TdF 2016 – Stage 1

I’m taking part in the Velogames fantasy Tour de France. So is Mr (Dr) FtW. He’s hoping that his ‘Mostly Team Sky plus Kittel plus a random’ team will trounce my ‘Carefully chosen but with more heart than head deployed’ team.

Neither the Indecent Minority (my team) or the Chatteris Climbers (his) contain Mark Cavendish. I’m convinced that I’m going to somehow jinx my riders simply by favouring them (sorry Tom, Marcel, Peter, Richie, Wout, Adam, Steve, Mikel and Tony.) Therefore, to give Cav the best chance of winning gold in the Omnium in Rio and not ending up in a heap on a roadside near Utah Beach, I simply couldn’t include him.

There’s a great interview with Peta Cavendish (Mark’s wife) in the book ‘101 Damnations’ by Ned Boulting, in which she says that her husband “holds [The Tour] up on a pedestal, in an ivory castle, with unicorns surrounding it”. Until today he had never worn the yellow jersey at the TdF. This was his third opportunity and he grabbed it from Kittel, Sagan and the rest. Cav is famous for crying at some point during every TdF he has taken part in. The tears were those of the joyous variety as he took his 27th TdF stage win and donned the yellow jersey for the first time. One suspects that this jersey will have a very special place in his home, mounted in an ivory frame, housed in a turret, probably guarded by unicorns with yellow horns.

As a cycling Johnny-come-lately I’m not familiar with the pre-marriage and  children Mark Cavendish. I’ve read stuff of course – the tantrums, the petulance, the colander, the generousness, the former Miss Italy – but the 2016 Cav comes across as a man that knows he is basically winning at life. The plain speaking, fury and sweariness is still there, but they’re part of what makes him…him and not a platitude-spouting robot.

When Cav finally decides to retire from cycling  (not just yet, eh?) I would really, really, REALLY like him to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. He used to be a ballroom dancing champion of course (of course!) but that’s no more of an issue than any number of celebs who have been to stage school. He would be brilliant entertainment, his pro dancer would adore his work ethic and he’d probably win the entire show.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted. This is really about my fantasy team (and Cav.) In other news there were a couple of big crashes, the first of which involved Alberto Contador. Nope, nothing to say about that at all. Geraint Thomas was caught up in the second crash, which is the least surprising news since we learned that moths really, really like flames. Luckily he’s fine and astonishingly bouncy for a grown-up.

The TdF may be the largest annual sporting event in the world but it still retains an air of the village fete at times. This was apparent at the start of the race this morning when the peloton went to Mont-Saint-Michel and was directed to double back on itself for no obvious reason other than to frame the island commune as a pleasing backdrop to Chris Froome, Vinceno Nibali and the rest looking slightly confused for a few minutes while the various important cars and motorbikes performed elaborate three point turns. A ribbon was eventually cut. SIR Gary Verity appeared on screen, apparently summoned by a yellow-trousered genie in a lamp imported from Ilkley (without a hat.)

Tomorrow’s stage goes as near to Jersey as it’s possible for the TdF to get without becoming part of a Guy Martin world record attempt. I’m hoping for a sighting of Jim Bergerac and/or Charlie Hungerford. It’s flat(ish) with a cat. 3 climb near the end. In the interests of the Indecent Minority I’d like Sagan to win, produce a pair of scissors and chop his mane off whilst shouting I AM NOT SAMPSON! I AM SAGAN!

fou8rib01ldjy

Giro d’Italia 2016 – week three

The Giro is over for another year and I’m feeling quite sad about it. I really, desperately wanted Esteban Chaves to win. He was one of my ‘Ones to watch’ at the start and unlike Tom Dumoulin (remember him?) and Ryder Hesjedal (nope) he was still in there at the end. I had brief hopes that he would win the Maglia Rosa, but it was not to be. Vincenzo Nibali had a very bad day on Thursday and it looked like all was lost, but he rose again over the last couple of days and entered today’s processional final stage as the winner. Nibali won the Giro for the head, but Chaves has emerged as the winner for those who love heart. The images of Chaves’ parents congratulating Nibali after yesterday’s stage spoke volumes about their family ethos and explained so much about their son. When Rigoberto Uran, riding for Cannondale, crashed today, Chaves was there to help his compatriot up. Chaves always thanks his Orica team-mates for their help. They in turn look genuinely happy to be working for him.

