Independence Day

Yes, it’s the day that Americans hold so dear. It was therefore only fitting that Tyler Farrar, led out by the maillot jaune, won today’s stage which he dedicated to his late-best-buddy, Wouter Weylandt. Garmin Cervelo rack up two wins in a row proving that nice guys do win, just not all the time. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) was 2nd while Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took 3rd place and the points jersey. None of the other jerseys changed hands leaving Thor in yellow, Geraint Thomas (Sky) in white and  PhilGil with the spots.  However, Thor’s battle for the points jersey, as well as Cavendish’s, has taken a bit of a knock. They’ve lost the points gained in the intermediate sprint for a bit of playful pushing and shoving.

Today’s parade from the Vendee into cycling mad Brittany, showcased France’s beautiful coastline, countryside and wealth of historical buildings. Yes, it’s a race but it’s also touristic propaganda for the Hexagon as the race is beamed to 190 other countries. The globe’s fleet of camper vans were drawn up alongside the roads which were lined with spectators rendering it more and more difficult for the riders to find a quiet place for a comfort break.  The day’s breakaway of 5 riders earned plenty of tv time for their sponsors but, despite working well together, were, as anticipated, reeled in with 9km to go by those teams with aspirations in today’s sprint fest.

With under 8km to go, the boys were bowling along at 65km/hr. HTC seemed to have their train in place, albeit a little precipitously. Petacchi and Boonen were lying in wait on Cavendish’s wheel. A couple of riders took flyers off the front, with 600 metres to go the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin fell at the final bend which disturbed the train’s rhythm and played directly  into the hands of Garmin who guided Tyler to victory.

The GC contenders were kept well to the fore by their team mates today and out the way of any potential problems. The wind was not a factor although it was clearly a little stronger over the St Nazaire bridge, re-classified as a Cat 4 climb, a magnificent piece of French civic engineering which unites the two sides of the Loire estuary, as the peloton momentarily broke into several groups. On a lighter note, Antony Charteau was let off the leash for a quick greet and meet with his family in Chauve before remounting to join the peloton as they whizzed past.

Phil Gil has his eye on tomorrow’s stage from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne, but I’m sure he’s not the only one. If he gains more than 1 second on Thor tomorrow, Cadel will take over the maillot jaune. My beloved is in Australia and he texted me saying that the Aussies, particularly the press, are in 7th heaven over Cadel’s progress. He certainly would be a popular winner but there’s still a few more days and kilometers to go.

Garibaldi’s Giro VI

Unfortunately, due to more pressing commitments, I’ve only caught bits of the last few day’s of the Giro. Even worse, I have fallen asleep during transmission of the Tour of California. Why is it that when I watch transmission of the former I am entranced by the countryside, the honeyed stone-walled towns, the sense of history, the wide swathes of sandy coastline while in the latter I wonder why anyone would want to visit, let alone live there? I’m thinking, there’s a lesson to be learnt here. One of the aims of any Tour is to promote the region in which it’s taking place. The Americans haven’t quite got to grips with the concept. Of course, they’ve not been helped by the weather.  Meanwhile, over in the Giro, and in stark contrast to last year, the weather has been fabulous. Those pallid, concave,  pigeon chests are rapidly getting as tanned as their arms and legs.

The last couple of day’s has seen heroic French efforts sandwiched by two Cavendish wins. These wins were not without controversy as the winner allegedly had an assisted ride up Mount Etna on Sunday, thereby avoiding the cut.  Cavendish has hotly denied the accusations but my friends in the peloton tell me that not only does Cavendish get a ride from the team car but he’s often pushed over  hills by his team mates. No wonder he thanks them profusely after every win.  As we bade a fondish farewell to the sprinters, particularly Ale-jet, who are speedily exiting the Giro before the really big climbs, let’s return to the French.

Christophe Le Mevel (Garvelo) tried to seize the opportunity and the pink jersey yesterday. His team had been assured that Bert wasn’t fussed about defending it and decided to give it a go. Personally, I was willing Christophe into pink but had to leave before the end of the stage for my English class. It was only on my return I learnt that he’d sadly been unsuccessful. While SaxoBank would have been happy to let the jersey go, other teams wanted to preserve the position on GC of their riders and took up the chase. Thanks to a split in the peloton, Christophe lost time and dropped a place on GC. However, it was great to see him try. Too many riders ride just to defend their position, not to better it. Chapeau Christophe.

The win instead went to a diminutive grimpeur (another one who’ll never belong to that select sub-set who weigh more than me) John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) who has a definite empathy with the climbs of the Giro and, with his bald head, a more than passing resemblance to Pantani. Fittingly, he dedicated his win to the late Wouter Weylandt, who’s funeral was held yesterday.

