Tour de Falls

It’s that part of the summer again, where cycling takes up time in the public consciousness.  Yep, July meant one thing.  Le Tour De France, the daddy of the grand tours.  Normally, the coverage tends to focus on doping, who has taken something, who is suspected of taking something, who has failed a test or simply that “cyclists are all drug cheats”.

 

So far, this year has been a bit different.  Yes, there was a police raid on the bus of the Belgian Quick Step and the Team Katusha domestique, Alexandre Kolobnev, was removed by his team when he failed a test for a diuretic (not proof of doping in it’s self, but the presence of a potential masking agent raises suspicion), but they have been the exception.  Instead, much of the coverage has been for the racing itself, and what a tour it was.

 

Week one is normally the week for the sprinters, lots of nice simple finishes comprising wide, flat roads where the bunch can be wound up and the fast guys sprung off the front in the last few hundred meters before disappearing from the race when the mountains come into view.  To a degree this held true, however some of the finishes did not fit the model, being narrower or having some nasty little climbs in the final kilometres that shake things up.  It made for some interesting finishes and the traditional bunch sprint rarely materialised, as teams struggled to get the right level of organisation in their “trains”.

 

The biggest single talking point of the first week though was surely the number of crashes.  I’ve been following Le Tour since the mid 80’s when Channel 4 started coverage, and in more detail over the last 10 to 15 years thanks to Eurosport.  I just don’t remember there being so many cyclists hitting the road as there were this year.  The carnage began on Stage 1 when a spectator looking the wrong way managed to cause a ripple effect pile up that split the peloton in two and led to some of the favourites losing almost two minutes of time.  “Chutes” came thick and fast after that, with a motorbike rider being thrown off the tour for being involved in pulling down a rider (to be fair to him, he had been instructed to pass by the race commissaire, found the peloton beginning to hem him in and nowhere else to go when the incident occurred), numerous occasions where rider’s wheels have touched in the bunch and caused pile ups (one of these taking out Bradley Wiggins with a broken collarbone).

 

Stage nine was the one where everything seemed to come to a head.  The first of the really hilly stages through theMassif Centralsaw roads that were damp, but with a dry line, coupled with high speed descents cause utter chaos.  There had already been a couple of minor ‘chutes’ leading to a couple of domestiques being forced to withdraw, as well as other riders hitting the deck before two of the fancied riders for this years Tour were despatched in the same incident.  Jurgen van den Broeck laid on the road with a broken collarbone was one thing, but the sight of Alexandre Vinoukorov catapulted into a tree, breaking a leg and his pelvis was altogether another.  Poor David Zabriskie was pretty much an afterthought in this one!

 

That wasn’t to be the end of it though.  The five man breakaway were obviously having it too easy 5 minutes up the road as this driver from France TV decided to take matters into his own hands.

 

Oops

 

The rider side swiped was Juan Antonio Flecha and the guy catapulted into the fence, a barbed wire fence at that, Jonny Hoogerland.  Amazingly both men got back on their bikes and completed the stage.  Hoogerland some minutes behind the main bunch, but inside the cut off time for elimination, though had he been eliminated on this case I hope there’d have been an outcry from the other cyclists.

 

The driver was thrown off the Tour, but he’s likely to face any number of law suits from Flecha, Hoogerland, Team Sky and Vacances Soliel as both would’ve been in with a shout of a stage win, and indeed large time gains overall.  The belief that cyclists are a different breed is lent further credence by the fact that both men completed the race.

 

The remainder of the race was thankfully relatively free of these type of incidents and the competition took centre stage.  While the main contenders eyed each other warily through the Pyrenees, Thomas Voeckler rode his heart out in the yellow jersey, keeping it through the Pyrenees and much of the Alps, only surrendering it when, in perhaps the most unexpected move of the Tour, Andy Schleck went on the attack!   He rode a long solo break, took the stage and the subsequent break up behind meant that the top order overall was shaken up.  The time trial set up the final positions as the final stage intoParisis more processional than competitive (at least in terms of General Classification).  All that remained for the final stage was finalising the winner of the Points Race.  The leader was Mark Cavendish and he was fully expected to be the winner and so it proved, as he won the Champs Elysses sprint for the third straight year.  The first man to do so, he thus became the first Briton to win the Green Jersey, and the first Brit since 1984 to win any jersey, Robert Millar having taken the Polka Dot King of the Mountains award being the only previous jersey winner from these Isles.

 

I hope that this tour continues to be talked about for the excitement of the racing, the unpredictability of each stage and the shear bravery of the men who ride it.  This is what the Tour should be about.  Not about needles and EPO and haematocrit levels.  Man against man, and the elements.  .

