The King is dead, long live the King

This afternoon HTC’s Tony Martin capped a stellar season by winning the rainbow jersey in the individual time-trial event. Twice runner-up to 4-time winner Fabian Cancellara, Tony was gunning for Spartacus’s crown and, indeed, was many people’s favourite to de-throne him. This was based largely on the success he’s enjoyed this year in a number of stage races. As well as winning the overall in Paris-Nice and Volto ao Algave, he’s won the time trails in those two races as well as those in the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Criterium du Dauphine.

I prefer to watch time-trials live as you get to see each individual rider. Of course, in stage races, with the exception of those gunning for GC or a win, most riders endeavour to get around the course in the permitted time. At the World Championships, whatever your ability, you get an opportunity to record a time. This isn’t the case in the road race as those who are lapped are obliged to drop out. In addition, those taking part in the time-trial are generally specialists and often their countries champion in the discipline. Even so, there were some interesting gear choices today. The two tail-end Charlies from Albania were pushing huge gears in what looked like slow motion. On the other hand, former champ Bert “too big to” Grabsch was pedalling a ginormous gear with admirable speed and fluidity.

Luckily, the weather co-operated and, despite a few scattered raindrops, all 65 riders negotiated the 46.4km, 2-lap race in dry conditions. Astana and Kazakh’s Alexandr Dyachenko, fresh from his bottle carrying duties in the Vuelta, was in the hot seat for some considerable time until the more fancied raiders knocked him off his perch. He finished a very creditable 9th overall. A number of the younger riders such as Taylor Phinney (15th), Jonathan Castelviejo (11th), Jesse Sergent (18th) and Jack Bobridge (5th) turned in fine performances. The future of the sport is assured.

Germany’s Tony Martin radiated confidence and purpose as he steam rollered down the ramp and very quickly overtook Scotland’s David Millar. He was smoking and recording the fastest times at all of the checkpoints. To be fair Fabulous Fabian didn’t just roll over. He gave it everything, and probably lost the silver medal when he overcooked a right hand turn coming off the cobbles on the second lap. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins,  another man in fine post-Vuelta form, pedaled with grace and suppleness to take the silver medal some 65 seconds behind Martin. The 26 year-old German recorded an average speed of 51.8km/hr. I cannot begin to explain how difficult it is to maintain this speed on a flat course. I feel inordinately pleased with myself if I can keep close to 40km/hr,  for more than 5km, aided by a strong tailwind.

Fellow Germans, and HTC team mates, have won gold in both elite TT disciplines. My friend Ute, who’s working as a volunteer on the UCI Welcome Desk, will be delighted with the German dominance and will, no doubt, have already secured their respective autographs. So, there were 2 Brits in the top 10, 2 Germans and 2 Australians. The locals had Jakob Fuglsang, who finished 10th, to support. Tomorrow’s a rest day, enabling the teams to check out the road race course which heads out from the town centre to this circuit around Rudersdal.

Viva La Vuelta IV

Today’s individual time trial takes place in Salamanca, the capital of the Spanish province of the same name in the region of Castilla-Leon, located  118 kilometres east of the Portuguese border and 204 kilometres to the north west of Madrid. This is a beautiful historic city boasting the oldest university in Spain and some truly magnificent ancient buildings. Its streets and plazas are brimming with history and humming with vibrancy thanks to the large Spanish and foreign student population. UNESCO has declared the entire city a world heritage site and in 2002, along with Bruges, it was a European Capital of Culture.

They call Salamanca “La Dorada” ( the Golden City) because its buildings are made from the Villamayor golden sandstone which shimmers with ever-changing hues according to the position and strength of the sun. Even the more modern buildings have been constructed from this special stone which at times appears almost golden though you might also see shades of ochre, red, pink and yellow depending on the sunlight. It’s also called the Land of the Bulls because Spain’s fighting bulls are reared in the pastures beyond the city.

Salamanca’s historic centre is confined to a smallish area, surrounded by wide roads that keep most of the traffic out. There is something beautiful to see around every corner. First stop, the Plaza Mayor, arguably the finest main square in Spain, and where today’s stage finishes, dating from the early 18th century,  is the heart of the city, to which all roads seemingly lead, and is surrounded by colonnaded walkways containing 88 semi-circular arches. Most of the arches contain cafes and bars, whose tables spill out on to the square.

