Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.

A fond farewell to Tom Boonen

Yesterday was Tom Boonen‘s last professional cycling race. For me, it’s the end of an era. Tom won the first race I ever watched and I’m going to have to come clean that my first thought was “Now there’s a guy that looks good in lycra!” My beloved blames him for my obsession with cycling but it’s not entirely Tom’s fault as, even though he’s now retired, the obsession continues.

So let’s have a dawdle down memory lane and look at some of the many highlights of his career, starting with a video including that  win on stage 6 in 2004’s Tour de France.

The following year, 2005 was Tom’s annus mirabilis, when he won Flemish hearts and minds with victories in the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the UCI Road World Championships in Madrid, among others. Tom had arrived, he was the biggest thing in cycling and most certainly the biggest star in Belgium.

After this magical season, many in Belgium worried that Tom would go the way of former Belgian cycling colossi such as Freddie Maertens or Frank Vandenbroucke. Tom did have career lows on and off the road, but let’s not dwell on those. They’re well-documented and safely in the past. Instead lets focus on the affection he engendered among the fans, the press, the peloton and especially his team-mates. He’s been a one-team rider his entire career, after an early, ill-fated flirtation with Lance Armstrong’s United Postal Service, where he’s been cannily managed by General Manager Patrick Lefevere who here talks about Tom’s career.

Now we turn to those who have had the pleasure of riding with Tom, as current and former team-mates talk fondly about him in these series of videos.

One of the riders who probably knows Tom best is Kevin Hulsmans. They rode together for over 10 years. Here’s what Kevin had to say.

But Tom doesn’t just inspire respect among his team-mates, he’s also held in high regard by his peers. As reported by Velonews, less than 48 hours before the start of the “Hell of the North,” there was universal agreement in the peloton. If they couldn’t win Roubaix, they wouldn’t mind seeing Boonen take the history-making fifth cobble. Two-time world champion Peter Sagan told Het Niewwsblad he would like to see Boonen win his final race if he’s not in winning position himself because:

Boonen was my role model and idol. When I first raced Roubaix, I had no idea how to race the pave. I watched him and learned. If I cannot win, I will be very happy if he could. It would be a great end to his career.

Specialized made Tom a special bike with a fitting tribute for his final race, but sadly he didn’t get his fairytale ending. Someone else won.

In a pre-race interview Tom said he was sure to be sad today largely as a result of a hangover! But whatever the future brings, I wish him health, happiness and more successes.

Now where did I put that box of paper tissues?

Header image: Trophy from the friends of Arenberg from Nord Eclair

Pain in the nether regions

What do my beloved and Tom Boonen have in common? Well, neither of them will be lining up at this weekend’s Amstel Gold Race because they’re both suffering from an inflamed foot. In Tom’s case, he’s aggravated a tendon, all that stomping on the pedals over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. He does stomp on those pedals doesn’t he? Next time my cycling coach berates me for my lack of supple pedalling  like Contador I shall say I’m doing a “Boonen”. Just don’t expect to see me riding over cobbles anytime soon.

Meanwhile, my beloved has had a recurrence of his gout. An ailment which tends to invoke mirth rather than sympathy. We’re not exactly sure why it’s chosen to return although it’s struck him in the left and not the usual right foot. I suspect that because it was cold and wet while we were on vacation in the Basque country, my beloved failed to drink enough water. Either that or it was too much excellent Rioja! The downside, at least for me, was that his ailment delayed his departure by a whole 36 hours, and counting. He left early yesterday morning and will be back later this evening. I’ve barely had time to do a few things on my most recent to do list, let alone tackle any backlogs.

Yes, I am referring to the ironing mountain. I can’t wait until the Giro as I have a very dear friend coming to stay with me at the end of the month and so simply must clear the spare bedroom where all the ironing is now piled up on the bed. None of it mine, you understand. Maybe, during Amstel Gold on Sunday afternoon.

