Creamed but never crackered

There are two things I absolutely love doing: anything to do with cycling and ditto cooking. Ahead of today’s Gentlemen, I’ve been whipping up a few cakes to satisfy the hoards.  In theory, it’s only around 150 cyclists and 20 or so volunteers. In practise it’s more as a lot of clubs will just happen to pass by the feedzone as part of their Sunday club ride. They’ll claim it’s to check on how their clubmates are faring. But no one’s fooled. It’s to sample my cakes.

Cyclists here don’t have the same “coffee and cake” culture as in countries such as UK, US and Australia. They don’t need to stop and buy anything as it’s freely provided as part of the Sunday club ride. To be fair most clubs buy the cheapest cakes from the supermarket, typically madeira, ginger or fruit and serve them with a selection of biscuits, dried fruit and chocolate. My club’s USP is my home-made cakes. Because they’re so much nicer than supermarket ones, people, not unnaturally eat more. Some have been known to try a piece of each!

Yesterday’s treat was a day out, on my own, in Sanremo to watch the thrilling finale of Milano-Sanremo. I like to drive over early, find a convenient and non-paying parking spot – see, I’m becoming very French – buy La Gazzetta dello Sport and settle down with a coffee to read what the pink pages have to say about the race. One of the things I love about cycling is its unpredictability. The Italian bookies had Cavendish as their favourite while Gazzetta mused that everyone would be riding to prevent him winning.

I then had a pleasurable stroll around the shops and indulged in a spot of window shopping before taking up my position. It was windy so I was keen to find a place which afforded me shelter while still letting me enjoy the sunshine. I opted for the large screen after the finish and right next to the podium which was also opposite Rai’s studio – a grandstand seat.

The pictures rolled and on the ascent of La Manie, Mark Cavendish (Sky) was almost immediately in difficulties. Word reached the front of the peloton who upped the tempo and distanced Cav. Faithful lieutenant Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel was sent back to keep him company while Team Sky deployed Plan B: Edvald Boassen Hagen. Queue the sound of money jingling in the bookies’ tills.

We all had a bit of a heart stopping moment when the cameras alighted on a bunch of paramedics tending to an unseen fallen rider, on the descent of La Manie, who was later identified as the Columbian Carlos Quintero riding for Columbia-Coldeportes. Luckily he suffered only concussion and a broken collarbone but it had worryingly looked much more serious on the screen with active imaginations working overtime.

The early breakaway group of nine riders, including the first Chinese rider to compete in this event Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i), which at one time had an advantage of around 13 minutes, were taken back on the Capo Berta with about 60km remaining.

The hopes of a number of favourites were dashed by falls. The King of Belgium, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was taken out of contention on the Cipressa while his predecessor to both the Belgian championship and crown, Tom Boonen (OPQS) was hindered on the descent of the Poggio. A couple of moves did go according to plan. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) launched two unsuccessful attacks, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) bridged across to what proved to be the winning attack of Aussi-champ Simon Gerrans  (GreenEDGE) and Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas) just before the summit of the Poggio.

Now, if you’re going to follow anyone downhill, it might as well be either Fabian or Nibali. Gerrans was in great company. Cancellara opened a bit of a gap by the time the reached the bottom of the descent and was starting to motor away. But Gerrans, knew what to do. He gave chase. This is where the script changes. Instead of Fabian leaving the two original attackers trailing in his wake, Gerrans worked hard to get back onto his wheel.

Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)
Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

To give Fabian his due, he continued to motor towards the finish when lesser riders might have quailed at the prospect of allowing the other two to ride his coat tails. Had he not done so, the trio would have been swamped by the peloton and the win would have been fought out by Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. Instead, the three in-form riders headed to the finish line and Simon Gerrans had the smarts to ambush Fabian and take the win, making it successive wins for Australia.

I was then courtesy of my position, treated to a grandstand view of the podium. I would have taken a photo had the battery not already run flat in my phone. It seems to last no more than six hours tops. There’s nothing else for it, I’m going to take a trip to Orange hell to sort it. I skipped away and back to the car, handily placed to get back onto the motorway ahead of all the peloton’s cavalcade of motorised transport and most of the other spectators. It had been a great day out.

Viva La Vuelta VI

My beloved is currently sitting on a plane on the runway of an airport to which his plane has been diverted. He’s had a long day having flown back from Japan via Vienna. He was looking forward to having dinner with me and an early night. Both options now out of the question. After a fruitless wait at the airport, I’ve returned home. Either they’ll bus him back to Nice, a journey of at least 3 hours plus however long it takes to organise the coach. Alternatively, they may fly him back. The latter is less likely as those promised storms have arrived. Will he get back home this evening? We’ll just have to wait and see.

