Saved by a man on four wheels

Saved by Alonso
Saved by Alonso

Rumours started circulating on Friday evening not long after publication of my little homage to Euskaltel-Euskadi on the VeloVoices website. The hope was that an as yet unnamed bank, but thought to be Santander, would step into the breach and #SaveourCarrots. Finally, the news broke mid-day yesterday that F1’s Fernando Alonso had reached agreement to acquire the squad. Twitter timelines everywhere were filled with joy and happiness. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch.

I had speculated on this possibility a few years ago and am now wondering whether or not it might set a trend. That is cycling fans who compete at the highest levels, in better remunerated and sponsored sports, leveraging their financial muscle for the good of another sport. Are some of the F1 pilots who live in Monaco and regularly ride with the resident pro cyclists also going to set up squads?

It’s an interesting business model and at a stroke Alonso has won himself a whole new set of fans around the globe, not just in the Basque country. The news certainly bucked up the boys in orange with three of them finishing in the top ten on yesterday’s monster stage in the Vuelta a Espana and being top squad on the day. I’m sure a few glasses were clinked over the dinner table after yesterday evening’s monster transfer and they’re probably still talking about it over breakfast on today’s rest day. While a number of the riders had been actively courted by other squads – whose aspirations have now been dented by the news – many plus the team staff were facing uncertainty and probable unemployment.

It’s also been a shot in the arm for other teams looking for sponsors. Even now team managers are probably scanning the Forbes list of the 50 highest paid sportsmen, of which Alonso is one, and checking whether any list cycling as an interest or hobby. It’s got to be worth a try!

The Euskaltel team, which moved away from it’s purely Basque or Basque developed origins this season, will probably stay relatively close to its Northern Spanish roots as it moves just along the coast to Asturias – home of both team leader Samu Sanchez and Alonso – as there’s a veritable hot bed of talent thanks to the support the sport enjoys at the grass roots level. Wisely, team management and indeed Samu himself have played this very close to their chests and even now are reluctant to go into too much detail. Frankly, they need to focus on the task in hand, amassing enough UCI points between now and the end of the season to justify remaining a  WorldTour team.

Postcards from the Basque Country – Part II

View from my bedroom window!
View from my bedroom window!

Pretty much like the riders, when you’re following a race, your days follow a very similar format. Turn up at the start 90 minutes before the off which, weather permitting, enables you to catch up with the riders and take photographs. It’s always easier if the team buses are parked close to the sign-on which isn’t always possible in some of the smaller towns. However, once the weather deteriorated, this became a bit of a logistical nightmare with the riders, understandably, not wanting to spend a moment longer than necessary in the freezing, wet conditions. Luckily, the weather doesn’t dampen the appetite of the fervent Basque fans who line the ascents in their hundreds and thousands.

The peloton departs and we race to our car or, in this case, our rented Renault Kangoo, to drive to the finish. We head first to the press room to bag our places, set up our laptops, enjoy the plentiful buffet and chat with a few of the photographers and reporters. Then it’s time to check our email and start writing up the summary of the day’s racing as it starts to unfold on the tv screen.

When the peloton’s 10km from home, the press room empties, everyone races to the finish line and listens to the two-handed Basque-Spanish commentary team, awaiting the arrival of the riders. Race over, we drift to the podium to congratulate and photograph the winners, then it’s back to the press room to finish the day’s report, download and edit the day’s photographs.

Job done, our thoughts drift inevitably towards dinner. We were staying in a charming family-run hotel close to a national park, in a town with a couple of restaurants and bars, one of which was excellent and where we ate most evenings. We didn’t manage to work our way through the menu as we often opted for the day’s specials. A relaxing glass of Rioja and we were both tucked up in bed, fast asleep, well before most of the riders.

Towards the end of our break, we popped in to see the owners of the hotel where we stayed last year. We couldn’t stay there this year as it was fully booked! I knew I shouldn’t have written them such a glowing review. We were greeted like long-lost family members and the welcome and cooking was as warm and as good as we remembered. Given the dreadful weather conditions, my beloved is suggesting we opt for the Tour of Turkey next year. I’m not so sure. I really enjoy our sojourns in the Basque country and am already looking forward to our next trip at the end of July.