On our return from the Basque country I had a rather frustrating day, once again trying to deal with Orange. I should add that I suspect the issues would have taken a similar amount of time had I been dealing with BT or any, indeed, other service provider. The nice man who promised to send me the outstanding invoices simple failed to deliver everything! So, I’ve requested them again. My beloved then started agitating about the HD service which we seem to have lost. I told him I couldn’t face Orange again for a couple of days. But no, he decided he would deal with it. Whenever my beloved, a man with no patience whatsoever, decides to take matters in hand I’m always the one who gets dumped on.

Sure enough after a lengthy wait “on hold”, a couple of buttons and less than 30 seconds, the telephone receiver was abruptly shoved into my hand! To be fair, it’s useful to have two people to go through the various instructions – one to listen and one to push buttons on the remote –  but after a frustrating hour during, which I was unable to watch the Brabantse Pijl cycle race, our helpful technician went off duty without having resolved the problem. He promised a colleague would call back the following day, he hasn’t. I have planned the recall for Monday morning.

I’m now savouring my final hours of freedom and wondering how I might usefully spend them. Sadly, it looks as though my “panacea for all ills” aka a long ride on the bike might be out of the question, on account of the rain. But first, a large cup of coffee and L’Equipe will go some way to restoring my equilibrium.

Creamed but never crackered

There are two things I absolutely love doing: anything to do with cycling and ditto cooking. Ahead of today’s Gentlemen, I’ve been whipping up a few cakes to satisfy the hoards.  In theory, it’s only around 150 cyclists and 20 or so volunteers. In practise it’s more as a lot of clubs will just happen to pass by the feedzone as part of their Sunday club ride. They’ll claim it’s to check on how their clubmates are faring. But no one’s fooled. It’s to sample my cakes.

Cyclists here don’t have the same “coffee and cake” culture as in countries such as UK, US and Australia. They don’t need to stop and buy anything as it’s freely provided as part of the Sunday club ride. To be fair most clubs buy the cheapest cakes from the supermarket, typically madeira, ginger or fruit and serve them with a selection of biscuits, dried fruit and chocolate. My club’s USP is my home-made cakes. Because they’re so much nicer than supermarket ones, people, not unnaturally eat more. Some have been known to try a piece of each!

Yesterday’s treat was a day out, on my own, in Sanremo to watch the thrilling finale of Milano-Sanremo. I like to drive over early, find a convenient and non-paying parking spot – see, I’m becoming very French – buy La Gazzetta dello Sport and settle down with a coffee to read what the pink pages have to say about the race. One of the things I love about cycling is its unpredictability. The Italian bookies had Cavendish as their favourite while Gazzetta mused that everyone would be riding to prevent him winning.

I then had a pleasurable stroll around the shops and indulged in a spot of window shopping before taking up my position. It was windy so I was keen to find a place which afforded me shelter while still letting me enjoy the sunshine. I opted for the large screen after the finish and right next to the podium which was also opposite Rai’s studio – a grandstand seat.

The pictures rolled and on the ascent of La Manie, Mark Cavendish (Sky) was almost immediately in difficulties. Word reached the front of the peloton who upped the tempo and distanced Cav. Faithful lieutenant Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel was sent back to keep him company while Team Sky deployed Plan B: Edvald Boassen Hagen. Queue the sound of money jingling in the bookies’ tills.

We all had a bit of a heart stopping moment when the cameras alighted on a bunch of paramedics tending to an unseen fallen rider, on the descent of La Manie, who was later identified as the Columbian Carlos Quintero riding for Columbia-Coldeportes. Luckily he suffered only concussion and a broken collarbone but it had worryingly looked much more serious on the screen with active imaginations working overtime.

The early breakaway group of nine riders, including the first Chinese rider to compete in this event Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i), which at one time had an advantage of around 13 minutes, were taken back on the Capo Berta with about 60km remaining.

The hopes of a number of favourites were dashed by falls. The King of Belgium, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was taken out of contention on the Cipressa while his predecessor to both the Belgian championship and crown, Tom Boonen (OPQS) was hindered on the descent of the Poggio. A couple of moves did go according to plan. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) launched two unsuccessful attacks, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) bridged across to what proved to be the winning attack of Aussi-champ Simon Gerrans  (GreenEDGE) and Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas) just before the summit of the Poggio.

