Out of sight, out of my mind (not)

Visits to my family in the UK are such rare occurrences that I never take my laptop with me. Not, of course, that my parents have access to the internet. But, even if they did, I would feel guilty spending even half an hour of the few precious hours I spend with them checking out what’s happening in the two-wheeled world. I’m not completely out of touch, I do have my Blackberry but emails and tweets tend to give me tantalising glimpses of what I’m missing. But I can be patient, every now and then.

My last UK trip was in October. This visit was arranged because of its proximity to my birthday, Xmas and ahead of next week’s start of the 2012 cycling season.  So for just a few days, while I’m seeing my family, and catching up with a few friends, I feel bereft of my usual daily anchors. The Times is a poor substitute for L’Equipe. But it’s better than nothing, and this week it did feature an interview with Sky’s World Champion, Mark Cavendish (seen right), and the planning and preparation that’s going into (possibly) making him Olympic Champion. A far harder task than securing the rainbow jersey he’ll be gracing all season long. My family sadly don’t share my love of all things two-wheeled, nor do some of my friends, though they all kindly show some interest which I repay by not talking too much or overlong (I hope) about my velo passions.

On my return home to the sunshine this morning, there were two items high on my agenda: a bike ride and a quick catch up on what I’d missed during the past four days (was it only four?). So much seems to have happened. A bit of a dust up over who’s on who’s side in the Contador v UCI/WADA decision and the fear that it might be delayed, once again. The wild cards for the Giro have been announced with German Team NetApp springing a bit of a surprise while Acqua & Sapone’s hopes and dreams went down the plughole. OPQS’s Tom Boonen deciding to up sticks and head back to Belgium, passing up on an opportunity to ride with me this winter. He must have had a savage pay cut so the team could pay for Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin.

The route of this year’s Vuelta was unveiled on Wednesday. I’ve planned to be there at the start, shortly after the Clasica San Sebastian but, with the entire race taking part in northern Spain, I am now being tempted to linger longer. I’ve looked at the parcours and winced. This is most definitely a route for Spanish mountain goats, particularly those that weigh less than me. You know who you are!

Sylvain plots Fabian's downfall

There’s also been numerous team presentations, broadcast over the net, where riders have been forced to wear outfits they’d rather not and assume daft poses for publicity shots they’d rather not. It’s a tough life, even without the hours spent in the saddle.

We’re all (aren’t we?) poised in the starting blocks for next weeks’ season opener, the Santos Tour Down Under. The Australian viewing public have chosen their man to follow Vacansoleil’s and 2010 Tour of Qatar winner, “Wouter Mol”, and we’re all chomping at the bit for the action to commence. Fortunately my beloved is going to be heading to the UK on Monday leaving me ample opportunity to view proceedings. The speculation has already started as to who might win but the beauty of cycling is that none of us really has any idea. But it won’t be me.

It’s over

There's gold in them wheels

Yes, after one of the longest and most drawn out courtships in history, it’s over. Mark Cavendish is joining Sky. I know it’s not exactly news is it? In fact when I met Cavendish recently in Copenhagen it never even occurred to me to ask which team he would be riding for come 2012. We all knew which team and have known for sometime it was merely a question of inking the contract on terms agreeable to both sides.

Cavendish, feeling unloved and severely underpaid by HTC, wisely decided to wait until after the World Championships before signing on the dotted line. Matters have been made more complicated by different sponsors: Adidas and Pinarello for Sky versus Specialized and Nike for Cav. Batting on Cav’s behalf are his new management team the Wasserman Media Group who are (to quote from their website) ” a sports marketing and entertainment company with global expertise in Athlete Management, Consulting, Media Rights, Partnerships and Business Development, and Action Sports”.

