Nothing nicer

The cycling season has been underway for a couple of weeks and we’ve profited from our proximity to that racing. Friday I watched the Trofeo Laigueglia, now moved to a Friday to avoid it clashing with Tour du Haut Var, and over the week-end we watched the latter. The race seems to have settled into a format where stage one finishes on a circuit around La Croix Valmer and stage two explores the glorious hinterland behind Draguigan with a three-circuit loop around some of the walled towns, affording plenty of viewing opportunities for the largely French public.

The sun shone all three days which made the racing, and the viewing, a whole nicer prospect. But the cherry atop the icing on the cake was that one of our friends won one of the stages, finished third on general classification and was awarded “most combative”. If you follow cycle racing, you’ll soon appreciate that not everyone wins races. It’s a team sport but only one member of the team can win, unless, of course, it’s a team time-trial.

Everyone wants a few words with the stage winner Amael Moinard (image: Nice Matin)
Everyone wants a few words with the stage winner Amael Moinard (image: Nice Matin)

At this early point in the season, teams are keen to get that all-important first win under their belt and, having succeeded, it tends to open the floodgates. More wins follow. It’s also one of the few occasions where a team leader, getting into his stride for his objectives later in the season – a grand tour or classics victory – will allow one of his key helpers to try to take victory. Or, maybe, one of the young, up and coming riders from one of the ProContinental or Continental teams will hope to catch the eye of a team manager at a ProTour team.

It’s not unusual to bump into friends and acquaintances at such races and a bit of banter helps to fill in the time until there’s television coverage on the big screen and/or the peloton hoves into view. On Sunday we were handily placed on the barriers about 10 metres before the finish line. As the peloton came past, on its first circuit of the finish town, it was hotly pursuing the Norwegian national champion Thor Hushovd (BMC) while a number of his team mates were well-placed in that pursuing pack. He was soon swept up and the peloton remained largely intact until the final run in when race leader Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) and Amael Moinard (BMC) leapt free. The two worked to maintain their small advantage with the former taking the overall and the latter the stage win.

It so happened that my beloved had Amael’s eldest son (5 years old) on his shoulders, so he had the perfect view of his father taking the stage win. He understood exactly what had just happened, he was so thrilled and much enjoyed being swept up in the post-race excitement and interviews. Both Amael’s sons accompanied him on stage for the prize-giving but, at only 21 months, it’s doubtful that the younger one appreciated what he was witnessing. The eldest boy took possession of the trophy and I’ve no doubt it has taken up residence in his bedroom. There was however a certain sense of deja vu as the last time Amael had won back in 2010, on the final stage of Paris-Nice, his elder son had accompanied him onto the podium but he was then too young to enjoy the experience.

For us, it capped off a marvellous week-end of racing. There’s really nothing better than seeing a friend win a stage. Made all the more memorable, as we shared the moment with his wife and children.

Recapping and recalling

I had thought with my beloved away yesterday that I’d find the time to put finger tips to keyboard, but no! All too soon he was back, gone barely 24 hours and back until the week-end. However, I’m going to snatch a quick hour or so to record my thoughts on the week end’s live racing at Paris-Nice. There’s simply nothing better than going to watch live racing and getting an opportunity to ride some of the course too.

We headed over to Sisteron on Friday morning, leaving rather later than I’d planned but I’d had to wait for my beloved. Story of my life! We finally set off and were a bit disconcerted to have rain en route but by the time we reached Sisteron, the sun was shining. We left the car at the hotel, mounted out trusty steeds and headed into town. I’d ridden around here three years ago when I’d ridden “La Sisteronne” but my beloved’s not familiar with the area. We decided to ride the final circuit of the day’s stage, finishing with a sprint for the line. Well, as close to the line as we could get, which I won.  We then popped over the barricades to watch the live action.

As anticipated, it was a largely local crowd, though I had stopped to exchange greetings with some Belgian fans in the camper vans on the outskirts of town: all fully paid-up members of the Tom Boonen fan club. Though today’s stage wouldn’t be one for Tom, too undulating. In any event, the leaders on GC had been happy to let a small group off the leash which were whittled down to Luis Leon Sanchez and Jens Voigt. Now while Fauso Coppi said “age and treachery will overcome youth and skill” this wasn’t the case and former Paris-Nice winner Sanchez pipped Voigt to the post.

We discovered that we were staying overnight in the same hotel as BMC, Saur-Sojasun and Euskaltel. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The Basques had gotten the short straw, they were sleeping next door in the L’Etap but were allowed into the Ibis to eat! Anyhow, as far as I’m concerned, riders are off-limits after a hard day on the bike. They need their rest and relaxation. I finally managed to drag my beloved away from a conference call and we headed into to town to find a good restaurant. I’m like a truffle hound, year’s of experience honed to perfection. We ate a truly magnificent meal, including a good bottle of wine, for Euros 60 in a lovely family-run establishment. She ran front of house, he cooked: my favourite type of restaurant.   Replete we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. All the teams were already tucked up in bed.