While Salamanca had been important in Roman times and the centuries thereafter, the turning point in its history was 1218, when the university was founded. The period around the end of the 15th century was the city’s high point, which lasted well into the 17th century. The architecture from this era remains throughout the city, and it seems every street has a building decorated with elaborate plateresque (lavishly ornamental) and Renaissance plasterwork.

I have spent most of the Vuelta keeping a look out for my two friends who are riding. Both perform similar support functions within their teams and. therefore, unsurprisingly are positioned well within the pack and not too far apart from one another on GC. While both are good time-triallists, they prefer a more undulating parcours. Today is definitely one for the specialists: Cancellara, Martin, Phinney and Grabsch. These four will have fresher legs than some of the GC contenders. Nonetheless, I would expect Bradley Wiggins to challenge strongly and seize the opportunity to put time into his GC opponents.

Individual time trials: just a man and his bike, against the clock. Well, not exactly, you also have to ride quicker than the competition. The later you start, in theory, the better as you’ve everyone else’s time checks. The weather conditions are secondary as the GC contenders all ride within a short time period of one another. This is the only individual time-trial and coming midway in the tour will give those who will inevitably lose time here today an opportunity to attack in the remaining stages. This time-trial puts riders such as JRod on the back foot but potentially could lead to exciting racing in the coming days.

I think it’s fair to say that today’s stage went pretty much as anticipated with one very BIG exception.  Tony Martin won the stage but the man in second place pulled on the red jersey. No, it wasn’t Wiggo, he’s 3rd on GC. It was, surprise, surprise, his Kenyan born, UK registered Sky team mate, Chris Froome ,who has been ever-present at Bradley’s side during the Vuelta. Has this set the cat among the pigeons, or what? It’s certainly got the British presenters waxing lyrical about Robert Millar in his heyday, and his successes in the same race.

How did my friends fare? Amazingly, they finished one after the other.

Here’s the top 20 on GC after today’s stage:-

General classification after stage 10
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 38:09:13
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:12
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:20
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:31
5 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:34
6 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:59
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:07
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:47
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:04
10 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:02:13
11 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:15
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:21
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:35
14 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:23
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
16 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:03:28
17 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:47
18 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:03:52
19 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:59
20 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:04:07
 

Trifling pleasures

My beloved returned on Friday evening feeling a bit fatigued from an exhausting schedule of meetings. Yesterday, given he hadn’t ridden for a week, we had a pleasurable 65km meander around the area. Week ends I’m happy to follow his lead as I’ve plenty of opportunity to practise my prescribed exercises during the week. We’ll probably do a ride of a similar length today in the company of our friend who’s recovering from a collision with a car a few month’s back. Then it’ll be back up the Col de Vence on Monday morning before my afternoon departure to the UK.

We had dinner with a group of friends yesterday evening on the beach. It was a fun evening. With all three girls contributing to the veritable feast, no one was overburdened with work. I had prepared guacamole to stave off their hunger pangs while I cooked the burgers in our friend’s nearby apartment. She provided the accompanying chips and ice cream dessert while our other friend made a trio of delicious salads. The boys enjoyed being waited on hand and foot and worked off any excess calories with a swim and games of waterpolo, football and volleyball. This is my second trip to the beach in recent weeks, and something of a record for me, however the silly cycling sun tan lines persist.  I was in good company yesterday with five out of eight of us bearing similarly distinguishing marks.

Our friend is off on Wednesday to take part in the Vuelta during which he’ll be absent for his wife’s birthday, an occupational hazard. As a consequence, we’re all getting together again this evening for sushi at their place. This is something I have never attempted to make but his wife is a superb cook, so I know it’ll be fabulous. This time I’ve offered to make dessert. I had thought about something vaguely Japanese, such as green tea ice cream, which I adore. But it’s an acquired taste, so I’ll probably make more of a crowd pleaser and something which will appeal to their two hollow legged sons. I have some lemon scented sponge hangingabout in the cake tin which when drenched in my special liquer-enhanced raspberry sauce and then covered in layers of fresh raspberries, custard and cream will make a rather sinful ending to a virtuous dinner.

