Just another week end

The incredibly mild weather is continuing which isn’t great news for those planning on going skiing. This, of course, has meant I have been out and about on the bike since my return from the Big Apple. Yesterday was the Telethon, France’s version of “Children in Need” but I was too busy with my guests to take part in the Club’s ride.

One of my English students is contemplating what to do after leaving school. French schools appear to be no better than English when it comes to dishing out career advice, so we’re lending a helping hand. I had invited around a couple of family friends for dinner. One’s an accountant and the other’s Head of HR at a bank in Monaco so they were both able to impart some words of wisdom and advice to our young friend.

Having guests for dinner’s an excuse to try out some new recipes. I decided on English cooking with a twist as my theme for the evening. I cooked a silky smooth cauliflower soup with black pudding, fish and chips with home-made tomato ketchup and for dessert, apple crumble and custard. Obviously, nothing was quite as it seemed. 

I dusted the monkfish in curry powder and fried it for a few minutes and served it with celeriac chips which had first been confit in goose fat before being fried too. The crumble was perched atop cored apple halves stuffed with rum soaked raisins and served with my home made custard, not a tin of Bird’s in sight. There was also a cheese course and my petit fours to finish. I believe the boys have quite changed their minds about English cooking.

Our young guest stayed over and rode Saturday morning with my beloved and his friends. He returned to collect his stuff and the two of them polished off the remaining crumble doused in custard. Who knew raw crumble tasted so good? Yes, the “spare” crumble hadn’t been cooked. Still both declared it ideal cycling food.  I went for a 3 hour ride after they’d left but returned too late to prevent them eating it. 

Following on from my Garmin malfunction, still waiting to hear from my LBS on that one, the screen went blank on my 7 month old Dell.  Now I’d had the same problem with my old Dell, but only after 7 year’s use. I immediately spoke to their Support Desk but I’ve got to make contact with them again tomorrow morning.

Saturday afternoon, I replaced my Blackberry. The mouse on the old one had given up the ghost. It would only work in two rather than four directions so, sadly, it had to go. Of course, the functionality on the new one is completely different and I’m still grappling with it.

Today was the Departmental pointage at Menton. We lost our crown last year and I don’t expect we’ve recovered it. Nevertheless, as M Le President was working, I was on hand to chivy the boys. After the pointage we continued on in to Italy for a coffee with a few clubmates. The coffee’s good in France but it’s cheaper and better in Italy. This added a few extra kilometers to the ride, just over 100km by the time we got back home.

We collected the papers, showered and then I whipped up a quick lunch before we settled down on the sofa to read the papers and watch the television. It’s allowed, we’ve expended a significant number of calories.

Profiting from the brief respite from live cycling, I’ve been reconnecting with the world of round balls. Football and tennis to be exact, and with mixed fortunes. My beloved boys in claret and blue lost 1-0 at home to the Red Devils, a disappointing result from a strange team selection. OGC Nice were at home to Rennes and frankly I feared the curse of the returning former manager and players. Not a bit,  the boys won 2-0 to keep them connected with those teams sloshing around in the final quarter of the league. A loss would have had unthinkable consequences.

It was the Davis Cup Final this week end, Spain v Argentina. Naturally, the boys playing on home turf were favourites to lift the cup for the 5th time in 11 years. They didn’t disappoint, despite heroic performances from Del Potro and Nalbandian, Nadal wrapped it up today with a thrilling reverse singles which swung first in favour of Argentina and then back again like a pendulum. But no one really doubted the outcome: Spain victorious again.

Triple honours

This morning’s ride allowed my beloved and I to check out the route for today’s 4th stage of 38th Tour Mediterraneen, 155km from La Londe les Maures to Biot by way of St Tropez. The same stage last year was neutralised thanks to adverse climatic conditions. Today the sun shone and Spring was very definitely in the air.

