- Posted by Ian Cleverly
- comments (1)
When I first suggested to Jonathan Vaughters that spending a day with the team soigneurs would make a good article, his reply started: “You brave man!”
I cleared it with Slipstream’s director of communications and fix-it supremo Marya and she replied: “You are a brave man!”
Now, either these two know a darned sight more than me about the art of ‘swannying’ – pretty likely, let’s face it – or I have totally underestimated what goes on here.
After all, what is so difficult about filling a few bottles, handing up a bag and rubbing a few sore legs at the end of the day? Call that hard work?
Anyway, instead of the initial idea of doing one of the smaller races such as the Dauphine, Slipstream have – much to my amazement – agreed to let me loose on the boys during Saturday’s stage to St Girons.
So should reports come through of a bizarre incident involving David Millar and a musette in the face, or Bradley Wiggins kicking the crap out of somebody in a hotel hallway, you’ll know things have not gone according to plan.
Brave? Not a bit of it. Foolish? Now, that’s a different matter.
WHEN THEY WERE UP...
From the throngs of Barcelona to the sparsely populated slopes of Andorra in one day. Tour organisers had to be disappointed with the turnout on Arcalis, especially at the finish. But these mountain-top finishes are a big commitment for the humble roadside supporter, especially when the road ends at the summit like at Arcalis. Drivers are obliged to stay in place hours after the race has finished while the entire Tour entourage gets down the mountain. Most fans seemed to have weighed up the pros and cons and decided against climbing the final five kilometres, leading to a strange, ghost town feeling at the summit.
You had to admire the staying power of those that did make the climb as the gendarme-enforced evacuation of all race-related vehicles got underway and they resigned themselves to a very long wait before having any chance of moving. Cycling fans really are a special breed.
We confess that, due to one thing and another, it was rather late by the time we pulled out of Barcelona headed for Arcalis. It was looking touch and go whether getting ahead of the race before the roads were closed to all traffic was going happen.
So the motorcycle cop blocking the road some 30 kilometres from the finish looked like bad news for CW and its trusty Skoda. But the nice policeman takes one look at the magic blue press sticker on the windscreen and waves us through onto a gloriously empty road.
And the whole way we drove expecting to be turfed off the route at any given moment, only to be waved through at every point, including the final section of climb right up to the finish line.
If you have never driven up a mountain seemingly cleared just for you, and with a roadside crowd waving and cheering your passing, let me tell you it is a spooky feeling, but one that brought out the goosebumps. Great fun.
- Posted by Ian Cleverly
- comments (0)
TOUR DE EUROPE
Barcelona was an inspired choice for a Tour visit. The weather was more than a little unkind but spectators still turned out in numbers to see David Millar attempt to keep the pack at bay through the streets of the capital of Catalunya.
Rather a shame they didn't manage to squeeze many of the city's cultural landmarks into the route. The race finally returns to France on Saturday after the Andorra stage. Only Switzerland and Italy left to tick off the itinerary after that.
Not only did those good folk at the Guardian choose this week to publish a series of Spanish phrasebooks, but Wednesday’s edition featured a sport and culture special, just in time for the Tour in Barcelona.
Now we know that the Spanish for rugby is el rugby, tennis is el tennis and cycling is el ciclismo, we’re thinking it shouldn’t take too long to get the hang of the lingo at that rate.
Should anyone fire off any questions in our direction in Spanish, however, we will resort to the standard reply learned off-by-heart: “No soy muy deportista” – I’m not very sporty.
TOUCH YOUR WHAT?
As the latest Cycling Weekly correspondent to take up the baton and pilot the team car until Mr Birnie takes over after the Pyrenees, I have been slightly disappointed by the apparent uptake on the ‘Touch the Skoda’ competition.
Leaving aside the vaguely smutty title of our little prize-winning opportunity, where are the hordes of CW readers taking snaps while fondling the motor? Are they sneaking up in the dead of night and using flash photography to record their deeds? Waiting until we have moved away from the vehicle and turned the corner before sidling over surreptitiously and taking a passing shot?
Perhaps the name of the competition needs sprucing up a bit: something a bit more rock’n’roll. How about a Doors-inspired ‘Come on baby, touch my Skoda’? A Springsteen-esque ‘Strap your hands across my Skoda’?
