Memories from World Championships past: Part II

Here’s the second part of my meander down memory lane with my friend Ute covering UCI Road Race World Championships from 2011 to 2015.

Copenhagen 2011

While Ute didn’t travel to Melbourne she once again volunteered in Copenhagen. I had facilitated her application as the section of the website calling for volunteers had only been available in Danish. She still thinks I speak Danish, I’ve not disabused her! Again she worked for a few days in the Press Centre leaving her to enjoy watching some of the racing with me.

Manx Missile in rainbow jersey

Neither of us is tall so we needed to be on the barricades early otherwise we risked having our view blocked by tall northern Europeans, specifically this year by tall Scandinavians. I’m quite sure that Norway and Sweden were empty those few days at the end of September while they lent the Danes a hand trying to drink the place dry! After the race on Sunday I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many empty beer cans discarded by the side of the road.

Ute, being German, generally has the upper hand at most years’ races, results wise. But not on this occasion as Mark Cavendish was guided almost to the line by a tour de force from Team GB. A French friend had asked me to get him Cavendish’s autograph and while I saw him briefly before the post-race press conference, it wasn’t the right moment.

No, that came the following morning as I was checking out of my hotel. Peta and Cav literally bumped into me and I seized my opportunity. My friend was delighted as the autograph was on a copy of the UCI official announcement of the win, accompanied by the route book and other goodies which my friend Bert had given me earlier that morning as I’d waved him off on his plane back to New Zealand. That was the last I saw of Bert who sadly passed away the following September.

Here’s the posts I wrote about my trip back in 2011:-

Cards from Copenhagen I

Cards from Copenhagen II

Cards from Copenhagen III

Cards from Copenhagen IV

Limburg 2012

Ute tried not once, not twice, but three times without success to volunteer. However I think staying in the same hotel as the Belgian team, which included Tom Boonen, more than made up for the disappointment of not having a lurid, ill-fitting volunteer’s outfit to add to her burgeoning collection.

During the Championships I stayed in the same hotel as the Italian and Spanish teams. How fantastic? No, not a bit! Fans and journalists camped out in the entrance hall and bar, hogging the WiFi bandwidth and all the chairs, the hotel corridors smelled of embrocation and there was lots of door banging.

Ute and I loved the fact that few spectators could be bothered to make the trek to the finish line. Well it is 4km from the train station and, unless like me you had got press credentials granting entrance to the press restaurant and facilities, it was pretty poorly served in terms of food and drinks. Still we had a big screen and a great up close and personal view of the podium, so we weren’t complaining. Honestly.

Aside from catching up with people we both knew, being at the finish meant we spent quite some time chatting to anxious Mums and Dads whose offspring were riding in the various categories. It’s always interesting to see a race from someone else’s point of view!

Belgian’s top dog in trade team time-trial (image courtesy of OPQS)

Ute and I spent 10-days in companionable admiration of the racing. This was the first Championship to (re)introduce the trade-team time trial and combine racing for Juniors, Under-23s and Elite so we positively gorged on great racing in an environment where cycling is hugely popular.

Even though I had a great time, I only wrote one blog post about the trip.

Postcard from Limburg 2012

Firenze 2013

Ute worked once more as a volunteer, as did Nathalie, but I didn’t get to spend much time with either as my beloved decided to come along too. We also took our bikes and much enjoyed cycling around the Tuscan countryside.

I have two abiding memories from this Championship. The first was Matej Mohoric who, having won the Junior road race in Limburg, added the Under-23 title at the tender age of 19 with some of his trademark top-tube descending. The second was the Dantesque conditions of the Men’s road race which should’ve been won by the uber-popular Purito Rodriguez. His sad face on the podium was almost more than I could bear.

As in Varese, the Italians contrived to have the start and finish in a stadium and, while viewing en route was free, you had to pay to get into the stadium unless you had accreditation. And that’s largely why my friend Ute volunteers, to get accreditation, though it’s by no means the “open sesame” it was back in Salzburg 2006.

Again, I only penned one post:-

Postcard from Tuscany

Ponferrada 2014

Our trip to the World Championships in Ponferrada was part of a three-week vacation which spanned the Med and Atlantic coasts in both France and Spain. Ute once again volunteered to help out in the Press Centre but I only saw her a couple of times, including at an evening reception about the following year’s Championship in Richmond.

