Thanks for supporting our website for a great cyclist and a great person, Alberto Contador!
Photos by Christine Kahane of Contador at Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné, the Tour and the Vuelta a Castilla y León, set to music for flute and harpsichord
¡Feliz cumpleaños, campeón!
Alberto Contador enjoys the end-of-Vuelta party in the Saxo Bank-SunGard pavilion (Kahane)
Our correspondent, Christine Kahane attended the last stage of the Vuelta yesterday in Madrid, where she had a delightful few minutes with Alberto and took some super - and exclusive - photos for us.
Alberto, who lives not far away in Pinto, has followed the Vuelta closely, both in person and at home on television. He turned out on Sunday to congratulate his teammates for a great three weeks of work that included a stage win by J.J. Haedo and a fine overall performance by Chris Anker Sørensen.
GO TO CHRISTINE'S PHOTO DAYBOOK
If you can't get enough pink, treat yourself to a Giro watch like Alberto Contador's (Cristian Lay website)
If you've ever salivated at the sight of one of Alberto Contador's wristwatches, you might be excited to know that you can purchase one yourself.
Alberto's watches are from the Alberto Contador Collection by Cristian Lay, the high fashion horologer with roots in Extremadura, the Contador family's ancestral home region.
Lay created the special maglia rosa watch pictured above, which Alberto introduced during the Giro. The instrument, made with waterproof steel case, mineral crystal, luminescent hands and calendar, sells for €115.00
Thumb through Christian Lay's online catalogue, and find other choices like the titanium watch with accents in Spanish national colors (278.00€) and the (fascinating) subaquatic model with helium valve (245.00€).
If you're still waiting for your ship to come in, try the super-classy Triple Crown inkpen for only 15.00€
Alberto Contador's mother, Francisca, ready for the post-Tour celebration (Christine Kahane)
Our correspondent, Christine Kahane, was present at the Hotel Concorde last night as Alberto Contador, his family, friends and teammates prepared to celebrate the end of the 2011 Tour de France.
Christine chatted with Alberto’s mother, Francisca Velasco, (Paqui for short) and learned some interesting things about the personality of the three-time Tour champion from the person who knows him best.
Contador’s public persona is one of an internationally-renowned athlete who is super-competitive, ambitious, and a master of concentration. How do those traits translate into family relationships?
According to Paqui, Alberto is a very good son and brother. Even when he’s had a bad day, a bad race, or a crash, he’s always the one who comforts his mother, not the other way around.
Paqui also told Christine that Alberto is very positive and optimistic, and even if he’s disappointed, he doesn’t show it, but says instead “At least the public had a good show!” He never badmouths anybody and never complains about anything.
Christine concludes that yesterday, after visiting Chechu Rubiera, who was in Paris for the Tour’s finale, “in the evening, Alberto (surrounded by hordes of journalists and fans as if he was the real winner of this Tour) favoured me with a handshake and a marvellous smile in the middle of the crowd. What else could I have wished for?”
Christine Kahane's July 29 review of encounters with Astana and Alberto in his quest for a third Tour
Alberto at Pau (All photos by Christine Kahane)
Because of family commitments we joined the Tour rather late this year.
Friday July 16th - Causse Comtal (between Mende and Rodez)
We arrived on Friday, July 16 in Rodez, prefecture of the Aveyron region, an interesting city with a famous gothic-style cathedral. It was the day of the arrival in Mende, (ending with the so-called Laurent Jalabert climb), located 100 kilometers of very slow country roads from Rodez, which would host the start of the next stage and where most of the team hotels were located.
The stage finished around 5:30PM and we got to the Astana team hotel - located outside the town in a peaceful, green countryside setting - around 6PM and waited until 7:30PM before the riders arrived.
Astana's lovely hotel in Rodez
There were six teams staying at the same hotel and we read the following day in the daily local newspapar that it had been much too much for the hotel manager who had never in her life had so many special requests: extended meal hours, special diet for the riders, extra pots and pans for team cooks, a lot of extra towels and space for the soigneurs, enlarged parking area for six team buses, trucks and cars, etc.
Alberto arrived first as always (when not in yellow and held up by podium ceremonies, anti doping controls, etc.) in the Contador car, together with Fran and Jacinto. He said “bonjour” in French to Roger, waved at me smiling, and rushed into the hotel where he had a date for an interview. He had come second to Rodriguez in Mende and there had been an apparent mix-up with Vino, who wanted to win the stage and was reported to be a bit upset.
Fifteen minutes later the main stream of riders started arriving in team cars. We were happy to see Steve Morabito, George Hincapie, and Matt White, all ex Discovery Channel teammates.
Our Astana guys were among the later arrivals: Benjamin told us that the baby to be born in November was a little girl, sister to Benjamin Jr., so he and wife Sara will be rewarded with “la parejita” as they say in Spain.
Dani looked exhausted and very thin, with a new extra short hairstyle, but he was smiling.
Then followed Jesus, Paolo, and David.
Dani Navarro, always smiling
The Kazakhs and Andrey Grivko came separately. Vino, who looked sad because of his missed victory, greeted me with “dobri vetcher” (good evening in Russian). He had not forgotten that I am of Russian origin.
Although a Kazakh citizen, Alexander Vinokourov is Russian and of Orthodox religion.
Saturday July 17th
The following day, the Tour Village was set up next to the Rodez Cathedral and the riders departed for Revel. A friend had lent us her braclelets to be able to get into the parking lot and wish good luck to our team.
The real buzz was concentrated around the Astana and Radio Shack team buses as usual. It was impossible to get near and see anything of interest.
David de la Fuente greets fans and members of his cycling club back home in Cantabria
After that, we spent the next three days with our daughter and two small grand-children, in the south of France, resting (the Tour is an exhausting experience) at their comfortable house, gathering energy for our trip to Pau, where the Tour teams were spending three nights and a rest day.
Pau celebrates this year the 400th anniversary of King Henry IV’s assassination in 1610. Henry de Navarre, born in Pau, was a jovial fellow and a very popular king, who had switched religions from Huguenot to Roman Catholic when he unexpectedly acceded to the throne of France in 1589 for lack of a male heir in the direct line. His murderer Ravaillac, a Huguenot, had never forgiven him.
Tuesday July 20th
We greeted the riders at their arrival at the hotel they were sharing with Saxo Bank and two other teams. A massive crowd was gathered in front of the hotel porch, as well as a large and active security service to prevent getting close to the riders and entering the lobby. The riders, who had had a hard stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon, with four major climbs, were obviously very tired and rushed into the hotel.
Alberto arrives at the hotel in Pau
Wednesday July 21st
On the rest day in Pau, the Astana riders trained in two separate groups: on the one hand the “Latins”, and on the other the “Slavics”.
