Postcard from Sanremo: or how my day unfolded

We missed this race last year because my beloved had broken his leg. But, this year, we’re back and have enjoyed reenacting our #MSR traditions. We don’t do Milan. Instead we rise and head for breakfast in Italy. The Italians make the best coffee in the world and, while their croissants aren’t as flaky as the French ones, they’re not too shabby. It’s advisable to arrive early in Sanremo to bag a parking space, even in the parking reserved for the press.
We left behind the early morning storms and rain of the Cote d’Azur, gladly swapping it for sunshine on the Italian Riviera. The place was buzzing and I did a spot of food shopping. Just across the road from the press centre is a fantastic selection of shops, including a butchers. Just look at the photos above from a brochure they produced about their beef herd. Of course, having seen their photos, I couldn’t eat the produce. I also buy loads of fruit and vegetables, which are grown in the greenhouses littering the slopes of Sanremo, plus some foccacia. We’re now set for the following week, and beyond.
I know it’s not long since our late breakfast but thoughts now turn to lunch. I generally go to the same place. I have flirted with other restaurants but this one hasn’t been bettered. It’s sunny, but not warm, so we opt to eat inside. We fill our musettes with calamari (squid) and pasta con vongole (clams). It’s important to keep one’s tank topped up for a Monument, particularly one the length of Milan-Sanremo – almost 300km. Sated we trek the few metres back to the press room and our front row view of one of the many television screens. Just like the Germans we’d staked out our spot early on, using newspapers rather than towels.
The sun might be shining in Sanremo but the start of the race in Milan was cold and very wet. By the time the cameras cut to the action, with 116km to go, rain’s still falling and most of the riders are still wearing rain jackets though a few have wrestled off their overshoes. As they hit the coastline, the rain lightens and the break is within sniffing distance.
The press room fills up, everyone’s pounding on their keyboards. Meanwhile, I’ve had a power nap. That’s what always happens when I have wine at lunchtime. Don’t think I’ve missed any crucial action. Riders swap musettes for rain jackets with just under 70km to go.

With just over 55km to go in Alassio, the peloton’s finally in the sunshine and drying out. Cyling kit is being thrown everywhere with gay abandon. The spectators have yellow flares in Imperia, usually the preserve of Valentino Rossi fans at MotoGP races. The break is now just 30 seconds ahead. It’s going to be over for them all too soon. I finish Sudoku diabolico in Corriere della Sera and the boys still haven’t reached the Poggio. Riders at the back of the bunch are untangling themselves from bits of kit.

Thankfully the sun is still shining in Sanremo as cameramen and photographers start heading to the finish. It’s all over for the break as the Groupama-FDJ peloton streams past and the quartet find themselves at the back with Marcel Kittel who was riding his first (and possibly last) MSR.  Peloton now moving into fourth gear with riders being spat out the back, favourites to the front, as it heads up the Cipressa.

Riders top the Cipressa and head  down its winding, technical curves. It’s always best to lead rather than follow on descents. Peter Sagan’s sucking the Shark’s (Vincenzo Nibali) wheel. Teams are now all lining out and trying to get to the front of a very big bunch before they tackle the final climb, the Poggio.

With just 10km to go, Mark Cavendish who was riding with a broken rib  hits some traffic furniture and goes down – how unlucky is he? That looked nasty, I hope he’s okay. Like most fans, I hate to see riders fall. Meanwhile, the front of the peloton hits the Poggio. A couple of riders leap off front but soon blow up. Nibali goes with 7 km remaining with another rider and quickly builds an advantage. He swoops downhill, drops his break-mate, as Sagan’s team gives chase. More fallers. Italian commentators getting uber-excited but his Nibs still has final 2km to go on the flat, where he could easily get caught.

Nibali, quite probably the best descender in the peloton, gambled that the others wouldn’t work together soon enough to drag him back and he was right. Finally, it’s his MSR. Gosh, that was an exciting ride. Press room breaks out into cheers and applause. Bravissimo to the Shark, proper old school ride and victory. Sanremo was delighted to have an Italian winner, the first one since Pippo Pozzato in 2006. Plus, it’s the first by a Grand Tour winner since Sean Kelly. Nibs looked really emotional on the podium and joined in with singing the Italian national anthem.

