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.

Unbowed and unbeaten

This morning M Le President, the Treasurer and I met with the club’s designated auditor. He’s a club member and is Treasurer of another club in the area. On behalf of the Town Hall, the supplier of most of our funds, he checks the club’s books on a regular basis. He spent 40 odd years working as an accounts clerk for a state industry and has decidedly archaic views on what constitutes good accounting practice.

In me, he has met his match. I don’t want him browbeating the Treasurer, she’s still on a steep learning curve and I don’t want her to be discouraged. So I have to take up cudgels on her behalf. This morning I took no prisoners and bludgeoned him. It was brutal but I didn’t want to waste the morning explaining the bleedin’ obvious.

As a consequence, I managed to spend a few pleasurable hours on the bike, riding one of my regular routes, exchanging greetings with other riders and generally enjoying the balmy weather. I got back just in time to watch the final 40km of the Tour of Lombardy. For me this is when the curtain falls on the cycling season and I turn my attention to football.

The race conditions were appalling: poor visibility and pouring rain. The peloton had already been whittled down to a handful as the leading group crested the  one  big climb of the day. On its descent, a combination of fallen leaves, poor road surface, narrow roads and plenty of surface water made the leaders cautious in the precarious conditions.  Although Nibali, usually an excellent descender, took a tumble on one of the corners.

Philippe Gilbert, everyone’s favourite for a back to back win after his mid-week triumph in the Tour of Piedmont,  built a lead on the descent which he consolidated once joined by Michele Scarponi. Even though  Euskaltel Euskadi and Caisse d’Epargne had two riders in the chasing group, it seemed as if the appalling weather conditions had robbed them of the will to organise the chase.

The two leaders increased their lead to over a minute with just 10kms remaining. They then rode shoulder to shoulder on the final ascent, eyeballing one another and occasionally brushing shoulders. Who was going to prove to be the stronger rider?

With 5km remaining, Phil Gil rode away from a tired Scarponi to solo to the third consecutive back-to-back win in this race (2005/6 Bettini, 2007/8 Cunego). Scarponi was 2nd and Pablo Lastras 3rd. My beloved had enjoyed a meaningful conversation with Gilbert in Melbourne Airport. He expressed his disappointment with the World Championships but said he was now focussed on winning the Tour of Lombardy and, while he would like a repeat win at Paris-Tours, felt that jet lag would mitigate against it. Omniscient or what?

It’s Day 3 of my new regime and far too early for boredom to have set in. It’s proving quite a culinary challenge but I’m falling back on a lot of Asian herbs and spices to counteract the blandness. I’m eating either oat or millet porridge flavoured with cinnamon for breakfast, steamed meat or fish for lunch with heaps of steamed or raw vegetables. My one piece of fruit per day forms my mid-afternoon snack and for dinner I’ve been enjoying mixed vegetable soup thickened with “pasta” made from protein rather than flour and water. No substitute for the real thing but in soup, it’s difficult to tell the difference. Fortunately, I’ve been too tired to dream about what I’m forgoing.

It will, however, be more of a challenge next week when my parents arrive. I’ll have to cook completely different meals for them. My father will be looking forward to something other than his own cooking, which is coming along in leaps and bounds. While, my mother will have to be tempted with things I know she enjoys eating, otherwise she won’t eat. When we eat out, I’ll either have oysters or fish and salad (no dressing) followed by an espresso. I will resist leaping on the scales until the end of the week

Vuelta wrap

What a fantastic Vuelta which maintained the suspense right up until the final summit on the pen-ultimate day. But the “Shark”, having gotten his teeth into the red jersey (again) wasn’t going to be shaken loose and he managed to claw (not that sharks have claws) his way back onto Mosquera’s wheel. As a consolation, Mosquera won his first Grand Tour stage while Nibali sealed the leader’s and combined jerseys. As predicted (by me and pretty much everyone else), Cavendish won the points and Moncoutie the mountain’s. Consolation for Joaquin Rodriguez as he has now climbed atop the UCI rankings.  

