Almost home

To kill a bit of time yesterday, and give my weary feet a bit of a rest, I watched “Eat Pray Love”. An undemanding film which will no doubt boost tourism to Rome, Indian Ashrams and Bali. If I was going to “find myself” none of these destinations would be on my list of must see/visit places.

I’m not an adventuresome traveller. When I was younger, my friends inter-railed around Europe, sleeping whenever and wherever. I, meanwhile, found gainful employment and then spent two weeks in a luxury hotel. To me “tent” has always been a 4-lettered word. I will only stay in places that have clean toilets, and hot and cold running water. Hence, certain continents are a definite”no go” as are many countries. Call me chicken, but I know what I like and what I don’t like.

I had to change flights at Doha. On the way out, there was a 2 hour wait, but on the way back it’s 19 hours. Not wishing to spend all that time cooped up in the admittedly swanky Qatar Airways lounge, I decided to venture into downtown Qatar. My only experience of the Middle East has been numerous, largely business, trips to Dubai and a plane change in Muscat. I have however seen bits of Qatar on the television during the Tour of Qatar. This is largely a sprint fest which provides some warm weather training for those not taking part in the Tour down Under, and is followed by the Tour of Oman.

Qatar looks like Dubai did 15 years ago and its oil and gas rich rulers have ambitious plans for the place with a significant amount of construction planned in the hopes of attracting the World Cup in 2022. However, from what I’ve seen, I couldn’t recommend it as a holiday destination.

I can’t wait to get home but while I’m hanging around in Doha I hope to be able to see the Commonwealth Men’s Road Race. I have been watching the Australians hoover up almost all of the track medals at the Commonwealth Games. I had thought that Pom bashing was a bit of a myth and certainly never encountered any of it while in Melbourne and Sydney. However, the press seemed to make a big deal out of Australia whupping Britain in the Commonwealth Games, as if we were the only other team in town. It’s clear that they take the Games far more seriously, having sent their A team in all disciplines: not so the English.

With any luck and a good internet connect, I may also be able to see Paris-Tours. Can PhilGil can make it three in a row ? He’s probably still feeling the effects of jetlag but then so will most of his main competitors: Freire, Pozzato, Breschel, Feillu. However, I think he’ll have a point to prove after the World’s. Tom Boonen who’s still recovering from the after effects of his knee surgery is unlikely to be in contention.

Postscript: That man Oscarito popped up to take it on the line from Angelo Furlan and Gert Steegmans, whose team mate Geoffroy Lequatre, having soloed from 8km out, was swamped 400m from the line.

Postpostscript: Australia make it 14 out of 15 golds on offer in the Commonwealth cycling with Allan Davis winning gold in the Men’s, ahead of Hayden Roulston and David Millar while Rachel Gilmore won the Ladies’.

Memories of Melbourne II

I know, I know, my second day in Sydney and I’m still reminiscing about Melbourne, or more specifically, Geelong. In Melbourne airport I met some of the Lithuanian squad on their way back to Marseille. Obviously, they had more modest ambitions than some teams but overall were pleased with their performances. So few have either the ability or opportunity to win that they have to set themselves more realistic goals.

The Moroccan squad were no doubt delighted that their rider Mohammed Said was part of the original breakaway group and featured strongly in the television coverage. Likewise, Esad Hasanovic from Serbia, the rider stranded in no man’s land for a large part of Sunday’s race, was probably being cheered on by lots of Serbs around the world. Yukiya Arashiro was the first Japanese to ever finish in the top ten in the Men’s Race. The Japanese team were staying in our Geelong base camp and they were delighted with that result. I know road racing is becoming more popular in a country that already has a significant cycling culture, albeit in Keirin racing.

My beloved, who flew back to Milan via Doha, was on the same flight as Philippe Gilbert and the Evans’. He talked to both of them and said they were pleased with their respective performances. They tried their best and that’s all anyone can expect.  The Belgians came away empty handed, not so the Australians, who collected three medals: one of each.

The Germans topped the medal table. A country that’s fallen out of love with cycling and which, at the end of this season, will no longer have a Pro-Tour team. But that didn’t stop them picking up four medals: three silvers and a bronze.  Great Britain’s hardware was picked up in the time-trials. Silver for David Millar and gold for Emma Pooley who was also a formidable presence in the Road Race. Who knows what Alex Dowsett might have achieved if he’d had a mechanic as deft as Tony Martin’s. Next up USA, whose Taylor Phinney won both a gold and a bronze medal.