My beloved and I much enjoyed watching the racing in a very convivial atmosphere and in the company of parents who had offspring racing. Since we were all staying in the same small casa rural, it made for a lively discussion over dinner most evenings. As you can see from the photo above, this was not a well-attended Championship. Probably the least well-attended of those I’ve been to, but it wasn’t easy to get there and it was held in an area of Spain with a low population. However, it was a beautiful area to ride around and it’s on one of the many routes to Compostela.

That said, I did manage to write a couple of posts:-

Postcards from Ponferrada I

Postcards from Ponferrada II

Richmond 2015

Official Richmond UCI Road World Championship 2015 artist Greig Leach.

I had high hopes for Richmond which formed the second part of a vacation in the US. We didn’t take our bikes as I’ve found riding in the States to be frankly scary. It was an opportunity for me to finally meet Greig Leach after we’d already worked together on one project and this event was to form the basis of our second collaboration. I also met up with a couple of my fellow VeloVoices. Unbelievably, I’ve still not met everyone on the team.

Ute volunteered and once again spent time in the Press Centre but unlike in Europe, her accommodation was provided by a local host who also made sure she saw plenty of Virginia. I only saw her the once as we were staying in very different parts of town.

My beloved and I enjoyed watching the racing, there was no problem standing close to the finish line for any of the races, even the blue riband event, the Men’s road race. Our hotel was out of Richmond so we camped out at The Marriott Hotel which was almost on the finish line. One of the organisers had told me last year in Ponferrada that they had modelled the event on Salzburg, with everything being in the centre of town.

They’d gotten that part of the equation right and the thousands of Eritrean fans, who’d descended on Richmond for the races, provided lively animation. However, they were no substitute for the thousands of European fans who typically arrive by camping car, and colonise part of the course in order to support their riders. What I’m trying to say is that it was well-organised but a bit lacking in atmosphere.

Again, I did write a post about our trip:-

Postcard from Richmond

Neither Ute nor I went to Doha 2016. But as an avowed fan of all things Scandinavian, she was in Bergen 2017 and can be found manning the reception desk in the Press Centre at InnsbruckTyrol 2018. We had hoped to meet up this week but sadly work has gotten in the way and I’ll have to settle fo watching the action on the television.

Highlights

New Year’s Day is not a bad time for sober reflection on the last 12 months. What were the highlights of another busy and thoroughly enjoyable year? In no particular order, here goes:-

1. Amael Moinard (BMC) wins stage 2 of Tour du Haut Var in Draguigan

Amael Moinard

There’s nothing nicer than seeing someone you know win. Particularly someone who spends most of the season working his socks off for his team mates. We saw Amael’s victory in the company of his wife and children which made it even more special. His two young boys were thrilled, going onto the podium with their father to receive the trophy. A moment they’ll always treasure, which was captured by the mother of another professional rider who kindly gave me the picture. A fellow VeloVoice (Thanks Chris) gave it the Andy Warhol treatment, I had it printed and it now hangs in the Moinard’s hallway. A constant reminder of a special moment, one we were fortunate to share.

2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wins Vuelta al Pais Vasco

VpVstage1winnerBertir

A stunning win on stage one by Bertie in truth secured him the overall. He looked to be back to his best, heralding the prospect of a thrilling summer of racing.

3. Book de Tour

book du tour small cover for style v5

I edited Greig Leach’s narrative accompanying his marvellous record of last year’s Tour de France. It wasn’t the Tour we were all anticipating but it was none the less thrilling. The crowds for the UK Grand Depart in Yorkshire were unprecedented –  wonderful to see, and experience. The race had more twists than a barleycorn, an emphatic victor and each stage’s tales were beautifully captured by Greig in bright clear colours which convey a real sense of movement, occasion and emotion. I’m hoping this first successful foray into printed medium will be just the start of a new venture for Greig. His paintings deserve to be more widely shared.

4. The Basque Country

Cycling: 32th Clasica San Sebastian 2012

We managed three visits by dint of our trip along the northern coastline of Spain to last year’s World Championship in Ponferrada. We’re slowly exploring more and more of the region on two wheels and refining our list of must-visit hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s a region which never fails to delight us and we’d move there in a nano second were it not for the weather. Once again we visited places we might never have gone to were it not for bike racing and our lives would be poorer because of it.