Upon coming back from their training ride, Alberto made a slalom in the parking lot , with a big grin on his face, to avoid the fans swarming after him.
Thursday July 22nd
The following morning we awoke to a grey sky and pouring rain. Apparently it had been raining cats and dogs the whole night and the soil was soaking, which made racing on the mountain slopes very dangerous. It was the long-awaited Tourmalet stage and all the supporters were worried for the riders. Its very unusual weather for this time of the year in the region.
We had to walk though a waterlogged park to reach the team buses. Fortunately, the Astana bus was parked outside the reserved area, so luckily we did not need any special passes.
There we met some young Kazakhs who were studying engineering in Pau. We also met for the first time Alexander Gordeyev who reports for Astanafans website. He was luckier than us for he had been offered invitations from Astana’s public relations girl, including passes for the whole Tour, and hotel accommodation as well as plane ticket from Almaty to Toulouse sponsored by the Astana team. Lucky guy!
Alexander Gordeyev and Astana soigneur Yuri Kulischkin
Friday July 23rd
We left for Paris and drove 900 kilometers in one go. That way, on Saturday we were able to watch the fascinating individual time trial on TV and my husband Roger almost had a heart attack. Alberto’s press man told us he did too!
Sunday July 25th
We attended the stage departure in Longjumeau. Once again we were frustrated with the pass problem for access to the bus parking lot but finally managed to get in. There we met Alberto’s inner circle of family and friends, and took photos with them. They greeted us spontaneously and in a nice way.
Upon Alberto’s arrival (the riders had travelled by TGV fast train from Bordeaux the same morning), Faustino and other mechanics presented him with the new yellow bike they had put together and decorated during the night and Alberto spent some time admiring it from every angle.
Alberto goes over every inch of his new bike
When time came to go to the signature podium, Alberto as usual was practically the last, under heavy guard and drawing lots of oohs and aahs from the crowd. But the actual last to go was Lance Armstrong wearing his special black outfit which the commissars rejected, thereby creating some controversy.
In the evening I joined all the regular fans at the luxurious Concorde-Lafayette hotel in Paris. There I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Assya and her husband Kanat from Astanafans, who had come specially from Italy where they live with their son, and had also been invited by Team Astana. We spent a nice time together taking photos with handsome Andrey Grivko and brave Vino.
Mission accomplished and time to party for Vino
They had attended the Champs Elysées arrival and parade which we did not because of lack of passes. So Assya will certainly have some nice photos of the peloton racing along the most beautiful avenue in the world to post on Astanafans website soon.
The Tour is a beautiful race and a unique experience that every fan enjoys deeply.
Our next rendezvous with Astana and the bike racing world will be at the end of August, when we leave for Sevilla to attend the Vuelta a España team time trial which, for the first time, will take place at night in that beautiful Andalusian city.
Bye for now.
Alberto says hello to the readers of the Notebook, and this means you! (Photo by Kahane)
DANI NAVARRO INTERVIEW: Christine brings you a little closer to Astana's new hero
Dani won big at the Stage 5 of the Dauphiné (Photo by Kahane)
June 6, Evian-les-Bains - Dani Navarro is always in a good mood and smiling. Last time we had seen him was in the Tour of Castilla y Leon, at the top of a mountain. He was in the second breakaway, a few seconds after the first one led by Alberto. We called him and, despite the tremendous effort he was producing, he turned round smiled and waved at us.
Dani, like Chechu Rubiera and Benjamin Noval, is from Asturias, the most beautiful region of Spain. They often train altogether and although they are now in different teams, they remain great friends. PHOTO GALLERY
Dani, like Benjamin, has been selected by team Astana to help Alberto win a third Tour de France.
In Evian, just before the Prologue, we had a little interview in Spanish which I translated for the Notebook:
Where do you live? In a house or apartment?
I live in Gijon in an apartment which I own.
Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Yes, I have a younger brother aged 20 whose name is Borja.
We met your parents two years ago at the end of the Tour of Castilla y Leon. They seem very proud of their son. What is their profession?
Yes, they are proud of me. They run a flooring business.
When did you start the bike?
When I was 11 years old, and went to the same biking school as Chechu Rubiera.
How old were you when you met Chechu, Benjamin and Alberto?
Around 17. I met Alberto during the Spanish championship.
What was your first team as a professional?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What sports are you interested in apart from cycling?
Tennis and football. I practise them both in the off season.
Do you have other races on your planning after the Tour?
No, not yet.
What is your favourite food?
You prefer sweet or savory food?
What kind of music and film do you like best?
Pop music, horror films and comedies.
Do you have a “novia”?
Yes, and her name is Raquel.
Dani said that he saw Noah, Chechu’s two-month old baby son recently, and that the child looks very much like his father. So he must be a star!
Saturday June 5: Arrival in Évian-les-Bains
Jesús Hernández is ready to work for the boss (Photo by Kahane)
We arrived in Évian with perfect weather, at the end of the afternoon after a long trip across Germany and Switzerland. We had just spent a few days with our beloved grandchildren who live near Bonn. After settling in our rented studio, with a breathtaking view over Lake Léman, we visited team Astana at their hotel.
Unfortunately, because of the delays we experienced due to road works everywhere on our way to Évian, we missed Alberto’s press conference. His press manager told us that Alberto had just returned with Macarena from a five-day vacation in Mayorca and was in great form. He added that in Alberto’s opinion his main contender in this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné could well be Samu Sánchez.
While chatting to Alberto’s press man, we saw Jesús Hernández and Paolo Tiralongo returning from a training ride around the lake while Benjamín Noval, Dani Navarro and David de la Fuente, who arrived in Évian later in the day, were leaving for the time trial circuit reconnaissance.
Alberto had trained in the morning in view of his afternoon press conference and was resting, so we did not see him.
Daniel Navarro for the mountains and Benjamín Noval for the flats: the Asturians have Contador covered (Photo by Kahane)
Sunday June 6: Évian-les-Bains prologue
Alberto and Benja (Photo by Kahane)
In the morning we visited the team at their hotel and could take quite a few casual photos of Alberto and his teammates. No press, no journalists, no photographers, no fans around, and
a very friendly atmosphere. The team stayed in a scenic hotel overlooking Lake Leman, and instead of joining their teammtes for the usual morning ride, Alberto and Benjamin stayed home and practised on the rollers alongside the swimming pool. The sun was shining but storms were forecast for the afternoon.
We then moved to the Evian Casino, departure of the Prologue, in front of which the Astana bus was already parked, and waited a long time for the first Astana rider to arrive.
The setting was beautiful but the laidback race atmosphere established over the years by the Cazeneuve family, owner of the Dauphiné Libéré daily newspaper who, until last year used to organize this preview of the Tour de France, is gone. The ASO factory-type management took over and there are now barriers and watchmen everywhere.