The Vuelta threw up some surprises, not all of them pleasant:

1) Denis Menchov, 2nd in the time-trial, who finished 41st on GC. Clearly, despite nicking 3rd spot in the Tour thanks to his performance in the time-trial from my beloved Samu Sanchez, it took more out of Denis than anyone realised. He woz rubbish!

2) Peter Velits on the podium – no one saw that one coming. HTC-Columbia’s first GT podium. The Velits twins and Peter Sagan: don’t mess with Slovakia.

3) Some consolation for my beloved boys in orange: 3 stage wins and Mikel Nieve’s 12 place on GC. All good omens for 2011.

4) David Moncoutie’s mountains jersey (3rd consecutive) and his re-signing for another (final?) year with Cofidis.

5) He’s on his way back from the wilderness: Andrey Kashechkin’s 18th place on GC in his first real ride in 3 years.

6) Christophe Le Mevel’s 15th place on GC: some consolation late in the season.

7) Nico Roche 7th on GC: clearly a chip off the “old block”.

8) Jan Bakelandts 19th on GC: keep an eye on him.

9) Will he, won’t he? Fabulous Fabian jumps ship, leaving both SaxoBank and the Vuelta in the lurch. He may not even go to the World’s after being beaten by both Velits and Menchov in the Vuelta ITT. The SaxoBank cupboard is starting to look rather bare.

10) Using the Vuelta as a predictor of form for the World Championships, you have to say watch out for Philippe Gilbert in Geelong.

 What more can I say? A brilliant 3 weeks of racing, much appreciated by the viewing public, whether on the roadside or in front on the screen. In fact the lack of some of the bigger names may have made the outcome, and the racing, less predictable. It also helped that the Vuelta finished 2 weeks before the Men’s Road Race at the World Championship’s in Melbourne. Full credit must go to the organisers, Unipublic, for staging what most people feel is the best Vuelta in a long time. Long may it continue.

Vuelta Espana 2010 Final Overall Classification

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 87hrs 18’ 33”
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia + 41”
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia + 3’ 02”
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha + 4’ 20”
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank + 4’ 43”
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 4’ 52”
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale + 5’ 03”
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team + 6’ 06”
9 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions + 6’ 09”
10 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne + 7’ 35”

Mountain Classification
1 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 51pts
2 Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 43
3 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 36

Points Classification
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Team HTC-Columbia 156pts
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions 149
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 119

Team Classification
1 Team Katusha 261hrs 48’ 04”
2 Caisse d’Epargne + 35”
3 Xacobeo Galicia + 12′ 33”

It’s fleeting

Pressing matters down at the cycling club have meant I’ve been mostly catching the evening highlights of the Vuelta rather than live coverage. This also means that I’ve made no inroads into the “To do during the Vuelta” list.  Nonetheless, it’s proving to be a gripping contest and I’m hoping for more viewing time next week.

Tuesday’s stage 10, 175.7km from Tarrgona to Vilanovi la Geltu started without Schleck the younger and hard man Stuart O’Grady. The two had been sent home by SaxoBank Team boss Bjarne Riis for breach of team rules. They had allegedly returned to the hotel at 5:00am that morning after a few alcoholic beverages. Probably, bang went any chance that Frank might have (still) entertained of a podium placing. 

The stage was won by one of the day’s breakaways, Imanol Erviti (Caisse d’Epargne) who caught his fellow escapees napping on the descent of the Rat Penat. The red jersey changed hands after Purito, riding into his home region of Catalonia, had hoovered up a couple of bonus seconds earlier in the day.   

On Wednesday, Igor Anton sand-bagged his way to a second stage win (and back into the leader’s jersey)  into Andorra. He had timed his come-back to perfection after he looked to be distanced by the attack of Ezequiel Mosquera, who finished 2nd) and Vicenzo Nibali on the final ascent of the day. Despite going with the initial attack, Purito lost a minute on Anton but the biggest loser was Denis Menchov who finished 56th, over 5 minutes down. Clearly, the Tour took more out of him than we realised: bye-bye podium.