Postcards from the Basque Country – Part I

Early morning chat
Early morning chat

I know, I’m back home and I’ve not sent my postcards! We’ve all done it, haven’t we? But, to be honest, it’s the first time I’ve had any real opportunity to write about the trip and not the race which you can read about over on VeloVoices. Well apart from the shenanigans with the Russian visa application.

First up the weather was initially much better than anticipated meaning my beloved was able to ride for the first few days and I even accompanied him despite his unerring ability to find every steep climb in the neighbourhood. Admittedly that’s not difficult in the Basque country although this time he succeeded in finding one or two of the longer, more taxing climbs.

Of course, when I say I rode with him, I meant I trailed behind him. My beloved, despite our lengthy marriage, constantly fails to appreciate that if he runs, skis or cycles with me I’ll make an effort to keep up. Disappear 500m or more up the road, leaving me to my own devices, and I’ll amble along admiring the countryside or get into conversation with other cyclists. As a result, we rarely cycle together.

The first Saturday morning dawned bright, albeit overcast, after Friday’s torrential downpour,and my beloved wasted no time in hustling me out the door though, half-way into our ride, the heavens opened again and we turned tail and fled back to the warmth of our small family-run hotel.  In the afternoon we drove into Navarre to watch the GP Miguel Indurain where conversely the weather was dry with a chilly wind. The race weaves loops around the pretty old town of Estella where, after a truly magnificent lunch, we exhorted the peloton, surprisingly split into a multitude of small groups up the final climb.

Sunday morning we opted to further explore the countryside on two wheels. The sun shone although there was still an early morning nip in the air. The scent of word-burning fires, the bright lime-green shoots on the trees, the blossoming hedgerows, the sound of dogs barking and the tinkle of bells around the necks of goats and sheep gave everything a distinctly alpine feel but then we were riding at around 600-900m and some of the hills still had traces of snow.

I love riding in the Basque country where cyclists always seem to outnumber the motorists who keep a respectable distance and toot in a friendly and encouraging fashion as you labour up yet another of those steep, sharp inclines. Sunday was no exception and we saw many groups from the local cycling clubs, I even cycled and chatted with a few of them after being abandoned by my beloved. Ride over, we settled down to a plate of tapas, a glass of red wine and, on the big screen, the rigours of racing over the cobbles in Belgium.

Monday dawned bright and fair, again contrary to expectations, as we headed over to Elgoibar and the start of one of my favourite races of the year: the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Accreditation secured, we headed to the team presentation and sign-on where I was able to catch up with a number of friends who were riding in the race. There’s nothing nicer than watching and encouraging someone you know. Our early start also gave us an opportunity to catch up with friends old and new in the press corps.

This race is extremely well attended by the bike loving Basques. The biggest cheers, not unnaturally, are reserved for the “home” team of Euskaltel-Euskadi and their lead rider and defending champion Samu Sanchez who obligingly had his photograph taken with hordes of dark-haired, dark-eyed moppets: inspiring the next generation. It’s also very evident that former winner Alberto Contador is popular with the on-lookers.

The appreciative and knowledgable crowd also welcomes “old friends” such as Jens Voigt who was awarded a plaque in recognition of his support of this race. Conversely, Sky turning up with only six riders, and failing to attend the team presentation, was seen as disrespectful. As the race progressed, they made a point of arriving more punctually for the sign-on except for their gregarious bearded Basque Xabier Zandio who was an early starter most mornings. By the time they started winning stages, they were forgiven.

I love watching the pre-start interaction with everyone milling around the team buses in the hope of catching a glimpse of one of their heroes, a souvenir or two or just checking out the bike bling. Likewise those five minutes or so before the race starts where some riders wait patiently, composing their thoughts before the day’s challenges while others chat with their compatriots on other teams, no doubt comparing their experiences of the previous day’s racing.