Now, if you’re going to follow anyone downhill, it might as well be either Fabian or Nibali. Gerrans was in great company. Cancellara opened a bit of a gap by the time the reached the bottom of the descent and was starting to motor away. But Gerrans, knew what to do. He gave chase. This is where the script changes. Instead of Fabian leaving the two original attackers trailing in his wake, Gerrans worked hard to get back onto his wheel.

Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)
Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

To give Fabian his due, he continued to motor towards the finish when lesser riders might have quailed at the prospect of allowing the other two to ride his coat tails. Had he not done so, the trio would have been swamped by the peloton and the win would have been fought out by Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. Instead, the three in-form riders headed to the finish line and Simon Gerrans had the smarts to ambush Fabian and take the win, making it successive wins for Australia.

I was then courtesy of my position, treated to a grandstand view of the podium. I would have taken a photo had the battery not already run flat in my phone. It seems to last no more than six hours tops. There’s nothing else for it, I’m going to take a trip to Orange hell to sort it. I skipped away and back to the car, handily placed to get back onto the motorway ahead of all the peloton’s cavalcade of motorised transport and most of the other spectators. It had been a great day out.

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.

L’Equipe poll

At the beginning of each year, L’Equipe journalists pose ten key questions about the forthcoming cycling season and ask their readership to vote “Yes” or “No” to each question. Here’s the questions and the all-important results:-

1. Are the Olympic Games going to be good for the French?   67% said YES

Leaving aside the road races, the French have always done well on the track and in MTB. Last time out they also shone in BMX. There’s no reason to suppose they won’t do similarly well in London 2012. They’ve been less convincing on the road and could only offer up the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin who finished 3rd in the pre-Olympic dry run. While it’s not entirely impossible that someone of the stature of Dumoulin – and when I say stature, I’m thinking palmares not size – or Feillu could nick a place on the podium. Just don’t bet your shirt on it.

2. Will Arnaud Demare be the seasons’ revelation?   56% said NO

This is the lad who won the U23 Road Race in Copenhagen and who’s now a neo-pro at FDJ where he’ll have an opportunity to grow without too much pressure being placed on his young shoulders too early. He’s only 2o (21 in August) and one shouldn’t expect that, like Marcel Kittel before him,  he’ll rack up 18 sprint victories in his first season. But he will win races, just not yet. Remember, he was 4th in U23’s in last year’s  Paris-Roubaix and will no doubt benefit from Frederic Guesdon’s guidance.

3. Are we going to see a duel again between Cancellara and Boonen in the Cobbles Classics?   56% said NO

Go Tom go

The sentiment was that these two will play a role but there are others who will enter the fray. They’ll probably never repeat their respective golden years of 2010 and 2005 respectively. However, I sensed, that nonetheless, this was exactly what everyone was hoping for. Kitty Fondue and I are going to be hotly debating this very topic over on www.velovoices.com.

4. Will TAS exonerate Condator?   67% said YES

Now I’m not sure whether readers felt this was the most likley and most expedient outcome for cycling or whether, as time has gone on, Contador has impressed everyone more and more with his demeanor thus they’re more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The French are not overly fond of what we might call “the authorities” and this may have just tipped the balance in Bertie’s favour.

5. Will Evans succeed in retaining his Tour title?   56% said NO

Despite his excellent team, experience and the favourable parcours, readers felt his age would count against him and, in particular, his declining powers of recuperation. If he takes part, most expect Contador to win.

6. Will Thomas Voeckler get onto the Tour podium?   89% said NO

The French know their cycling. Voeckler ended up in the leader’s jersey when he profited from the misfortune visited on Messrs Hoogerland and Flecha. His defence of the jersey was heroic, but he was in it by chance. The verdict: top 10 placing is the best he can expect.

7. Will Bruyneel get Andy to win the Tour in 2012?   89% said NO

Most recognise that Bruyneel does have what it takes to make Andy win the Tour, but not this year. He needs a more favourable parcours, the absence of one Bertie Contador and to be uncoupled from his elder brother. Like I said, the French know their cycling. They’re not wrong about this.

