The race to the sun
Ahh, at the end of a long northern winter, doesn’t that sound enticing?
Except that “to” is a deceptive little preposition.
To get to this;
You have to start here;
Inaugurated in 1933, the Paris Nice race used to start in the city centre, but these days starts in the outer suburbs of [drumroll] Paris and while it may be spring, it is still very early in the season and bitterly, miserably cold.
Conditions can be too dangerous for riding, with snowfall, sleet and closed roads not uncommon. Combine that with skinny racing wheels, fast corners and hills and you’ve got the perfect conditions for sitting on the couch and wincing at the screen.
Eight days later the surviving riders finish in the relatively balmy spring of the French Riviera.
Personally, the coldest I’ve ever been in my life was arriving from Sydney to Paris on a “spring” morning to find my hotel room wasn’t yet ready for my early check-in. Colder than ski fields in Australia and New Zealand, European cold is just something else again. Sleet is the devils work IMHO.
Anyhoodle, we're currently up at 6.30am watching Stage 3, which it turns out was cancelled due to the snow and sleet, and hilariously several of the Direct Energy team have been invited into one of the village houses where the owner has popped the heater on for them. They looked like a bunch of naughty schoolboys bunking off Thursday afternoon maths.
Other riders have jogged over to their luxurious team buses, and unfortunately some of the riders who pulled out of the stage this morning are of course out of the race for good – if only they’d been able to wait for the race directors decision they’d have been able to reconsider tomorrow, where hopefully it won’t be quite so … blizzard-y.
Several other riders have developed bronchitis and other respiratory conditions, and with the season ahead of them and approximately 5% body fat as insulation, they have to make the smarter decision to pull out of this race to recover in time for the next race. Which is next week.
I have come to develop a sincere awe for these riders; their strength, endurance, focus and dedication to training. I know the sport is tainted by performance enhancing drugs, but I choose to believe that is getting better; ie the drug taking is lessening, not that the drugs are improving...
I don't have a great appreciation of the strategies the teams employ, not yet anyway, but you can see the physical toll these rides take - even on a rest day they'll knock out a hundred km or so - and they race solidly throughout the year now; winter used to be the off-season where they could spend time with family and put on a bit of weight from good food; now they're expected to turn up at ridiculous events like the bloody Tour of Quatar - organised by former cycling hero, but increasingly shonky Eddy Merckx who seems to put his name to anything for a quick buck.
MInd you, the UAE Podium Chicks are waaaay hotter...
The Paris Nice Stage 2 saw a controversial finish with some of the boorish behaviour which makes me heartily dislike everyone else’s hero, Mark Cavendish. So Nacer Bouhani has been added to that list after leaning into Michael Matthews during a sprint and pushing him into the barricades in a move which could have resulted in a season-ending or career-limiting injury. And then denying the footage of it happening. Pffft. He's now known as Nacer Boo-Hoo-hani.
There was also a nasty crash with a French rider hitting a spectator, the last the TV coverage had was both of them lying stricken on the ground, the spectator holding his head, the rider not moving at all. The spectator’s wife [?] maybe, very competently rolling him into the recovery position while controlling her three children! What a calm head in a crisis. Brava that woman.
Google this morning tells me the rider amongst other injuries has a fractured collar-bone and is having a plate installed, but the good news is he’s getting a whole week off to recover before his next race. Luxury!
So that’s our Paris Nice viewing all caught up, but only thanks to stages being cancelled or abbreviated due to weather. We’ve also knocked over the Strada Bianche and the start of the Tirreno Adriatico, and boom ! it's Monday again already. This sports journalism lark requires quite the time commitment to one's couch, but at least we can read the paper again, for a little while anyway.