I’m an unashamed fan of Geraint Thomas. When the rumours started swirling that a British rider had failed a doping test last month, before it was confirmed that Simon Yates, a number of people on social media were concerned that it might be Thomas and seemed to be genuinely upset at the thought that he might be one of the bad ones.  I felt extremely unsettled. I believe that Thomas is clean and he’d be one of the very few that I would feel personally let down by if it emerged that he was anything else. I feel the same way about Esteban Chaves. I think he’s terrific and would love to see him win a Grand Tour one day. His day will surely come.

Of my other ones to watch, Adam Hansen finished his fourteenth Grand Tour in a row and will surely have his sights on the Tour. Joe Dombrowski came of age, appearing in many of the right moves in the last week and coming very close to a stage win. His fury at being called back by Cannondale to help Uran indicated that he believed he was capable of so much more. We believe it, too. Ian Boswell did stirlimg domestique work for Team Sky, helping Mikel Nieve to win the overall King of the Mountains classification. Sky will regard this as a good return, bearing in mind that they lost their team leader to illness very early on.

Every year the Giro intensifies my love affair with Italy and refuels my desire to go back there one day. I very much hope that at some point in the future I’ll be standing on the Dolomites roaring Geraint Thomas or Esteban Chaves on their way to overall victory. The Tour might be The Tour, but after this Giro it has an awful lot to live up to.

l4hnzqkwd0qhwmsak

 

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 11

Put Careless Whisper on the turntable. Play Back for Good on repeat. Lovely Tom Dumoulin has left the Giro, taking his saddle sores with him. What a difference a week makes. Last Wednesday Dumoulin and Kittel were still in the race and I was all joy and Top Gun Gifs. Now I feel like Dawson (from the Creek, obvs.)

qb78lmb32yqoe

As we’re now half-way through the Giro, let’s see what’s happened to the riders I said I would watch out for at the start of the race:

  1. Adam Hansen – there’s been a serious lack of visible Hansen in this Giro. I’m hoping that changes in the next few days.
  2. Esteban Chaves – currently 8th overall, nearly 3 minutes behind Bob Jungels. Looking forward to seeing how he goes in the mountains
  3. Ian Boswell – doing well in domestique hell
  4. Joe Dombrowski – doing well in domestique hell
  5. Ryder Hesjedal – currently 13th, nearly 4 minutes down. Hoping he goes hunting for stage wins in the last week of the Giro. Looked feisty today which bodes well.
  6. Tom Dumoulin – retired, injured *wails*

qdieqmpwxbo3e

 

 

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 5

Today I want to talk about accents and language. I’m embarrassed that I can only speak a small amount of French – enough to get me by as a tourist in Paris but no more – and learning Italian and Spanish is very much on my bucket list. The main barrier I have is my embarrassment about sounding ridiculously English at all times.

I once went on a school trip to Boulogne and, piling all my courage up inside my ears like Roobarb from ‘and Custard’ fame, ordered a couple of soft drinks in my very bestest, politest French. The man behind the counter replied in *perfect* English and I wanted to die on the spot. In fact, every time I’ve tried a bit of a foreign language in a different country I have failed spectacularly. In Rome I taught myself a few key phrases and didn’t get the chance to deploy them as whenever we were in a restaurant  the waiting staff addressed us in English. Perhaps the pale skin and bad teeth gave us away.