 

 

Music to Pass Your Life To

 

In a new addition to the blog, as if the intermittent speed of updates wasn’t enough to classify everything as a new addition, I’m going to put up the odd bit of music that’s been significant in my life.

 

This first selection is a little different to my usual listening.  Being the age I am, I was a child of the three channel television era.  Not to mention the fact that those three channels were on for only parts of the day.

 

One of my early memories, and I make no claims to the absolute accuracy of this (I can barely recall what I had for breakfast), is of being in my grandmothers house (maternal side) in the small Borders town I was raised in, during the early/mid 70’s.  The TV was on in the front room, but as there was no programming on at the time, music was being played.  This track always seemed to be on, and it has stuck with me for whatever reason, I think it may have been the contrast between the slower, quieter set up and the loud crashing guitar section.  Hearing it now, I’m back in that warm front room with the smell of homemade vegetable broth coming from the kitchen.

“Music” – JOhn Miles

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What hiatus?

As some of readers may remember, amongst the many sports I follow, cricket sits large amongst them.  In the main because it’s one of the few (perhaps only) sports I was even passably good at.  After around 17 years devotion to the cause of Corstorphine in one guise or another, I found myself in the unusual position of having to attach myself to a new club.  A circumstance brought about after I moved from Livingston into the wilds of Nottinghamshire.

This has meant coming to terms with a few differences.  As a country, Scotland is not exactly open about it’s cricketing heritage.  We’re a dirty little secret, best kept under the rug.  Indeed, at times it felt it would be easier to come out as gay, than to come out as a cricketer.  When petty and ill-informed MSP’s are questioning whether matches should be shown on TV in Scotland you start to feel a little unwelcome.

So after a work and family induced move to the “dark lands” south of the wall, it’s a novel feeling to be involved somewhere where people other than the players know about their local club.

I’ve brought my scorebook keeping talents to Caythorpe, a small village in central Nottinghamshire who’ve had a club off and on for over 100 years.  The first XI play in the Notts Premier League, whilst the second XI (for whom I score) are in Division 1 of the Bassetlaw & District League.  The B&D is one of two feeder leagues for the NPL, covering the northern part of the county.

The first big difference I noticed was that there are always more people around on a game day than just the 22 players on the park.  Every match has two independent umpires, and each club has a scorer, yes, even at second XI level.  Not only that, but people actually come and watch.  OK, not huge crowds, but a couple of weeks ago we played at Edwinstowe, and there were never less than 30 or 40 people sat around the boundary.   Having a bar that’s open does marvellous things in terms of supporters, and funds!  The vast majority of clubs are village sides, with picture postcard settings, but even here there are professional players brought in.  The West Indian Cavaliers side visited Caythorpe for a cup match last weekend, bringing with them, ex Notts and England player Usman Afzaal and the Saqlain Mushtaq!!

There are quirks too.  The draw exists in league matches here, it’s 46 overs maximum for the side batting first, but the side batting second gets the balance of the 92 overs if any are unused.  Points are shared in the event of rain/cancellation, so no need for percentages.  Most strange of all is the fact that matches start at 2pm.  Most of the villages in the area were built up around the coal mines, with matches timed to start to allow men to finish off a shift in the morning before playing in the afternoon.  So, despite the fact that Mrs T finished off the mining industry round these parts in the early 80’s there are still enough traditionalists around to prevent the start time from changing.

So, instead of sitting in a green metal container squeezed in beside kit and a stale old bloke from the opposition, I sit in a large comfortable, electronic scorebox where there’s a better than average chance my counterpart will be female (women are heavily involved around the clubs down here) and whisper it quietly so none of the presidents of Scottish clubs hear I even get a bit of beer money thrown my way for the pleasure of doing it.  Cricket, god love it.

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There are some things not to love about cricket.  Match fixing, the length of a World Cup tournament, the ICC (the one body to make FIFA appear competent) to name but a few, but the chief irritant has to be Charles Colville.  The smug twat’s smug twat.

He has the world weary air of someone for whom everything came to easily, his condecension of those who fail to meet the standards of his favourites is renowned.  He is the single reason for watching Sky’s domestic cricket coverage with the sound off….well, OK, there’s Nick Knight too.  Even Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson looks professional next to this guy.

Colville is the token non-England player in the Sky team, indeed, he never made it to county level.  He must be a contributory factor in Bob Willis’ biblical level sulk, one which is now entering it’s 10th year.

I can only assume this puffed up, patronising, wouldn’t look out of place at a Tory function with Flashman, Gideon et al, has some pretty good dirt on the head of Sky Sports.