More importantly, the BIG question on everyone’s lips, can Wiggo win? Yesterday, today and tomorrow hold the key to that question. He’s safely navigated two out of three difficult days. Yesterday, Liquigas’s defending champion, Vicenzo Nibali, sneaked a 6 second bonus by taking the first intermediate sprint to go 2nd on GC while the stage was won by contract seeking, HTC’s Michael Albsini. It was the 30-year old’s first GT win. Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, holder of the combined jersey, was another who took back time, rising on GC to 9th. In addition, Cofidis’s David Moncoutie garnered sufficient points to pull on the spotted jersey.

Not for the faint hearted

Out of Galicia and into Asturia, Stage 14’s lumpy 173kms culminated in Lagos de Somiedo, a tough climb, particularly the final 5kms. The stage was won by fellow Cote d’Azur resident, the baby-faced Estonian, Rein Taaramae, who rides for Cofidis. It was his maiden GT win and his first win since 2009.

Back in the leading group, the attacks were coming thick and fast on the slopes of the final climb but Wiggo was tranquillo. Aided by the faithful Froome he turned up the pace and riders were shelled out the back like peas in a pod: Moreno, Rodriguez, Nibali, Kessiakoff……………… By the end of the stage, Sky were firmly occupying first and second places again while others were slip, sliding down the GC.

Here’s the top 20 General classification after stage 14:-

 
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 55:54:45
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
4 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:00:55
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:58
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:01:23
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
8 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:37
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:16
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:24
11 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
12 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:11
13 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:03:23
14 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:30
15 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:32
16 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:03:43
17 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:12
18 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:04:17
19 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:04:40
20 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:05:19

Viva La Vuelta III

I rode with my coach yesterday morning; always a pleasure never a chore. Despite choosing a route with plenty of shade, it was extremely warm, particularly towards midday. These are the (only) times when you actively seek out a head wind but, as soon as it’s a tail wind, you can really feel the temperature. Yesterday’s exercises included bruising 20 seconds sprint intervals followed by an all too brief 20 seconds respite. The idea is to start at a reasonable pace, then build the speed and intensity until the few final sprints, where you’re aiming for close to maximum heart rate. I achieved this with ease. I wasn’t quite seeing stars, just almost.

On reaching Pont sur Loup, the choice was either to head up to Bar sur Loup before returning by way of Vallon Rouge or to return via Tourettes sur Loup. I chose the former, fearing I might be tempted to leap into the water trough if I took the latter route. My coach, who never normally sheds a bead of sweat when riding with me, opted for a cooling dip in the sea before heading on home. To be fair, he had been training with some of his marathon runners for an hour or two before riding on over to meet me.

I slipped out early for today’s recovery ride and had a quick dip in the pool on my way back before checking on the progress of the club’s walking/hobbling and wheel-chair bound wounded. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve not been having a good season with respect to injuries, on and off the bike. However, we’ve fared better than one local club who’ve had two recent fatalities.

Neither a dip in the sea or a cool fountain have been on offer to the riders in the Vuelta where the temperatures are, on average, 10 degrees higher than here. The landscape through which they’ve been riding is dry and parched, dotted here and there with with cool turquoise jewels aka swimming pools. I’m surprised no one has slipped off for a quick swim or maybe they have, hence the large time differences. While almost everyone, except maybe burly Belgians, prefers to ride in the warm sunshine, these very high temperatures are taking their toll on some of the riders.

Igor Anton, a man more used to the temperate climes of the Basque country, is quietly suffering at the back of the main bunch, conceding time here and there. Is it the weather? He certainly isn’t in the same form as he was last year, but why not? Frankly, we don’t know and can only conjecture. Meanwhile, both Joaquim Rodriguez and defending champion Vincenzi Nibali look in great shape and are riding with  purpose and confidence. As is Bradley Wiggins whom I have on very good authority is in the form of his life and weighs the same as when he was 16! I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him. The same source said that Frandy are going to be training on the Cote d’Azur this winter. Never mind the hills boys, practise your downhill skills and time-trialling.

Yesterday we saw Joaquin Rodriguez charging up that final 27% ramp, followed by Vacansoleil’s Grand Tour rookie Wout Poels trailed by  Katusha team mate Daniel Moreno, at the same speed I tackle 7% (yes, really).  JRod had been overhauled on the same finish last year by firstly Igor Anton and then Vicenzo Nibali. This year he showed he’d learnt his lesson well and impeccably timed his effort and used Moreno to good effect. Having bombed with their 100% Russian squad in the Tour, Katusha are looking the business with the inclusion of their Spanish riders for the Vuelta.

I was willing on David Moncoutie but his downhilling skills let him down. The Vuelta handily advises us from time to time of the riders’ speeds and the gradient. He was descending on a wide, non-technical, road with a great surface at between 60-75kph. Even I would have taken him on that descent, let alone the professional peloton who easily gobbled him up on the final ascent. As this might be his last year as a professional, I hope he manages to bag the King of the Mountains for a 4th successive time. He collected more points in that quest today.

