#Festive500

I know two consecutive posts, whatever is the world coming to?

group-festiv500aI set myself a goal over the Christmas period: the Festive 500. Rapha, of which I am a long time client, issues a challenge to ride 500+ miles/kilometres or whatever from 24-31 December, write about it and, maybe, just maybe, win one of their fabulous prizes. This challenge has gained in popularity since its early days and it’s now pretty competitive with riders recording fairly impressive totals during the period. I’m a competitive soul, but I’ve long reached the age where I know my limits.

I’ve never risen to this particular challenge, not because I can’t, but because I felt that I have somewhat of an unfair advantage. One of the many blessings of living in what I consider to be the finest bit of God’s green earth is its weather. While my compatriots are facing cold, frost and an almost continual deluge, I whimper if the daytime temperature drops below 10C.

With my beloved home for a full two weeks – I know, however will I manage? – I thought I should take to two wheels every day. I’ve easily ridden in excess of 500km in a week but that’s usually in the summer months when I stray into Nice’s hinterland, not during the winter months when I tend to find two hours on the bike more than enough.

I should also add that my training plan had 31/2hrs of cycling, 1 1/2hrs of jogging, a spot of circuit training and swimming scheduled for the same period. While I do typically adhere to my coach’s plans pretty much to the letter, this past week I haven’t and frankly feel all the better for it. But don’t tell him!

Given the great weather, the roads have been pretty full of cyclists both amateur and professional alike and I did spot one of two well-known faces on my travels. Here’s the run-down of my #Festive 500:-

(image courtesy of Cofidis)
Aleksejs Saramotins (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Monday: I enjoyed a damp, overcast, almost foggy ride around Cap d’Antibes with my beloved and my friend’s son who left me trailing as they headed off together in a conspiratorial fashion. Between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes, I took shelter from the wind on the wheel of Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis —> IAM Cycling) who was I think somewhat surprised at my tenacity but shook me off on the approach to the ramparts in the old town of Antibes. I then did a spot of zig zagging around the piece of prime real estate that is Cap d’Antibes crossing paths with Andrey Mizurov (Amore & Vita) and my beloved  – going in the opposite direction – who failed to catch me in the run-in for home and a well earned lunch. On my way back I spotted  Nico Roche (Ag2R —> Saxo-Tinkoff) and  Rudy Molard (Cofidis). Total ridden – 42km

Tuesday: On Xmas Day, anticipating that the traffic would be less heavy than normal, we headed to Nice, climbed up the Corniche via Coco Beach  – a steeper ascent than from the port – and rode down to and around Villefranche sur Mer and Cap Ferret. Yes, we were sticking with prime real-estate. In fact, it’s pretty hard to avoid it unless you head into the hills and beyond. It was overcast when we started our ride but fittingly the sun came out in Villefranche. We rode up and around the old town stopping beside the sea for a reassuringly pricey cup of coffee before heading back home. Total ridden – 58km

Wednesday: Once more it started somewhat damp and overcast and not even a sighting of the World Champion resplendent in his rainbow jersey brightened our day. Our paths crossed once more with Andrey Mizurov and finally, just as we headed back home from a circumnavigation of Cap d’Antibes, the sun came out to play. Too late, I was already feeling chilled. Total ridden – 39km

Blue skies and sunshine; just what i ordered!
Blue skies and sunshine; just what I ordered!

Thursday: A little damp again to start off with but becoming brighter as we rode. We headed over to Golfe Juan, stopping for an inexpensive coffee at a favourite haunt of many local riders. We again saw the Mizurovs, all three of them, who, if they were doing the same challenge as me, would have already reached the 500km marker.  Total ridden – 57km

Friday: The sun shone, the mercury rose along with our spirits as we headed over to Cannes and another of my favourite coffee and comfort stops. Again the coffee is pretty pricey but the toilets are sumptuous. Once more we spotted the Mizurovs en famille. Total ridden  – 71km.

Saturday: My beloved elected to ride with his buddies rather than have me flailing along once more in his wake. I really didn’t mind and set off along the coast riding to Theole sur Mer and back in the warm sunshine. I even managed a spot of window shopping as I rode along the Croisette! Total ridden – 82km.

