Stick to your knitting

On Friday evening I indulged my two great sporting passions football and cycling.

LeGrandMinvite

Velo Magazine had assembled two teams of cyclists for what they called the inaugural “Le Grand Match” in Nice which coincided with the announcement of the Velo d’Or prize winners.

LesBluesCupcake

The boys had arrived well before kick-off so that they could warm up and familiarise themselves with their team-mates and have their photos taken with local racers, including my “little cup-cake” (second from left).

RahBou

Prior to the start, the Velo d’Or prizes were presented to “Best French Rider” Jean-Christophe Peraud, who fought off stiff opposition from Julien Absalon and Pauline Ferand-Prevot to succeed his team-mate Christophe Riblon – coincidentally playing in goal for Les Bleus. Best Junior was Rayane Bouhanni, the younger, taller and – it has to be said – better looking brother of Nacer Bouhanni, the latter also turning out for Les Bleus.

No expense had been spared. Les Bleus and the “Rest of the World” teams filed onto the pitch hand in hand with their mascots, children from local cycling clubs. Someone obviously had a bit of a sense of humour as both the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin and Bryan Coquard had mascots who towered above them. Each of the players had their names writ large on the back of their blue or red football shirts.

LeGrandMatch

After being presented to the crowd of largely local cyclists and the great and the good in cycling in the region, we sang “Nissa La Bella,” the anthem of local club OGC Nice, and play got underway. The boys got an “A” for effort and clearly more than national pride was at stake but by half-time Les Bleus led easily 3-1 after impressive goals from  Thibaut Pinot, Remi di Gregorio and Nacer Bouhanni.

Urgent action was needed in the second half and the trainer for the reds, Oscar Pereiro, took to the field. You may recall that after retiring from cycling, Oscar played  football for a third division side in Spain. He has a nifty pair of feet.

PereiroHis play proved decisive and the rest of the world mounted a stout defence finishing 5-4 down at the final whistle. National honour was preserved and a good time was had by all.

Winners

When I interview riders I often enquire whether they’ve played any other sports and I’ve discovered scratch golfers, artistic ice-skaters, ice-hockey and tennis players and quite a few footballers. In truth, their attitude and competitive spirit serves them well in whatever sport they choose to pursue. But I was impressed with the play from FDJ, particularly Pinot, Bouhanni and Vichot. I learnt later that another of the French team, Jerome Pineau, had a trial at FC Nantes.

After the match Velo magazine put on a splendid spread for the players and guests and I took the opportunity to chat to a number of the players, including Europcar’s Dan Craven who had played for the rest of the world. He agreed he wasn’t one of their star players and I ventured to suggest that he might be happier with an oval ball. But no, it appears he’s much more content with pedals.

It was a great idea from Velo Magazine and I hope they do it again next year and I’m sure the participants would agree with me.

Les Bleus: Riblon – C Pineau, Blain, Cherel, Chainel, Di Gregorio, Soupe, J Pineau (c), Vichot Subs: Engoulvent, Reza, Corbel, Coquard, Dumoulin, Jurdie

Rest of the World: Fumeaux – Hutarovich, Craven, Baggio, Rebellin, Guttierez, Gatto, Agnoli, Capecchi, Van Avermaet, Nuyens (c) Subs: Van Hecke, Siskevicius, Camano, Pereiro

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.

Omnipresent

A headline in last week end’s Nice Matin caught my eye “je ne suis pas prete pour le cyclotourisme”. This was said by Jeannie Longo in a recent, frank  interview on the occasion of her 52nd birthday. I, for one, am delighted. It’s bad enough having to compete with the one or two local riders who fall into my age group without adding Jeannie into the mix. 

Always a winner

I have an enormous amount of admiration for this lady who is head and shoulders “France’s greatest ever cyclist” of either sex. Just look at her impressive palmares: 4 Olympic medals in 7 participations, 13 World Championships, 57 French titles, 3 Tours de France  and those are just the highlights! On the two occasions I have encountered her this year she has been generous with her time, modest to a fault and very encouraging of younger cyclists.

She puts her longevity down to her ability to adapt. I would put it down  her mental fortitude, professionalism and will to win. She also gives a few tips on how she maintains her svelte frame at 43 kilos: plenty of “Bio” fruit and vegetables and only whole grain bread spread with unpasteurised butter. I’ve taken note.

