Finally………………….

My regular readers have been complaining about the dearth of recent posts. I can only plead pressure of work and some much needed decompression time away from the key board. But, I’m back! Sadly probably not bigger and better than before.

I need to recap on the past couple of weeks: first up, La Kivilev. Once again, fortune smiled on us and despite torrential rains on the Friday afternoon, the Saturday of the event dawned warm, sunny and dry. A few early clouds were quickly banished and the smiles on the faces of the volunteers matched those of the participants.

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev
Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

We attracted our usual stellar cast: the winner of this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Maxim Ingliskiy; the  Kazakh national road race champion, Andrey Mizurov and, well-known local father and son pairing, Stephen and Nico Roche who were making their maiden appearance in the event. Stephen’s presence was particularly welcome as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his holy trinity of Giro, Tour and World Championship. I like to think Nico was looking for that extra edge ahead of the Tour de Suisse or maybe just a welcome opportunity to stretch his legs with his Dad.

Other local riders who would have been there were it not for other commitments included Geoffroy Lequatre, Amael Moinard and Tristan Valentin. Geoffroy was however with us in spirit, if not in the flesh, as his better half animated the event village with the G4 Dimension stand showcasing their cutting edge, top notch cycling and casual wear designed by Geoffroy. It’s stylish and made from the latest hi-tec materials. It won’t make you ride as fast as Geoffroy but at least you’ll look and feel as if you could!

In terms of organisation, everyone agreed, this was our best yet but we can’t rest on our laurels and have already had our first post-mortem to look at where improvements can be made for next year’s event. It’s true that no sooner it’s over, we’re already planning for the following year.

After the Kivilev, I generally feel in need of a vacation. This year was no exception. My beloved was also much in need of some down time in a WiFi free zone. Back in October I had booked a ridiculously inexpensive trip to Barcelona to go and watch my first MotoGP live. Now, I’ve written almost nothing about MotoGP this season but that doesn’t mean to say I haven’t been glued to the action on the wide screen so I was really looking forward to this trip. Rather than drive, we had decided to fly to Barcelona and hire a car. We arrived late on the Thursday evening and drove straight to our hotel, just down the coast from Lloret del Mar.

This immediately brought back childhood memories of my first trip to Spain when I was five. We stayed in Lloret, then an unspoilt strictly Spanish holiday town with one hotel. There was a fiesta one evening while we were there and I so wanted one of those red and white spotted flamenco dresses particularly when I saw lots of cute, dark eyed moppets my age wearing them. I’m still waiting – one day!

The resort was busier than anticipated particularly with bus loads of tourists from all over Europe including what seemed like thousands of kids taking part in a local football tournament. Indeed, we had a team from Nice staying in our hotel. The resort was also ridiculously cheap by comparison with here. For example, we never paid more than a euro for coffee while here the cheapest is Euro 1.40. Just don’t get me started on the price of alcohol. Needless to say, you could easily get blind drunk on ten euros and have change to spare.

Friday morning, bright and early we braved the hotel breakfast buffet before climbing in the car and heading for Montmelo. I wasn’t going to miss a moment of the practice or qualifying sessions. Friday’s a quieter day at the circuit giving spectators the opportunity to wander at will and visit the pit lanes after the day’s practice sessions. It was noisy enough to warrant earplugs although most spectators didn’t bother. The circuit was well appointed and the eats and drinks on offer were reasonably priced which made a change from similar overpriced events in the UK.

I don’t like heights and I particularly don’t like walking up stairs where you can see through the gaps to down below so I had a few nervous moments each day ascending to our tribune seats. Once there, I never budged. Instead it was my beloved who popped up and down to fetch the assorted refreshments. Unsurpringly, many of the specatators arrive on their bikes and then strip off their leathers to sit in their skimpies to enjoy the racing, proudly displaying their tattoos. My beloved and I were a tattoo free islet in a sea of painted bodies.

Everyone's favourite rider: Valentino Rossi
Everyone’s favourite rider: Valentino Rossi

A number of things struck me. We were in Spain but the most popular guy on the circuit by a mile was Valentino Rossi. Indeed, stalls selling his branded products couldn’t take the money fast enough. Not all the riders are well known enough to sell their own brand of essentially t-shirts, caps etc. It’s basically just Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, new kid on the block Marquez and Spiess. I thought Spiess’s designs were superior but he doesn’t sell as much as the others. Rossi outsells everyone else 100 to 1, with Marquez, who’s likely to be the next Rossi, way down in second place. Stoner might be the reigning world champion but he doesn’t seem to engender much support apart from his home crowd.