(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)
(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)

Sunday: Flying solo once again, I opted for one of my favourite routes to Valbonne and back. It’s an undulating ride and bits of it have featured in the parcours of recent Tours of the Med and Paris-Nice. I espied the World Champion enjoying a coffee in the sunshine with team mate Amael Moinard,  an unidentified Lampre rider and friends. In training for the forthcoming Tour Down Under, he rode for rather longer  – and further than me as I later discovered. Total ridden – 84km

Monday: My beloved feeling the effects of his two long rides at the week-end at a rather energetic pace was content with a recovery ride today, once more in brilliant sunshine. So while I had planned a slightly longer jaunt I was happy to agree to his wishes and we rode to Juan-les-Pins and back, stopping to enjoy a quick coffee in the warm sunshine. Total ridden – 48km

Those of you who are both eagle eyed and adept at mental arithmetic will note that I didn’t actually ride 500km but that wasn’t the true purpose of the exercise. 500km was merely a possible destination; it was the journey that counted. I’m not going to win any prizes, but the rides were reward enough.

New Year’s Day Postscript: The winner was Geoff P from Melbourne, Australia who logged 1802.9km or maybe miles. That’s totally amazing  and to put it into perspective that distance would have taken me around 80hrs of riding. Yes, that’s 10 hours per day for the duration of the challenge, Clearly, Geoff’s a quicker rider and Melbourne is pretty fflat so it might only have take me 72 hours.

But IMHO even more amazing in second place was Paddy D from Wiltshire, England who rode 1605.9km in the cold and rain. There should be some sort of handicapping depending on where you’re based. Over 12,000 people took part and there’s probably many more who, like me, didn’t record their rides on Strava but who also rode along.

Creamed but never crackered

There are two things I absolutely love doing: anything to do with cycling and ditto cooking. Ahead of today’s Gentlemen, I’ve been whipping up a few cakes to satisfy the hoards.  In theory, it’s only around 150 cyclists and 20 or so volunteers. In practise it’s more as a lot of clubs will just happen to pass by the feedzone as part of their Sunday club ride. They’ll claim it’s to check on how their clubmates are faring. But no one’s fooled. It’s to sample my cakes.

Cyclists here don’t have the same “coffee and cake” culture as in countries such as UK, US and Australia. They don’t need to stop and buy anything as it’s freely provided as part of the Sunday club ride. To be fair most clubs buy the cheapest cakes from the supermarket, typically madeira, ginger or fruit and serve them with a selection of biscuits, dried fruit and chocolate. My club’s USP is my home-made cakes. Because they’re so much nicer than supermarket ones, people, not unnaturally eat more. Some have been known to try a piece of each!

Yesterday’s treat was a day out, on my own, in Sanremo to watch the thrilling finale of Milano-Sanremo. I like to drive over early, find a convenient and non-paying parking spot – see, I’m becoming very French – buy La Gazzetta dello Sport and settle down with a coffee to read what the pink pages have to say about the race. One of the things I love about cycling is its unpredictability. The Italian bookies had Cavendish as their favourite while Gazzetta mused that everyone would be riding to prevent him winning.

I then had a pleasurable stroll around the shops and indulged in a spot of window shopping before taking up my position. It was windy so I was keen to find a place which afforded me shelter while still letting me enjoy the sunshine. I opted for the large screen after the finish and right next to the podium which was also opposite Rai’s studio – a grandstand seat.

The pictures rolled and on the ascent of La Manie, Mark Cavendish (Sky) was almost immediately in difficulties. Word reached the front of the peloton who upped the tempo and distanced Cav. Faithful lieutenant Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel was sent back to keep him company while Team Sky deployed Plan B: Edvald Boassen Hagen. Queue the sound of money jingling in the bookies’ tills.

We all had a bit of a heart stopping moment when the cameras alighted on a bunch of paramedics tending to an unseen fallen rider, on the descent of La Manie, who was later identified as the Columbian Carlos Quintero riding for Columbia-Coldeportes. Luckily he suffered only concussion and a broken collarbone but it had worryingly looked much more serious on the screen with active imaginations working overtime.

The early breakaway group of nine riders, including the first Chinese rider to compete in this event Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i), which at one time had an advantage of around 13 minutes, were taken back on the Capo Berta with about 60km remaining.

The hopes of a number of favourites were dashed by falls. The King of Belgium, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was taken out of contention on the Cipressa while his predecessor to both the Belgian championship and crown, Tom Boonen (OPQS) was hindered on the descent of the Poggio. A couple of moves did go according to plan. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) launched two unsuccessful attacks, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) bridged across to what proved to be the winning attack of Aussi-champ Simon Gerrans  (GreenEDGE) and Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas) just before the summit of the Poggio.

Now, if you’re going to follow anyone downhill, it might as well be either Fabian or Nibali. Gerrans was in great company. Cancellara opened a bit of a gap by the time the reached the bottom of the descent and was starting to motor away. But Gerrans, knew what to do. He gave chase. This is where the script changes. Instead of Fabian leaving the two original attackers trailing in his wake, Gerrans worked hard to get back onto his wheel.

Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)
Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

To give Fabian his due, he continued to motor towards the finish when lesser riders might have quailed at the prospect of allowing the other two to ride his coat tails. Had he not done so, the trio would have been swamped by the peloton and the win would have been fought out by Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. Instead, the three in-form riders headed to the finish line and Simon Gerrans had the smarts to ambush Fabian and take the win, making it successive wins for Australia.

I was then courtesy of my position, treated to a grandstand view of the podium. I would have taken a photo had the battery not already run flat in my phone. It seems to last no more than six hours tops. There’s nothing else for it, I’m going to take a trip to Orange hell to sort it. I skipped away and back to the car, handily placed to get back onto the motorway ahead of all the peloton’s cavalcade of motorised transport and most of the other spectators. It had been a great day out.

Excellent conditioning

My beloved and I used to be keen cross-country skiers. But, apart from a trip down memory lane to Seefeld in Austria three year’s ago, we’ve not done much skiing in the past  ten or so years. Encouraged by friends, and emboldened by the weather, yesterday we headed to Greolieres-les-Neiges where they have a number of short, well-prepared tracks suitable for all levels. The snow was in great condition and, while it was initially overcast, by about 11 o’clock the sun was out and we were sweating profusely from our efforts.

The routes are surprisingly undulating and it took some time for me to refind my snow legs and rediscover my skating technique. But perseverance paid dividends and I was soon gliding along on the downhill stretches. It was much harder work going uphill. Our friends, more used to the Classic technique, found skating hard going and I suspect they regretted opting for skating skis, but were too polite to say anything.

However, we all managed to make it back in one piece to our pre-booked table in the restaurant for lunch. There’s nothing quite like a morning’s skiing to work up an appetite. One of the teenage boys was practically asleep on his feet, despite being boosted by some of my super duper cookies,  and I bet that, for once last night, he opted for an early night. Not even sausage and chips managed to revive his flagging energy levels.

After lunch the air had a distinct nip to it and we decided to head for home and an early hot bath: no apres-ski for us. We were tucked up in bed fast asleep by 10 o’clock. We woke late and it was decidedly chilly. We were both creaking a bit from yesterday’s exertions. I opted for a run, followed by a short ride, once the sun had decided to put in an appearance. I was hoping to watch the final day’s racing in the Tour of the Med on Mont Faron but the race has been afflicted by the vagaries of the recent weather, and today was no exception. The stage was again shortened and due to finish on the Col des Gardes.

I suspected those that have been riding in both the South of France and Mallorca were wishing they’d had an opportunity to ride in the balmier Middle East. But Philippe Gilbert is returning to ride in next week end’s Tour du Haut Var specifically to become more accustomed to the inclement weather he’s sure to find in the Cobbled Classics. So, maybe not!

Link: Cross country skiing in Greolieres les Neiges

Season underway

The amateur cycling season is now underway. Last Sunday saw the 62nd running of ES Cannes’ Gentleman (51st Souvenir Fausto Coppi). A “Gentleman” is a two man time-trial where the combined ages of the participants have to exceed 60 years. This race starts and finishes in front of the Hotel Carlton in Cannes and is 13kms in length,  circumnavigating the Cannes Croisette. Despite the chill, a new record was set on Sunday by Messrs Heck and Lemoine of nearby SPOC, Nice, – 16.18 mins, av speed 48.21km/hr.

Casting my eye over the list of participants I see lots of former members of my cycling club, including the afore-mentioned Heck. Our best placed twosome was a male/female combo of our best female rider and a former French amateur time-trial champion, Cristel Pastorelli, paired with Ludovic Boyer, part of last year’s winning 4-man French amateur time trial team. They were a respectable 30th and the first, by some way, of the mixed pairs.

A father and son pairing finished third. While the Jacques Guissart prize, given in honour of the chap who’d won the most titles, most notably with Jacques Anquetil, went to a combo from the host club.

Also taking part were a couple of locally based pros, Christophe Le Mevel and Yauheni Hutarovich, both limbering up for the forthcoming Tour Mediterranean, riding with local riders, not one another. Jeannie Longo often takes part in this race with her husband but I can find no mention of her on the start list. My LBS (local bike shop) owner and his partner were a very respectable second. I’d like to have taken part but I need to find myself a more reliable partner than my beloved. We’ve ridden a gentleman together but it was a bit of a disaster as he kept riding off and leaving me!