Since we are no professional reporters, the ASO police-like rules prevent us from being able to take photos of Alberto on the departure line, on the ITT ramp, or on the podium, which we are given access to in Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese races.
Many people came over to the Astana bus to take photos of Alberto when he started on the rollers and he always very willingly and with a big smile gave autographs to many children.
Needless to say, we were overjoyed (and the crowd too) by Alberto’s victory in the Prologue. He is very popular in France. And when we left, Yvon Sanquer was still assailed by journalists who all wanted an interview.
Monday June 7: Évian-les-Bains to Saint-Laurent du Pont
The lion and classification jerseys get a seat of honor on the team bus (Photo by Kahane)
So our man is in yellow, which is prestigious but has its drawbacks. Alberto returned to his hotel last night at 8:30 PM after his three-jersey podium celebration, and the usual medical tests. Valentin massaged him for one hour and he had dinner at 10PM which, as Valentin reminds us, is the normal dinner time in Spain.
Because of the traffic jams created by the race and not having any privileged access, we decided to skip the stage departure and visit instead the riders at their hotel before driving south. Still a quiet and cosy atmosphere at the champion’s hotel. We even got a glimpse of Alberto having breakfast with Benjamin in the restaurant overlooking the marina where leisure boats were anchored, and the lake.
Just out of the breakfast room with his roommate Jesus Hernandez, Dani Navarro stopped by us and we had a very casual interview in Spanish, supplementing the one by La Nueva España posted in the Notebook.
While waiting for the riders to leave the hotel for the race departure, we had a conversation with Serguey Lavrenenko (soigneur for the two Russian-speaking riders: Andrey Zeits and Dima Fofonov) about the Russian population living in Kazakhstan. Most of the Kazakh riders are Russian Christian Orthodox., although the national population split is about 50/50 Mulim/Orthodox.
We also had a chat with Alberto's press man about his dog: Tour, who was featured in an adorable live document in the Notebook recently. We had not understood that Tour had been offered as a present to Alberto at the time he won his first Tour de France, and is not a puppy anymore!
We also learned that Macarena works in a kindergarten taking care of children from one to three. “El cole” starts at an early age in Spain.
We then talked with him about Alberto’s image in France. Alberto's popularity here is very evident at this race, and his time trial win yesterday drew gasps of admiration and pleasure from the crowd. Alberto's press man says part of his populatity is because he has some family in the north of France, another part comes from his huge talent but which hasn’t given him a big head – he is very approachable – and thirdly, he is seen as being “clean”. The only thing missing is he doesn’t speak French, but nobody’s perfect!
Then the riders started coming out. Fofonov and Zeits were the first to appear rolling their small suitcase. Each rider has two pieces of luggage. The big cases are taken care of by the soigneurs.
I took advantage of Dima’s presence to ask him a few questions while he was changing shoes. I am amazed by the quality of the French spoken by Dima who has been living in France for the past ten years with wife Marina and little boy Artëm.
All at once all the riders came out of the hotel and we had very little time to take a few photos of Alberto in yellow. I said “Enhorabuena, Alberto, de parte del Notebook. Estamos encantados para ti”, and he granted me a beautiful smile for the photo.
All the Astana riders rode off in single file behind their leader in yellow at 11 AM towards the departure line a couple of kilometers away in the centre of Evian..
Tonight we did not attend the stage arrival in St-Laurent du Pont but welcomed the riders at their Valence hotel, where we caught another unforgettable smile from Alberto.
Is this man in disguise or just really cool? (Photo by Kahane)
Tuesday June 8: Annonay – Bourg Saint-Andéol
A few last tips from Faustino (Photo by Kahane)
We passed by the team hotel in Avignon quite early because the Annonay departure point being far away, we knew the riders would leave by 9:30 am.
We arrived just as Alberto and Benjamin came out of the breakfast room and Roger had a little chat in English with Alberto about the Notebook which he reads regularly.
We then waited in the parking lot for the riders to board the buses. There were four teams staying at the same place and we had the pleasure to meet old friends from Radio Shack, and especially Tomas Vaitkus and Dr. Pedro Celaya, who we particularly like.
During our wait we met a couple of German collectors who are following three races in a row: Tour of Luxembourg, Critérium du Dauphiné, and Tour of Switzerland without any break.
They must have a lot of energy because it’s rather tiring. Somedays you stand and wait for hours just to see your heroes for a few seconds.
We decided once more to skip the race departure. What’s the point attending a stage start, reporting for a bike website, when you are blocked access to the departure line and team signature podium?
So today instead we are going to Bourg-St-Andéol to see the riders arrival. We have a date there with 17 year old triplets: Aurelia, Floriane and Laurine, who created several years ago the French Yaroslav Popovych website. We became very friendly despite the gap in ages. Every time we pass their beautiful region they invite us for a gourmet dinner with products from their garden. The three sisters are first class chefs at baking delicious selected cakes. Our date has become a tradition over the years.
Wednesday June 9: Monteux-Sorgues ITT
Alberto's right-hand man, Benjamin Noval, during his TT warm-up (Photo by Kahane)
We just missed Alberto at his hotel early morning as he was leaving to check out the ITT circuit, so we thought we would wait for him to return. But after standing around for over two hours in the baking sun, we decided we were missing the early action at the departure site and left without having seen him.
In the departure village, we discovered that the team buses were spread all over the place, involving long walking distances, and so not to miss anything interesting in our team, we stayed with the Astana bus.
As the time approached for Alberto to make an appearance, the crowd gathered around the bus thickened and it became difficult to move around and take photos. When Alberto did finally arrive and start warming up on the rollers, we managed to get a few shots before deciding on our next move.
Since it would have been impossible, because of the traffic restrictions, to get to the arrival location in time to see Alberto’s finish, we decided to drive back to the hotel and watch what we hoped would be a triumph, on TV.
What a disappointment. We still don’t understand what happened. Was it the new bike? Was Alberto having an off-day? We hope there is a reassuring explanation.
As we are heading back to Paris tomorrow, we feel a bit sad that our stay with the race has ended on a rather negative note, but will be following the rest of the Dauphiné very closely from home on TV, and hope it ends in a more positive way.
Today, May 12, 2010 is the sixth anniversary of Alberto Contador's crash in the 2004 Vuelta a Asturias due to the effects of cerebral cavernoma, a congenital condition.
Alberto's life was saved on that day by the race doctor, but the problem was far from solved. Difficult times lay ahead. He underwent brain surgery and a long hospital stay, during which time it was uncertain whether he would ever lead a normal life again, much less ride a bicycle.
But he believed. During recovery, he lived by the words that are now his motto, "Querer es poder." Where there's a will, there's a way.
