Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.

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.

It’s not just about the [motor] bike

He's on pole again today

Spanish sensation, Marc Marquez, first attracted my attention when he won last season’s 125cc class and it struck me that he had a mature head on very young shoulders. Given that he’s currently challenging for the Moto2 title in his rookie season, I thought him worthy of closer examination and it’s evident he’s been a record setter from day one.

Marc first climbed astride a bike aged five to compete in motocross and minibike races. It took him  just three years to become the Catalan 50cc motocross champion. A switch to track riding brought even more success and by the time he was 10, he had claimed the Catalan Open title. Moving up to 125cc engines, he continued his rich vein of form with back-to-back Catalan titles in 2005 and 2006. A successful debut season in the world renowned CEV Buckler Spanish Championship saw him achieve his first victory in Jerez. In 2008, promoted to Moto 125cc class for Team Repsol KTM, aged just 15 years and 56 days, he made his championship debut in April at the Portuguese GP. In the British GP at Donnington, he became the youngest ever Spaniard (15 years and 127 days) to earn a podium finish and in 2009, as a factory KTM rider,  he became the youngest Spanish rider to claim pole position at the French GP (16 years and 89 days) and, that season, finished a creditable 8th overall.

With KTM pulling out of the 125cc championship, Marc secured the backing of Red Bull in 2010 to switch to Derbi bikes as he joined Finnish team Ajo Motorsport. Marc took his first pole at the 2010 Spanish GP but crashed heavily, injuring his shoulder, when his exhaust pipe fell off and went under the rear wheel. His first win  came in June at Mugello. Further victories followed in succession at Silverstone, Assen and Catalunya making Marc the youngest rider to win four successive races. His fifth successive win came in Germany, at the Sachsenring, giving Derbi their 100th victory in GP racing.  Marc was the first rider since Rossi in 1997 to win five successive races in 125cc racing.

He was less successful in the following races, dropping to third in the standings at one point behind Nico Terol and Pol Espargaro, after being taken out by Randy Krummenacher at the first corner at Aragon’s Motorland circuit, where he’s again racing this week end. Four successive wins from Motegi in Japan moved Marc into a 17-point lead over Terol with only two races remaining. At Estoril, due to heavy rain, the race was red-flagged with Marc  running second to Terol. On his return to the grid for the second race, due to a fall and a trip to the pits, Marc started at the back of the field. Nonetheless, he recovered to take the race and extend his lead before the Valencia finale. His 10th victory of the season moved him to within one point of tying the record set by Rossi in 1997. However, Marc fell short of tying the record as he took a measured and intelligent 4th place at the final race to become the second-youngest World Champion after Loris Capirossi. He stepped up to Moto2 this season where he’s Monlau Competicion team’s sole rider on a 600cc Suter bike.

The 2011 season started badly with Marquez not recording any points in the first three races as he struggled to remain upright on the bike. Since recording his first win at the Monster Energy GP in Le Mans, he’s turned the Moto2 class into a thrilling spectacle as he closes the gap between himself and championship leader Stefan Bradl. In the previous race at Misano, Marc took victory ahead of Bradl to narrow the margin to 23 points with five races left to decide the 2011 title.

Bradl, whose last victory came at Silverstone in round 6, has maintained his lead by virtue of his impressive consistency in finishing on the podium, although Marc’s fearsome form of five wins in the last six races has rocketed the rookie up the standings to challenge his more experienced rival. In addition, the 2010 125cc World Champion, starting today on pole, will hope to derive some benefit, in front of his home crowd, from 3 days of private testing recently undertaken at Valencia.

The most intriguing possibility, however, is that Marc Marquez will move up to MotoGP in 2012. Honda is rumoured to have a spare RC2123V just waiting for the Spanish prodigy. Given the huge budget of his current Catalunya Caixa/Repsol Moto2 team, a switch to MotoGP would be perfectly feasible. Whether he wins the Moto2 title this year or not, staying in Moto2 for another year possibly carries more downsides than upsides. Everyone will expect him to win the title, possibly for a second year in a row. But, he might not win. Losing a title is a great deal easier than winning it. Going to MotoGP when the formula changes will level the playing field somewhat, with everyone new to the 1000cc machines (though Casey Stoner has said that they will be very similar indeed to the 800s, with only the greater braking distance offering extra opportunities for passing), while waiting another year means that everyone has an extra year to learn the 1000s while Marc Marquez tries to repeat in Moto2.