8. Will Cavendish become Olympic Champion?   56% said YES

While most agreed it would be more difficult than winning the World Championship’s Copenhagen – fewer team mates, hillier parcours – they felt his experience in winning Grand Tour stages, his mental strength and home advantage might just see him grab gold.

9. Will Team BMC crush everything it its path this season?   100% said NO

Can’t get more emphatic than that! History has shown  – Teams Sky and Leopard-Trek – that it takes a while for a team to bed down. In addition, when there are changes to a number of key personnel, it takes time for them to become cohesive. A case of too many chiefs and not enough (red) Indians perhaps?

10. Will Valverde give Gilbert a run for his money?   67% said YES

Readers think that this could well be the duel of the season particularly in the Ardennes Classics. PhilGil may be numero uno at the moment but let’s not forget Valverde occupied that slot in 2006 and 2008 plus he’s got a point to prove – always dangerous.

Be careful what you wish for

In addition, L’Equipe asked each of the 10 journalists who had posed the questions what they would like to see happen this season. Their replies, in no particular order were:-

  • Frederic Guesdon to win Paris-Roubaix  – sadly he won’t be doing that after crashing in 1st stage of the Tour Down Under. Curse of the Journo!
  • Juan Jose Cobo to ride up the 25% incline of le Caitu Negru (16th stage of Vuelta) in his big ring.
  • Bruyneel to stop Frandy from waiting for one another.
  • Peta Todd, Cav’s partner, to become the front woman for Cochonou (cold meat producer) in the Tour caravan.
  • Lionel Messi to take French citizenship and start cycling. (With those sublime feet, he could be a shoe in).
  • David Moncoutie wins Milan- San Remo in a sprint after having headbutted Mark Renshaw (Now they’re getting silly!)
  • Another’s a rather saucy reference to the fact that Mark Cavendish got his partner pregnant during last years Tour. However, it does acknowledge that Cav’s a brill Tweeter.
  • Tom Boonen wins a fourth Paris Roubaix title and snubs Roger De Vlaeminck on the podium. (I know exactly what SHE means, but I’m sure Tom’s too nice to do that).

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.

How much?

A recent article in L’Equipe looked into how much it costs to run a Pro-Tour team and how much it costs to organise a race. To illustrate the latter they used the recent Tour de L’Ain, a 2.1 UCI race whose budget of Euros 552,000 is financed as follows:-

  • 60% from the local communes, departments and regions
  • 40% from 60 private sponsors, for which the principal sponsors paid around Euros 35,000

So how was all this money spent?

  • Security: Euros 45,000 was spent on motor outriders, ambulances and police escorts. In addition, 200 police officers were provided free of charge by the region.
  • Transport for the 16 teams taking part: Euros 25,000 is the amount determined by the UCI’s sliding scale which depends on the teams’ status.
  • Accommodation for the 16 teams: Euros 75,000 for 5 day’s of half-board, in 3 starred hotels, for 12 people in each team which equates to 960 nights in total.
  • TV transmission on France 3 regional costs Euros 85,000
  • Administration costs for UCI, Anti-doping etc totals Euros 25,000
  • Prizes for the riders Euros 57,000
  • Organisational costs total Euros 120,000 split between accommodation for the organising committee, mounting and demounting the installations at the start and arrival towns.
  • Sundry costs of Euros 120,000 for the announcers, tour radio, public announce system, petrol for the cars, neutral assistance vehicles, marketing and communication etc etc

Of course, none of this would ever take place if it were not for a large and willing band of volunteers, usually from the local cycling clubs who are more than happy to lend a hand, probably in return for a couple of t-shirts. According to the organisers, they’ve managed to break even in each of the last 10 years. I know how much it costs to stage a local cyclosportive so, to my mind, these figures check out. If for any reason the organisers didn’t balance their books, then in all likelihood the principal sponsors would bail them out.

