Ducking and diving

It’s that time of year when caution needs to be exercised when descending  the Domaine on two wheels thanks to the birds and the bees or, more precisely, the ducks. Our feathered friends are in an amorous mood. There’s evidently a sexual imbalance as these sorties on webbed foot involve a lady duck being hotly pursued by a couple of drakes. Now, I’m not sure how this works. Do they strut their stuff and she picks which one she fancies, or is it less consensual? In any event, they freeze in the centre of the road as you approach on two wheels and then waddle back and forth making a duck for dinner the more likely outcome.

I have been trying to profit from the milder weather as the forecast for the week end and into next week is not favourable. That’s right, this year’s Race to the Sun will in fact be a race to the rain. Descending the Grande Corniche will be particularly treacherous. The drop out rate in this year’s race, despite the clement weather they’ve been enjoying, seems particularly high. If it’s not the effects of crashing, it’s raging temperatures or intestinal troubles.

Afternoons have been particularly busy with coverage of Paris-Nice being followed by that of Tirreno-Adriatico. Still, the wide screen television in the office (one of my beloved’s better ideas) means I can easily multi-task.

Wednesday morning’s L’Equipe was full of praise for French champion Tommy Voeckler (Europcar), venturing to suggest that more French riders should follow his example. Having been thwarted on Tuesday, Tommy returned to the fray and won Wednesday’s stage from a breakaway of largely French riders, who’d obviously decided to heed L’Equipe’s advice, helping Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) to recover the yellow jersey.

Yesterday’s stage, another lumpy one, into Vernoux-en-Vivarais, was won from a late 8-man breakaway of contenders built up on the descent of the Cat 1 Col de la Mure, by 2000 Paris-Nice winner Andreas Kloden (Radioshack) just ahead of Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Andreas is now in yellow for today’s 27km time-trial from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence, with those in contention for the overall handily poised to pounce. This stage race is throwing up a few surprises and is all the better for it.

Proceedings got off the ground in Italy on Wednesday with a team time trial won by Rabobank, putting Lars Boom in the blue leader’s jersey for yesterday’s 202km stage from Carrara to Indicatore. Interestingly, man of the moment in yesterday’s L’Equipe was Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar. So, guess who won yesterday’s stage? Yes, Tyler Farrar led out by his wing man, Thor Hushovd. Alessandro Pettachi (Lampre) was 2nd and JJ Haedo 3rd (SaxoBank-Sungard).

The bruises from my fall on the pavement a couple of weeks ago have started to fade so yesterday I added to them by falling off my bike. How did it happen? A momentary lapse of concentration and I was on the tarmac with skinned elbows, bruised knees and an imprint from my big chain ring etched on my right calf.

Bountiful

My beloved departed yesterday afternoon which is probably just as well given how busy the last couple of days have been. The weather’s not been ideal: grey, chilly and drizzly. Not great for Carnival but the lower temperatures and more snow have assured great skiing in the mountains close to Nice.

Monday I collected Tom III. Who would have thought that a few extra horses under the bonnet (or, in the case of a Smart, in the boot) would have made such a difference? Why didn’t I get a Brabus version before? I am so loving driving the new car and putting it through its paces. It’s got all the boys toys, some of which I’ll never use, but they’ll serve to amuse my beloved.

Monday, is also administration day and, as it was also a month end, cue invoices, expenses and salaries. Yesterday, after my weigh-in, I continued with the administration, this time for the club, specifically ensuring that everything is in good order for the Treasurer’s return.

Only the truly faithful made it down to the club yesterday evening in the pouring rain. These are, however, the ones who always volunteer and turn out for the club whatever and whenever. As none of them are getting any younger, we do need to start looking for replacements in the ranks of the more recently retired and about to retire.

One of the professional riders, who lives locally, popped in with his other half, to hand over his spare and old kit for our youngsters. In recent years he’s raced for Cofidis, Agritubel and now RadioShack who have changed their kit for this season – thanks. We’re looking forward to seeing him, and some of our other local riders, in next week’s Paris-Nice which I am hoping will be a race to the sun. The long-range forecasts look promising.

This donation is really generous of him and all this kit will be a great boon to the parents. While the youngsters do receive free kit from the club’s sponsors, it’s really for race days. Riding every day soon takes a toll on the kit which, when you add it all up, particularly with the stuff required for winter riding, is not cheap, even at cost.

Article in March's Velo Magazine

Talking about our youngsters, as you can see from above, there was a small piece on one of them in this month’s Velo magazine. Sadly, he wasn’t wearing club kit in the photo, and they got the club’s name wrong (I’ve  since dropped them a line with the corrections). Let’s hope this is just the first of many mentions for our riders.

