It’s over

There's gold in them wheels

Yes, after one of the longest and most drawn out courtships in history, it’s over. Mark Cavendish is joining Sky. I know it’s not exactly news is it? In fact when I met Cavendish recently in Copenhagen it never even occurred to me to ask which team he would be riding for come 2012. We all knew which team and have known for sometime it was merely a question of inking the contract on terms agreeable to both sides.

Cavendish, feeling unloved and severely underpaid by HTC, wisely decided to wait until after the World Championships before signing on the dotted line. Matters have been made more complicated by different sponsors: Adidas and Pinarello for Sky versus Specialized and Nike for Cav. Batting on Cav’s behalf are his new management team the Wasserman Media Group who are (to quote from their website) ” a sports marketing and entertainment company with global expertise in Athlete Management, Consulting, Media Rights, Partnerships and Business Development, and Action Sports”.

You may wonder where I’m coming from on this but actually I’m all in favour of what Cav’s done. The life cycle of a top athlete is short, very short and he needs to maximise its potential. Yes, he loves the sport and, as someone who’s fast becoming one of its most recognisable figures, he needs to ensure he reaps sufficient rewards for his efforts. I can only applaud his actions. This has been and will continue to be a hot topic on the cycling websites and forums but at the end of the day it makes good business sense all round.

Here comes the bride

The days are rushing past and soon “The Wedding” will be upon us. I am referring not, as you might suppose, to the forthcoming Royal Wedding. No, it’s that of my youngest sister. Having taken an unconsciably long time to find her Mr Right, she’s, not unnaturally, determined to have her day in the sun. I have forgiven her for choosing a date that clashes with the Tour du Haut Var.

I have to hand it to her. She has meticulously planned absolutely everything, leaving no stone, not even a pebble, unturned. I, for one, am looking forward to it. It should be a truly splendid day. We don’t often get invitations to weddings these days, not like in our 20s and 30s. Still, I enjoy any opportunity for dressing up and wearing a hat. I have ordered a bespoke hat, and beaded hairband for after the service, from my favourite milliner (http://thehathouse.co.uk). The wedding and reception are being held in the same central London location negating the need for outer layers, usually so necessary at this time of year.

My sister, and future brother-in-law, have enjoyed their respective hen (Dubai) and stag (rugby in Edinburgh) dos and are just counting down the minutes until “The Big Day”. We’re all converging in London tomorrow  evening. Or at least that’s the plan. My beloved is due to fly back from the States tomorrow morning, it will be a miracle if he and his luggage are reunited in time. Yes, I have received word from him that, sadly, BA were not able to get him and his luggage onto the same outward flight. Knowing his luck it’ll arrive after his departure. When you log as many airmiles as he does, this is an all too common occurrence. He would have been travelling with hand luggage were it not for the need to take his wedding clothes with him. Or at least some of his wedding clothes, he left his shirts behind!

Weddings are also an opportunity, for me at least, to catch up with my ever dwindling circle of family and close family friends. It was rather sobering to glance at the wedding party photos from my and my other sister’s weddings. Most of the attendees are no longer with us.

It’s only a flying visit to London, leaving little opportunity to catch up with anyone else. I’m arriving in time for cocktails at The Savoy, followed by dinner at our hotel. The service is the following day at 14:00, giving me time to check out the hotel Spa. Carriages are programmed for way past my bedtime thus, like Cinderella, I shall be taking my leave before the witching hour. The following day, we’re heading back home.

Three bike-less days are more than enough for us, particularly since it’s been raining non-stop all this week. Still, it has given me an opportunity to practice the dreaded one-legged cycling on the home-trainer. This morning the rain abated so I was able to ride with my trainer: sprint intervals around the Cap.

Of course, as soon as we set off the heavens opened. We rode on bravely doing our best to ignore the cars splashing us from head to foot as they drove past. He was putting his new bike through its paces, a Specialized S-Works. While he’s pleased with the bike, he’s less thrilled with the Specialized tyres after almost slipping over a couple of times in the wet conditions. I had no such problems, secure on my Continentals.

I arrived back dripping wet, feeling chilled to the bone, and treated myself to a soak in a hot bath. I’m now feeling nice and warm in my Qatari Airways jimjams and dressing gown. No more outings for me today.