Scandinavia garnered a full-house with Hushovd, Breschel and Johansson. Italy and Switzerland each collected one gold. Vos won her 4th consecutive silver, after gold in Salzburg, and looked on the verge of tears, she’s not a lady who likes to lose. Canada and New Zealand each picked up a bronze, or should that be half a bronze in the case of Canada?

Spain’s performance was disappointing. Their highest placed rider in all the races was Freire, who finished 6th in the road race. However, I do know that the team was much affected by all the doping news, particular that relating to Alberto, who is close to both Luis  Leon and Samu Sanchez, fanned by McQuaid’s pointed comments about Spain. I seem to recall they rather faded into the background when Valverde faced similar approbation in Stuttgart in 2007.    

I didn’t get a chance to ask JaJa if he was pleased with the performance of the French, Jeannie aside, but the 5th place of Arnaud Demare in the U23 road race and they way they animated the Men’s Race, not forgetting Romain Feillu’s 10th place, must have shown the team’s heading in the right direction.  

McQuaid has declared the Championships a success and said over 156,000 watched from the roadside on Sunday. How to they know? Does someone go round and count them? Or is there some agreed formula which takes account of the length of the course and the depth of the crowds?

Memories of Melbourne I

I’ve arrived in Sydney and have now had time to collect my thoughts. You’re probably thinking three races and three sprint finishes, not the outcome I predicted.  True, but let’s look at what took place. The U23 race and that of the women kicked off in similar fashion with a lone American on a mission of self-destruction. All the action took place in the last couple of laps with riders trying but ultimately being unable to escape the oncoming group.  A couple of factors came into play here. The second hill was just that too far from the finish.  Because of the long straight road, any escapee was in full view of the peloton and was further hindered by the strong headwind along the esplanade. Many teams employed negative tactics and riders were unwilling to work together.

The U23 race was won by Michael Matthews, more of an all-rounder, than a pure sprinter. The ladies race might have been won by either Judith Arndt or Nicole Cooke if they hadn’t been so concerned about leading one another to the finish line. Instead, the winner was a powerful sprinter, Italian Giorgia Bronzini. The remaining two spots on the podium were, again, all-rounders, rather than pure sprinters.

The crowds had swelled considerably for Sunday’s race and it was hard finding a good position on the 50m line which had been colonized by the most fervent supporters of the official Tom Boonen fan club, who had travelled to Australia despite the absence of their sporting hero.  Typically, Tom musters thousands of supporters at the World Championships. Having 40 turn up when you’re not even there speaks volumes. The Italians had adopted the 50m marker on the other side of the road but had only an Italian flag while the Flemish could muster t-shirts, flags, hats and balloons: round 1 to the Belgians.

The Men’s Race, which took place in perfect weather conditions, was more of an enigma. The peloton took off from the centre of Melbourne at a positively pedestrian pace aided by a tail wind as far as Weribee. A group of five relatively unknown riders went off the front shortly after the start and built up a seemingly invincible lead of over 23 minutes. No doubt concern was being expressed by the UCI commissars as to what would happen if, having arrived in Geelong, the leading group of 5 lapped the field. In theory, the field would have to retire. Thankfully for the UCI this situation didn’t arise. The leading group, and the sole rider in no man’s land between the two groups, wore themselves out well before the finish line and, one by one, were absorbed back into the peloton, spit out the back and retired.

On reaching Geelong, the peloton had cranked up the pace with riders dropping out on each of the circuits, their work for the day done and dusted. Not unnaturally, the bigger teams (USA, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Australia) did the lion’s share of the work, all hoping to place their protected rider in a winning position. Cadel Evans put on a magnificent defence of his rainbow jersey but rather wore himself out in the process. Philippe Gilbert vied with Cadel for the role of most aggressive rider but his 3rd and final escape was doomed by that strong headwind.  I had erroneously assumed  Filippo Pozzato would work with Philippe Gilbert, on the basis that a medal is better than no medal. I was so wrong: round 2 to the Belgians.