You may wonder where I’m coming from on this but actually I’m all in favour of what Cav’s done. The life cycle of a top athlete is short, very short and he needs to maximise its potential. Yes, he loves the sport and, as someone who’s fast becoming one of its most recognisable figures, he needs to ensure he reaps sufficient rewards for his efforts. I can only applaud his actions. This has been and will continue to be a hot topic on the cycling websites and forums but at the end of the day it makes good business sense all round.

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.

Panacea for post-Tour blues

While the Tour is over and many of it’s protagonists take part in a seemingly endless round of criteriums, the racing rolls on. This week I’ve been watching the Tour of Poland generally an opportunity for the young guns to shine, and shine they have. While fellow Brummie and defending champ Garvelo’s Dan Martin put up a spirited defence of his title and won the queen stage, it’s been pretty much one way traffic at the Pete and Marcel show.  After putting in a highly determined performance to win two stages and, more importantly, the overall, I’m looking forward to see what Liquigas’s Peter Sagan can do in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta. I appreciate he’ll be riding in support of Vicenzo Nibali, but should the Shark falter…….. The other four stages were won in imperious fashion by Skil Shimano’s Marcel Kittel whom I last saw on the podium of the U23 ITT in Melbourne. He has a turn of speed to match Cavendish, but doesn’t seem to require a train, and he left names such as Tom Boonen, Romain Feillu and John Degenkolb trailing in his wake.

I’ve also been dipping into the Vuelta a Burgos where riders were fine tuning their performances ahead of the Vuelta which starts on 20 August in Benidorm. The first stage stage was won by defending champ, Euskaltel’s Samu, who won’t be riding the Vuelta, ahead of Katusha’s JRod, who will. JRod also took out the 2nd stage and the overall. Samu was undone (again) by the team time trial and tired legs on the final stage where the boys in orange were attempting to rip the field apart and put time into JRod. Sadly, Samu was unable to keep pace and the stage was won by his rookie team mate Mikel Landa, recording his maiden win. Purito is looking in great shape for the upcoming race which, with plenty of mountain top finishes and few time-trialling kms, clearly favours the climbers but Igor Anton and the orange-clad boys are looking equally strong.

Over in the Tour of Denmark, Sky’s Simon Gerrans took his first stage win since the Herald Sun Tour in 2006 and his first win this year thanks to some clever mopping up of intermediate sprint points (and seconds) to remain ahead of Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.  Elsewhere, the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin won Paris-Correze.

The football season commenced this week end in France and Nice were served up a tough opener, home to Lyon, against whom we’ve enjoyed some great results in recent seasons largely thanks to OL’s Champion’s League commitments. No such worries this time for OL, we lost 3-1 and languish one from the bottom of the league. With such a high turnover of players, it’ll take the team a while to gel but there were some promising signs, though we’re still lacking firepower up front. Finally, work has commenced on OGCN’s new stadium which should be finished in time for the 2013/14 season and where we’ll be hosting some matches in Euro 2016. I’m hoping my beloved boys in claret and blue have a better start to their Premiership campaign this week end.

After a few days off the bike last week, I was keen to get back into my training plan. My coach has introduced some new home-trainer based exercises where I have to pedal while holding my breath. Not sure what that’s all about but I’ll get a chance to quiz him when we ride together on Wednesday. It’s only for a short period, but it’s more difficult than you might think. He’s also making me do a series of push ups. Probably trying to firm up the non-areodynamic batwings. He’s also persisting with the swimming to assist my legs to recuperate. But my legs rarely get tired and I never ever, suffer from a build up of lactic acid. My feet, on the other hand, are not faring so well. I spent much time on them while walking around San Sebastián and have been on my feet most of this week preparing for yesterday’s La Ronde and pointage where we usually cater for over 500 cyclists. It was a wash out. The race was cancelled as the course was too dangerous with water lying on the circuit’s corners. Still around 60 people turned up and enjoyed my home baked goodies. Of course, most of the provisions can go back into the club store cupboard to be brought out for the re-scheduled event while I can put my remaining cakes into the freezer, disaster averted.