5. Marquez Boys Double

marc-marquez-alex-marquez-motogp-moto3

Having watched Marc Marquez take the world of MotoGP by storm, breaking records every which way since his rookie season in the 125cc class, it was great to see him (easily) retain his World Championship and for his younger brother Alex take the MotoGP3 title. Their parents must be so proud of them.

6. Conviviality of Cannondale Pro Cycling

Jake Hamm CPC Studio 8785b

Our friends at G4 provided the casual wear for Cannondale and, because I lend them a hand wherever I can, I got to spend time at training camps and races with the boys. We were made to feel part of the extended Italian family and looked forward to meeting up with them at races. In return, I think the boys enjoyed my cakes which I believe have moved up a notch since moving from club events to WorldTour. While the name continues, the team’s backbone is no more. But we wish all the former staff and riders every success in their new teams and roles. Thank you for a memorable year, we’ll cherish it forever.

You may have noticed that, one way or another, every highlight involved two wheels! I’m hoping 2015 continues in a similar vein.

Postcards from Ponferrada II

Strictly speaking our vacation is over and we’ve been back home for a while. Embarrassingly, it’s been almost three weeks since we left our delightful Casa Rural some 50km from Ponferrada and started our slow exploratory journey home via the Mediterranean coast. Of course, I’d been meaning to put finger to keyboard while we were there but spotty WiFi and little time spent in our hotel bedroom, other than for sleeping, rendered that well-nigh impossible. In addition, the weather improved immeasurably allowing my beloved and I to cycle around the Leon Hills most mornings and the course itself. I should add that a couple of times was enough. No need to go the full 200km+.

At this point I should say that I have no idea who decided Ponferrada would be an ideal course for the likes of Messrs Cancellara, Boonen and Sagan when it patently wasn’t, hence the reshuffled Liege-Bastogne-Liege podium for the Men’s Road Race. The Germans and Australians, as usual, seemed to dominate the podiums though it was good to see new talent emerge and existing talent confirmed.

Everyone staying at our Casa Rural was, like us, there for the cycling. Two couples had sons riding against one another in the Juniors and another was the national champion of Hungary who was self-financing her participation in the Elite Women’s road race, though Hungary had provided her and her trainer with kit and a track suit!

Leon

After a long, tiring day watching the racing we were all only too happy to return for a delicious home-cooked dinner washed down by a bottle of local wine and enjoy a lively discussion with our fellow guests about the day’s racing. On our day off, Thursday, we drove into Leon, home of Velonews reporter Andrew Hood who kindly provided me with recommendations of what to see and do in Leon – Cathedral, San Marcos and San Isidoro. We followed them to the letter and weren’t disappointed. Architecturally, it’s a beautiful town and, like neighbouring Astorga, boasts a Gaudi building. This one was now a bank but my beloved felt it wouldn’t be out of place in a Harry Potter film.

We were able to thank Andrew personally the following day. I also finally met up with Jose Been who was commentating for television with Phil Liggett. She’s a lovely, bubbly lady who should be awarded much more commentary work on the basis of her knowledge about and enthusiasm for cycling. As usual, I also met up with a number of former fellow volunteers who had once again offered to help out and were royally enjoying the Spanish hospitality.

Ponferrada 2014

Like all World Championships, Ponferrada had its plus and minus points but, on balance, was very positive from a spectator experience. Now if only they could have only solved the issue of the road-crossing pinch point…………they’d have gotten a far higher mark. Richmond 2015 promises to be a very different kettle of fish.

Zara

Our first stop on the way back from Ponferrada was Zaragoza. A charming old town, well worth a week-end visit. I felt we were unable to do it justice with our evening whistle-stop tour. Thereafter, we spent a couple of days living the high-life as the sole guests in a small château in Argeles-sur-Mer. The old town was quite charming but the beach area, fronted by miles of golden sandy beach, was a purpose-built, inexpensive, French, family holiday resort. That was not a ringing endorsement. The small villages in the hills above Argeles were however charming as were the smaller coastal towns nearby which put one in mind of Cornish rocky coves. The château had its own vineyard and a very acceptable range of wines which we tasted in its nearby restaurant. That’s the advantage of hiring the Kangoo, plenty of room for bottles of wine.

Sete edit

As we wend our way back home, we popped into the wholly charming town of Sete. My beloved has been wanting to visit for some time as I have a pastel painting of the area and he was able to identify the buildings in the painting. Not too much had changed in the 15 years since it was painted.