We nearly had an unfortunate incident at breakfast when my beloved swiveled sharply at the buffet almost sending two Euskaltel riders flying. Happily, they seemed oblivious to their near miss. However, I did note that they all dined on coffee and cake. Maybe, I should send the manager my resume and offer to keep them supplied during the Tour de France? Saur-Sojasun’s breakfast table was groaning with one of their sponsor’s soya based products – possibly obligatory. While over on the BMC table, many were suffering either from colds or tummy troubles. Even poor Thor looked diminished by his illness.  My husband had forbidden me to get within 30 metres of the mechanics’ van fearing I might be tempted to acquire a new BMC bike. But I already know that only Mauro Santambrogio rides the same frame size as me and he wasn’t at Paris-Nice.

Before the start on Saturday, we rode around the neighbouring villages, soaking up the sunshine and just enjoying the beautiful countryside. We returned to the town centre to catch the sign-on. An elderly Spanish couple, who kindly made space for us at the barricades, seemed to know all the Spanish riders who duly dropped by to exchange greetings. I was still trying to work out who they might be, and was going to ask them but they nipped off while I was taking Bradley Wiggins’ photo. As the race started, we followed the peloton out of town and back to our car for the journey back to Nice.

We had thought about catching the race on Col de Vence but some of our racers were taking part in a criterium on the Promenade and I wanted to lend our support. This of course ensured a packed house for the arrival of the professional peloton. Thomas De Gendt soloing in to take the stage some way ahead of his fellow breakaway companion, and local resident, Rein Taaramae. Neither posed a threat to the GC who ambled in later. Riding back I spotted Tom Boonen, and gave chase, but he evaded my clutches.

Sunday, I abandoned the bike in return for a ride behind one of the competitors. Since the cars have to make a loop, not all the riders would be followed by team cars instead it might be a Mavic neutral service vehicle, as was the case for the rider we followed, Elia Viviani.  It was more interesting than anticipated as you could clearly see both the effort expended and the speed the ride was travelling. As Elia was only going at twice my speed, I suspect he wasn’t giving it his all!

Unfortunately, there was no big screen at the start but instead I amused myself by watching the riders warm up and catching up with people I knew, many of whom were milling about like me. I had earlier wished Bradley good luck and had marvelled at how a man with legs thinner than my arms could cycle quite so fast. But thanks for the win Bradley, I’m assured of bragging rights down at the cycle club for a couple of months.

Review of 2011 season

Spending more time than I might wish on my home trainer the past week has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the 2011 road racing season. As you know, I often find it difficult to restrict myself to just one favourite moment, rider, team, race or indeed anything. Indecisive or greedy – you decide.  Given my preference for live sport, my recollections tend to be coloured by the races I’ve watched in person. So here goes.

Rider of the Year

It’s hard to argue against the collective wisdom of the Velo d’Or jury, so I won’t. With his 18 wins, it just has to be Phil Gil. Though it just wasn’t the quantity, it was also the quality of those wins, his majestic presence and aggressive, attacking style of riding which thrilled us all.

Although in my mind, Phil Gil was head and shoulders above all the other contenders, making it onto the podium in second place is Britain’s own Manx missile: Mark Cavendish. The Grand Tour wins, the green jersey (finally) and that magnificent win in the World Championships. Says it all really.

I was in a quandary about third place, should it be Thor Hushovd who so magnificently honoured the rainbow jersey, particularly during the Tour de France or should it be Tony Martin for his emphatic dethronement of Fabian Cancellara, a man who last year looked unbeatable. It’s a tricky one isn’t it? So, I’m going to squash them both on the podium in joint third place.  Honourable mentions should go to Edvald Boassen Hagen and France’s chouchou, Tommy Voeckler, both largely for their Tour de France performances.

Best One-Day Race of the Year

I was there, so it has to be Paris-Roubaix. The race had everything. Fine weather, fantastic atmosphere, favourites desperate to win beaten by an unfancied rider who, to add to the drama, proposed to his long-term girlfriend on the podium. I just love it when a non-contender, albeit hardworking and long-deserving, takes a really big win in one of the Monuments. Congratulations to Mr (and Mrs) Johan Vansummeren and commiserations to the mighty Thor.

In second place, it’s the Men’s Road Race at the World Championships in Copenhagen. While the course was made for Cavendish, the planning and preparation to get him there allied to GB’s phenomenal display of teamwork on the day, controlling the race from start to finish, was truly impressive and hugely exciting.