I’d chosen our tickets well. We had an excellent view of the straight, the leader board, a big screen, the first corner, the first hill and the descent giving us a grandstand seat where most of the action unfolded during practice, qualifying, warm-up and race-day. The weather was excellent throughout the three days albeit with some rain on the Saturday which quickly dried up. Everything worked as per the programme and there’s more than enough action and variety to retain one’s interest throughout the three days. The only thing missing was the excellent commentary from British Eurosport’s crack team of Toby Moody, Julien English and Neil Spalding which I adore as it greatly adds to my knowledge of the sport. It just wasn’t the same in Spanish. Would I go again? You bet.

The Monday after the MotoGP was spent in Barcelona, a place my beloved has visited frequently for work but has never had an opportunity to look around. I was happy to be his guide as we wandered around enjoying Barcelona’s magnificent architecture. Arriving at the airport for our 20:00 flight we were told that the flight had been switched to 08:00 that morning. My beloved had been advised but hadn’t noted the change! Thank goodness he’s a “gold” card holder. We were booked onto the following morning’s flight and put up in the airport hotel where we were fed and watered.

Isola 2000 40 years ago
Isola 2000 40 years ago

This last week end we went up to Isola 2000 with some friends. It was kinda nice having the entire resort to ourselves apart from the assorted wildlife. I drove up there on Friday afternoon while my beloved rode. However, he couldn’t face the ride from the village to the resort so I had to cram him and his bike on the car. After a delicious dinner, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for anything. The descent from the Col de la Lombarde is technical, lots of hairpin bends. I overshot a couple but fortunately without serious consequence largely because the road’s wide and the surface excellent. We rode as far as St Etienne sur Tinee which is where you start the climb for Col de la Bonette conquered by  me and my beloved two years ago. We stopped for coffee and chocolate before turning around and heading back to Isola 200o and that Col.

I let everyone else go at their own pace ie faster than mine. We’d half thought we’d conquer the 17km climb in around 2 hours but as I glanced down at my Garmin I realised I was certainly slo-mowing. The incline’s an average of 8% but for the first five kilometres  my Garmin never dropped below 9%. In fact, 9% was starting to feel like a false flat. It’s only as you start to approach the village (3km from the summit), and a series of tunnels, that the road flattens for a bit. I’m unaccustomed to long, steep hills so this was good training. At least that was what I kept telling myself. Three days later, my legs still ache!

Hither and thither

Well here we are, it’s Thursday evening, my beloved is due back at midnight Friday afternoon – see how time flies – bringing to an end my three-day spell of peace and quiet. I’ve been very busy but I don’t feel as if I’ve achieved much. I still haven’t gotten around to writing about Sunday’s exciting finish to the Tour du Haut Var in Fayence.

After a well-deserved early night my beloved headed out early to ride with the club. I set off about an hour later, to avoid the early morning chill. I went straight to the pointage and rode back home again to prepare lunch for my beloved’s return. I wanted to leave early to watch the cycling  so I could bag, once again, a spot on the finish line.  A quick trip down the motorway and we arrived in Fayence, parking the car outside of the town, to facilitate a quick getaway.

The organisers had laid on entertainment: a Brazilian singer and scantily clad dancers much to the appreciation of the largely male, elderly audience. Again, the spectators were mainly local, apart from Mauro Santambrogio’s fan club who’d travelled from, I assume, his home town near Como, in Italy.

Jon Tiernan Locke winner Tour du Haut Var 2012 (image courtesy of my beloved)

All the usual suspects were there: Daniel Mangeas, Stephen Roche and Raymond Poulidor but the talk wasn’t about Voeckler or Rolland, no the name on everyone’s lips was that of Brit, Jon Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing). Who, as anticipated, ignited the final few kilometres of the race up the (in)famous Mur de Fayence, to take the stage and the overall. It was a very pleasant afternoon in the sun and we headed back home happy as dusk fell.

Monday passed in a blur and I dropped my beloved off at the airport on Tuesday morning anticipating a few undisturbed night’s sleep and days to be spent as I pleased. Of course, things never quite go the way they’re planned. He’s back and apart from tidying the flat, dealing with masses of club and company administration, logging a few kilometres on the bike and penning a few articles for my other blog VeloVoices, the time has passed all too quickly. I still haven’t made any inroads into the ironing mountain, or should that now be range of mountains and the “to do” list is growing at an alarming rate.

I’ve guests coming for dinner this evening and I have been foraging in my freezer for a sticky, wine-rich daube which I’m going to serve with oven roasted onions and carrots and a white bean puree. Dessert is a help yourself affair. Cold creamy rice pudding and/or crumble either of which can be enjoyed with caramel apples and/or stewed strawberries. Helping them slide down a treat is plenty of my vanilla flecked [real] custard.  I generally don’t serve a starter during the week, instead my guests can nibble on  home-made foccacia and slivers of salami.