Not unnaturally, his opponents in Moto2 would be delighted if he went to MotoGP. Indeed, one Moto2 team member commented that their goal for 2012 would be winning the title assuming Marquez would not be contesting it. However, Marc’s move could spell trouble for Dani Pedrosa who currently heads Spanish petroleum giant Repsol’s assault on the MotoGP class.  Marquez would give Repsol another string to their bow, particularly if Pedrosa fails to get close to winning a title again in 2012. As per the rules, Marquez will have to spend his rookie MotoGP year on a non-factory team. But in 2013, moving to the factory team might be the perfect opportunity for Repsol/Honda to replace one Spanish superstar with another.

The MotoGP rookie rule prevents Marquez from going directly to a factory team, but you would be mistaken in thinking that the team Marc would be riding for was  in any way inferior. It is likely that Marquez will have full factory support albeit with a separate Catalunya Caixa team. While it will not be the factory Repsol Honda team, and will therefore comply with the letter of the law. It will, however, be a “Repsol Honda Lite”, and drive a coach and horses through the spirit of the rules. The team will exist solely to house Marquez until he is ready to take over the mantle of top Spanish representative for Repsol. That moment looks ever more likely to be 2013 unless Dani Pedrosa stays healthy and in contention for another season.

Sunday Postscript: Marquez crashed! Fortunately, it was only on the podium, after one of the most thrilling races of the season, where the lead changed hands so many times even the commentators lost count. Finally, Marquez was able to put daylight between himself and the very large chasing pack to take his 17th career victory and 7th this season. Bradl limped home in 8th, so the gap at the top of the leader board narrows to only 6 points, ahead of the race in 2 weeks time in Japan. Meanwhile, Casey Stoner and Nico Terol both won their respective classes and consolidated their championship positions.

Happily back home again for a few days

Bereft of the internet and L’Equipe for a few days at my parents’, I feel seriously out of the loop. It’s as if the pillars of my daily existence have gone walk about, leaving me floundering. That, combined with the work involved pre-and- post Kivilev, means I’ve not had enough time to watch, let alone ponder or comment on, recent sporting events.

The third week of the Giro passed without me seeing too much of the action. It’s only now that I appreciate what a master coup Contador (and Riis) delivered atop Mount Etna, and on subsequent days, to bludgeon the competition into submission. At the start of the second week, there were enough riders still within sniffing distance of the pink jersey willing to chance their arms and those of their team mates, saving the arms and, more importantly, the legs of Alberto’s team mates. Having taken his maiden Giro stage, Alberto was happy to forge useful alliances by ceding wins to other Spanish speakers. It never pays to be too greedy. We’re now all waiting to see whether he will ride the Tour. Frankly, it won’t be the same without  him sublimely dancing away on the pedals.

The Premiership football season finished with my beloved boys in claret and blue in 9th place thanks to Mr Houllier who, due to ill health, will not be with us next season. Neither will Ashley Young who benefited greatly from Houllier’s guidance and is most probably going to be playing for Manchester United. OGCN diced with danger all season only avoiding the drop thanks to the misfortune of our closest neighbours, Monaco, who we’ll not be playing next season which is pity as I always enjoy a trip to their magnificent stadium. More importantly, funding has been secured for our new stadium, where we will be hosting games at Euro 2016. Additional funding has also been found to strengthen the squad.

In Paris, Li Na became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament ensuring her immortality in Chinese sporting history. In the men’s finals, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to take his Borg-equalling 6th title. He was no doubt grateful that Roger had beaten  Novak Djokavic in the semis. So who’s going to lift the Wimbledon crown? I suspect the same four players in the French semis will also be contesting the ones at Wimbledon. Although I’m sure the great British public will be hoping for a different outcome. Don’t bet on it.

Today I finally watched the highlights of last week end’s GP Aperol de Catalunya held at Europe’s most modern race track in Montmelo, 20km north of Barcelona. I’m determined to go and watch some live MotoGP action next year and this is the closest racetrack to us. Yes, it’s a mere 5 hours away by car. Second closest is Mugello in Tuscany but that’s held during The Tour, so it’s a no no.