Phil Gil and his shadow

Finally, it was the Russians who reunited the fractured peloton of around 30 riders in the last 1km enabling the mass sprint which was won by the ever popular God of Thunder, Thor Hushovd of Norway who was part of a team of three.  Dane, Matti Breschel moved up a place this year to claim 2nd, while Aussie Allan Davis was 3rd. I wouldn’t call either Hushovd or Breschel pure sprinters, they’re fast finishing rouleurs. Few figured on the final podium, but that’s what makes the racing exciting – it’s unpredictability.

Postcards from Melbourne V

Yesterday, I decided to explore Geelong on foot. I had been tasked by one of my club mates to obtain a signed photo of Cav. I don’t collect cycling memorabilia; any autographs or stuff I collect tends to be by chance and I always take it down to the club for whoever might be interested.  On my travels I exhorted the good citizens of Geelong to come and watch the cycling as many seemed disgruntled at the disruption to their driving/parking arrangements occasioned by the racing. It must have worked as there was a good crowd all around the race course and a great atmosphere for the U23 Road Race.

I had wished the French team good luck as they exited their hotel (our base camp in Geelong) and while waiting for the start of the race noted that Cav was being interviewed on the quayside. I set off at a trot but was too late, arriving only in time to see him ride off in the opposite direction. I retraced my steps to watch what proved to be an exciting race.

U23 races are much more difficult to call:  the best indicator of form being the recent Tour de l’Avenir.  Home town favourite was Michael “Bling” Matthews, while my friend Ute favoured German John Degenkolb. Taylor Phinney was the bookies favourite. Almost as soon as the race started, American Ben King soloed away. A tactic he had used recently to win the US Road Race Championship.

Stars of Tomorrow

The peloton seemed unconcerned but the Aussies sent a man in pursuit, Ben King. Yes, there are two of them, both riding for Trek-Livestrong. Groups of riders kept trying to get away but were constantly hauled back into the main bunch. Eventually, two riders succeeded (Hong Kong’s King Lok Cheung and Belarus’s Andrei Krasilnika) and then a further two (Italy’s Moreno Moser and Britain’s Alex Dowsett) making a bunch of 5 pursuing, the American Ben King. His gap on the peloton never exceeded 6 minutes and at approximately the half-way point, the peloton decided enough was enough and stepped up the pace.

Meanwhile, the front group had splintered leaving Alex Dowsett and Moreno Moser (Francesco’s nephew, so another name with provenance), to pursue the American Ben King.  Moser caught and overtook King at about 3/4s of the way round, managing to stay in front until the 9th lap when the major nations decided to take control of the peloton. This provoked a major split leaving most of the fancied riders in the front group. The French made multiple bids for freedom, but each attempt was reeled back in setting up a mass sprint for the line. With 300metres to go, Bling Matthews came off Phinney’s wheel and launched himself several bike lengths clear. Degenkolb (good call, Ute) was second while, for the first time ever, two riders tied for 3rd place: Guillaume Boivin of Canada and Taylor Phinney. Not so much as a pixel between them. There was however only one medal, so they’ll have to share!

Postcards from Melbourne IV

Before the start of the Men’s Time Trial this afternoon, we took the opportunity to ride the entire 15.9km Geelong Road Race circuit. I still suspect that while the peloton will be nervous on the fast, flat, potentially windy, 85km ride from Melbourne, the real racing won’t start until the riders reach Geelong.

Previously, I hadn’t fully appreciated the narrowness of the roads around the parks, along the river and through the suburbs. The remainder are relatively broad but the two testing climbs are on the narrower roads, so it will be imperative to remain well placed at the head of the peloton each time it approaches those climbs.

The first climb is Challambra Crescent at around 5.6km, with the second at 9.2km. The former is the steeper. While it’s only 1km in length, it averages 8% at the start, before seemingly cruelly dipping down before rearing up to 22% at the summit (13% av.). The crescent is a residential road which should be thronged with locals on race day.

Steep descents tend to follow steep ascents and this is no exception. Taylor Phinney managed 85km/hr. on this 2.5km descent yesterday. At the foot of the descent there’s a sharp S-bend leading to a narrow temporary, pontoon bridge. This is followed by the 700m ascent of Queens Park Road: shorter than the first, but equally punishing. There’s then just 6km along wide roads to the finish line, into a very strong headwind, not forgetting, of course, the last 150m cruel, kick-up before the line. Needless to say, anyone (solo or small group) hoping to escape will probably need to attack on the first hill. 

