne Vos. But Italy’s Georgia Bronzini, the defending champion, powered her way past Vos in the final (yes, you’ve guessed it) 150m to win by a tyre width. It’s Groundhog Day. Cue lots of squealing Italians and glum faces for the Dutch as Vos recorded her 5th consecutive silver medal, after gold in 2006.  Germany’s Ina Teutenberg was 3rd. Today’s score, all square Ute 1 – 1 Sheree.

This led us to contemplate tomorrow’s race. Would Thor repeat his feat of last year or would his younger compatriot Edvald Boassen Hagen prevail? PhilGil has tried to play down his chances on this course, but can his team, and the other teams without sprinters, make it a hard enough race to dispose of the out and out sprinters? Not forgetting that PhilGil has a number of sprinters on his team.  Of course, there are plenty of teams whose sprinters could be in contention tomorrow, most notably:-

  • Spain’s Oscar Freire and Jose Joaquin Rojas
  • Italy’s Daniele Bennati, Daniel Oss and Sacha Modolo
  • Australia’s Matt Goss and Heinrich Haussler
  • Germany’s trio of John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel
  • USA’s Tyler Farrar
  • France’s Romain Feillu and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin
  • Columbia’s Leonardo Duque
  • Slovenia’s Grega Bole
  • Russia’s Denis Galimzyanov
  • Slovakia’s powerhouse, Peter Sagan

However, in a bunch sprint finish, it’s hard to look beyond Mark Cavandish who has a dream support crew. If, against the odds, it’s not a sprint finish then Phil Gil might find himself being challenged by Fabulous Fabian who has to be smarting after Wednesday’s loss. Yes, I know he won a bronze but, get real, it’s gold that counts!

Double jeopardy

Our indian summer is continuing and, despite still not feeling 100%, it was time to get back with my training programme: a 3 hour ride to include 2 x 20 minutes of endurance in specific training zones. My warm up was my climb up to Vence via L’Ara which I achieved in my, wait for it, best time ever!! How shocking is that? I wasn’t even conscious of really making an effort. I must try and subsist on mostly water and rice cakes more often.

I noticed this morning when I weighed myself that I’ve finally managed to shed my surplus kilos of retained water and substantially reduce further my percentage of body fat. My nutritionist is going to be delighted. Maybe the  weight loss is coming home to roost and finally benefiting my power to weight ratio. I certainly hope so. However, now is not the time to become complacent. No, indeed, I need to press on with those final stubborn kilos to be ready for the start of next season.

Training over I returned home by way of La Gaude, a quick descent I know well and where I rarely need to apply the brakes. As I took a series of bends leading to La Gaude I felt my front tyre start to slip from underneath me as it came into contact with a load of sand on the road; frequently a sign of a diesel or oil spill. I find that incidents such as these seem to take place in slow motion. The trick is not to panic and quickly think through your options. I was descending at around 50km/hr so we were looking at probably leaving skin on the road. However, of more pressing concern was the large vehicle right on my tail which had been unable to overtake due to the flow of oncoming traffic. It’s likely, if I’d fallen, that he would have run straight over me. This wouldn’t have been a good option for either me, or my beloved BMC I. In a move I’d like to describe as saganesque, I quickly pulled upwards on the handlebars and righted myself. I wombled alarmingly but both of us remained upright. It was clear that I’d given the driver of the large black SUV behind me a bit of a scare took as he mimed wiping his brow at me through the open window and applauded my bike handling skills. I wish, more a highly developed sense of preservation.

Once safely home, showered and ready for more of those delicious race cakes, I finally got around to reading yesterday’s news paper. I noted that a new race had taken place over the week end: the 1st GP des Commercants (shopkeepers). An ITT held on my favourite Col de Vence. My faithful readers will know that I’ve only recently managed to consistently crack 60 mins for my ascent of this venerable climb. To put this in context, my friends in the professional peloton do it in 22 minutes as part of a training ride! The winner, who comes from Aix and therefore wouldn’t have been too familiar with the climb, did it in 24′ 24″ and won a prize of Euros 800. Not too shabby for a morning’s effort.

