Season underway

The amateur cycling season is now underway. Last Sunday saw the 62nd running of ES Cannes’ Gentleman (51st Souvenir Fausto Coppi). A “Gentleman” is a two man time-trial where the combined ages of the participants have to exceed 60 years. This race starts and finishes in front of the Hotel Carlton in Cannes and is 13kms in length,  circumnavigating the Cannes Croisette. Despite the chill, a new record was set on Sunday by Messrs Heck and Lemoine of nearby SPOC, Nice, – 16.18 mins, av speed 48.21km/hr.

Casting my eye over the list of participants I see lots of former members of my cycling club, including the afore-mentioned Heck. Our best placed twosome was a male/female combo of our best female rider and a former French amateur time-trial champion, Cristel Pastorelli, paired with Ludovic Boyer, part of last year’s winning 4-man French amateur time trial team. They were a respectable 30th and the first, by some way, of the mixed pairs.

A father and son pairing finished third. While the Jacques Guissart prize, given in honour of the chap who’d won the most titles, most notably with Jacques Anquetil, went to a combo from the host club.

Also taking part were a couple of locally based pros, Christophe Le Mevel and Yauheni Hutarovich, both limbering up for the forthcoming Tour Mediterranean, riding with local riders, not one another. Jeannie Longo often takes part in this race with her husband but I can find no mention of her on the start list. My LBS (local bike shop) owner and his partner were a very respectable second. I’d like to have taken part but I need to find myself a more reliable partner than my beloved. We’ve ridden a gentleman together but it was a bit of a disaster as he kept riding off and leaving me!

The event was covered by our local newspaper, the Nice Matin which regularly features local riders and events. For example, last week, it featured an article on one of the Monaco firemen, who’s aiming to win the World Championship crown this year in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Yes, there are World Championships for a number of professions, the most fiercely contested tend to be for those who work in the public sectors.

Franck Giusta a 32 year old who rides for UC Monaco frequently trains with the Pro Tour riders who call Monaco home. He won a silver in the time trial last year and a bronze the year before. Not unnaturally, he’s aiming for gold this year in the same event. It’ll be more difficult to do as well in the road race as he’s the only representative. In the run up to the World Championships in August, he’s riding in a team time trial in Tuscany, organised by Michele Bartoli, followed by the Monaco Criterium.

Franck gives thanks in the interview to the support, assistance and advice he’s received from Alexandre Vinokourov and his regular training rides with Philippe Gilbert. Franck’s a friend of a friend and we’ve met a couple of times so I’ll be rooting for him in Ostrava. I wonder if there’s a World Championship for retired accountants?

Underdogs on top

Woke yesterday morning to find it was raining, rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke, it had stopped raining but I was too late to set off for the pointage at Beausoleil. I decided to go for a run along the seafront before heading to collect the Sunday newspapers. A quick coffee (quelle surprise, OGCN had beaten St Etienne away from home) then it was off to the airport to collect my beloved on his return from Chicago.

After a light lunch, we both changed into our matching Qatari Airways jimjams and settled back for an afternoon of full-on sport. Firstly, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and then the League Cup Final: Arsenal v Birmingham City.

The sun was shining (weakly) in Belgium and most of the Dutch and Belgian riders were in shorts and short sleeves with a couple of notable exceptions. Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was no doubt feeling the chill after his trip to the Middle East and was wearing leg warmers, arm warmers and thick gloves. I was mesmerised by Stijn Devolder’s (Vacansoleil-DCM) thick fluorescent yellow gloves which clashed with his Belgian Champion’s outfit. Try black next time, Stijn.

There was the obligatory group of escapees who, having ignored the barrier at a railway crossing, were subsequently disqualified. The mild weather and lumpy parcours seemed to encourage breakaways but none stuck, the sprinters’ teams were too strong and too determined. In the end, Chris Sutton (Team Sky) had the best organised train and, with 200 metres to go, was launched across the line  to become the first Aussie winner. He finished ahead of Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Interestingly, none of the leading trio had raced the day before.

Meanwhile over in Switzerland, Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) dedicated his win in the GP Lugano to his late trainer, Aldo Sassi. The French racked up yet another win in Les Boucles du Sud Ardeche. It was none other than last year’s viral star, Arthur Vichot (FDJ). Yesterday, according to Sport+, the French had won 24 stages to date while the Italians are in 2nd place with 19 wins. I’m not sure how this has been calculated, they didn’t explain.

After the excitement of the cycling, we settled down to what we were sure would be an Arsenal win. Frankly, as AVFC fans we were bound to support whoever played against the Blues, our arch-rivals. The Blues got a goal against the run of play, in the 28th minute. Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later with a terrific goal from Robin Van Persie who was later to retire with a knee injury.

During the second half, Arsenal had their chances but couldn’t convert any of  them. In 89th minute, a miscleared ball by the Arsenal defence gifted the winner to the Blues. Truly, it really was one of those balls from which even your granny would have scored.  Unbelievably, our bitterest rivals, who had knocked us out of the competition, had won and will be playing in Europa League next season. On the one hand, it’s good to see the underdog win but why couldn’t it have been us last season against Chelsea?