Reconnaissance over, we resumed our posts to watch the Men’s Time Trial. Few can forget Fabulous Fabian’s majestic and imperious victory last year and today he was hoping to become the first rider to win a fourth title in this discipline. Only the brave or foolhardy would have bet against him. Fortune sometimes favours the brave, but not today: it followed the form book. Nonetheless, it was a totally absorbing race with impressive times being posted by riders in the earlier groups, notably Mick Rogers who was also hoping to be the first man  to win 4 World titles in this discipline. He was sitting in the hot seat as the first riders from the last group rolled down the starting ramp.

While the ladies basked in sunshine yesterday afternoon, today the sun was hidden by thick clouds and rain looked a real possibility. The earlier stiff breeze disappeared favouring those in the final group.  Naturally, Fabulous Fabian was last out of the starting blocks preceded by one of Australia’s new heroes, Ritchie Porte, who went after last year’s silver medalist, Tony Martin.

Tony Martin

David Millar was posting the fastest split times forcing Fab to really push it on the descents where he reached speeds of over 100km/hr. almost coming to grief on the S-bend as he brushed up against the barrier. Remember what I said about luck? Tony Martin had a puncture and, thanks to his quick witted support team, was on his replacement bike within 10secs. (Remembering Dowsett yesterday, can they please give a few tips to the British squad.) Given that he still managed to finish in 3rd place, he’ll no doubt be buying them drinks this evening.

Silver for Millar

Millar was smoking, but not as much as Spartacus, who finished atop the podium, more than a minute ahead of Millar. Porte and Rogers were respectively 4th and 5th. This margin allowed Fab to waggle 4 fingers as he crossed the finishing line. I consider I’ve been fortunate to see all four wins in person.

The Terminator

(All photographs courtesy of my beloved)

Postcards from Melbourne III

It’s still far colder than I anticipated for this time of year and I’m regretting not bringing my down vest but the forecast is for warmer weather at the week end. As well as checking out the course in Geelong, we’ve been exploring the Melbourne shoreline on our rental bikes.  The scenery has been quite spectacular and, as we’ve ridden further south, the properties have grown in size and there are some splendid examples of both colonial and modern architecture. The former are generally clapboard with wrap around verandas decorated with filigree ironwork while the latter are seemingly built largely from glass affording the owners panoramic views of the sea.

When questioned as to the difference between Sydney and Melbourne, the natives have advised that Sydney was founded by convicts while Melbourne was founded by immigrants from mainly Scotland and Italy. Do I sense some rivalry?

We again set off for Geelong at a reasonable hour to watch the U23 individual time-trial where Taylor Phinney was odds on favourite to win. He does have an impeccable pedigree and the results this year, most recently in the Tour de l’Avenir, to back up those claims. However, he faced stiff completion from the locals, last year’s silver medalist and GB’s Alex Dowsett.

We easily positioned ourselves near the start/ finish line with a clear view of the big screen, close to refreshments and cover from the promised rain squalls. This is my 5th Worlds and easily the best so far from an organizational perspective. Everything has been done for the viewing public. Instead of the usual banks of seating, there’s one small one for the press after and a small one before the finish line for local dignitaries. The UCI and sponsors’ lounges are at the foot of the final climb.

Many local shopkeepers have a cycling-related focus in their windows while the bars, cafes and restaurants are competing hard for business with lots of themed events.  There are screens all over the course, particularly in key areas such as the climbs and in the family-friendly parks.  They’ve even established hubs for the supporters of the major foreign teams all handily located near purveyors of alcoholic beverages. No stone has been left unturned. There’s even screens in the centre of Melbourne for those that can’t make the journey to Geelong. But then Australians really love their sport, don’t they?

Sadly, the cycling is being overshadowed by this Saturday’s replay of the AFL finals. You only have to look at the local press or watch the TV to have this amply confirmed. Residents of Geelong were asked if they’d be watching the cycling, most seemed to be annoyed at the inconvenience of road closures while others were aghast at having seen professional riders jump red lights. The inclement weather and that apathy accounted for the poor showing at today’s races. You could literally count the numbers of spectators, many of whom had arrived by bike.