Postcards from the Alps III

I derive an enormous amount of pleasure from riding part of a Tour stage ahead of the peloton. Today dawned bright with that omnipresent bitingly cold wind. As we rode into Briançon you could see the fresh snow on the surrounding mountains. With a fair tailwind, it didn’t take too long, despite the presence of an enormous amount of traffic, to reach the town in full-on Tour party mode.

 We followed today’s route taking La Chaussée (1.7km @ 8.3%), which had me perspiring heavily beneath my jacket, gilet,  shirt, vest and bib,  followed by the climb up Montgenèvre (7.9km @ 6.1%) and then we rode back: a 40km round trip.

It was like one big international pointage with riders from all over the globe riding up and down the road which was wide but with a significant amount of traffic. I was almost sideswiped by a Polish caravan. As one of only a handful of women , as usual, I received plenty of encouragement from those on the side of the road. Again, there was barely room left to park a moped, let alone a camper van. And, it’s official, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg are deserted. They’re all watching the Tour. 

Tommy sitting pretty

Given the weather forecast, we had planned to watch the race at the finish in Pinerolo but it wasn’t necessary as the outlook was warm and sunny here, provided you stayed out of the wind. We returned to Briançon and watched the race unfold on the large screen. We saw the riders ascend the Chaussée at a positively pedestrian pace. They must have been saving themselves for the forthcoming mountain stages.

French aspirations for a home stage winner were  raised by Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel, one of today’s breakaways, only to have them cruelly dashed by today’s stage winner, Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen. Two Norwegians in the Tour and two individual wins apiece: Norse Gods rock.

Meanwhile, on the descent into Pinerolo, the yellow-jersey wearer, Europcar’s irrepressible Tommy Voeckler was struck by the curse of the commentator. Just as he was being complimented on his strong descending skills, he veered off the side of the road. He remounted, having lost touch with the leading riders, only to replicate Jonathon Hivert’s mistake of overshooting a corner into someone’s drive.

Bertie and Sammy, that well-known Spanish double act, again tried to put time into the competition on the descent into Pinerolo but the other contenders caught them on the line. Today’s only casualty was Tommy who lost 27 precious seconds. He may rue that come Paris. None of the jerseys changed hands.

Well worth the wait

Mindful of the importance of today’s stage, I was up and out at the crack of dawn. It was lovely and quiet, still a little fresh, with only the road cleaners and the odd car heading for the nearest bakery for me to worry about. I sped to Menton, easily my fastest ride there ever. My traffic light karma was in overdrive, I didn’t have to halt once: not even on the Promenade des Anglais. I stopped in Menton to top up my bottles and get a drink  to fuel my ascent. There’s a tap as the road splits (left over the Col and right to Ste Agnes), but the water’s of dubious quality.

The first kilometre of the climb is steepish but fortified by my recent sugar hit, and taking advantage of every bit of shade, I forge on. Up towards Ste Agnes the terrain undulates . I just grind away enjoying the view back down to the sea. The view improves, the gradient rises steeply and I’m now in the lowest of low gears. I take the left turn. It’s taken me  50 minutes to get here and I’ve emptied my larger bidon. It rises again and I press on. As a distraction, I start giving some thought to today’s stage where, realistically, we might know more about the real, relative forms of the main contenders, or not. The next 5 kilometres pass remarkably quickly and I’m soon speeding downwards. I’ve seen hardly any cars, just a couple of goats.

As I swoop through La Turbie, stopping at the fountain to fill up my bottles, I’m making good time. I  head up over the Col d’Eze enjoying the warm sunshine, the scenic views and the prospect of a cracking afternoon’s Tour viewing. Riding this route has done wonders for Thor Hushovd’s climbing skills, who knows it might do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, for me. My traffic light karma begins to desert me on the way back and I take refuge on the cycling track on the Promenade. It’s busy, but not as busy as the road. In no time at all, I’m grinding my way back up to the apartment. It’s taken me an hour less than I estimated but that’s largely due to the time at which I rode rather than any great feat on my part. I shower, slip into something comfortable and sink a couple of litres of water. I’d like to check the ride information on my Garmin but I’m still waiting for a response from them. I’ve been waiting for 6 days!

