Very belated postcard from Limburg 2012

Yes, I know that despite my best intentions the number of blog entries is dwindling to a trickle, but I have been busy, honest. I’m just back from an action packed 10 day annual pilgrimage to the World Cycling Championships which was held in the delightful surroundings of Limburg, that bit of the Netherlands which protrudes into Germany and Belgium. As you might imagine, the area’s cycling mad and every time I saw a cyclist I wished I’d had my bike with me so that I could join in. Ah well, next year in Tuscany 2013!

I had intended hiring a bike, albeit it would probably have been one of those sit up and beg ones that you see all over the Netherlands, but I fell over and twisted my ankle. Clumsy or what? As usual I was talking and not watching where I was going. One minute I was on the pavement, the next minute I wasn’t. As falls go it was fairly spectacular but I quickly leapt to my feet, dusted myself off, retrieved my scattered belongings and continued walking as if everything were fine. It wasn’t, it was really painful.

That evening I gave my right ankle the alternate hot and cold water treatment which seemed to help. No need for an embarrassing recourse to the medical staff of the Spanish and Italian teams who were staying in my hotel. The next morning the ankle was too puffy for my comfortable shoes but I could wear my ballet flats. I also had an impressive collection of bruises on my left leg and my right arm. There are times when a good covering of body fat comes in useful, I just bounce and avoid serious injury. A sore ankle is not ideal when you’re proposing to spend all day standing at the barricades but I’m an endurance spectator, I just grinned and bore it without complaint. It was my own fault after all.

So, back to the cycling which kicked off with a revival of the trade team time-trial. It sits somewhat awkwardly with a shed load of national races and a ways back they used to have a national team time-trial but nowadays that’s probably a bit impractical. The event was nonetheless pretty fiercely contested and, largely thanks to an error by BMC, Belgium’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep triumphed. But it was a close run thing. Not so in the ladies event where Specialized-Lululemon dominated with their US/German/Dutch squad.

Belgian’s top dogs in trade team time-trial (image courtesy of OPQS)

The great thing about the Worlds is that you get  a week’s worth of racing all in the same spot. Ute and I occupied a place about 20m or so from the finish line and, based on the early bird theory, laid claim to it all week. Neither of us is particularly tall, while the Dutch are, and we did not want to be in the second row standing on tippy toe. Most fans preferred to stay the other side of the Cauberg climb, closer to the plethora of bars and restaurants, either that or they weren’t willing to trek the extra kilometres to the finish. This meant we had a ringside view of all the racing,  could swivel around to watch the action on the screen behind and then later have another prime view of the podium presentation: a pretty much perfect situation. Although there was little in the way of refreshments, my accreditation gave me access to the press area and Ute came well stocked, so we were able to regularly take in sustenance and prevent a bonk.

Another great thing about the Worlds is that you get to see lots of racers whom you never or rarely get to see on the television, like the ladies, U23s and juniors. It’s always interesting to chart their progression into the senior ranks. It’s also great to see the grass shoots of globalisation of the sport with more and more countries fielding riders and teams. None from China although there were increased numbers of Japanese and more from African countries. However, Ute and I agreed while it was great to see riders such as Judith Arndt and Tony Martin retaining their crowns, our abiding memory will be of Marianne Vos’s domination. She last won the World’s in 2006 –  our first Worlds –  and has been a disappointed  runner-up ever since. But this year she’s done the double, Olympics and Worlds just like Nicole Cooke in 2008.

I mentioned that I was staying in the same hotel as two of the teams. Initially, it was Euskaltel, Movistar, Lotto-Belisol and Topsport Vlaanderen. The Lotto boys were on the same floor as me although I never saw any of them but the strong smell of embrocation in the hotel corridor was rather evocative. However I could have done without all the door slamming. Of course, they departed smartly after the trade-team time trial to be replaced by the national team riders. The hotel was under siege from fans, many of whom waited patiently for hours for a glimpse of their sporting heroes. Goodness knows what the busloads of Japanese tourists staying in the hotel made of it.

Now you might be thinking what a fantastic opportunity for interviews. It would be except the boys and girls were already under siege and I had no desire to add to that burden. Surely, everyone deserves a bit of down time. However, it was interesting to observe the contrasting approaches of the two different nationalities. The Italians are extroverts, the Spanish introverts.

