Underdogs on top

Woke yesterday morning to find it was raining, rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke, it had stopped raining but I was too late to set off for the pointage at Beausoleil. I decided to go for a run along the seafront before heading to collect the Sunday newspapers. A quick coffee (quelle surprise, OGCN had beaten St Etienne away from home) then it was off to the airport to collect my beloved on his return from Chicago.

After a light lunch, we both changed into our matching Qatari Airways jimjams and settled back for an afternoon of full-on sport. Firstly, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and then the League Cup Final: Arsenal v Birmingham City.

The sun was shining (weakly) in Belgium and most of the Dutch and Belgian riders were in shorts and short sleeves with a couple of notable exceptions. Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was no doubt feeling the chill after his trip to the Middle East and was wearing leg warmers, arm warmers and thick gloves. I was mesmerised by Stijn Devolder’s (Vacansoleil-DCM) thick fluorescent yellow gloves which clashed with his Belgian Champion’s outfit. Try black next time, Stijn.

There was the obligatory group of escapees who, having ignored the barrier at a railway crossing, were subsequently disqualified. The mild weather and lumpy parcours seemed to encourage breakaways but none stuck, the sprinters’ teams were too strong and too determined. In the end, Chris Sutton (Team Sky) had the best organised train and, with 200 metres to go, was launched across the line  to become the first Aussie winner. He finished ahead of Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Interestingly, none of the leading trio had raced the day before.

Meanwhile over in Switzerland, Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) dedicated his win in the GP Lugano to his late trainer, Aldo Sassi. The French racked up yet another win in Les Boucles du Sud Ardeche. It was none other than last year’s viral star, Arthur Vichot (FDJ). Yesterday, according to Sport+, the French had won 24 stages to date while the Italians are in 2nd place with 19 wins. I’m not sure how this has been calculated, they didn’t explain.

After the excitement of the cycling, we settled down to what we were sure would be an Arsenal win. Frankly, as AVFC fans we were bound to support whoever played against the Blues, our arch-rivals. The Blues got a goal against the run of play, in the 28th minute. Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later with a terrific goal from Robin Van Persie who was later to retire with a knee injury.

During the second half, Arsenal had their chances but couldn’t convert any of  them. In 89th minute, a miscleared ball by the Arsenal defence gifted the winner to the Blues. Truly, it really was one of those balls from which even your granny would have scored.  Unbelievably, our bitterest rivals, who had knocked us out of the competition, had won and will be playing in Europa League next season. On the one hand, it’s good to see the underdog win but why couldn’t it have been us last season against Chelsea?

Softly whipped

Much as I love spending time with my beloved, I also enjoy my own company when he’s away. Largely because when he’s home he tends to dictate my daily routine, more by accident than intent. Yesterday, having spent the balance of our Amazon gift vouchers, I had another big fat delivery which I shall be enjoying for some time to come.

I love reading books in bed, but I can’t do this if my beloved is home. He cannot sleep with the side light on. I, on the other hand, can sleep with all the lights on, no problem. Peversely, while he’s quite happy for me to go to bed before him, he hates me coming to bed later than him. He claims I disturb him. Generally, I find he’s snoring his head off and it’s me who’s disturbed.

So I snuggled down in bed late yesterday evening and read Bradley Wiggins account of last tear’s Tour, “On Tour”. It’s only a slim volume and I’m a quick reader. It was an enjoyable and interesting read but it  might have been more insightful had it been written by Michael Barry, his team mate. The book is nicely illustrated with plenty of untypical black and white shots of the race, the cast and on-lookers.

In the introduction, Brad  said his intention was to provide the reader with “a comprehensive snapshot of modern-day Grand Tour cycling.”   He gives us his perspective on the key days of the Tour, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I can’t get any real sense of what it’s like to ride the Tour, even though I rode over parts of some of those stages. He’s also included short pieces on Lance, Cav, Sean Yates, the Mechanics, Rooming Alone, his Tour Playlist, His Favourite and Least Favourite Tour Climbs, Chaingate, Best and Worst Days,the Tour Bus, Rest Days, Sir Paul Smith, Steve Cummings, Michael Barry, Unsung Heroes of the Peloton and the late Txema Gonzalez, his team soigner who tragically died during  last year’s Vuelta. All very interesting and I’m in total agreement with him on Chaingate and the Go-Slow,  but you get the sense that these are stocking fillers, necessary to pad out the book to the desired length. I would have liked much, much more about the Tour although my favourite piece is the one written by his wife.