Show me the money

To illustrate how much it costs to run a team, L’Equipe had access to information from France’s only Pro-Tour team, Ag2R La Mondiale whose budget for 2011 was Euros 8.5 million, consistent with it’s ranking of around 14-15th out of the 18 teams.  This sum is provided by its principal sponsor AG2R, Kuoto who provides the bikes plus some financing, a further 12 sponsors who all provide some level of sponsoring and the team makes a further Euros 160,000 at the end of each year from the sale of bikes.

By far the biggest expense, as is the case for most sports’ teams, is salaries and associated costs which accounted for 68% of AG2R’s budget (Euros 5.78 milllion). This percentage is lower at AG2R than at other teams because they don’t have a roster of really big names, their principal riders being Nico Roche, John Gadret, Jean Christophe Peraud and Christophe Riblon. Two-thirds of this (Euros 3.853million) goes to the 27 riders and the remainder is spent on the 23 support staff. The range of gross monthly salaries varies from Euros 3,000 to Euros 35,000 per month making their highest paid rider (before image rights and bonuses) on Euros 420,000 pa. The salary of the 5th highest paid rider (ie it excludes those named above)  is Euros 180,000 pa. One should not forget that being a French team, with largely French riders, carries a heavy price tag in terms of social costs. Hence a lot of multi-national teams are based in countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg where, unless the riders are based there, they’re generally paid gross and are responsible for making their own contributions.

After salary related costs, the next biggest expense relates to taking part in competitions. Costs here amount to some Euros 1.275 million, (15% of the budget) of which Euros 750,000 cover transport, around Euros 550,000 of which are covered by the race organisers, leaving the team to pick up Euros 200,000. The remainder is spent largely on training camps and food during the races.

General costs of some Euros 850,00 of which Euros 270,000 covers membership of UCI, French Federation, licences, AIGCP, participation in the bio-passport. The rest is spent on consultancy fees for physiotherapists amongst others, costs of running the office, rent. It costs Euros 450,000 to lease and run the vehicles and the remaining 1.7% covers sundry costs such as telephone bills.

Again, having spent some time looking at the costs of running a Continental pro-team, this summation rings very true. So, when you see figures of Euros 20 million being bandied around for the cost of BMC bear in mind that most of the difference between their budget and that of AG2R’s is salary related. Messrs Evans, Gilbert and Hushovd don’t come cheap.

In fact, the article in L’Equipe goes on to focus on salaries in cycling and how they compare to other sports. The average annual salaries of French riders are as follows:-

  • Pro-tour team Euros 122, 512
  • Continental pro team Euros 87,838
  • Continental team  Euros 22,243

Please note this refers only to French riders on French teams, so would exclude Sylvain Chavanel riding for Quickstep or Amael Moinard at BMC. The average salary for a French rider compares favourably with average salaries for rugby and basketball players, and is considerably higher than for those playing handball and volleyball in France. Wisely, the article excludes any comparison with the average salary of a football player in France who, if memory serves me correctly, earns in a week what a cyclist will earn in a month.

Finally, L’Equipe turns its attention to the 30 highest paid riders in the sport in 2011. It groups them in bands rather than giving exact figures and I would say that it’s a not unreasonable assessment. However, I think there may be a couple of errors in their figures and two notable omissions. Unsurprisingly, the man on the highest salary, which is estimated as between Euros 4-5 million pa, is Alberto “November can’t come quick enough” Contador. On around Euros 3 million pa are PhilGil and Cadel Evans. On just under Euros 2 million are Messrs Schleck Jr, Cancellara and Boonen. The first Frenchmen appear in the category “above Euros 500,000 but below Euros 1 million” and they are, unsurprisingly Messrs Chavanel, Voeckler and Fedrigo. However, with a large number of names in this list having had a stellar season and who are moving teams at the end of this season, it’ll be out of date all too soon.

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

Viva La Vuelta III

I rode with my coach yesterday morning; always a pleasure never a chore. Despite choosing a route with plenty of shade, it was extremely warm, particularly towards midday. These are the (only) times when you actively seek out a head wind but, as soon as it’s a tail wind, you can really feel the temperature. Yesterday’s exercises included bruising 20 seconds sprint intervals followed by an all too brief 20 seconds respite. The idea is to start at a reasonable pace, then build the speed and intensity until the few final sprints, where you’re aiming for close to maximum heart rate. I achieved this with ease. I wasn’t quite seeing stars, just almost.