Despite suffering in the heat, and helping Chavanel to defend the red leader’s jersey, Quickstep’s Boonen was looking to win today’s stage into Cordoba. I don’t think so Tom, I fancy a somewhat punchier rider for the finish. Today the final descent proved decisive, with the Liquigas boys in lime-green swooping down at 89kph: that’s more like it. Veteran Pablo Lastras threatened to spoil the party and steal the 20 seconds bonus so Vuelta babe Peter Sagan crossed the line (much to Nibali’s chagrin) to take his first (of many) Grand Tour win ahead of Lastras and team mate Agnoli, leaving Nibali sans bonus seconds. Chavanel clings onto the jersey for another day.

GC now looks like this:-

General classification after stage 6
# Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 22:41:13
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:15
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:16
4 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:23
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:25
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:41
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:44
8 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:49
9 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:52
11 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:53
12 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:57
13 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
14 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:00
15 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:01
16 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:05
17 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:13
18 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:21
19 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
20 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:26
21 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:01:43
22 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:50
23 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:53
24 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:58
25 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:13
26 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:15
27 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
28 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:34
29 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:41
30 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:02:44

Viva La Vuelta II

I’m currently enjoying a heat wave. Probably not ideal climatic conditions for cycling, just ask Mark Cavendish if you don’t believe me. To be fair, Spain is even hotter than here. When I say here, I don’t actually mean just here, I mean the whole of Southern France. Typically, temperatures reach low 30sC during August and start to tail off toward the end of the month. Instead, it’s gotten hotter. I’ve spent the past few days in Aix-en-Provence but as it’s inland it was even hotter than here. Now I do mean just here. Very pleasant it was too.

The combination of the trip and the heat does not account for my recent lack of blogging, no that was occasioned by my beloved demanding my translation services. I had to translate his most recent presentation into French. It was somewhat technical and not even my large Petit Robert could cope. I dropped him off at Marseille airport late this afternoon on my way home, he’s not due back until Friday evening. This will give me enough time to cook the club’s books, I mean prepare the latest accounts.

I like cycling when it’s warm but, when the temperature soars, I have problems with my feet overheating and managing my hydration. I’m sitting here now thinking about a cold shower before bed while admiring the firework display in Cannes from the office window. It’s also giving me an opportunity to reflect on the first few days of the Vuelta. Oh yes, I may have been away but I would never book a hotel that didn’t give me access to televised cycling. At home I watch it on the Spanish channel but ,while I’ve been away, I’ve had to make do with German Eurosport where the commentary is rather more prosaic and far less excitable.

It’s been a rather curious start. The team time trial in Benidorm threw up some unexpected results largely due to mechanicals, falls and the technical nature of the course. Teams which one might have expected to feature in the top 5, such as Garmin-Cervelo, Team Sky and Radioshack didn’t and Euskaltel-Euskadi fared way better than anyone could have hoped for: 12th. All those team practice sessions paid dividends for the boys in orange. The red leader’s jersey passed from defending champion, Liquigas’s Vicenzo Nibali to Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang.

Sunday’s stage from La Nucia to Playas de Orihuela, with it’s uphill sprint for the line, was a face saver for Team Sky: 20th Saturday, on the podium Sunday with Chris Sutton. Great performance in front of the only audience that counts: his Mum.  Fuglsang passed the red leader’s jersey to team mate, Daniele Bennati. Yesterday, the veteran Pablo Lastras (Movistar), one of the day’s breakaways,  gave  the most extravagent finishing line salutes in Totana I’ve ever seen to dedicate his win to the late Messrs Tondo and Weylandt and, still recovering, team mate Soler. He topped the podium and took over the leader’s red jersey.

Another day, another stage this time atop the Sierra Nevada today after a 23km slog uphill. Nothing too taxing but in this heat a number were starting to wilt. Cavendish abandonned. Lastras and Euskaltel’s Igor Anton found it hard to keep pace with the leading pack. Today’s chancer was Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, who was let off the leash by team leader, Joaquim Rodriguez, while most of the leading contenders were watching and waiting. The red jersey ended up on the shoulders of Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel who finished 2nd yesterday and heroically almost kept pace with the leading contenders today. Will anyone manage to hang onto the jersey for more than a day? Given that the action is largely in the first two weeks, maybe “not yet” is the answer to that question.