As tomorrow’s stage heads into Austria, can I suggest that the teams’ chefs prepare the boys a spot of post-race Kaiser’schmarrn which has to be one of the best things to eat after significant exertion. This dish is made from a rich pancake batter where the egg whites are whipped and folded into the batter to lighten it before cooking it in a frying pan. Once cooked it is shredded, sprinkled with icing sugar (and in my case, rum-soaked raisins) and served  with a fruit compote, generally apple or plum – enjoy.

Dig in, it's delish

Hare and hounds

I had originally intended to head down to Rapallo for a couple of days to ride and watch the finish of Monday’s Giro stage, and the start of Tuesday’s. I changed those plans because the club scheduled the 175km ride for the Kivilev volunteers for yesterday. It’s a route I rarely get an opportunity to ride largely because it heads into the deserted Nicois hinterland where it’s inadvisable to ride alone; there’s no mobile phone signal and little passing traffic. The route’s not particularly difficult, but it does include over 2500m of climbing, just what I needed ahead of Saturday’s La Vencoise.

The “boys” were setting off from the club at 06:30am and mindful of the need to try and stay ahead of them, I set off at the crack of dawn in my yellow fluorescent gilet. All the better to be seen by what little traffic was around. It’s chilly at that time in the morning so I was wearing my armwarmers and 3/4 bib shorts. I parked the car in St Jeannet and rode to Bouyon largely untroubled by traffic, just a few early commuters heading in the opposite direction. The descent to Roquesteron was a little chilly and so I popped into the town bar for a coffee and comfort break.

Sigale

I set off again climbing up towards Sigale which was where the boys overhauled me last year. I had calculated that if I made it onto the plateau without being overtaken, I would reach the picnic ground before them. It was turning into a gorgeous day; sunny with a hint of a breeze. My only companions were a few animals in the fields alongside the road.  I was enjoying the peace and quiet but more importantly, the solitude. I was still profoundly upset by events the day before at the Giro. I am always saddened to learn of the death of a fellow cyclist and it’s not just a case of “there for the grace of God………” If I ever meet my maker on my bike it’ll be because I’ve been knocked off it by a careless motorist. Professional cyclists take far more risks almost wholly because of the speed at which they travel on the bike, they are always testing its limits. Accident wise it’s not been a good couple of weeks for the club, apart from my friend who had been knocked off his bike on Sunday (cracked forehead, cracked vertebrae, massive bruising to right collar and shoulder bones, plus contusions to thighs) one of our promising youngsters, while on his bike, had been attacked by a motorist and left unconscious. Both were now recovering, but had been understandably shaken up by those events.

It also made me think about Andrei Kivilev in whose memory we hold our event. He too died in a cycling accident, albeit before the advent of helmets, in Paris-Nice 2003. Each year his widow attends the prize giving with Andrei’s son, who was born after his father’s death, he’s the spitting image of his late father.  Andrei’s parents make regular pilgrimages to visit their grandson and Andrei’s grave, he’s buried here. The club with whom Andrei first started his cycling career in France, and who also participate at the Kivilev,  hold a sportif each year in October, again in Andrei’s memory in which our club takes part.  Andrei’s family, our local Kazakh community, The Kazakh embassy in France and the Kazakh cycling Federation are grateful to us for keeping Andrei’s memory alive. I’m sure someone will do something similar for Wouter. It’s the least they deserve.

I finished the long slog up to Collongues, still no sign of my pursuers. I was starting to feel confident and enjoying the open roads. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of cars I’d seen since Roquesteron. The road flattens before the climb to St Auban and the plateau. Still no sign of my team mates although I had seen the club car containing the all important picnic which had overtaken me at Brianconnet.  I was starting to believe I might make it. Foolishly, and most unlike me, I hadn’t thought to bring my route map and on reaching a set of cross roads was uncertain which way to go. I opted for Thorenc, the location of the picnic though I had a nagging feeling it was straight on. My nagging feeling was right. My route took me over the testing Col de Bleyne however it also cut 8km off the route.

Greolieres

Had I been able to find the lake, I would have gotten there first: scant consolation. I couldn’t contact my team mates, no signal. So I descended to Greolieres, gave them a call to assure them I wasn’t lost, and stopped at a cafe for lunch. I’d not been here before but had passed by a number of times and it was always busy. The couple seated behind me were waxing lyrical about their lunch. I ordered a coke (necessary sugar hit), herb omelette and salad. The waitress enquired whether I wanted it runny or well-cooked, I requested the former. I sat back, drained my coke and contemplated the arrival of my soft, golden mound of quivering egg and mixed herbs.