The event was covered by our local newspaper, the Nice Matin which regularly features local riders and events. For example, last week, it featured an article on one of the Monaco firemen, who’s aiming to win the World Championship crown this year in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Yes, there are World Championships for a number of professions, the most fiercely contested tend to be for those who work in the public sectors.

Franck Giusta a 32 year old who rides for UC Monaco frequently trains with the Pro Tour riders who call Monaco home. He won a silver in the time trial last year and a bronze the year before. Not unnaturally, he’s aiming for gold this year in the same event. It’ll be more difficult to do as well in the road race as he’s the only representative. In the run up to the World Championships in August, he’s riding in a team time trial in Tuscany, organised by Michele Bartoli, followed by the Monaco Criterium.

Franck gives thanks in the interview to the support, assistance and advice he’s received from Alexandre Vinokourov and his regular training rides with Philippe Gilbert. Franck’s a friend of a friend and we’ve met a couple of times so I’ll be rooting for him in Ostrava. I wonder if there’s a World Championship for retired accountants?

L’Equipe poll

At the beginning of each year, L’Equipe journalists pose ten key questions about the forthcoming cycling season and ask their readership to vote “Yes” or “No” to each question. Here’s the questions and the all-important results:-

1. Are the Olympic Games going to be good for the French?   67% said YES

Leaving aside the road races, the French have always done well on the track and in MTB. Last time out they also shone in BMX. There’s no reason to suppose they won’t do similarly well in London 2012. They’ve been less convincing on the road and could only offer up the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin who finished 3rd in the pre-Olympic dry run. While it’s not entirely impossible that someone of the stature of Dumoulin – and when I say stature, I’m thinking palmares not size – or Feillu could nick a place on the podium. Just don’t bet your shirt on it.

2. Will Arnaud Demare be the seasons’ revelation?   56% said NO

This is the lad who won the U23 Road Race in Copenhagen and who’s now a neo-pro at FDJ where he’ll have an opportunity to grow without too much pressure being placed on his young shoulders too early. He’s only 2o (21 in August) and one shouldn’t expect that, like Marcel Kittel before him,  he’ll rack up 18 sprint victories in his first season. But he will win races, just not yet. Remember, he was 4th in U23’s in last year’s  Paris-Roubaix and will no doubt benefit from Frederic Guesdon’s guidance.

3. Are we going to see a duel again between Cancellara and Boonen in the Cobbles Classics?   56% said NO

Go Tom go

The sentiment was that these two will play a role but there are others who will enter the fray. They’ll probably never repeat their respective golden years of 2010 and 2005 respectively. However, I sensed, that nonetheless, this was exactly what everyone was hoping for. Kitty Fondue and I are going to be hotly debating this very topic over on www.velovoices.com.

4. Will TAS exonerate Condator?   67% said YES

Now I’m not sure whether readers felt this was the most likley and most expedient outcome for cycling or whether, as time has gone on, Contador has impressed everyone more and more with his demeanor thus they’re more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The French are not overly fond of what we might call “the authorities” and this may have just tipped the balance in Bertie’s favour.

5. Will Evans succeed in retaining his Tour title?   56% said NO

Despite his excellent team, experience and the favourable parcours, readers felt his age would count against him and, in particular, his declining powers of recuperation. If he takes part, most expect Contador to win.

6. Will Thomas Voeckler get onto the Tour podium?   89% said NO

The French know their cycling. Voeckler ended up in the leader’s jersey when he profited from the misfortune visited on Messrs Hoogerland and Flecha. His defence of the jersey was heroic, but he was in it by chance. The verdict: top 10 placing is the best he can expect.

7. Will Bruyneel get Andy to win the Tour in 2012?   89% said NO

Most recognise that Bruyneel does have what it takes to make Andy win the Tour, but not this year. He needs a more favourable parcours, the absence of one Bertie Contador and to be uncoupled from his elder brother. Like I said, the French know their cycling. They’re not wrong about this.

8. Will Cavendish become Olympic Champion?   56% said YES

While most agreed it would be more difficult than winning the World Championship’s Copenhagen – fewer team mates, hillier parcours – they felt his experience in winning Grand Tour stages, his mental strength and home advantage might just see him grab gold.

9. Will Team BMC crush everything it its path this season?   100% said NO

Can’t get more emphatic than that! History has shown  – Teams Sky and Leopard-Trek – that it takes a while for a team to bed down. In addition, when there are changes to a number of key personnel, it takes time for them to become cohesive. A case of too many chiefs and not enough (red) Indians perhaps?