“My mother heard this many times. We quarreled on this subject," Contador said. "I know there are things that are impossible, but if you do everything you can to get them, you have a better chance to reach your goal.”
In November, the doctors gave in and allowed him to get on a bike. He started to train. In January, he raced. And won.
“The Asturias accident is not even a bad memory for me… when I saw the images on TV, I had the impression that our passage on earth is only transitional, that we are nothing, that it’s okay this way and that suddenly you can be struck with a fatal misfortune.
"The experience made me mature a lot. You start to see things from another point of view. You realize that cycling as well as life depends on many things.”
In 2007, as Contador was preparing for the Tour de France, it seemed natural to us to plant sunflowers as a way of observing this date. Girasoles, as they're called in Spanish, are nature's icon of the Tour de France.
We planted "Teddy Bear," a smaller variety that can be grown in a barrel. They thrived, and to our amazement, on July 29 - as Alberto was awarded the maillot jaune for his first Tour victory - the first yellow blossom opened.
Join us in celebrating this day by planting a packet of sunflower seeds to monitor as the Tour draws near. If you lack a green thumb or your climate's wrong for Tour-time sunflowers, enjoy Van Gogh's!
Photo: Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, Arles, 1888
A bit of vaudeville for Christine with soigneurs Valentin and Yuri (Photo by Kahane)
Saturday April 24, Sunday April 25, 2010
We experienced for the first time this weekend the departure of a Belgian “classic”, the 260-kilometer long Liège-Bastogne-Liège race, following team Astana.
We arrived in Liège Saturday morning, an impressive city with interesting old architecture, a festive atmosphere and lots of open air cafés in the city centre packed with people enjoying the great sunshine which was to last the whole weekend.
The team presentation on Saturday (the race itself taking place on Sunday) started at 2 PM in a large tent installed in the courtyard of the beautiful gothic style Palais des Prince Evêques. The packed crowd inside the tent and the filtered light made it almost impossible to take pictures of the presentation itself, but all riders came out in the open air one by one the same way, so we could approach them and take photos.
The more races we attend, the more people we get to know, and we are pleased to note that not only the Spanish riders acknowledge our presence but also the Russian-speaking ones, like Dimitri Fofonov who reads Arsen’s website regularly and knows me by name, or Andrey Grivko with his startling green eyes, and even Vino who I finally managed to give the photo I took in Monaco last July of his twin boys: Alexander and Nicolaï.
We spent a lot of time trying to find passes for the following morning allowing us to attend the race departure. Without a pass one cannot get close to the buses, the riders, the signature podium, etc. since French organizer ASO puts up policed barriers everywhere blocking entry.
ASO has established a virtual monopoly by purchasing one by one more and more of the world races. Soon the real and faithful fans will not be allowed anymore to approach their favourite teams and riders.
We noticed that most of the people who get invited to race departures (apart from the Press) are local VIPs, showbiz personalities, or some kind of officials who often have no link with cycling, and know nothing about it. They just get an invitation because their name is known or they have good connections, in order to be seen or to get a free glass of champagne.
When the Astana bus arrived at the Palais des Princes Evêques, Alberto and Benjamin were sitting next to Valentin, and the three waved at us. The Astana riders were all dressed up in a very nice yelow top which gave the impression of even more sunshine.
We saw the riders go to the presentation and after had a little chat with several of them.
We had by then decided to skip the Sunday departure because without a pass it’s not interesting at all. The size of the crowd is similar to the Tour de France stages.
But unexpectedly, we were offered two “bracelets” by a very nice Belgian photographer, who works for Cyclingnews, whom we often meet at European races. So in the end, after an overnight stop in a small inn near Maastricht, there we were on a sunny Sunday morning, back in Liège and inside the barriers (!), waiting for our favourites.
Alberto's a great champion, but still a modest man (Photo by Roger Kahane) As Alberto passed by me on his way to the departure line, followed by his press man, a horde of photographers, and the Belgian TV, he stopped and said “Hola”. This is what I call a unique moment, so typical of the simplicity of this great champion who, at 27, has become as popular in Belgium as cult figure Eddy Merckx.
To save time, Alberto leaps the barrier to get to the sign-in desk
(Photo by Roger Kahane)
Half an hour earlier, Roger had had the exclusive opportunity of taking a photo of Alberto and his teammates jumping over the barrier surrounding the signature podium to get there quicker.
Contador, Grivko and Fofonov sign in before the start (Photo by Kahane)
Then all of a sudden, it was the last call for the riders to assemble at the start line, a final rapid “good luck, goodbye, see you” to our soigneur and mechanic friends, and then back to our car for the drive home.
Christine displays our press credentials
Sunday, April 18 - Last stage: Samos-Santiago de Compostela
Alberto breaks the record for most overall wins at Castilla y León
(Photo by Kahane)
After witnessing Alberto’s beautiful ITT win yesterday, we decided to skip today’s departure in Samos and drive straight to Santiago de Compostela, following the Camino de Santiago where we passed small goups of pilgrims on foot (and others on bikes!), with their backpacks and sticks, wearing the usual scallop shell sign of recognition on a string around the neck.
We crossed the frontier between the provinces of León and Galicia, driving through breathtaking landscapes and I remembered that part of “Dr. Jivago”, the winner of 5 Oscars, had been shot in this green and mountainous region of pine forests, old villages perched in the hills, viaducts with winding views over deep ravines, patches of fog on the rivers despite the sunshine, meadows sprinkled with wild yellow gorse, cattle grazing, and in the distance snow-capped mountains. Not at all what one would espect of a typical Spanish landscape. It reminded us of beautiful Asturias, peloton veteran Chechu Rubiera’s home province, which we visited two years ago.
Yesterday we witnessed the ITT win, and today Alberto’s outright final victory, and realized how lucky we are because whenever we have travelled specially from Paris to encourage him, Alberto ends up winning the race.
The pistol shot is always for someone special (Photo by Kahane)
Alberto was delighted with his win and one could see great satisfaction and happiness on his face.
A very happy man (Photo by Kahane)
The main problem now is how will he go to Belgium where next Wednesday April 24, he must take part in the Flèche Wallone, and on Sunday, April 25, the Liège Bastogne Liège race in preparation for the cobblestones of the early stages of the Tour de France.
Waiting for more flowers (Photo by Kahane)
Saturday, April 17 - Stage 4: Ponferrada - Ponferrada ITT
The main concern among the peloton is not so much who is winning the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon but how they will get to Belgium next week. We are all stuck in Spain and don't know what will happen!
We went to the Astana hotel this morning while the riders were leaving for a reconnaissance of the ITT circuit. There were two groups. Alberto and Benjamin were on their own and left later.
We are very impressed by Oscar Pereiro who is extremely nice and spends a lot of time with his fans.