The usual suspects featured in all three classes where there were plenty of spills but, more importantly, no injuries, except to their pride. In 125cc, Nico Terol took his 4th win in 5 races and 14th consecutive podium appearance. However, if Johann Zarco had not been adjudged to have illegally overtaken him in the home straight, and gotten a 20 second penalty, the result would have been oh, so different. Not unnaturally the French were up in arms, but it was the right decision. Le Mans winner Maverick Vinales, the Paris Hilton sponsored rider, led briefly only to finish 2nd with Jonas Folger completing the podium. Terol is romping away with the championship.

In Moto2, Stefan Bradl used his 5th consecutive pole to register his 3rd win of the season ahead of Le Mans winner Marc Marquez and, local boy, Aleix Espargaro, making his maiden podium appearance. Bradl leads the championship ahead of Simone Corsi and Andrea Iannone.

Despite his pole position, Marco Simoncelli finished back in 6th place while Casey Stoner cruised into first place on the first lap and stayed there. The two boys from Yamaha took 2nd (Jorge Lorenzo) and 3rd (Ben Spies). This was Spies’s first podium of the season and the Texan’s just extended his contract with Yamaha. The Air Asia British GP from Silverstone starts tomorrow but with our trip to Lugano, I might well have to settle for the highlights again.

The Criterium du Dauphine is one of my favourite races, more intimate and immediate than the Tour. In previous years, I’ve gone to watch the final week end’s stages but not this year. Sadly, I missed Alex seizing yellow though today I did see the highlights of him losing it to Bradley Wiggins. However, it’s the Germans who are the talking point at this year’s race with Tony Martin winning yesterday’s time-trial and John Degenkolb winning on Tuesday and again today.  Admittedly most of the sprinters, but not all, are going to ride the Tour de Suisse. The Tour favourites, with the exception of Basso, look to be in fine form ahead of the Tour and, not unnaturally, were unwilling to risk all in yesterday’s rain soaked stage when they’ve bigger fish to fry in July.  I’ll probably have to settle for watching the concluding highlights of this race.

My beloved is due back on this evening’s late, late flight from Frankfurt which is inevitably delayed. Happily, I don’t have to either collect him or wait up. He’s got his own wheels and his keys. I’m planning on profiting from the good weather with a ride tomorrow morning ahead of our departure for Lugano. However, the weather forecast there is not looking at all good while we’re forecast to have plenty of sunshine here. We may have to make yet another executive decision tomorrow morning. That way, I’ll at least get to watch all the action live on the television.

Super Sunday

I seem to have spent the week end unsuccessfully dodging cloud bursts. Having decided to skip yesterday’s La Vencoise we enjoyed a lengthy ride along the coast, arriving home just after the rain started. Meanwhile, the 400 riders who started La Vencoise enjoyed mixed fortunes. If you were a fast rider, the weather didn’t trouble you too much. If you weren’t so fast, you experienced fog, hail and chilly conditions. We all know what would have happened to me, don’t we?

Today started brightly enough. I decided to ride with the club to the pointage in Menton but ended up dropping back to keep a potential new member company. He was clearly struggling and, after a short chat with him, I reached the conclusion that we weren’t the club for him. No, if you want companionable rides at a leisurely pace, club mates who wait for you and with whom you can enjoy a cup of coffee, you need to join a neighbouring club. He thanked me for my advice and, since he was finding it difficult to hold my wheel (yes, really), decided to turn around. I rode on alone, enjoying the sunshine and the silence. I passed Phil Gil at Cap d’Ail, clearly awaiting his riding companions. He gave me a cheery wave. He’s such a nice bloke.

On the way back, having already been soaked by a cloudburst in Monaco, I popped into to see how my friend, who was knocked off his bike last Sunday, was faring. He’s putting a brave face on things but clearly finding the inactivity testing. He’s got to wear a corset for 45 days to protect his broken vertebrae. I volunteered to take him to his hospital appointments this week. He was proposing to go on the bus. I was having none of it. As I left, the heavens opened once more. The rain abated as I approached Nice only to start falling again just before I reached home. My beloved had gone to a business meeting in Menton so I could enjoy a leisurely hot shower before slipping into something comfortable and reposing on the sofa to watch a packed afternoon of sporting action: Monster Energy Moto GP from Le Mans, the Giro d’Italia from the slopes of Mount Etna and Arsenal v Villa.