10. Will Valverde give Gilbert a run for his money?   67% said YES

Readers think that this could well be the duel of the season particularly in the Ardennes Classics. PhilGil may be numero uno at the moment but let’s not forget Valverde occupied that slot in 2006 and 2008 plus he’s got a point to prove – always dangerous.

Be careful what you wish for

In addition, L’Equipe asked each of the 10 journalists who had posed the questions what they would like to see happen this season. Their replies, in no particular order were:-

  • Frederic Guesdon to win Paris-Roubaix  – sadly he won’t be doing that after crashing in 1st stage of the Tour Down Under. Curse of the Journo!
  • Juan Jose Cobo to ride up the 25% incline of le Caitu Negru (16th stage of Vuelta) in his big ring.
  • Bruyneel to stop Frandy from waiting for one another.
  • Peta Todd, Cav’s partner, to become the front woman for Cochonou (cold meat producer) in the Tour caravan.
  • Lionel Messi to take French citizenship and start cycling. (With those sublime feet, he could be a shoe in).
  • David Moncoutie wins Milan- San Remo in a sprint after having headbutted Mark Renshaw (Now they’re getting silly!)
  • Another’s a rather saucy reference to the fact that Mark Cavendish got his partner pregnant during last years Tour. However, it does acknowledge that Cav’s a brill Tweeter.
  • Tom Boonen wins a fourth Paris Roubaix title and snubs Roger De Vlaeminck on the podium. (I know exactly what SHE means, but I’m sure Tom’s too nice to do that).

Dear Santa…………….

What’s in your sack, Santa?

At this time of year the cycling press are happy to provide us with plenty of useful ideas for our Xmas lists. Now it’s been a few years since I last corresponded with Santa, but that’s not to say I shouldn’t give it another go. However, it’ll largely be an academic exercise as I’ve agreed not to buy anyone any Christmas or birthday presents again, ever.  While the whole point of present buying really isn’t reciprocity, I would hazard a guess that if I don’t buy any, I’m not going to receive any. Of course, with all the money I’ll save I could just buy myself something I really, really want.

Now if money were no object, I’d  like my own cycle team. I’m keen to nurture budding talent so I’d be more than happy with a continental ie French 3rd division side. This would also enable me to fulfill another objective as they’d largely only be racing at home.  Travelling with the team in my capacity as Owner, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, I’d get to visit and, more importantly cycle in, all parts of the Hexagon. With only one sponsor to satisfy, the kit could be simple and stylish. I’d probably ask Geoffroy Lequatre to spin a little G4 magic (www.g4dimension.com) and design the team’s kit and casual wear. Please note, we would definitely be avoiding the black, white and pale blue colour palette seemingly favoured by half the teams in the Pro-Tour peloton.

My beloved has taken some lovely cycling photographs with the Panasonic Lumix camera I bought him a few Christmas’s ago and I’ve been meaning to frame a few and hang them in the hall corridor. To supplement them, I’d love some of Jered Gruber’s magnificent photographs. If you’ve not seen them, please head on over to www.gruberimages.zenfolio.com and prepare to be enthralled. Oh, and don’t buy them all, save a few for me.

Despite the recent problems with my Garmin 500, I’d like some of the new Garmin vector pedals. I can use these on whichever of my bikes I happen to be riding, thereby avoiding the issues with different cranksets and hubs. Plus it’ll analyse and compare my left and ride pedalling actions. In theory more information about my riding should help me to further improve. In this case, less really isn’t more. It’s just less.

It seems a bit greedy but I’d like one of the new BMC bikes, specifically the model as ridden into Paris by this year’s Tour de France winner, the TMOI and Tour Bike.  Except, I don’t want it in yellow. It’s not really my colour and it’s such a difficult one to co-ordinate. Instead, I’d like it in black and white, with a white saddle and white handle bar tape. I’d also like to have my name on it. PhilGil’s got “Fast Phil” on his and I’d like “Slow and Steady Sheree” on mine. No point in denying the truth.

Last but not least, I’d like some trousers without matchstick legs. Yes, I know they’re fashionable but they don’t fit my slimmed down chunky legs, and never will, however little I weigh. Preferred colours: black, dark grey, navy blue and tan.

On the basis that it never pays to be too greedy, I’m going to stop here. Dear Santa, I’d be more than happy with any permutations of the above short but sweet list.

PS Just had another thought. Could you fix it for me to ride with Samu during my next trip to the Basque country?

Review of 2011 season

Spending more time than I might wish on my home trainer the past week has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the 2011 road racing season. As you know, I often find it difficult to restrict myself to just one favourite moment, rider, team, race or indeed anything. Indecisive or greedy – you decide.  Given my preference for live sport, my recollections tend to be coloured by the races I’ve watched in person. So here goes.