I talked shortly to Alberto, and he said he thought they would take the train to Brussels. But the problem is that to get to Belgium they need to cross France and in France trains have been on strike for the last 10 days. I don't know how they will solve the problem.
Benjamin told me Sara and Benjamin junior where here, but I did not see them. He also confirmed that they would have a second baby in November.
"Contadoooor! Contadoooor!" (Photo by Kahane)
In the afternoon we met Macarena and her friends, who had come by car from Madrid. They all sang the Contador hymn.
Two seconds till blast off (Photo by Kahane)
We witnessed the beautiful victory of Alberto who, until Igor Antón passed the arrival line, looked anxiously at the board indicating the time together with his press man.
Alberto watches the clock until his opponent Antón crosses the line (Photo by Kahane)
The burgundy leader jersey is now his (Photo by Kahane)
Friday, April 16 - Queen stage: León-El Alto de Morredero
The last (and only) time we attended the Vuelta a Castilla y León was in 2008, the year we visited Chechu Rubiera in Asturias, together with Nicky and her family. We had combined our love for cycling with a friendly visit. We had witnessed first hand Alberto’s overall victory in a small mountain village near León, and met for the first time Chechu’s parents, and his wife Laura, in their home.
This year, our trip was almost cancelled at the last minute because of the air traffic mayhem provoked by the Icelandic volcano eruption. We managed to leave two hours before Charles de Gaulle airport was shut down to air traffic.
Today we drove from Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) to Ponferrada (León) along the Camino de Santiago (pilgrim’s way). We attended the final kilometers of the mountain top arrival at Alto de Morredero.
The weather conditions were so dreadful on the summit, with wind, fog, freezing rain, and even sleet, that we decided to backtrack down the mountain about two kilometers, getting below the cloud/fog/sleet base, and there we waited for the riders on a bend, sheltered from the wind, where we could see them coming from a long way off.
The thrilling chase for Antón is afoot (Photo by Kahane)
When the lead group of four, including Alberto, came past us, we cheered him on but he had plenty of other things on his mind at the time....! He seemed very easy.
When Dani passed us several minutes later, having done his job for Alberto, we called out to him too and he turned his head, smiled in recognition and waved his hand.
Alberto says he feels "estupendo" (Photo by Kahane)
After the race we visited the Astana team at their hotel which is part of the “AC” group which made Roger remark that it was chosen specially for Alberto. Alberto arrived first in a car driven by his press man, an Audi lent to them for three or four races.
I kissed Alberto hello and he said he feels “estupendo”. He is in an ideal position on the GC, according to his press man. We keep our fingers crossed for tomorrow’s ITT.
The other Astana riders arrived a while later in the team cars, and they all looked very pleased with their day’s work, especially Benjamin, Oscar and David who spent time chatting with their fans and posing for photos before going into the hotel for a well earned rest.
All photos by Kahane
Christine and Alberto on the eve of the Paris-Nice race (Photo by Kahane)
Day 4 – Stage 2: Contres – Limoges
Our night in Blois was not a success. Although our hotel had advertised they had internet, it was not working and we could not send our latest report. It’s frustrating but the kind of thing that happens on such trips.
In the morning we were only too happy to leave our hotel overlooking the railway station, and drive to the elegant Loire-riverside hotel where Astana was staying, along with the ASO and UCI officials. So while we were waiting in the lounge for our friends on their way to breakfast, we had a chance to snap five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault, who was sitting next to us.
This celebrity needs no introduction - he won the Tour five times! (Photo by Kahane)
We noticed that Yvon Sanquer seems to be on very friendly terms with many of the officials.
We chatted a few minutes with very nice Dimitry Fofonov and admired his excellent French. We had met him for the first time last year on the Tour de l’Ain, where he rode alongside Vino in the "Kazakhstan National Team". He was accompanied then by his beautiful wife (all cyclists seem to have very gorgeous spouses!) and cute little four-year-old boy.
Dima told us he lives near Clermont-Ferrand, in the centre of France, only 60 kilometers away from Maxim Gourov, who was the next rider to show up for breakfast.
Maxim with Oscar Pereiro and Dani Navarro before the stage (Photo by Kahane)
Maxim was rather tired because he had been woken up at 3 am by a phone call which was wrongly put through to him.
He told us that the race would pass very near where he lives, but that his wife Olessya (Alicia in French) works as a secretary in a transport company and cannot take a day off to see her husband go by with the peloton!
Maxim avoided yesterday’s crashes, although he was next to Alberto, and helped Alberto get back in the peloton.
While taking a few pictures of the Astana boys on their way to breakfast, we also took one of their very friendly Italian team doctor Andrea Andreazzoli who looked after Alberto so well yesterday.
Alberto's press man told us that Alberto was OK, which we could witness for ourselves when he arrived last, with Benjamin who shares his room, and on the way to the team bus he signed a card which I had prepared for Alejandro, the physiotherapist fan who works in our local hospital.
I said to Alberto “Regresamos a Paris pero te veremos en Cataluña” (We are returning to Paris but will see you in Cataluña). Roger added “Stay safe” and Alberto greeted us with a beautiful smile.
Benjamin Noval and Alberto are the last to leave the hotel (Photo by Kahane)
Alberto stops to sign before he and Benjamin take the bus to work (Photo by Kahane)
Day 3 – Stage 1: Saint-Arnoult en Yvelines - Contres
The stage is over and we are spending the night in Blois, near the team Astana hotel located along the banks of the Loire river. Blois is a very beautiful provincial town with a famous Renaissance château and an 18th-century stone bridge which spans the river. As Blois is built on a pair of steep hills, winding and steep pathways run through the city, culminating in long staircases at various points.
Those who have read Alexandre Dumas' "Les Trois Mousquetaires" will recall that Athos had a castle in Blois.
This morning, the stage departed from Saint-Arnoult en Yvelines, known as the regular start point of the Paris-Tour one-day race which occurs in October. The sky was still deep blue but the atmosphere very chilly despite the brilliant sunshine.
Another very cold morning at the sign-in (Photo by Kahane)
We lost quite a lot of time waiting to try and see the ASO Press/accreditation contact at the race, to be able to have privileged access to the podium and to the departure and arrival areas, but the person never showed up. It was very frustrating. ASO are really hard to work with.
We said goodbye to Fran who was catching the plane back to Madrid at 4PM and witnessed a big hug between the two brothers. Fran can be reassured. He is leaving Alberto in the caring hands of guardian angel Jacinto.
Two classes of the local grammar and high schools were attending the stage departure and were allowed into the area reserved to the press, in front of the signature podium. They were all wearing yellow caps and had many riders autograph their caps. It created a big gathering around the riders but they all happily complied.
Children cluster to see Alberto, chanting "Contador, Contador, Contador!"