After this morning’s ride, my beloved and I will be checking out the final stage of the Eneco Tour which has turned into a rather more absorbing contest than anticipated. This race is generally won by a good time-triallist, another one of whom may win this year. Former race winner, Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen is currently leading while Garvelo’s David Millar and BMC rookie and prologue winner Taylor Phinney are respectively third and fourth on GC . Up there in the mix, and for whom today’s stage (22 bergs) might have been specifically planned, is Thursday’s stage winner, Classics King, PhilGil who is 12 seconds back. It’s going to be close but Belgium might be just about to get it’s first winner of this race.

Over in the Tour de L’Ain, Vuelta-bound David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in search of a 4th consecutive mountain’s jersey, took the GC from Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) on the final day’s stage which was won by his much younger compatriot, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The Vuelta’s looking a more interesting race this year with a number of riders who exited the Tour early thanks to injuries (Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck) deciding to contest the final three week stage race of the year. On the other side of the pond, ahead of tomorrow’s final stage, RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer seems to have a lock on the leader’s jersey. in the Tour of Utah.

When I’m going to fit in watching today’s MotoGP racing from Brno in the Czech Republic has yet to be determined. It would appear as if I’ve been ignoring my most recent sporting interest, I haven’t. It’s just that I’ve not had time to do it justice in my blog, but I will. I promise. I managed to catch a bit of the qualifying yesterday. Dani Pedrosa has seized his first pole start of the season in MotoGP, while Marc Marquez has his 3rd consecutive pole in Moto2 and Nico Terol, as usual, is on pole in 125cc class.

More young guns

Monday’s generally a rest day and one where I apply myself to administrative matters for both the club and our company. However, having missed my Sunday ride, thanks to the subsequently cancelled La Ronde, I felt the road was calling me. According to the weather forecast, yesterday was scheduled to reach normal August temperatures of around 30C instead of languishing, as it has been, at around 23-25C. It was overcast and humid to start with but a very warm southerly wind blew away the clouds to leave an azure sky and a scorching temperature. I chose a well shaded route, hoping to postpone as long as possible the inevitable numbing and cramping in my feet. After only 40 minutes, my left foot started throbbing but I rode on trying hard to ignore the pain. After an hour, the right foot joined in.  After two hours, the pain was so bad I stopped for a short rest and a drink.

This generally does the trick and I rode for a further hour before again succumbing to another break. Yesterday was particularly bad because I had spent most of Sunday on my feet. I’m trying to rest them as much as possible but it’s really difficult to stay off them. By the time I reached home, I’d been out for about 4 hours. I had a 30 minute refreshing thrash about in the pool before settling down on the sofa, with my feet up, to watch the prologue in the Eneco Tour: a 5.7km technical course around Amersfoot in Holland.  Last year’s overall winner HTC’s Tony Martin was absent, but there was plenty of other strong time-trialling talent taking part. The course was smoked by BMC’s rookie, Taylor Phinney, a man with cycling in his DNA, to land his first [of many] ProTour win. He was the only rider to go under 7 minutes and finished 7 seconds ahead of Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen, the Norwegian time-trialling champ. Garvelo’s David Millar was 3rd. Lurking ominously in 8th place, and only 13 seconds back, was PhilGil, on the hunt for more points so as to finish the year as the UCI’s main man.

Rather than wait for the start of the Vuelta, I then decided to attack the post Tour ironing mountain. It’s awfully hard to iron while seated, there was nothing else for it. I was back on my feet. Numerous shirts and t-shirts later (all my beloved’s), I rewarded myself with a further rest on the sofa. Today was going to be my rest day but the weather was so glorious, I couldn’t resist going for a quick ride early this morning. I had a brief trip to the club this evening and, while watching today’s stage of the Eneco Tour, tackled the club’s accounts. While I’m not the Treasurer, and despite me spending many hours showing her how to reconcile the accounts and prepare the monthly analysis, she’s taken to having a half-hearted attempt and then handing it over to me.  As I’m going to be at my parents next week, I really needed to complete the task today so that I could hand her back the club’s records.

