My sporting week end

My coach has a company which promotes the health benefits of participating in sport. You can either join for a year or buy tickets to participate in events. The first go is free. This Saturday he was encouraging people to either start cycling or get back on their bikes. His existing clients are also invited to participate. I went in anticipation that there just might be a few people slower than me. No such luck! We were a fairly select group, composed largely of his existing clients and just one guy who “hadn’t ridden much recently”. No need to spell out who was bringing up the rear on the ride. One of my coach’s assistants came with us and solicitously enquired as to whether I was finding the parcours too difficult. My coach kindly stepped in to explain that I was his official Lanterne Rouge, a role I perform beautifully and to the very  best of my ability. Frenchmen are such charmers! We only rode for about 90 minutes, ideal preparation for Sunday’s La Lazarides, one of the more testing brevets and one which I rode well at last year.

I spent Saturday afternoon on numerous household tasks while checking out the sporting action on our three televisions. WBA v Villa was shown live on Canal+ and I have to say the boys played well. But, and it’s a big but, they were mugged by the Baggies 2-1 who played with greater purpose, despite being down to 10 men. Meanwhile, in the lounge I was intent on watching the qualifying for Sunday’s Portuguese GP from Estoril. Typically, the favourites all ended up on pole position. Finally, I watched the time-trial in the Tour of Romandie where Messrs Evans (BMC) and Vinokourov (Astana) were poised to knock Pavel Brutt (Katusha) from the top step of the podium. It wasn’t an easy course, although the winner Dave Zabriskie made it look easy as he posted the fasted time. In the post-race interview, I feared for the interviewer’s life when he unwisely suggested that Dave Z (Garvelo) had only won because of more favourably climatic conditions. While that was true, that’s cycling, it’s sometimes the luck of the draw. Superb times were posted by Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) and Cadel Evans lifting them into second and first place respectively. Vinokourov clearly gave it his all but fared less well. He still managed to round out the podium, leaving the race poised for an interesting finish on Sunday. Would Vinokourov attack Evans and Martin?

Sunday dawned with perfect weather conditions for cycling. We rose early and drove to the start in Cannes. We set off with the group cycling 150km although we intended to ride only 100km. I do this largely out of concern for those manning the broom wagon, I don’t like to keep them waiting. Within a couple of kilometers I was distanced from the peloton which had sped off into the wide blue yonder – plus ca change! My beloved kindly kept me company as we wended our way through the positively lush countryside in the L’Esterel, around  Lake St Cassien and up into the surrounding walled villages. I was not riding well and was feeling positively fatigued. On the climb up to Mons I gratefully climbed off and into the waiting broom wagon. I positively hate giving up but sometimes you just know it’s the right thing to do. I had a pounding headache and felt really tired, even though I’d only ridden for 50km. I chose to forgo the end of ride sausages and wine, I didn’t feel I’d deserved them.

Once back home and installed on the sofa, ready for an afternoon’s sporting action, I promptly fell asleep. My beloved roused me from to time to time to observe some of the sporting action or, more correctly, replayed sporting action. In the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn – Frankfurt,  Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) greatly enlivened the race by attacking at every opportunity but Leopard Trek were determined to deliver Fabian Wegmann, last year’s winner, to the line. However, it was another German who took it on the line. John Degenkolb, last year’s world championship runner-up in the U23 catergory, took his third win of the season for HTC-Columbia. The U23 champion, Michael Matthews was 3rd. The roadside was thronged with spectators enjoying the action in the warm sunshine. Cycling clearly isn’t dead in Germany despite the efforts of the German television stations to banish it from air.

On the run into Geneva, on the final stage of the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Vinokourov made one of his trademark attacks but was brought swiftly to heel by Sky who set up the win for Ben Swift, ahead of Oscar Freire. The podium remained unchanged. Evans was clearly delighted to bag his second Tour of Romandie title, after the disappointment of missing the Ardennes Classics, in the region where he lived when he came over to Europe as a mountain bike racer and, fittingly, not too far from BMC’s HQ. However, it’s been a good week for Astana with stage wins for Alexandre Vinokourov and Valentin Iglinsky, and podium finishes in the Tours of Romandie (3rd) and Turkey (Andrey Zeits 2nd).