I had completely forgotten that Nice were playing their Cup game away at division 2 Reims yesterday evening. They managed to win 3-2 in extra time and are now into the semi-finals. The draw for the next round will take place this week end. A trip to Paris for the final in May would be very welcome so I hope we don’t get Lille or PSG in the next round.. I also see there was some consolation for Arsenal yesterday, Chelsea beat Manchester United: a silver lining to Sunday’s cloud.

Out the loop

I was only in London for a few days but, away from all that is dear and familiar, I felt really out of the loop on my return. Races had finished without me knowing who had won and, even worse, races had started and finished without me knowing the victor. Of course, I could have checked on the internet but I was trapped in the wedding bubble and couldn’t break free of the programme. There’s little if nothing in the UK newspapers on cycling, although, as the wedding coincided with the World Cup races in Manchester, there was some mention of Britain’s track superstars.

I’ve been so busy catching up that I’ve had little time to reflect on the past few days of racing. However, one thing is clear, the promising young guns of the past few years are starting to emerge more strongly. Witness Gesinks’s (Rabobank) win in the Tour of Oman, a hilly parcours than last year, intended as a counterpoint to the earlier sprinters’ fest in Qatar.  Joining him on the podium were Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli).

Over the weekend the Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var, with a title almost as long as the race itself, was won by perennial French housewives favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), second was Julien Antomarchi of VC-La Pomme Marseille and, another former yellow jersey wearer, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) was third.

Further south in the Volta ao Algave, Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) took the final day’s time-trial and the GC ahead of Tejay Van Garderen (HTC) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil). The defending champion Alberto Contador (SaxoBank Sungard), in his first race back since his suspension,  faded into fourth place on the final day.

This week it’s the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol which kicked off with a 6.8km prologue around Benahavis won by Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun. Jonathon Hivert (Saur) won Stage 2’s 161.8km print into Adra while Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) won Stage 3’s sprint into Jaen. Markel Irizar (RadioShack) leads on GC from Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharam-Lotto) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).

Over in Italy at the Trofeo Laigueglia, Daniele Pietropoli (Lampre-ISD) beat off Simone Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli) in a sprint for the line. The Giro di Sardegna got underway this week and in yesterday’s 138km first stage from Olbia to Porto Cervo, Peter Sagan proved too strong on the uphill finish for Allessandro Ballan (BMC) and his Liquigas teammate, Daniel Oss. Sadly, very little of this afore-mentioned action has been televised.

I haven’t even glanced at what’s been happening in the Tour of South Africa and Vuelta Independencia Nacional. A girl’s got to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Meanwhile, I will be looking forward to this week end’s Belgian semi-classics: Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Opacity obscures objectivity

A certain amount of disquiet is being expressed in the French sporting press about the UCI’s new ranking system for the 2011 cycling season. For the first time the UCI is using a deliberately “secret” system which takes the points earned in the two preceding seasons by each team’s top 15 riders plus some consideration of the team’s ranking in Grand Tour events. The end ranking guarantees entry for the top 15 teams to cycling’s 1st Division providing said teams meet the UCI commission’s ethical, financial and administrative criteria. These are rather more clear cut as they’re set out in the UCI’s Rules and Regulations. The remaining spots will go to 3 of the 5 teams ranked 16-20th: namely, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Geox-TMC, Quickstep, Cofidis and AG2R.

The French are concerned and I’ll explain why. If we look at the teams in turn. FDJ is 21st therefore, under the new system, it is automatically denied entry to the 1st Division. Bbox, along with Cofidis, were relegated last year and have decided to remain in the 2nd Division with their new sponsor Europcar. I assume they’re gambling that with the Tour starting next year in their backyard (Vendee), they’ll get a wild-card. Cofidis and AG2R are fighting it out for the remaining slots. It’s possible, though unlikely, that if neither Cofidis nor AG2R are successful that France (horror of horrors) will not have a team in the 1st Division.

The press are talking about parallels with football because French clubs, who have to balance their books, and have small budgets, constantly lose their best players to clubs in England, Spain, Italy and Germany which have greater wherewithal. By and large, those cycling teams with small budgets are unable to attract the better paid, big point’s scorers.

The UCI made a preliminary announcement on 3 November confirming the 1st Division status of Omega-Pharma Lotto, Garmin-Cervelo, Rabobank and Team Sky. The other 11 teams (in order) are:

  • Unnamed Schleck Luxembourg Team
  • HTC-Highroad
  • Lampre-ISD
  • Katusha
  • Liquigas-Cannondale
  • Saxo Bank SunGard
  • Radioshack
  • Vacansoleil – DCM
  • Astana
  • Moviestar
  • BMC

The definitive list will be published on 20 November.