Had I been there, I suspect that Milan San Remo might well have been my third choice on account of Matt Goss’s uber-intelligent ride. For similar reasons, I could also have plumped for Nick Nuyen’s win in the Tour of Flanders, but I haven’t. No, I’m going for Clasica San Sebastian, a delightfully fun race with a terrific party atmosphere thanks to the Basques enduring love of cycling. This race demonstrated Phil Gil’s dominance over the peloton in hilly Classics. You could almost see the collective drooping of shoulders and the “Well that’s it then” attitude as he raced to victory after some token Basque resistance.

Best Stage Race of the Year

When the touch paper was lit in the third week in the Alps I was there to see the old-style heroics, epic defence of the yellow jersey, stages full of suspense, a French stage winner and, most importantly, some great racing culminating in a worthy winner. The Tour had it all in spades. While, we might have deplored the loss to injury in the first week of a number of favourites, that’s bike racing.

In second place, the Vuelta, the wonderful Tour of Spain which this year I was fortunate to attend albeit only for a couple of days. Unlike the Tour the atmosphere is much more relaxed, for all concerned, and the race much more accessible. The result was also wildly unpredictable and was all the better for it. It also provided my “Best Moment” of the year when Basque rider Igor Anton won the first Vuelta stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 years. The fever pitch excitement and wall of sound as he approached the finish line had to be heard and seen to be believed.

In third place, the Criterium du Dauphine, won by one Bradley Wiggins, which left us all wondering what might have been when Brad crashed out of the Tour. While it probably wasn’t his avowed intention to win the race, once in the leader’s jersey, he and team Sky rode intelligently. Opinion seems to be divided on which race provides the best preparation for the Tour. But, if you wanted to win this year’s Tour, then this race won easily as it allowed you to ride the decisive Grenoble time-trial. To be honest it’s a bit of a no brainer. Which organisation owns both the Dauphine and the Tour de France? Exactly, nuff said.

What about the Giro, I hear you ask. Well, it was over almost before it started thanks to a master coup by Bert and Riis on Nibali’s home turf. In short, it was too hard and too predictable. Also way down the list for consideration, in fact in absolute bottom place, The Tour of Beijing. No need to explain why.

Team of the Year

Who won the most races (again)? Exactly, it was HTC-High Road who have promoted young talent (including both current road race and time-trial World Champions) and bestrode the peloton like a colossus for the past few years racking up around 500 wins. Their reward – disbandment due to lack of sponsorship. Hard to believe and very worrying for the sport.

Tactical Coup of the Year

It just has to be Bjarne Riis and Nick Nuyens in the Tour of Flanders. The latter didn’t figure as one of the favourites despite his credentials and recent win in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. He was invisible until the final break. Having lost touch with the favourites on the Kwaremount, he regained contact, kept out of trouble and popped up in the right place at the right time. First over the finish line to hand Riis back-to-back wins. Who’s LeOghing now?

Surprise of the Year

There’s a couple of contenders here. Should it be Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in the Tour, team mate Pierre Roland’s win atop iconic L’Alpe d’Huez or Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome? To everyone’s total surprise, Kenyan borne adopted Brit Chris Froome finished the Vuelta ahead of Sky’s team leader Bradley Wiggins in third and might have won were it not for Cobo’s bonus seconds. Wisely he’d postponed contract negotiations with Sky until after the Vuelta so maybe it wasn’t an unexpected result for Chris who seized his opportunity with both hands while still playing the role of loyal team mate. He won’t be flying under the radar next year.

Disappointment(s) of the Year

Where shall I start? Here’s my list, in no particular order:-

  • UCI’s lack of comprehension about the importance of segregation of duties
  • Continued postponement of Alberto Contador’s CAS hearing
  • HTC-Highroad being unable to find a sponsor
  • Geox pulling out at the last moment
  • Crowd booing Bert at Tour de France team presentation
  • Paris-Nice not being a race to the sun this year
  • Andy Schleck happy to be second again and again
  • Leopard Trek, style over substance
  • Budget polarisation of the Pro-tour teams
  • More and more Pro-tour  teams sponsored by “Sugar Daddies”
  • UCI’s system of attribution of points to races and riders

It would be wholly inappropriate to call this event a disappointment. Instead it was for me the real low point of the cycling year. I am, of course, talking about Wouter Weylandt’s death from a high speed fall during the Giro. It reminded us in the strongest possible terms that cycling is a very dangerous sport. If I close my eyes I can still see that short cameo shot of the medics trying to revive his lifeless body.