I managed to remain awake long enough to catch all of the re-run action in the MotoGP from Estoril where the track had been made more difficult by patches of wet from the morning’s rain. Nicolas Terol posted his 3rd consecutive win in 125cc class ahead of Victor Faubel and Sandro Cortese. He easily heads the championship rankings. In the Moto2 class, Stefan Bradl won his consecutive Estoril title but not before a tussle with Andrea Iannone who, having zoomed from 17th place into first, slid out of contention to finish 13th, leaving Bradl to record another win ahead of Julian Simon and Yuki Takahashi. It was an emotional podium place for Takahashi who had recemtly lost his younger brother in a motor racing accident. Moto2 rookie, and last year’s 125cc champion, Marc Marquez slid off into the cat litter (again) and has yet to score any points.

In the main event, Dani Pedrosa showed that the recent surgery on his shoulder has worked. He marked Jorge Lorenzo closely before using the slipstream to overtake him 4 laps from home. Casey Stoner was a comfortable 3rd. It wasn’t a classic race as such although there were exciting jousts within the main race. Andrea Divisioso overtook Valentino Rossi on the line for 4th place. Marco Simoncelli crashed out (again). Now there’s a wheel you don’t want to follow.

Finally, OGCN were trounced 4-0 at home to Caen. This was a six pointer and they now find themselves one place, and one point, above the drop zone. There are four other teams on 39 points all of whom have superior goal differences. Come on guys, please don’t fall at the last hurdle!

Fairy tales

Many of my French acquaintances were surprised to learn that I wouldn’t be watching today’s Royal Wedding. I certainly wish the couple every future happiness but, following my sister’s bash, have had my fill of weddings for this year. Instead, I spent a few pleasant hours mooching around Aix-en-Provence, while my beloved visited a client. It poured down en route but by the time we arrived the sun was shining on Aix’s cobbles. We breakfasted in a local hotel which serves the best breakfast I’ve ever had in France, outside my own kitchen. After my beloved had departed, I spent time discussing recipes with the lady who’s responsible for the afore-mentioned gastronomic delights.

Needing to walk off the calories, I strode around Aix, largely window shopping, though I did purchase dinner (asparagus and strawberries) in the local market. Architecturally, Aix is a beautiful town with plenty of honeyed stone buildings decorated with wrought iron balconies and impressive porticos over intricately carved wooden doors. The town’s been sensitively renovated and it’s a pleasure wandering along its narrow lanes, particularly in the old town, listening to the tinkling of falling water in one of  it’s many fountains.

I last visited Aix with my parents and it brought home to me how much they had both slowed up. Neither are particularly confident on foot, particularly on cobbles. I ended up leaving them to enjoy a coffee and newspaper in the famous Les Deux Garcons, so beloved of Cezanne and Hemingway, where we later enjoyed lunch.

Beloved of Cezanne

They say that old age is fine providing that you’re healthy, have a bit of money and your wits about you. However, to that I would add that you need your partner to be healthy and have their wits about them too.  Otherwise, like my Dad, your situation is totally compromised. He’s now reluctant to go many places or do many things for fear of what my mother might do. He’s very sensitive to the opinion of others and doesn’t want my mother to embarrass either herself or him. Her very unpredictability leaves him constantly on edge and unable to enjoy many of the simple things in life. Nonetheless, he’s unwilling to consign my mother to the care of others, unless they’re close friends or family. This is taking a toll on his own health and mental fortitude.  I’m popping back to the UK next month to spend a couple of days with them while my sister is on vacation. My father is very reliant on her and my brother-in-law which is not without its own stresses. However my own commitments, geographical location and lack of daily flights to Birmingham outside of the summer months make it difficult to be of much practical assistance.

Once back home from Aix, we were delighted to see Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), in true opportunistic fashion, nip off behind Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) in the home strait of today’s stage of the Tour of Romandie and win. He’s now just 38 seconds behind Pavel Brutt (Katusha)  and 10 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC). I’ve also been checking out the practice sessions at the MotoGP in Portugal.  There’s plenty of sporting action to enjoy this week end, as well as our own participation in Sunday’s La Lazarides.

Full of promise

We’ve profited from the fine weather these past few days to log plenty of kilometers on the bike. The weather forecast keeps indicating adverse weather but it’s generally been holding off during the day. The combination of rain and warm sunshine has ensured that the countryside looks particularly green and bountiful, long may it last. We needed all that additional mileage to counter the effects of yesterday’s blow out birthday luncheon: my beloved’s. I quaffed champagne and ate asparagus, morilles and  lobster. All my favourite foods, beautifully cooked and served, in the relaxing surroundings of one of our local restaurants, which has a fabulous view of the surrounding area. Feeling decidedly sated we returned home to watch the Presidential Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Romandie.