Nico Terol’s domination of this season’s 125cc ended on the final corner of the final lap of the Le Mans circuit after jousting with a 16-year old called Maverick Vinales (what a brilliant name) who didn’t look old enough to be out without his Mum, let alone ride a bike. In fact he was too young to be given a bottle of champers on the podium – very responsible of the organisers. Efren Vazquez rounded out the podium.  Reigning 125cc champion Marc Marquez finally managed to finish a Moto2 race, without crashing, to take his maiden win in this class. He worked his way through the field to take the lead from Thomas Luthi with 5 laps to go. Takahashi was 3rd with current championship leader Stefan Bradl in 3rd place. Bradl’s closest rival for the championship, Iannone crashed on the first lap.

In the blue-riband event, the fireworks started in the warm up lap. Pole position holder, Casey Stoner, had a dust up with Randy de Puniet which earned him a Euros 5,000 fine. Meanwhile, Jorge Lorenzo’s first bike went up in flames, literally. Initially, Stoner was overtaken by his front-row companions, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso but he clawed his way back into the lead after 2 1/2 laps and stayed there to finish a massive 14 seconds ahead of everyone else and record his second win of the season. Watch out Jorge, he’s closing the gap. Meanwhile, all the action happened way behind his back. Pedrosa clashed with Marco Simoncelli on lap 17, who was pushing him for 2nd place. Dani crashed, breaking his right collarbone. He’s only just recovering from an operation to resolve issues with his broken left collarbone. Simoncelli was given a ride-through penalty leaving a 3-way fight  between Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Rossi for the remaining podium places. Lorenzo ran wide with 3 laps remaining and finished 4th. Rossi couldn’t get past Dovi who finished 2nd. This is Rossi’s first podium of the season, and his 175th in all classes,I’m sure it won’t be his last.

On yesterday’s stage, allegedly one for the sprinters, neither Alberto Contador (SaxoBank) nor Oscar Gatto (Farnese) had read the script. I couldn’t resist coming up with a red top headline “Contador catches competition catnapping”. Those among you who are linguistically gifted will know that “gatto” is Italian for cat. As a consequence of his second place, Alberto gained 17 seconds, setting the stage for today’s ride up Mount Etna on Nibali’s home turf. Fireworks were anticipated but it looked as if we were going to get just a damp squib. The diminutive Jose Rujano (Androni) who’s never, ever going to make into that hallowed group of riders who weigh more than me, however much I lose, had set off towards the summit. Everyone was seemingly happy to let him go. Not so Alberto, who rocketed up the slope with 7km to go. Scarponi tried to give chase but blew up. The others took turns in trying to chase him down but to little avail.  Having reached Rujano it took Bert three fierce attacks to dislodge him from his back wheel. Alberto took his maiden Giro stage, the pink jersey and the plaudits. Nibali is now 81 seconds down.

My beloved boys in claret and blue took advantage of Arsenal’s defensive frailties to win 2-1 at the Emirates. The money paid for Darren Bent, who scored both of Villa’s goals, is looking like money well spent. But I have to ask, boys why couldn’t you play like that for the entire season? Danger averted. Not so for OGCN who lost a 6-pointer 3-0 away at Nancy.

Mundane

The past few days have followed a similar pattern. I have risen early, done my household chores and then gone for a short ride to turn the legs over. Afternoons have been spent watching the Giro,  baking, ironing and completing tasks on my Kivilev “to do” list. Not for nothing am I the mistress of multi-tasking. As ever, I find it easier to achieve more in my beloved’s absence. He’s due back this evening from an exhibition in Montpelier. Weather permitting, tomorrow we’ll ride the shorter course of La Vencoise.

I thought Tuesday’s annulled stage, and the demeanor of both the fans and riders, was a fitting tribute to the late Wouter Weylandt. I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan with a lump in her throat as his team mates with his best mate, Tyler Farrar, crossed the finishing line. More importantly, the Giro organisers are treating seriously the riders’ concerns and re-checking the descent of the Monte Crosis.

