Just what I needed

What I want to know is where can I get one of these?

Alternatively, I might get a dog if I could find one like Harvey that does the washing and irons.

Yes, I’m feeling decidedly time-pressured. This is the first time in ages I’ve had a few spare minutes to devote to my own blog. For a woman who’s allegedly “retired”, I seem to be mighty busy. I gave up a high pressured job in the City to spend time doing what I wanted to do and not the things everyone else wanted me to. Where did it all go wrong?

Don’t mind me. I’m just feeling a bit reflective after my epic fail on yesterday’s ride. At this time of year my tree pollen allergy makes me feel as if I’m riding with a heavy cold and I struggled up a climb I can usually do with ease. It was a truly glorious day. The sun shone, the countryside was green, lush and ablaze with meadow flowers, yellow broom and wild herbs whose scents seem the very essence of here. We’d rendezvoused with the boys mid-ride and enjoyed a quick cup of coffee, while gazing longingly at the sandy beach with the waves lapping the shoreline, before heading into the L’Esterel hills.

As soon as we hit the climb I started to wheeze like an asthmatic granny. No need to point out that I’m old enough to be a granny, that’s not helpful. I set my riding companion free and watched her soar up the incline, dancing away into the distance. The road was unusually busy with traffic. Depending on whether they were on two or four wheels, they seemed respectively to be practising for this week-end’s MotoGP at Le Mans or channeling their inner Sebastien Loeb.

Towards the top of the climb, on a stretch of fresh tarmac, a convoy of vehicles rushed past me. Obviously oblivious to the “A Metre Matters” campaign for cyclist safety. Their draft caught me unawares, I bobbled and my front wheel slipped unintentionally off the new tarmac and I landed ignominiously in the grass verge. I quickly leapt to my feet and brushed myself down. No one had seen my faux pas and only my pride had been bruised. I remounted and swiftly crested the summit. It was (thankfully) pretty much all downhill from there and I soon rejoined my companions who’d been topping up their tans while waiting for me to reappear. It’ll be a recovery ride for me today!

Sheree’s Sporting Highlights of 2012

With blogging over on VeloVoices absorbing much of my free time, I’ve not really mentioned much about my sporting year. And when I say “my” I mean the one I watched either in person or on the television. So in no particular order, here’s my personal sporting highlights of 2012.

1. Being in Paris to watch Bradley Wiggins on the podium as the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a quite magical and rather surreal experience, despite the fact that it had been pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of the race. He’s given me bragging rights down at the cycling club for perpetuity. Thanks Bradley, or should I say Sir Bradley!

Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year's Vuelta
Bert has a laugh with Juan Mari at this year’s Vuelta

2. Alberto Contador winning the Vuelta a Espana with his never say die attitude when most of us, me included, thought the pocket-sized Joaquim Rodriguez had it in the bag. I love the fact that Alberto never just turns up at a race, he always rides to win. Chapeau Alberto!

Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache
Poptastic image courtesy of Kiss_my_Panache

3. Another lesson in persistence and proving that you do have to be “in it, to win it”. Lady luck smiled on Alexander Vinokourov when Fabian Cancellara fell and the rest of the leading bunch hesitated long enough for Alex to seize his chance with both hands and sail off into the sunset on a golden wave.

4. London 2012, both the Olympics and Paralympics were magic from start to finish and put down a marker that other cities will find hard to follow, let alone emulate. It was a glorious few weeks of sporting highs, sufficient to make everyone forget their economic woes.

Marc%20Marquez

5. Marc Marquez being  crowned Moto2 World Champion and making the move to the blue riband event riding next season with Dani Pedrosa who pushed the MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo all the way. I so enjoyed my trip to watch the racing at the GP Catalunya that I’m hoping to schedule another trip next year, possibly to Italy. Mugello here we come!

6. Sebastien Loeb winning his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship and being voted most admired French sporting hero 2012. What took you so long? The guy’s a god on four wheels.

