7-year itch

Yesterday was pretty blissful. My beloved and I rose late, largely thanks to the clocks going forward and his tardy arrival back into Nice the night before. We breakfasted, dressed, mounted our bikes and headed for that morning’s pointage, just up the road in St Paul de Vence. The sky was overcast and it was obviously going to rain at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

We enjoyed our ride before collecting the newspapers and heading for home. Narrowly avoiding the rain, which fell all afternoon, evening and overnight. After lunch, I settled down on the sofa (suitably attired) to enjoy the newspapers and a veritable smorgasbord of cycling.

Up first was all three stages of the Criterium International, or Jens Voigt Invitational as it’s more commonly known. As if by magic, guess who was a sole breakaway on  stage 1? None other than Jens himself, putting the hurt on the other teams and paving the way for Frank Schleck’s (Leopard Trek) win atop L’Ospedale, ahead of Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). My beloved and I know this area well having ridden around here on a trip with the cycling club. Stage 2’s 75km sprint stage was won by  Skil-Shimano’s Simon Geschke, his first pro-win, while Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack) won the 7km time-trial around Porto Vecchio. The results of those subsequent stages left the podium unchanged.

Next up was Gent-Wevelgem, shorn of Fabulous Fabian, but still choc full of talent vying for the win and those valuable UCI points. Allegedly, Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was left to watch yesterday’s win on the television so that he could better perform today and “justify his salary” so-said his manager, Patrick Lefevre. As the television coverage started, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was leading a small group of escapees, validating beyond any shadow of a doubt his team’s invitation.

After Voeckler was re-absorbed into the peloton, various attacks were launched and brought back, the last one just a few hundred kilometers before the finish. The narrow, twisting, farm roads had snapped the peloton into several bunches, but the main contenders barr Goss, Cavendish, Hushovd and Pozzato were in the leading group which sprinted for the line. Boonen powered past everyone to snatch victory, 7 years after his last win here in 2004. Danieli Bennati (Leopard Trek) was 2nd and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) finished 3rd.

To win in the Classics, you need legs, luck and good positioning. Boonen had endured a long wait for the team car after a problem at the foot of the Monteberg, 74km from the finish, before expending not inconsiderable energy chasing back to the front of the peloton. While the manner of his victory was quite different from that of Cancellara’s, it will have boosted his confidence ahead of next week’s Tour of Flanders.

We then watched video highlights of the final day’s stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya won by the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, his 2nd stage win. Collecting not only precious UCI points for his team Cofidis, but also justifying their invitation to the event. The overall was won by Contador who had assumed the lead after Wednesday’s queen stage. If anything, his popularity in Spain, where he’s perceived as being victimised, has grown as the doping case has progressed. If I were Pat McQuaid, I would eliminate Spain from my immediate travel plans.

Finally, we caught up with the last day’s action from the track World Championships where Australia have dominated and others have disappointed. Sated, we opted for an early night. All that cycling’s exhausting.

Hot and steamy

The current weather is putting me very much in mind of an old film noire by Laurence Kasdan. Called Body Heat, it was set in  a sultry Miami and  featured Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. I distinctly recall one scene where, thanks to ever-soaring mercury, they both got into an ice cube filled bath to cool down.

Sadly, my beloved and I will not be able to similarly indulge. I have only a small jacuzzi in my bathroom which is (deliberately) far too small for him, lest he ever be tempted to use it. While he has only an all singing, all dancing shower in his bathroom.  The bath in the guest bathroom is also too small for two. Yes, separate bathrooms lead to everlasting marital bliss.

However, after a  hot and sticky ride there’s nothing better than a soak in cold water. I’ve refrained from adding ice cubes. I’ve seen pictures of the Tour riders chilling out after a stage in what at first appears to be children’s paddling pools. In addition, during recent stages, they’ve resorted to ice on their helmets and pouring loads of water over themselves to cool down.

With the peloton looking for a little rest and recuperation after the Alps, and before the Pyrenees, Wednesday was the perfect opportunity for a rider, sitting well back on GC, to get in a breakaway, stay away and win the stage. As it was Bastille Day it should by rights have been a French rider but, with three stage wins, two days in yellow and the spotty jersey, the French aren’t faring too badly.

The early escapees, including a couple of Frenchmen,  built up a commanding lead but 14kms out they attacked one another leaving Sergio Paulinho (Radioshack) and Vasili Kiryienka (Caisse d’Epargne) to fight it out. Fortune, and a successful background in track sprinting, surely favoured the Belorussian, but the wily Portuguese won stage 11 by a whisker.

On the run in to Gap, Wednesday’s stage passed over the same roads where, in 2003, Joseba Beloki (ONCE) in hot pursuit of Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) fell heavily, thanks to a melting road surface. Beloki was left screaming in agony from his injuries, while Armstrong (US Postal) avoided crashing  by riding across a field to regain the road. This remains one of the worst falls I have ever seen.

Thursday’s stage 11  was one for the sprinters and the escapees, including Stephan Auge, without whom surely no echapee is complete, were pulled back by the sprinters’ teams well before the finish. Riding into cross-winds,  Saxo Bank tried to force a split in the peloton and distance Bert who was riding in the middle of the bunch, seemingly on his lonesome. Cue one Alexandre Vinokourov to the rescue. He led Alberto back to safety near the head of the peloton.

Of course, yesterday’s big talking point was Mark Renshaw’s expulsion from the Tour following a head-butting incident with Julian Dean in the final dash for the line. A hat-trick for Cavendish, while Garmin-Transitions were initially left fuming at Renshaw’s treatment of both Julian Dean and Tyler Farrar. Having viewed the footage, I feel Renshaw was too harshly treated while Dean seems to have gotten off lightly.

A cast of thousands (ok, only 18)  finally escaped  on today’s stage 12 but never built up too commanding a lead. Indeed, most were taken back by the peloton before the final climb of the day, a wicked 3km at an average of 10%.  That man Vinokourov distanced  the other three remaining escapees and seemed to be heading for a stage win but was overhauled before the top of the climb by Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador. The latter seized an opportunity to put 10 seconds into Andy Schleck but, more importantly, struck a  psychological blow. The former took his maiden win, on his maiden Tour, outsprinting the latter.

Meanwhile, it’s been hard keeping track of the green jersey which has been hopping from the shoulders of Alessandro Petacchi to Thor Hushovd and back again. Thor got into today’s breakaway, grabbed the intermediate sprint points and put some daylight between himself and Ale-jet. Similarly, the spotted jersey has been swapping daily between Jerome Pineau and Antony Charteau. It’s now in the possession of the latter.

The heavens opened after today’s stage so temperatures may be cooler tomorrow, or not.