We’ve only just started and already a number of fancied (but not by me) riders are out of the running: Tony Martin +32:55, Andreas Kloden +31:28, Peter Sagan +24:54 and Rein Taaramae +17:56. Here’s the current top 30, the winner’s in here:-

General classification after stage 4
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 13:19:09
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:43
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:49
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:53
6 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:00:58
7 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:59
8 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:03
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team
10 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:01:04
11 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:06
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:07
13 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:14
14 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:17
15 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:18
16 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack
17 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:19
18 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
19 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:01:21
20 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:31
21 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
22 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:32
23 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:39
24 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack
25 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:52
26 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:11
27 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:20
28 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
29 Ruslan Pydgornyy (Ukr) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
30 Davide Malacarne (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:02:24

Garibaldi’s Giro VII

It’s perhaps only fitting that on the Giro’s rest day I quickly reflect on the 3 day festival of pain and suffering the riders have just endured. Frankly, it was pretty exhausting just watching, let alone riding: long days in the saddle, lots and lots of tough climbs and dramatically different climatic conditions from start to finish. Despite some spirited opposition, Contador has a lock on the maglia rosa which only TAS can retrospectively wrest from his grasp. However, the other two podium places are still up for grabs and will be hotly contested in the coming days starting in tomorrow’s uphill time-trial.

Contador’s not the only Spaniard, or should that be Spanish speaker, with a smile on his face. Together for 17 years, 5 participations in the Giro and no wins summed up Euskaltel-Euskadi’s record before Anton’s ascent of the Zoncolan. Mind you, only a very small rider was going to be able to squeeze through those crowds. The place was positively heaving. Of course, it might easily have been Rujano, who is showing signs of a return to his 2005 form, but he was fatigued after his (gifted) win on stage 13. Fortunately, he had recovered sufficiently by Sunday to repay the favour and give Alberto a bit of a helping hand. Then, just like buses, along comes another win for Euskaltel with Mikel Nieve in the queen stage (15) atop Val di Fassa. Oh, weren’t they the team that shared the work load with Saxobank on Friday? What goes around, comes around.

Honourable mentions, IMHO, should also go to:-

  • Stefano Garzelli who won the Cima Coppi (first over highest point) and a shed load of mountain points.
  • Johnny Hoogerland for another of his seemingly fruitless, but nonetheless entertaining, solo escapes.
  • Robert Kiserlovski for grinning and baring broken teeth to follow Martinelli’s orders, to the letter.
  • John Gadret, the best placed Frenchman, in 4th place.
  • Michele Scarponi for daring to attack.
  • Vicenzo Nibali for his virtuoso, dare-devil descending.

Finally, I was saddened to learn of Xavier Tondo’s demise in what’s been reported as a bizarre accident with his garage door. My condolences to his family, friends and team mates.

Super Sunday

I seem to have spent the week end unsuccessfully dodging cloud bursts. Having decided to skip yesterday’s La Vencoise we enjoyed a lengthy ride along the coast, arriving home just after the rain started. Meanwhile, the 400 riders who started La Vencoise enjoyed mixed fortunes. If you were a fast rider, the weather didn’t trouble you too much. If you weren’t so fast, you experienced fog, hail and chilly conditions. We all know what would have happened to me, don’t we?

Today started brightly enough. I decided to ride with the club to the pointage in Menton but ended up dropping back to keep a potential new member company. He was clearly struggling and, after a short chat with him, I reached the conclusion that we weren’t the club for him. No, if you want companionable rides at a leisurely pace, club mates who wait for you and with whom you can enjoy a cup of coffee, you need to join a neighbouring club. He thanked me for my advice and, since he was finding it difficult to hold my wheel (yes, really), decided to turn around. I rode on alone, enjoying the sunshine and the silence. I passed Phil Gil at Cap d’Ail, clearly awaiting his riding companions. He gave me a cheery wave. He’s such a nice bloke.

On the way back, having already been soaked by a cloudburst in Monaco, I popped into to see how my friend, who was knocked off his bike last Sunday, was faring. He’s putting a brave face on things but clearly finding the inactivity testing. He’s got to wear a corset for 45 days to protect his broken vertebrae. I volunteered to take him to his hospital appointments this week. He was proposing to go on the bus. I was having none of it. As I left, the heavens opened once more. The rain abated as I approached Nice only to start falling again just before I reached home. My beloved had gone to a business meeting in Menton so I could enjoy a leisurely hot shower before slipping into something comfortable and reposing on the sofa to watch a packed afternoon of sporting action: Monster Energy Moto GP from Le Mans, the Giro d’Italia from the slopes of Mount Etna and Arsenal v Villa.

Nico Terol’s domination of this season’s 125cc ended on the final corner of the final lap of the Le Mans circuit after jousting with a 16-year old called Maverick Vinales (what a brilliant name) who didn’t look old enough to be out without his Mum, let alone ride a bike. In fact he was too young to be given a bottle of champers on the podium – very responsible of the organisers. Efren Vazquez rounded out the podium.  Reigning 125cc champion Marc Marquez finally managed to finish a Moto2 race, without crashing, to take his maiden win in this class. He worked his way through the field to take the lead from Thomas Luthi with 5 laps to go. Takahashi was 3rd with current championship leader Stefan Bradl in 3rd place. Bradl’s closest rival for the championship, Iannone crashed on the first lap.

