Hither and thither

Well here we are, it’s Thursday evening, my beloved is due back at midnight Friday afternoon – see how time flies – bringing to an end my three-day spell of peace and quiet. I’ve been very busy but I don’t feel as if I’ve achieved much. I still haven’t gotten around to writing about Sunday’s exciting finish to the Tour du Haut Var in Fayence.

After a well-deserved early night my beloved headed out early to ride with the club. I set off about an hour later, to avoid the early morning chill. I went straight to the pointage and rode back home again to prepare lunch for my beloved’s return. I wanted to leave early to watch the cycling  so I could bag, once again, a spot on the finish line.  A quick trip down the motorway and we arrived in Fayence, parking the car outside of the town, to facilitate a quick getaway.

The organisers had laid on entertainment: a Brazilian singer and scantily clad dancers much to the appreciation of the largely male, elderly audience. Again, the spectators were mainly local, apart from Mauro Santambrogio’s fan club who’d travelled from, I assume, his home town near Como, in Italy.

Jon Tiernan Locke winner Tour du Haut Var 2012 (image courtesy of my beloved)

All the usual suspects were there: Daniel Mangeas, Stephen Roche and Raymond Poulidor but the talk wasn’t about Voeckler or Rolland, no the name on everyone’s lips was that of Brit, Jon Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing). Who, as anticipated, ignited the final few kilometres of the race up the (in)famous Mur de Fayence, to take the stage and the overall. It was a very pleasant afternoon in the sun and we headed back home happy as dusk fell.

Monday passed in a blur and I dropped my beloved off at the airport on Tuesday morning anticipating a few undisturbed night’s sleep and days to be spent as I pleased. Of course, things never quite go the way they’re planned. He’s back and apart from tidying the flat, dealing with masses of club and company administration, logging a few kilometres on the bike and penning a few articles for my other blog VeloVoices, the time has passed all too quickly. I still haven’t made any inroads into the ironing mountain, or should that now be range of mountains and the “to do” list is growing at an alarming rate.

I’ve guests coming for dinner this evening and I have been foraging in my freezer for a sticky, wine-rich daube which I’m going to serve with oven roasted onions and carrots and a white bean puree. Dessert is a help yourself affair. Cold creamy rice pudding and/or crumble either of which can be enjoyed with caramel apples and/or stewed strawberries. Helping them slide down a treat is plenty of my vanilla flecked [real] custard.  I generally don’t serve a starter during the week, instead my guests can nibble on  home-made foccacia and slivers of salami.

Spring is almost sprung

I enjoy nothing more than watching live sport, particularly live cycling taking place on roads I too have ridden and know well. So, on Saturday, after despatching my beloved with friends to go cross-country skiing, finished my chores, had a quick ride, leapt into Tom III and headed off down the motorway in the direction of La Croix Valmer, around the headland from St Tropez. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the birds were singing, lambs were gamboling, the Mimosa was in bloom – surely, Spring was just around the corner?

It’s a lovely drive but, as I neared the centre of town, there was a huge traffic jam caused by the team buses trying to reverse into their allocated parking spaces. I noted there were plenty of parking spots on the opposite side of the road and asked one of the many policemen on traffic duty if I could park there. He confirmed I could and gallantly stopped the on-coming traffic so I could do a u-turn and park.

I left the car and headed in the general direction of the finish, first to have a close look at the run in and secondly to bag myself a spot on the finishing line. A couple of hours from the riders’ anticipated arrival time, there were few people milling around, mainly the organisers and press. I bumped into one of the journalists from the Nice Matin who often writes pieces about the club and our events. I reminded him that it wasn’t too many months until the Kivilev.