Stage 12 from Andorra la Vella to Lleida was one for the sprinters. The only other time the Vuelta had visited Lleida, the stage was won by Malcolm Elliot, still the only Brit to win a points jersey in a Grand Tour and, more amazingly,  who’s still racing, against men half his age, on the British Premier Circuit. So it was only fitting that the race was won at a canter by the Manx Missile whose team  had done their homework on the run in. His poisson pilote, Matt Goss and he read the final corner beautifully and they came out of it several bike length’s ahead of everyone else. He now joins that short list of 5 men who have won sprint stages in all three Grand Tours and he’s back in the points jersey.

Stage 13 to Burgos was more of the same, another win for Cavendish, who had enough time to bunny hop over the line. Again, he and Goss read the last corner better than the rest and finished well in front of the also rans. As Cav so eloquently put it in his post-race interview: it is indeed better to have a star team than a team of stars. It’s easy to see that Cav has a much lower trajectory on the bike than the other sprinters which makes him more aero-dynamic, not forgetting, of course, his 5th gear. My favourite moment of the day was a bunch of slightly overweight Basques decked out in orange (of course) and time trial helmets trotting in single file alongside the peloton, clearly enjoying their 15 seconds of fame.

Tuesday postscript: Oops forgot to post this last week

Rider in red

I have had a busy couple of days. Tuesday we held our second meeting on next year’s Brevet Kivilev which we’re hoping to run as both a cyclosportif (timed) and a randonnee. Offering both should attract a wider field of entrants but will involve much more work and expense, the feasibility of which we’re currently exploring. This was followed by the regular Tuesday meeting where the licence renewals are started to trickle in.

Of course, four hours down the club meant I had to watch the highlights of that day’s Vuelta. Tuesday’s stage 4 totalling 183.8km from Malaga to Valdepenas de Jaen, was another hot day which included 3 categorized and 1 uncategorized climb plus a very steep ascent to the finish line. The heat and intestinal troubles accounted for yet another rider, Mark Cavendish’s wing man Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel abandoned, putting in jeopardy his participation in Melbourne.

Omega-Pharma Lotto led the chase to pull back the 4-man breakaway to protect Phil’s red jersey. The peloton splintered on the last col of the day with Katusha trying to set up “Purito”  for the win. The main contenders, apart from Sastre, were in the first group over the hill and down the other side to the last leg sapping climb of the day which looked to be well over 20%. It was won by Igor Anton ahead of Vicenzo Nibali and Peter Velits. As a consequence, Igor Anton moved into 2nd place behind Phil, with Joaquin Rodriguez in 3rd. Both are 10 seconds behind the leader.

Wednesday’s 198.8km stage from Guardix to Lorca commenced with a minute’s silence to honour Laurent Fignon, who sadly passed away the previous day. The media has been full of tributes for a rider much admired for his panache on the bike and his humility off it. Sadly, I never saw the “Professor” ride but I much enjoyed his commentary on French tv. He wasn’t a man to mince his words.

1960 - 2010 RIP

Wednesday was slightly cooler and while there were no cols to speak of the terrain was pretty much up and down all afternoon. The 4-man breakaway was hauled back in 12km from the finish line thanks to the efforts of the sprinter teams. Cavendish started his sprint too soon and provided Tyler Farrar with the perfect launch pad. They finished, in order, Farrar, Koldo Fernandez, Cavendish. No change on GC.

I meanwhile had spent the morning riding over to Monaco for another VO2max test. There was good news. I have lost weight, lost fat and improved my endurance. I think I’m going to concentrate on improving further these three aspects over the autumn and winter months. This means that exclusive subset of riders who weigh more than me will become much more inclusive.

Today’s Stage 6, a lumpy, 155km from Caravaca to Murcia, the home region of Luis Leon Sanchez (and Alejandro Valverde) saw the inevitable break away taken back into the peloton on the last ascent of the day. A number of the sprinters had managed to stay with the lead group and duked it out on the line. Thor Hushovd, resplendent in his Norwegian jersey, beat Danieli Bennati and Grega Bole. Phil maintained his grip on the leader’s jersey but it’s still far too early to rule out any of the favourites.

Scant consolation

On today’s stage, another hot one, 157.3km from Marbella to Malaga, I was willing one of the original 7-man breakaway to the finish line. But sometimes even our combined wills just aren’t enough.

Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) having accelerated away from his breakaway companions on the big climb of the day, the Puerto del Leon, looked to have enough in hand over the peloton to win the stage, the leader’s jersey and the mountain’s classification. A holy trinity which would surely have ignited his career. Unfortunately, the peloton had other ideas and he was caught just under the flamme rouge.

The final ascent was reminiscent of the Cauberg and sure enough here was the winner of this year’s Amstel Gold, Philippe Gilbert, accelerating away from Vicenzo Nibali and Joaquin Rodriguez to cross the line in an imperious fashion. The stage and the leader’s jersey for Philippe and precious GC seconds for Rodriguez who finished ahead of Igor Anton. Serafin hung onto the mountain’s classification jersey.

Philippe looked mighty powerful today. He will be one to watch in Geelong where he now won’t have to share leadership of the Belgian team with Tom Boonen who, thanks to slower than anticipated recovery from knee surgery, will be watching events unfold from his armchair in Monaco. 

So how did my “men to watch” do today? Sadly, Ben Swift, and team mate John-Lee Augustyn, have gone down and out with a stomach bug. However Arthur Vichot, a viral superstar with a huge fan base in Australia, finished 10th on the stage.

Une Edition Record

La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev

The day of the event was warm and sunny: just what we’d ordered. For once there were no professional riders at the start , as the event clashed with their professional commitments.  No matter, a good time was still had by all thanks to the hard work of our vast team (60) of volunteers which did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by the participants.

Andrei’s widow kindly assisted with the presentation of the prizes and her son  performed a splendid job selecting the winning numbers for the tombola. Yes, not only did the participants get a goodie bag with a T-shirt commemorating the event, a bidon, a discount voucher from one of the local sports shops but they stood to win cycling related prizes, including 2 sets of wheels and a Look bike frame, in the tombola.

The event  was graced, as usual, by the Mayor and other local and regional officials responsible for sporting and cultural events as well as a representative from the Kazakh Embassy in France and a reporter and cameraman from Kazakh TV. Our event will be featured in a short segment which will be regularly repeated in the coming weeks on the main TV channel in Kazakhstan. In the spirit of cementing Franco-Kazakh relations, I decided to wear the dreaded white trousers from Le Grand Depart 2009, teaming them with a turquoise t-shirt and yellow sweater, swung over the shoulders: voila, the colours of team Astana and the Kazakh flag.  

We’ll be holding a post-mortem meeting this week to review what went well and, more importantly, how and where we can make improvements for next year’s edition. Ideally, we would like to turn it into a cyclosportif. Easier said than done.

All this hyperactivity meant that I missed watching 3 stages of the Giro, although I did see the final TT. Liquigas must have been delighted: three men in the top ten with Basso taking the maglia rosa , Nibali 3rd  and  Kiserlovski 10th. Equally, Caisse d’Epargne must be pleased with Arroyo’s 2nd place while honourable mentions for Scarponi (4th), Evans (5th) and Vino (6th). The Australians made a clean sweep of the remaining jerseys: points (Evans), mountains (Lloyd) and best young rider (Porte). The organisers are to be congratulated for organising a thrilling Giro.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

My beloved returned yesterday evening from a hectic week in the UK. I let him sleep in this morning as there was no pointage, just a club ride to Aspremont. Instead, we decided to ride over to Menton and tackle the Col de la Madone. However, my beloved was feeling really fatigued so rather than ride over to La Turbie, we descended to Menton and retraced our steps.

Thanks to the gloriously warm summer-like conditions, the roads were busy with holiday traffic (Monday’s a Bank holiday here). We spotted 2 Rolls Royces, 6 Ferraris, 1 Lambourghini, I Bentley and only 1 Aston Martin. Yes, we take note of the number of high value cars we see when we ride over in the direction on Monaco. We do not include Porsches, Mercedes or BMWs, far too common, though we do include Audi R8 Spyders.

With lunchtime almost over, we stopped at a small Italian roadside restaurant in Eze, where we could leave the bikes in the courtyard garden, and enjoyed a magnificent spaghetti with clams, followed by that Italian classic “Tiramisu”, which was deliciously light. Seriously fortified, we pedalled home strongly to catch the action on the Monte Zoncolan.