 Post-race, back at the press centre, all smiles, he confirmed:

It hasn’t really sunk in yet, because it is all so unexpected. It was incredible. When the Latvian champion Neilands attacked, he asked me to collaborate. The team was riding for Colbrelli who was in great shape, but Neilands was strong and when I saw we had opened a 20 second gap, I decided to continue that attack. At the top of the Poggio, where the gradient is a bit higher, I accelerated and then pressed on. I believed victory was within my reach in the final part of the race when I saw the empty road in front of me. Even so, the final 2km were interminable.

Before the race I had two key points in mind: the Cipressa, if there was a breakaway group of 6, 7 or even 9, I’d try to get into it, but without working. Then there was the Poggio, the most dangerous place, where an attack by Kwiatkowski, Van Avermaet or Sagan was likely. I was well positioned in the group behind [team-mate] Mohoric, waiting for someone to move, and to react to it, and that is what happened. In the final 50m, I knew I’d won. I could see the finish line ahead of me, and I made sure I enjoyed the victory.

When I set my targets at the start of each season, it’s important to me to target races that really count. I felt I was behind in my preparation for Sanremo, but during Tirreno Adriatico my form grew and I was only lacking in the final 300m. I went home and rested, but it was only during the race that I realised I had come to this Milano-Sanremo in great condition. I finished last season by winning Il Lombardia, and started this season with winning Milano Sanremo. One day races are special for me, but that also makes things difficult for me in my preparation for the Grand Tours. Perhaps Milano Sanremo was the race I least expected to win because it doesn’t really suit me. In the past I’ve attacked on the Poggio and made the podium, but I’ve always been beaten by a faster finisher than me. That said, today I won and I am very happy.

Happy too, we head home.

Cycling images courtesy of LaPresse – D’Alberto / Ferrari / Alpozzi – Pool Milano-Sanremo

12 days of Christmas – day 9

This is photo of the Tour de France peloton as it passed by Coutances on stage 2, a 183km largely flat coastal route from Saint-Lo to Cherbourg won by Peter Sagan, which gave him his first-ever yellow leader’s jersey.  He went on to take his fifth consecutive green jersey. I wonder how many he’ll rack up during his career?

xmas13

I love watching a peloton snake past in full flight. It’s an amazing kaleidoscope of colour and I’m always surprised at how fast they’re travelling, even early on in a stage. You can see the teams protecting their lead riders from the wind and the main protagonists endeavouring to stay near the front so as not to get caught by any splits in the peloton, particularly important when there may be cross winds.

How many riders can you name? Look carefully and you’ll see two former race winners (Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali) and a former world champion (Rui Costa).

 

Postcard from Il Lombardia

Last week-end was my beloved’s and my maiden Il Lombardia. We’ve visited and cycled in the area many times but never watched the race live. This year’s edition kicked off in Bergamo, a delightfully historic town with some truly memorable architecture, great shops and restaurants – just perfect for a week-end’s break.

A wet start to 109th Il Lombardia
A wet start to 109th “Il Lombardia”

 

One of the many churches
One of the many churches

 

Crowds forming to greet the riders despite the wet weather
Crowds forming to greet the riders despite the damp weather

 

View of the Upper Old Town of Bergamo
View of the Upper Old Town of Bergamo

 

Best view in the town
Best view in town

 

It's going to be a long, hard and probably wet day in the saddle
It’s going to be a long, hard and probably wet day in the saddle

Here’s the “Three Amigos” and my dedicated team of cake and cookie testers. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. It was nice of them to offer. Ian has recently renewed for two years with Sky thereby continuing his love affair with Nice which he now calls “home”.

Ian Boswell signing on for his last race of the season
Ian Boswell signing on for his last race of the season

Larry meanwhile has signed on for another year with IAM – still the best kit in the peloton.

Larry Warbasse of IAM Cycling
Larry Warbasse of IAM Cycling

Joe aka the King of Utah has another year with Cannondale.

Joe Dombrowski leading the way for the Cannondale boys
Joe Dombrowski leading the way for the Cannondale boys

I had hoped that twice runner-up Samu Sanchez might be third time lucky this year but he was clearly riding in support of PhilGil.

#SamuSighting
#SamuSighting

The bookies’ favourite, thanks to his win earlier win in Tre Valli Varesine, Vincenzo Nibali looked focused and set to redeem what was by his standards a miserable 2015 season.