We chatted generally about cycling and who we thought might make an impact on this week end’s racing. As we walked the final stretch we eliminated a number of riders from the frame. The organisers were correct, this was one of the more testing parcours. My purpose today was two-fold, watch the racing and report via tweets wearing my VeloVoice’s hat. I was hoping to add some colour to the event by chatting to other fans  but the French are very guarded about the internet and what they see as an invasion of their privacy. They were happy to talk but didn’t want me to mention them on the net, as if it were some work of the devil. Luckily I did find a few who didn’t mind a mention but the crowd, which swelled considerably as time wore on, was largely local and retired.

Things started to crank up when Mr Cycling arrived: Daniel Mangeas. I have only to hear his mellifluous tones rattling off some obscure rider’s palmares to feel at peace. The race’s patron, and event’s first winner, Raymond Poulidor, was also there looking extremely spritely and a glowing advert for the health benefits of cycling. Even Tricky, Dicky Virenque showed up and lent Daniel a hand.

Luckily for the riders, the weather is much improved on the last couple of weeks. Indeed, it was positively balmy. As the peloton approached the final five-loop circuit, the seven man breakaway had splintered into a 2-3-2 formation with the front two looking as if they might just manage to hang on, and they did. I just love it when a breakaway succeeds. Kinda restores one’s belief in the philosophy of having a go.

Not having a camera with me, or indeed my cameraman, I skipped the podium to head for home. As I approached my car, the same policemen advised me the road was still closed but that he’d let me know as soon as it was open. Not only did he let me know, he stood in the road and stopped the traffic, before ushering me out in front of two Astana vehicles who followed me back as far as the turn off to Draguignan.

All too soon I was home and my beloved, his face glowing from a day spent in the sun, was demanding to be fed. There’s no peace for the wicked, or me!

Countdown to Copenhagen

World Championships Copenhagen 2011

As the World Road Race Championships kick off today in Copenhagen, I find myself in the unusual position of still being at home. Pressure of work and flight schedules mean that I’ll be watching only the Road Races and not the Individual Time Trials. Of course, the latter are often much easier races to predict than the former. However, I cannot pretend to know enough about the juniors, ladies or even the U23s to even think about making any sort of prediction. Of course, this won’t hold me back in the Men’s Races. However, before turning our attention to this year’s races, let’s have a quick look at a few historical facts and figures, some of which feature this year’s location:-

History:

  • The first Cycling Championships took place in 1927 at the Nuerburgring in Germany  and was won by Alfredo Binda, of Italy.
  • Belgium has the most wins per country with 25 victories from 17 different riders followed by Italy (19 wins), France (8 wins),
    Netherlands (7 wins) and Spain (5 wins).
  • Only five cyclists have successfully defended their title (three Belgians and two Italians): Georges Ronsse (Belgium, 1928–29); Rik Van
    Steenbergen (Belgium, 1956–57); Rik van Looy (Belgium, 1960–61); Gianni Bugno (Italy, 1991–92); Paolo Bettini (Italy, 2006–07).

Multiple winners:

  • 3 wins: Alfredo Binda (Ita), Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel), Eddy Merckx (Bel), Oscar Freire (Spa)
  • 2 wins: Georges Ronsse (Bel), Briek Schotte (Bel), Rik Van Looy (Bel), Freddy Maertens (Bel), Greg Lemond (USA), Gianni Bugno (Ita),
    Paolo Bettini (Ita)

Most medals:

  • Alfredo Binda (Ita): 1927(1),1929(3),1930(1),1932(1)
  • Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel): 1946(3),1949(1),1956(1),1957(1)
  • André Darrigade (Fra): 1957(3),1958(3),1959(1),1960(2)
  • Rik Van Looy (Bel): 1956(2),1960(1),1961(1),1963(2)
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra): 1961(3),1964(3),1966(3),1974(2)
  • Greg Lemond (USA): 1982(2),1983(1),1985(2),1989(1)
  • Oscar Freire (Esp): 1999(1),2000(3),2001(1),2004(1)

Sundry points:

