Helping hands

Volunteers

Sport in general, particularly at the grass roots level, and many sporting events, rely upon the generosity of a few. The running of our cycling club and the events we organise would not be possible without the assistance of volunteers. For the most part, they are long serving, retired members who simply enjoy lending a helping hand.  So how might one define a volunteer?  Most agree it’s someone who willingly gives their time freely, without thought of any gain, monetary or otherwise, to assist others.

My first experience of volunteering was while I still worked in the City. With the support and encouragement of our Chairman, I set up a scheme whereby we adopted a primary school in one of the more-deprived areas of London. We worked with a group of children on their literacy, numeracy, IT and musical skills, mentored the head teacher and helped raise much-needed funds. We also organised school trips and involved the children in a number of out-of-school activities. Everyone was surprised at how much personal enjoyment they got out of their involvement.

Since moving to France, I have worked as a volunteer at a number of major sporting events. Each time I’ve been fortunate to work with a great crowd of people, some of whom have become good friends, and learnt more about what makes events of this type successful. My day-to-day volunteering revolves around my work for the cycle club. Most clubs are run by those who are retired. However, all our team work either full or part-time, we are therefore hugely reliant on the assistance of many club members. Inevitably this tends to be those who have time on their hands ie the retirees.

Initially, those who were part of the club’s previous administration continued to assist us but most have now resigned as they were not wholly in sync with the way in which we run the club. While we have no problem with reimbursing members for expenses validly incurred on behalf of the club we do not support what I like to call “blanket reimbursement of expenses”. That’s to say reimbursing members for expenses which also have a personal element such as internet and telephone subscriptions. Put bluntly we don’t believe that donating your time to the club should be rewarded with additional perks above and beyond what is available to all the membership. Every committee member has to pay their own membership fees and we no longer hold  the annual dinner for the management team and their wives. It may not sound very much, but I estimate that with this approach we have saved over 3.ooo Euros per annum, just under a quarter of our subvention from the local authority, which equates to 19,50 Euros per member.

I appreciate that I’m beginning to sound like a killjoy but I do believe that everything should be above board when it comes to handling the club’s finances. Indeed, we have been much lauded by the Town Hall for our approach. Instead, I much prefer we hold events that everyone can attend: members, local dignitaries, sponsors and friends of the club.

Of course, running a club is not a popularity contest, nor should it ever be viewed as such. There are always members who think they could do it so much better. Typically, these are the members who never, ever give you a hand. Instead they are always on the receiving end. Sadly, every club has them. Similarly, there are members who are always willing to help and one should endeavour never to take them for granted. But often a simple “Thank you,” an all too often overlooked management tool, will suffice. Others require a bit of cajoling or inducement. A free t-shirt often does the trick.  I like to remind people that you get out of a club what you put into it. Put in nothing and………………………….

La Ronde is fast approaching. This is a race we organise in conjunction with a pointage every August. M le President sent out an email asking for volunteers, it fell on stony ground. Many of those who volunteer aren’t on the internet. Unbelievable, I know but there it is. In addition, a lot of members only check their mailboxes periodically, like once a week! I decided that a telephone call would probably work better. I’ve rung all those that volunteered last year, plus others, and we now have enough volunteers. Calls may take longer than an email but when you’re asking someone for essentially a favour, the personal approach is often better. Now, I’d better get stuck into replenishing my cake stocks.

Tour Postscript: Tom Boonen succumbs to his injuries and abandons the Tour. A crash takes out Bradley Wiggins and Remi Pauriol with collarbone/shoulder injuries. The subsequent pile up delays large numbers of riders including all those from Sky who drop out of Top 20 on GC. Thomas concedes the white jersey to Gesink. Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner lose more time. The road has decided, Radioshack’s GC rider is Andreas Kloden. Rojas snatches back the green jersey but, with his stage win, Cavendish inches ever closer to green. Thor hangs onto yellow for probably the last time, likewise Hoogerland who will probably concede the spotted jersey tomorrow.

Good save

It’s always enjoyable watching the professional peloton suffer on the same routes and roads that one regularly rides. This week end was no exception other than to say none of us would willingly ride in this sort of weather. Not even if someone were paying us. For the first time in many years, riders in Paris-Nice were welcomed to the Cote d’Azur with snow, gail-force winds, rain and cold temperatures. It’s at times like these you have to admire their fortitude and perseverance in the face of so many climatic obstacles.

As forecast, it started raining heavily just as the peloton hit the descent from Gourdon, a broad, sinuous and steep road which dangerously narrows at Chateauneuf. Roads are always at their most dangerous with a little rain: they’re greasy and very slippy. Many were cautious, indeed one could say over cautious. But with good reason, no one wants their season compromised.

Yesterday, it was a case of right team wrong rider, Alexandre Vinokourov had said that they were going to put an Astana rider on the podium. I assumed he would be that rider. I was wrong. It was instead, Remy di Gregorio who, after a couple of years in the FDJ wilderness, showed that he’s been revitalised by the Astana lifeline.