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Out damned spot (bettor) out I say

…apologies to Mr Shakespeare for that one.

So, there I was on Saturday evening enjoying a comprehensive win for the RH Corstorphine first team, hearing of how the thirds had only just scraped the points required to avoid relegation and wishing our OA and his lovely girlfriend a safe journey home to Durban.  Not to mention catching up on what had been an quite incredible day at Lords in the fourth Test, when the rumblings started to emerge on Twitter.

That august organ, the News of The World, had evidence, names and details of a spot betting scam on operation during that very fourth test match.  Whilst there have been mutterings in the past, and fairly recently too of things untoward, indeed the Sydney test between Australia and Pakistan earlier this year had been deemed to whiff a little of Grimsby, never had there been such immediate reportage of an incident of this nature.  It took years for the seeds sown by Hansie Cronje to germinate and take flower.

Cricket is a game I love.  As a friend of mine once said, “life can only be improved by cricket”.  It has a timeless nature, and regardless of how many cold, grey, damp and windswept days I’ve spent playing the game, it always evokes memories of warm sunshine, lush green grass and time passing slowly.  There is no better way to pass a day than sitting watching a match live, be it international, county or East of Scotland league.  Hence my current pastime of sitting in a scorebox, I may have stopped playing, but I still feel the need to be involved.

What angered me most about this ‘event’, is that once again a sport I love is sullied.  I’m a bit of an omnivore when it comes to sport, I don’t believe a person can only be a fan of one sport, and certainly don’t subscribe to the Murdochian view that football is the beginning, middle and end of sport.  I’ve lived and cringed through Ben Johnson, through the Festina affair, Lance Armstrong, “Fraud” Landis and Operation Puerta right up to “bloodgate” and the various troubles that have beset the sport of kings of late.  Each one  a knife to the guts of a sports fan cursed with an interest in “minority sports”, that catch all term used to deride anything that isn’t football and only crosses the radar of non fans when something bad happens.

I’m not naive, I know betting takes place, hell I place a few cricket bets myself via http://www.cricketbetlive.com and, I’m not ashamed to admit, one of my first thoughts was as to whether or not my potential winning bet would be paid out in the light of the events unfolding, it wasn’t on no-balls and it was paid out!  Betting will always happen, it seems to be part of the human psyche that whenever two raindrops run down a pane of glass, someone will bet on which one will reach the bottom first.

All that can be done, is to punish any players involved in draconian fashion, life bans being one option.  In this I mean a life ban, not the Pakistan Cricket Board version of a life ban, which usually extends only as long as the PCB feel the team can go on losing without the banned player….generally a couple of matches.  Heavy fines, and start by confiscating any money paid to them in order to carry out whatever action is being bet on.

At Lords it was only a couple of no-balls, but so amateurishly done that antennae started twitching automatically.  But, this would be only the thin end of the wedge.  Once a player is in someones control, the deeds can be upped, and if the suspicions of throwing the aforementioned Sydney test are correct, that just serves to show how far this can go.  Sadly, the players of the Asian teams appear to be most at risk from these nefarious types, in part because of the financial situation (players in England, India and Australia tend to be well paid at the higher levels and thus somewhat immunised), and in part because Pakistan in particular is an unstable and volatile country where sourcing weapons and men versed in using them is a little easier than elsewhere, thus giving the fraudsters a stick with which to back up the carrot when approaching a player.

I also wonder about the News of The World.  Whenever something like this breaks, it’s always the News of The World doing it.  Sven Goran Ericksson, the Fake Sheikh, Laurence Dallaglio…there’s a long list of exposes they have broken, usually involving large sums of money.  In their zeal to get a story, are they inadvertantly, or even advertantly, creating one?  Sometimes, much as when the boy cried “wolf!”, I’m never sure.

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Infamy, Infamy…..

Wow, I’m in print!!  Funny how your heart jumps when your name appears:

Half way down page 2, and then again at the end!

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Schadenfreude is my weakness

So there I was at the kids school on Saturday.  The Summer Fun Day providing another excuse for Master C to empty my pockets of change.  In walks a former work colleague of mine.  A guy who I knew pretty well when we worked together, he and his then girlfriend acted as witnesses at my wedding, we went to their wedding.  We lost touch after he moved to London to work, but bumped into one another on the train a while back.   He’d moved back up here to bring his kid up in Scotland.  He and his missus had moved into the same town as us, and his kid is at the same school as ours.  So far so good.  Anyway, to Saturday, and another woman walks in behind him.  She is introduced as his girlfriend and the conents of he pram she pushes, as his son.