On reaching Pont sur Loup, the choice was either to head up to Bar sur Loup before returning by way of Vallon Rouge or to return via Tourettes sur Loup. I chose the former, fearing I might be tempted to leap into the water trough if I took the latter route. My coach, who never normally sheds a bead of sweat when riding with me, opted for a cooling dip in the sea before heading on home. To be fair, he had been training with some of his marathon runners for an hour or two before riding on over to meet me.

I slipped out early for today’s recovery ride and had a quick dip in the pool on my way back before checking on the progress of the club’s walking/hobbling and wheel-chair bound wounded. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve not been having a good season with respect to injuries, on and off the bike. However, we’ve fared better than one local club who’ve had two recent fatalities.

Neither a dip in the sea or a cool fountain have been on offer to the riders in the Vuelta where the temperatures are, on average, 10 degrees higher than here. The landscape through which they’ve been riding is dry and parched, dotted here and there with with cool turquoise jewels aka swimming pools. I’m surprised no one has slipped off for a quick swim or maybe they have, hence the large time differences. While almost everyone, except maybe burly Belgians, prefers to ride in the warm sunshine, these very high temperatures are taking their toll on some of the riders.

Igor Anton, a man more used to the temperate climes of the Basque country, is quietly suffering at the back of the main bunch, conceding time here and there. Is it the weather? He certainly isn’t in the same form as he was last year, but why not? Frankly, we don’t know and can only conjecture. Meanwhile, both Joaquim Rodriguez and defending champion Vincenzi Nibali look in great shape and are riding with  purpose and confidence. As is Bradley Wiggins whom I have on very good authority is in the form of his life and weighs the same as when he was 16! I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him. The same source said that Frandy are going to be training on the Cote d’Azur this winter. Never mind the hills boys, practise your downhill skills and time-trialling.

Yesterday we saw Joaquin Rodriguez charging up that final 27% ramp, followed by Vacansoleil’s Grand Tour rookie Wout Poels trailed by  Katusha team mate Daniel Moreno, at the same speed I tackle 7% (yes, really).  JRod had been overhauled on the same finish last year by firstly Igor Anton and then Vicenzo Nibali. This year he showed he’d learnt his lesson well and impeccably timed his effort and used Moreno to good effect. Having bombed with their 100% Russian squad in the Tour, Katusha are looking the business with the inclusion of their Spanish riders for the Vuelta.

I was willing on David Moncoutie but his downhilling skills let him down. The Vuelta handily advises us from time to time of the riders’ speeds and the gradient. He was descending on a wide, non-technical, road with a great surface at between 60-75kph. Even I would have taken him on that descent, let alone the professional peloton who easily gobbled him up on the final ascent. As this might be his last year as a professional, I hope he manages to bag the King of the Mountains for a 4th successive time. He collected more points in that quest today.

Despite suffering in the heat, and helping Chavanel to defend the red leader’s jersey, Quickstep’s Boonen was looking to win today’s stage into Cordoba. I don’t think so Tom, I fancy a somewhat punchier rider for the finish. Today the final descent proved decisive, with the Liquigas boys in lime-green swooping down at 89kph: that’s more like it. Veteran Pablo Lastras threatened to spoil the party and steal the 20 seconds bonus so Vuelta babe Peter Sagan crossed the line (much to Nibali’s chagrin) to take his first (of many) Grand Tour win ahead of Lastras and team mate Agnoli, leaving Nibali sans bonus seconds. Chavanel clings onto the jersey for another day.

GC now looks like this:-

General classification after stage 6
# Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 22:41:13
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:15
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:16
4 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:23
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:25
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:41
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:44
8 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:49
9 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:52
11 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:53
12 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:57
13 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
14 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:00
15 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:01
16 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:05
17 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:13
18 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:21
19 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
20 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:26
21 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:01:43
22 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:50
23 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:53
24 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:58
25 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:13
26 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:15
27 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
28 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:34
29 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:41
30 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:02:44