(Photo by Kahane)
The two classes then showed up around the Astana bus and shouted “Contador, Contador, Contador”. Alberto's press man posed, along with Yvon Sanquer, for couple of photos with the kids for me but commented: “Cristina, creía que estaba aqui para sacar fotografias de los ciclistas!” (“Christine, I thought you were here to take pictures of the riders!”). I answered that I love kids and miss my own two grand-children who live in Germany and are soon moving to a little village in Andalusia.
After the peloton left, we drove south to Contres to wait for the arrival of the stage, and heard over the loudspeaker where they reported on the race progress, that there had been a break with an echelon lead by Caisse d’Epargne and a few other dangerous riders but without Alberto. As the gap increased we started to get worried and the worst was when they reported that Alberto had crashed three kilometers from the finish. So we were really relieved when eventually he crossed the line in the main pack and the damage was limited to a handful of seconds. But in Paris-Nice the final result is often decided by a handful of seconds, so it looks like Alberto will have his work cut out in the coming days.
This is our last full day on the road; after tomorrow’s departure from Contres we’ll be heading back home to catch the rest of the race on TV.
Asturian Dani Navarro is Alberto's mountain goat at Paris-Nice (Photo by Kahane)
Day 2 – Prologue in Montfort-L’Amaury
Today, though even chillier than yesterday, was a beautiful sunny day without any clouds in the blue sky. But in the shade, and when the wind rose, the cold was unbearable.
Maxim Gourov and Oscar Pereiro laugh over Maxim's text (Photo by Kahane)
Montfort L’Amaury is a very picturesque medieval village located in the Chevreuse valley near the Rambouillet forest.
In the morning I had seen that Rebecca had posted in the Notebook the photo, taken by Jacinto Vidarte the day before at the Astana hotel, of Alberto signing his photo on a card produced by the Notebook, for a fan called Marcel. Marcel is retired and a well-known figure among the cycling memorabilia collectors. He worked for twenty years as a stage manager at the Paris Palais des Congrès where every October the upcoming Tour de France route is unveiled. The first thing I did when we arrived in Montfort-L’Amaury was to look for Marcel. Marcel has no computer and is not familiar with the internet. When I told him he was on the front page of Alberto’s website, he coudn't believe it!
Alberto arrived last at the team parking area, in the Contador car together with older brother and manager Fran (who commuted from Madrid just for the week-end), and Jacinto.
While several Astana riders had already left for their time trial, and Oscar Pereiro, Dani Navarro and Maxim Gourov were warming up on the rollers, Alberto dressed in jeans with a wollen hat with unusual designs that covered his head down to the eyebrows came out of the Astana bus, and as fast as flash of lightning left for a ride to try his bike. He fooled all the waiting crowd except a few aficionados, and nobody had time to request autographs before he was gone. He returned in the same incognito manner and rushed into the bus. No one had time to even take a picture (except Roger)!
Alberto steals away unnoticed - almost (Photo by Kahane)
Later on, Alberto, who was last of the team to get on the rollers, did his training under the watchful and caring eyes of his big brother and his press man, who are always there for him.
A vigorous warm-up on a cold day (Photo by Kahane)
We left while Alberto was still training because we wanted to see his race on TV (which we actually managed to do!). It seems there was some problem with the team radio, which might have given him a couple of extra seconds advantage, and one or two places higher, but anyway he looks in great shape.
I had a nice e-mail when I got home from a Spanish physiotherapist who works in the local hospital. I met him a month ago because one of his patients is an aging neighbour of ours. His name is Alejandro. He is from Madrid, loves cycling, and is an aficionado of Alberto Contador. I had given him the card of the Notebook as well as the one of Chechu Rubiera’s website where I am also a contributor.
Alejandor, who was probably watching the Paris-Nice prologue today, mailed me how interesting he finds the two websites and how its a great way to keep all the fans who cannot attend races informed.
Day 1 - New encounter with Alberto and Team Astana
It’s nice to be able to welcome the Paris-Nice riders virtually in your backyard.
This morning we arrived at 9:30 at the Astana hotel, just a 20-minute drive away from home, and Alberto, who had come the night before, was taking his breakfast all alone. Soon Jacinto Vidarte joined him in the breakfast room. Valentin had driven the Astana bus the night before from the Basque Country, where he lives, to Paris, a twelve-hour drive, and Javier had driven the van containing the bikes from Madrid, an even longer drive.
Alberto Contador before Paris Nice 2010 (Photo by Kahane)
It was a very chilly morning and everybody was heavily swaddled in warm clothes from head to toe.
Alberto was the only rider already on the spot, and around 10:30 he left for a reconnaisance ride of the Montfort-L’Amaury prologue, driven by sports director Giuseppe Martinelli.
A while later Dani Navarro and Benjamin Noval arrived from the airport, followed by Dimitry Fofonov and Andriy Grivko who posed for a couple of nice photos for our friend Arsen who manages the Kazakh Astanafans website.
Brrr! Andriy Grivko and Dimitri Fofonov bundled up before their ride (Photo by Kahane)
Knowing that the remaining riders would not arrive before early afternoon, we went off to see a couple of other teams. We visited Alejandro Valverde and Luis León Sánchez, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Yaroslav Popovych who I love because he is always in an extraordinarly good mood, whatever happens to him.
When we returned to the Astana hotel, we had the great pleasure to be able to attend Alberto’s press conference. It lasted about 30 minutes. The questions were posed in French and Jacinto acted as a very good interpreter.
Alberto spent half an hour answering questions for the press (Photo by Kahane)
The first journalist wanted to know what Paris-Nice represented for Alberto and he answered it was a race he likes a lot. He feels that he is in a good condition and it’s a perfect preparation to build up for the Tour de France. Several of the stages are on similar a terrain to the Tour and it attracts high level riders.
When Alberto was asked what he had learned from last year’s failure, he replied that he learned a lot, not only about being careful with his feeding, but also about watching how other riders handle attacks.
As far as the opening prologue is concerned, Alberto says it may be short (8 kilometers), but it is tough, there could be some surprises with the time differences, and it’s one of his objectives. He will ride it on the Specialized Shiv TT bike which has been modified to comply with UCI rules, which he much prefers to the Algarve bike. It’s more aerodynamic, lighter and stiffer.
When asked about his state of mind for 2010 compared to 2009, Alberto replied that he is much more confident and serene. He added that people said that Astana was rather weak at the beginning of the year but he thinks that the team worked very well in Algarve, better than expected. Of course, in the Tour de France it will be much harder because there will be some very strong teams in competition, but Astana will be among the best.
Finally, about the Mende stage (March 11, stage 5), where Alberto said that in 2007 he was good but in 2005 he suffered a lot, this year could be decisive. It will be one of his main targets, but he expects team Caisse d’Epargne to offer stiff resistence.