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)

A good read

This month’s Cycle Sport magazine opines on “the best 50 cycling books of all time [in the English language]”. Lists are always interesting, open to debate and, ultimately, very subjective despite their authors proclaiming their objectivity. Given that I have quite (typical British understatement) a large collection of books on cycling, I was keen to see where we agreed, where we differed and which books were in their list which I had yet to acquire and read.

I guard my books and only a favoured few are allowed to borrow them. I say this from bitter experience as a number of books have been borrowed and never returned and, as they are now out of print, are proving difficult to replace. For example, my beloved, one of the worst culprits, may borrow any book but cannot remove it from the premises. I don’t keep lists of who has what book at any point in time, I don’t need to, I know by heart where they all are at any given time.

You will note that I qualified the list as, not unnaturally, Cycle Sport has only included books either written in English or those subsequently translated into English. So, for example, “Tomorrow We Ride” written by Jean Bobet, “A Century of Paris-Roubaix” by Pascal Sergent and “We Were Young and Carefree” by Laurent Fignon make the list as they’ve been translated from the original French into English.

For similar reasons, the biographies feature largely English speaking riders notably Tommy Simpson, Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Graeme Obree, Allan Peiper, Greg LeMond, Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and many tomes about that man Lance. However, a couple of my favourite books feature cyclists who are not so well known and they’re both on the list. “A Significant Other” by Matt Rendell covers a former domestique of Lance’s from Columbia, Victor Hugo Pena. While, “Kings of the Mountains” looks at the role of cycling within Columbia’s most recent history and the Columbian riders who’ve ridden in Europe.

Stories about a few foreign riders make the cut, again solely because they’re written in English: Paul Howard’s revealing “Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape” about Jacques Anquetil, Matt Rendell’s excellent “The Death of Marco Pantani” and William Fotheringham’s “Fallen Angel – The Passion of Fausto Coppi”.

I have read a number of books about Pantani and I would say that while Rendell’s is undoubtedly an excellent read, and certainly a measured account, it falls short of Philippe Brunel’s tale “Vie et Mort de Marco Pantani” simply because Brunel had greater access to Pantani while he was alive.

My favourite book about Il Campionissimo was written by Jean-Paul Ollivier “Fausto Coppi La Gloire et Les Larmes”. As a historian, the author weaves his tale about Coppi against a backdrop of the social and economic history of Italy. As a consequence, he breathes more life and meaning into his subject and leaves  the reader with a greater understanding. I’ve also enjoyed the same author’s insights into Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor.

A book I’ve read recently, and whose words really resonated with me, is “Le Metier” by Michael Barry. The book is a seasonal account of the last year Barry rode for Columbia-HTC,  beautifully illustrated with photographs. In my opinion, Barry most accurately conveys to his readers what it’s like to be a professional bike rider. Even as a hobby cyclist I found I could empathise with his accounts of training on his own.

Doping looms large as one of the most frequently covered topics in books on Cycle Sport’s List: specifically, Will Voet’s “Breaking the Chain”, Jeremy Whittle’s “Bad Blood”, from “Lance to Landis” by David Walsh and Paul Kimmage’s “A Rough Ride”.  For me, the most illuminating book on this subject is  “Prisonnier du Dopage”  by Philippe Gaumont a former pro-cyclist who rode for Cofidis 1997-2003.

There are a few surprising omissions. To my knowledge there’s only one book in English about the Vuelta “Viva la Vuelta – the story of Spain’s great bike race” by Lucy Fallon and Adrian Bell and for that reason alone it should be on the list. “The Giro d’Italia – Coppi versus Bartali at the 1949 Tour of Italy” is the only book on that race on Cycle Sport’s list. For some reason, neither the Vuelta nor the Giro have spawned the same number of books as the Tour, not even in their native languages.

There’s a few other books I would put on my list which are not on Cycle Sport’s. I rather enjoyed David (Talking Heads) Byrne’s “Bicycle Diaries”  which chronicles his thoughts and observations as he pedals through some of the major cities in the world. 1960’s Italy and Italian cycling culture in brought to life in Herbie Sykes “The Eagle of Canavese” about Franco Balmamion who won back to back Giro titles. I loved “Indurain: una pasion templada” by Javier Garcia Sanchez which showcases one of Spain’s sporting idols, the very modest and humble Miguel Indurain whom I have been fortunate to meet. For those of you whose better halves don’t share your passion for cycling, can I suggest a Xmas stocking filler: “Roadie: the Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer” by Jamie Smith.

I don’t have all the books on Cycle Sport’s list and that in itself raises some concerns as I’m now bound to try and obtain copies,  even though many are probably out of print,  because my collection just won’t be complete without them. Amazon and eBay, here I come………………………….