Rider of the Year

It’s hard to argue against the collective wisdom of the Velo d’Or jury, so I won’t. With his 18 wins, it just has to be Phil Gil. Though it just wasn’t the quantity, it was also the quality of those wins, his majestic presence and aggressive, attacking style of riding which thrilled us all.

Although in my mind, Phil Gil was head and shoulders above all the other contenders, making it onto the podium in second place is Britain’s own Manx missile: Mark Cavendish. The Grand Tour wins, the green jersey (finally) and that magnificent win in the World Championships. Says it all really.

I was in a quandary about third place, should it be Thor Hushovd who so magnificently honoured the rainbow jersey, particularly during the Tour de France or should it be Tony Martin for his emphatic dethronement of Fabian Cancellara, a man who last year looked unbeatable. It’s a tricky one isn’t it? So, I’m going to squash them both on the podium in joint third place.  Honourable mentions should go to Edvald Boassen Hagen and France’s chouchou, Tommy Voeckler, both largely for their Tour de France performances.

Best One-Day Race of the Year

I was there, so it has to be Paris-Roubaix. The race had everything. Fine weather, fantastic atmosphere, favourites desperate to win beaten by an unfancied rider who, to add to the drama, proposed to his long-term girlfriend on the podium. I just love it when a non-contender, albeit hardworking and long-deserving, takes a really big win in one of the Monuments. Congratulations to Mr (and Mrs) Johan Vansummeren and commiserations to the mighty Thor.

In second place, it’s the Men’s Road Race at the World Championships in Copenhagen. While the course was made for Cavendish, the planning and preparation to get him there allied to GB’s phenomenal display of teamwork on the day, controlling the race from start to finish, was truly impressive and hugely exciting.

Had I been there, I suspect that Milan San Remo might well have been my third choice on account of Matt Goss’s uber-intelligent ride. For similar reasons, I could also have plumped for Nick Nuyen’s win in the Tour of Flanders, but I haven’t. No, I’m going for Clasica San Sebastian, a delightfully fun race with a terrific party atmosphere thanks to the Basques enduring love of cycling. This race demonstrated Phil Gil’s dominance over the peloton in hilly Classics. You could almost see the collective drooping of shoulders and the “Well that’s it then” attitude as he raced to victory after some token Basque resistance.

Best Stage Race of the Year

When the touch paper was lit in the third week in the Alps I was there to see the old-style heroics, epic defence of the yellow jersey, stages full of suspense, a French stage winner and, most importantly, some great racing culminating in a worthy winner. The Tour had it all in spades. While, we might have deplored the loss to injury in the first week of a number of favourites, that’s bike racing.

In second place, the Vuelta, the wonderful Tour of Spain which this year I was fortunate to attend albeit only for a couple of days. Unlike the Tour the atmosphere is much more relaxed, for all concerned, and the race much more accessible. The result was also wildly unpredictable and was all the better for it. It also provided my “Best Moment” of the year when Basque rider Igor Anton won the first Vuelta stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 years. The fever pitch excitement and wall of sound as he approached the finish line had to be heard and seen to be believed.

In third place, the Criterium du Dauphine, won by one Bradley Wiggins, which left us all wondering what might have been when Brad crashed out of the Tour. While it probably wasn’t his avowed intention to win the race, once in the leader’s jersey, he and team Sky rode intelligently. Opinion seems to be divided on which race provides the best preparation for the Tour. But, if you wanted to win this year’s Tour, then this race won easily as it allowed you to ride the decisive Grenoble time-trial. To be honest it’s a bit of a no brainer. Which organisation owns both the Dauphine and the Tour de France? Exactly, nuff said.

What about the Giro, I hear you ask. Well, it was over almost before it started thanks to a master coup by Bert and Riis on Nibali’s home turf. In short, it was too hard and too predictable. Also way down the list for consideration, in fact in absolute bottom place, The Tour of Beijing. No need to explain why.

Team of the Year

Who won the most races (again)? Exactly, it was HTC-High Road who have promoted young talent (including both current road race and time-trial World Champions) and bestrode the peloton like a colossus for the past few years racking up around 500 wins. Their reward – disbandment due to lack of sponsorship. Hard to believe and very worrying for the sport.

Tactical Coup of the Year

It just has to be Bjarne Riis and Nick Nuyens in the Tour of Flanders. The latter didn’t figure as one of the favourites despite his credentials and recent win in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. He was invisible until the final break. Having lost touch with the favourites on the Kwaremount, he regained contact, kept out of trouble and popped up in the right place at the right time. First over the finish line to hand Riis back-to-back wins. Who’s LeOghing now?