Today, the GC leader, Taylor Phinney, punctured with 20km to go and was paced up back to the front of the peloton by none other than Omega Pharma Lotto’s Belgian Classics King, Phil Gil. Phinney led out the sprint but faded to 7th. However, he hung on to his 7 second lead and his leader’s white jersey. Phil Gil’s team mate, Andrei Greipel took the win ahead of Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov and Garvelo’s Tyler Farrar. Strong winds and narrow urban roads littered with street furniture had rendered today’s 192.1km stage, from Oosterhout to Sint Willebrord, crash prone. Numerous riders hit the deck, a number under the red kite, and five unfortunate souls were DNFs.

They weren’t the only DNFs today. I had last prepared the club accounts at the end of May only to discover the books were a complete dog’s breakfast. There were loads of cheques which had been encashed but were not in the manual cash book because the Treasurer hadn’t got the supporting documentation from M le President. This situation has not been addressed and, while I could make a pretty good guess, I’m not going to. They have to sort it out. So I reconciled the bank for the past two months and handed back the books this afternoon. They both became very animated when I explained the problem again, each blaming the other for misplacing the relevant paperwork. It’s quite possible that it’s a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. The upshot is that I’m to become the Treasurer, while still retaining the bulk of my existing responsibilities.  Didn’t see that one coming but actually it will make the task much simpler as I’ll automate everything. M Le President is going to hand over his cheque book and the club credit card which should resolve the problem. They can sort out the mess they’ve made while I’m away and I’ll take over and do the accounts on my return.

I have another race scheduled  this week with the young lads who live on the Domaine. They reckon that having watched the Tour  they’ve worked out how to beat me. The race will be tomorrow morning as my outing with my coach has been postponed. I have no idea what their tactics will be but suspect they’re going to try and use their superior numbers to burn me off. However, given that the circuit is barely a kilometre long, I’m just going to sprint for it. I’ll be going for a good warm up beforehand, it generally takes me at least 25km to get into my stride, and then we’re rendezvousing at the entrance to the Domaine. I’m hoping there won’t be too much passing traffic. During August, as relatives arrive to spend time in the sun with their friends and loved ones, the Domaine resembles more a giant car park and obstacle course as people get ever more inventive as to where to leave their cars.

Full of promise

We’ve profited from the fine weather these past few days to log plenty of kilometers on the bike. The weather forecast keeps indicating adverse weather but it’s generally been holding off during the day. The combination of rain and warm sunshine has ensured that the countryside looks particularly green and bountiful, long may it last. We needed all that additional mileage to counter the effects of yesterday’s blow out birthday luncheon: my beloved’s. I quaffed champagne and ate asparagus, morilles and  lobster. All my favourite foods, beautifully cooked and served, in the relaxing surroundings of one of our local restaurants, which has a fabulous view of the surrounding area. Feeling decidedly sated we returned home to watch the Presidential Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Romandie.

Both races have given some of the peloton’s newest pros a chance to shine, as well as providing opportunities for those who are more established.  For example, the Tour of Romandie’s 3.5km prologue had Taylor Phinney’s name all over it, particularly as he rides for the Swiss BMC team. No one had thought to tell Basque rider Jonathan Castroviejo who registered the ride of his life to take it, and the leader’s yellow jersey, by a nano second. In yesterday’s stage, Pavel Brutt (Katusha) one of the peloton’s perpetual breakaway artistes maintained his advantage, in the wet and windy conditions, to win the 172.6km stage into Leysin, by a healthy margin, to take possession of the yellow jersey. After what for him would have been a disappointing Classic’s campaign, today Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) prevailed, ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana). I anticipate that the latter two will be fighting it out for GC come the end of the race.

Meanwhile, over in Turkey, some of the world’s best sprinters have been losing out to a number of opportunists. Andrea Guardini (Farnese-Vini-Neri-Sottoli) – remember him from the Tour of Qatar – beat Tyler Farrar (Garvelo), among others, on the Tour’s first stage into Instanbul. Stage 2’s sprint finish into Turgutreis was won by  non-sprinter (or so the others thought), Valentin Iglinsky (Astana), Max’s younger brother and clearly not a man to be underestimated, certainly not by Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD). On stage 3, Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF Inox) notched up his 3rd win of the season. Yesterday, Petacchi, feeling he had a point to prove, surprisingly prevailed on the Tour’s queen stage, at the end of a wet and hilly day. While today’s stage, 218km  into Fethiye, was won by Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Neri-Sottoli), his first ever podium. Thomas Peterson (Garvelo) now leads the pack ahead of Cameron Wurf (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1 – Sanofi Aventis).