In the blue-riband event, the fireworks started in the warm up lap. Pole position holder, Casey Stoner, had a dust up with Randy de Puniet which earned him a Euros 5,000 fine. Meanwhile, Jorge Lorenzo’s first bike went up in flames, literally. Initially, Stoner was overtaken by his front-row companions, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso but he clawed his way back into the lead after 2 1/2 laps and stayed there to finish a massive 14 seconds ahead of everyone else and record his second win of the season. Watch out Jorge, he’s closing the gap. Meanwhile, all the action happened way behind his back. Pedrosa clashed with Marco Simoncelli on lap 17, who was pushing him for 2nd place. Dani crashed, breaking his right collarbone. He’s only just recovering from an operation to resolve issues with his broken left collarbone. Simoncelli was given a ride-through penalty leaving a 3-way fight  between Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Rossi for the remaining podium places. Lorenzo ran wide with 3 laps remaining and finished 4th. Rossi couldn’t get past Dovi who finished 2nd. This is Rossi’s first podium of the season, and his 175th in all classes,I’m sure it won’t be his last.

On yesterday’s stage, allegedly one for the sprinters, neither Alberto Contador (SaxoBank) nor Oscar Gatto (Farnese) had read the script. I couldn’t resist coming up with a red top headline “Contador catches competition catnapping”. Those among you who are linguistically gifted will know that “gatto” is Italian for cat. As a consequence of his second place, Alberto gained 17 seconds, setting the stage for today’s ride up Mount Etna on Nibali’s home turf. Fireworks were anticipated but it looked as if we were going to get just a damp squib. The diminutive Jose Rujano (Androni) who’s never, ever going to make into that hallowed group of riders who weigh more than me, however much I lose, had set off towards the summit. Everyone was seemingly happy to let him go. Not so Alberto, who rocketed up the slope with 7km to go. Scarponi tried to give chase but blew up. The others took turns in trying to chase him down but to little avail.  Having reached Rujano it took Bert three fierce attacks to dislodge him from his back wheel. Alberto took his maiden Giro stage, the pink jersey and the plaudits. Nibali is now 81 seconds down.

My beloved boys in claret and blue took advantage of Arsenal’s defensive frailties to win 2-1 at the Emirates. The money paid for Darren Bent, who scored both of Villa’s goals, is looking like money well spent. But I have to ask, boys why couldn’t you play like that for the entire season? Danger averted. Not so for OGCN who lost a 6-pointer 3-0 away at Nancy.

Mundane

The past few days have followed a similar pattern. I have risen early, done my household chores and then gone for a short ride to turn the legs over. Afternoons have been spent watching the Giro,  baking, ironing and completing tasks on my Kivilev “to do” list. Not for nothing am I the mistress of multi-tasking. As ever, I find it easier to achieve more in my beloved’s absence. He’s due back this evening from an exhibition in Montpelier. Weather permitting, tomorrow we’ll ride the shorter course of La Vencoise.

I thought Tuesday’s annulled stage, and the demeanor of both the fans and riders, was a fitting tribute to the late Wouter Weylandt. I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan with a lump in her throat as his team mates with his best mate, Tyler Farrar, crossed the finishing line. More importantly, the Giro organisers are treating seriously the riders’ concerns and re-checking the descent of the Monte Crosis.

Wednesday’s stretches of strade bianchi were not well received by some riders. Others, like Vincenzo Nibali, seemed to revel in it. The Shark treated us to a master class in descending although, if he was hoping to rattle Alberto, he was sorely disappointed. Indeed, the favourites have been eyeing one another all week while remaining close to the head of the peloton, uber-protected by their team. This has given a number of riders an opportunity to shine, particularly in the breakaways. Rabobank’s Peter Weening, launching a late attack,  time-trialled into the maillot rose on Wednesday, taking it from the shoulders of Scotland’s David Millar. Yesterday, Lampre’s Ale-jet’s rocket blasters died just before the line, allowing Movistar’s Ventoso to cross the line first. Today neo-pro, and tour virgin, Omega’s Bart de Clercq launched an audacious attack on the final climb and just managed to hang on to bag his first big win. Tomorrow’s one for the sprinters before the action erupts on Etna on Sunday.

This week end sees the Monster Energy French Moto GP from Le Mans. I have been keeping tabs on the practice and qualifying sessions. Casey Stoner has broken Valentino Rossi’s circuit record, twice. Second fastest to date is Marco Simoncelli with Dani Pedrosa in third spot. Moto2’s top threesome are Bradl, Luthi and Corsi while in 125cc class Nico Terol is leading (yet again), from Efren Vasquez and Sandro Cortese. But it could all change tomorrow.