On today’s queen stage, 168.5km from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille a large group breaks away almost from the start, swiftly joined by another 4 riders, 24 in total. Only 4 teams are not represented: Saxobank, Radioshack, Omega Pharma-Lotto and Saur-Sojasun. There’s plenty of French riders, including 3 from FDJ, but no Jeremy Roy. Is that allowed? Despite having Charteau in the break, Europcar control the peloton until Leopard Trek take over intent on whittling down the numbers and delivering the Schlecks to the base of the final climb.

The French are desperate for a stage win and today’s excitement, and ultimate disappointment, were provided by French champion Sylvain Chavanel and, later on, FDJ’s Sandy Casar. However with Voeckler STILL in yellow, the French are now talking him up as a potential Tour winner. Stranger things have happened.

With just 10.5km of the final climb remaining, Andy Schleck puts in a dig. It’s countered. The favourites basically mark one another all the way to the finish. Tour rookie, Jelle Vanendert, still smarting from his 2nd place at Luz Ardiden, takes off in pursuit of the hapless Casar who’s soon overtaken. Jelle’s nemesis from Friday, Samu, pursues him and gains back a few precious seconds on the other favourites but can’t overhaul today’s victor. So Omega Pharma Lotto take their 3rd stage win of the Tour. With just 2kms to go Andy puts in a more serious dig which allows him to take back 2 seconds from the others. Most of the favourites finish together although a couple were distanced on the climb further shaking up GC which now looks like this:-

Rank Dossard Name Country Team Time Gap
1 181 Thomas VOECKLER FRA EUC 61h04’10” 00”
2 018 Frank SCHLECK LUX LEO 61h05’59” 1’49”
3 141 Cadel EVANS AUS BMC 61h06’16” 2’06”
4 011 Andy SCHLECK LUX LEO 61h06’25” 2’15”
5 091 Ivan BASSO ITA LIQ 61h07’26” 3’16”
6 021 Samuel SANCHEZ ESP EUS 61h07’54” 3’44”
7 001 Alberto CONTADOR ESP SBS 61h08’10” 4’00”
8 161 Damiano CUNEGO ITA LAM 61h08’11” 4’01”
9 052 Tom DANIELSON USA GRM 61h09’56” 5’46”
10 124 Kevin DE WEERT BEL QST 61h10’28” 6’18”

Two jersey’s changed hands: Vanendert now has the spotted jersey and Sky’s Rigoberto Uran is the latest, best young rider.

Men on a mission

The fabulous weather is continuing and this morning I rode with my coach. I always look forward to our rides together. Not only do we have an enjoyable discussion as we’re rolling along but I always have a few take-aways to help improve my riding skills.  This morning I was keen to pick his brain as to how we might find additional funds for the club. As ever, he had a number of useful contacts and some good advice.

It took me an hour to ride to our rdv point and thereafter we continued along the Var valley, into the usual headwind, before turning off down the Vesubie valley. We were riding the route of the last club championship. Sadly, it’s not been held for the past two years so I’m still the reigning ladies club champion. It’s a route I enjoy, with some climbing, but none of it too steep: ideal terrain for a spot of interval training.

On the way back, I was waived down by a rider in distress. His pump had failed to inflate his inner tube after a puncture: Wonderwoman and her pump to the rescue. He was decked out in Astana kit version 2009 with a Trek bike. I could tell that French wasn’t his native tongue. I suspect he might well have been Eastern European. Wheel inflated we rode off together. I intended to ride with him just in case he had further problems. However, while we had established that we lived not far from one another, we failed to check we intended going the same way. I turned off the main road to return by way of the cycling path along the Var while he continued on the main road. I hope he got safely back home.

