Home advantage

I’ve just watched a re-run on television of yesterday’s final stage of Paris-Nice. Given that I saw the stage “live”, you might think it odd. Not so, there’s always something that one misses first time around. In any event, it was great to watch once more one of the riders who both lives locally and is a friend of our cycling club win big. Indeed, he enjoyed the best win to date of his career, also scooping the spotted jersey. I, for one, am looking forward to him gracing the podium on many, many more occasions. 

I’m delighted that it was finally a race to the sun and the broadcasts on both Saturday and Sunday beautifully showcased the wonderful area in which I’ve chosen to live. Sunday, M le President and I, in the company of our better halves, enjoyed the corporate hospitality of our club sponsors, Skoda, while savouring the final stage. Indeed, given that the Spaniards were likely to dominate the podium, we expressed the desire for a French winner on the final day. It was therefore fitting that a rider who lives locally, one we know, and who regularly trains on these roads won. Sometimes home advantage helps.   

Also worthy of note were the 9th and 10th places on GC for Jean-Christophe Peraud and Jerome Coppel respectively. The first is a former mountain biker (and current French time-trial champion) who, fed up with playing second fiddle to the incomparable Julian Absalon, turned to the road this year with Omega Pharma Lotto. The latter is a former U23 time trial silver medallist who floundered, rather than flourished, for a couple of years at FDJ and now seems to have found his feet (or should that be legs?) again at Saur-Sojasun.  

Talking of former mountain bikers, I cannot ignore double stage and points jersey winner, Peter Sagan (a former junior world mountain biking champion) who has exploded onto the road racing scene this season and delivered on the promise he showed in the Tour Down Under. His teammate Roman Kreuziger won best young rider and was 4th on GC. Liquigas are surely a team loaded with talent.

Another young, talented rider who lives locally much animated the race and finished 8th on GC. He’s Rein Taamarae, the Estonian national champion and a team mate of the stage winner, Amael Moinard.  Cofidis team management must be feeling very pleased with their overall performance. 

Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur Sojasun were obviously hoping to sufficiently impress ASO to gain that oh-so-coveted invitation to The Tour this summer. Vacansoleil heavily sponsored Paris-Nice while Saur Sojasun, along with Etap Hotels, made up the Paris-Nice caravan. It all helps boys but I can’t help feeling that money talks loudest, so mine’s on Vacansoleil. 

Alberto Contador Paris-Nice 2010Last, but not least, Bert let his legs do the talking. Yes, like any rider who weighs only 61kg, he’s always going to suffer in the wind. However, let’s not forget, the one rider who did get blown off his bike in the Prologue weighs more than me – Gert Steegmans. I saw him sitting on the steps of the RadioShack bus on Sunday looking well on the road to recovery. But, back to Bert. He raced intelligently and was well shepherded by his Astana team mates who, from their performances here and in Tirreno-Adriatico, are showing they’re nowhere near as lacking in talent as some would have us believe. My money’s on Bert for a consecutive Tour win.   

Both photographs courtesy of my very good friend Susi Goertze

The boss is back

I sat down yesterday afternoon to watch the Vuelta Prologue from the Moto GP track in Assen. What a great idea, it put me in mind of a lot of the old photos in my cycling books where races often finished in stadia. The place was packed and the wall of sound was amazing everytime a Dutch rider or a rider on a Dutch team took to the track.

It was a real shame about the weather although most of the favourites benefitted from similar climatic conditions, a drying course, except David Millar who took to the track during the deluge. Probably just as well that bike handling maestro Denis Menchov had passed on the Vuelta this year, otherwise the bookies would have been taking bets on how long he would stay on his bike. I felt particularly sorry for Carlos Barredo whose bike slid down the start ramp ignominiously dumping him on his rump. Thereafter, the ramp was cloaked in what I assume was some sort of artificial grass to give the wheels some traction.

Heading for the gold jersey
Heading for the gold jersey

It was no great surprise that this man won yet another Prologue, it’s his forte. Next on GC were a whole host of sprinters. Again, no real shock on a short flat course. Then, there were a whole load of GC contenders, headed by Roman Kreuziger.

Personally, I was delighted to see this man in 7th place. Just look at the absolute

He's back!
He's back!

concentration on his face and doesn’t he look lean and mean? According to Nice Matin he was booed by some of the crowd. Why? Like Basso (and Millar), he’s done his time and is entitled to ride once again. He was the highest placed Astana man on GC and that’s where I expect him to remain. Don’t bet on him not getting on the podium.