The point was further underlined with Juan Mauricio Soler’s fall in the Tour of Switzerland for which he is still undergoing rehabilitation. Many more of us watched with horror during this year’s Tour de France as 1) a motorbike deprived  Nicki Sorenson of his bike, depositing him at a roadside picnic and 2) an official car from France TV, driven with scant regard for rider safety, sent Messrs Flecha and Hoogerland flying, the latter into barbed wire.

Unsung Hero(s) of the Year

These are legion in the peloton and the UCI pays them little regard. Many have that Eurovision chilling score of “nul points” and therefore little negotiable value in the transfer market. There’s not enough space (or time) to list them all but let’s have a round of applause for all the teams’ hard working, selfless domestiques. Also, hats off to those team leaders who always recognise the invaluable contribution of their team mates.

My Best Bits of the Year

Again, these are in no particular order:-

  • Watching Astana get their best stage result at this year’s Vuelta fuelled by my home made cake
  • Getting Mark Cavendish’s autograph for a friend as promised
  • Seeing Sammy win atop Luz Ardiden to record (unbelievably) his maiden Tour win. How good was that?
  • Riding around Antibes with Phil Gil
  • Cadel Evans finally winning Tour de France
  • Amael Moinard, Geoffroy Lequatre, Alex Vinokourov, Max Iglinsky, Andrey Grivko (and everyone else)  for turning out to support La Kivilev
  • Lots of young, exciting, emerging talent such as Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb,  Elia Viviani, Tony Gallopin, Andrea Guardini, Thibaud Pinot, Jesse Sergent and Steven Kruiswijk to name but a few
  • Golden oldies such as Jens Voigt and Robbie McEwan for proving there’s no such thing as “too old”

You see, too much thinking time results in my longest blog ever!

Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

Cards from Copenhagen III

Eshewing the race start in downtown Copenhagen, I went directly to the finish at Rudersdal to claim my spot on the 50m to go marker. The Danes were expecting crowds of 400,000 tall Scandinavians. I needed to be in the front row, against the barriers. I could watch the start on the nearby screen. The Championship’s website claims that the nearest train station is 10 minutes from the finish line. That would be 10 minutes as driven by Sebastian Vettell. On foot, it’s a good 20 minutes and we’ve already established I’m a quick walker. Today I took my own supplies as the choice on offer is somewhat spartan: Carlsberg or Carlsberg. Although I did buy some coffee the other day from some enterprising youngsters, pretty much the cheapest and best coffee I’ve found in pricy Copenhagen.

I arrived in Rudersdal to discover that the locals had laid out their towels the night before and my spot on the 50m marker had been colonised by some very large Danes who, at 09:30 in the morning, were already swigging Calsberg. I am however, if nothing adroit, and by the second circumnavigation of the circuit by the peloton I had claimed my rightful place. The race had been pretty lively from the start and a breakaway of 7 riders had gone clear which included Anthony “it isn’t a break if I’m not in it” Roux and three riders from Team Astana, albeit all different nationalities. The race unfolded much as expected, with the British , whom the American announcer kept calling “the English” –   I bet David Millar and Geraint Thomas loved that – controlling the peloton with assistance from firstly the Germans, and secondly the Americans.

PhilGil sent his lieutenants up the road to form a second break away group which, with 5 laps to go, joined up with the first. But the British remained tranquillo. Not so the back of the peloton, where Team New Zealand, Tony Martin and defending champ Thor Hushovd, among others, were caught up in a crash and never regained the main peloton. Meanwhile, riders were pinging off the front of the bunch, particularly the Danes, to the delight of the local crowd, only to be recaptured by the GB steam roller. Two of the escapees were, as anticipated, French favourite Tommy  Voeckler and Johnny “Scarred Legs” Hoogerland, making their trademark attacks.  But nothing and no one stood in the way of the GB train. A train PhilGil had missed.

The final escapees were brought back on the last lap, where the Brits fought for control with a number of other teams trying to set up their sprint trains, until finally mayhem ensued. Cavendish, shorn of support, picked his way through the pack on the right-hand barrier to burst free of the bunch with 150m (where else) to go, beating team mate Matt Goss by half a wheel. Ex- team mate Andre Greipel was a bike length back in 3rd ,separated from Fabulous Fabian by just a fag paper. The British had won their second gold medal in this event: the first going to the late Tommy Simpson in 1965. Bradley Wiggins was right when he said Cavendish would be unlikely to have a better chance to win gold. The course was made for his style of riding. Even so the Brits had apparently been planning this for the past 3 years. See, proves my point, planning and preparation deliver results every time.