Garibaldi’s Giro IV

Celebrating Garibaldi's Giro

Five, four, three, two, one and they’re away. It’s Omega Pharma-Lotto who kick off this year’s Giro. The team descends the starting ramp, rides out the gate of the Castello della Venaria Reale, 9km north of Turin, and speeds away in line along a road thronged with enthusiastic spectators, enjoying  both the fine weather and the spectacle. The pan-flat route is more technical at the start, challenging the team’s ability to establish a  rhythm, followed by wide straight tree-lined avenues with some 90 degree bends around the old town before ending up on the cobbles.

Route for Stage 1 Team Time-Trial

The key to team time trialling is consistency. Invariably you’ll have riders of differing strengths however you need to maintain a speed which everyone can follow. The more able members of the team take longer pulls on the front. Some teams opt for finishing with as many of the original nine as possible, while others progressively spit out riders, crossing the line with the bare minimum (5). Liquigas employed one rider to ride at the back of the paceline to shepherd rotating team members back into line in front of him – neat trick.

Italian television showcased the delights of Turin, home to Fiat cars, and its beautiful, old town, which I found quite reminiscent of Nice. Well, they were both part of the House of Savoy. The centre of Turin is the large quadrangular area lying between Corso Vittoro Emanuele, Corso Galileo Ferraris (shouldn’t that be Fiat?), Corso Regina Margherita, Corso San Maurizio and the Po river. Roughly bisecting this area is the fashionable via Roma, lined with wide arcades, which connects the main railway station with Piazzo Castello. It’s skyline is dominated by extraordinarily shaped Mole Antonelliana designed by Piedmontese architect Alessandro Antonelli. It started life in 1863 as a synagogue and was completed in 1897 as a monument of Italian unity. As to be expected there’s a via Garibaldi, pedestrianised and lined with 18th century palaces. The via Po, to the east of the centre, is full of funky shops, including many bookshops where you would have expected me to pick up a few cycling books and enjoy an espresso in one of the many fashionable cafes.

Alas, I never made it to Turin and am beginning to feel that all my Giro trips are jinxed. It  started to go downhill on Thursday afternoon at our Commission Kivilev meeting where I raised a number of as yet unresolved issues. Accordingly, I was given the job of sorting these out. I set to with gusto on Thursday evening with a view to leaving early for Turin the following morning. Inevitably, there were people with whom I needed to speak that I couldn’t reach until the following day. By lunchtime, I was still working away. I made an executive decision, I would cancel my hotel room and drive to Turin early on Saturday morning. I’d missed the team presentation, and wouldn’t have so much time to look around Turin, but I would still see the team time-trial. However, without my parking spot in the hotel garage, handily placed for a quick getaway, it was unlikely I would be home in time to collect my beloved from the airport.

The weather was fabulous on Friday so I nipped out for a quick ride over lunch, my path crossing that of Amael Moinard. He was descending fast (ergo I was ascending, more slowly) so we only had time to exchange greetings. I returned home refreshed by my ride and continued with my work. In addition, I was trying to organise a celebratory lunch for our friend who’s just signed a contract with a Pro-tour cycling team. The limiting factor in all such arrangements is the availability of my beloved. I had circulated dates, basically a few Friday, Saturday or Sunday evenings over the coming weeks. I had qualified this by saying, he was also available Sunday lunchtime. Later that afternoon, I received a call to say that everyone could make this Sunday lunchtime.  A few rapid calculations and I realised that something would have to give and it was going to be my trip to Turin.

I planned the menu and wrote out my shopping list. Our friend would be riding the Vuelta, so I went with a Spanish theme: tapas, paella, finishing with the ubiquitous orange-flavoured “flan” with strawberries. We would all be riding on Sunday morning, and our friend’s eldest son was racing, so I went for things which could either be  prepared in advance, or thrown together once everyone had arrived. I shopped early on Saturday morning, preparing in advance as many of the dishes as possible, before settling down to watch the time-trial on the television. I looked enviously at the crowds thronging the route in the sunshine and the hordes of Alpini in their jaunty feathered hats, I should have been there: one day.

Needless to say it was the well-drilled teams who held sway. HTC-High Road were fastest and contrived to put Marco Pinotti, the Italian time-trial champion and hugely popular rider, into the pink jersey. RadioShack, another disciplined team, were second, with Liquigas securing third place.  While the gaps were not, for the most part, significant, it’s still time that has to be won back at some stage. Of the leading contenders, Nibali is the best placed with Scarponi, hot on his heels, at just 2 seconds behind. Lampre arrived into Turin a day early specifically to practise the team time-trial. It paid off.  Contador is 8 secs off Nibali, with Menchov and Sastre at 31 secs and Joaquim Rodriguez at 42 seconds. Euskaltel-Euskadi were the team maglia nera, but team leader Igor Anton has revealed that he’s at the Giro just to hunt for stage wins and not the pink jersey.