His Nibs
His Nibs

Former Cote d’Azur resident, Max Monfort looked deadly serious before the start. Intent on his role supporting Tony Gallopin or dreading the torrential downpour?

Race face for Max Monfort
Race face for Max Monfort

A magical part of the world though (sadly) no sighting today of local resident George Clooney. He’s obviously not a cycling fan.

And we have sunshine in Como
And we have sunshine in Como

 

And boats bobbing in the lake
And boats bobbing in the lake

The race takes a first pass through Como en route to the final climb of the day. Messrs Kwiatkowski and Wellens leading here, were overhauled by eventual race winner Vincenzo Nibali.

Kwiatkowski and Wellens lead first pass through Como
Kwiatkowski and Wellens lead first pass through Como

 

Rosa leading the chase for Nibali
Rosa leading the chase for Nibali

It’s game over for these boys quite a few of whom didn’t bother with the final assault and headed directly for their team buses.

The rest, led by Peter Kennaugh
The rest, led by Peter Kennaugh

Tom Jelte Slagter catching his breath just past the finish line.

Slagter at the finish line
Slagter at the finish line

I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the photos of the winner crossing the finish line and the podium? You may well ask. Sadly my photographer was not well placed on the barricades and we were far too far from the podium to take any photos of the presentation of the prizes.

We’d seen (on the television) a great race, enjoyed the atmosphere and finally the sunshine before we drove back home. Of course, that’s the reality of watching live racing. You see the riders sign-on, set off, sometimes catch them en route and watch the rest of the race (and the podium) ceremony on the big screen.

Another twist in the tale

The Book de Tour books to be signed by Vincenzo Nibali finally arrived via FedEx while I was collecting my beloved from the airport. The FedEx van was on the point of departing as we drove up to the garage. I quickly rescued my long-awaited package. As soon as I got inside the flat, I opened the box to discover everything had been beautifully and carefully wrapped and the books had arrived in mint condition.

Having missed out on Plan A, personally taking the books to the team’s first camp at Montecatini Terme for signature, I now invoked Plan B. The following morning I took the books over to Astana’s service course and handed them, with explicit instructions who was to sign what and where, to the mechanics who were driving down to the team’s second camp in Calpe. The boys promised to take great care of them, get them signed and bring them back safely to me. They thought they’d probably be back with me on 18 December which would enable me to return them, FedEx Priority,  to USA in time for Christmas.

During the camp, I received confirmation that Nibali had signed the books and were now in a safe place prior to their return to France. I checked yesterday and was advised the mechanics were on their way back and would arrive at the service course late at night, so they would park the van and unload the following morning. I said I’d call this morning to arrange a convenient time to go over and pick them up. I even had one of my prized fruit cakes for the service course staff to enjoy with their morning coffee. In addition, I had arranged with FedEx for them to pick up the package this afternoon and speed it safely back to USA.  We were good to go.

If everything had gone to plan, I would now be emailing the FedEx tracking number to the book’s author and confirming that the duly signed books would be winging their way back to him by 22 December. But, as we know, very little has gone to plan where these books are concerned. It’s as if they’ve a life of their own.

This morning, merely as a formality, I rang the chap in charge of the service course to enquire when it would be convenient for me to drive over and collect them.  There was a heavily pregnant pause until he found the courage to admit they were still  somewhere “safe”. Yes, the mechanics had forgotten to put them on the van but, no worries, they’d pick them up in early January after the next training camp at the same hotel.

I sprang into action. I contacted the hotel where the staff, having received instructions from the mechanic, had located the box which had already been closed back up. Understandably, the hotel staff were unwilling to re-open it or indeed split the contents. My first idea had been to send the Kickstarter subscribers’ four signed books directly back to USA and have the others brought back to me in France. With the hotel unwilling to disturb the box’s contents,  I’ve arranged to have them all shipped back to France – priority delivery for 22 December.  I’ll then check them (I’m hoping and praying that they’ve been properly re-packed, but have no way of verifying) before despatching them back to USA. Sadly, it means they’ll arrive after Xmas, but not too long after!

Having scheduled the pick up with FedEx and promptly sent all the accompanying paperwork to the hotel, I was keen to use the tracking number to see what was happening to my precious package. Nada! It hadn’t budged. I contacted FedEx. It appears the 72 working hours required to return it to translates into 48 hours to pick it up and 24 hours to speed it from Spain to Nice. Right now I’m wondering why I didn’t drive down and back to Calpe.