The Vuelta al Pais Vasco follows a similar pattern most years, with the first and last days of racing centred on one town and the four stages in between setting off from the previous day’s finish town. It all takes place within a relatively confined geographic area allowing the teams to spend most of the race based in one hotel, close to the action, thereby avoiding long transfers and early morning starts. I think this is recompense for the fact that several stages take place in the freezing cold rain. This year’s been no exception, the rain started in earnest on Thursday with the Eibar summit finish shrouded in freezing fog. Friday morning we awoke to find a blizzard blowing. Why did no one tell me the locals’ nickname for Vitoria-Gasteiz is Siberia?? (to be continued)

Countdown has started

It’s true I can hardly contain my excitement, the 2012 Tour de France starts this Saturday. My beloved’s grandmother felt the same way about Wimbledon. She would get all her daily chores done in the morning before settling down for the entire afternoon and early evening in front of the television, essentials to hand: the draw, the match schedule, Pimms, strawberries and cream. She wouldn’t answer the phone, if you were inconsiderate enough to call, nor would she answer the doorbell. It was her favourite two weeks of the year and nothing and no one was going to spoil it for her. While she was a long-time fan of the game, her all-time favourite was John McEnroe, she was also fond of Boris Becker and I’m pretty sure, if she were still around today, she’d be rooting for Rafa Nadal.

Winner of 2011 Tour stage to Luz-Ardiden
Winner of 2011 Tour stage to Luz-Ardiden

My devotion to the Tour is perhaps not quite so extreme though I particularly enjoy the run-up where everyone is giving their four pennyworth on who they think will win. Of course, there are two ways of approaching this: who do you think will win and who do you want to win. Often the answers are entirely different. For example, I would like nothing better than for Samu Sanchez to win the Tour de France but I honestly believe that third will be his best shot, barring misfortune falling on either Bradley Wiggins or Cadel Evans. Frankly, I don’t really care who wins other than, if it’s Wiggo, I’ll be able to say “I told you so” down at the cycling club. When Team Sky was launched and stated their ambition of a British winner within five years, my team mates laughed. They’re not laughing now and some are even in agreement.

While the favourites battle it out for the podium, my attention tends to focus on rising stars, riders who’ve never recorded a professional win, riders participating in their final tour or their first, the breakaway artists, the lanterne rouge and the bandaged warriors counting down the days and hours until they finally reach Paris. This for me is what makes the Tour so engrossing for three weeks plus, of course, the magnificent scenery. Yes, the Tour is three weeks of minted publicity for France.

Like the riders, planning and preparation is key to success. I have drawn up my list of chores to be completed while spending hours watching the action. Top of the list is usually an hors categorie ironing mountain. This year, it’s already been reduced to no more than a false flat. There is however a lot of things in the mending basket. I freely admit I hate sewing and if a button falls off something, you might never see me in it ever again. Over the year, I store all the little jobs that I can’t legitimately take down to the menders in a basket and come the Tour, out they come.

I never got around to my annual sort out of the drawers and cupboards during last year’s Tour so this looms large again this year along with cleaning the silver and the chandeliers. Now, you might be wondering that while I’m multi-tasking, I’m missing the action. Don’t fret, I have three televisions tuned to French tv, French Eurosport and International Eurosport respectively in three different rooms to ensure that I miss none of the action. Indeed a number of stages are being beamed to us in their entirety! I love these as there’ll be no need to wonder what happened before I tuned in and why so and so’s down the back, again. I’ll know because I’ll have seen it all.

The Tour can be addictive and I have to ration myself otherwise I find I can happily watch French tv from sunrise to well after sunset. I particularly adore Jean Paul Olivier who waxes lyrical about the Tour and France’s rich heritage. I love seeing the immaculately coiffured Gerard Holz pop up at someone’s roadside picnic and engage them in conversation about the Tour and I particularly love the constant stream of facts and figures. I will, of course, have all my supporting papers, books and tour guides on the coffee table for quick ready reference. Lastly, I should probably come clean and admit it’s not unknown for me to watch the evening highlights of a stage I’ve particularly enjoyed, such as Samu’s win last year on Luz-Ardiden.

Dear Santa…………….

What’s in your sack, Santa?

At this time of year the cycling press are happy to provide us with plenty of useful ideas for our Xmas lists. Now it’s been a few years since I last corresponded with Santa, but that’s not to say I shouldn’t give it another go. However, it’ll largely be an academic exercise as I’ve agreed not to buy anyone any Christmas or birthday presents again, ever.  While the whole point of present buying really isn’t reciprocity, I would hazard a guess that if I don’t buy any, I’m not going to receive any. Of course, with all the money I’ll save I could just buy myself something I really, really want.