Twenty-five of the eighty entrants took less than 30 minutes to complete the ascent. The oldest entrant, a gentleman aged 74 years young, did it in 37’46”, a very impressive time. The fastest lady, a local rider, who is half my age and easily weighs 20kg less than me, did it in 33’23”. So there’s no fear of me beating her when I enter the race next year.  With all these impressive times being recorded you might wonder why I’m even considering taking part next year. It’s quite simple. The slowest person took 67′, so I wouldn’t (for once) be the Lanterne Rouge. I need a challenge for next year and, I’ve decided, this nicely fits the bill. Better pass on the good news to my coach.

Vive La Vuelta V

Yesterday’s summit finish atop the ski station Manzaneda was won by one of my favourite riders, David Moncoutie. He looked absolutely delighted with his Vuelta stage win en route to what I hope will be his 4th consecutive spotted, mountain’s jersey. He’s also decided to ride for another year in Cofidis’s colours a decision which will, no doubt, have found favour with his team manager, team sponsor and team mates.

Sky perfectly marshalled yesterday’s stage and we were treated to the rare sight of the GC leader, Sky’s red-jersey clad Chris Froome, working tirelessly at the front of the peloton, as promised, for team mate and, the better bet for the overall, Bradley Wiggins. Brits in the leader’s jersey, rarer than hen’s teeth? Not as rare as you might think.

British born but Belgian bred, Michael Wright first flew the flag and wore the jersey for one day in 1968’s Vuelta. Winning a 2nd stage into Salou enabled him to take the leader’s jersey for a day. Rudi Altig seized it the next day. The following year he did rather better, winning the first road stage and holding onto the jersey for 2 days.

More success followed, almost 20 year’s later, when, in 1985, the Scottish climber, Robert Millar pulled on the jersey at the end of the 10th stage and successfully defended it until the 17th (of 19 stages). Unfortunately, on stage 17, he punctured and Pedro Delgado attacked. Millar was isolated from his team mates and no one else would work with him to chase down the leaders. He finished the Vuelta second overall to Delgado. The following year, Millar was again second overall having led for 5 days in the middle of the race before losing the jersey to the eventual winner, Alvaro Pino, in the individual time-trial. Coincidentally, Pino comes from where today’s Vuelta stage started: Pontreareas.

His namesake, no relation, Scot David Millar won the 12.3km time trial in Salamanca in 2001 and held onto the leader’s jersey until stage four, losing it to Santiago Botero in a crash on the run in to Gijon. Last year, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish became the 4th Brit to lead the Vuelta when his team won the night time TTT in Seville. He was the first rider to wear the new red leader’s jersey and he held it for 2 days.

On Monday, Brit registered, Kenyan-born, Chris Froome became the surprise leader of the Vuelta after coming second to stage winner HTC’s Tony Martin in the race’s only individual time trial, one place ahead of Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Froome had been riding tirelessly in support of  Wiggins since the start of the race, a job he confirmed he would continue to perform, red jersey or no red jersey.

Bradley Wiggins, a rider in the form of his life according to those in the know, took over the race lead from his team mate yesterday after the pair had upped the pace on the final climb of stage 11. This didn’t stop JRod from zipping off the front to recoup a bit of time, but at this rate he’s not going to gain back enough time before Madrid.

Today’s stage, 167.3km into Pontevedra didn’t present any real difficulties for the GC contenders, it being a rare stage for the sprinters, many of whom (Cavendish, Goss, Farrar, Freire) have already departed. So, would it be an opportunity for the “old guard” (Boonen, Bennati, Patacchi) or one of the new (Kittel, Degenkolb, Sagan)?

Fabulous Fabian gave Leopard Trek team mate Daniele Bennati the perfect lead out, but it was Liquigas’s Peter Sagan, who had been astutely hopping from wheel to wheel, who prevailed ahead of HTC’s John Degenkolb. Astana’s Frederik Kessiakoff and Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema seized the opportunity to grab back a handful of seconds on the other GC contenders. Nonetheless, Sky’s Bradley Wiggins retains the overall leader’s red jersey.