Wednesday’s stretches of strade bianchi were not well received by some riders. Others, like Vincenzo Nibali, seemed to revel in it. The Shark treated us to a master class in descending although, if he was hoping to rattle Alberto, he was sorely disappointed. Indeed, the favourites have been eyeing one another all week while remaining close to the head of the peloton, uber-protected by their team. This has given a number of riders an opportunity to shine, particularly in the breakaways. Rabobank’s Peter Weening, launching a late attack,  time-trialled into the maillot rose on Wednesday, taking it from the shoulders of Scotland’s David Millar. Yesterday, Lampre’s Ale-jet’s rocket blasters died just before the line, allowing Movistar’s Ventoso to cross the line first. Today neo-pro, and tour virgin, Omega’s Bart de Clercq launched an audacious attack on the final climb and just managed to hang on to bag his first big win. Tomorrow’s one for the sprinters before the action erupts on Etna on Sunday.

This week end sees the Monster Energy French Moto GP from Le Mans. I have been keeping tabs on the practice and qualifying sessions. Casey Stoner has broken Valentino Rossi’s circuit record, twice. Second fastest to date is Marco Simoncelli with Dani Pedrosa in third spot. Moto2’s top threesome are Bradl, Luthi and Corsi while in 125cc class Nico Terol is leading (yet again), from Efren Vasquez and Sandro Cortese. But it could all change tomorrow.

My sporting week end

My coach has a company which promotes the health benefits of participating in sport. You can either join for a year or buy tickets to participate in events. The first go is free. This Saturday he was encouraging people to either start cycling or get back on their bikes. His existing clients are also invited to participate. I went in anticipation that there just might be a few people slower than me. No such luck! We were a fairly select group, composed largely of his existing clients and just one guy who “hadn’t ridden much recently”. No need to spell out who was bringing up the rear on the ride. One of my coach’s assistants came with us and solicitously enquired as to whether I was finding the parcours too difficult. My coach kindly stepped in to explain that I was his official Lanterne Rouge, a role I perform beautifully and to the very  best of my ability. Frenchmen are such charmers! We only rode for about 90 minutes, ideal preparation for Sunday’s La Lazarides, one of the more testing brevets and one which I rode well at last year.

I spent Saturday afternoon on numerous household tasks while checking out the sporting action on our three televisions. WBA v Villa was shown live on Canal+ and I have to say the boys played well. But, and it’s a big but, they were mugged by the Baggies 2-1 who played with greater purpose, despite being down to 10 men. Meanwhile, in the lounge I was intent on watching the qualifying for Sunday’s Portuguese GP from Estoril. Typically, the favourites all ended up on pole position. Finally, I watched the time-trial in the Tour of Romandie where Messrs Evans (BMC) and Vinokourov (Astana) were poised to knock Pavel Brutt (Katusha) from the top step of the podium. It wasn’t an easy course, although the winner Dave Zabriskie made it look easy as he posted the fasted time. In the post-race interview, I feared for the interviewer’s life when he unwisely suggested that Dave Z (Garvelo) had only won because of more favourably climatic conditions. While that was true, that’s cycling, it’s sometimes the luck of the draw. Superb times were posted by Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) and Cadel Evans lifting them into second and first place respectively. Vinokourov clearly gave it his all but fared less well. He still managed to round out the podium, leaving the race poised for an interesting finish on Sunday. Would Vinokourov attack Evans and Martin?

Sunday dawned with perfect weather conditions for cycling. We rose early and drove to the start in Cannes. We set off with the group cycling 150km although we intended to ride only 100km. I do this largely out of concern for those manning the broom wagon, I don’t like to keep them waiting. Within a couple of kilometers I was distanced from the peloton which had sped off into the wide blue yonder – plus ca change! My beloved kindly kept me company as we wended our way through the positively lush countryside in the L’Esterel, around  Lake St Cassien and up into the surrounding walled villages. I was not riding well and was feeling positively fatigued. On the climb up to Mons I gratefully climbed off and into the waiting broom wagon. I positively hate giving up but sometimes you just know it’s the right thing to do. I had a pounding headache and felt really tired, even though I’d only ridden for 50km. I chose to forgo the end of ride sausages and wine, I didn’t feel I’d deserved them.