Having garnered a large number of brownie points in Saturday’s time-trail, HTC-High Road might have hoped to cash these in on Sunday when Mark Cavendish was pipped on the line into Parma by an in-form Alessandro Petacchi whom they adjudged to have sprinted off his line, not once but thrice. In vain, two stages, two Italian wins: the Giro’s off to a great start.

We watched the action unfold on the screen television in the company of our friend who’s ridden the Giro himself and twice been on winning teams: with Marco Pantani (2002) and with Alberto Contador (2008). It was interesting to hear his observations on the riders, the parcours and the race. As is the case with television commentary, the most brilliantly observed remarks are those from past (or even current) riders who understand intimately the ways and language of the peloton. They add colour, insight and comprehension for the observer. Thus it was with us all gathered around the television after a relaxing and enjoyable lunch.

However, we’re going to have to do it all over again as one couple were missing from the celebration. The husband had been knocked off his bike early on Sunday morning and was under observation in the local hospital for facial and cranial injuries. It’s not serious, just painful, and we all wish him a speedy recovery.

If you’re seeking an excellent summation of the first two stages of the Giro d’Italia, please pop over to www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

Garibaldi’s Giro I

Here’s the route

Next up it’s the Giro which starts on Saturday. Last year’s version was an absorbing contest played out in dreadful climatic conditions. This year, Italy’s grand tour, with its 40 major climbs and 8 summit finishes, will celebrate the 150 years since Italy’s unification. The route has been described as a climber’s nirvana, so expect the winner to weigh substantially less than me. A mountainous parcours is bound to favour riders such as Alberto Contador. With Basso absent, the weight of Italian expectation will fall on Nibali’s young shoulders. Michele Scarponi, who triumphed in the Giro de Trentino, will also be among the fancied home-grown starters along with Italian champ Giovanni Visconti and former winner Stefano Garzelli. Also riding are former Grand Tour winners Menchov and Sastre, and riders with Tour pretensions such as Joaquim Rodriguez, Igor Anton and David Arroyo. One thing for sure, it’s going to be a fiercely contested and thrilling battle.

Leaving aside the favoured riders and teams which have been beautifully summarised in www.thearmchairsportsfan.com,  let’s look instead at the magnificent route and the challenges strewn along the way. The Giro starts in Turin with a 19.3km team time-trial which will favour well-drilled teams such as HTC-High Road, Liquigas, SaxoBank Sungard, Sky and Garmin-Cervelo. It’s likely that one of the sprinters will pull on the pink jersey for Sunday’s 242km ride from Alba to Parma which is one of the few flat stages this year. Sadly, there’ll be no time for truffle hunting or, indeed, any other gastronomic delights.

The next four days I would classify as moderately mountainous during which the GC contenders will be vigilant but discrete.

  • Stage 3’s 178km from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo goes gently up the Passo del Bocco and the Madonna del Grazie, the latter 8km from the finish line.
  • Stage 4’s 208km along the coast from Quarto dei Mille to Livorno goes back over the Passo del Bracco early on and then it’s flat until the Poggio-like bump 10km before the San-Remo like finish.
  • Depending on the weather, the 23km of strade bianchi towards the end of  Stage 5’s lumpy 201km from Piombino to Orvieto could provoke some time gaps. The favourites will all be marking one another.
  • Stage 6’s 195km to Fiuggi Terme along the Apennines is again very lumpy with an uncategorised climb before the descent to the finish.

There’s the first summit finish on Stage 7, 100km from Maddoloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano,  the climb up Monte Taburno will tire the rider’s legs before the final 17km climb which could ensure a bit of a shake out among the favourites. Stage 8’s 214km to Tropea hugs the Tyrrhenian coastline and is perfect for a face off among the sprinters. In honour of the 1908 earthquake victims, Stage 9 is on Nibali’s home territory of Sicily and features two ascents of Mount Etna which the organisers are hoping will provide more than a few sparks. One would anticipate that Nibali will target this stage which might also land him the pink jersey.

After a well-earned rest day, the route heads back up north on Stage 10, 156km from Termoli to Teramo. In theory, it’s another day for the sprinters’ teams. The coastline can be windy, so the favourites will need to ensure that they’re not distanced by breaks in the peloton. Stage 11 features what many feel will be a key battleground with its many peaks providing scope for attacks, particularly among the GC contenders. The 160km stage from Tortoreto Lido inland to Castelfidardo never goes over more than 600m but it’s a day of tiring, leg sapping, constant ups and downs. On the following day, Stage 12’s pan flat 171kms from Castelfidardo to Ravenna hugs the coastline and has sprint finish written all over it.

Stage 13’s 159km, which finishes at 1,908m atop Austria’s Grossglockner, is pretty much uphill, all day, all the way. First up is the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico at 1,336m, followed by  two further climbs, before the final grind up to the finish. But this is just a taster of what’s to come the following day: Stage 14’s 210km from Lienz to the top of Monte Zoncolan features five tough climbs, by way of 1,982m Monte Crostis, which averages 9% for 15km.  Finally, the main dish of the day on Stage 15, 230km from Conegliano to Val di Fassa, again features five climbs including the Passo Giau at 2,236m but it’s the final 15km on gravel roads to the finish which could prove decisive. Could the overall winner be decided here?