Now if money were no object, I’d  like my own cycle team. I’m keen to nurture budding talent so I’d be more than happy with a continental ie French 3rd division side. This would also enable me to fulfill another objective as they’d largely only be racing at home.  Travelling with the team in my capacity as Owner, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, I’d get to visit and, more importantly cycle in, all parts of the Hexagon. With only one sponsor to satisfy, the kit could be simple and stylish. I’d probably ask Geoffroy Lequatre to spin a little G4 magic (www.g4dimension.com) and design the team’s kit and casual wear. Please note, we would definitely be avoiding the black, white and pale blue colour palette seemingly favoured by half the teams in the Pro-Tour peloton.

My beloved has taken some lovely cycling photographs with the Panasonic Lumix camera I bought him a few Christmas’s ago and I’ve been meaning to frame a few and hang them in the hall corridor. To supplement them, I’d love some of Jered Gruber’s magnificent photographs. If you’ve not seen them, please head on over to www.gruberimages.zenfolio.com and prepare to be enthralled. Oh, and don’t buy them all, save a few for me.

Despite the recent problems with my Garmin 500, I’d like some of the new Garmin vector pedals. I can use these on whichever of my bikes I happen to be riding, thereby avoiding the issues with different cranksets and hubs. Plus it’ll analyse and compare my left and ride pedalling actions. In theory more information about my riding should help me to further improve. In this case, less really isn’t more. It’s just less.

It seems a bit greedy but I’d like one of the new BMC bikes, specifically the model as ridden into Paris by this year’s Tour de France winner, the TMOI and Tour Bike.  Except, I don’t want it in yellow. It’s not really my colour and it’s such a difficult one to co-ordinate. Instead, I’d like it in black and white, with a white saddle and white handle bar tape. I’d also like to have my name on it. PhilGil’s got “Fast Phil” on his and I’d like “Slow and Steady Sheree” on mine. No point in denying the truth.

Last but not least, I’d like some trousers without matchstick legs. Yes, I know they’re fashionable but they don’t fit my slimmed down chunky legs, and never will, however little I weigh. Preferred colours: black, dark grey, navy blue and tan.

On the basis that it never pays to be too greedy, I’m going to stop here. Dear Santa, I’d be more than happy with any permutations of the above short but sweet list.

PS Just had another thought. Could you fix it for me to ride with Samu during my next trip to the Basque country?

You’re banned, or not

Scanning the pages of the press and web sites, it seems as if bans are the main news item: who’s getting them, who’s not and who might be. First up the on-going Contador clenbuterol saga which is being heard next week by CAS but they need 6-8 weeks for their deliberations. Don’t expect any outcome before next January. If it seems a tad long to digest all the evidence, don’t forget this includes the Xmas to Epiphany holiday held dear in Switzerland.

David Millar might just get to go to the ball after all. By “ball” I mean London 2012. WADA are challenging the British Olympic Association’s imposition of a lifetime ban for doping offenders. Again, this is likely to end up at CAS. Don’t expect a quick decision, probably not before July 2012.

UCI blocked Alejandro Valverde’s appearance at a Movistar press conference as his ban doesn’t end until after 31 December 2011. Plenty of people don’t seem too keen to see him back unless he does a David Millar and gets it all off his chest. I don’t understand, he’s served his time and he can come back, just not before the due date.

Ezequiel Mosquera, the 2010 Vuelta runner-up and 2011 Vacansoleil no-show, appears likely to get a 2 year ban for the presence of hydroxyethyl starch in one of his Vuelta samples. I seem to recall baby faced Oscar Sevilla got a 6 month ban though this is being challenged by the UCI. As Mosquera hasn’t ridden in 2011, when will his ban be deemed to have started? Either way it’s probably game over for Ezequiel.

Alex “super disorganised” Rasmussen will not be sanctioned by the Danish authorities for missing three doping tests due to a procedural error on the part of the UCI who should have informed him within 14 days of his 3rd missed test. They took 10 weeks. Nonetheless, Alex was prepared to take his ban like a man. Will he still ride for Garvelo next season? I have some advice for you Alex. Do what my beloved would do and delegate this all important task to someone way more reliable, the lady in your life. If you’ve not got one, find one fast.