Once back home and installed on the sofa, ready for an afternoon’s sporting action, I promptly fell asleep. My beloved roused me from to time to time to observe some of the sporting action or, more correctly, replayed sporting action. In the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn – Frankfurt,  Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) greatly enlivened the race by attacking at every opportunity but Leopard Trek were determined to deliver Fabian Wegmann, last year’s winner, to the line. However, it was another German who took it on the line. John Degenkolb, last year’s world championship runner-up in the U23 catergory, took his third win of the season for HTC-Columbia. The U23 champion, Michael Matthews was 3rd. The roadside was thronged with spectators enjoying the action in the warm sunshine. Cycling clearly isn’t dead in Germany despite the efforts of the German television stations to banish it from air.

On the run into Geneva, on the final stage of the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Vinokourov made one of his trademark attacks but was brought swiftly to heel by Sky who set up the win for Ben Swift, ahead of Oscar Freire. The podium remained unchanged. Evans was clearly delighted to bag his second Tour of Romandie title, after the disappointment of missing the Ardennes Classics, in the region where he lived when he came over to Europe as a mountain bike racer and, fittingly, not too far from BMC’s HQ. However, it’s been a good week for Astana with stage wins for Alexandre Vinokourov and Valentin Iglinsky, and podium finishes in the Tours of Romandie (3rd) and Turkey (Andrey Zeits 2nd).

I managed to remain awake long enough to catch all of the re-run action in the MotoGP from Estoril where the track had been made more difficult by patches of wet from the morning’s rain. Nicolas Terol posted his 3rd consecutive win in 125cc class ahead of Victor Faubel and Sandro Cortese. He easily heads the championship rankings. In the Moto2 class, Stefan Bradl won his consecutive Estoril title but not before a tussle with Andrea Iannone who, having zoomed from 17th place into first, slid out of contention to finish 13th, leaving Bradl to record another win ahead of Julian Simon and Yuki Takahashi. It was an emotional podium place for Takahashi who had recemtly lost his younger brother in a motor racing accident. Moto2 rookie, and last year’s 125cc champion, Marc Marquez slid off into the cat litter (again) and has yet to score any points.

In the main event, Dani Pedrosa showed that the recent surgery on his shoulder has worked. He marked Jorge Lorenzo closely before using the slipstream to overtake him 4 laps from home. Casey Stoner was a comfortable 3rd. It wasn’t a classic race as such although there were exciting jousts within the main race. Andrea Divisioso overtook Valentino Rossi on the line for 4th place. Marco Simoncelli crashed out (again). Now there’s a wheel you don’t want to follow.

Finally, OGCN were trounced 4-0 at home to Caen. This was a six pointer and they now find themselves one place, and one point, above the drop zone. There are four other teams on 39 points all of whom have superior goal differences. Come on guys, please don’t fall at the last hurdle!

Hung out to dry

Part I of my marathon viewing session over, I replenished the refreshments before settling back to watch Part II, the Spanish Moto GP from Jerez which must be in a plain as it was raining. The damp, slippery track was to provide plenty of spills and thrills, and a wee bit of controversy, in front of the King of Spain, just one of  123,000 spectators jammed into the track.

In 125cc, Nico Terol continued his dominating run of form. He leapt from 2nd position on the grid into 1st, and stayed there. He spent much of the race jousting with his Aspar team mate, Hector Faubel, the 2007 series runner-up, who slid out of contention on the last lap, finally limping home in 11th position. The podium was rounded out by Jonas Folger in 2nd and Frenchman Johan Zarco, who claimed his first-ever podium place, in 3rd.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone moved up from his 11th place on the grid to assume control of the race mid-way, take his first victory of the season and lead the championship. Swiss, Thomas Luthi, a former 125cc champion, was 2nd and Simone Corsi, who was in 18th place on the grid finished 3rd, providing the only Spaniard free podium of the championship. Rookie Marc Marquez’s bad luck continued when he was tail-gated in the 6th lap by Frenchman, Jules Cluzel. They were both out of the race. Poleman, Stefan Bradl, finished 4th on the track where, a few years ago, his father Helmut enjoyed his first senior win.

Onto  MotoGP, where Julian and Toby helpfully explained that  key to winning today were tyre management and engine settings. They felt the Ducati, with its good rear traction, would start well but that Yamaha would deal best with the wet conditions. They were not wrong.

Stoner, starting on pole, maintained his lead until he was taken out by Rossi who had screamed up the course (on his Ducati) from 12th into 2nd. As the two struggled to right their bikes and resume the race, the track officials, to a man, ran to assist Rossi, totally ignoring Stoner. Rossi re-started coming in to finish 5th. Stoner, not a happy bunny, was out of the race.