As anticipated the man who saved his legs yesterday, Ivan Basso, distanced everyone on that 11.9% average climb to the finish. He was followed in by (in order) Evans, Scarponi, Cunego, Vino, Sastre and Nibali. David Arroyo is still sitting pretty in pink, ahead of Ritchie Porte in white, followed by Basso, Sastre, Evans, Vino ( looking good in the red point’s jersey), Nibali and Scarponi.  I’m sure they’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day, I know I am.

Normal service resumed

Today, I set off down the Var valley towards Castagniers for my Power Tap test. I was looking forward to seeing what, if any, progress I’d made since my first test. My coach promises a 5% improvement. Now, if I were an elite athlete, 5% improvement would sound like a good deal. However, since I’m not, I’m looking for around 20% improvement over 6 months.

I’m pleased to report that I’m on target with a 10% improvement over the last 3 months. I rode for 20 minutes along the D2202, easily one of my least favourite roads, on account of the very fast moving traffic and the amount of gravel and glass along its verges. The test was supposed to have taken place at the velodrome in La Bocca but it’s closed on account of this being a holiday week end. My trainer told me to stay at an average of 200 watts for the first 10 minutes and then give it my all. However, I barely managed to exceed 170 for the first 10 minutes. I did, fortunately, fare very much better on the way back. Though, I think it’s fair to say, Spartacus won’t be quaking in his Sidis any time soon.

I popped in to my LBS on the way back to say hello to the owner as, most unusually,  I’ve not been in for a couple of weeks. Then it was back home, shower, change into the fleecy tracksuit, lunch and onto the sofa for today’s stage of the Giro.

What did I say about buses? Yet another Italian win: third in a row. This time Vicenzo Nibali, largely thanks to some kamikaze descending off the Monte Grappa en route to Asolo. Today, it was the turn of the dethroned favourites to put the hurt on the rest of the peloton. Liquigas laid down a punishing pace on the ascent of the Monte Grappa, scattering GC contenders all over its steep slopes.

Finishing behind Nibali were (in order) Basso, Scarponi and Evans, with a gap to Vino, who now leads the points classification. David Arroyo is now in pink, 39 seconds ahead of former maglia rosa wearer, Ritchie Porte, with Tondo in 3rd place. Nibali is now 8th on GC, while Vino is 9th. I think we can expect further fireworks on tomorrow’s stage which includes the Monte Zoncolan: 10.1km with an average gradient of 11.9%. That’s going to hurt.

Bouleversement

I got caught in the rain this morning as I went out for a quick training ride ahead of tomorrow’s marathon: 175km and 2,713m of climbing.  I then rushed around, like the mad woman that I am, fulfilling my long list of must do chores for today. I arrived back home in time to watch today’s stage of the Giro, a fairy innocuous (or so I thought), long (262km) stage to L’Aquila.

I switched on the tv to discover one-third of the peloton (56 riders) were having a Perreiro moment. They’d gone away in the 20th kilometer and had built up an advantage of 17 minutes in the pouring rain. Yes, after yesterday’s sunshine, the weather gods are once more displeased.

Most of those occupying the top 15 spots on GC, including the maglia rosa, were in Group 2. Those who we were all (wrongly) figuring might be out of contention, were in Group 1. How they were allowed to build up such an advantage remains a mystery but, is bound to be a talking point at the dinner table this evening. By the time the favourites started taking their turn on the front of Group 2, having exhausted their troops, it was definitely a case of far too little, too late.

The stage was won by Evgeni Petrov (Katusha) ahead of Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo); so, still no Italian stage win.  Ritchie Porte (Saxo Bank) now has both the pink and white jerseys.  David Arroyo (Casse d’Epargne) is in 2nd place while Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas) is 3rd.

Group 2 containing Vinokourov, Basso, Nibali, Evans, Garzelli, Scarponi, Pozzato, Karpets, Cunego and Pinotti (among others) came in over 12 minutes and 46 seconds down and they are now way back on GC. This is turning into one hell of a Giro, I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s stage. What better incentive to finish tomorrow’s ride in a reasonable time so that I can watch the highlights. What, you thought I’d be back in time to watch it live?  Sadly, no way, but I’m hoping to break 10 hours.