You can understand the concerns of  management of the individual teams. When seeking sponsorship they cannot give potential sponsors certainty that the team will be present at the prestigious events. I was involved in a project last year with a group of potential sponsors. While they wanted to enter initially at the Continental-Pro level, their long-term aim was Pro-Tour status and “guaranteed” entry into the all important Tour de France. After significant ground work and due diligence, my advice to the potential sponsors was to co-sponsor an existing Pro-Tour team. While this doesn’t afford them the  same level of involvement and control, it does give them exposure at the desired level.

Postscript: UCI announced today, 22 November, that the two teams to lose out in the battle for a place in the 1st division are Geox (with Sastre and Menchov) and Cofidis. The French can heave a sigh of relief that they have one team (AG2R) in the 1st Division.

It’s probably safe to assume that when it comes Grand tour wild cards, preference will be given to domestic teams. So, if you’re a 2nd Division side, from a country other than France, Spain or Italy, it’s unlikely you’ll be riding any of the Grand Tours. Progression into the upper echelons won’t be easy without a big budget to buy in those stars who have earned plenty of points in the preceding seasons. However, I do worry that the increased pressure to win could have unfortunate side-effects.

Chilled

A brave baker’s dozen set out from the club’s rendez vous point this morning. The sky was leaden and it was cold, damp, still wet under foot from the storms the night before and the hills behind were now dusted with snow. We rode briskly to keep warm each trying to take shelter from the chilly headwind which surely must have originated in Siberia. I rode at the head of the peloton, sheltering behind club mates half my size is pretty pointless.  Other cyclist’s were rarer than hen’s teeth.

At the pointage in Golfe Juan, I felt chilled and decided to return home. While riding, I’d paid particular attention to my posture and there was no re-occurrence of my earlier troubles. Sadly, I may have to replace my saddle. I cannot get another of the same model as it’s one that’s only made available to the pros. It’ll have to be a Bontrager, the same as I have on my Orbea, but in white to match my bar tape.

I picked up the newspapers on the way home and was glad of the additional warmth as I stuffed them down my winter jacket. I wanted to get home, and finish off the tidying up in time to watch Arsenal v Liverpool. If Arsenal lose, AVFC stay in 3rd place. I’d been so buoyed up by the boys’ win that I’d forgotten to check on how OGCN had fared away at Lens: badly. We lost 2-0, our 3rd consecutive loss. Christmas can’t come soon enough for Les Aiglons.

Journalists have been attending the camps of Astana and Team RadioShack, respectively in Pisa and Tucson, and attempting to keep the Lance v Bert rivalry stoked.  The latter is wisely not rising to the bait. Yes, Lance on paper your team has by far the stronger riders but do you have the stronger team? This story is going to run and run until its conclusion on the Champs Elysees next July. We’re just going to have to wait and see.

Phenominal fundraising

The Fat Cyclist’s best posts are his open letters. Last Thursday, he wrote to Johan Bruyneel eloquently articulating the case for his employment as a professional cyclist with Team RadioShack. On Friday, Johann responded on his blog, inviting the Fat Cyclist to attend the team’s training camp this week end if he could raise US$10,000 for each of two charities: Livestrong (naturally) and World Bicycle Relief Fund. Furthermore, if he could raise US$25,000 for each charity, the team would sign and donate a Trek Madone.

By Sunday, Fatty had his fundraising strategy in place. Donating in multiples of US$5 to either charity would give the donor the chance of winning  either a custom painted Fat Cyclist Gary Fisher Superfly (donated by Gary Fisher Bikes) or a Team RadioShack signed Trek Madone.

Within 24hours, and less than three days after Fatty had written the letter, Team Fatty had raised US$50,000. Johan upped the stakes by doubling the target and offering one lucky donor the trip of a life-time to the last day of next year’s Tour in Paris. That ceiling was broken through on Tuesday. The amount raised now stands in excess of US$115,000 and it closes tomorrow noon (MST).

I am always amazed at the generousity of Americans to good causes. The cynics amongst you might say that it’s tax deductible and that they’re only in it to win something. However, I suspect that if the only prize on offer had been getting Fatty to the camp, his loyal readers would still have raised the money. I hope he has a blast. It couldn’t happen to a nicer chap.

Postscript: Team Fatty raised an amazing US$135,000