Of course, it’s interesting to wonder why Stoner, the championship leader, was patently ignored in preference to Rossi. A couple of years back, I met someone who worked as a hostess at MotoGP races. Her favourite racer, by a mile was Valentino Rossi. I asked her why?  She said that he treated everyone the same, whatever their status, he was kind, charming, thoughtful and remembered everyone’s names. Sounds like a nice bloke.

With Stoner out, Marco Simoncelli assumed the lead,  2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo, on a Yamaha, was 2nd,  Rossi’s team mate, Nicky Hayden, was 3rd, Ben Spies was 4th and Dani Pedrosa, riding very conservatively, had slipped back into 5th. The curse of the commentator struck, Simoncelli went down due to “rider over-enthusiasm”. You need a cool, calm demeanour in these conditions.

Pedrosa recovered and by half-way was back into 2nd, behind Lorenzo, with the Americans, Hayden and Spies, battling for 3rd place. Spiess made it into 2nd, before sliding off the track. Pedrosa back into 2nd. Colin Edwardes moved into 3rd before he too was out of contention. Meanwhile, Rossi was battling back from 18th.  It finished Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Hayden. I love it when they do wheelies over the line. That’s another skill I can’t perform on my bike, not that I’ve ever tried, even unintentionally.

Place your bets please

The sun burnt through yesterday’s early fog leaving  perfect conditions for riding. My beloved and I decided to head up to La Turbie and lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. The chef used to work in a Michelin-starred establishment but left to run the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. The menu is chalked up daily on the blackboard: 5 starters, 5 mains and 5 desserts. When a dish is sold out, it’s scrubbed from the board. It’s a modest establishment which punches well above its weight.

We rode the short cut to La Turbie from Cap d’Ail to avoid the numerous traffic lights in Monaco. Skip one and you’re sure to incur a fine. This route includes a particularly steep bit 11-12% near Monaco football club’s training ground. I was struggling with the 39 x 27 but, nevertheless, managed it. Lunch was a fitting reward.

After lunch we climbed up Col d’Eze. Down on our left-hand side,  Eze village was shrouded in mist and looked like something out of a fairy tale. I have fond memories of my very first ascension of Col d’Eze for my one-woman protest against Astana’s exclusion from the 2008 Tour de France during Paris-Nice. It wasn’t supposed to be a solo effort, but my teammates never made it to the summit after falling victim to a couple of punctures. I am constantly amazed at how many punctures they suffer and can only assume they keep patching their inner tubes. Ours get sent to Burkina Faso.

After arriving home I started on the serious business  of  studying the form for today’s race. My middle sister, renowned for enjoying a flutter on the horses might have been able to impart some of her wisdom. She wins far more than she loses. But, unlike a horse race, one has to take account not only of the form of the team’s leader but also the strength of his support. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Fabian Cancellara who has to be odds on favourite whatever the state of his support. Setting him aside, there are a number of other riders one has to consider, although, I appreciate that they might only be fighting it out for the minor places.

One cannot exclude the usual suspects: Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro Ballan, Juan Antonio Flecha,  Heinrich Haussler, Stijn Devolder, Thor Hushovd, Filippo Pozzato and rookie, Peter Sagan. The papers have been suggesting that a coalition against Cancellara might be the only way to defeat him. It’s true that teams who have two or even three strong candidates should seek to tire out Spartacus’s troops by having them chase down constant attacks. My advice: just don’t take your eyes off Fabulous Fabian, not even for a second.

L’Equipe, who have Cancellara as their 5 starred favourite, have added a few more names into the mix: Sylvain Chavanel, Greg Van Avermaet, Juergen Roelandts and Nick Nuyens. Their advice is however pretty much the same as mine. They too suggest a coalition of interests, staying with Fabian and beating him in a sprint finish, or praying for a mechanical a la 2009.

Yesterday saw the traditional start of cycling in the Basque country with the GP Miguel Indurain won by none other than Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Olympic Champion, Sammy Sanchez. His first win since last August and his team’s first of the season. I note from the results that a Columbian called Robinson Eduardo Chalapud Gomez was 6th. Is this the longest name in cycling? The Tour of the Basque country starts tomorrow and I’ll be tuning into Basque tv to watch proceedings. The commentary will be incomprehensible but the pictures tell their own story.