  • Twelve riders have won a world title in their home country so far, the last one was Alessandro Ballan (ITA) who won in gold in Varese, Italy in 2008.
  • Abraham Olano (Esp) is the only rider to have won gold in both the road race (Duitama, Colombia, 1995) and the time trial (Valkenburg,
    Netherlands, 1998).
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra) has participated in 18 world championship road races.
  • Fastest edition: 46.538km/h (Zolder, Belgium, 2002)
  • Slowest edition: 27.545km/h (Nürburgring, Germany, 1927)
  • Longest edition: 297.5km (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1937)
  • Shortest edition: 172km (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1931)
  • Largest group to sprint for victory: 46 (Lisbon, Portugal, 2001)
  • Biggest margin between gold and silver: 19.43 seconds (Budapest, Hungary, 1928)

Medallists by nations:

  • 1. Belgium 25-11-11
  • 2. Italy 19-20-16
  • 3. France 8-11-15
  • 4. Netherlands 7-4-6
  • 5. Spain 5-5-9
  • 6. Switzerland 3-6-4
  • 7. USA 3-2-0
  • 8. Germany 2-7-5
  • 9. Ireland 1-1-3
  • 10. Australia 1-1-1
  • 14. Denmark 0-3-2

World Road Race Cycling Champions (last 10 years only):

  • 2001 Oscar Freire, Spain
  • 2002 Mario Cipollini, Italy
  • 2003 Igor Astarloa, Spain
  • 2004 Oscar Freire, Spain
  • 2005 Tom Boonen, Belgium
  • 2006 Paolo Bettini, Italy
  • 2007 Paolo Bettini, Italy
  • 2008 Alessandro Ballan, Italy
  • 2009 Cadel Evans, Australia
  • 2010 Thor Hushovd, Norway

A good read

This month’s Cycle Sport magazine opines on “the best 50 cycling books of all time [in the English language]”. Lists are always interesting, open to debate and, ultimately, very subjective despite their authors proclaiming their objectivity. Given that I have quite (typical British understatement) a large collection of books on cycling, I was keen to see where we agreed, where we differed and which books were in their list which I had yet to acquire and read.

I guard my books and only a favoured few are allowed to borrow them. I say this from bitter experience as a number of books have been borrowed and never returned and, as they are now out of print, are proving difficult to replace. For example, my beloved, one of the worst culprits, may borrow any book but cannot remove it from the premises. I don’t keep lists of who has what book at any point in time, I don’t need to, I know by heart where they all are at any given time.

You will note that I qualified the list as, not unnaturally, Cycle Sport has only included books either written in English or those subsequently translated into English. So, for example, “Tomorrow We Ride” written by Jean Bobet, “A Century of Paris-Roubaix” by Pascal Sergent and “We Were Young and Carefree” by Laurent Fignon make the list as they’ve been translated from the original French into English.

For similar reasons, the biographies feature largely English speaking riders notably Tommy Simpson, Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Graeme Obree, Allan Peiper, Greg LeMond, Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and many tomes about that man Lance. However, a couple of my favourite books feature cyclists who are not so well known and they’re both on the list. “A Significant Other” by Matt Rendell covers a former domestique of Lance’s from Columbia, Victor Hugo Pena. While, “Kings of the Mountains” looks at the role of cycling within Columbia’s most recent history and the Columbian riders who’ve ridden in Europe.

Stories about a few foreign riders make the cut, again solely because they’re written in English: Paul Howard’s revealing “Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape” about Jacques Anquetil, Matt Rendell’s excellent “The Death of Marco Pantani” and William Fotheringham’s “Fallen Angel – The Passion of Fausto Coppi”.

I have read a number of books about Pantani and I would say that while Rendell’s is undoubtedly an excellent read, and certainly a measured account, it falls short of Philippe Brunel’s tale “Vie et Mort de Marco Pantani” simply because Brunel had greater access to Pantani while he was alive.