The French Cycling Federation’s decision in the case of Jeannie Longo’s 3 missed doping tests is due next week. Jeannie claims she didn’t need to advise her whereabouts as technically she was no longer in the testing pool. Are the FFC about to throw the book at France’s favourite sporting idol? We’ll have to wait and see.

Michael “The Chicken” Rasmussen, no relative to Alex above, is apparently a love rat. It now emerges he didn’t want his wife to know he was still in Italy, so told her, and everyone else, he was in Mexico with her relatives whom he presumably thought wouldn’t rat him out. Is this further stretching the bounds of credibility or what?   Still, it must be difficult having an affair when your every waking moment needs to be accounted for but a number of cyclists seem to have managed it.

Former U23 World Road Race Champion and hot-French prospect, Romain Sicard may be cautionned after he was apprehended by police for borrowing some road signs and a traffic cone, orange I assume, after imbibing a wee too much alcohol. He’s apologised for his irresponsible and immature behaviour, let’s hope that suffices. Meanwhile, I really hope the doctors can finally figure out why he’s lost power in one of his legs.

Andy Schleck is facing a possible one month ban for speeding after driving his car at 101km/hr on the roads of southern Luxembourg. I loved the tweet from Simon MacMichael ” Andy Schleck faces one month driving ban for speeding? I’m guessing that it wasn’t on a downhill stretch of road…..”. I’m guessing you’re spot on with that one Simon.

Get well soon

Finally, nothing whatsoever to do with a ban, I’d like to wish a very speedy recovery to Sammy Sanchez who’s recently undergone surgery to remove some calcification from his hip bone.

Review of 2011 season

Spending more time than I might wish on my home trainer the past week has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the 2011 road racing season. As you know, I often find it difficult to restrict myself to just one favourite moment, rider, team, race or indeed anything. Indecisive or greedy – you decide.  Given my preference for live sport, my recollections tend to be coloured by the races I’ve watched in person. So here goes.

Rider of the Year

It’s hard to argue against the collective wisdom of the Velo d’Or jury, so I won’t. With his 18 wins, it just has to be Phil Gil. Though it just wasn’t the quantity, it was also the quality of those wins, his majestic presence and aggressive, attacking style of riding which thrilled us all.

Although in my mind, Phil Gil was head and shoulders above all the other contenders, making it onto the podium in second place is Britain’s own Manx missile: Mark Cavendish. The Grand Tour wins, the green jersey (finally) and that magnificent win in the World Championships. Says it all really.

I was in a quandary about third place, should it be Thor Hushovd who so magnificently honoured the rainbow jersey, particularly during the Tour de France or should it be Tony Martin for his emphatic dethronement of Fabian Cancellara, a man who last year looked unbeatable. It’s a tricky one isn’t it? So, I’m going to squash them both on the podium in joint third place.  Honourable mentions should go to Edvald Boassen Hagen and France’s chouchou, Tommy Voeckler, both largely for their Tour de France performances.

Best One-Day Race of the Year

I was there, so it has to be Paris-Roubaix. The race had everything. Fine weather, fantastic atmosphere, favourites desperate to win beaten by an unfancied rider who, to add to the drama, proposed to his long-term girlfriend on the podium. I just love it when a non-contender, albeit hardworking and long-deserving, takes a really big win in one of the Monuments. Congratulations to Mr (and Mrs) Johan Vansummeren and commiserations to the mighty Thor.

In second place, it’s the Men’s Road Race at the World Championships in Copenhagen. While the course was made for Cavendish, the planning and preparation to get him there allied to GB’s phenomenal display of teamwork on the day, controlling the race from start to finish, was truly impressive and hugely exciting.

Had I been there, I suspect that Milan San Remo might well have been my third choice on account of Matt Goss’s uber-intelligent ride. For similar reasons, I could also have plumped for Nick Nuyen’s win in the Tour of Flanders, but I haven’t. No, I’m going for Clasica San Sebastian, a delightfully fun race with a terrific party atmosphere thanks to the Basques enduring love of cycling. This race demonstrated Phil Gil’s dominance over the peloton in hilly Classics. You could almost see the collective drooping of shoulders and the “Well that’s it then” attitude as he raced to victory after some token Basque resistance.

Best Stage Race of the Year

When the touch paper was lit in the third week in the Alps I was there to see the old-style heroics, epic defence of the yellow jersey, stages full of suspense, a French stage winner and, most importantly, some great racing culminating in a worthy winner. The Tour had it all in spades. While, we might have deplored the loss to injury in the first week of a number of favourites, that’s bike racing.