Right on Remy

Remy set off with around 13km to the finish with no one quite believing that he would manage to stay away, particularly given the narrow margin of his advantage.  His team had controlled the peloton for the first 80km or so and by the time we had television coverage, Garmin-Cervelo were on the front picking up points to preserve the green jersey of Heinrich Haussler. In the final stretch, Movistar took over, one assumes, to catapult Xavier Tondo up the GC. Instead, he slid off his bike just before the finish line.

The favourites all looked to be in preservation mode, not willing to gamble in the perilous conditions. Haussler fell over three times, the last time sliding into a wall. Robbert Kiserlovski (Astana) ended up under a parked van. Those two weren’t the only riders to fall. With 2km to go, Remy’s back wheel slid and  his right leg shot out of the pedal, allowing him to steady himself. Miraculously, he remained upright and continued to press his slim advantage.

Sammy Sanchez decided to use the work done by Movistar to move up on GC, finishing behind di Gregorio to record his 33rd runners-up position. Does this make him a Spanish Poulidor? There was no change to any of the jersey holders, nor the podium.

Today’s stage was much shorter and took in the usual sights of Nice which, one has to say, still looked magnificent on the television coverage despite the constant falling rain and huge waves crashing onto the beach. Sheltering under our brollies, warmly wrapped up, we watched the riders depart and them promptly retired to a bar to warm ourselves and watch the tv coverage. We were joined by many of the walking wounded: riders who have retired thanks to niggling injuries, colds and stomach upsets.

Only 134km to go!

Seizing the opportunity of last year’s last stage winner’s absence (Amael Moinard has retired with a heavy cold), Thomas Voeckler rode away from his breakaway companions to record his 2nd win (3rd French stage win) of this edition of Paris-Nice. You would be hard pressed to find a more popular winner. Sammy set off again, this time with a team mate from the breakaway,  to pull back a few seconds which moved him up another place on GC into 5th. That aside, there were no changes on the podium nor with the jerseys. Tony Martin rode a well judged race to record his first stage-race GC win and provide HTC with another Grand Tour card to play. Andreas Kloeden was 2nd and Bradley Wiggins 3rd. Jean-Christoph Peraud was the best placed Frenchman in 6th place. Rein Taaramae (4th on GC) was the best young rider, Henrich Haussler won the green point’s jersey and Remi Pauriol the spotted mountain one.

(all photographs courtesy of my beloved)

All shook up

We set off yesterday lunchtime for Aix-en-Provence. I let my beloved drive Tom III, largely because I was feeling lousy with my head cold. We arrived, easily parked and went to stand at the finish, within sight of the big tv screen. The team cars and buses were parked behind us and I realised I should have liberated “the shirt for signature” from my LBS, as I’d have had no trouble collecting further signatures – damn. I’ll do that today and see if I can collect a few over the week end.

Sky's Geraint Thomas cooling down
Sky’s Geraint Thomas set the earliest best time only to be superceded by Vacansoleil’s Liewe Westra. Obviously, if you’re riding for a team with GC ambitions,  you’re probably advised to ride within yourself, saving something in the legs for this week end’s stages. As a result, riders come and go without unduly disturbing the results. However, I enjoy time trials as it’s one of the very few occasions you get to see individual riders. On the big screen, you can also appreciate the differences between the time-triallers and the others. The former keep rock solid still on the bike with the legs working like pistons. However, with 25 riders within 90 seconds of the leader, this time-trial was going to finish with a flourish.
Serious bike bling

Richie Porte (SaxoBank-Sungard),  or as he’s called by the French Ritchee Poorty, set the next best time. He ultimately finished 3rd, 29 seconds behind the eventual winner. Yes, this was one stage that went according to expectations. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) wearing his GB champion’s kit blasted around 9 seconds faster than Richie Porte to finish 2nd on the day. The winner, as widely anticipated, was Tony Martin whose fluid pedalling style is a joy to behold. He rode at an average speed of 48.5km/hr and finished 20 seconds ahead of Wiggo.

As predicted, the time-trial results shook up the GC. Martin is now in yellow 36 seconds ahead of Kloeden (RadioShack) and 39 seconds ahead of Wiggins. Locally based Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) is 70 seconds back in 4th, and holder of the best young jersey, with Jean Christophe Peraud (AG2R), the highest placed Frenchman, in 5th, a further 4 seconds down. Given the week end’s topography and forecast weather conditions, the top 12 placed riders can still challenge on GC, but Tony Martin looks pretty determined to hang onto yellow. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) looks to have a stranglehold on the points jersey, as does Remi Pauriol (FDJ) on the spotted one.

Something left in the tank
It’s official, I have a cold which probably wasn’t helped by my standing in yesterday’s humid and chilly conditions watching the racing. But a girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. My tip for today? Alexandre Vinokourov wasn’t totally blown when he finished yesterday. He’d like to win a stage to honour his late friend, Andrei Kivilev, and maybe today’s the day. We’ll see.