A number of riders are using these races to hone their form ahead of the Giro d’Italia. Others, like Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard) are using the time to reconnoitre the more difficult stages, of which there are plenty, ahead of the race’s start in Turin on 7 May. I will be there.

Memories of Melbourne II

I know, I know, my second day in Sydney and I’m still reminiscing about Melbourne, or more specifically, Geelong. In Melbourne airport I met some of the Lithuanian squad on their way back to Marseille. Obviously, they had more modest ambitions than some teams but overall were pleased with their performances. So few have either the ability or opportunity to win that they have to set themselves more realistic goals.

The Moroccan squad were no doubt delighted that their rider Mohammed Said was part of the original breakaway group and featured strongly in the television coverage. Likewise, Esad Hasanovic from Serbia, the rider stranded in no man’s land for a large part of Sunday’s race, was probably being cheered on by lots of Serbs around the world. Yukiya Arashiro was the first Japanese to ever finish in the top ten in the Men’s Race. The Japanese team were staying in our Geelong base camp and they were delighted with that result. I know road racing is becoming more popular in a country that already has a significant cycling culture, albeit in Keirin racing.

My beloved, who flew back to Milan via Doha, was on the same flight as Philippe Gilbert and the Evans’. He talked to both of them and said they were pleased with their respective performances. They tried their best and that’s all anyone can expect.  The Belgians came away empty handed, not so the Australians, who collected three medals: one of each.

The Germans topped the medal table. A country that’s fallen out of love with cycling and which, at the end of this season, will no longer have a Pro-Tour team. But that didn’t stop them picking up four medals: three silvers and a bronze.  Great Britain’s hardware was picked up in the time-trials. Silver for David Millar and gold for Emma Pooley who was also a formidable presence in the Road Race. Who knows what Alex Dowsett might have achieved if he’d had a mechanic as deft as Tony Martin’s. Next up USA, whose Taylor Phinney won both a gold and a bronze medal.

Scandinavia garnered a full-house with Hushovd, Breschel and Johansson. Italy and Switzerland each collected one gold. Vos won her 4th consecutive silver, after gold in Salzburg, and looked on the verge of tears, she’s not a lady who likes to lose. Canada and New Zealand each picked up a bronze, or should that be half a bronze in the case of Canada?

Spain’s performance was disappointing. Their highest placed rider in all the races was Freire, who finished 6th in the road race. However, I do know that the team was much affected by all the doping news, particular that relating to Alberto, who is close to both Luis  Leon and Samu Sanchez, fanned by McQuaid’s pointed comments about Spain. I seem to recall they rather faded into the background when Valverde faced similar approbation in Stuttgart in 2007.    

I didn’t get a chance to ask JaJa if he was pleased with the performance of the French, Jeannie aside, but the 5th place of Arnaud Demare in the U23 road race and they way they animated the Men’s Race, not forgetting Romain Feillu’s 10th place, must have shown the team’s heading in the right direction.  

McQuaid has declared the Championships a success and said over 156,000 watched from the roadside on Sunday. How to they know? Does someone go round and count them? Or is there some agreed formula which takes account of the length of the course and the depth of the crowds?

Postcards from Melbourne V

Yesterday, I decided to explore Geelong on foot. I had been tasked by one of my club mates to obtain a signed photo of Cav. I don’t collect cycling memorabilia; any autographs or stuff I collect tends to be by chance and I always take it down to the club for whoever might be interested.  On my travels I exhorted the good citizens of Geelong to come and watch the cycling as many seemed disgruntled at the disruption to their driving/parking arrangements occasioned by the racing. It must have worked as there was a good crowd all around the race course and a great atmosphere for the U23 Road Race.

I had wished the French team good luck as they exited their hotel (our base camp in Geelong) and while waiting for the start of the race noted that Cav was being interviewed on the quayside. I set off at a trot but was too late, arriving only in time to see him ride off in the opposite direction. I retraced my steps to watch what proved to be an exciting race.