7. Rafa Nadal showing once more that he’s the clay court King at Rolland Garros.

8. Introducing my friend’s son to road racing. He’s now hooked, too exhausted to get into any naughty escapades and has his sights firmly set on a career in professional road racing.

9. OGCN punching once more well above their weight and hanging onto to their spot in the French first division of football. Sadly, I cannot say the same about AVFC’s dreadful season even though they too managed to avoid relegation.

peloton-atlantic

10. Visiting more of the Basque country during the Tour of the same name and this year’s Vuelta. I can’t wait to go back next year, the place is visually spectacular with a truly interesting culture and don’t even get me started on their gastronomy. I’d move there in a nano second if it wasn’t for the weather. Yes, it’s green for a reason.

Sheree’s sporting smorgasbord

When I go back to the UK to visit my parents I feel as if I’m in some sort of parallel universe: no internet, no L’Equipe and a dull diet of daytime TV. The world continues but I seem stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario. My mother’s illness is getting markedly worse. Of course, it’s only ever going to be a one-way bet but it seems to have gathered momentum and she’s much more overtly aggressive. I do appreciate that most of the time she’s no idea who we are and is therefore in a state of constant confusion with little way of making herself understood. There are times when you see flickers of the woman she once was but they’re becoming very few and far between. More worryingly I see the toll her disease is having on my father. While, on the one hand, I look forward to seeing them, as soon as I arrive I want to come back home.

Despite a crowded sporting calendar the only sport I saw all week end was the big match and, no, I don’t mean the Manchester Derby. We watched the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in which France gave New Zealand an unexpected run for their money and, were it not for some strange but consistent refereeing decisions, might well have rained on the All Blacks parade. Despite the scepticism beforehand, L’Equipe produced a special supplement today paying homage to the boys’ exploits which included pages of gratitude from their sponsors. They might have been beaten but they went out with heads held high.

Arriving back home late Sunday afternoon, I was intent with catching up with all the other sporting news until I saw the announcement about Marco Simoncelli’s death. You see so many shots of the motorbike riders sliding off into the kitty litter and then bouncing back to their feet that you tend to forget the sport’s inherent dangers. It seemed doubly cruel that he should lose his life on a track where he crowned his 250cc championship season in 2008 and after achieving his best result of the 2011 season (2nd) in the previous race at Phillip Island. I didn’t have the heart to check on the results in the Moto2 and 125cc races.

Sebastien Loeb closed in on the World Rally Championship after winning the Catalunya Rally. Whether or not he wins his 8th consecutive title will be decided in three weeks in Wales. He leads Mikko Hirvonen by 8 points. Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier dropped out of the rally and out of contention but looks unwilling to play second-fiddle for another season. Citroen did however wrap up the constructor’s championship.

Disappointment on the football pitch as AVFC were beaten at home for the first time since 1979 by their neighbours, The Baggies, after a contentious sending off reduced my beloved boys in claret and blue to 10 men. The phrase “we woz robbed” easily comes to mind. OGCN meekly capitulated 1-0 away at Nancy. But the big news was the 6-1 dismantling of the Red Devils in the Theatre of Dreams by their derby rivals Manchester City. When did Manchester United last concede that many goals? It was Sir Alec Ferguson’s “worst day ever”.  Down south, reduced to 9 men, Chelsea lost 1-0 away to their neighbours QPR. Derbies often throw up surprising results.

As I left for the UK on Friday a headline in L’Equipe caught my attention “Armstrong pedale encore”. Was Lance making yet another comeback? No, it was a comment about NBA player Hilton Armstrong. Thank goodness, because, quite frankly with teams disappearing left, right and centre, there’s no longer a place for Lance in the professional peloton. It seems particularly cruel that Geox have withdrawn their support just after the closing of the transfer window leaving staff and riders high and dry, with the latter’s points no longer worth a jot. I was rightly or wrongly under the impression that they’d signed on the dotted line for two years. I await with interest to see what the UCI is going to do about this.  While over on the piste, team GB appear to be underwhelmed, rather than delighted, by their haul of only 7 gold medals from Apeldoorn. It’s all relative.