Top 15 Results
1.   Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) Time 5:40:27
2.   Matthew Harley Goss (Australia)
3.   André Greipel (Germany)
4.   Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
5.   Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
6.   Romain Feillu (France)
7.   Borut Bozic (Slovenia)
8.   Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
9.   Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain)
10. Tyler Farrar (USA)
11.  Denis Galimzyanov (Russia)
12. Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
13. Anthony Ravard (France)
14. Daniele Bennati (Italy)
15. Rui Costa (Portugal)

Here’s the medal table which clearly shows Sheree 6 – 5 Ute.

Medal table by country

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain 2 2 2 6
Australia 2 1 2 5
France 2 1 0 3
Germany 2 0 3 5
Denmark 1 1 1 3
Italy 1 0 0 1
New Zealand 0 2 0 2
Belgium 0 2 0 2
Netherlands 0 1 1 2
Switzerland 0 0 1 1

Cards from Copenhagen II

For the last two years I’ve been able to ride the World Championship circuit. Not this year, this year I walked it during this morning’s Junior Boys race. It’s only 13.5kms and I’m a very brisk walker. It’s not quite as good as cycling it, but it did give me a better perspective of the course, the profile of which is shown below. The important scale here is the vertical one. Hardly any real elevation at all. It’s undulating, but the inclines are really neither long nor steep enough to trouble anyone in the professional peloton. There’s all too few places to launch a successful attack. It’s not technical, despite a number of the younger riders coming to grief on some of the corners. There’s a lot of road furniture but it’s very visible, well padded and the riders will all know where it is from their reconnaissance rides. In yesterday’s U23 race, the feed-zone proved pivotal in launching some of the breakaways but this was made easier by the less than aggressive pace set by the bunch.

This morning’s race demonstrated that it is possible to win from a breakaway but it was won by the team with the greatest number of riders who had been omnipresent throughout the race. The racing was aggressive from the start and dominated by a flurry of attacks with the successful break getting free only in the final laps of the race and managing to maintain it’s slender margin despite the advancing peloton. The winner, 18-year old Pierre Henri Lecuisinier, who raced clear in the final 150m, completed the 126km race at an average speed of 44km/hr and finished ahead of two of his breakaway companions, Belgium’s Martijn Degreve and Holland’s Steven Lammertink. France’s Florian Senechal, winner of this year’s junior Paris-Roubaix, finished 4th and 5th was Germany’s Rick Zabel, son of the great Erik Zabel who was supporting enthusiastically, along with Frau Zabel, from the sidelines.

The sunny but chilly weather persisted for the 140km ladies Elite race where I resumed my place on the 50m line. Again, the winner came from the largest team. Clearly, size matters. ln women’s races there tends to be far fewer escapees instead it’s just pretty hectic racing. Like the race this morning, there was a bit of a pile up on the final lap ,where the peloton took back lone escapee Canada’s Clara Hughes (or Huge as she was called by the Danish commentator) on the run in to the line. The Dutch took charge, hoping to lead out Marianne Vos. But Italy’s Georgia Bronzini, the defending champion, powered her way past Vos in the final (yes, you’ve guessed it) 150m to win by a tyre width. It’s Groundhog Day. Cue lots of squealing Italians and glum faces for the Dutch as Vos recorded her 5th consecutive silver medal, after gold in 2006.  Germany’s Ina Teutenberg was 3rd. Today’s score, all square Ute 1 – 1 Sheree.

This led us to contemplate tomorrow’s race. Would Thor repeat his feat of last year or would his younger compatriot Edvald Boassen Hagen prevail? PhilGil has tried to play down his chances on this course, but can his team, and the other teams without sprinters, make it a hard enough race to dispose of the out and out sprinters? Not forgetting that PhilGil has a number of sprinters on his team.  Of course, there are plenty of teams whose sprinters could be in contention tomorrow, most notably:-

  • Spain’s Oscar Freire and Jose Joaquin Rojas
  • Italy’s Daniele Bennati, Daniel Oss and Sacha Modolo
  • Australia’s Matt Goss and Heinrich Haussler
  • Germany’s trio of John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel
  • USA’s Tyler Farrar
  • France’s Romain Feillu and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin
  • Columbia’s Leonardo Duque
  • Slovenia’s Grega Bole
  • Russia’s Denis Galimzyanov
  • Slovakia’s powerhouse, Peter Sagan

However, in a bunch sprint finish, it’s hard to look beyond Mark Cavandish who has a dream support crew. If, against the odds, it’s not a sprint finish then Phil Gil might find himself being challenged by Fabulous Fabian who has to be smarting after Wednesday’s loss. Yes, I know he won a bronze but, get real, it’s gold that counts!