Surprise of the Year

There’s a couple of contenders here. Should it be Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in the Tour, team mate Pierre Roland’s win atop iconic L’Alpe d’Huez or Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome? To everyone’s total surprise, Kenyan borne adopted Brit Chris Froome finished the Vuelta ahead of Sky’s team leader Bradley Wiggins in third and might have won were it not for Cobo’s bonus seconds. Wisely he’d postponed contract negotiations with Sky until after the Vuelta so maybe it wasn’t an unexpected result for Chris who seized his opportunity with both hands while still playing the role of loyal team mate. He won’t be flying under the radar next year.

Disappointment(s) of the Year

Where shall I start? Here’s my list, in no particular order:-

  • UCI’s lack of comprehension about the importance of segregation of duties
  • Continued postponement of Alberto Contador’s CAS hearing
  • HTC-Highroad being unable to find a sponsor
  • Geox pulling out at the last moment
  • Crowd booing Bert at Tour de France team presentation
  • Paris-Nice not being a race to the sun this year
  • Andy Schleck happy to be second again and again
  • Leopard Trek, style over substance
  • Budget polarisation of the Pro-tour teams
  • More and more Pro-tour  teams sponsored by “Sugar Daddies”
  • UCI’s system of attribution of points to races and riders

It would be wholly inappropriate to call this event a disappointment. Instead it was for me the real low point of the cycling year. I am, of course, talking about Wouter Weylandt’s death from a high speed fall during the Giro. It reminded us in the strongest possible terms that cycling is a very dangerous sport. If I close my eyes I can still see that short cameo shot of the medics trying to revive his lifeless body.

The point was further underlined with Juan Mauricio Soler’s fall in the Tour of Switzerland for which he is still undergoing rehabilitation. Many more of us watched with horror during this year’s Tour de France as 1) a motorbike deprived  Nicki Sorenson of his bike, depositing him at a roadside picnic and 2) an official car from France TV, driven with scant regard for rider safety, sent Messrs Flecha and Hoogerland flying, the latter into barbed wire.

Unsung Hero(s) of the Year

These are legion in the peloton and the UCI pays them little regard. Many have that Eurovision chilling score of “nul points” and therefore little negotiable value in the transfer market. There’s not enough space (or time) to list them all but let’s have a round of applause for all the teams’ hard working, selfless domestiques. Also, hats off to those team leaders who always recognise the invaluable contribution of their team mates.

My Best Bits of the Year

Again, these are in no particular order:-

  • Watching Astana get their best stage result at this year’s Vuelta fuelled by my home made cake
  • Getting Mark Cavendish’s autograph for a friend as promised
  • Seeing Sammy win atop Luz Ardiden to record (unbelievably) his maiden Tour win. How good was that?
  • Riding around Antibes with Phil Gil
  • Cadel Evans finally winning Tour de France
  • Amael Moinard, Geoffroy Lequatre, Alex Vinokourov, Max Iglinsky, Andrey Grivko (and everyone else)  for turning out to support La Kivilev
  • Lots of young, exciting, emerging talent such as Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb,  Elia Viviani, Tony Gallopin, Andrea Guardini, Thibaud Pinot, Jesse Sergent and Steven Kruiswijk to name but a few
  • Golden oldies such as Jens Voigt and Robbie McEwan for proving there’s no such thing as “too old”

You see, too much thinking time results in my longest blog ever!

No surprises

The “Velo d’Or“, awarded annually by an international jury of 19 journalists to the best performer, was created in 1992 and is widely regarded as the most prestigious individual award in cycling. Lance holds the record with five wins and, until 2006, the winner of the Tour de France had always been placed first or second in the award classification.

Unsurprisingly, with 18 victories under his belt in 2011, Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert has picked up the 2011 trophy. The decision was pretty much unanimous with only journalists from Germany, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg preferring Evans, while the British journalist patriotically put Cavendish in first place. Tour de France winner Cadel Evans was runner up, while World Champion and sprint-kingpin Mark Cavendish was third. Messrs Contador and Tony Martin tied for 4th place. I have to say it’s hard to disagree with this decision. No doubt this is going to be one of many awards for PhilGil this season who’s already been voted “Flamand of the Year”. Yes, I know he’s a Walloon, but nationality doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor in this annual award. PhilGil’s setting his sights in 2012 on those Classics which have so far eluded him and, in particular, Milan – San Remo.