Here’s the current top 20 GC standings:-

General classification after stage 12
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 46:53:47
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:09
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:10
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:19
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:06
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:27
9 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:53
10 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:00
11 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:01
12 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:22
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
14 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:03
16 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:39
17 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:47
18 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:50
19 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:04:06
20 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:21

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

Panacea for post-Tour blues

While the Tour is over and many of it’s protagonists take part in a seemingly endless round of criteriums, the racing rolls on. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of Poland generally an opportunity for the young guns to shine, and shine they have. While fellow Brummie and defending champ Garvelo’s Dan Martin put up a spirited defence of his title and won the queen stage, it’s been pretty much one way traffic at the Pete and Marcel show.  After putting in a highly determined performance to win two stages and, more importantly, the overall, I’m looking forward to see what Liquigas’s Peter Sagan can do in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta. I appreciate he’ll be riding in support of Vicenzo Nibali, but should the Shark falter…….. The other four stages were won in imperious fashion by Skil Shimano’s Marcel Kittel whom I last saw on the podium of the U23 ITT in Melbourne. He has a turn of speed to match Cavendish, but doesn’t seem to require a train, and he left names such as Tom Boonen, Romain Feillu and John Degenkolb trailing in his wake.

I’ve also been dipping into the Vuelta a Burgos where riders were fine tuning their performances ahead of the Vuelta which starts on 20 August in Benidorm. The first stage stage was won by defending champ, Euskaltel’s Samu, who won’t be riding the Vuelta, ahead of Katusha’s JRod, who will. JRod also took out the 2nd stage and the overall. Samu was undone (again) by the team time trial and tired legs on the final stage where the boys in orange were attempting to rip the field apart and put time into JRod. Sadly, Samu was unable to keep pace and the stage was won by his rookie team mate Mikel Landa, recording his maiden win. Purito is looking in great shape for the upcoming race which, with plenty of mountain top finishes and few time-trialling kms, clearly favours the climbers but Igor Anton and the orange-clad boys are looking equally strong.

Over in the Tour of Denmark, Sky’s Simon Gerrans took his first stage win since the Herald Sun Tour in 2006 and his first win this year thanks to some clever mopping up of intermediate sprint points (and seconds) to remain ahead of Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.  Elsewhere, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin won Paris-Correze.

The football season commenced this week end in France and Nice were served up a tough opener, home to Lyon, against whom we’ve enjoyed some great results in recent seasons largely thanks to OL’s Champion’s League commitments. No such worries this time for OL, we lost 3-1 and languish one from the bottom of the league. With such a high turnover of players, it’ll take the team a while to gel but there were some promising signs, though we’re still lacking firepower up front. Finally, work has commenced on OGCN’s new stadium which should be finished in time for the 2013/14 season and where we’ll be hosting some matches in Euro 2016. I’m hoping my beloved boys in claret and blue have a better start to their Premiership campaign this week end.

After a few days off the bike last week, I was keen to get back into my training plan. My coach has introduced some new home-trainer based exercises where I have to pedal while holding my breath. Not sure what that’s all about but I’ll get a chance to quiz him when we ride together on Wednesday. It’s only for a short period, but it’s more difficult than you might think. He’s also making me do a series of push ups. Probably trying to firm up the non-areodynamic batwings. He’s also persisting with the swimming to assist my legs to recuperate. But my legs rarely get tired and I never ever, suffer from a build up of lactic acid. My feet, on the other hand, are not faring so well. I spent much time on them while walking around San Sebastián and have been on my feet most of this week preparing for yesterday’s La Ronde and pointage where we usually cater for over 500 cyclists. It was a wash out. The race was cancelled as the course was too dangerous with water lying on the circuit’s corners. Still around 60 people turned up and enjoyed my home baked goodies. Of course, most of the provisions can go back into the club store cupboard to be brought out for the re-scheduled event while I can put my remaining cakes into the freezer, disaster averted.