I was up and out early this morning, disappointed to discover that clouds had hidden the sunshine and it was rather cold and damp. Nonetheless, I had an enjoyable ride stopping off at my usual watering hole to quaff a coffee and read the newspapers which, not unnaturally, were full of today’s game at Twickenham which ended in a home victory, leaving England gunning for the Six Nations.

I rode home, showered, changed and set off for my cookery class in the kitchen of a well-known local restaurant. It was great fun, just 5 participants, so we all had an opportunity to get stuck in and wield the spoon, the whisk and spatula. We made a genoise sponge decorated with cream chiboise, fresh cream and strawberries, mille feuilles filled with white chocolate cream and red berries, plus some little lemon and mixed fruit cakes. Better still, we got to eat the fruits of our labours. Sadly, we didn’t get to lick the bowls.

I think this’ll have to be this week’s “eat anything you like day” and I’d better skip dinner. It was amazing how many tips I picked up from the professional kitchen which I’ll be putting to good use in the coming weeks as I make (and freeze) cakes for the forthcoming “Gentlemen”.

Arrived home to watch the rain-soaked Omloop race which I’d recorded while out baking. Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) just edged it over defending champion, Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) in a two-man sprint. The latter’s team mate, Matthew Hayman, was best of the rest. Langeveld went on a solo attack with 53km remaining while Flecha dropped an 11-man break at the 25km mark, catching up with Langeveld 10kms later. The two co-operated to keep the chasers at bay but ultimately, Langeveld prevailed, just. Let’s see what Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne serves up tomorrow.

I then checked the football scores to discover my boys had beaten Blackburn 4-1 at home – brilliant. Let’s hope OGCN can grab at least a point away at St Etienne this evening. If not, we might be looking for another manager come Monday.

Triple honours

This morning’s ride allowed my beloved and I to check out the route for today’s 4th stage of 38th Tour Mediterraneen, 155km from La Londe les Maures to Biot by way of St Tropez. The same stage last year was neutralised thanks to adverse climatic conditions. Today the sun shone and Spring was very definitely in the air.

Stage 4

We parked Tom II and strolled to the finish past all the team buses which ranged from the deluxe Pro-Tour team ones to the man and a van Continental team transport.  We rolled up about an hour before the riders which gave me an opportunity to distribute copies of the brochure for the Kivilev to the assembled throng which, unsurprisingly, included a number of my clubmates. The Tour isn’t televised so we had just the dulcet tones of Mr Cycling (Daniel Mangeas) to spark our imagination, made easier by our own intimate knowledge of the route.

Finishing straight in Biot
Appolonio leading out Feillu

I had ridden up the finishing straight a few hours beforehand which features a shortish hill rising in places by 13%. You could tell by the grimaces on their faces that the leading trio were giving it their all as they shot up the hill at a similar speed to that which I might descend. David Appolonio (Sky Procycling) led the charge with the yellow jersey, Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM ProCycling Team) on his wheel, closely tracked by Team Garmin-Cervelo’s Dan Martin.

Feillu took his third consecutive stage, in front of his young family but, with the next 9 riders within 34 seconds, doesn’t expect to conserve the yellow jersey after tomorrow’s stage which finishes atop Mont Faron. Thomas Voekler (Europcar) is only 21secs back while by Dan Martin (nephew of Stephen Roche who’s on the organising committee) lies at 26 seconds. In any event, the management of Vacansoleil will have welcomed the positive news after Riccardo Ricco’s DIY fiasco.

The organising committee had amassed so many former luminaries of French cycling that the podium was in danger of collpasing under their (not inconsidserable) combined weights. 

A handful of heavyweights

While all this was taking place my beloved boys in claret and blue, reduced to 10 men, managed to salvage a point away at Blackpool. OGCN are playing away at Rennes tomorrow afternoon who are managed by a former OGCN manager and feature a number of former players. This has banana skin writ large all over it.

I’m now settling down to watch a local derby on the new big screen: St Etienne v Olympique Lyonnais, the latter featuring (ex-OGCN saviour) Hugo Lloris and my chouchou, Yoan Gourcuff.

(photographs courtesy of my beloved)