Relaxing week end

Starting point

We had planned to spend the week end in Manosque and ride two of the sportifs in La Sisteronne but, sadly, the organisers (Stephen Roche and Lucien Aimar) didn’t receive prefectural permission, no idea why, so we cancelled the trip. At least they found this out 2 weeks before the event, we only received a copy of the prefectural permission for La Kivilev on the Friday before the big day, nonetheless costs will have been incurred and it makes it much more likely that they’ll abandon attempts to hold future events. Instead we rode a randonnee in the l’Esterel, just up the road in the Var.

This is a lovely area to ride. A far less dense population means very much less traffic. The very rolling parcours and attractive terrain make it an interesting and picturesque ride. We elected (thankfully) to ride the shortest course which was nonetheless taxing as we were either ascending or descending. There was hardly any flat at all on the parcours. Sadly, and despite it being a well run event, it only attracted about 70 entrants. I only knew about it because I received an email directly from the president. Probably because the club is a member of FFCT (one of the few federation of which we’re not members), it’s not on our radar. We also tend to be highly insular and promote only those events in the Alpes Maritimes. I’ve made a mental note to look out for more events like this. I also gained another cup for my ever expanding collection. I’m not sure what it was for and didn’t like to ask as it might have  been for “La Doyenne”, oldest female participant. More likely, as there were so few of us, they gave a cup to every female entrant (all 3 of us) to encourage us.

En route

Yesterday’s exertions meant I fell asleep on the sofa only rousing in time to see Peter Sagan bag another stage win in the Tour de Suisse, this time a sprint. That boy is a phenomenal talent and I’m going to be looking forward to see how he fares in this year’s Vuelta. Today’s stage is an individual time trial which, barring a major accident or major mechanical, will be won by Fabulous Fabian. Cunego’s not renowned for his time-trialling prowess but the leader’s jersey, rather than Red Bull, often gives you wings. If not, Levi Leipheimer is handily poised to pounce and wrest it from him.

This morning’s pointage was close by in Sophia Antipolis. I rode with the club and discovered how the boys often manage to put 10 minutes into my time – they cheat. Yes, the entire peloton took a short cut and eliminated over 5km of undulating road. I was reported as having “gone the wrong way”. No boys, I write the route remember: you’ve taken a short cut. It left me wondering how often this happens. I follow the prescribed route, one minute they’re in sight, the next they’ve gone. Gone down a short cut more like! This left me free to follow the route at my own pace before rendezvousing with my beloved for a coffee over the Sunday newspapers.

Postscript: Spartacus won the time-trial and Levi leapfrogged  Damiano by 4 seconds!

Place your bets please

There’s always a lively debate about whether it’s best to ride the Dauphine or the Tour of Switzerland and what one can read into the form of each of the participants.  Personally, I feel it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions. History is rarely an accurate predictor of the future, just ask any actuary. It’s entirely possible that the eventual winner of the Tour participated in neither race (Alberto Contador). It’s a question of which race best fits the ambitions of the respective teams and their riders.

Bradley Wiggins win in the Dauphine is to be applauded. Was that Sky’s ambition before the race? Who knows? Or, having seized the opportunity, and the yellow jersey, did Wiggo and Sky merely do what needed to be done to stay atop of the podium. I often feel that you’re in a much stronger position when you’re in the leader’s jersey. You get a huge confidence boost and someone then has to try and take the jersey away from you. You just have to defend it.  No doubt this win, the biggest of Wiggins’ career on the road, should not be taken lightly, nor should one assume that Wiggins is battling for no better than 3rd. Shorn of Riis’s strategic and tactical support, I feel the Schleck’s will be at more of a disadvantage. In addition, it looks as if Andy has kept faith with his mechanic – was this wise?

Of course, it’s not so much whether it’s easier to win a one week tour than it is a three week one, more that the pool of riders capable of doing the former is greater than the latter. Nor should one make assumptions about the form, or lack thereof, of those who finished further down the GC, such as Schleck Jr, Basso and Samu. There’s still a couple of weeks for riders to find their form. Some find it easier and quicker to find than others. Again, we don’t know what their ambitions were going into the respective races. Was it just a training ride, were they sand bagging, fine tuning their form or were they going for the win?

Generally, the two races give those on the teams’ reserve lists an opportunity to prove their worth. Riders want to be at the Tour, it’s the largest, global, annual sporting spectacle and an ideal opportunity to conclude a deal for the following year, particularly if you’re in the last year of your contract.  Again, speculation is already rife as to who’s going where. But as the UCI’s window is closed, neither side can officially confirm the rumour mongering.

