Out the loop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for global warming

A quick glance at the long-range weather forecast reveals a dismal outlook for the next two weeks: rain, rain and more rain. This will be particularly frustrating for those doing London-Paris who have signed up for either the one or two-week stage based at Stephen Roche’s hotel, just up the road in Villeneuve Loubet. It’s being organised by ex-pro and Eurosport commentator Emma Davies whom I’ll be meeting later this afternoon.

I had volunteered to lend Emma a helping hand but I generally don’t ride in the rain. There’s no need. But if it does rain solidly for two whole weeks, even I will be tempted to brave the elements. I have almost 15 hours of training scheduled in next week’s programme. I really can’t see me doing all that on the home trainer.

While this morning’s downpour has now desisted and there was even a few rays of sunshine around lunchtime, the sky has once more clouded over. Tomorrow the forecast is favourable and I may well go over to St Tropez to see the start of the Tour du Haut Var. No, I won’t ride all the way there. I’ll probably take the train to St Raphael, but may well ride all the way back.

I caught a glimpse of the Volta ao Algave yesterday where the peloton endured 6 hours in the driving rain. Good training maybe for the Belgian Classics but more will be wishing they were enjoying the temperate climes of  Oman, the Tour of which finishes with today’s decisive time-trial.  Tom Boonen (Quick Step) seems well placed at only 2 seconds back from current race leader, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).

Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) had a wee (no pun intended) bit of a dilemma the other day while wearing the race leader’s jersey which seems to have divided both fans and the peloton. Namely, should other teams have attacked the race leader while he was taking a comfort break? Normally not, but this was within 50km of the finish and hence he was fair game. My advice: Edvald you should have gone earlier.

Postscript: EBH won the ITT in Oman finishing 2nd on GC behind Fabulous Fabian, who was 2nd on the stage. Tommeke dropped to 11th overall. He’s going to have to do much better if he wants to enter Belgium on 4 July in yellow.

Round up of sporting action

It’s been a busy week end for me what with trying to keep track of football, cycling, rugby and the Winter Olympics from Vancouver.  Midweek, my beloved boys in claret and blue drew at home against Manchester United whom they will play in the League Cup final at the end of the month. Unfortunately, United were reduced to 10 men fairly early on in the game making them even more difficult to break down. Still AVFC have picked up 4 points out of a possible 6 in the Premiership which augurs well for the League Cup Final. Sadly, however, they drew against a very spirited Crystal Palace yesterday in the FA Cup meaning a mid-week replay before their date at Wembley – not ideal preparation. OGCN sadly lost away at Valenciennes in the dying minutes of the match and are now staking their claim on 17th place in the French League. I fear for the manager. I’m just waiting for that death knell “support from the Board” and it’ll all be over.

Having got into gold, Wouter Mol stayed there to win the GC in the Tour of Qatar. Last year’s winner, Tom Boonen, had to be content with two stage wins. The boys now move on to Oman where Jimmy Casper of Saur-Sojasun (another team looking to impress ASO) wrapped up the opening evening criterium, beating Edvald Boassen Hagen into second place. Meanwhile, the Tour of the Med, having had stage 4 neutralised thanks to the weather, finished yesterday on Mont Faron with a stage win for Aqua & Sapone and an overall win for Alejandro Valverde. Astana were 3rd and 5th with respectively Max Iglinsky and Alexandre Vinokourov.

The French are justifiably cockahoop after beating Ireland in Paris. They’re also currently leading the medal table in Vancouver having picked up two golds: one with Jason Lamy-Chappuis (current World Cup Leader) in the nordic combined and the other with Vincent Jay in the 10km biathlon sprint. The former was anticipated, but not the latter.

What you might ask of my own sporting endeavours. Well I have at last received my training plan. Indeed, today is Day 1 of the plan and it’ll be interesting to see how I progress over the next 6 months. The trainer guarantees at least a 5% improvement but, quite frankly, I’m hoping for a lot, lot more.

Snowed in

Just when we’d been fooled into thinking that Spring was around the corner, the cold weather has returned with a vengeance. Yes, last night’s rain has 

Where's the sea gone?

turned into snow. It’s snowing all along the coast! The surrounding hills and mountains are also receiving further snowfalls: good news for winter sports enthusiasts. I wonder if we can sell some of it to Vancouver 2010? 

The boys riding the Tour Mediterraneen Cycliste Professionnel and the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca respectively must be wishing they’d opted/been selected for the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as they’ve both been enduring adverse climatic conditions. Indeed, the manager (Marc Madiot) of yesterday’s stage winner (Yauheni Hutarovich – FDJ) in the Tour of the Med had the foresight to take him on a quick warm up ride before the start. This obviously did the trick. 

Over in Qatar the winds have died down. Stages 3 and 4 ended in bunch sprints with wins for Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo). The former reached a speed of 72.4km/hr on his sprint to the line. Coincidentally, the same as my top speed ever which was recorded last year in Austria  descending a 10% incline!  Condolences to Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) who had four punctures yesterday: careless rider or crap kit, you decide. 

Mindful of yesterday’s VO2max test, I had been practising riding flat out on the home trainer. My appointment was at 09:00am, which necessitated an early start to avoid the traffic. I wanted to ride part of the way as a warm up. I drove as far as Beaulieu sur Mer, where the parking is free while they change over the parking meters, parked the car and hopped on the bike.  My beloved has accused me of becoming “very French” as I seek out free places to park. 

I had timed it to perfection, a quick 10km, at maximum effort, terminating in the climb out of the port in Monaco had left me “glowing”. I arrived with enough time to fill out the forms and take a comfort break. After a number of detailed questions about my medical history and that of my family, we moved on to the highly unpleasant bit: height, weight (Assos kit must be really, really heavy, I hope they took that into consideration) and BMI. I then had to inhale and exhale, as hard as possible, into a machine. The conclusion: average for a woman of my age! 

Then the test itself which was conducted on my bike, fitted with a power tap, and with a machine to gauge my effort fitted over my nose and mouth. I began to feel decidedly claustrophobic. In addition, I was wired up to an ECG and the doctor frequently measured my blood pressure. I started at a max output of 60watts and increased it at regular intervals by 30 watts. First off it was difficult to ride at a constant wattage, nothing like riding those static bikes in the gym. It was pretty easy pedalling to start off with but very soon it became much more arduous. I started to “glow” profusely despite being topless (thank goodness I’d worn one of my prettier sports bras). I have no idea how long the intervals were but it felt like 10 secs to start with and 10 minutes to finish. Their conclusion: I could be an excellent endurance athlete if only I lost the surplus 10kilos around my middle which is restricting my breathing!

Postscript: Nice airport closed, my beloved stranded at Heathrow!