Leaving the conference room Alberto posed for more photographs, then went back to his room while his teammates went for a training ride.
Benjamin Noval and Dani Navarro are ready to train in spite of the cold (Photo by Kahane)
Sunday, February 21 - Day 6 : (5th Stage ITT) Lagoa – Portimão
Alberto on the start ramp in Stage 5, ready to win La Volta (Photo by Roger Kahane)
Not very much to say today apart from the fact that it rained heavily the whole night and it was still pouring at 10 AM. Valentin told us that if these weather conditions carried on the stage would be cancelled.
Nevertheless, when we reached the Astana hotel around 9:30, Alberto had already gone training on the ITT circuit -under the rain!
We followed the Astana bus and cars to the stage departure in Lagoa. When Maxim Gourov—the first Astana rider to compete in the ITT—left, it was still raining and I asked him to be very careful because the road was very slippery.
After Maxim’s turn, the showers became more or less scarce and the other riders were not too handicapped.
Following the last minute problem with the UCI, we heard that Specialized only managed to put together six bikes and as there were seven riders, they had to share bikes. But finally Jesus Hernandez used a normal bike which solved matters.
While Roger went off to the ITT departure ramp to take pictures of the riders taking off, I remained next to the team bus. The Contador-bannered red and black car arrived with Macarena and her friends. They took Alberto’s luggage out of the bus trunk because he and Macarena were leaving just after the end of the closing ceremony. They had a plane to catch at Faro airport to Madrid via Lisbon.
After taking a few pictures of Andrey Grivko wearing a special outfit (current ITT champion of Ukraine) for our friend Arsen who manages the Kazakh Astana Fan Club we concentrated on Alberto who left last and wore his yellow and red 2009 ITT Spanish champion jersey which suits him so well. Just before leaving for the departure ramp he had autographed Roger’s champagne bottle and signed a few photos for the Notebook fans.
We heard about Alberto’s beautiful and well-deserved first victory of the season on the Portuguese radio on our way to Sevilla, where we will catch our place to Paris tomorrow morning.
Our next cycling experience will be the Paris-Nice departure in two weeks time.
Bye for now.
Saturday, February 20 - Day 5 : (4th Stage) Casela – Tavira
It looked like a nice day again, sunny and just a bit warmer, with an easy drive to the starting location of stage 4 in Casela.
The high point of the morning was in the team bus parking lot when our favourite Astana driver, Valentin, managed to get the bus completely stuck in the soft sandy ground, which had not been sufficiently packed. He was the only driver who had that trouble and they had to pull the bus out with a tractor. Of course, the other teams certainly enjoyed the spectacle because they all came over specially to have a good look.
Otherwise, it was a pretty normal starting day, except that Alberto was in yellow and attracted even more attention. But whatever crowd around him, whenever he sees us he acknowledges our presence with a nod of the head.
In yellow again (Photo by Kahane)
We chatted with Jacinto before the start who was in a very good mood because of yesterday’s result.
I spotted Yvon Sanquer, who has just arrived, and went over to introduce myself as well as the Notebook. He told me that Sergey Renev would not start today because he had been sick the whole night with gastro-intestinal problems.
Yvon Sanquer is a native of Brittany, in the western part of France, and now lives near Paris.
While the tractor was pulling the bus out of trouble we went to see little Beatriz Paulinho who Sergio was holding in his arms. He let me take a family photo but when he entered the team bus to introduce Beatriz to his teammates, the three-month-old little girl started to howl.
Anticipating an uneventful stage, we offered ourselves a bit of tourism before heading for the arrival of the stage in Tavira. There we had an anxious few minutes, knowing there had been a break with a Radio Shack rider, but not catching any of the details coming over the LoFi PA in high speed Portuguese. Finally we saw Alberto arrive safely with the pack shortly after the break, and then we could celebrate his second yellow jersey.
A pretty new cup for the mantlepiece (Photo by Kahane)
Ready or not, here it comes! (Photo by Kahane)
After drinking a sip of champagne, Alberto showered the crowd and everybody then retreated not to get wet and protect their cameras, except Roger who stuck his cap out to catch some of the drops. Alberto obviously found this amusing because he then handed the almost full bottle to Roger.
Okay, you want some? (Photo by Kahane)
Nice souvenir! But what will you do with the contents? (Photo by Kahane)
What a fun souvenir from the Tour of Algarve penultimate stage!
Tomorrow will be an interesting ITT when Alberto will have his work cut out dealing with the threat of Levi Leipheimer, one of the world’s best time trialists, but also Tiago Machado who is the Portuguese ITT champion.
Friday, Feb. 19 - Day 4 : Queen Stage - Castro Marim–Alto do Malhão
Finally, some sunshine for the queen stage!
The Three Musketeers: David de la Fuente, Benjamin Noval and Dani Navarro (Photo by Kahane)
Early in the morning we passed by the Astana hotel and Roger had a chat with Giuseppe Martinelli who told him he is very satisfied with the team spirit. The team is strong and from the very first training camp in Pisa, the plan was to get the Kazakhs and the Spanish to mix and not to have separate clans. He confirmed that Alexander Vinokourov is very good at creating a good atmosphere. He also said that Alberto has a lot of heart, is very sincere, and well adjusted. He is not a prima donna or anything of the kind.
Yesterday the riders really suffered on the road. The weather was awful and the stage arrival was delayed by one hour and a half. They got back at the hotel at 7:30 PM and only had dinner at 10 PM, after their massage.
While the riders were boarding the Astana bus to go to the departure, I had a little chat in Russian with Maxim Gourov, who will certainly be the next rider to get a place in my heart. We exchanged e-mail addresses so I can send him the photos I took. He lives in the center of France, near Montluçon, and has a little girl.
Upon our arrival in Castro Marim, the sunshine was still there, but some wind too.
The Astana and Radio Shack buses were parked side by side and both staffs mixed to say hello and chat with one another.
I, who love babies, had the nice surprise to meet Sergio Paulinho’s wife Liliana and their three-month-old daughter Beatriz who looks exactly like her daddy: same round face, chubby cheeks and smiling eyes.
I followed Alberto, together with the horde of reporters, to the signature podium. He was smiling, in a good mood, posed willingly for his fans, and was totally the star of the show, the object of all the loudspeaker announcements and on the front row of the starting line.
On the way to the departure point I stopped by Christian Van de Velde (another of my favourites) to ask about Uma and Madeline, his two lovely little girls. He told me he would race the Tour of Cataluña since he lives in Girona, where we’ll also be reporting for the Notebook again.
Alberto rolls out. Are the other riders nervous? (Photo by Kahane)
After the start, and one big and two small showers interspersed with blue sky and sunshine, we reached the feeding zone, a new experience for us. As the peloton was half an hour late, the “feeders” were having a nap in their team cars until the last minute. They have a hard life and long working hours and any opportunity to recover some energy is welcome.