The boys take a well earned day’s break before the uphill time-trial. It’s only 12.7km  and starts with a 1.5km descent before ascending. The middle 4km averages 10% before ramping up to 14% as the road reaches the midway point at Tornante from whence it’s a steady grind to the top which flattens out for the last 2km. Stage 17 is this year’s longest at 246km from Feltre downhill to Sondrio taking in the Passo Tonale and Aprica. It’s unlikely that any of the GC contenders will venture out of the peloton on this stage. It’ll be perfect for a breakaway among those whose GC aspirations have long since evaporated.

Stage 18’s 147km from Morbbegna to San Pellegrino Terme crosses Italy’s cycling heartland which is home to many Italian and foreign riders. Again, it’s probably one for the breakaway artistes but the downhill finish could tempt one of the GC favourites. Stage 19 is yet another summit finish, this time the Macugnaga, 211kms from Bergamo by way of the Mottarone. There’s a fast descent before the final ascent which could be beguiling for those breakaway riders while the GC contenders keep their powder dry ahead of the penultimate stage: 242km from Verbania to Sestriere. Stage 20 is pretty flat for 200km before climbing up the Colle delle Finestre, dropping down 700km and then finishing at 2,035m in the ski station.  The ultimate stage is a 32.8km, simple out and back, flat individual time-trial around Milan.  It’s unlikely to be a decisive stage and will probably be won by someone other than a GC contender.

2010 Highlights

We’ve reached the time of year when it’s difficult to fill newspaper and cycling magazine columns without taking a retrospective look at the season. This seemed like a suitable discussion topic for my English class on Wednesday evening. We were surprisingly of similar minds:-

Rider of the Year

One day races:- There were only two candidates: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both were competitive throughout the season and both wore Grand Tour leader’s jerseys but, after much debate, we settled on Spartacus: the 4th ITT rainbow jersey tipping the balance in his favour.

Stage races:- As winner of the Tour de France, the most difficult Grand Tour to win, Alberto should have been a shoe in but, sensitive to post-Tour issues such as that itsy, bitsy trace of Clenbuterol, our gong went to Vicenzo Nibali: 3rd in the Giro and winner of the Vuelta.

Memorable Performance of the Year

Actually, there were so many this year that it was hard to whittle it down to just one. Among others, we considered: Fabian’s wins in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, PhilGil’s wins at Amstel and Lombardy, Cadel Evans at Fleche Wallonne, Bobbie Traskel at K-B-K, Thor at the World Championships, Vino at L-B-L. Finally, we settled on Thor’s performance at the World Championship’s in Geelong. Given that the Norwegian team numbered only three riders, his win demonstrated perfectly his ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time to power to the line.

Best One-day Race of the Year

Here too we had plenty of contenders, but we finally plumped for PhilGil’s win in the Tour of Lombardy, his second consecutive win in the race. It was not just the manner of his win but that he gave no quarter despite the appalling weather conditions.

Best Stage Race of the Year

While we all agreed that the Tour is the most difficult Grand Tour to win, largely because of the depth of competition and the psychological pressures, it can be predictable. Both the Giro and Vuelta raised their games this year to produce thrilling and, at times, unpredictable racing. Finally, we agreed on the Giro d’Italia.

Team of the Year

Hands down, no contest. Liquigas were the best stage racing team and HTC-Columbia the team that racked up the most wins.

Best Kit

No argument: Cervelo Test Team.

Worst Kit

Unanimously awarded to Footon-Servetto

Unsung Hero of the Year

Again, we found it difficult to whittle down the contenders as so many team mates sacrifice their own chances of glory for their leaders. In addition, the work of many riders is done and dusted before the television cameras hove into view. In the end, we decided that the unsung heroes were the hard working domestiques in every team without whom no leader would ever win races.

Best French Rider

Loyal, and ever-smiling, Tommy Voeckler of Bbox without whom his team manager might not have reeled in replacement sponsor Europcar.

Breakout Rider of the Year

Votes were split between the loquacious Peter Sagan of Liquigas and the cherubic faced Richie Porte of Saxobank.

Worst Pro-Tour Race of the Year

There aren’t any, we all love cycle racing wherever and whenever.

Story/Issue of the Year

Sadly, we all agreed these had to be the doping issues. Namely,

  • Pellizotti  being banned from racing due to (unfounded?) passport irregularities
  • Floyd Landis’s accusations against Lance, plus his own confessions
  • Contador and Clenbuterol

Disappointment of the Year

UCI’s unilateral changes to the way teams are evaluated which demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding of the evolution of the sport.