Best Young Rider was won by Liquigas’s precocious Peter Sagan, one point ahead of Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagan. HTC’s Matti Goss was third. Also in the mix, but way down on the points, (in order) were Pierre Rolland, Marcel Kittel, Jack Bobridge, Rui Costa, Rein Taaramae, John Degenkolb, Steven Kuijswijk, Denis Galimzyanov and Ben Swift. The “Best of” French categories are voted for solely by the French media. Frenchman of the year, for the second successive year, with a massive haul of 116 points, was Thomas Voeckler followed by Pierre Roland and trackstar Gregory Bauge. Julie Bresset, the U23 World Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion, and the only female rider to figure in any of the awards, was seventh.

The award for the best “Espoir” was given to U23 World Road Race Champion Arnaud Demarre, Best Junior was Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier, the recently crowned Junior World Road Race Champion and, finally, rising trackstar Julien Delerin was awarded the Vel d’Or Cadet.

Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

Falling temperatures and leaves

Although this week’s weather has remained warm and sunny, with temperatures rising to the early 20s by midday, next week’s forecast shows the midday temperatures falling, for the first time in ages, below 20C. Despite struggling with the after effects of my post-Copenhagen cold, I have continued to pursue my training plan. Largely because next week will be a rest while I’m back in the UK, visiting my parents. While out training I have been thinking about this week end’s races and specifically the Tour of Lombardy. For an excellent summary of the route, please check out www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This is a race which tends to be slightly tinkered with each year. Tomorrow’s race finishes in Lecco which has rather mitigated against me going to watch it live. Of course, I was even more disappointed when I learned on Tuesday that one of my friends would be riding it. Sadly, the organisers don’t seem to know he’s riding, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the various start lists. He only found out he would be riding on his return from the Tour of Beijing on Monday, so his wife has had to re-submit his whereabouts report. If only we’d known sooner, we’d have hired a larger car and taken his entire family along to watch. It would have been a fun day out.

It’s highly unlikely that my friend will win, although it’s a parcours that suits him. He’ll be riding in support of one of the team’s other riders. So, who is going to win? I have been pondering the front runners and looking back at the results of the most recent races, including yesterday’s Tour du Piemont.

Omega Pharma Lotto’s Fast Phil

Lacking in support at last week end’s Paris-Tours and MIA yesterday, Fast Phil will be looking for his 3rd consecutive win while the rest of the peloton, barring maybe BMC, will be out to stop him. According to the start lists, he’s currently missing 2 team mates and the other 5 riders listed could hardly be described as stellar. Yes, as Omega Pharma Lotto morphs into Quick Omega or whatever next year, everyone’s rather lost interest. It’s going to be tough Phil, but you can do it.

Euskaltel’s Samu Sanchez

The man with more 2nds to his name than Pou Pou comes with a team choc ful of experience but, in yesterday’s race, he was obviously saving himself for Saturday. Either that or he’s not yet fully recovered from his bout of Beijing Belly. Aupa Samu!

Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a TV cameo, expect him to launch at least one of his trademark attacks. Finished 4th yesterday, so obviously on song.

BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet

Winner of Paris-Tours and 2nd yesterday, he’s likely to find tomorrow’s parcours a little too hilly for his liking. However, he might earn some brownie points for himself, his team and next year’s team mate Fast Phil by giving the latter some discreet support.

Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego

Expect both of these riders to be in the mix but keep an eye out for their more in-form team mate Przemyslaw Niemiec.

Liquigas’s Ivan Basso and Vicenzo Nibali

Could they cook up something together tomorrow a la Sidi? Who knows. Basso lives in Varese so should know this route like the back of his hand but Nibali seems the man on form with solid performances yesterday and in Giro dell’Emilia. Could Nibali make a decisive break on one of the descents?

Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema

Probably sharing team leader’s duties with Carlos Barredo, performed well in GP Berghelli and Giro dell’Emilia, but sadly rides for a tactically inept team.

Sky’s Rigoberto Uran

Could be their main man on a parcours that suits his abilities.

Katusha

A team full of recent race winners: Daniel Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez , Luca Paolini and Pippo Pozzato.

HTC

The team most likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Cavendish, having flashed us the rainbow jersey, may  climb off (as he did yesterday) when the race passes close to his place.

Other contenders who may or may not feature in the mix

In no particular order: Movistar’s Pablo Lastras, Garvelo’s Dan Martin, AG2R’s Nico Roche, Radioshack’s Jani Brajkovic, Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang and Farnese’s Giovanni Visconti.

Next year’s race will be moved to the week end after the World Championships, so it’ll be the race of “soon to be Falling Leaves”.