Vive La Vuelta V

Yesterday’s summit finish atop the ski station Manzaneda was won by one of my favourite riders, David Moncoutie. He looked absolutely delighted with his Vuelta stage win en route to what I hope will be his 4th consecutive spotted, mountain’s jersey. He’s also decided to ride for another year in Cofidis’s colours a decision which will, no doubt, have found favour with his team manager, team sponsor and team mates.

Sky perfectly marshalled yesterday’s stage and we were treated to the rare sight of the GC leader, Sky’s red-jersey clad Chris Froome, working tirelessly at the front of the peloton, as promised, for team mate and, the better bet for the overall, Bradley Wiggins. Brits in the leader’s jersey, rarer than hen’s teeth? Not as rare as you might think.

British born but Belgian bred, Michael Wright first flew the flag and wore the jersey for one day in 1968’s Vuelta. Winning a 2nd stage into Salou enabled him to take the leader’s jersey for a day. Rudi Altig seized it the next day. The following year he did rather better, winning the first road stage and holding onto the jersey for 2 days.

More success followed, almost 20 year’s later, when, in 1985, the Scottish climber, Robert Millar pulled on the jersey at the end of the 10th stage and successfully defended it until the 17th (of 19 stages). Unfortunately, on stage 17, he punctured and Pedro Delgado attacked. Millar was isolated from his team mates and no one else would work with him to chase down the leaders. He finished the Vuelta second overall to Delgado. The following year, Millar was again second overall having led for 5 days in the middle of the race before losing the jersey to the eventual winner, Alvaro Pino, in the individual time-trial. Coincidentally, Pino comes from where today’s Vuelta stage started: Pontreareas.

His namesake, no relation, Scot David Millar won the 12.3km time trial in Salamanca in 2001 and held onto the leader’s jersey until stage four, losing it to Santiago Botero in a crash on the run in to Gijon. Last year, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish became the 4th Brit to lead the Vuelta when his team won the night time TTT in Seville. He was the first rider to wear the new red leader’s jersey and he held it for 2 days.

On Monday, Brit registered, Kenyan-born, Chris Froome became the surprise leader of the Vuelta after coming second to stage winner HTC’s Tony Martin in the race’s only individual time trial, one place ahead of Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Froome had been riding tirelessly in support of  Wiggins since the start of the race, a job he confirmed he would continue to perform, red jersey or no red jersey.

Bradley Wiggins, a rider in the form of his life according to those in the know, took over the race lead from his team mate yesterday after the pair had upped the pace on the final climb of stage 11. This didn’t stop JRod from zipping off the front to recoup a bit of time, but at this rate he’s not going to gain back enough time before Madrid.

Today’s stage, 167.3km into Pontevedra didn’t present any real difficulties for the GC contenders, it being a rare stage for the sprinters, many of whom (Cavendish, Goss, Farrar, Freire) have already departed. So, would it be an opportunity for the “old guard” (Boonen, Bennati, Patacchi) or one of the new (Kittel, Degenkolb, Sagan)?

Fabulous Fabian gave Leopard Trek team mate Daniele Bennati the perfect lead out, but it was Liquigas’s Peter Sagan, who had been astutely hopping from wheel to wheel, who prevailed ahead of HTC’s John Degenkolb. Astana’s Frederik Kessiakoff and Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema seized the opportunity to grab back a handful of seconds on the other GC contenders. Nonetheless, Sky’s Bradley Wiggins retains the overall leader’s red jersey.

Here’s the current top 20 GC standings:-

General classification after stage 12
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 46:53:47
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:09
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:10
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:19
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:06
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:27
9 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:53
10 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:00
11 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:01
12 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:22
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
14 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:03
16 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:39
17 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:47
18 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:50
19 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:04:06
20 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:21

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………………………….