There was no racing on Thursday which afforded me a welcome opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Maastricht, a delightful historic town with plenty of eye-catching architecture and some great coffee shops. Purely in the interests of research I tried some of the local baked goodies but I did find them a little heavy for my taste – delicious, but heavy.

As ever one of the fun parts of this event is catching up with friends and acquaintances plus just chatting to a wide range of fans from all over the world while we wait for the racers to hove into view.A few of the natives were overly familiar. A rather drunken Dutch chap said he thought I looked around 42, I smiled as if he might have hit the nail on the head but he was way off base. He’d asked the woman sitting opposite me if she was my mother. I was delighted as she was probably only four to five years older than me. However, having ascertained I was married but had no children, he asked me to go clubbing in Dusseldorf. I politely but firmly declined, after over 10 hours manning the barricades the last thing I needed was more hours on my feet, besides I had a hot date with my laptop!  For more about the event and the races, head over to www.velovoices.com.

Still pedalling furiously

The professional peloton might be racing again but I’m still training, and I should add that I’m maintaining my fine form. My first event is going to be a sportif  at the end of February on a parcours not too dissimilar from one of the stages in the forthcoming Tour de Haut-Var, and indeed it’s organised by the same team. However, whether I do the long or the short course will depend very much on the weather. I’m familiar with the terrain, and more importantly the climbs. It’s an area I enjoy riding in and  it’s a lovely part of the world. The course route weaves around a number of the old walled villages from whence you get breathtaking views.

Next up will be my coach’s WTS Classic which has moved (thankfully) from the end of January to the end of March. It covers a not too dissimilar terrain to the first event,  and this year it’ll include a timed time-trial. Helpful advice from Messrs Martin and Cancellara would be most welcome. Twitter would be fine and in English, German or Fabianese – I don’t mind.

Thereafter, I’ll be taking part in the same events as in previous years always aiming, of course, to produce a better time. These events tail off in mid-June, taking account of the increased tourist traffic. After a three-month break, there’s a final flurry of events looming large towards the end of September, all of which involve climbs: Mont Chauve, Col d’Eze and Col du Vence. I’m going to be training hard during the summer months for these last three events with regular ascensions of all three, plus Col de la Madone. This’ll be supplemented with some climbing in the Basque country during the first week of the Vuelta.

My cycling coach has suggested I look to acquire a power meter. I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. It’s expensive but it’s not the price I find offputting, more it’s inflexibility. I have three racing bikes: two BMCs both fitted with Compagnolo and one Orbea with Shimano Ultegra. I think the Garmin Vector, available this March and compatible with my Garmin 500 would be a better bet. It’ll be much more easily transferable between the bikes, I’ll just have to change the pedals, even I can do that! It’ll also provide separate analyses of my left and right legs. I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to to say but it’ll be interesting nonetheless.

Heart’s Desire

I should warn you that I’m no longer going to be blogging here much about professional cycling. You will however be able to find your heart’s desire over on VeloVoices where I’m one of the contributors.

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.

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!

No surprises

The “Velo d’Or“, awarded annually by an international jury of 19 journalists to the best performer, was created in 1992 and is widely regarded as the most prestigious individual award in cycling. Lance holds the record with five wins and, until 2006, the winner of the Tour de France had always been placed first or second in the award classification.

Unsurprisingly, with 18 victories under his belt in 2011, Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert has picked up the 2011 trophy. The decision was pretty much unanimous with only journalists from Germany, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg preferring Evans, while the British journalist patriotically put Cavendish in first place. Tour de France winner Cadel Evans was runner up, while World Champion and sprint-kingpin Mark Cavendish was third. Messrs Contador and Tony Martin tied for 4th place. I have to say it’s hard to disagree with this decision. No doubt this is going to be one of many awards for PhilGil this season who’s already been voted “Flamand of the Year”. Yes, I know he’s a Walloon, but nationality doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor in this annual award. PhilGil’s setting his sights in 2012 on those Classics which have so far eluded him and, in particular, Milan – San Remo.