I’m no prude, despite the fact that he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and probably would’ve been the last person I’d imagine in this situation, he’s there.  What went on in his marriage, I neither know, nor indeed care about.  What it got me thinking about was whether or not I’m a curse.

I’ve been to a fair number of weddings in my time, particlarly in the period since I got married.  The number of those marriages that are sill marriages is significantly lower.  I counted four that are still existant, and two of those are less than two years old.

Now, my marriage is far from perfect.  We have many issues to overome, and not so long ago, it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch to see us split up.  We certainly don’t stay together for the tax breaks, but neither do I judge those who can’t make it work.  I just wonder, are we strange that we’ve managed to last almost 17 years?  Do we doom our friends to divorce by accepting their wedding invite?

Life eh?  What a tangled web it is….

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You may have noticed the World Cup is about to start.  I’m already getting world cup fatigue.  It’s a peculiarly British thing, and comes from the strange conflict between nation and union.  I use to be very much of the “Anyone But England” camp, but I like to think I’ve matured over the years, and from a strictly sports point of view, I reckon the whole of the UK could benefit from England winning the Cup and more especially the bid for hosting of 2018. 

Where I still fall down is with all the attendant hoopla, hype and general ill informed forgetful punditry.  Quotes like “The entire nation”, profligate use of “we”, the interminable corporate tie ins…..it goes on and on.  These are the reasons we non-English in Britain like to see it all go breasts skyward.  The shocked faces of the punditry teams, the near tearful voices of the commentators and of course all those hopelessly optimistic but now just funny confectionary wrappers.  It’s just reward for confusing England with Britain.

I’m boycotting Mars, Kellogs, Tesco and especially Carlsberg.  The last of these really should have more self respect, I mean, they’re Danish ffs, and Denmark are actually in the tournament!

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I’m conflicted.  Earlier this year I took the decision to stop playing cricket.  The club needs a scorer, i quite enjoy doing it and thought it would be the ideal means to scratch the cricket itch without putting my aging, overweight frame through the rigours of playing and training..

Due to circumstances I’ve not been anywhere near the club yet this season.  But, I’m home now, so that’s about to change.  The problem I have is that given the number of player losses over the winter, the club finds it’s playing resources stretched.  Our first team has lost 4 in a row, the seconds aren’t doing too well and the thirds, the time I was so recently a part of, have lost all 5 they’ve played so far.  Relegation is not an option, and I find it hard to resist the thought of “riding to the rescue”….until the rational brain kicks in.  I haven’t trained, I feel heavier than I did at seasons end last year, and to be brutally honest.  Bowling doesn’t look like the week link on the team.  They’ve held teams to decent totals and bowled sides out.  Run scoring seems to be the issue, and for me, a bat is for leaning on.  No, I should resist, I want to resist, I must resist…it’s the scorers hutch for me.

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Competition Time!

It’s the World Cup, and that means prediction time, in the interests of fundraising for RHC Lions cricket club.  Roll up, roll up, all welcome.

Join the prediction madness at:

Website:   http://www.sportguru.co.uk/worldcup
Pool code: gustmuse
Pool name: RHC Lions WC Predictions

It’s £5 to enter, simply drop me an email to confirm the details of how to pay.
Half of the entry fee goes to club funds, the rest into the prize pool.  Normally pay out is split such that 60% goes to the winner, 30% for the runner up and 10% to third.  This is however dependent on the total prize pool value.  If we have fewer than 12 entries it’ll be a winner take all prize.  13 to 19 entries will see us pay out to first and second on a 70/30 split.
Get predicting, get winning.  Sportguru is free to register and use.  I took part in a World Twenty20 pool on there and it’s straight forward to use.  Best of all, no spam from them since signing up.
Or the alternative version is available here (hopefully)….Fifa2010
email me on chappersp@gmail.com for a copy of the original excel sheet.