This year will be the debut Tour for a number of riders, including some who have already invested a number of years in the professional ranks. Nice Matin today featured an interview with a rider who lives locally and rides for Cofidis, Tristan Valentin. After breaking his elbow in Paris-Roubaix in 2008, he’s had a torrid time of it over the past three years.  I’d like to wish him good luck for this year’s Tour and I’ll be rooting for him to at least get in a breakaway and snaffle some airtime.

Postscript: Get well soon Juan Mauricio Soler

Lost but not lonely

Thanks to a  48 hour  bug, my week has been sent a bit off kilter. The first warning sign was late Tuesday afternoon, when I couldn’t get warm. My hands and feet, usually so toasty, were freezing cold. I left the boys making merry after the monthly cycling club meeting and returned home for an early night. I didn’t even bother with dinner. I wasn’t hungry: another worrying sign. I woke on Wednesday morning, still feeling weary, cold and rather nauseous. Several hours later, I felt even worse so cancelled my evening English class.

I wisely spent all day Wednesday and Thursday indoors venturing out only late last night to collect my beloved from the airport. While the hands and feet have recovered some of their previous warmth, and my appetite has returned, I felt I was still lacking a bit of power when I rode today. I’ll need to make up the lost hours of training this week end.

Of course, a couple of days not eating can only help my regime. Indeed, my nutritionist is so pleased with my progress, she said I could eat whatever I liked one day a week. Of  course, the unspoken phrase was “within reason”. I’ve now lost almost 8kgs over 4 months and, once I start regularly climbing the hills behind Nice, would hope to maintain that rate of loss until I reach my target weight. Sometime around the end of 2012 – no, only joking!

Inevitably, I have spent the last couple of days getting the club’s administration up to date, particularly anything and everything to do with the forthcoming La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev whose Facebook page has gone live today. I’ve sent invitations to everyone, and I mean everyone.

While I have been enjoying the tussle over the gold jersey in the Tour of Qatar, I was not unsurprised to see it go to one of the in-form Aussies whose season debuts early thanks to the timing of their national championships. It seemed only fitting that Mark Renshaw, generally loyally employed in the service of Mark Cavendish, should prove he can hold his own with the world’s best sprinters. It was also good to see Tom Boonen and Heinrich Haussler coming back into form for the early season Classics after both of their seasons were wreaked when they were taken out in a sprint finish in last year’s Tour of Switzerland.

While there’s been no television coverage, I have also been keeping a check on results in the races in Mallorca and, nearer to home, the Tour of the Mediterranean whose stage tomorrow  finishes just up the road from me. I’ll be there to capture the action and on Sunday on Mont Faron, after the morning’s pointage at Aspremont.

Heavenly feeling

The weather the past few days has been gloriously sunny, albeit cold. I’ve been out every day, generally around lunchtime, diligently following the training plan. I’ll shortly  have been trained by my coach for twelve whole months. I’m going to continue as I feel it’s been money well spent. My technique has improved, I’m feeling more confident on the bike, I’m riding faster and further, climbing better and I’ve lost more weight. I’m definitely heading in the right direction.

Yesterday, I had another puncture. My second in four days but only my fourth in four year’s of cycling.  You may recall I had both the tyre and inner tube replaced on Saturday. I hit a pothole (unfortunately) while riding (fortunately) with some clubmates. I hit the hole heavily with my front tyre, but it was the rear one which rapidly deflated. Quick as a flash my team mates dismounted and within a couple of minutes, they had rectified the problem. Thanks boys!

I spent last week putting the final touches to the brochure for our annual cycling event, La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev, this week I’m translating it into a number of other languages, ready to disseminate far and wide. I’m also finalising plans for my 2011 Cycling Trips.

I may well be making an appearance at all three Grand Tours this year, although the trip to the Giro, because of its timing, just before the Kivilev, is always the one most likely to be cancelled. I booked our trip to watch the Tour in the Alps the same day ASO announced the route, but the others have been coming together more slowly.

For instance, as soon as I learned, a week or so ago, that the Vuelta would be visiting Bilbao, I immediately located and booked a  bijou hotel. Getting to Bilbao by plane involves a change in Barcelona, so I may well go either by car or train which will make taking the bike much easier.  It’ll also mean I can bring back plenty of Basque goodies: edibles, not riders clad in orange jerseys. There’s a thought. How many Euskatel riders could you cram into a Smart?