Maybe not. All I know is the Spanish woman I implored to make contact with the bonnet for posterity’s sake moved away sharpish whilst gesturing with her little finger, which (according to The Guardian’s phrasebook) means ‘He is soooo thin’, despite being the universally acknowledged insult indicating a less than impressive manhood. Can’t win ‘em all.
Anyway, don’t be shy. Roll up, snap away and give us a wave. Next stop, Andorra.
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
- comments (0)
Brits rule the Tour de France. So says this week's cover of Cycling Weekly magazine. But it's no idle boast with two wins and two third places to show from the first five days of racing.
Mark Cavendish is currently in the green jersey, the first ever rider from the UK to lead the Tour de France points competition.
Bradley Wiggins kicked things off on Saturday with his best ever time trial performance, third on the first stage behind Fabian Cancellara and Alberto Contador.
Wiggins was just one second slower than the 2006 Tour winner and impressively he finished ahead of Andreas Kloden, Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong after a difficult 15-kilometre loop around Monaco.
Then it was over to Cav, who certainly didn't disappoint with back-to-back victories on the next two stages. No wonder he's such a popular rider at this year's race, a big hit with spectators and press alike.
Unlike those sulky general classification riders who are all too keen to hide away in their trailer, here's somebody who's always happy to sign an autograph, or give a cheeky quote.
And witness Mark post-race, seeking out each and every team-mate for a heartfelt hug.
Everyone loves a winner, but everyone especially loves Mark Cavendish.
And who can blame them?
- Posted by Simon Richardson
- comments (0)
Cycling Weekly got up early this morning to check out the team time trial course in and around Montpellier, and we're glad we did.
The course is a cracker, and it's going to cause a lot of problems for a lot of the teams. Mark Cavendish told us several weeks ago how technical it was, but it's only after seeing it that we know what he was talking about.
Much of the route is narrow, twisty and far from flat. Those sections also feature large sections of rough and broken tarmac - it's going to be tough.
As we were leaving the centre of Montpellier so were the Quick Step team. Seeing our opportunity we jumped in behind the last of their three cars and joined them for the ride. They rolled through all the red lights and major road junctions with nothing more than a beep of their horn and a wave from the gendarme on duty.
Quick Step were taking it very easy for the first 12 km that wind out of the city, but they were going fast enough to overtake Erik Zabel. He jumped in with CW, but didn't have much to say. More on that later.
At the bottom of the route's main climb the team stopped to answer the call of nature, so off I went with Zabel. Who still didn't have much to say. I sit on his wheel all the way up the climb and marvel at both how easy he's riding and how straight the top of his hair is.
Over the top of the climb we're trying quite hard. Then Quick Step come past us barely breaking in to a sweat as the temperature touches 30 degrees. At this point Zabel swings off the road to check his hair. He needn't have worried, not a single one was out of place.
Over the top of the climb and Quick Step start to up the pace. Suddenly I'm hanging on. Thankfully the guy driving the third car is the team's press man Alessandro Tegner who we know quite well. He eases back, lets me sit on his rear bumper, and tows me back up to the back of the second team car that's following behind the riders.
Not for long though.
Dropping down a long right-hander I let the car move ahead. Then, right after a tight left hander signaled the start of a short sharp climb. I was in the red and could do nothing but watch Quick Step ride away.
I rode on alone at a much steadier speed and thought I'd have a drink. I reached down for the bottle and realised it was virtually empty. I hadn't even noticed I'd drunk all my water. It was baking hot, and I still had 20km to go. Oh dear.
The next few kilometres were great cycling roads, but not if you're trying to keep in a nice tight-knit team time trial formation. The teams will have to ride in one long line over much of the middle section of the route, with the leading rider swinging off and jumping back on to the back of the line.
Entering the last ten kilometres I stop to answer the phone. All of a sudden Zabel flashes past, so I make some excuse about poor reception and chase after him, but not before a Gendarme tries to get me off the road. I wave my press pass at her and she lets me on my way.
As I'm catching him I think to myself, I bet no one tries to kick the great Erik Zabel off the route, just as a Gendarme tries to kick him off the route.
I catch up with him and decide to say hello this time. 'Hi, mind if I ride with you for a while?' thinking I can pick his brains about Cavendish and future sprints.
'No,' comes the response.
'I prefer to ride alone.'
I decide to then do something really annoying and sit ten metres behind him from where I can continue to marvel at his hair that really is quite remarkable. How does he get the top of it that straight?
Unfortunately I was denied the chance to sprint past Zabel on the finish line as we were directed off course with just 50m to go.