By the time I arrived home I had spent just 1 minute less in the saddle than the winner of today’s Tour stage into Lisieux although, in all fairness, I had ridden a rather shorter albeit much lumpier stage. My timing was impeccable. I was soon washed and changed ready for my afternoon’s viewing. Sadly, the peloton had another wet and windy day where caution was the watchword on the slippy roads.  Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco was another non-starter this morning as yesterday’s tumble into the barriers had resulted in him breaking his collarbone.  At the start, there was plenty of white tape in evidence on the limbs of those who fell yesterday.

It’s much easier in the earlier stages of the Tour to target one of the jerseys. This morning Cadel Evans was wearing the spotted jersey but, with more points on offer today, the “Group of 5”  set off with purpose, one of whom attained his goal. This evening the spotted jersey is on the shoulders of Johnny “Hardman” Hoogerland who eschewed a rain jacket today in his quest for the spots.

The GC favourites, keen to keep out of trouble, spent the day massed at the front, sheltering behind their team mates. The last of the Group of 5 was taken back just before the final climb. Both Thomas Voeckler and Alex Vinokourov attacked but it was to be another day for the sprinters. Led out by Sky team mate Geraint Thomas, after a powerful well-timed sprint, Edvald Boassen Hagen took his maiden Tour win in front of his parents. HTC’s Matt Goss was second, sandwiched between two Norwegians. That’s right, Thor was 3rd, retaining the yellow jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands. The only “loser” today was Levi Leipheimer who crashed before the final climb and lost over a minute. We’ve now passed from Hinault into Anquetil country. Tomorrow’s flat stage will be another one for the sprinters.

Independence Day

Yes, it’s the day that Americans hold so dear. It was therefore only fitting that Tyler Farrar, led out by the maillot jaune, won today’s stage which he dedicated to his late-best-buddy, Wouter Weylandt. Garmin Cervelo rack up two wins in a row proving that nice guys do win, just not all the time. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) was 2nd while Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took 3rd place and the points jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands leaving Thor in yellow, Geraint Thomas (Sky) in white and  PhilGil with the spots.  However, Thor’s battle for the points jersey, as well as Cavendish’s, has taken a bit of a knock. They’ve lost the points gained in the intermediate sprint for a bit of playful pushing and shoving.

Today’s parade from the Vendee into cycling mad Brittany, showcased France’s beautiful coastline, countryside and wealth of historical buildings. Yes, it’s a race but it’s also touristic propaganda for the Hexagon as the race is beamed to 190 other countries. The globe’s fleet of camper vans were drawn up alongside the roads which were lined with spectators rendering it more and more difficult for the riders to find a quiet place for a comfort break.  The day’s breakaway of 5 riders earned plenty of tv time for their sponsors but, despite working well together, were, as anticipated, reeled in with 9km to go by those teams with aspirations in today’s sprint fest.

With under 8km to go, the boys were bowling along at 65km/hr. HTC seemed to have their train in place, albeit a little precipitously. Petacchi and Boonen were lying in wait on Cavendish’s wheel. A couple of riders took flyers off the front, with 600 metres to go the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin fell at the final bend which disturbed the train’s rhythm and played directly  into the hands of Garmin who guided Tyler to victory.

The GC contenders were kept well to the fore by their team mates today and out the way of any potential problems. The wind was not a factor although it was clearly a little stronger over the St Nazaire bridge, re-classified as a Cat 4 climb, a magnificent piece of French civic engineering which unites the two sides of the Loire estuary, as the peloton momentarily broke into several groups. On a lighter note, Antony Charteau was let off the leash for a quick greet and meet with his family in Chauve before remounting to join the peloton as they whizzed past.

Phil Gil has his eye on tomorrow’s stage from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne, but I’m sure he’s not the only one. If he gains more than 1 second on Thor tomorrow, Cadel will take over the maillot jaune. My beloved is in Australia and he texted me saying that the Aussies, particularly the press, are in 7th heaven over Cadel’s progress. He certainly would be a popular winner but there’s still a few more days and kilometers to go.