We’ve discovered that it’s an excellent idea to get back from a longish vacation on a Friday evening. That way one has all week end to catch up with various bits and pieces, ready for work on Monday morning.

Home Sweet Home

The end of the WorldTour cycling season usually sees us putting dates in diaries and making hotel bookings for next year, particularly for the Worlds, the Tour of the Basque country and La Clasica. We’re also thinking further ahead to 2016 when we won’t go to the worlds in Qatar but might well follow La Vuelta. Something to look forward to!

Postcards from Ponferrada I

One week into our almost three-week vacation, how am I faring? I confess that a week of sharing a bathroom with my beloved is stressful but plenty of exercise and fresh air has meant I’ve slept for well over nine hours per night and am feeling positively chilled.

It’s just what I needed after a hectic run-up to the holiday. Ideally I like to completely clear the decks the day before any vacation so that I have enough time to do all the washing, ironing and packing, ticking off my various lists as I go. Despite hiring a Renault Kangoo for the trip, which easily takes the bikes, our luggage and the kitchen sink, I like to travel as lightly as possible. My beloved, on the other hand, likes to cater for every potential occasion. If we’re travelling for 15 days, then he needs 15 of everything!

This time I had a day long business trip to Amsterdam on the Monday followed by an entire day spent editing. By the time I collected my beloved from the airport on Tuesday evening, I was too tired to even start thinking about preparing for our holiday. Instead I got up really early and did it all the following morning.

We had a great drive down to the Basque country and arrived just as the heavens opened at what our Garmin GPS and Michelin route planner insisted was our hotel. It wasn’t! Unfortunately neither the owner of the hotel nor some English guests could explain exactly how to reach it. They kept telling us to take the left-hand turn out of Getaria but they should have said “after” Getaria. Our hotel was at the other end of a very long road which snakes around the headland and is now partly impassable other than on foot. So the road has two properties numbered “4” and we were at the other one.

We did eventually find it and, despite not having a dinner booking, they managed to rustle up a meal for us. Which was nice as it was our wedding anniversary. To be honest, I’d thought it was the day before which is what happens when you’ve been married as long as we have! We slept well thanks to a good bottle of red wine and exhaustion, awaking to sunshine and glorious coastal views.

Getariaview

Fortified by a hearty breakfast, we headed along the coast to Asturias but not before a sighting of Haimar Zubeldia, out for a morning training ride. We laughed because there were all those jokes on Twitter during the Tour about whether anyone had seen him. He seems to achieve top ten placings in most races from beneath the radar and here he was. To be fair he does live in the town just up the road.

We were keen to further explore the Cantabrian coastline having previously visited Noja, a start town in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. It lived up to expectations, apart from the stretch between Santander and Torrelevaga – far too industrial. But our overnight destination was near the Asturian coastline. The entire area is a very green and pleasant land with lush green grazing for its cattle and apples trees aplenty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. The air is perfumed with the sweet smell of drying apples.

We spent a couple of days in Gijon in a stately home, now a hotel, parts of which date back to the 17th century, which has been in the same family since 1850. It was a bit like stepping back in time and delightfully restful. Just what the doctor ordered.

Gijoncoast

Have bike, will ride. The roads of Asturias are practically car free. I joked on Twitter that we were giving Lagos de Covadonga a miss but still managed plenty of climbing. The roads are undulating, not perhaps as steep as the Basque country, but steep enough. I was disappointed not to have a sighting of Samu though I did keep my eyes peeled for a tell-tale flash of red and black with gold highlights.

After a relaxing two days in Asturias, we set off for Ponferrada on the motorway. The vista was very different to Asturias, clearly showing the area’s heritage to be one of opencast mining. The first of our challenges in Ponferrada was to find the ticket office. Our GPS once more fell on stony ground but clearly we weren’t the only people experiencing difficulties as the organisers sent us a series of emails concluding with one with a map. The road to the ticket office, a portakabin parked in the middle of nowhere, was blocked but we soon circumnavigated that hurdle and got our tickets..

We then headed to our hotel on the Camino de Santiago. I’ll be honest; it’s not a challenge that holds any appeal. Even less so now that I’ve more time to fully appreciated the enormity of the challenge. Our casa rural and home for the next nine days is in one of the small villages part-way between Astorga and Ponferrada with six delightful rooms, run by a mother and daughter team. After a delicious home-cooked meal, courtesy of Mum, we happily retired to our spacious bedroom and were soon fast asleep.