I was rudely disappointed. The omelette was nut brown on the exterior and certainly overcooked on the interior, I couldn’t eat it. The proprietor was a little put out, but after offering to enter  his kitchen to show his chef how to cook an omelette correctly, he agreed not to charge me anything. I continued on my way. I rode up to Coursegoules, by way of St Pons with my stomach rumbling loudly, but I was almost there, the road was now pretty much downhill all the way back to my car which was parked outside of a particularly fine bakery. That thought kept me going. My reward was a cup of coffee and a coffee eclair – bliss. Coffee eclairs would be my perfect riding snack were it not for the mess they would inevitably make in my jersey pocket.

There was no time to waste if I were to get back to the club in time for this evening’s meeting. I drove home, showered, changed, grabbed my pre-packed bag and headed to the club.  I encountered a bit of ribbing about getting lost and missing the bountiful picnic but, in truth, I didn’t care. I had enjoyed my solitary ride. I had been alone, but not lonely.

Oops-a-daisy

Sunny again on the coast this morning while the hills behind were once more shrouded in cloud. It didn’t rain, and I managed to fit in my 4 hour training ride. I’m back in my bib shorts but am still wearing my long-sleeved cycling shirt and gilet. While I was out, my beloved was whisked to the airport on a motorbike for his trip to Poland. I’m expecting him back sometime Wednesday evening, or maybe Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, I have received a desperate cry for hospitality from my Swiss cycling friend who, keen to swop the rain swept mountains of Switzerland, may be paying us a visit this week end. That’ll be three of us for the Vencoise. If so, I’ll let the boys ride together on the longer parcours.

Cycling and chores over I settled down to watch Stage 3 of the Giro, from Amsterdam to Middleburg, by way of the sandy, windy, Dutch coastline.  The wind split the peloton and crashes dashed the chances of a few of the favourites. Wily campaigners like Vino, Basso, Scarponi, and Garzelli managed to stay out of trouble as did some of the newer boys on the block, such as Porte and Nibali. Evans relinquished the pink jersey having been detained by the multiple Sky pile up and, lacking the support of any team mates, he led the chase over the line to minimize his time loss. Most commentators expected Greipel to win both the stage and the pink jersey but he lost the wheel of his lead out man and, fittingly, it was Belgian Wouter Weylandt, who hefted his arms aloft on the line. Who’s in pink? That man Vino. Pink suits him and it puts his team in last place for the TTT, always an advantage.

Please note, these two stages should be compulsory viewing for all those riding this year’s Tour de France along with all their Directeur Sportifs. There’ll be no excuses come July, you’ve been warned.

Home alone

Our guests and my beloved have departed leaving me to savour being on my own once more. I probably sound as if I’ve got a touch of the Howard Hughes but there’s something very liberating about not being at anyone’s beck and call. I can do what I want, when I want.

Having luxuriated in a day off the bike, I was eager to clamber back into lycra and profit from the continued warm weather. The silly tan lines are now clearly visible on the legs (sock line above ankle and shorts line across thighs). But,  because my legs don’t tan evenly, the backs of my legs and thighs tan well but sadly my shins don’t, the overall effect is somehow worse. I had already done in excess of today’s 3hr group ride on Monday, so I opted for yesterday’s ride, in a fasted state, followed by some core-strength exercises and stretching. 

This afternoon, having speedily cleaned up all traces of my beloved and guests, I treated myself to watching Circuit de la Sarthe, Scheldeprijs and Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. I know, cycling in triplicate! By the way, do check out my friend Susi’s excellent pictures from that last race on the cyclingnews website.

Lest you think I’ve spent the afternoon loafing around, I should add that, at the same time as watching the cycling, I demolished a category 3 mountain of my husband’s ironing. It was in severe danger of developing into something larger and less manageable and I’m keep to avoid any further vuelta type situations developing.

In Belgium, with about 37km to go, Tom Boonen became entangled with a couple of riders from Euskatel. Guess who fared worse from that encounter? Yes, if I were a 60kg skinny Spaniard he’d be the last person I’d want to collide with. The Euskis were DNFs but Tom got in the slipstream of his team car and following a very lengthy shoe swop was soon back into the peloton. He launched the sprint, leading out team mate Wouter Weylandt and Tyler Farrar, who won ahead of Rockin’ Robbie McEwan.

They start 'em young in the Basque country

In the Basque country, Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) beat Oscar Freire in another sprint finish, but the latter now assumes the yellow jersey ahead of tomorrow’s tough mountain stage. While in the Circuit de la Sarthe, Anthony Ravard (AG2R) won stage 2a and Tiago Machado, one of the few surviving Radioshackers,  won the 2b time-trial but Luis Leon Sanchez is still looking good in yellow. Actually, he looks pretty good in most things.