It was only when I received, somewhat belatedly, my Xmas card from Bert that I realised, if he could get to the next World Championships in Copenhagen from Auckland, I really needed to be there too. At his age, he’s unlikely to be around for too many more. He’s currently two short of seventy-five. I’m sure he’ll make it. Hotel and flight have now been booked. I have finally arranged the much-vaunted trip to go and watch Paris-Roubaix. I can easily get to Lille on the train and have found a delightful, quirky hotel in Roubaix. Not wishing to risk either of my beloved BMCs on the cobbles, I may travel “sans velo”.

There’s less urgency over planning and booking trips to watch either the Dauphine or the Tour of Switzerland. I’ve never had any problem sourcing last-minute accommodation for either of them. Of course, I’ll also be watching those races close to home such as Tour of the Med and Paris-Nice. Sadly, events beyond my control have interfered with me viewing the Tour of Haut Var (younger sister’s wedding) and Milan-San Remo (club sponsor’s daytime 60th birthday party). I’m also planning  to support our club’s junior and espoir teams when they start racing at the end of next month.

I shall of course be making my annual pilgrimage to Mont Ventoux, this time in early June. I plan to cycle around the Italian lakes in early April when attending the Grand Opening of my Swiss friend’s new bike shop. I foresee heavily discounted  bike bling heading my way.

Last minute bits and bobs

Samuel Et’o’s Cameroon are the first team to be eliminated from the 2010 World Cup. This is a shame given that their match last night against Denmark was easily the best thus far. However, Nicolas Anelka got the march on them as, having had words with his manager, he too made a speedy exit without passing “Go” and without collecting £200.

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Tour of Switzerland which seems to have been plagued by rather wet weather. We know Switzerland well and it’s always interesting to see them riding through areas we ourselves have visited. For example, they descended the Albula Pass into La Punt where we’ve spent many a week end cross-country skiing. When my beloved was working in Constance, I would fly over on Friday evening to Zurich, he would pick me up and we would drive up to the Engadine to ski. We stayed in a small family-run hotel in La Punt who, due to the lateness of our arrival, would leave us a key under the flowerpot on the front step (where else). We haven’t been for a few years but nothing much seems to have changed in the meantime.

This morning we’re posing for the annual club photo. My beloved is acting as official photographer and is taking this new responsibility very seriously. He’s fished my tri-pod out of the cave and has mounted his camera on it. This now poses me something of a dilemma, who do I stand next to? A couple of new members weigh more than me so I’m probably now only the 6th or 7th heaviest in the club, but will the others turn up? Or, horror of horrors, will M le President insist on having the bureau all together? If he does, I’m going to stand behind him and the Treasurer: they’re both shorter and lighter than me.

After the photographs, it’s back home, a speedy change and off to the station to catch the train to Paris. Yes, my list is all ticked off, the bike is neatly packed into its case, and I’m raring to go. Yesterday afternoon, I picked up the final piece of the jigsaw: my Stars’ n Bars, made specially for me by the owner of my LBS. With those for fuel, 500km should be no trouble!

Carambolage!

I love watching cycling but I hate seeing anyone fall, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. You see, I’m not too good with blood, mine or anyone else’s, the mere sight of it makes me feel very faint. I go green, need to put my head between my knees and take great gulps of oxygen. This is somewhat unfortunate as I generally give the impression that I’m someone you could rely upon in an emergency and I am, providing there’s no blood or tangled limbs.

One of the participants in the recent Brevet Kivilev came to grief on the run in to the finish. He was cut up by a car coming in the opposite direction and ended up leaving vast swathes of skin on the road. Worryingly, as he was lying in 3rd position, he was just behind the lead car and two motorcycle outriders, the former bearing a large sign saying ” Take Care Cyclists” which must have been totally ignored by the oncoming vehicle. Calling upon his paramedic skills, M le President bandaged him up before sending him to outpatients.

Another local rider and M le President both came to grief this week end. While neither broke anything, they seem to have cornered the market in sticky plaster, both suffering severe road rash and contusions to their right sides.  I was called upon to sympathise and inspect their various war wounds, fortunately well after the event.

Yesterday, there was a huge pile-up in the sprint for the line in the Tour of Switzerland. Cavendish swerved into Haussler, taking them both down, and then the riders behind piled into them. There was a picture of the event in today’s L’Equipe and you can see the looks of dawning horror on the faces of the riders behind Cav and Haussler as they comprehend exactly what is about to befall them.  As someone who has a significant amount of experience of falling off things, I can confirm that it’s best to be first. Generally, one minute you’re where you’re supposed to be and the next minute you’re on the ground. Often without knowing how you’ve gotten there because it’s all happened so quickly: no time to react. The problem with knowing what’s about to happen is that you naturally tense and try, generally in vain, to take evasive action. In addition, the whole thing seems to happen in slow motion. The end result is generally worse injuries than those that caused the incident: and so it was.