The following morning we were up early for a post breakfast ride. We saw five cars, hordes of walkers and 24 cyclists, eight of whom belonged to national squads. The terrain was undulating, the vista vaguely Scottish and you could see for miles. I was also grateful I’d packed my ¾ bib tights and arm warmers! Yes, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing.

The outlook for the first few days of racing was mixed. I’d bought tickets to the uncovered grandstand and as per usual, volunteers outnumbered spectators by a factor of ten to one. Fortunately, our more mature volunteers saw sense and let in a crowd of people otherwise the camera shot of the finish would have featured empty stands.

Ponferrada TTT

We’ve now had two days of rain and the outlook for the next few is more favourable so we’ll be back out on the bike. I noted that the British elite women didn’t field a competitor in the individual time-trial. I’d have been happy to oblige if only they’d given me a call. The races have thus far been dominated by the Americans, the Germans and the Australians.

I confess that most of the attraction in coming to the Worlds is watching riders I normally don’t get to see, such as the women and the young guys and gals – stars of the future. I also visit places I’d never normally think of visiting. For example, just down the road is Astorga which dates back to Roman times, has a castle designed by Gaudi and is renowned for its chocolate. I’ve been round the castle but have yet to indulge in some chocolate.

Planning in vain

Yet again I find myself chomping at the bit to go out for a ride. I managed to slip out at lunchtime for a quick thrash around Cap d’Antibes but was left wanting more. Sadly, I’m still hosting a whole variety of tradespeople two weeks after they were supposed to have finished! This is playing havoc with my schedule.

Planner 2014edited

To be fair, it’s not been all bad. Their workmanship has largely been exemplary. The only issue, and it’s a personal one, has been the replacement trap doors in the flat. The previous ones were made for me by a carpenter to match my door surrounds and so I’ll shortly be replacing the new replacement ones. These new bog standard replacement door traps don’t quite cut it and mine are just that wee bit too small. However, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one with this problem. Either the builders cut too large new access holes or the measurements taken were inaccurate. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Of course, for some of my neighbours, particularly those with wallpapered walls, the end result is far from attractive and they’ll either have to lump it or totally redecorate their hallways, a far more expensive proposition than a replacement door and surround.

This week I had hoped to be spending days out on the bike enjoying the still mild weather, instead I’m spending way too much time cooped up inside. The only upside is that I’m tackling my backlog of work. Just as well as, once the builders have departed, everything will need a thorough clean. There’s dirt and dust everywhere. Still I have been enjoying the break from housework – who wouldn’t? I could have used Bob the Robot to keep the floor dust in check but it’s all proved too much for him. He’s gone on strike and won’t recharge. I’ve got to return him for a once-over and, possibly, replacement parts.

This week end it’ll be key to log plenty of kilometres in the saddle as next week I’m making one of my briefish trips to the UK for a Dental Exhibition – I know, I lead such an exciting life! – and to see my Dad. As a consequence, my training plans have rather gone out of the window in my quest to just ride as much as I can before the cold weather sets in. But hopefully that’s going to be many more weeks off.

Already, I’m making plans for next year. By the end of next month, I’ll typically have the following year pretty much planned out. My trip to the start of next year’s Tour de France in Yorkshire was booked about four months’ ago and I’ve just made plans to visit friends and clients in Italy next year to watch the latter part of the recently announced Giro d’Italia. In addition, I’ve selected the route and hotels for next year’s trip to the World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain. We’re turning it into a two week holiday, with bikes, which will give us plenty of opportunity to explore areas which we’ve never before visited.

My husband was pretty adamant that he wouldn’t be following the Tour of the Basque country next year, so that might have to be a solo road trip with what by then will be Tom IV. How time flies! But maybe he’ll relent by the time next Easter comes around. Just in case, I’d better book a hotel room large enough for us both. In truth, next year’s viewing of cycle races will follow a pretty similar agenda to this year’s, although I am hoping to squeeze in another trip to the MotoGP in either Spain or Italy.

It might seem as if all this planning and preparation takes away from the spontaneity of just rocking up to watch something but I find it’s quite the opposite. It gives me time to look forward and savour what’s on the horizon without stressing about whether or not I’ll find accommodation or have time to go. If it’s not in the diary, it’s easy to overlook or rashly commit  – or be committed by my beloved – to something else.