This week end also sees the second MotoGP race in Jerez, Spain. Pole positions have been seized for today’s races by Messrs Stoner (MotoGP), Bradl (Moto2) and Cortese (125cc). Since the races run concurrent with the Tour of Flanders, I’ll settle for watching the highlights on Eurosport.

Run, run, runaway

After yesterday’s early start and busy morning, it was with some relief I sat down to watch the Moto GP season opener from Qatar. I hadn’t had either the time, or frankly the inclination, to watch the practice sessions, so had no idea who was where on the grids.

For me, one of the many charms of MotoGP is Eurosport’s commentary team of Toby Moody and Julian English. Catherine Riley of The Times  said ” …they could make a lap of a supermarket exciting and if there’s a better motorsport commentary team anywhere, I’ll eat my armchair”. No need to go that far Catherine. I would echo her opinion and say that there isn’t a better English language sports commentary team. If only the commentators who covered cycling were as knowledgable, witty and amusing.

Toby Moody and Julian English in pole position
Toby (bald) and Julian (beard)

As the picture shows, neither are spring chickens but, first and foremost, as long time  journalists, they bring to their commentary a rare depth of knowledge and a real love of the sport combined with a rare ability to pronounce correctly riders’ names.

Given I know so little about this sport, I decided to acquire a veneer of knowledge. I am indebted to www.motogp.com for their articulate explanations.

MotoGP is the motorcycling equivalent  of F1. An 18-race series visiting fourteen countries, four continents, with global television viewing figures totalling 337 million in over 200 countries. In 2010, over 2.2 million made the pilgrimage to watch the world’s best and most skilled riders line a grid astride cutting-edge motorcycle technology with prototype machinery from just four manufacturers: Ducati, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.

Established as a World Championship by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) in 1949. MotoGP is the oldest motorsport championship and the blue riband of three racing classes that take place on a Grand Prix weekend.

Each GP event takes place over three consecutive days. The first two  comprise practice and qualification for each class; the third is race-day. There are free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, and a single qualification practice on Saturday afternoon which determines grid order for Sunday’s race. In each category, the three fastest riders take positions on the first row of the grid, with the rest lining up in threes behind.

After warm-up sessions for each category on race-day, the 125cc race kicks off the programme, followed by the Moto2 class and then, last but not least,  the jewel in the crown, MotoGP.  Races vary in length between 95-130km and normally last between 40-45 minutes.

So what’s the difference between the various categories?

  • 125cc – Is the first step on the World Championship ladder for young competitors. Maximum engine size is 125cc (single-cylinder units). The maximum age for riders is 28 years (25 for wild-card riders or those newly contracted and competing in a 125cc GP for the first time) and the minimum age is 16 years.
  • Moto2 – This 4-stroke, 600cc class was introduced in 2010 to replace the 250cc category.  Moto2 aims to be a prestigious yet cost-effective adjunct to the premier league, MotoGP. Honda is the sole engine supplier, Dunlop provide the tyres while the prototype chassis are provided by a number of engineering firms such as Suter (Swiss), Kalex (German) and Moriwaki (Japanese).  The minimum age for riders is 16.
  • MotoGP – This provides the ultimate test on two wheels for its finest talents. The maximum engine capacity is 800cc (4-stroke engines) and the machines are all prototypes.  The minimum age for riders is 18.
125cc winner Nico Terol

So, on to Moto2 where German, Stefan Bradl (1989) surged away from his first pole position to record his 2nd ever win. Andrea Iannone leapfrogged from 16th on the grid into 2nd place after battling with Yuki Takahashi. Tom Luthi came through in the final laps to take 3rd. Last year’s 125cc champion and Moto2 rookie,  Marc Marquez, crashed out on lap 4: a  touch too much of youthful exuberance.

Riding his first season for Honda, whose bikes were quickest in pre-season testing and practice, former MotoGP champion, Aussi Casey Stoner (1985) won at Qatar for the 4th time in 5 years. His team mate Dani Pedrosa surged past him on pole and led for half a lap before being overtaken by last season’s champion, Jorge Lorenzo.  But by the end of lap 2, Stoner was back in the lead with Lorenzo in 2nd place.

Honda boys

Pedrosa