U23 races are much more difficult to call:  the best indicator of form being the recent Tour de l’Avenir.  Home town favourite was Michael “Bling” Matthews, while my friend Ute favoured German John Degenkolb. Taylor Phinney was the bookies favourite. Almost as soon as the race started, American Ben King soloed away. A tactic he had used recently to win the US Road Race Championship.

Stars of Tomorrow

The peloton seemed unconcerned but the Aussies sent a man in pursuit, Ben King. Yes, there are two of them, both riding for Trek-Livestrong. Groups of riders kept trying to get away but were constantly hauled back into the main bunch. Eventually, two riders succeeded (Hong Kong’s King Lok Cheung and Belarus’s Andrei Krasilnika) and then a further two (Italy’s Moreno Moser and Britain’s Alex Dowsett) making a bunch of 5 pursuing, the American Ben King. His gap on the peloton never exceeded 6 minutes and at approximately the half-way point, the peloton decided enough was enough and stepped up the pace.

Meanwhile, the front group had splintered leaving Alex Dowsett and Moreno Moser (Francesco’s nephew, so another name with provenance), to pursue the American Ben King.  Moser caught and overtook King at about 3/4s of the way round, managing to stay in front until the 9th lap when the major nations decided to take control of the peloton. This provoked a major split leaving most of the fancied riders in the front group. The French made multiple bids for freedom, but each attempt was reeled back in setting up a mass sprint for the line. With 300metres to go, Bling Matthews came off Phinney’s wheel and launched himself several bike lengths clear. Degenkolb (good call, Ute) was second while, for the first time ever, two riders tied for 3rd place: Guillaume Boivin of Canada and Taylor Phinney. Not so much as a pixel between them. There was however only one medal, so they’ll have to share!

Postcards from Melbourne III

It’s still far colder than I anticipated for this time of year and I’m regretting not bringing my down vest but the forecast is for warmer weather at the week end. As well as checking out the course in Geelong, we’ve been exploring the Melbourne shoreline on our rental bikes.  The scenery has been quite spectacular and, as we’ve ridden further south, the properties have grown in size and there are some splendid examples of both colonial and modern architecture. The former are generally clapboard with wrap around verandas decorated with filigree ironwork while the latter are seemingly built largely from glass affording the owners panoramic views of the sea.

When questioned as to the difference between Sydney and Melbourne, the natives have advised that Sydney was founded by convicts while Melbourne was founded by immigrants from mainly Scotland and Italy. Do I sense some rivalry?

We again set off for Geelong at a reasonable hour to watch the U23 individual time-trial where Taylor Phinney was odds on favourite to win. He does have an impeccable pedigree and the results this year, most recently in the Tour de l’Avenir, to back up those claims. However, he faced stiff completion from the locals, last year’s silver medalist and GB’s Alex Dowsett.

We easily positioned ourselves near the start/ finish line with a clear view of the big screen, close to refreshments and cover from the promised rain squalls. This is my 5th Worlds and easily the best so far from an organizational perspective. Everything has been done for the viewing public. Instead of the usual banks of seating, there’s one small one for the press after and a small one before the finish line for local dignitaries. The UCI and sponsors’ lounges are at the foot of the final climb.

Many local shopkeepers have a cycling-related focus in their windows while the bars, cafes and restaurants are competing hard for business with lots of themed events.  There are screens all over the course, particularly in key areas such as the climbs and in the family-friendly parks.  They’ve even established hubs for the supporters of the major foreign teams all handily located near purveyors of alcoholic beverages. No stone has been left unturned. There’s even screens in the centre of Melbourne for those that can’t make the journey to Geelong. But then Australians really love their sport, don’t they?

Sadly, the cycling is being overshadowed by this Saturday’s replay of the AFL finals. You only have to look at the local press or watch the TV to have this amply confirmed. Residents of Geelong were asked if they’d be watching the cycling, most seemed to be annoyed at the inconvenience of road closures while others were aghast at having seen professional riders jump red lights. The inclement weather and that apathy accounted for the poor showing at today’s races. You could literally count the numbers of spectators, many of whom had arrived by bike.