In second place, the Vuelta, the wonderful Tour of Spain which this year I was fortunate to attend albeit only for a couple of days. Unlike the Tour the atmosphere is much more relaxed, for all concerned, and the race much more accessible. The result was also wildly unpredictable and was all the better for it. It also provided my “Best Moment” of the year when Basque rider Igor Anton won the first Vuelta stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 years. The fever pitch excitement and wall of sound as he approached the finish line had to be heard and seen to be believed.

In third place, the Criterium du Dauphine, won by one Bradley Wiggins, which left us all wondering what might have been when Brad crashed out of the Tour. While it probably wasn’t his avowed intention to win the race, once in the leader’s jersey, he and team Sky rode intelligently. Opinion seems to be divided on which race provides the best preparation for the Tour. But, if you wanted to win this year’s Tour, then this race won easily as it allowed you to ride the decisive Grenoble time-trial. To be honest it’s a bit of a no brainer. Which organisation owns both the Dauphine and the Tour de France? Exactly, nuff said.

What about the Giro, I hear you ask. Well, it was over almost before it started thanks to a master coup by Bert and Riis on Nibali’s home turf. In short, it was too hard and too predictable. Also way down the list for consideration, in fact in absolute bottom place, The Tour of Beijing. No need to explain why.

Team of the Year

Who won the most races (again)? Exactly, it was HTC-High Road who have promoted young talent (including both current road race and time-trial World Champions) and bestrode the peloton like a colossus for the past few years racking up around 500 wins. Their reward – disbandment due to lack of sponsorship. Hard to believe and very worrying for the sport.

Tactical Coup of the Year

It just has to be Bjarne Riis and Nick Nuyens in the Tour of Flanders. The latter didn’t figure as one of the favourites despite his credentials and recent win in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. He was invisible until the final break. Having lost touch with the favourites on the Kwaremount, he regained contact, kept out of trouble and popped up in the right place at the right time. First over the finish line to hand Riis back-to-back wins. Who’s LeOghing now?

Surprise of the Year

There’s a couple of contenders here. Should it be Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in the Tour, team mate Pierre Roland’s win atop iconic L’Alpe d’Huez or Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome? To everyone’s total surprise, Kenyan borne adopted Brit Chris Froome finished the Vuelta ahead of Sky’s team leader Bradley Wiggins in third and might have won were it not for Cobo’s bonus seconds. Wisely he’d postponed contract negotiations with Sky until after the Vuelta so maybe it wasn’t an unexpected result for Chris who seized his opportunity with both hands while still playing the role of loyal team mate. He won’t be flying under the radar next year.

Disappointment(s) of the Year

Where shall I start? Here’s my list, in no particular order:-

  • UCI’s lack of comprehension about the importance of segregation of duties
  • Continued postponement of Alberto Contador’s CAS hearing
  • HTC-Highroad being unable to find a sponsor
  • Geox pulling out at the last moment
  • Crowd booing Bert at Tour de France team presentation
  • Paris-Nice not being a race to the sun this year
  • Andy Schleck happy to be second again and again
  • Leopard Trek, style over substance
  • Budget polarisation of the Pro-tour teams
  • More and more Pro-tour  teams sponsored by “Sugar Daddies”
  • UCI’s system of attribution of points to races and riders

It would be wholly inappropriate to call this event a disappointment. Instead it was for me the real low point of the cycling year. I am, of course, talking about Wouter Weylandt’s death from a high speed fall during the Giro. It reminded us in the strongest possible terms that cycling is a very dangerous sport. If I close my eyes I can still see that short cameo shot of the medics trying to revive his lifeless body.

The point was further underlined with Juan Mauricio Soler’s fall in the Tour of Switzerland for which he is still undergoing rehabilitation. Many more of us watched with horror during this year’s Tour de France as 1) a motorbike deprived  Nicki Sorenson of his bike, depositing him at a roadside picnic and 2) an official car from France TV, driven with scant regard for rider safety, sent Messrs Flecha and Hoogerland flying, the latter into barbed wire.