Countdown to Copenhagen

World Championships Copenhagen 2011

As the World Road Race Championships kick off today in Copenhagen, I find myself in the unusual position of still being at home. Pressure of work and flight schedules mean that I’ll be watching only the Road Races and not the Individual Time Trials. Of course, the latter are often much easier races to predict than the former. However, I cannot pretend to know enough about the juniors, ladies or even the U23s to even think about making any sort of prediction. Of course, this won’t hold me back in the Men’s Races. However, before turning our attention to this year’s races, let’s have a quick look at a few historical facts and figures, some of which feature this year’s location:-

History:

  • The first Cycling Championships took place in 1927 at the Nuerburgring in Germany  and was won by Alfredo Binda, of Italy.
  • Belgium has the most wins per country with 25 victories from 17 different riders followed by Italy (19 wins), France (8 wins),
    Netherlands (7 wins) and Spain (5 wins).
  • Only five cyclists have successfully defended their title (three Belgians and two Italians): Georges Ronsse (Belgium, 1928–29); Rik Van
    Steenbergen (Belgium, 1956–57); Rik van Looy (Belgium, 1960–61); Gianni Bugno (Italy, 1991–92); Paolo Bettini (Italy, 2006–07).

Multiple winners:

  • 3 wins: Alfredo Binda (Ita), Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel), Eddy Merckx (Bel), Oscar Freire (Spa)
  • 2 wins: Georges Ronsse (Bel), Briek Schotte (Bel), Rik Van Looy (Bel), Freddy Maertens (Bel), Greg Lemond (USA), Gianni Bugno (Ita),
    Paolo Bettini (Ita)

Most medals:

  • Alfredo Binda (Ita): 1927(1),1929(3),1930(1),1932(1)
  • Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel): 1946(3),1949(1),1956(1),1957(1)
  • André Darrigade (Fra): 1957(3),1958(3),1959(1),1960(2)
  • Rik Van Looy (Bel): 1956(2),1960(1),1961(1),1963(2)
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra): 1961(3),1964(3),1966(3),1974(2)
  • Greg Lemond (USA): 1982(2),1983(1),1985(2),1989(1)
  • Oscar Freire (Esp): 1999(1),2000(3),2001(1),2004(1)

Sundry points:

  • Twelve riders have won a world title in their home country so far, the last one was Alessandro Ballan (ITA) who won in gold in Varese, Italy in 2008.
  • Abraham Olano (Esp) is the only rider to have won gold in both the road race (Duitama, Colombia, 1995) and the time trial (Valkenburg,
    Netherlands, 1998).
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra) has participated in 18 world championship road races.
  • Fastest edition: 46.538km/h (Zolder, Belgium, 2002)
  • Slowest edition: 27.545km/h (Nürburgring, Germany, 1927)
  • Longest edition: 297.5km (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1937)
  • Shortest edition: 172km (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1931)
  • Largest group to sprint for victory: 46 (Lisbon, Portugal, 2001)
  • Biggest margin between gold and silver: 19.43 seconds (Budapest, Hungary, 1928)

Medallists by nations:

  • 1. Belgium 25-11-11
  • 2. Italy 19-20-16
  • 3. France 8-11-15
  • 4. Netherlands 7-4-6
  • 5. Spain 5-5-9
  • 6. Switzerland 3-6-4
  • 7. USA 3-2-0
  • 8. Germany 2-7-5
  • 9. Ireland 1-1-3
  • 10. Australia 1-1-1
  • 14. Denmark 0-3-2

World Road Race Cycling Champions (last 10 years only):

  • 2001 Oscar Freire, Spain
  • 2002 Mario Cipollini, Italy
  • 2003 Igor Astarloa, Spain
  • 2004 Oscar Freire, Spain
  • 2005 Tom Boonen, Belgium
  • 2006 Paolo Bettini, Italy
  • 2007 Paolo Bettini, Italy
  • 2008 Alessandro Ballan, Italy
  • 2009 Cadel Evans, Australia
  • 2010 Thor Hushovd, Norway

10 hottest men of the Tour de France

When people ask me why I like cycling, I know they’re not fans themselves so I tend to come up with a snappy answer, such as  “What’s not to like? Lots of cute guys and gals in lycra”. This week I received an email with the above title from Bicycling Magazine, an American publication. One of their female writers had compiled a list of her 10 Tour favourites. Immediately, and in one fell swoop,  she’s whittled down the list of suspects to under 200 riders. Not something I’m sure I could achieve. Her limiting criteria were as follows: who looked good in yellow (only 5 contenders), who has a great smile and the best looking Italians. I’m not sure exactly why the Italians were singled out for this honour rather than say the French, Spanish or Russian. Interestingly, a large number of her picks fell into that select (but ever growing) sub-set of riders who weigh more than me but there were also a  couple who fell into the category of “Cute, but could I get him in a larger size?”