The first rider off, Frayre Moctezuma Eder from Mexico, was visibly shivering in the chill wind and took some time to attain rhythm and speed.  No sooner had he set off than the heavens opened, making the course treacherous for those in Groups 1 and 2. Subsequently, the sun and gentle breeze combined to quickly dry out the course for those in the subsequent two groups. The few fans gathered mostly in the finishing straight did their best to loudly cheer and encourage the future of the sport. This was great to see and heart-warming for the riders as generally the U23’s and women’s events unfairly attract less coverage and support. This is a race with a great pedigree. Just look at a few of the winners of recent years;  Lars Boom,  Jose Ivan Guttierez and Thor Hushovd.

To win a rainbow jersey, you need luck. This was Phinney’s fifth. He was lucky that Luke Durbridge endured wet roads, while he didn’t. Alex Dowsett was unlucky to have a problem with his tyre which ended his potential challenge.  Phinney won by 1.90secs ahead of 19-year old Durbridge, while German Marcel Kittel was a further 20 secs back in 3rd. The future of cycling looks rosy.

Next up, the ladies. Pre-race favourite, German, Judith Arndt finished 2nd, some 15secs behind the diminutive, feisty Emma Pooley from GREAT BRITAIN. Linda Villumse was 3rd on her maiden outing for NZ. The evergreen Jeannie Longo was 5th.   A great day’s racing; I can’t wait for the men’s TT tomorrow.

Moral victory

Just look who turned up to take part in Sunday’s Gentleman and show us all exactly how it’s done. Afterwards, she kindly handed out the cups to the winners, signed autographs and posed for endless photographs. Despite the urging of my clubmates, I wisely declined to have my photograph taken with a woman who weights 43kg – maybe, next year.

Tough competition

My girlfriend and I were the fastest (and only) all female team. While, the organisers are quite happy to have all male single category teams, this generosity is not extended to the fairer sex. Discrimination? Absolutely! Accordingly, we were lumped in with the mixed pairs where we were a very respectable 2nd (not last) in the over 40s.

In hot pursuit

Not content with riding the short course with my girlfriend, I also decided to ride the longer course with my beloved. I had a pretty quick turn around; with just enough time to change my numbers between races. Sadly, I finished (like last year) with the wooden spoon. However, I had closed the gap quite considerably on my nearest rivals (a couple of very spritely over 65s) but was still some way down on Jeannie and her husband. After the inevitable apero, it was back home to relax on the sofa and watch some real racing.

This week end there’s been a veritable smorgasbord of cycling on the TV. Indeed, it’s been difficult choosing what to watch, such has been the choice. In the end I plumped for the “Clash of the Titans” (ie Bert v Lance) in the Criterium International (aka Jens Voigt Invitational) and the World Track Cycling Championships.

The Press had speculated that Bert had changed his programme to gain some sort of psychological advantage over Lance ahead of the Tour. However, I’m wondering whether it wasn’t a case of ASO flexing its muscles and demanding the presence of two riders guaranteed to generate sufficient revenues from the Criterium’s inaugural television coverage. Just call me a cynic.

While neither Contador nor Lance won, both of their teams demonstrated their respective strengths. Individual stages were won respectively by Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bouygues Telecom (who held on to win overall), Russell Downing of Sky and David Millar of Garmin Transitions. However, the question I’m left pondering is this. Now that Vinokourov has ridden in an ASO event is it more likely that he’ll be allowed to ride the Tour in support of Contador? I for one certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, Australia bossed GB on the track. There were excellent performances by some of the younger riders: most notably, Cameron Meyer and Taylor Phinney. However, Sir Chris Hoy and Queen Victoria Pendleton still picked up gold medals.

Over in Belgium, Saxo Bank continued their recent good vein of form yesterday with Spartacus peddling away from Tommeke in the final kilometer of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke. Today, in Gent Wevelgem, Bernard Eisel, Mark Cavendish’s fairy god-mother, won the sprint finish from a break away group. I can hardly wait for next week’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Finally, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) justified his move away from Caisse d’Epargne by picking up the overall at Volta a Catalunya. He was joined on the podium by Xavier Tondo (Cervelo) and Rein Taaramae (local boy, local to me that is) of Cofidis. So that means HTC-Columbia and Cofidis are still on level pegging, with 12 wins apiece.