Interestingly, she cites Cancellara as her favourite sports person. He’s not just Jeannie’s. This year, for the first time, he was awarded the prestigious Velo d’Or, although he has podiumed for the last four years. This trophy is presented by French magazine Velo to the outstanding cyclist of the season based on votes cast by an international jury of journalists. It’s an award that tends to favour Grand Tour winners. The last Classics riders to win it were Bettini in 2006 and Boonen in 2005, who also combined Classics wins with  rainbow jerseys.

Contador had won the Velo d’Or for the last three successive years but, this year, after recent revelations, finds himself in 2nd place, well down on Cancellara. In third place was Andy Schleck, who also picked up the award for best young rider.  Obviously, 2nd, or even maybe 1st, in the Tour tops Nibali’s 3rd in the Giro and 1st in the Vuelta. The award for the best French rider went to the ever-smiling Tommy Voeckler, just pipping French housewives’ favourite, Sylvain Chavanel. Velo do not have an equivalent award for the ladies. If they did, Jeannie would easily have won it the most number of times.

Due to some administrative oversight, Velo did not canvass my opinion in this year’s competition. However, I’m broadly in agreement with the results, save my top three would have been: 1. Fabulous Fabian, 2. Vicenzo Nibali, 3. Andy Schleck. This preference would be reflected in my podium for best young rider: 1. Vicenzo Nibali, 2. Andy Schleck, 3. Mark Cavendish. My favourite Frenchman would have been Davide Moncoutie (sorry Tommy!).

Many nations seem to have awards for their top cyclists of the season. Here’s my guess on who should get what, where:-

  • Belgium – Phil Gil
  • Holland – Gesink
  • Spain – Hot Rod
  • Italy – Nibali
  • Norway – Hushovd
  • Denmark – Breschel
  • Sweden – Larsson
  • Finland – Veikkonen
  • Britain – Cavendish
  • USA – Phinney
  • Canada – Hesjedal
  • Ireland – Martin D
  • Kazakhstan – Vino
  • Columbia – Duque
  • Portugal – Machado
  • Russia – Menchov
  • Australia – Evans
  • Luxembourg – Schleck Jr
  • Switzerland – Fabulous Fabian
  • Germany – No one, cycling has been banished from the public conscience, but it should be Greipel
  • Japan – Arashiro
  • Czech Republic – Kreuziger
  • Slovakia – Sagan
  • Estonia – Taaramae
  • Austria – Eisel
  • Poland – Niemiec
  • Ukraine – Grivko

Apologies, I was starting to get carried away there but this is only reflective of the sport’s globalisation. I’m aware that I’ve made no distinction between older and younger riders and I’ve omitted numerous countries, but c’est la vie.

While the cat’s away…………………

I’ve been away for less than a week but a lot has happened in that time. On the football front, my team, the team that beat Chelsea and Liverpool, drew with Wolves at the week end – unbelievable, but true. More shocking and equally unbelievable, the team that beat Liverpool in the Champions League, Olympique Lyonnais, lost 4-1 away at OGC Nice.

Alberto “Big Brown Eyes” Contador won a 3rd consecutive Velo d’Or – who else were they going to give it to? Many will assume it was for his Tour win but I suspect it was really for standing up to Lance – a real crowd pleaser with the French.  

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen says his counseling is going well. Glad to hear it Tom particularly as you’re now off the bike, on vacation and again at a bit of a loose end.

A number of Pro-Tour teams, including Astana, didn’t have all their paperwork ready by 20 October. Have you seen the dossier that needs to be completed for the UCI? I have and therefore quite understand. I don’t imagine that the riders on the affected teams (Sky, Euskatel, Caisse d’Epargne, Astana and Saxo Bank) will be looking for new homes anytime soon and I’m sure their paperwork will shortly be in apple pie order.

Sebastien Loeb wrapped up a 6th consecutive World Rally Championship while Valentino Rossi won his 7th Moto GP World Championship.

More shocking news: I came home to find the flat relatively clean and tidy. My husband had been using the vacuum. He’d obviously been a bit bored while I was gone. Maybe, that’s the solution to keep Tom out of trouble – housework!