Playing hookey

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what’s prescribed in the training programme, the weather just beckons. It did today. The last few days the weather’s been steadily improving and today was positively balmy. Break out the sun-block. I could no more take a rest day than I could remain indoors.

I headed out with my beloved around lunchtime for one of my favourite circuits: Vence by way of l’Ara, returning via La Gaude. Regular readers will know that my current record for ascending to Vence, set last year, is 51 minutes. This early in the season, I’m not aiming to get close to that figure.

There’s something very uplifting about being out in the open air, bathed in warm sunshine, without a care in the world. Not only that but my traffic light karma was working well. I coasted through 5 out of 6 sets of lights: always a promising sign. On the way up to La Colle sur Loup, the weather was so warm I was beginning to regret wearing my windtex jacket. But I was sure I’d appreciate it’s thickness later on when descending. I did.

As we wended our way ever upwards, to my right I caught glimpses of the sea through the trees, always a calming influence. As I glanced ahead, I could see the walled village of St Paul de Vence. It’s usually on this particular stretch of road where, in the spring and summer months, I encounter hoards of Japanese tourists, heading towards St Paul, having just disembarked from their coaches. They usually become quite animated when they see me and, inevitably, take my photograph. I often wonder how they explain me away when showing their holiday photographs to friends and family on their return. We didn’t have to dodge tourists today, only the school buses.

I made good time up to the base of l’Ara despite having to stop several times to blow my nose. I am getting better at doing this one-handed while continuing to pedal, but it’s a job best done with both hands, and that’s still beyond me. A glance at my Garmin revealed  it was unlikely I would beat my best time, however I would at least be close to it. And I was: 52mins 23secs.

We rode through Vence and along to St Jeannet. The road was surprisingly quiet, bereft of both cars and cyclists. We stopped to enjoy a coffee in the sunshine and lingered over the newspaper.  I noted that my beloved boys in claret and blue had been bought down to earth 3-1 yesterday evening, at the Theatre of Dreams. The Red Devils, courtesy of Wayne Rooney, had scored in the first minute of the match and we were 2-0 down (Rooney again) at half-time. Darren Bent got one back in the second half, but then we conceded another. It read as if we put up a spirited, but ultimately doomed, defence.

You might be wondering why we didn’t watch the match on my beloved husband’s all-singing, all dancing, new, oversized HD screen in the office. That had been the plan. However, he has had problems accessing the connection via the internet. Meanly, I have left him to sort it out. He visited the Orange Shop yesterday afternoon where he learned that, thanks to an administrative oversight, he was given the wrong access code. As a consequence, the connection was cancelled and it will now take 7 days to be re-established. We’ll get there eventually.

The lack of traffic facilitated a swift descent back home where I quickly rustled up some lunch before sitting down to plan this evening’s English class. After last week’s session translating song lyrics into French, I’m going to find an article on travel to discuss and translate. I find it’s always better to pick topics which will hold their interest.

Postscript: Got back from the club to discover OGCN had beaten Drancy 0-1 to advance to the quarter-finals of the Cup.

Twinkle, twinkle

Gratifyingly good performances from both England and France yesterday evening as they look to distance the disappointment of the World Cup in South Africa. For Capello it is business as usual, though injuries have prompted (forced) him to give opportunities to some promising players, notably Adam Johnson. Revelations about Wayne Rooney’s off field escapades have fortunately not affected his on-field form, quite the opposite. However, is it only me who thinks Capello might be better off leaving Lampard on the side-lines?  After two resounding wins, England top their Group.

Laurent Blanc has a much harder task with his “blanc piece of paper” but the signs are promising and, once many of his players return from injury and/or suspension, expect more score-lines like yesterday evening. Help may be at hand as I understand that Zinadine Zidane’s eldest is playing for Real Madrid’s youth squad. He’ll be 17 come the European Cup in 2012.

There may soon be a Gallic flavour at Villa Park. Rumour has it that Gerard Houllier is mulling over an offer to step into Martin O’Neill’s shoes. They have a potential banana skin away at Stoke this Sunday, after riding their luck to most recently scrape past Everton. They’ve been a bit of a curate’s egg and, with no additions to the squad following the sale of James Milner, will quickly need to bring on some of their promising youngsters.

OGCN are also playing on Sunday, when they’ll be home to Bordeaux now bereft of my favourite French player Yoann Gourcuff who’s hightailed it to Lyon. However, the first installment from the sale of Loic Remy has finally arrived into the OGCN coffers, allowing them to balance (cook?) the books. Nonetheless, OGCN have done their usual last minute shopping in football’s equivalent of Filene’s basement. Let’s hope they have unearthed some gems.