Best Young Rider was won by Liquigas’s precocious Peter Sagan, one point ahead of Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagan. HTC’s Matti Goss was third. Also in the mix, but way down on the points, (in order) were Pierre Rolland, Marcel Kittel, Jack Bobridge, Rui Costa, Rein Taaramae, John Degenkolb, Steven Kuijswijk, Denis Galimzyanov and Ben Swift. The “Best of” French categories are voted for solely by the French media. Frenchman of the year, for the second successive year, with a massive haul of 116 points, was Thomas Voeckler followed by Pierre Roland and trackstar Gregory Bauge. Julie Bresset, the U23 World Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion, and the only female rider to figure in any of the awards, was seventh.

The award for the best “Espoir” was given to U23 World Road Race Champion Arnaud Demarre, Best Junior was Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier, the recently crowned Junior World Road Race Champion and, finally, rising trackstar Julien Delerin was awarded the Vel d’Or Cadet.

Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.

Topsy turvy

I’ve been thrown a little off kilter this week by the Tour of Beijing, television coverage of which understandably has been in the morning. As a consequence, I have sacrified my pre-ride work to watch the racing. Unfortunately, this has added to the work which has piled up while I’ve been feeling under the weather with my cold. The cold has almost, but not quite, disappeared. More importantly, I’m finally managing to get a good night’s sleep. Everything is so much better after 8 hours in the land of nod. Back to the Tour of Beijing, a race which wouldn’t suit me at all. That thick haze of smog which perpetually shrouds the city would have me in respiratory distress.

Pretty much as anticipated, HTC’s Tony Martin blitzed the opening day 11.3km prologue on Wednesday and, in the process, overtook what seemed like half the field but, in reality, was only a couple of riders. He shot by Sammy Sanchez who, while intent on re-living some of his Olympic glory, had sadly been  felled by gastro-troubles: Beijing belly. The British, en masse, occupied the subsequent key places on GC.

The event was taking place during one of the official Chinese holiday periods and one can only assume that the good citizens of Beijing, despite being fervent bike fans, were in the country visiting relatives, hitting a few golf balls, shopping in Hong Kong or sunning themselves on the beach. They were not watching the cycling. However, it later emerged that the Chinese authorities, fearful of any incident marring the race, had once again made it difficult for anyone to watch the race live. However, as it progressed, particularly on Friday’s Queen stage, numbers of spectators increased or maybe it was just the same ones being bussed around to key points. Nonetheless, I do support the UCI’s globalisation initiative. It’s unthinkable that the world’s largest nation doesn’t get a look in, even though they produce most of the bikes. Cycling has to become less parochial if it’s to remain viable. It was particularly pleasing to see the Chinese team getting in breaks and generally holding their own in the peloton. It augurs well for the future of the sport which needs global sponsors, not sugar daddies.

It was generally accepted that whoever won the prologue would probably hang on for the overall as the following stages were largely sprint finishes with the exception of Stage 3, which would be unlikely to unduly perturb Martin. Stage 2 was won by Garvelo’s Heinrich Haussler who’s had a torrid season by anyone’s account. Nice to see him back to winning ways as he probably heads Down Under for a winter of racing. Irish eyes were smiling on Stage 3 which was won by AG2R’s Nico Roche, another rider (and team) badly in need of a win, followed by Radioshack’s Philip Deignan and Sky’s Chris Froome. Wins are like buses, once you’ve got one under your belt, others follow.

Day 4 saw a Liquigas Cannondale double header as Peter Sagan, leading out Elia Viviani for the win, finished 2nd. Today’s final stage, another sprint, where Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov rode the lime-green train to seal the win, and the green points jersey. Radioshack’s Ben King was the best young rider and Eukaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton won the mountain’s jersey. Martin led this race from start to finish with Garvelo’s David Millar (2nd) and Sky’s Chris Froome (3rd) rounding out the podium.

