Broken serves and blazing saddles…

7 07 2011

So, an eventful last weekend:

  • ‘IKEA fairy’  mission completed – successfully assembled chest of drawers, bedside cabinet and ‘Billy’ bookcase;
  • ‘Rainbow’ mission completed – ‘George’ discovered hiding at the back of Gem’s wardrobe & now happily reacquainted with   ‘Zippy’  

And then there were broken serves and broken hearts, as the final glasses of Pimm’s were being drained, and the annual Wimbledon garden party drew to a close for another year, while over (or maybe even under) Le Manche, it was all about blazing saddles and pedal power as the Le Tour 2011 swung into gear.    

First  things first, the least said about my Wimbledon predictions the better!

Another year, another semi-final disappointment for Andy Murray. Despite a refreshingly positive game plan, which enabled the flying Scotsman to snatch the first set from the surprisingly sluggish Spaniard (by his own very high standards that is) briefly, tantalizingly, reinforcing pre-match predictions (such as my own) that this could really be the year, it all ended in tears yet again. 

Forget all the media angst about the ‘turning point’ in the second game of the second set, a ‘straight forward’ volley into a gaping centre court, which would have brought Murray two break points, smashed over the baseline – while those in the comfort of the commentary box and on the edge of their seats at home would undoubtedly have buried it! It was not to be.

It was not to be because the truth of the matter is, at the moment, Murray is not good enough to seriously threaten the top three ranked players in world, at least not on the big stage. And with no disrespect to the American, Australian and French opens, Wimbledon is as big as it gets!

Arguably Murray’s best ever Wimbledon but still no final appearance and still no grand slam. Yet let’s not forget he is fourth in the world, a not to be under estimated achievement in an era when there is truly outstanding talent around.

Whenever Murray reaches the semi-final of a major tournament he is performing to the best of his ability and he is undoubtedly striving for that extra 10-15% which might enable him to bridge the, not insignificant, gap between himself and the top three.

However, the unanswered question remains whether he has the mental durability to keep bouncing back from morale sapping defeats against his closest rivals, despite their complimentary post-match comments and reassurances that it’s surely only a matter of time!

I fear that a grand slam win may remain forever illusive, but perhaps his best opportunity is away from the intense glare of the Wimbledon media spotlight, down under in ‘Oz’ or across the pond in the US of A.   

Who knows he might shrug off his latest disappointment in SW19 and surprise us all in NY11368 – the final grand slam of this year? 

But then again, as the Big Apple’s 3x Wimbledon and 4x US Open winner – turned pundit, John McEnroe, would put it, “C’mon, you cannot be serious!”             

Elsewhere, I had fancied Djokovic to reach the men’s final, all be it against Murray. On reflection, given the way he systematically took Nadal apart, ending his run of 20 successive victories at Wimbledon, it is probably a good job it wasn’t Andy on the other side of the net.

Not a great final, but a well-deserved victory in four sets for the Serb, who has suffered only one defeat (against Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open) this year and has now racked up five successive wins against Nadal.

Djokovic’s sensational rise, has taken him beyond both Federer and Nadal to number one in the world rankings – unthinkable twelve months ago, but from Murray’s perspective it shows that with the right combination of talent and application everything is possible.     

I’m not sure about Novak’s rather bizarre penchant for grazing on the centre court, but it has probably guaranteed his inclusion in the ‘what happened next ?’ section of a ‘Question of Sport’. He’s also set the ‘baa’ for future winners to go one better – I hope they don’t follow like sheep!     

I got the ladies’ final hopelessly wrong too. 2004 champion, Maria Sharapova’s bid for a second Wimbledon title came screeching to a halt, as she was matched for power and driven off the baseline by high performance Skoda-lover, Petra Kvitova, who cruised to her first grand slam victory, in two sets.

Meanwhile, down in the Vendee, it was ‘Le Grand Départ’ for the 98th Tour de France – 21 stages over three weeks, covering 3430.5 km.

I’m an avid follower of the splendid ITV4 coverage, though I know very little about cycling, and it’s an age since I’ve been for a bike ride – I must get around to removing those stabilizers!

But I love the whole French ambience associated with this historic sporting and cultural event, not least the wonderful scenery and the inevitable controversy.

‘Winner’ of the ’07, ’09 and ’10 Tours, Spaniard, Alberto Contador, continues to participate in the 2011 event, while awaiting the final outcome of an appeal concerning his positive doping test ban, dating back to last year’s event. Why it should take so long, I do not understand. Either clear his name or send him off on his bike – so to speak!