Both races have given some of the peloton’s newest pros a chance to shine, as well as providing opportunities for those who are more established.  For example, the Tour of Romandie’s 3.5km prologue had Taylor Phinney’s name all over it, particularly as he rides for the Swiss BMC team. No one had thought to tell Basque rider Jonathan Castroviejo who registered the ride of his life to take it, and the leader’s yellow jersey, by a nano second. In yesterday’s stage, Pavel Brutt (Katusha) one of the peloton’s perpetual breakaway artistes maintained his advantage, in the wet and windy conditions, to win the 172.6km stage into Leysin, by a healthy margin, to take possession of the yellow jersey. After what for him would have been a disappointing Classic’s campaign, today Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) prevailed, ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana). I anticipate that the latter two will be fighting it out for GC come the end of the race.

Meanwhile, over in Turkey, some of the world’s best sprinters have been losing out to a number of opportunists. Andrea Guardini (Farnese-Vini-Neri-Sottoli) – remember him from the Tour of Qatar – beat Tyler Farrar (Garvelo), among others, on the Tour’s first stage into Instanbul. Stage 2’s sprint finish into Turgutreis was won by  non-sprinter (or so the others thought), Valentin Iglinsky (Astana), Max’s younger brother and clearly not a man to be underestimated, certainly not by Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD). On stage 3, Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF Inox) notched up his 3rd win of the season. Yesterday, Petacchi, feeling he had a point to prove, surprisingly prevailed on the Tour’s queen stage, at the end of a wet and hilly day. While today’s stage, 218km  into Fethiye, was won by Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Neri-Sottoli), his first ever podium. Thomas Peterson (Garvelo) now leads the pack ahead of Cameron Wurf (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1 – Sanofi Aventis).

A number of riders are using these races to hone their form ahead of the Giro d’Italia. Others, like Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard) are using the time to reconnoitre the more difficult stages, of which there are plenty, ahead of the race’s start in Turin on 7 May. I will be there.

I’ll have mustard with mine

Yesterday was my first attempt at La Lazarides. I did the shorter parcours (107km) accompanied by my beloved. Or should that be part accompanied, since he lost me on the way back. I know: careless, foolish, misguided or what? It’s not a good idea to lose the person with the map, the money, the car keys and the mobile phone.

The club was severely underrepresented: only three of us. But when I’d questioned a few of the regulars as to why they weren’t taking part, they all said it was more like a race than a randonnee. Actually, that was true. Fewer participants, generally only the better club riders (me being one of the exceptions), police assistance, cars covering the breakaways on both parcours and two pro-Tour riders who kindly just kept pace with the (amateur) leaders.

Riders at the start

 

It was a lovely parcours and we both agreed we should ride more often over this terrain. It starts using the back-end of the smaller l’Antiboise parcours and then heads on past the dreaded Lac St Cassien (again, loads of traffic) before ascending to Mons via Fayence, but thankfully not using the Mur de Fayence (26%). Weaving one’s way through market day in Fayence was a little tricky. Thereafter, the roads were quiet and it was a great climb up to Mons and the feed zone where they had real coke, albeit lukewarm, and some delicious ham rolls. Then there was a fast descent back down via  Callian and Montaroux which was were I overtook my beloved. The leaders of the 150km parcours came steaming past me and I tucked onto the end of the group. Much to everyone’s surprise, I manage to stay with them on the descent. My beloved claimed he was waiting for me at the Montaroux fountain. I never saw him as I zoomed through the town. Of course, as soon as the gradient changed, I was back on my lonesome.

I rode to the control point at the foot of the Tanneron and advised them I’d lost my husband before continuing on up the hill. I assumed he’d soon catch me up. I was wrong, it took him until the final couple of kilometers. But what a welcome when we got back to the Stade Maurice Chevalier, a BBQ no less. Never have sausages, bread and mustard tasted so good. I’m going to suggest this for the Kivilev. Having consumed this feast, it started to rain in earnest, so we skipped the tombola and headed for home.

Once home we had to check our stats on the Garmin: more climbing and a faster average speed than La Louis Caput. Who would have thought it? It was a very rolling parcours with the final climb up the Tanneron coming at just after 80kms. There were even a few uphill stretches in the final couple of kilometers.