Weight of expectation

There’s been a collective weeping, wailing and beating of breasts in France today after their football team lost 2-0 to Mexico. Most have them on the plane home already. I’ve no idea what L’Equipe made of it as there were no copies available today in the local newsagents. Maybe, they decided not to publish in protest. The Nice Matin called it “Honteux” (disgraceful) and most players, with the exceptions of Lloris and Malouda, who both scored 5, were awarded less than 4. I think the manager was a definite “nul” points.

Still, that’s not been the only surprise. I watched a bit of the Spain v Switzerland game. The Spanish were passing the ball around beautifully while the Swiss employed that time honoured tactic of the underdog: 11 men behind the ball. It worked. Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper, fell asleep from boredom  and let in a Swiss goal.

Germany, who started brightly by scoring 4 goals in their first match, lost Klose and went down 1-0 this afternoon to the Serbs.

England, meanwhile,  laboured against Algeria, a team you could buy with the sale proceeds of Emile Heskey and still have change over. We’ve maintained our unbeaten run, but I’m pretty sure this was not what Fabio Capello ordered as his birthday treat. At times there was more action from the bench than on the pitch as he agonised, grimaced and gesticulated over England’s performance.

While David James looked commanding in yellow, back in his rightful place between the goalposts, the same could not be said of many of his teammates. Rooney was rubbish, Lampard lacklustre and Gerrard, by his own admission, lacked courage. It’s still all to play for next Wednesday afternoon against Serbia, a team that has already beaten Algeria.

The pundits have worked out that if England draw 2-2 against Serbia, and USA draw 0-0 with Algeria, the winner will be decided by drawing lots. Given our luck with games of chance and penalties, we’ll be keeping France company on the plane back.

If only

I headed down to the rendezvous point for today’s club ride under a heavily overcast sky. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it was damp. There was a good turn out of members, most of whom I had to kiss on the cheeks. Once we had set off, I took the opportunity during the first few kms of the ride to update M le President on events of the past week.  The road turned up to Gattieres and, as is my wont, I slid from the front to the back of the peloton in nano-seconds. However, it was some time before they disappeared totally from view and, as our paths crossed later that morning, I realised I wasn’t too far behind the medium slow group.

Today’s programme featured a 31/2hr ride at my speed. Actually I felt much better than I had yesterday and enjoyed the ride up to Tourrettes via Vence. Where, having worked up a bit of a sweat, I was now feeling chilled so decided to descend via Vence and La Gaude to collect the Sunday papers and warm myself up with a quick cup of coffee before hurrying home for my simultaneous sporting action.

For Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the weather in Belgium was truly atrocious, not that it seemed to deter the die-hard fans. A large number of riders, having lost all hope of a decent finish, either hopped into the broom wagon or one of their team cars. In fact, there were only 26 finishers!

The light was so poor that it was difficult to distinguish the riders who were strewn all over the parcours largely thanks to the high winds. For safety reasons, the course was reduced in length (by 10km) and the winner crossed the line half-way through the first half of the League Cup final. It was Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil) who amply demonstrated Jens Voigt’s mantra that if you don’t try you’ll never win: he was one of the original breakaways. Rick Flens (Rabobank) was 2nd and Ian Stannard (Sky) who was 3rd had bridged up to Traksel from one of the splintered groups. Although a number of riders had tried to catch the trio, most notably Hushovd (Cervelo) and Roulston (HTC-Columbia), no one had gotten within 40 seconds of them.

Over on the other screen, Villa had gone ahead with a penalty (James Milner) after Vidic had brought down Gabby Agbonlahor. The pundits, to a man, agreed that the referee should have shown Vidic a red card (last defender) but he didn’t even get a yellow. Who knows how the game might have panned out with the Red Devils down to 10 men. Michael Owen scored in the 13th minute and shortly thereafter pulled his hamstring. This meant Rooney was going to have to come off the bench and play.

While my beloved boys in claret and blue played well in the first-half they were overrun by Manchester United, the cup holders, in the second half. That man Rooney popped his head onto a wonderful pass from Valencia and it was game over with less than 15 minutes to play. While Villa threw everything at their opponents, they held firm to retain their title.  

Last night, predictably, OGCN lost 2-0 away at Olympique Lyonnais and remain one place above the drop zone.