My favourite book about Il Campionissimo was written by Jean-Paul Ollivier “Fausto Coppi La Gloire et Les Larmes”. As a historian, the author weaves his tale about Coppi against a backdrop of the social and economic history of Italy. As a consequence, he breathes more life and meaning into his subject and leaves  the reader with a greater understanding. I’ve also enjoyed the same author’s insights into Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor.

A book I’ve read recently, and whose words really resonated with me, is “Le Metier” by Michael Barry. The book is a seasonal account of the last year Barry rode for Columbia-HTC,  beautifully illustrated with photographs. In my opinion, Barry most accurately conveys to his readers what it’s like to be a professional bike rider. Even as a hobby cyclist I found I could empathise with his accounts of training on his own.

Doping looms large as one of the most frequently covered topics in books on Cycle Sport’s List: specifically, Will Voet’s “Breaking the Chain”, Jeremy Whittle’s “Bad Blood”, from “Lance to Landis” by David Walsh and Paul Kimmage’s “A Rough Ride”.  For me, the most illuminating book on this subject is  “Prisonnier du Dopage”  by Philippe Gaumont a former pro-cyclist who rode for Cofidis 1997-2003.

There are a few surprising omissions. To my knowledge there’s only one book in English about the Vuelta “Viva la Vuelta – the story of Spain’s great bike race” by Lucy Fallon and Adrian Bell and for that reason alone it should be on the list. “The Giro d’Italia – Coppi versus Bartali at the 1949 Tour of Italy” is the only book on that race on Cycle Sport’s list. For some reason, neither the Vuelta nor the Giro have spawned the same number of books as the Tour, not even in their native languages.

There’s a few other books I would put on my list which are not on Cycle Sport’s. I rather enjoyed David (Talking Heads) Byrne’s “Bicycle Diaries”  which chronicles his thoughts and observations as he pedals through some of the major cities in the world. 1960’s Italy and Italian cycling culture in brought to life in Herbie Sykes “The Eagle of Canavese” about Franco Balmamion who won back to back Giro titles. I loved “Indurain: una pasion templada” by Javier Garcia Sanchez which showcases one of Spain’s sporting idols, the very modest and humble Miguel Indurain whom I have been fortunate to meet. For those of you whose better halves don’t share your passion for cycling, can I suggest a Xmas stocking filler: “Roadie: the Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer” by Jamie Smith.

I don’t have all the books on Cycle Sport’s list and that in itself raises some concerns as I’m now bound to try and obtain copies,  even though many are probably out of print,  because my collection just won’t be complete without them. Amazon and eBay, here I come………………………….

Show me the money

Now you may be wondering, “How’s the fundraising going?” Well, I have a multi-pronged strategy. Family and friends were pre-warned at Xmas to expect shameless emails begging for sponsorship early in 2009 and most responded that they would be happy to sponsor me (yet again).

Fundraising locally is much more of a challenge. Not that the French aren’t generous, they are very generous both with their money and their support. But raising funds for an American charity, fronted by a Texan, who’s won the Tour 7 times, is a tough call, even among cycling enthusiasts. Lance is not perceived as being sufficiently “sympa”.

My Livestrong mentor told me she has faced similar uphill battles raising funds in Germany. I’m not sure how Lance can turn this around as falling off his bike and breaking his collarbone into several bits hasn’t done the trick. Methinks he should take a leaf out of Contador’s book. Maybe something “courageaux” at this year’s Tour de France. Lance might like to reflect on the reasons behind M Poulidor’s popularity.

So in France, I am raising funds for the local branch of a national cancer charity, La Ligue Contre Cancer. I have had an excellent response from my club mates who have enthusiastically embraced the cause. I’m now hoping to spread this fervour to other cycling clubs and, indeed, other sporting clubs.

One or two people have wondered whether I might ape the recent efforts of Romain Mesnil (above) to find sponsorship. Frankly, if I looked as good as he does naked, I might be tempted. But I’m a firm believer in “if you’ve got it flaunt it, if not, keep it covered up”. So that’ll be a no then.