Unsung Hero(s) of the Year

These are legion in the peloton and the UCI pays them little regard. Many have that Eurovision chilling score of “nul points” and therefore little negotiable value in the transfer market. There’s not enough space (or time) to list them all but let’s have a round of applause for all the teams’ hard working, selfless domestiques. Also, hats off to those team leaders who always recognise the invaluable contribution of their team mates.

My Best Bits of the Year

Again, these are in no particular order:-

  • Watching Astana get their best stage result at this year’s Vuelta fuelled by my home made cake
  • Getting Mark Cavendish’s autograph for a friend as promised
  • Seeing Sammy win atop Luz Ardiden to record (unbelievably) his maiden Tour win. How good was that?
  • Riding around Antibes with Phil Gil
  • Cadel Evans finally winning Tour de France
  • Amael Moinard, Geoffroy Lequatre, Alex Vinokourov, Max Iglinsky, Andrey Grivko (and everyone else)  for turning out to support La Kivilev
  • Lots of young, exciting, emerging talent such as Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb,  Elia Viviani, Tony Gallopin, Andrea Guardini, Thibaud Pinot, Jesse Sergent and Steven Kruiswijk to name but a few
  • Golden oldies such as Jens Voigt and Robbie McEwan for proving there’s no such thing as “too old”

You see, too much thinking time results in my longest blog ever!

Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

Falling temperatures and leaves

Although this week’s weather has remained warm and sunny, with temperatures rising to the early 20s by midday, next week’s forecast shows the midday temperatures falling, for the first time in ages, below 20C. Despite struggling with the after effects of my post-Copenhagen cold, I have continued to pursue my training plan. Largely because next week will be a rest while I’m back in the UK, visiting my parents. While out training I have been thinking about this week end’s races and specifically the Tour of Lombardy. For an excellent summary of the route, please check out www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This is a race which tends to be slightly tinkered with each year. Tomorrow’s race finishes in Lecco which has rather mitigated against me going to watch it live. Of course, I was even more disappointed when I learned on Tuesday that one of my friends would be riding it. Sadly, the organisers don’t seem to know he’s riding, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the various start lists. He only found out he would be riding on his return from the Tour of Beijing on Monday, so his wife has had to re-submit his whereabouts report. If only we’d known sooner, we’d have hired a larger car and taken his entire family along to watch. It would have been a fun day out.

It’s highly unlikely that my friend will win, although it’s a parcours that suits him. He’ll be riding in support of one of the team’s other riders. So, who is going to win? I have been pondering the front runners and looking back at the results of the most recent races, including yesterday’s Tour du Piemont.

Omega Pharma Lotto’s Fast Phil

Lacking in support at last week end’s Paris-Tours and MIA yesterday, Fast Phil will be looking for his 3rd consecutive win while the rest of the peloton, barring maybe BMC, will be out to stop him. According to the start lists, he’s currently missing 2 team mates and the other 5 riders listed could hardly be described as stellar. Yes, as Omega Pharma Lotto morphs into Quick Omega or whatever next year, everyone’s rather lost interest. It’s going to be tough Phil, but you can do it.

Euskaltel’s Samu Sanchez

The man with more 2nds to his name than Pou Pou comes with a team choc ful of experience but, in yesterday’s race, he was obviously saving himself for Saturday. Either that or he’s not yet fully recovered from his bout of Beijing Belly. Aupa Samu!

Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a TV cameo, expect him to launch at least one of his trademark attacks. Finished 4th yesterday, so obviously on song.

BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet

Winner of Paris-Tours and 2nd yesterday, he’s likely to find tomorrow’s parcours a little too hilly for his liking. However, he might earn some brownie points for himself, his team and next year’s team mate Fast Phil by giving the latter some discreet support.

Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego

Expect both of these riders to be in the mix but keep an eye out for their more in-form team mate Przemyslaw Niemiec.

Liquigas’s Ivan Basso and Vicenzo Nibali

Could they cook up something together tomorrow a la Sidi? Who knows. Basso lives in Varese so should know this route like the back of his hand but Nibali seems the man on form with solid performances yesterday and in Giro dell’Emilia. Could Nibali make a decisive break on one of the descents?

Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema

Probably sharing team leader’s duties with Carlos Barredo, performed well in GP Berghelli and Giro dell’Emilia, but sadly rides for a tactically inept team.