As a result I am always super-impressed by people that can speak not just one foreign language, but several. It’s not just their mastery of the languages, but the effort they put into getting the pronunciation and inflections right. Daniel Friebe is a master of this, as is Matt Rendell. The joy with which they hurl themselves into Italian and Spanish without a hint of embarrassment is infectious and admirable. Friebe speaking Italian into my ears each morning on The Cycling Podcast is really quite something.

90tswjvcyuzfyIt’s like I’ve just discovered Gifs. 

Even more embarrassing to me is the ease with which riders from a variety of countries in which English is not their first language speak ours. There are always certain phrases that jar slightly – ‘for sure’ instead of yes or definitely is one – but then I’m not trying to think of the right words to say in a different language at the end of a stage when I’m knackered. So many of the riders speak brilliant English that I find myself being irrationally grumpy with those that tend to speak their own language. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Vincenzo Nibali utter a word of English in an interview and that’s entirely his prerogative. I’m just grateful that Rob Hatch and Carlton Kirby are on-hand to provide on the spot translations, although they could probably say anything that vaguely sounded like some suitable platitudes and I’d believe them. It’s probably for this reason that I’m under the impression that Nibali speaks solely in meaningless soundbites. I’m sure he goes down a storm in Sicily.

Today Andre Greipel won a stage designed for the more hardy variety of sprinter. He conducted his post-podium interview with Eurosport in English. So did Tom Dumoulin. Yesterday Ashley House and Juan Antonio Flecha interviewed Diego Ulissi in Italian, switching back and forth between to English to translate to the viewer. I remain simultaneously impressed and embarrassed.

I didn’t get much of a look at birthday boy Adam Hansen today *sadface* but here’s a classic Hansen moment:

mvi9c9ktgrcii

Tomorrow we go to the mountains for our first summit finish of the 2016 Giro. Dumoulin wants to keep the Maglia Rosa more than I want to beat my current plank PB (4 minutes, in case you were wondering) but I suspect we’ll see some first shots fired by the GC contenders. Expect to see Marcel Kittel hangin’ in the grupetto like a boss.

 

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 1

So. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to do a post on every stage because, y’know, life and stuff but the beginning is always a good place to start.

Italy! Oh Italy! I love you so. Your food, your mountains and your accents. HANG ON. We’re in Holland for the first three stages. Accents? Yes(h). Food and mountains? Not so much. No Wout Poels, either. That’s sad. I’m guessing he’s on the Dauphine-TdF track this year and probably still basking in the glow of winning Sky their first Monument at L-B-L a few weeks ago.

There are no British riders at the Giro either, so it’s a case of following people I like for a range of hard to pin down and highly subjective reasons. In no particular order: Adam Hansen, Esteban Chaves, Tom Dumoulin, Ian Boswell, Ryder Hesjedal and Joe Dombrowski. Having named them as ones to watch will immediately put the mockers on them. I can only apologise in advance. Note that I wrote this after Dumoulin won the time-trial and the Maglia Rosa this afternoon. If he ends up coming to grief in a race-ending crash tomorrow I will blame myself.

I know there are A LOT of people that don’t really like time trials in Grand Tours. I’m an incredibly boring person with a trackie heart so I LOVE them. They’re an ideal way to give each of the 198 riders a moment in the spotlight, they’re an excellent introduction to the event itself and they’re 98% less likely to result in someone getting a bit overexcited in a bunch sprint and playing an ill-advised game of human and bike dominoes. I prefer an ITT to a TTT because it’s always a bit painful to watch some poor sod get distanced after the first corner and struggle like a salmon swimming upstream to desperately latch on to the bike-n-bum immediately in front.