He was roundly booed at this year’s opening ceremony and conspiracy theorists were quick to latch on to a first stage pile up, ‘accidently’ caused by a spectator (ironically, wearing a yellow top) which sent him tumbling down the general classification, in the early race for le maillot jaune.     

skullduggery has always been central to the Le Tour from the word go, not unlike Wacky Races really! It was on the 1st July 1903, that the very first riders, wearing plus fours, berets and sporting handle bar moustaches (aptly enough), propelled themselves and their pedal powered machines into the night.

The race started at 03.00, under the cover of darkness, from a bar to the south of Paris, clearly chosen for its name – ‘Le Réveil’, or ‘Alarm Clock’ to you and me!  

It was never all good clean fun. Back in the in early 20th century, cheating and roadside sabotage arranged between riders and their supporters included, lifts en voiture, booby trapping roads with tin tacks, and when all else failed, dragging rival cyclists from their bikes to give them a thorough beating.

Cycling is a much more complex sport, technically and tactically than I had ever imagined and I still have difficulty getting my head around the scoring system in the ongoing race for the different jerseys.

The big prize, le maillot jaune, is awarded to the rider who has taken the least time, overall, to complete the race. The riders are ranked according to time in what is called the general classification and the leader at the end of each stage of the race is presented with the jersey (and a big bouquet of flowers). 

After Le Tour band wagon finally rolls to a halt on the Champs Elysees, in Paris, at the end of the last stage, and the music stops, the rider finishing in possession of the yellow jersey gets it for keeps, and will be the 2011 champion – ‘simples’!       

The biggest British hope, for a podium finish in Paris, is Sky Pro Cycling’s Bradley Wiggins, but 3rd place is probably the best he can hope for. A top six finish would be a great achievement for the 2008 Olympic gold medallist who has successfully made the, not easy, transition from track to road racing.

Mark Cavendish, the Manx missile, has made the same journey but his target his ‘le maillot vert’, for the highest, overall, points scorer. This is generally a competition between the sprint specialists. Points are awarded for the first finishers in each stage, for intermediate sprints at a given point within a stage and separate time trials – not so ‘simples’!  

The outspoken ‘Cav’ is a bit of a kamikaze cyclist at times, arguably the fastest finisher in the peloton, and his HTC-Highroad team mates will be looking to work him into winning positions on the 10 flat stages.    

The blazing saddle of the highly combustible ‘Cav’ has already notched up a stage win (number five) and a controversial disqualification (stage three) in this year’s race, which is always likely to be a roller coaster ride, where he is concerned.

Of course, that is the totally wrong metaphor for a ‘flat stage’ specialist and far more appropriate for the King of the Mountains, who finishes up with a garish polka dot jersey. There are six mountain stages with four summit finishes and three medium mountain stages in this year’s Tour.

Points are awarded for the first riders to the top of a mountain, as well as at the finishing line. 

The 18th stage will finish at the summit of the Col de Galbier, in the French Alps, at a height of 2,645 metres – the highest in the history of the race!

Finally le maillot blanc is awarded to the best young cyclist, and has been worn by Geraint Thomas (with a name like that I think he might be from across the Severn!) another Olympic gold winner from Team Sky, during the early stages of this year’s race.

Right now, I’m just wondering about the logistics of moving the exercise bike into the lounge so I can cycle along, keeping fit, while watching the edited highlights of each stage. As long as I take a breather during the commercial breaks – I might just stay the course!       

* ‘Cav’ went on to become the 1st British winner of ‘le maillot vert’, with 5 stage wins in Le Tour 2011, including the final, Stage 21, sprint finish in Paris. In so doing he became the first rider in Le Tour history  to win 3 consecutive final stages. He now has a total of 20 stage wins to his name from 4 Le Tour appearances.   

Unfortunately, Bradley Wiggins had to leave Le Tour 2011 nursing a broken collar-bone, following a major pile up in Stage 7. He had been going well and was looking forward to the challenge of the mountain stages – but we will never know …            

Cadel Evans was a popular first Australian winner of ‘le maillot jaune’. He grabbed the yellow jersey for the first time at the end of the penultinate stage, hanging on to it for the final procession into Paris. He headed the final standings by just 1 minute 34 seconds, having completed Le Tour in 86 hours 12 minutes and 22 seconds.

The ‘clean’ competitors in Le Tour are without doubt the fittest and toughest sportsmen on earth! 









2 responses

9 07 2011

Hello? think I left a comment in the wrong place before – have I got it this time? x

10 07 2011

You must be at a loose end Nic, if you’re reading my blog!
The bike never made it to the lounge – still upstairs!
Enjoy your ‘jolly’ in Paris. Hope it goes well x

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