Sheree’s sporting slingshots

Records were set at Sunday’s Velocio, but not by me. In the Men’s over 80 category, a rider from the largest club in Nice ascended the 13km in 66 minutes 40 seconds. Furthermore a gentleman, just a few years younger, from the same club set a new record in the 74-79 age group of 54 minutes and 12 seconds. Both would have shown me a clean pair of heels. Chapeau chaps!

Rather than leave with the club and have to hang around for over an hour until the start of our races, my beloved and I elected for an extra hour in bed. My chesty cough had kept both of us up most of the night and neither of us had slept well. Not exactly a recipe for a top performance. We cycled together, against a strong headwind, into Nice and the start of the race, safety pins at the ready.

The usual suspects turned up for the ladies race. I didn’t take part last year as I was in Australia and it would appear in the intervening years that most have now passed into the same age category as me. So of the 12 contestants taking part, we had one in the 18- 35 years group, one in the 35-49 years and everyone else in the 50-54 years category.

I have learnt from bitter experience not to try and stay with the quick climbers, they go way faster than me and I then regret it for the rest of the ride. The start is the steepest part of the course and averages 10%. As we set off, I tried to keep two of the ladies, at the back of the field, in sight. They remained tantalizingly just a couple of hundred metres ahead. Two things  were immediately apparent: my legs felt heavy and my lungs were labouring. I tried to remain positive and look on the bright side, only 10 more kms to go, Jeannie hadn’t turned up and I was nearing the end of the steepest bit.

The lead motorcycle from the next group on the road came past me. It was the group my beloved was riding with and which had started 10 minutes after mine. The leaders raced past with the rest of the group in hot pursuit in twos and threes. No sign of my beloved; I laboured on. I was not feeling too good and started seeing stars, time to dismount. As I did so my beloved rode into view. He stopped, we made an executive decision, turned around and descended. We headed for the recently opened coffee shop near the foot of the climb where we ate a late breakfast before heading back home. Yet another DNF.

Fortunately events were rather more exciting elsewhere in the sporting world. Radioshack-Nissan-Trek new recruit Tony Gallopin tied up the season long, 14-round, French Cup at the Tour de Vendee while veteran, pocket rocket, Robbie McEwen,  and Green-edge bound next season, won the  Circuit Franco-Belge. So, two results from rather opposite ends of the age spectrum.

Sticking with two wheels, over at the Japan GP in Montegi, home manufacturer Honda won the MotoGP event but it was Dani Pedrosa, rather than Casey Stoner, astride the winning machine. The latter had spun off into the kitty litter after a massive wobble on the bike in one of the early laps but had fought back to 3rd place. Reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo completed the podium. All three riders rather benefitted from Messrs Dovizioso, Crutchlow and Simoncelli jumping the gun at the start and being forced to take a ride through the pit lane. After feeling that he was finally getting somewhere with the Ducati, Rossi made contact with Lorenzo on turn 3, on the 1st lap, and slide into the gravel, and out of the race. Casey Stoner still leads the Championship.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone took his 3rd win after a long battle with Marc Marquez, the latter now leads Stefan Bradl in the Championship by a point. Nico Terol still heads the 125cc Championship, but Frenchman Johann Zarco took his maiden win  in Japan. The Japanese crowds were delighted that the MotoGP circus had come to town as there were fears earlier in the season that they would give it a miss. Tests at the track revealed levels of radiation no greater than at any of the other tracks.

Excitement is mounting over on 4 wheels, specifically as to whether 7-time champ Sebastien Loeb will be able to hold onto to his WRC Rally crown having been unable to complete his home tour of Alsace after his engine blew up. There’s only two rounds remaining and Loeb’s level on points with Mikko Hirvonen and just 3 points ahead of fellow Frenchman, Citroen stablemate, Sebastien Ogier who won the Tour. Can Loeb make it 8 in a row or will he be dethroned by his younger team mate?