Jilted

Yesterday’s big news in the cycling world was the much heralded signing of Contador for two years to the Sungard-Saxo Bank team by Bjarne Riis. Rumours had circulated well before the Tour that the brothers Schleck were leaving to set up their own Luxembourg based team.  Riis must have felt this was a hammer blow to his attempts to find a replacement sponsor as Saxo Bank had previously indicated that they would cease their sponsorship at the end of this season. It’s much easier to secure sponsorship when you’ve proven race winners on your squad, thank heavens that Fabulous Fabian’s contract doesn’t expire for another year.

With Riis in a quandry, Specialized to the rescue. The US bike manufacturer has made no secret of its ambition to have the world’s, two, best bike riders, namely Contador and Cancellara, astride their frames. As their recent adverts testify: “Two Teams, One Bike”. Here was an opportunity for “One Team, One Bike”.  It may also have helped Saxo Bank to reverse their decision and continue their sponsorship for a further season.

Obviously, some of the money saved by Specialized’s sponsorship of only one team will end up in Contador’s pockets. You can’t blame him for going to the highest bidder. A rider’s career is relatively short-lived and he has  to make the most of it.

There are two other issues which will have factored into his decision making. Firstly, there’s a team time-trial relatively early on in next year’s Tour. Who wouldn’t want Cancellara on their team? Remember how last’s year’s TTT ended the Tour aspirations of a number of big names? Secondly, Andy’s performance this year signaled an improvement on last year’s. He matched Contador in the mountains. If Contador is to beat him again next year, who better to ride for than the man who knows him best?

Astana seem pretty sanguine about losing Contador. He has after all won them the Giro, the Vuelta and two Tours – not a bad haul. He’s remained on good terms with Vino, even riding a criterium yesterday in France at his suggestion. There are a number of good riders still seeking a home for next year and I’m sure they won’t be short of suitors. They’ve already secured the signature of Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas) who was 10th in this year’s Giro. Watch this space for further announcements……………………………

Brutal but honest

No 1 fan
My Swiss friend was a big CSC fan, largely because they rode Cervelo bikes. He had all the gear, as you can see in the photograph, and they’ve retained his interest, despite now riding Specialized, because of, fellow Swiss, Fabulous Fabian.  

 At the week end he brought me the DVD “Overcoming” . This is a, warts and all, behind the scenes documentary about Team CSC from their early season training camp through to the end of the 2004 Tour de France. This you may recall was my first Tour.   

While the film pays homage to the whole crew, its stars are Riis, Sastre and Basso. It focuses in particular on the relationships between the team’s two leaders and their relationship with Riis. Overcoming shows Riis not only to be a very skilful tactician but also a man enduring the psychological strains and stresses of the Tour. He clearly expects too much of his riders and questions everything. This environment of sparse praise and high expectations takes its toll on everyone which Riis recognises towards the end of the film.   

Sastre is shown to be an uncomplicated, laid-back guy on a high at the start of the Tour after the birth of his second child. The contrast in approach between Riis (logical) and Sastre (instinctive) is also clear in the early season training where Riis tries (and fails) to convince Sastre to use a power meter. Instead, he prefers to listen to his own body.  

By contrast, Basso comes across as very eager to please and, as the documentary progresses, it becomes clear that Basso is the star of Team CSC.  Sastre sacrifices himself to help Basso win at La Mongie where he dedicates the stage to his mother who, he’s just learnt, has cancer. Basso consults with Lance who, as the Tour continues, demonstrates his formidable mental fortitude in the face of any and all competition.  

Seeing Riis’ reaction in the team car to Basso’s win is priceless. Nonetheless, he doesn’t forget to thank Sastre for his selflessness. This is in stark contrast to Riis’s knee-jerk disappointment a few days later on the L’Alpe d’Huez time-trial where Basso is cruelly and easily overtaken by Lance and drops to 3rd place on the podium.  

All in all, it’s a grim but honest look at the life of a professional bike rider: only Jens Voight provided a few light-hearted moments. The documentary starkly reveals the fraility of riders bodies  and the work required each evening to get them back on their bikes the following day. The most notable take aways are: 1)  the team spirit among the riders and their willingness to do whatever it takes for one another and 2) Bjarne Riis’s recognition and admission that he was often too quick to criticise and didn’t dish out enough compliments.