Next up, Mark Cavendish’s first race showcasing the rainbow jersey, Paris-Tours, won last year by Oscar Freire. Phil Gil resplendent in his Belgian national jersey was also racing today and I note he’s got “Fast Phil” written on his bike. I wonder should I get “Slow Sheree” inscribed on mine? The race was animated by two breakaway groups who, having made the junction, left the main peloton behind to contest the win. A lot of work was put in by Leopard Trek’s Stuart O’Grady and Radioshack’s Geoffroy Lequatre early on to keep the breakaways well ahead of a disorganised peloton. You may remember that last year Lequatre was cruelly caught by the bunch 300m from the line thanks to a strong head wind.

With 15km to go, FDJ youngster Arnaud Gerard set off on his own. Team Type 1’s Laszlo Bodrogi and Rubens Bertogliati gave chase, but the group didn’t want to let two fine time-triallists off the leash and they were brought back. Next off the front were BMC’s Greg Van Avermaert and Vacansoleil’s Marco Mercato who overhauled Gerard and, even though the latter was subsequently joined by team mate Mickael Delage and then the rest of the breakaways, it was that duo who went on to contest the win. Van Avermaert, the better sprinter of the two prevailed with 3rd place going to Saxobank’s Kasper Klostergaard. I assume Fast Phil and the Manx Missile rolled in 90 seconds later with everyone else.

The King is dead, long live the King

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

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

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

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

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

The future’s bright, the future’s green-edged

We had a marathon meeting down at the club yesterday which enabled us to make our positions clear, particularly with respect to the coming (and our last) season. Interestingly, it soon became apparent that the Old Guard hope to persuade me to stand for President at the end of the present incumbent’s current term. They can think again. I’m more than happy to remain involved with the Kivilev and to continue the supply of baked goodies, but that’s as far as it goes. Everyone’s agreed to retain the cyclsportif and brevet for the coming year but we’re going to amend the 175km parcours making it around 20kms shorter.

All this meant I was unable to watch the individual time-trials on the television and had, instead, to settle for the edited highlights. For me one of the charms of the World Championships is the ability to watch great races every day and, in  particular, see those who you can’t generally watch on the the television, such as the ladies and U23 races. This year, they’ve added the juniors into the mix. The Australians have made a very strong start to the Championships with 18 year-old Jessica Allen winning the 13.9km time-trial in 19:18, ahead of Britain’s Elinor Barker and Germany’s Mieke Kroge.  Jessica thought her mastery of the technical sections of the course just gave her the edge.

The men’s U23 individual time-trial was won by Australia’s 20 year-old Luke Durbridge, a member of their gold winning track team, who hails from the same town as Jessica. He finished 2nd last year to Taylor Phinney, but was in a class of his own this year, blitzing the two-lap, 32.5km course in 42:47. He was the only rider to break 43 minutes and was fastest at all of the splits. Rasmus Quaade gave the home crowd something to cheer about as he finished second while in third place was another Australian, Micheal Hepburn, who might have fared better if he hadn’t fallen. Another Australian finished in ninth place. Watch out for these boys in the forthcoming road race.

Under grey skies and in windy conditions, baby faced, 17 year-old, home boy Mads Wurtz Schmidt lifted the spirits of the considerable crowd to win the junior world title on the 27.8km course in 35:07:06. Looking as if he’d maybe started too quickly, Mads maintained momentum to record the fastest split times. His more fancied team mate finished sixth. Not to be outdone, the podium was completed by Kiwi, James Oram, and Aussi, David Edwards.

The skies were still overcast when the ladies elite individual time-trial got underway this afternoon. First off the ramp was  Kathryn Bertine who rides for St Kitts & Nevis. I met her in Stuttgart 2007, she’s a former US triathlete who changed allegiances and now runs the islands’ cycling development programme. The weather deteriorated as the event progressed making the conditions treacherous for the more fancied riders. Germany’s Judith Arndt turned in a masterful and powerful performance to win her first gold medal in this event. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride – not anymore. In second place was Dane turned Kiwi Linda Villumsen and, in  third, the defending champion Britain’s Emma Pooley who did well on a course unsuited to her attributes. The future is indeed green-edged, with maybe flashes of red.

For tomorrow’s elite men’s race, it’s hard to look beyond either Fabulous Fabian Cancellara or Tenacious Tony Martin. The latter has had a more impressive season than the former whom, I feel, you write off at your peril on a course which favours the stronger rider. Bring it on.

Viva La Vuelta IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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