So much for global warming

A quick glance at the long-range weather forecast reveals a dismal outlook for the next two weeks: rain, rain and more rain. This will be particularly frustrating for those doing London-Paris who have signed up for either the one or two-week stage based at Stephen Roche’s hotel, just up the road in Villeneuve Loubet. It’s being organised by ex-pro and Eurosport commentator Emma Davies whom I’ll be meeting later this afternoon.

I had volunteered to lend Emma a helping hand but I generally don’t ride in the rain. There’s no need. But if it does rain solidly for two whole weeks, even I will be tempted to brave the elements. I have almost 15 hours of training scheduled in next week’s programme. I really can’t see me doing all that on the home trainer.

While this morning’s downpour has now desisted and there was even a few rays of sunshine around lunchtime, the sky has once more clouded over. Tomorrow the forecast is favourable and I may well go over to St Tropez to see the start of the Tour du Haut Var. No, I won’t ride all the way there. I’ll probably take the train to St Raphael, but may well ride all the way back.

I caught a glimpse of the Volta ao Algave yesterday where the peloton endured 6 hours in the driving rain. Good training maybe for the Belgian Classics but more will be wishing they were enjoying the temperate climes of  Oman, the Tour of which finishes with today’s decisive time-trial.  Tom Boonen (Quick Step) seems well placed at only 2 seconds back from current race leader, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).

Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) had a wee (no pun intended) bit of a dilemma the other day while wearing the race leader’s jersey which seems to have divided both fans and the peloton. Namely, should other teams have attacked the race leader while he was taking a comfort break? Normally not, but this was within 50km of the finish and hence he was fair game. My advice: Edvald you should have gone earlier.

Postscript: EBH won the ITT in Oman finishing 2nd on GC behind Fabulous Fabian, who was 2nd on the stage. Tommeke dropped to 11th overall. He’s going to have to do much better if he wants to enter Belgium on 4 July in yellow.

La Sisteronne

I drove over to Sisteron early on Friday afternoon, deciding to forego watching what I was sure would be yet another Cav sprint fest in the Giro. More importantly, I wanted to pick up my number that afternoon and check out the start of the course.

Sisteron
Sisteron

The temperature rose steadily as I drove inland and the air was hot, heavy and humid. Indeed, there were several small downpours which I hoped were not indicative of the forecast for the following day, but indeed they were.  Having checked into my hotel on the outskirts of town, I drove into Sisteron to collect my number and check out the course in more detail.

I was undecided which course to ride but given that the route was common to both up until the first feed zone, felt there was no need to make a decision just yet. On the longer orange route, the climb up the Mont de Lure looked worryingly steep and, although I had checked it out on the map, could discern neither its length nor its gradient.

A local told me it was around 7% average. In itself not a problem, the issue was that it came after about 100km. This is generally the point in any ride where I am looking forward to descending rather than further ascending.

 The following morning, the hotel was full of riders enjoying a hearty breakfast. Everyone else was in groups of twos, three or fours. I was the only “Billy-no-clubmates”. I rode to the start, arriving in plenty of time to greet fellow riders from a number of clubs local to me and see Lucien Aimar and Stephen Roche who, having instigated the event and designed the routes, were also taking part. That was of course the last I saw them. Still, I can legitimately claim to have ridden with two ex-Tour de France winners.

The cyclosportif riders were due to set off ten minutes ahead of the randonneurs: an excellent arrangement. I was in no hurry, I already knew that the course quickly wound up from the Town Hall, went round the back of the town and up a narrow, steep hill before bursting into the surrounding countryside. Consequently, most of the randonneurs had to walk up the hill, in a scene reminiscent of some of the cobbled Classics, much to the bemusement of a number of horses who were eyeing the ungainly procession from an adjoining field.

I was soon dodging support vehicles, no drafting necessary, and making my way up the back of the field. The roads were quiet, the marshalling impressive, the crowds appreciative and the countryside was lush and verdant, bejewelled with wild flowers, after all the recent rainfall.

I took stock, and a decision, at the first feed zone electing to ride the shorter course: with hindsight, a wise decision. Freed from the necessity to hold something back for the monster climb, I could now throw caution to the wind and give it my all.

I finished in a respectable time, behind Messrs Aimar and Roche, 10th in my class and far from last. Eschewing the post-race feed zone, I dropped off my timing device, rode back to the hotel, sunk a couple of cokes and drove home.

Postscript Tuesday: I went onto the La Sisteronne web site today to print off my certificate (very hi-tech) and discovered that there were no fewer than 18 photographs of me! Given that the camera adds 10lbs (5kgs), looking at the photos, I have to ask just how many cameras did they have trained on my person? Answer, far too many. The photographs were taken by a German company called Sportograf for whom I have a heartfelt message: Wenn Sie mich eine Fotographie kaufen wünschen, benutzen Sie bitte das Kamera das mir dünner, nicht fetter zu sein macht!