Friday postscript: We have lift off, or should that be pick up? The package was picked up from Calpe this morning and is now in Madrid awaiting its flight to Paris from whence it’ll head to Nice. Should (fingers crossed) be here no later than Monday.

Monday postscript: I’ve been tracking the parcel which was due to be delivered this morning. Imagine my horror when at 11:00 a message flashed up that they’d tried to deliver but I wasn’t home. How could that be? My beloved and I were both home and no one had rung the bell. Fuelled by righteous indignation I rang FedEx’s call centre and was referred to a very calm lady  – no doubt used to dealing with irate customers – who’s promised to resolve the situation. I have paid for delivery within 72 hours, that has now expired.

Tuesday postscript: Called the nice lady at FedEx and the package is going to be delivered this morning. However, a quick check on the tracking system shows no date for next delivery – we shall see! I have taken the precaution of asking our security guard at the barrier to the Domaine to give me a call when the FedEx van arrives.

Wednesday postscript: The books were safely delivered in mint condition, have been carefully, individually wrapped for their final journey back to USA after Christmas (on FedEx’s advice).

All’s well………………………….

Postal problems

book du tour small cover for style v5

Book de Tour rolled off the publisher’s presses at the beginning of the month but I’m still waiting to receive my copies, all of which need the signature of the winner, Vincenzo Nibali. The author packed up the copies and sent them straight away via USPS aka US postal service. Who then handed over responsibility to the French postal service. I have been tracking the package’s progress with interest. The French postal service claimed to have tried to deliver the parcel last Friday and this Monday, but I wasn’t there. Actually I was home on both occasions but no one, not even Postman Pat, rang my doorbell. He did however leave me one of those slim yellow receipts.

I was so excited to see, and feel, the finished product and, if I’m honest, thoroughly check that all my edits had been correctly incorporated. I hot footed it down to the main Post Office yesterday to claim my parcel and pay the customs’ fees. It soon became obvious why the postman hadn’t bothered to deliver the box. It was decidedly bashed about on all corners, one of which was torn open, as if someone had been using it as a football. Also, the box was palpably damp to the touch, leading me to suspect it had been left out in the rain. But was it US or French torrential rain? Probably the latter!

I looked carefully at the torn corner and could just make out a couple of damaged spines. Additional the lightweight bubble wrap was loose and flapping – not a good sign. Was this the total extent of the damage or was it even more extensive? I sought advice and guidance from the post mistress. If I opened the parcel, I was explicitly accepting the state of it’s contents.

The post mistress pointed out that along with its bashed and gaping corners, the parcel had ballooned in the wet. She told me not to accept delivery, but to return it and have the sender claim on his insurance. I was in a bit of a quandary, it was too early in the day to contact Greig, but I finally decided to follow her advice. We simply couldn’t present Greig’s biggest financial supporters with a damaged “reward”.  She also gave me some helpful tips on packing heavy, fragile parcels such as these. Great advice which I’ve passed on to Greig.

Greig’s shipped me replacements express-delivery which should arrive within the next 5 days. This incident has doubled my resolve to keep hold of the books to obtain Nibali’s signature. After all, he only lives a few hours away in Lugano. Much better to preserve the integrity of the soft (not hard) cover books, which can easily get damaged, by retaining possession. It’s also given me food for thought as to how I’m going to maintain the pristine order of my master copy. This is the one where, in the run up to next year’s Tour, I’m going to try and obtain as many signatures as possible from riders featured in Book de Tour. The result will be auctioned on eBay, with all proceeds going to the charity of the author’s choice.

I keep reminding myself that patience is a virtue and everything comes to those who wait. Yes, but for how long?

Book de Tour Postscript: According to USPS, the package arrived in Nice on early Friday afternoon and was sent out to its final destination. My apartment is at worst an hour’s walk from the sorting office. Here we are on Wednesday morning and I’m still waiting. Who’s delivering it? Postman Ant? I have a feeling that Greig’s going to be sending me package number three later today! Let’s hope it’ll be third time lucky.

Book de Tour Second Postscript: Greig has indeed sent me parcel number three. This time via FedEx. it’s due to arrive before midday tomorrow. Sod’s law dictates that as soon as I leave tomorrow to collect my beloved from the airport, FedEx will arrive to deliver said parcel. They cannot leave it with anyone, customs duties have to be paid. They’ll leave, only to return on Monday, probably when I’m returning my beloved to the airport. I need to contact FedEx and have them advise me of when the parcel is likely to arrive. To do that I need the tracking number. Greig’s sent me a tracking number but the FedEx site says it’s not valid! Here we go again.