My legs felt tired today and I really laboured up the hill to Pre du Lac but after a gentle ride this morning they’re now feeling a lot better. The promised stormy weather held off and, as a result, I’m hoping that the forecast for the forthcoming days will improve. I’ve plenty of mileage on the programme for next week.

My beloved boys in claret and blue went down 3-1 away at Man City, effectively blowing any lingering chance of 4th or 5th spot in the Premiership. Still, with Liverpool losing to Chelsea today, we should hold onto 6th: no mean feat.

Ten minutes before full-time OGCN were comfortably leading 3-0 away at Boulogne, a team heading for relegation. Final score: 3-3! Yes, pretty unbelievable but, sadly, all too true. Goodness knows what happened to our defence – totally MIA. 

Over in the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Valverde pounced on the final stage to take the overall, Spilak was 2nd and Menchov 3rd. The weather was again truly awful and 56 riders, who were out of contention, got off their bikes. Can’t say I blame them.

Spring is sprung

I so totally love this time of year.  The countryside is really green and lush, there are wild flowers in the hedgerows, the fruit trees, wisteria and lilac are blossoming, there’s catkins, pussy willows, plenty of new, lime green foliage and the birds are full of song. The mid-day temperatures are in the early twenties and it’s time to start climbing upwards, onwards and further afield. So, it’s really difficult, particularly when the legs are feeling (if not looking) good , to take a day’s rest as per the programme. But I did as instructed.

What’s made it worse is that I’ve gotten back from my English class to discover my beloved’s home and he’s gone for a ride. Which is great, but I wish I could too. As I look out the window, the sky and sea have merged and there’s this endless vista of azure blue. I could gaze at it all evening, but I must prepare my beloved’s dinner. He’ll be hungry when he gets back from his ride.

I see Cav’s back on song in Romandie. I’m not sure what his two fingered salute at the finish signified: 2nd win of the season or……………… Anyway, I’m pleased to see his season is finally back on track (along with Renshaw’s) and I’m sure he’s going to be racking up wins left, right and centre.

Someone to watch over me

I went on a training ride with my cycling coach today and, fortunately, our paths didn’t cross with any of my team mates. So my secret’s still safe for now.  Of course, it’s very disconcerting to ride with someone whose legs are only a little larger, but less flabby (bat wings) than my arms. However, it’s much easier doing intervals when he’s looking at the stop watch and telling me when to start and, more importantly, when to stop. This was a repeat of a loop and exercise I did last week. Today, I was 2.5km an hour faster. Yes, I try that much harder when there’s someone breathing down my neck. Don’t we all?

On my return journey I popped into my usual watering hole for the newspapers and a coffee only to meet up with my sister, who was returning to the  UK later today, and her friends, who have just arrived. This gave us an opportunity to briefly catch up. I sensed she would’ve preferred to stay and work on her tan.

I had totally forgotten that the water was going to be switched off today for maintenance/essential repairs. That’s right, no shower for me after my sweat inducing ride. I therefore felt compelled to stay home. Any excuse to slob about in my favourite fleecy tracksuit and watch some cycling on the internet. This also allowed me to tackle numerous items on my all important “to do” list. Including completing my lesson plans for tomorrow’s English lesson.

My beloved is back tomorrow afternoon. This meant, for once, he was away on his birthday (yesterday). However, he put his trip to the UK to good use, earning brownie points by taking his mother (aka the outlaw) out to dinner and giving her the recently taken photo of him riding in La Louis Caput. I confess it was a really good photo of him and while I was tempted to hang on to it, I do after all have the real thing. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my photo, taken by the same photographer. It seems to focus on my left shin, not one of my finer bits, and I appear to be grimacing quite badly. So much for smiling for the camera.  The wind was obviously making my gilet billow so  I look like an elderly Bessie Bunter on wheels. Haven’t these photographers ever heard of airbrushing?

Back to the cycling: Peter Sagan, the revelation of Paris-Nice, took over the leader’s jersey in the Tour of Romandie. He’s being hotly pursued by Marco Pinotti, who was wearing it after yesterday’s prologue, and Frenchman, Jeremy Roy. On the football front, it’ll be a  Bayern v Inter final and I wouldn’t bet against “the Special One” picking up his second Champion’s League title. That man is a master strategist and tactician.