I'll get him next time, and when I do I'll ruffle his hair as if he's a naughty little scamp.
- Posted by Ian Cleverly
- comments (0)
The weekend in Abergavenny had it all; gorgeous weather, great racing, more big top stars than ever, and more than a little controversy. Here’s my rundown on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
MAN AT THE TOP
Hats off several times over to Bill Owen and crew for putting on a faultless weekend of racing. It started with the unpromising criterium on Friday night with a grand total of 15 riders (where were you, riders? Saving it for Sunday? Fools!) and ended with a gripping men’s race on Sunday. The junior race was a cracking good show: plenty of attacking and some smart moves from the young lads. The women’s race was, frankly, less than enthralling, but until there are more capable of taking on Cooke and Pooley – Armitstead being the exception – it will always struggle to catch fire.
The combination of NEG and police motorbikes enforced a perfect rolling road closure. With a bunch of 190 to contend with and a sprawling race caravan to escort through the often narrow and twisting roads to Monmouth and back to Abergavenny, it had to be spot on. And it was.
A serious number of people turned out to watch at the weekend. Saturday’s women’s race was well attended in town, with local hero Nicole Cooke doing the business for the Welsh, but Sunday’s race was packed all over. The canny could catch the action 12 times; once on the opening circuit, up the Tumble to see some real suffering, then back to Abergavenny for ten laps of the finishing circuit. The Tumble was rammed and the High Street was packed, which is just what you want to see for a National Championships.
THE BIG FIGHT
Ladeeeez and Gentlemen. Introducing, in the red corner, Mr Colin Clews; UCI commissaire, organiser of the CiCLE Classic, tall, tanned, athletic. And in the blue corner, Mr Brian Cookson; British Cycling president, master of all he surveys, ‘something of the night about him’ as Ann Widdecombe might say.
But hold on. Cookson is not the villain of the piece. 'El Presidente' has weighed in and rescued the damsel in distress from the clutches of the big, bad commissaire.
All joking aside, the whole Armitstead medal-giving fiasco was an almighty balls-up that could – and should, with a little foresight – have been avoided. There seems to be bad blood between the two protagonists here that has not helped an already inflammatory situation.
The only good thing to come out of it was an admittance of wrong-doing on both sides; Clews expressing “lingering regret” that Armitstead was not awarded the silver medal on the podium, and was not given a choice of senior of under-23 medals, and Cookson apologising for the lack of clarity and guidance from BC that led to Clews’ disagreeing with both Armitstead and Peter Kennaugh receiving medals for two separate championships (although Clews is actually sticking to the letter of the law for UCI regs, which is another matter entirely).
So maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from this, shake hands, move on, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Maybe.
The man was mobbed from start to finish. The minute he arrived in the car park, well-wishers, autograph hunters, media and the downright curious were all over him.
Little wonder, then, that Mark Cavendish looked so vexed after the race; standing in a car park, surrounded by well-meaning onlookers as he explained his frustration at pulling everyone else along in the closing laps, doing too much work and getting little help. And all the time, he would break away to have his picture taken with a youngster or sign yet another autograph. Then he grabbed his case and headed for the changing rooms, still looking stressed.
And as he passed me, a broad grin was clearly visible from the side. Cav, stressed? Not enjoying all the attention? Don’t believe a word of it.
ROOM FOR FROOME
For a man taking his first tilt at the British title (on account of not being British for very long) Chris Froome was given an almighty big cheer from the crowd in Abergavenny for his aggressive riding over the whole of the race and especially his refusal to lie down and be beaten in the finishing circuit.
Will the Kenyan-born Barloworld rider be part of the Sky team next year? He wouldn’t tell me, of course, but now knows that he will get a big welcome from the Brits, and was genuinely touched by the reception in Wales. A classy rider. Sign that man.
IN THE CONVOY
Big thanks to Julian Winn of CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta for providing a seat in the team car and for answering my banal questions. There was one mention of sheep, but I think I got away with it…
NATIONAL CHAMPS ON TELLY
Sat July 4 8pm Women, 8.30pm Men
Sun July 5 1.15am Men
Mon July 6 6pm Men
Mon July 6 6.30pm Women
Tu July 7 12.30pm Men
Wed July 8 11pm Men
Thu July 9 1am Women
Thurs July 9 10.30pm Women
Check all timings on the day. Schedule is subject to change.