The first rider off, Frayre Moctezuma Eder from Mexico, was visibly shivering in the chill wind and took some time to attain rhythm and speed.  No sooner had he set off than the heavens opened, making the course treacherous for those in Groups 1 and 2. Subsequently, the sun and gentle breeze combined to quickly dry out the course for those in the subsequent two groups. The few fans gathered mostly in the finishing straight did their best to loudly cheer and encourage the future of the sport. This was great to see and heart-warming for the riders as generally the U23’s and women’s events unfairly attract less coverage and support. This is a race with a great pedigree. Just look at a few of the winners of recent years;  Lars Boom,  Jose Ivan Guttierez and Thor Hushovd.

To win a rainbow jersey, you need luck. This was Phinney’s fifth. He was lucky that Luke Durbridge endured wet roads, while he didn’t. Alex Dowsett was unlucky to have a problem with his tyre which ended his potential challenge.  Phinney won by 1.90secs ahead of 19-year old Durbridge, while German Marcel Kittel was a further 20 secs back in 3rd. The future of cycling looks rosy.

Next up, the ladies. Pre-race favourite, German, Judith Arndt finished 2nd, some 15secs behind the diminutive, feisty Emma Pooley from GREAT BRITAIN. Linda Villumse was 3rd on her maiden outing for NZ. The evergreen Jeannie Longo was 5th.   A great day’s racing; I can’t wait for the men’s TT tomorrow.

Postcards from Melbourne II

Today my beloved had a business meeting in Geelong (fortuitous or what!) which gave me an opportunity to check out the course. The ride from Melbourne to Geelong was open and very windy although the forecast for later in the week is for less wind. The circuit around Geelong is on wide, well-maintained roads and the drag up to the finish could well mitigate against a true sprinter, like Cavendish. The two climbs are short and steep but riders like Gilbert and Cancellara will just power up them. Short steep ascents also mean fast ascents which could play into the hands of someone like Fabulous Fabian, enabling him to solo away. On the circuit, the wind may play a part either as a strong head or tailwind. The latter will make it difficult for someone to take a flyer, the latter will assist.

So who are the favourites in the Men’s road race? You cannot discount anyone from those  teams fielding 9 riders. I think Bettini, wily fox that he is, has done his planning and preparation well and chosen a strong squad to support Pozzato who’s obviously in form after the Vuelta and his win in Sunday’s Sun Herald Classic in Ballarat.

I had a chance meeting with the Spanish squad today, who are throwing their weight behind Oscarito, and he certainly fancies that uphill 150m drag to the finish. The boys were wrapped up against the biting cold wind and delayed the start of their practice ride until the squally rain showers had passed. The boys were obviously concerned about the weather and spent sometime checking out the weather forecast for the coming days. Luckily for them (and me) the mercury is set to rise at the week end.

I would categorize it as an Ardennes Classic type of course, although the climbing is concentrated in the latter 2/3rds of the race, so should suit my tip for the top, Gilbert, as well as others who have fared well in these types of races, such as Frank Schleck. That’s why I think it’s a shame that my favourite Kazakh has passed on this race. It would have suited his attacking style and one can always rely on him to enliven any race he enters.

One cannot discount Kolobnev who has performed well in the past (Stuttgart and Mendrisio). Nor can one ignore the home team, the Aussies, who will be keen to not only defend the rainbow jersey but also win on their turf. They should know the course better than anyone.

So am I saying it’s all to play for? No, even assuming that the weather is not a major factor, the stronger, larger teams will seek to put the pure sprinters under pressure and whittle down the peloton to ensure they are not duking it out in the final stretch. It’ll be a fast race and my pick is as follows: Gilbert (1), Pozzatto (2), Oscarito (3).

It’s hard to look beyond Cancellara and Tony Martin for the time trial. This tends to be a much more predictable race. I favour Fabulous Fabian over Tony and I’m going for Lars Boom to place 3rd rather than Edvald Boassen Hagen or Ritchie Porte.