Roger and I were standing at the side of the road when we saw a red and black car coming towards us at a high speed. When it passed us it honked three times and we recognized the “Contadormobile”, a black sedan covered in very visible Contador decals. We did not know it yet, but Macarena, Alberto’s novia, was inside.
The best part was still to come. At Alto do Malhão there was a Mont Ventoux arrival atmosphere. We witnessed Alberto’s fabulous victory at first hand and in the presence of Macarena, wearing an elegant white parka which contrasted starkly with her raven black hair. She was with two friends and all three broke out into a rythmic “Contador, Contador” chant as Alberto appeared on the podium.
The chance of a lifetime: Christine gets a shot of the Pistolero as he crosses the finish line (Photo by Kahane)
Alberto threw his two bouquets to Macarena, one for the stage win and the other for the yellow jersey. Then he opened a bottle of champagne, drunk a sip and showered the crowd in Macarena’s direction. As we were both standing between her and Jacinto, our two cameras got the shower too. And all this in the sunshine.
A beautiful victory and an unforgettable day.
Macarena gets both bouquets. (Photo by Kahane)
Thursday, February 18 - Day 3 : Sagres – Lagos
On our way to Sagres, today’s stage departure and the westernmost point of Europe, we took a small unpaved road through the green and pastoral countryside and came across a large flock of white, brown and black sheep with lots of lambs fighting to get first on the top of the hillock.
Back on the paved road we met one of the Astana team cars, with three bikes on the roof. We followed them and did not need our GPS anymore. Our GPS English female voice is called Jane and Roger argues all the time with her because he disagrees with her routes, calling her “rubbish, shut up, bitch (or even asshole!). But that’s ok so long as he does not shout at me which happens when Jane becomes mute.
Sports Director Laurenzo Lapage was driving the Astana car - fast - (as were all the Portuguese cars on the road) and Roger had a hard time following him, although he is not known to be a slowcoach. Jane would not stop shouting “you are over the speed limit” (and she was right). The visitility was awful because it was pouring rain, and the road was slippery. It was like competing in a rally. The weather is still very bad over here: heavy rain and wind every day. It’s a pity because the green landscape could be really pretty with a bit of sunshine.
On the departure line, despite the pouring rain, Alberto was at the front of the peloton, ready to go, and smiling at all the riders he knew who passed him to take their place in the queue.
Next to him were two of his Kazakh team mates: Maxim Gourov and Sergey Renev.
Roger and I found a spot very near to the group and could take some pictures of the rain drops falling on their faces, although our cameras were suffering a lot.
When Alberto is focused on the race, even if you talk to him, he is so concentrated that he does not hear you. But I did exchange a few words with handsome Maxim who said he watched the Olympic Games last night on TV and he is sure one gets less cold competing in the snow than on a bike racing in southern Portugal.
I went to inquire about Tomas Vaitkus, who has remained one of the riders close to my heart. He had a bad fall yesterday and sprained his shoulder which, if he is not cured fast enough, might prevent him from attending the spring Classics, his specialty.
And I got a confidence from Levi Leipheimer who was very sad because he got a phone call this morning from wife Odessa, who told him one of their four tiny dogs had been killed, probably by an owl. I know how much Levi and Odessa, who have no children together, love their animals and have compassion for them.
The three celebrities on this race are Alberto (who everybody loves), Sergio Paolinho and Jose Azevedo (the local men). And I am lucky, because I know all three of them!
And even if we get drenched to the skin and have to change from head to toe twice a day, we are happy to be here to encourage Alberto and all the members of the Astana team.
Wednesday, February 17 - Day 2: Faro – Albufeira
Alberto Contador focuses before Stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve (Photo by Kahane)
The weather is unpredictable and from cold, windy and rainy it can get sunny and almost warm from one minute to the next. The forecast is better for the end of the week.
All along the road to the Faro football stadium, where the stage departure was taking place this morning, there are orange and tangerine plantations, and the farmers sell their very sweet and jucy fruit for 50 cents a kilo along the road.
In Faro, while waiting for the riders to come out of the Astana bus and make their way to the signature podium and the start, Sergio Paulinho, the local hero, came to meet his ex-teammates in his red and grey Radio Shack outfit. He and Benjamin Noval had a discussion in Spanish about their respective babies: Benjamin Jr., 16 months old, and little Beatriz Paulinho, born just a few months ago. I heard Sergio say that he had brought her along.
When Alberto came out of the bus he was, as always, assailed by a pack of journalists and photographers who followed him all the way to the departure line and did not give him any respite until the departure of the race. Alberto is always gracious and straighforward with everybody even when you think that anyone in his place would get mad.
We also saw Alberto at the front of the peloton at the arrival in Albufeira, where once again the rain started coming down after a welcome half hour of lull and sunshine.
Giuseppe Martinelli, Astana's new boss, has a great rapport with team leader Contador (Photo by Kahane)
Tuesday, February 16 - Day 1: Arrival in Abufeira
The weather was vile when we landed in Seville this morning. But as we got closer to the Portuguese border with our rented car, there were patches of blue in the sky, and even a little bit of sunshine, although it’s very cold for this time of the year, something the Volta ao Algarve organizers did not expect, nor the riders.
The first person we met at Astana’s 4-star hotel, which is in fact a luxury resort with many small bungalows and lots of greenery, was Jacinto Vidarte. He told us Alberto had gone training with Jesús on the last stage time trial circuit. Alberto and Jesús arrived last night and were the only riders already on the site. Valentin had gone to the Faro airport to collect the two Asturians: Benjamín and Dani.
Astana Team hotel out-swanks all the other teams (Photo by Kahane)
Astana is the only team to be accommodated in such a high-class hotel because the team has won the Team GC for the last three years. Furthermore, Alberto was the 2009 Volta ao Algarve winner and deserves the best hotel.
While waiting for him we chatted with mechanics Javier and Chris.
Soon Alberto and Jesus returned in an Astana car together with trainer Pepe Martí, chief mechanic Faustino, and Guiseppe Martinelli to whom I introduced the Notebook. He speaks Spanish, French and English.
I kissed hello to Alberto and Jesus while Roger took some photos.
Alberto looks very handsome in his new outfit which suits him perfectly. Although he was very hungry, he took the time to sign a special 2010 calender that a Belgian friend had specially made for me for Christmas, each page featuring one month of the year and one of my favourite riders.
Alberto signs for Christine after training on the TT course (Photo by Kahane)
We told Alberto we would be writing reports for the Notebook the whole week and came specially from Paris to encourage him. He said “gracias” and went off to lunch at 3:30PM. Portugal is one hour back in comparison with Spain.