Book de Tour Third Postscript:  Greig had missed a digit from the tracking number. Armed with the correct number, I contacted FedEx only to be told the parcel was already on its way to me. I popped out to the airport to collect my beloved only to find the FedEx lorry was just heading back to base, as I returned home. I ran after it and managed to retrieve my parcel at around about the same time Team Astana were leaving Montecatini Terme – Plan A out the window!

Well, what do you know!

It’s the end of the first week of racing in the Tour de France and who would’ve thought the GC would like this? No? Me neither! Of course, that’s part of cycling’s charm – it’s unpredictability!

Scores on Doors

That said, there’s been some predictability. Everyone thought Peter Sagan (Cannondale) would run away with the green jersey for the third year in a row. He’s doing just that while also leading the “Best Young Rider” competition. He’s been around for so long that people forget he’s only just 24.

Commentators are fond of saying you can’t win the Tour in the first week but you can lose it. We’ll have to wait until Paris to see whether they were right or wrong about the first bit. However, they were correct in their assumptions that some would be down and out in the first week. That category included the defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) who, having fallen and broken his wrist on stage four, didn’t live to fight much of another day. While there was a lot of discussion of the dangers of racing on cobbles, only Froome was a DNF on that stage and well before any of the cobbled sections.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) now firmly in possession of the race leader’s jersey was a beast on the cobbled stage, as were his team. Some commentators seemed surprised but, come on, this is the man who’s a fearless descender and who triumphs in bad weather – Giro d’Italia 2013 anyone? He put precious time into Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and the other contenders so they’re going to have to attack wherever and whenever. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks with relish. It’s going to be a Classic Tour de France.

I was fortunate to be in the UK for Le Grand Depart. I’d planned this trip last August and assumed I’d pay my Dad a visit before heading to Yorkshire to watch the first of the three UK stages. With the former no longer an option, I’d gone to Yorkshire earlier than planned to re-acquaint myself with the area. We’d previously been regular visitors to Leeds when watching my beloved football team play away from home and I’d always enjoyed looking around the town’s splendid Victorian architecture.

We – my beloved was with me – stayed in a small, family run hotel in Wakefield, just outside of Leeds and, while he was working, I was able to watch the team presentation and attend the team press conferences. This was my third grand depart after London (2007) and Monaco (2009), both held outdoors, free of charge. So imagine my surprise to discover that this year’s presentation was ticketed and being held in the Leed’s Arena. I suppose they needed to recoup the cost of all the decorations around town.
TdFyellowphoneboxa
I should add the organisers did a simply superb job, more akin to Italian towns that  submerge themselves in a sea of pink during the Giro, only this time largely yellow. The presentation was sold out, providing food for thought for Utrecht 2015 and ASO.
TdFYork

In truth, Britain and specifically Yorkshire did a fantastic job organising the first three stages. Despite the simply ginormous crowds, there were plenty of facilities for everyone to enjoy a day out. Stalls selling refreshments, big screens to enjoy the action and everyone came in their droves. The atmosphere was simply wonderful. The start of the second day was held at York racecourse and again people were willing to pay for a grandstand view of the sign-in. More food for thought. And, once more, the race course made a day of it by providing family style entertainment long after the riders had headed for Sheffield.

The riders were surprised but ultimately delighted at their reception in the UK though it was evident that a few spectators hadn’t heeded the ASO’s advisory videos specifically those about dogs and selfies! The roads were so crowded that taking a comfort break must have been problematical for the riders.

Apart from a spot of rain in London, the sun shone in the UK, as it did back in 2007. Once more back on home soil in France, the weather’s been wet and miserable but that should improve as the riders head further south.

Since returning home, I’ve been watching the stages on my own big screen in the office: viewing while I work. I’ve particularly enjoyed those stages shown in their entirety. Now the peloton is heading for the real mountains, the race should become even more action packed. I’m going to catch the last bit of racing in the Alps and all the action in the Pyrenees live. I’ll be taking my bike, always the best mode of transport for watching any bike race, and pootling my way up a few of those cols. It’s only when you tackle them yourself that you truly appreciate the endeavours of the pros!