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.

Day off

Like the boys in the Tour de France, today’s a rest day in my training programme. Though while they’ll be going for a gentle spin to keep the legs tuned, I’ll be wading through loads of administrative stuff which I need to clear before our upcoming vacation.

Yes, I’m continuing with the training programme. I’ve enjoyed it so much more than anticipated and it gives me a real sense of purpose each time I go out on the bike. My first 6 month block ends this month and my coach asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to stop, continue after a break or carry right on?  We all know the answer to that question.

The workload has lessened since London-Paris, but I’m feeling really strong and riding well  at the moment (despite the heat), and am hoping this continues, particularly as I’m going to tackle Le Tourmalet next week. The feet are still painful, but manageable, and I’ve been given some exercises to do to ameliorate the situation.

My coach asked me what I’d learned from taking part in London-Paris. Quick as a flash I replied that I don’t much enjoy riding with lots of other people: 5-6 is my ideal number. That’s 5-6 who ride at my pace, or a bit faster.   This is therefore a bit of a conundrum when looking at a challenge for next year. How many cycling events or cyclosportifs are restricted to 5-6 people? That’s right, none!

I watched the World Cup Final last night. Well, most of it. I dozed off during the second half and woke up just before Spain scored the only goal of the game. Give that man Iniesta a prize! According to L’Equipe, Alberto Contador is going to give him one of his bikes as he apparently enjoys cycling – excellent idea.  The South Africans should feel proud that they’ve staged such a magnificent tournament, won by the team which played the most scintillating football.

We are the champions..................

Lastly, congratulations should go to four of my clubmates who have today won the French FSGT  team time-trial championships – chapeau lads!

Excuses

With the paucity of posts in the last couple of weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’d abandoned the blogging. Not a bit of it, it’s just that since getting back from Paris, I have been extremely busy.

The day after our return, we left for two days in Italy to visit clients and since then I have been much occupied with quarter end for both the cycling club and our company. In addition, my parents have been here  for the last 10 days so I have  been looking after my Mum in order to give my Dad a bit of a break. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s 24/7 is very tiring even though he has the patience of a saint and looks after her so wonderfully well.

Mum’s fine with me and generally does as she’s told but, a bit like a small child, you can’t take your eyes off her for a moment. She’s been spending her afternoon’s and evenings watching the sporting action with me (Wimbledon, World Cup and The Tour). In addition, she helped me to bake a  few cakes for the GP Skoda, a team time-trial which the cycling club organised last week end. My Dad was rather disappointed that he didn’t get any cake, not even a few crumbs. He’d have been even more disappointed if he’d heard the comments. My pain d’epice is becoming quite famous and people are begging me for the recipe – my lips are sealed. This is the result of months of experimentation and you think I’m just going to hand over the fruits of my hard work? Think again.

All this has totally eaten into the time I usually set aside for blogging. However normal service will be resumed shortly.

Last minute bits and bobs

Samuel Et’o’s Cameroon are the first team to be eliminated from the 2010 World Cup. This is a shame given that their match last night against Denmark was easily the best thus far. However, Nicolas Anelka got the march on them as, having had words with his manager, he too made a speedy exit without passing “Go” and without collecting £200.

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Tour of Switzerland which seems to have been plagued by rather wet weather. We know Switzerland well and it’s always interesting to see them riding through areas we ourselves have visited. For example, they descended the Albula Pass into La Punt where we’ve spent many a week end cross-country skiing. When my beloved was working in Constance, I would fly over on Friday evening to Zurich, he would pick me up and we would drive up to the Engadine to ski. We stayed in a small family-run hotel in La Punt who, due to the lateness of our arrival, would leave us a key under the flowerpot on the front step (where else). We haven’t been for a few years but nothing much seems to have changed in the meantime.

This morning we’re posing for the annual club photo. My beloved is acting as official photographer and is taking this new responsibility very seriously. He’s fished my tri-pod out of the cave and has mounted his camera on it. This now poses me something of a dilemma, who do I stand next to? A couple of new members weigh more than me so I’m probably now only the 6th or 7th heaviest in the club, but will the others turn up? Or, horror of horrors, will M le President insist on having the bureau all together? If he does, I’m going to stand behind him and the Treasurer: they’re both shorter and lighter than me.

After the photographs, it’s back home, a speedy change and off to the station to catch the train to Paris. Yes, my list is all ticked off, the bike is neatly packed into its case, and I’m raring to go. Yesterday afternoon, I picked up the final piece of the jigsaw: my Stars’ n Bars, made specially for me by the owner of my LBS. With those for fuel, 500km should be no trouble!

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.

Two days to go

Today’s sports headlines are dominated by the forthcoming Eire v France football match this Saturday. There are, understandably, high levels of anxiety in France that they may not qualify for the World Cup next year in South Africa. Finishing second in one of the less strong groups has already been a savage blow to French pride, I’m not sure they can take being dumped out of the World Cup by the Irish.

L’Equipe has devoted four pages to this very topic, including a run-down on the Irish team by former or current French team mates. Aston Villa’s very own Richard Dunne has been singled out for a special mention on account of his aerial capabilities, particularly from set-pieces. French-speaking Irish pundits such as Tony Cascarino and Liam Brady have been interviewed at length and their views sought on the likely outcome. Everyone seems united in their view that Domenech is the weak link, being much less tactically savvy than Trapattoni.

One current (Loic Remy) and two ex-Nicois players (Rod Fanni and Hugo Lloris) feature in France’s squad along with a whole host of French players currently lighting up the English Premiership and Spain’s La Liga. Leaving aside the one notable absentee from the squad, Frank Ribery, man for man the French are either equal or superior to the Irish in every position. But football is a team game, the Irish have great team spirit and will not be a pushover. Just ask the Italians, who drew 2-2 at Croke Park last month.

Postscript: Friday and L’Equipe has extended it’s coverage to 41/2 pages. No doubt it’ll be going into overdrive this week end with further pre-match coverage tomorrow and the, all important, post match analysis on Sunday. Any bets on 6 pages?

Saturday Postscript: It’s 7 whole pages!