Stage 4

We parked Tom II and strolled to the finish past all the team buses which ranged from the deluxe Pro-Tour team ones to the man and a van Continental team transport.  We rolled up about an hour before the riders which gave me an opportunity to distribute copies of the brochure for the Kivilev to the assembled throng which, unsurprisingly, included a number of my clubmates. The Tour isn’t televised so we had just the dulcet tones of Mr Cycling (Daniel Mangeas) to spark our imagination, made easier by our own intimate knowledge of the route.

Finishing straight in Biot
Appolonio leading out Feillu

I had ridden up the finishing straight a few hours beforehand which features a shortish hill rising in places by 13%. You could tell by the grimaces on their faces that the leading trio were giving it their all as they shot up the hill at a similar speed to that which I might descend. David Appolonio (Sky Procycling) led the charge with the yellow jersey, Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM ProCycling Team) on his wheel, closely tracked by Team Garmin-Cervelo’s Dan Martin.

Feillu took his third consecutive stage, in front of his young family but, with the next 9 riders within 34 seconds, doesn’t expect to conserve the yellow jersey after tomorrow’s stage which finishes atop Mont Faron. Thomas Voekler (Europcar) is only 21secs back while by Dan Martin (nephew of Stephen Roche who’s on the organising committee) lies at 26 seconds. In any event, the management of Vacansoleil will have welcomed the positive news after Riccardo Ricco’s DIY fiasco.

The organising committee had amassed so many former luminaries of French cycling that the podium was in danger of collpasing under their (not inconsidserable) combined weights. 

A handful of heavyweights

While all this was taking place my beloved boys in claret and blue, reduced to 10 men, managed to salvage a point away at Blackpool. OGCN are playing away at Rennes tomorrow afternoon who are managed by a former OGCN manager and feature a number of former players. This has banana skin writ large all over it.

I’m now settling down to watch a local derby on the new big screen: St Etienne v Olympique Lyonnais, the latter featuring (ex-OGCN saviour) Hugo Lloris and my chouchou, Yoan Gourcuff.

(photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Wasteful

As a manager, you always want your team to give of their best. After all, a manager is only as good as the people who work for him or her. Management is not an art, nor is it rocket science. It’s grounded in common sense. In my experience, if someone isn’t performing to the level you expect, you need to sit down with them and try to get to the bottom of the matter. Don’t assume, it’s all down to the individual either, it’s far more likely to be your fault. You cannot expect anyone to work well if they do not know or understand what it is you expect of them. This is true of whomever or whatever you’re managing. Clearly, some managers are better than others in unlocking and developing an individual’s potential.

My chouchou of the French beautiful game is one Yoann Gourcuff who was the subject of several pages of conjecture in L’Equipe this week which may have contributed to him being unfairly whistled at by the French crowd when he was substituted in 86th minute in yesterday’s friendly against Brazil.

My take on the issue is that he feels crushed by the overwhelming burden of expectation. The French public regard Gourcuff as Zizou’s natural successor. Those are mighty boots for anyone to fill, let alone someone who, let’s not forget, is only 24. True he plays in a similar position, behind the strikers, and displays the same kind of creativity and technique as Zidane.
 
He’s the son of Lorient’s manager and until his teen years played tennis to a competitively high standard too but, having been beaten by one Raphael Nadal, he chose to concentrate on his football. After a successful debut in the professional game at Rennes, he moved to  AC Milan in 2006. It was not a good move. He couldn’t get a game. 
 
He returned to France in 2008, initially on loan, to Bordeaux where he flourished under Laurent Blanc leading Les Girondins to the League and League Cup titles as well as being named the French League’s Player of the Year after scoring 12 goals and claiming 11 assists. He continued to play well and was shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or award in 2009.
 
After the departure of Blanc, Gourcuff signed for Olympique Lyonnais in 2010 where he has failed to build on that early promise. Promise that is evident when he plays for France under Blanc. He played well yesterday evening, as did Karim Benzema who scored the only goal of the match. He’s another player who can’t get  a game at his club: Real Madrid.
 
For whatever reason, neither of these players are playing to their full potential at club level. I don’t know why this is and no doubt many columns have been written speculating on the various reasons. It just strikes me as a great shame that their respective managers can’t or won’t make best use of these talented players.