Not in the script

I have spent an enjoyable week end with my beloved who’s back from his transatlantic jaunt. Yesterday we rose late, as a consequence of his jet lag, and, after a leisurely breakfast,  set off for a ride. We had just exited the domaine when my beloved punctured. I said I would continue on our trajectory and he could catch me up after he’d returned home and swapped bikes.

I rode for an hour and then waited for ten minutes. Surprisingly, still no sign of my beloved. I continued and indulged in some interval training: low gear/high cadence. I was still bouncing around but probably not as much as before. It’s a surprisingly tiring exercise. I stopped by the fountain  to replenish my bidon and along came my beloved. He’d decided to mend his puncture, hence the additional delay. We continued on enjoying the heat of the day and the quietness of the roads. The tourists have gone home.

I spent the afternoon pottering in the kitchen before settling down, after dinner, to watch the opening team time trial of the Vuelta a Espana. This was won by HTC-Columbia, putting Mark Cavendish in the red leader’s  jersey. Surprisingly diffident performances from SaxoBank, Sky and Garmin-Transitions but, as anticipated, no big time differences between the leading contenders.

This morning we rode together, eschewing the club ride. In truth, we’d overslept again. A strong breeze sprang up before midday which seemed to suck some of the heat out of the day, leaving it altogether fresher. Perfect riding weather. Having collected the Sunday newspapers on the way back, after a cold shower and lunch, I settled down on the sofa to read said newspapers and enjoy today’s 173km lumpy stage from Alcala de Guadaira to Marbella. Despite the climbs, the final descent I felt would ensure a bunch sprint finish.

Everything was going according to plan. HTC-Columbia had worked on the front to pull back the escapees before the run in to the finish. The other sprinters teams then shared the work load, the protagonists were all well positioned as they hit Marbella. Tyler Farrar led the sprint with Cavendish in his wheel, leaving the others flailing in their wake. Cavendish overtook Farrar and was poised to cross the line first, when up popped Yauheni Hutarovich on his left hand side. The Belarussian hadn’t read the script and crossed the line a wheel ahead of Cavendish. If you’re wondering Yauheni who? This is the lanterne rouge from 2009’s Tour de France. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall his palmares. He won a stage in the recent Tour of Poland but this is his maiden win in a Grand Tour.

Snowed in

Just when we’d been fooled into thinking that Spring was around the corner, the cold weather has returned with a vengeance. Yes, last night’s rain has 

Where's the sea gone?

turned into snow. It’s snowing all along the coast! The surrounding hills and mountains are also receiving further snowfalls: good news for winter sports enthusiasts. I wonder if we can sell some of it to Vancouver 2010? 

The boys riding the Tour Mediterraneen Cycliste Professionnel and the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca respectively must be wishing they’d opted/been selected for the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as they’ve both been enduring adverse climatic conditions. Indeed, the manager (Marc Madiot) of yesterday’s stage winner (Yauheni Hutarovich – FDJ) in the Tour of the Med had the foresight to take him on a quick warm up ride before the start. This obviously did the trick. 

Over in Qatar the winds have died down. Stages 3 and 4 ended in bunch sprints with wins for Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo). The former reached a speed of 72.4km/hr on his sprint to the line. Coincidentally, the same as my top speed ever which was recorded last year in Austria  descending a 10% incline!  Condolences to Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) who had four punctures yesterday: careless rider or crap kit, you decide. 

Mindful of yesterday’s VO2max test, I had been practising riding flat out on the home trainer. My appointment was at 09:00am, which necessitated an early start to avoid the traffic. I wanted to ride part of the way as a warm up. I drove as far as Beaulieu sur Mer, where the parking is free while they change over the parking meters, parked the car and hopped on the bike.  My beloved has accused me of becoming “very French” as I seek out free places to park. 

I had timed it to perfection, a quick 10km, at maximum effort, terminating in the climb out of the port in Monaco had left me “glowing”. I arrived with enough time to fill out the forms and take a comfort break. After a number of detailed questions about my medical history and that of my family, we moved on to the highly unpleasant bit: height, weight (Assos kit must be really, really heavy, I hope they took that into consideration) and BMI. I then had to inhale and exhale, as hard as possible, into a machine. The conclusion: average for a woman of my age! 

Then the test itself which was conducted on my bike, fitted with a power tap, and with a machine to gauge my effort fitted over my nose and mouth. I began to feel decidedly claustrophobic. In addition, I was wired up to an ECG and the doctor frequently measured my blood pressure. I started at a max output of 60watts and increased it at regular intervals by 30 watts. First off it was difficult to ride at a constant wattage, nothing like riding those static bikes in the gym. It was pretty easy pedalling to start off with but very soon it became much more arduous. I started to “glow” profusely despite being topless (thank goodness I’d worn one of my prettier sports bras). I have no idea how long the intervals were but it felt like 10 secs to start with and 10 minutes to finish. Their conclusion: I could be an excellent endurance athlete if only I lost the surplus 10kilos around my middle which is restricting my breathing!

Postscript: Nice airport closed, my beloved stranded at Heathrow!