Her list was as follows:-

  • George Hincapie – it’s an American magazine and if one closely examines the list of contenders, he’s the most worthy candidate.
  • Linus Gerdemann – small, German, blonde haired but a bit too girly.
  • Thor Hushovd – wearer of the yellow jersey, the world champion and all-round cycling god.
  • Ivan Basso – Italian but a wee bit too sharp featured.
  • Bernard Eisel – Cav minder.
  • Tom Boonen – a man who undisputedly looks good in lycra.
  • Manuel Quinziato – another Italian, smoulders more than Basso.
  • Alessandro Petacchi – another good looking Italian but worryingly the author singled out his brown eyes for comment: they’re blue.
  • Edvald Boassen Hagen – she’s got a bit of a Norse theme developing here.
  • Ben Swift – best looking Brit.

It’s fair to say that her readers were not wholly in agreement with her choices and it provoked much debate. So the article achieved it’s purpose. The most commented upon ommission by far was Fabian Cancellara, awesome on a bike, great hair but a bit long in the jaw IMHO, but equally there were votes for, in no particular order:-

  • Johnny Hoogerland
  • Jens Voight
  • Mark Cavendish
  • Philippe Gilbert
  • Jakob Fuglsang
  • Andreas Klier
  • Andreas Kloden
  • Frank and Andy Schleck
  • Dave Zabriskie
  • Nico Roche
Winning smile

To my mind there are a number of startling omissions. Firstly, there are no Spaniards nor Frenchmen in the list. Meaning she’s ignored or wilfully discarded a large percentage of the peloton. Surely, PhilGil who graced the yellow jersey and who has a lovely smile was worthy of inclusion on two counts? Or what about my own favourite smile who looked so cute in the spotted jersey? What about hidden gems, after all it’s not often that you get to see the riders without their helmets and glasses and it’s very unwise to select on the basis of their dodgy photographs on the team websites which all look as if they were taken in airport photo booths. Clearly this is a debate that could rumble on forever and it’s just as well that everyone has different tastes otherwise, based on some of the comments, I’d be advising Mrs Cancellara to lock up her man!

Postcards from the Alps II

It had started raining heavily before we set out for Gap muffled like members of Michelin Man’s army. It was also cold, another day at 9°. We passed many a sodden cyclist en route happy, for once, to be in the warm and dry of the car. We found the Village d’Arrivee almost by chance on the road into Gap some 2km from the finish line. Happily our names were on the guest list, we were given our bracelets, our goodie bags and ushered in.

I generally prefer to watch a stage as close as possible to the big screen and the finish line. With today’s weather I was more than happy to have shelter, warm food, toilets, plenty to drink and a large screen. Not forgetting a clear view of the run in. The show starts early with reminiscences from French former stage winners, a tour of the hospitality tents of the Tour’s principal sponsors chatting to their celebrity guests, a magician, a trick cyclist…………………Stop, I don’t want to appear ungrateful, just bring on the cycling. There was also a quiz and I was much amused to see that Lance had been franconified (is that a real word?) into Lens Armstrong!

No need to scrap for freebies from the caravan as they deliver bags of goodies at the Village which are distributed by the hostesses. I now have a huge bag for the kids down the club. I was much amused to see cars exhorting us to visit Luxembourg. Why, they’re all here! 

As the day’s transmission started, the break ,which produced the stage winner, had been established only after 100km thanks to a very strong tailwind. On the 163km stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap, the escapees included none other than Jeremy Roy and Thor Hushovd. The latter going on to re-enact the Norwegian National Championships in the run in for the line with Edvald Boassen Hagen to record his 2nd stage win of the Tour.

The action was kicking off in the bunch as it approached the final bump of the day, 15km from the finish. It took Alberto three attacks but he finally shook free the Schlecks and shot off with Cadel Evans (looking very good) and Sammy Sanchez in tow. The three descended into Gap where Evans time-trialled to the finish. Thanks to the Spanish boys sticking together Cadel gained only 3 seconds on Bertie and Sammy, but more importantly he leapfrogged Frank.