Three faves don’t fare well

An afternoon lazing on the sofa watching those cute boys in lycra has to be earned. We’ve now reached that time of year when Sunday club rides extend beyond 100kms, so that means a 07:30 start. I left home at 07:10 and reached the rdv point with just enough time to greet the 20-strong crowd before we headed off down the Var valley into a strong headwind. It was a little fresh first thing but I knew  it was going to heat up later. Almost immediately the group split into two, with the fast group disappearing off into the wide blue yonder. I stayed with the second group who nonetheless set a steady pace. We were heading for Marie sur Tinee which, as it’s name suggests, is an old walled town along the Tinee valley, which leads up and over the Col de la Bonette.

As we headed up the valley proper I waived the boys on and stopped for a comfort break at one of the few cafes en route. Freed from the restrictions of riding in a group, and taking advantage of the uphill gradient, I practiced some intervals as I spun along. Groups from other clubs passed, calling out greetings or clapping me on the back. I prefer to be one of the later arrivals at Marie which one ascends by way of a twisting 2km road which averages 7%. There’s hardly any traffic and if one descends, as I did, when everyone else has gone, you can really give it some gas. The ride back is pretty much downhill all the way back until Plan du Var. I caught up with a group from Nice containing none other than the Mayor with whom I rode until our paths diverged. I picked up the newspapers, headed for home and a soak in my spa bath. I really only get to enjoy this when my beloved is away.  He’s in Australia. Lunch was the remains of my dinner with friends the night before then I settled back on the sofa to watch the 23km TTT around Les Essarts.

Well drilled

Who can forget 2009’s TTT, particularly the sight of Bbox’s riders scattered all over the ground after a perilous left bend? I was sure 2011’s was going to be just as exciting but, unlike L’Equipe, I fancied Garmin for the win. I’d read they’d arrived in the Vendee several days ahead of the other teams to practise the TTT and, as a consequence, had substituted Paris-Roubaix winner Johann van Summeren with Ramunas Navardauskas. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely as, despite their relatively early start, they nailed the event and put Thor in yellow. However, the surprise of the day was BMC. Cadel is on fire. Not only had he scored a few extra seconds in Saturday’s stage but he drove his well-drilled team to finish second thereby gaining more precious  seconds on his main rivals. Sky finished third with Geraint Thomas narrowly missing out again on taking the yellow jersey; third time lucky maybe?

I had also read that Euskaltel had opted for some TTT practice. Sadly, they still finished last. As a result, Sammy is hosed. He’s 2:36secs off the lead and will have to attack if he’s to claw back time and get back into contention. He also lost time on Saturday when, like Contador, he was held up by Max Iglinsky’s unfortunate clash with a yellow-clad spectator. Yesterday, Alberto Contador’s SaxoBank were first off the ramp and set a not unreasonable time which leaves him 1:42secs off the lead and well behind his main rivals. Both Spanairds will need to remain vigilant, and at the head of the bunch, if they’re to avoid getting caught out by the wind on today’s likely sprint-fest.

HTC’s Bernie Eisel, normally Mr Dependable, hit the deck after a touch of wheels on the first corner and irreparably compromised his team’s efforts. HTC will be gunning for a win today but they face stiff opposition from the team with the yellow jersey, Garmin Cervelo who will be brimming with confidence. Who knows we may see the yellow jersey leading out Tyler Farrar for the win. Or, while everyone’s concentrating on those two contenders, someone else could pop out of the bunch and nick it on the line.

Having watched and enjoyed the cycling I turned over to catch the tennis only to discover I was too late. Novak Djokovic had beaten Rafael Nadal in four sets. He also takes over Rafa’s world number one ranking today. So that’s the three Spaniards who haven’t fared as well as I had hoped: Alberto, Sammy and Rafa.

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!