The main problem with the ITT is that you have to sit through a lot of cyclists who clearly hate time trialling and have just been told to get to the end in the least onerous manner possible to get to the really good ones. I was once shown Tinder by a young, single work colleague (having been married for the last 12 years this stuff has passed me by, thank god) and after my initial horror at the objectification and general awfulness found myself shouting YES! NO! HOT! OH GOD NO! SWIPE THE OTHER WAY! WHAT IS THAT? NO! It reminds me of that, a bit, in the sense that there’s some diamonds amongst the dross but they might ultimately disappoint you by sending over a photo of their man-parts. (See, they might win the ITT but they won’t win the whole shebang, capisce?)

Anyway. Dumoulin won today. I know I shouldn’t, but whenever I see him I spend several seconds assessing whether he’s good looking or not. Half of me thinks yes and the other half thinks Canadian tennis player of the mid-late 1990s (not Rusedski. The other one. Nestor.) I mean, it’s entirely irrelevant but I can’t help it. The main thing is that he’s a bit good at time trialling and the Vuelta showed he can also do mountains so he might do ok.

Tomorrow involves sprinting and possibly some difficult wind, so I’m off to eat some Edam and a crepe in preparation.

 

 

 

 

No more heroes

I have a policy of not having individual sporting heroes. Not these days. Certainly not current sportspeople. Frankly, I’m too old and cynical to indulge in hero worship of anyone.

When I first got into cycling, we were watching the highlights of a race one evening (I forget which one) and my husband piped up from his end of the sofa ‘There’s no-one in cycling for you to fancy really, is there?’ I thought about it for a bit and concluded that it wasn’t relevant and didn’t matter. There may have been a bit of ‘How very dare you!’ for good measure.

Of course, there are some members of the peloton that are generally considered to be quite fanciable: Adam Hansen (clever, hard as nails, 13 consecutive grand tour finishes and counting) and Tom Boonen (reformed bad boy, dad of twins, Classics specialist) immediately spring to mind.

Others stand out for different reasons. Marcel Kittel has magnificent hair (see also Owain Doull.) Esteban Chaves is adorable and I’d like to adopt him. Taylor Phinney (also has good hair) is too cool for school but you’d be glad if one of your children bought him and/or Alex Dowsett home. Peter Sagan is an absolute gift to cycling and probably one of the few characters along with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Laura Trott to transcend the sport.

As I’ve got older I find that I value solidity over flashiness. I’m convinced that once you have children you’re more impressed by someone that can get shit done rather than one that spends more time getting ready to go out than you do. I’m referring to Tony Martin, along with the Sky quartet of Wout Poels, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas. So impressed was I by the latter’s contribution to the success of Sky that last year I did a presentation for the Group Dynamics and Leadership module of my Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology course in which I argued that he was the prototypical team member and was therefore the future of the team, along with Richie Porte…

…who now rides for BMC. Awkward. Anyway.

Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour finished in London. My sister and I decided to watch the Tour at the Olympic Park in Stratford. My sister wrote Va Va Froome in chalk on the pavement and we spectacularly failed to nab any of the freebies that were flung in our general direction by the Caravan. By the time we realised that the arrival of the peloton was imminent I was slightly hysterical, to the amusement of my husband who had come to join us. It was the first time had been to watch the Tour – deliberately at least. It came right past our flat in 2007 but I was pregnant, sick and grumpy and didn’t really understand cycling back then.

The noise increased. The motorbikes came by and then the peloton was rushing towards us. I held up my phone to take photos. In my hysteria I screamed. In fact, I threw my head back and screamed at ear-splitting volume:

COME ON RICHIE!

To this day I cannot explain why I did it. It’s become a meme in our house. Every time there’s a bike race on and Richie Porte is participating I wait for my husband to screech COME ON RICHIE in a shrill approximation of my voice. It’s become A Thing. It is absolutely hilarious apparently. I find it significantly less funny.

However, I have no cycling heroes apart from the ones mentioned in this post. Maybe a few others. I’m sure there are plenty of people I’ve forgotten to mention. At some stage I need to do a whole separate post on the female cyclists that I find inspiring. This is definitely a ‘to be continued’.