7-year itch

Yesterday was pretty blissful. My beloved and I rose late, largely thanks to the clocks going forward and his tardy arrival back into Nice the night before. We breakfasted, dressed, mounted our bikes and headed for that morning’s pointage, just up the road in St Paul de Vence. The sky was overcast and it was obviously going to rain at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

We enjoyed our ride before collecting the newspapers and heading for home. Narrowly avoiding the rain, which fell all afternoon, evening and overnight. After lunch, I settled down on the sofa (suitably attired) to enjoy the newspapers and a veritable smorgasbord of cycling.

Up first was all three stages of the Criterium International, or Jens Voigt Invitational as it’s more commonly known. As if by magic, guess who was a sole breakaway on  stage 1? None other than Jens himself, putting the hurt on the other teams and paving the way for Frank Schleck’s (Leopard Trek) win atop L’Ospedale, ahead of Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). My beloved and I know this area well having ridden around here on a trip with the cycling club. Stage 2’s 75km sprint stage was won by  Skil-Shimano’s Simon Geschke, his first pro-win, while Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack) won the 7km time-trial around Porto Vecchio. The results of those subsequent stages left the podium unchanged.

Next up was Gent-Wevelgem, shorn of Fabulous Fabian, but still choc full of talent vying for the win and those valuable UCI points. Allegedly, Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was left to watch yesterday’s win on the television so that he could better perform today and “justify his salary” so-said his manager, Patrick Lefevre. As the television coverage started, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was leading a small group of escapees, validating beyond any shadow of a doubt his team’s invitation.

After Voeckler was re-absorbed into the peloton, various attacks were launched and brought back, the last one just a few hundred kilometers before the finish. The narrow, twisting, farm roads had snapped the peloton into several bunches, but the main contenders barr Goss, Cavendish, Hushovd and Pozzato were in the leading group which sprinted for the line. Boonen powered past everyone to snatch victory, 7 years after his last win here in 2004. Danieli Bennati (Leopard Trek) was 2nd and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) finished 3rd.

To win in the Classics, you need legs, luck and good positioning. Boonen had endured a long wait for the team car after a problem at the foot of the Monteberg, 74km from the finish, before expending not inconsiderable energy chasing back to the front of the peloton. While the manner of his victory was quite different from that of Cancellara’s, it will have boosted his confidence ahead of next week’s Tour of Flanders.

We then watched video highlights of the final day’s stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya won by the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, his 2nd stage win. Collecting not only precious UCI points for his team Cofidis, but also justifying their invitation to the event. The overall was won by Contador who had assumed the lead after Wednesday’s queen stage. If anything, his popularity in Spain, where he’s perceived as being victimised, has grown as the doping case has progressed. If I were Pat McQuaid, I would eliminate Spain from my immediate travel plans.

Finally, we caught up with the last day’s action from the track World Championships where Australia have dominated and others have disappointed. Sated, we opted for an early night. All that cycling’s exhausting.

Choices

After yesterday’s disappointing ride, I went for a quick spin this morning, as per the programme. I am now mulling over whether to do tomorrow’s 150km Audax or whether to ride one of my favourite routes which includes a trip up Col de Vence again. For various reasons, I’m inclined to favour the latter.

  • Firstly, the Audax starts in Mandelieu La Napoule at 07:30 tomorrow morning, so I’ll have to get up at 05:30. Not an attractive proposition, particularly when I’ll be having a late night this evening thanks to the racers’ monthly meeting and I’ll  have to collect my beloved from the airport at midnight tomorrow evening.
  • I like the route of the Audax, although I’ll be riding a very similar route for the l’Antiboise on 17 April.
  • The pace of the Audax is fine, not at all taxing. However,  I find the frequent comfort breaks and lengthy lunch stop rather tiresome. As a consequence of these, it’s unlikely I’ll be back in time to watch E3 Prijs and the Criterium International.
  • There’s a crowd of around 50 who ride the Audax. I really prefer the freedom of riding on my own. I can go where I want, when I want. I can stop when and where I want.

Excellent, decision made. That really wasn’t too difficult. The Audax will depart without me and I’ll head off up the Col de Vence again, hopefully quicker than yesterday.

While I didn’t manage to catch Nick Nuyens win in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, nor any of the proceedings in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya where Contador, having won Wednesday’s queen stage, is leading the GC, I have been dipping into the UCI Track World Championships in Apeldoorn. Generally, the favourites have prevailed, although there have been a couple of upsets where riders have failed to appreciate that the track doesn’t allow for a slingshot finish.  

GB raised the bar a few years back with a very dominant performance going into the Beijing Olympics.  Other nations have now responded, although GB and Australia appear to have an embarrassment of talent. Given that, for London 2012, nations are restricted to one competitor per event, it’s making track cycling even more highly competitive.

I’m not sure what was the IOC’s rational for this change. After all, countries are not restricted to one competitor per event in swimming or athletics. Nor do they need the cycle track back to stage other events. While I applaud the decision to have a similar number of Olympic events for both men and women, this decision strikes me as unnecessarily harsh because a number of track events have already been banished from the Olympic agenda.

On a lighter note, Santini have the licence for the World Championship jerseys. Being Italian, their sizing errs on the small size. However, watching Gregory Bauge don the rainbow jersey this evening after winning gold in  the Men’s Sprint, I’m willing to bet his jersey was an XXL.