Both women’s races look to be very open with no clear favourites. Though again, I expect riders from the larger teams to hold sway likewise, in the U23 races. In these races I shall be cheering for the French and, in particular, Jeanni Longo who’s old enough to have a grandson riding in the U23 race. That woman is my inspiration.

Postcards from Melbourne I

We had a most pleasant journey to Melbourne largely thanks to Qatar Airlines whose Club Class, in the humble opinion of my beloved who spends his time circumnavigating the globe, is considerably better than either BA’s or Lufthansa’s First Class. We started in a promising fashion, leaving home, at my insistence, with time to spare to reach Malpensa from whence we flew via Doha to Melbourne. Obviously, we weren’t the only ones heading for the World Championships as we espied a number of riders and plenty of press.

I had looked forward to having a bit of a film fest on board, catching up with all the latest movies. What a sorry bunch they all were! I ended up watching two delightful French movies. One was filmed in Cannes and the other in Monaco. It helped to stave off any incipient homesickness.

It’s only a short hop to Doha but I slept most of the way from Doha to Melbourne. As usual on red-eyes, I eschewed dinner in favour of a glass of my favourite beverage and then it’s ear plugs in, eye shades on and lights off. I slept like a baby on the most comfortable flat bed ever. While one never flies for the on-board refuelling, I liked that I could eat whatever I wanted, from an extensive menu, whenever I wanted.

It was late when we arrived, but my beloved managed to find our way to the hotel  which is on the Melbourne shoreline. The place puts me very much in mind of Northern British seaside resorts: more Southport than Blackpool. We had a quick trek around Melbourne today and collected our hire bikes. The older architecture in the town is again reminiscent of Northern towns such as Manchester or Leeds while the new stuff is your average American highrise. The feel of small town USA is reinforced by the roadway grid-system.

We’re still not on Oz time. We felt fine today until just after lunch when we decided we both needed a quick power nap which inexplicably turned into a rather longer sleep-in. Now, of course, we’ve become night owls. We’re off to Geelong tomorrow to check out the course.

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”

Jaws holidays on Cote d’Azur

I am not a fan of horror or scary movies, not even slightly scary ones. For example, I only have to hear the opening bars to the theme tune to Jaws for my blood to chill. I might be going to Australia in September, but I won’t be putting a foot on any beaches, much less dipping any of my 10 toes into the sea. So it was with great surprise, and much trepidation, that I read a shark had been sighted off my home town’s shores.

Yes, the red flag has been flying over the beach for a couple of days since  two lifeguards thought they saw a shark offshore. It’s now been assumed that it was probably only a dolphin and that they overreacted. Well, much better to be safe than sorry!

I hardly ever swim in the sea, despite my cycling coach suggesting that I spend some time swimming. He’s never seen me swim otherwise he’d realise its futility. Thirty minutes of my frantic, thrashing doggie paddle uses under 100 calories. In truth, I’ve not even been down to the pool this summer.  But, after the so-called shark sightings, I may never venture onto the seashore again. Much safer to stick to cycling.

Today’s training ride included yet more of those low gear, high cadence exercises of which my coach is much enamoured and are really tiring. Still if, as a consequence, I achieve 100th of Alberto’s fluency on the bike, it’ll all have been worthwhile. My coach has also re-introduced solo leg training on the home trainer after he realised that I couldn’t do the exercise out on the road. Well, I could but at such an embarrassingly slow pace. Much better to perform these exertions in the privacy of my bedroom and away from sniggering onlookers.

I got back in time from today’s training ride to watch the ever spritely, Robbie “Pocket-Rocket” McEwan kick ass in stage 1 of the Eneco Tour and win with a well-timed surge. He’s going to be in fine form for the World Championships in Melbourne, for which I have volunteered and where I have been allocated an interesting role. As usual, I volunteered for most things while giving details of what I’d done at past championships. But the organisers have  elected to give me something I’ve not done before which I suspect may have more to do with my linguistic skills. So far no news about the requirement to attend a couple of training days beforehand which could scupper my chances, as I won’t be able to attend.

My beloved, who was coming with me to Australia for the whole two weeks, is now cutting short his stay by one week to head for the US. So I will be sightseeing on my own, plus ca change! Though, obviously I won’t be spending any time on the beach, or in the sea. My one outstanding issue is how to get back to Nice with the bike (and my luggage) on the train from Milan airport.