Carnage

Returning from my Sunday morning ride, a bunch of kids, who live in the Domaine, challenged me to a bike race. I would guess that they’re aged between 12 and 14 years and they were riding a motley collection of bikes. I agreed to the challenge but pointed out that I didn’t expect to win as I was old enough to be their grandmother. I’m not above playing the age card if it suits me. They looked nonplussed. Of course, at their age, anyone over 20 is old. They said that they’d seen me riding and I wasn’t too bad [for a woman of my age], plus I had a better bike. That much was true. We established the start and finish lines and away we went. I rode the entire route sticking on their wheels. Their tactics were obviously copied from the Schlecks: no attempt to use their superior numbers to burn me off. It was everyone woman and teenager for themselves.

As we crested the final climb, it dips down ever so slightly to the finish line. As anticipated, they eased off on the crest. I didn’t and shot across the line, much to their astonishment, to record my first scratch race win. I could see that I’d caught them totally off guard. I explained that racing was all about doing just enough to win, and no more. Races are won with the heart, legs, lungs and head.  Just let me know when you want a rematch, I said as I left them gazing in what I think, and hope, was admiration. I’ve ridden over 500km this week. It was paying dividends.

The first nine days of this year’s Tour de France has also thrown up some surprises, not all of them as pleasurable as my win. Sadly, for variety of factors, a number of riders, including those whom we might have expected to figure on GC, are out of the Tour. It’s always distressing to see riders crash and we’ve been left wondering what riders such as Bradley Wiggins, Alexandre Vinokourov, Janez Brajkovic and Jurgen Van Den Broeck might have achieved this year at the Tour.

I think it’s fair to say no one expected Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) to keep such a firm hold on the yellow jersey for so many days, clearly relinquishing it only today on the verge of exhaustion, looking forward to tomorrow’s “rest day”. That term’s such a misnomer given the riders will ride for several hours and spend time talking to the press and their sponsors. Thor’s surely graced the jersey and his team which, with wins in the team time-trial and Stage 3 (Tyler Farrar), can already regard this year’s Tour as a success. Norway can also claim to have had a successful Tour if one takes account of Edvald Boassen Hagen’s (Sky) win on Stage 6.

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) predictably won the first stage and has been ever-present, wearing all three jerseys (yellow, spotted and green) and is now making a serious run at holding onto the green jersey until Paris. Cavendish (HTC) has opened his account with two stage wins and I’m sure will give PhilGil a run for his money in the competition for the green jersey. The changes made this year to the competition for this jersey have certainly made it more competitive and much more interesting. Initially, the commissars seemed to be a little too job’s worthy over the comportment of certain riders in the intermediate sprints, but this seems to have satisfactorily settled down.

The French, particularly FDJ, have been animating each day’s breakaways in search of tv exposure for their sponsors and perhaps, perhaps, a stage win.  Surprisingly, escapees won both stages this week end. Yesterday was the turn of Rui Costa (Movistar) notable for his handbags at dawn clash last year with Manuel Garate and today it was Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank). But the BIG news, joy of joys for the French, it was the turn of perennial favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and a rider who’s been very visible this week, to wear the precious maillot jaune.  Thomas took yellow, after the peloton, perturbed by the earlier crashes, finally gave up the ghost and stopped chasing. Thomas can now look forward to a number of days in yellow. He was positively bouncing on the podium and, from the size of the jersey, it was clear that the ASO had been anticipating another day in yellow for Thor.

Two of Thomas’s breakaway companions were taken out of contention for today’s win by a crazy manoeuvre from a France Television car which sent Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) flying and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) into some barbed wire fencing. Amazingly, they both remounted and went on to finish the stage. Hoogerland had regained the spotted jersey while both were awarded the day’s combativity prize. Hardman Hoogerland who seemed to have cornered the market in white bandages was reduced to tears on the podium.

A number of teams and riders have been totally anonymous. For example, the all Russian Katusha squad have barely merited a mention apart from today’s retirement of Russian champion Pavel Brut. On a more sinister note, there was much speculation and alleged video evidence that Contador’s fall today had been provoked by Karpets (surely not) shoving him off the bike.  Ivan Basso’s team have been similarly missing in action but one could argue they’ve just been doing their job keeping Ivan in a good position.

The remaining GC favourites have yet to really show their hands. While every move they make is endlessly analysed, we still know very little about their respective forms. While Cadel Evans has wasted no opportunity to build up a lead on the others, most notably Alberto Contador, it’s still all to play for the in the coming days in the mountains.

Back to back victories

Yesterday, I set off ahead of the rest of my clubmates fearing that I would arrive only to find the lunchtime picnic had already been demolished but mainly so as not to keep anyone waiting for me. It was decidedly chilly as I left St Jeannet, having driven there in the car. I was well wrapped up in  my long sleeved jersey, gilet and leg warmers. Although it was much balmier later in the day, I stayed thus clad.

Despite the cold, I was going surprisingly well and was joined by another early starter on the road to Bouyon. We rode on together until Roquesteron where, concerned that this might be the last bastion, I took a comfort break in one of the cafes. You do not want to be caught short, or rather I don’t, on the plateau: it’s very exposed.

I then plodded into the unknown as I’ve never ridden this particular stretch of road. It was largely uphill through Sigale, Collongues, Brianconnet, St Auban and Malamaire then fairly flat across the plateau. At this time of year, it’s pretty deserted and we saw few cars and few other cyclists. The countryside, thanks to the recent combination of sunshine and showers, was looking truly magnificent and I rode to the lake at Thorenc where two of the wives had prepared a magnificent picnic for us. The boys had overtaken me on the long uphill stretch and had already feasted by the time I arrived. I only stopped long enough to down a couple of cokes and a ham sandwich before remounting and setting off towards home.

I was determined that they were not going to overtake me on the way back. I set off at a brisk pace and really pushed on the descents. After the climb up St Pons to Coursegoules, its pretty much downhill all the way. I made it back to the car without being caught though to be honest our paths would have diverged after Carros. When I checked with them today, it appears that I wasn’t caught thanks to time lost on two punctures. In any event, I broke 10 hours by 14 minutes. Job well done.

I got back home in time to witness Pippo Pozzato, resplendent in the Italian champion’s jersey, take Italy’s first stage win of the Giro from a breakaway. Not one that had been away all day, but one that had slipped away in the final kilometers and was composed largely of the recently dethroned favourites, minus Evans, who managed to pull back a few seconds on those better placed on GC.

Well wouldn’t you know it, victories are just like buses. You wait ages for one and then another one comes along soon after. Yes, homeboy Manuel Belletti (Colnago CSF-Inox) won the sprint for the line from a breakaway into Cesenatico, a stage devoted to another local, one Marco Pantani.

Karpets, the scariest looking rider in the peloton, who was in the breakaway, took back over two minutes to leapfrog from 19th to 12th on GC. Otherwise, the status quo was maintained. However, it all kicks off tomorrow with a very lumpy stage which finishes in Asolo, home to one of my dearest friends. I do hope she’ll be watching it live.

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.