None of the jerseys changed hands today, but we saw who’s in form and determined to fight for the podium in Paris.  Even before I knew that Alberto would be riding, I predicted a Schleck free podium. GC now looks like this:-

Position N° dossard Nom Pays Equipe Horaire Ecart
1 181 Thomas VOECKLER FRA EUC 69h00’56” 00”
2 141 Cadel EVANS AUS BMC 69h02’41” 1’45”
3 018 Frank SCHLECK LUX LEO 69h02’45” 1’49”
4 011 Andy SCHLECK LUX LEO 69h03’59” 3’03”
5 021 Samuel SANCHEZ ESP EUS 69h04’22” 3’26”
6 001 Alberto CONTADOR ESP SBS 69h04’38” 3’42”
7 091 Ivan BASSO ITA LIQ 69h04’45” 3’49”
8 161 Damiano CUNEGO ITA LAM 69h04’57” 4’01”
9 052 Tom DANIELSON USA GRM 69h07’00” 6’04”
10 118 Rigoberto URAN COL SKY 69h08’51” 7’55”

Swimmingly

As part of my training programme I’ve been swimming on alternate days. I verified with my coach that he didn’t expect me to be steaming up and down the pool during my 30 minute session. Instead, the pressure from the water is intended to help my legs recover from the previous day’s exertions. I should add that operation “Elimination of silly tan lines” is going nowhere. I typically swim as soon as the pool opens, while the pool is still partly in the shade, and then beat a hasty retreat. On the other mornings, I’ve ridden for 3-4hours in the sunshine which has only exacerbated the situation. I feel it’s now reached irretrievable proportions.

My beloved, having spent all day yesterday (a French Bank Holiday) meeting with potential clients in Nice,  is spending today with the same clients before heading off to a meeting in London on Saturday. We were supposed to be departing on vacation on Saturday morning. Our departure has been postponed by a day. However, strict rules on the use of Blackberries and the internet will be in-force while we’re away. I have to take this draconian approach otherwise my beloved will say “I’ve just got to tend to a couple of emails” and two hours later I’ll still be waiting. The only reason I drag him away on vacation is to get him away from the office and work. In this respect cycling is an excellent distraction. My beloved, like me, has not mastered the art of cycling while answering his mobile and once, in situ, near the big screen, at the arrival town, it’s almost impossible to hear oneself think let alone conduct a conversation on one’s mobile. So I’ll be encouraging him to post a holiday message on all his email accounts and mobile phone.

The French newspapers are full of Thomas Voeckler’s heroic defence of the yellow jersey and, to a lesser extent, the exploits of the other French riders on yesterday’s stage. The stage winner, Olympic Champion Sammy Sanchez recording his first ever Tour win, barely gets a look in. However, one would expect parochial and partisan reporting. I’ve no doubt that the pink pages of Gazzetta will have been evaluating the performances and chances of Messrs Cunego and Basso. The pages of La Marca have given more than adequate coverage to Sanchez, both his win and his on-going opportunities. Naturally enough, Contador’s form, or lack of, is examined in detail. So I thought if I really wanted to appreciate Sammy’s win I should head on over to check out the pages of Berria, the only newspaper written in Basque.  And sure enough:-

Super Samu

“Frantziako Tourra

Luz Ardiden Sanchezena izan da

Euskaltel-Euskadikoak “ametsa bete” du Tourreko Luz Ardidengo etapa irabazita. Samuel Sanchezek, arriskatuta eta urrutitik erasoa jota, gogor eutsi dio helmugaraino, eta azkenean Vanendert atzean uztea lortu eta 12. etapa irabazi du. Laranja izan zen atzoko kolore nagusia. Ehunka euskal zale izan ziren atzo, festa giroan, etapaz gozatzen. ”

While, I’m assuming none of my readers speak Basque , I think it’s pretty easy to work out what’s being said in the introductory paragraph. Needless to say Samu was awarded more than adequate coverage for his magnificent win.

Today’s Stage 13 has been billed as one of transition where it’s highly probable that a breakaway containing those riders way out of contention on GC might succeed. The slightly mitigating factor being the distance on the flat to the finish in Lourdes from the base of the Col du Soulor. I rode part of this last year. We cycled from Bagneres du Bigorre to the top of the Col d’Aubisque and then retreated to just below the summit of the  Col du Soulor to have lunch and watch the race unfold both on the road and on the television. You might remember  this was the day Lance got into a small breakaway.  After the race had finished, we rode back. The descent is fast but not technical. Maybe Alberto should light a few candles in Lourdes at the end of today’s 152.5km stage from Pau before climbing into the Saxobank team bus. It’s just a thought.

Stage Postscript: When they showed birds of prey feeding on a carcass during today’s stage I was relieved to see it was a lamb and not a rider. Everyman and his dog tried to get in this morning’s breakaway but it was only when FDJ’s Jeremy Roy, Mr Breakaway 2011, joined a group of 9 other riders that the break stuck. That break blew apart on the Col d’Aubisque but it was on the descent that Thor Hushovd (Garmin), one of the breakaways,  made what was to be the winning move to catch first David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and then the luckless Roy, within 2.3km of the finish, to register his 63rd win. Roy was in tears as he crossed the line in third place. He has taken the spotted jersey and the prize for the day’s most combative rider, but he knew these were scant consolation.  He’d narrowly missed the big one – a Tour stage win.