Heading “Down Under” to New Zealand, France will play England in the next round of the World Cup. Neither team seem to be having a great championship. France’s troubles appear to be on the field while England’s are most definitely off it. Whoever wins the tie will face the in-form Irish in the next round.

Moving onto round balls, OGCN were held to yet another draw this week end away at Caen which leaves them in 16th place in the league and one of three clubs on 7 points. We’re going to have to do better to keep out of the relegation zone. Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue have had a quiet and unspectacular start to the season, winning 2-0 at home to Wigan on Saturday, to leave them in 7th place. Long may it continue.

Cycling’s saviours

As I was scanning the news this week, an item caught my eye. Ben Spies, Moto GP Rookie of 2010, racing with his own Elbowz Racing Elite Cycling Team, had finished a very respectable 12th, and first in his category (Cat 2), in the 90 mile Copperas Cove Classic road race. Heath Blackgrove, a former New Zealand Road Race Champion, and leader of the team, finished atop the podium. 

Spies, nicknamed “Elbowz” because he rides his motor bike with his elbows sticking out,  set the team up this year which, while aiding development of local talent, will also support Spies’s pet charities. The team, a mixture of emerging talent and seasoned riders, will compete largely on the US Criterium circuit, as well as the odd UCI race, select US NRC and regional races. It’s a 2-tiered squad with a roster of  eight full-time elite riders and six locally based ones.

Of course, Spies is not the only speedster who enjoys taking to two non-motorised wheels. Alan Prost competes (and places well) in a number of cyclosportives, including L’Etape du Tour. Last year I had the not inconsiderable pleasure of riding from London to Paris in the company of Nigel Mansel who, you’ll be reassured to learn, is nothing like he’s portrayed in the advertisement for a comparison website. Seven times Rally World Champ Seb Loeb, I understand, is frequently found astride a cross country bike. Moreover, a year or so ago, I recall former F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso expressed a desire to set up his own ProTour Cycling Team.

Maybe, this is what cycling needs. A real shot in the arm. The boys on two and four motorised wheels earn enough to set up and run their own cycling teams. Plus, they could presumably tap into their existing network of sponsors. This would allow them to compete against one another all season, on and off the track, whatever the discipline. Loeb’s team pitted against Alonso’s, Spies’s and Rossi’s. Now that would be worth seeing. Move over Pat and make room for Bernie!

While the cat’s away…………………

I’ve been away for less than a week but a lot has happened in that time. On the football front, my team, the team that beat Chelsea and Liverpool, drew with Wolves at the week end – unbelievable, but true. More shocking and equally unbelievable, the team that beat Liverpool in the Champions League, Olympique Lyonnais, lost 4-1 away at OGC Nice.

Alberto “Big Brown Eyes” Contador won a 3rd consecutive Velo d’Or – who else were they going to give it to? Many will assume it was for his Tour win but I suspect it was really for standing up to Lance – a real crowd pleaser with the French.  

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen says his counseling is going well. Glad to hear it Tom particularly as you’re now off the bike, on vacation and again at a bit of a loose end.

A number of Pro-Tour teams, including Astana, didn’t have all their paperwork ready by 20 October. Have you seen the dossier that needs to be completed for the UCI? I have and therefore quite understand. I don’t imagine that the riders on the affected teams (Sky, Euskatel, Caisse d’Epargne, Astana and Saxo Bank) will be looking for new homes anytime soon and I’m sure their paperwork will shortly be in apple pie order.

Sebastien Loeb wrapped up a 6th consecutive World Rally Championship while Valentino Rossi won his 7th Moto GP World Championship.

More shocking news: I came home to find the flat relatively clean and tidy. My husband had been using the vacuum. He’d obviously been a bit bored while I was gone. Maybe, that’s the solution to keep Tom out of trouble – housework!