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Paging Charlie Foxtrot

From time to time my employer deems it in their best interests for me to disappear to the other end of the country for variable periods on the whim of which ever paymaster is meeting the bill. Basically, I work for a pimp. I’m loaned out for a fee, only some of which I get back as a reward for my services. Such was the case two weeks ago when my slumbers on the bench were disturbed by the strident tone of the phone. “We need you to go to Manchester, for 3 months”. Now, 3 months is the standard unit of time deployed by our sales team when coming up with an assignment. This is an elastic unit which much like the band, will only stretch. Confirmation was gained on the Thursday, that I would be required to start the following Tuesday. Ok, not ideal but still sufficient time for our travel department to get ripped off, sorry to book the requisite travel and accommodation. The only occasions upon which T and A is supplied for me. Cut to Monday, and at 1:30 in the afternoon, whilst I’m “working from home” (err, walking the dogs), I receive a message that tells me I’m required in Basingstoke instead. Cue much annoyance, followed by frantic messaging of travel to get my arrangements changed in line with the email I’d received. Tuesday comes and I begin the trek to Basingstoke at 5am, finally arriving at my destination office around 12:30. I then sit in reception for 45 minutes as no one can locate the client contact. Not the most auspicious of starts. It’s also about now that things start to unravel, as it’s discovered that I’m expected to schlep up to Manchester on the Thursday, then down to Birmingham on the Friday. Thankfully, sanity prevails and my employers refuse to redo the arrangements again. I’m deliberately not naming names here as it’s not good for anyone concerned and it gets worse. Having organised next weeks festivities to be split between Basingstoke and Manchester, it’s now up in the air where the client want me and when. All that’s certain is Basingstoke for Monday and Tuesday…..truly, I despair……

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Today I turn precisely 39 and ¼. Now, I’ve never really been bothered about age, particularly as in my head I’m about 25. However, 40 seems like such a particular age to be passing. I feel like I’m supposed to grow up, be a responsible citizen. Many people who know me may be surprised to learn I’m so youthful, given my appearance resembles that of my father so readily. That’s the one thing that does get on my chebs. The youthful person inside my head is starting to rebel. Is this “mid life crisis?” If so, I don’t want it. I’ve already faced up and decided to stop playing cricket. My performance as a bowler hasn’t really diminished, but it feels like it takes longer to recover and I just don’t have the time to dedicate to training now that I need just to remain competitive. Not that my inner virulent stud agrees. Shit!

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It’s funny how the mind works. There I was killing time in Birmingham Airport. Two hours between the end of the meeting and my train home. Yes, despite the addling of age I realise I’ve mentioned waiting for a train at an airport. If you know Birmingham, you’ll understand. I’m having a late lunch in Frankie and Benny’s, (who said business travel wasn’t glamorous?), finishing things off with a fairly rank cappuccino. The mind drifts back the thick end of 20 years to the north-eastern Italy, and the village of Aviano. Sitting in a little coffee shop, enjoying a much better cappuccino with a dear friend. I swear I could smell her perfume, hear her voice and see the way her lips pouted as she licked the foam from her spoon. Not sure where I’m going with this now. Our relationship was purely platonic. Josie was more like the sister I never had than a potential girlfriend. We’d met when I did an exchange visit to Italy with my college. The girl who’s family I stayed with had me tag along to her school one Saturday morning. Seemed like good idea. I had nothing else to do, not enough Italian to make conversation with the rest of her family and her class was exclusively female, which to an 18-year-old was the jackpot. (As an observation, Italian females are almost uniformly easy on the eye until they reach 40. At which point they split into two camps:

Sophia Loren, or

Mamma………and it seems to happen overnight.)

I was sat near the front of the class, which was studying tourism, as all the girls wanted jobs in that area. And, not having met may of the girls before was just listening to the babble of Italian and wondering what the hell was going on. It was at this point, that a voice spoke up, and when she got to a word for which there was no Italian equivalent, her American accent was obvious. Josie was the product of a marriage between an Italian mother and US serviceman father. America has a large air base and marine presence in Aviano, it is, or at least was pretty much the raison d’etre for the town. We hit it off almost immediately, for her I think there was the fascination of the fact I was from out-of-town, was familiar with American culture and treated her as a person. For me, there was the fact that we could communicate without the barrier of translation, and needing to simplify speech. I’m also not afraid to admit I found her attractive, but, as time went by, and by this I mean, we took up a correspondence by letter for this was the time before email and the internet. So it wasn’t stalking! As the time went by, I think my feelings for her went beyond lust, and to the familial as noted above. I visited with her a couple of times during summer holidays before she eventually left for college in Florida, and we continued to stay in touch before a foul up with an early sojourn into email meant we lost touch. Until recently that is. Through the wonder of social networking our paths crossed again. On LinkedIn of all places, Facebook for professionals. Hah, as if I’m one of those! Anyway, we’re both married, both have two kids, of around the same ages. I’d love to meet up again, and chew the fat, have a couple of beers for ‘auld lang syne’ and just catch up…maybe…….

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Dear Virgin Trains, Please get with the program.  Why is it necessary for you to charge those of us in cattle class to access the on-board wifi?  East Coast Trains don’t see the need.  And while we’re at it, what’s with the airline style announcing.  I mean, it’s a reasonable assumption for the head trolley dolly on a flight to make that all of the passengers have been onboard for the entire flight, but, on a train?  Really?  It’s stupid, it’s patronising and it’s unrealistic.  Other than that, your service is perfectly adequate.

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