Sky’s Rigoberto Uran

Could be their main man on a parcours that suits his abilities.

Katusha

A team full of recent race winners: Daniel Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez , Luca Paolini and Pippo Pozzato.

HTC

The team most likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Cavendish, having flashed us the rainbow jersey, may  climb off (as he did yesterday) when the race passes close to his place.

Other contenders who may or may not feature in the mix

In no particular order: Movistar’s Pablo Lastras, Garvelo’s Dan Martin, AG2R’s Nico Roche, Radioshack’s Jani Brajkovic, Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang and Farnese’s Giovanni Visconti.

Next year’s race will be moved to the week end after the World Championships, so it’ll be the race of “soon to be Falling Leaves”.

Panacea for post-Tour blues

While the Tour is over and many of it’s protagonists take part in a seemingly endless round of criteriums, the racing rolls on. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of Poland generally an opportunity for the young guns to shine, and shine they have. While fellow Brummie and defending champ Garvelo’s Dan Martin put up a spirited defence of his title and won the queen stage, it’s been pretty much one way traffic at the Pete and Marcel show.  After putting in a highly determined performance to win two stages and, more importantly, the overall, I’m looking forward to see what Liquigas’s Peter Sagan can do in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta. I appreciate he’ll be riding in support of Vicenzo Nibali, but should the Shark falter…….. The other four stages were won in imperious fashion by Skil Shimano’s Marcel Kittel whom I last saw on the podium of the U23 ITT in Melbourne. He has a turn of speed to match Cavendish, but doesn’t seem to require a train, and he left names such as Tom Boonen, Romain Feillu and John Degenkolb trailing in his wake.

I’ve also been dipping into the Vuelta a Burgos where riders were fine tuning their performances ahead of the Vuelta which starts on 20 August in Benidorm. The first stage stage was won by defending champ, Euskaltel’s Samu, who won’t be riding the Vuelta, ahead of Katusha’s JRod, who will. JRod also took out the 2nd stage and the overall. Samu was undone (again) by the team time trial and tired legs on the final stage where the boys in orange were attempting to rip the field apart and put time into JRod. Sadly, Samu was unable to keep pace and the stage was won by his rookie team mate Mikel Landa, recording his maiden win. Purito is looking in great shape for the upcoming race which, with plenty of mountain top finishes and few time-trialling kms, clearly favours the climbers but Igor Anton and the orange-clad boys are looking equally strong.

Over in the Tour of Denmark, Sky’s Simon Gerrans took his first stage win since the Herald Sun Tour in 2006 and his first win this year thanks to some clever mopping up of intermediate sprint points (and seconds) to remain ahead of Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.  Elsewhere, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin won Paris-Correze.

The football season commenced this week end in France and Nice were served up a tough opener, home to Lyon, against whom we’ve enjoyed some great results in recent seasons largely thanks to OL’s Champion’s League commitments. No such worries this time for OL, we lost 3-1 and languish one from the bottom of the league. With such a high turnover of players, it’ll take the team a while to gel but there were some promising signs, though we’re still lacking firepower up front. Finally, work has commenced on OGCN’s new stadium which should be finished in time for the 2013/14 season and where we’ll be hosting some matches in Euro 2016. I’m hoping my beloved boys in claret and blue have a better start to their Premiership campaign this week end.

After a few days off the bike last week, I was keen to get back into my training plan. My coach has introduced some new home-trainer based exercises where I have to pedal while holding my breath. Not sure what that’s all about but I’ll get a chance to quiz him when we ride together on Wednesday. It’s only for a short period, but it’s more difficult than you might think. He’s also making me do a series of push ups. Probably trying to firm up the non-areodynamic batwings. He’s also persisting with the swimming to assist my legs to recuperate. But my legs rarely get tired and I never ever, suffer from a build up of lactic acid. My feet, on the other hand, are not faring so well. I spent much time on them while walking around San Sebastián and have been on my feet most of this week preparing for yesterday’s La Ronde and pointage where we usually cater for over 500 cyclists. It was a wash out. The race was cancelled as the course was too dangerous with water lying on the circuit’s corners. Still around 60 people turned up and enjoyed my home baked goodies. Of course, most of the provisions can go back into the club store cupboard to be brought out for the re-scheduled event while I can put my remaining cakes into the freezer, disaster averted.