Le Tour

31 July, 2007

Cadel

So once again the Tour de France has been dogged by drug controversies, with the media bleating that the Rasmussen & Vinokourov incidents were the worst things t0 happen to the tour since … since … well, since last year.

Most people will know that last year’s winner F Landis (not to be confused with Homer Simpson’s neighbour, Ned) tested positive after a Pegasus-like comeback in the mountains. But even before last year’s tour began, several of the favourites – Ulrich, Basso – were booted out on the eve of the race. This year’s winner Alberto Contador was implicated in the same investigation but has thus far escaped sanction.

Hopefully these recent high profile doping cases mean (a) the tests for cheats are getting better and better; (b) the cheats are being caught and (c) potential cheats will be thinking twice before doping up in future. Or does it?

Interestingly, I read during the week that only 4 samples are tested after each stage – the stage winner, the Yellow jersey holder and two random riders. From a field of around 200 this is hardly comprehensive. By my calculations a rank and file rider who doesn’t win a stage has less than a 1 in 4 chance of being tested during the tour. This doesn’t seem sufficient.

The Tour is looking at introducing 4 year bans for riders testing positive (double the current penalty) and is already fining cheats a year’s salary if caught. Seven figures sums in many cases, so not to be sneezed at.
Despite the controversies I found the tour compelling viewing. Wakes and I had a great time watching the two London stages in person (or at least as much of the stages as we could see from 3 deep with riders flying past our vantage point at around 55 kph), and we watched most of the other stages on TV. (The Portuguese commentary was a bit hard to follow for the week we stayed in Portugal – note to self, must work on Portuguese). The scenery, the drama, the tactics, the incredible physical efforts, the history, and of course the fantastic performance of Cadel Evans in coming second all contributed to a fantastic event. If even one of those athletes is clean, it is an incredible effort just to finish.

I spent a fair bit of time reading the Tour de France forum on the SBS website, and many of the contributors expressed similar sentiments – the Tour itself is a unique, passionate, dramatic, gripping event, and fans are willing to keep up their interest, despite the drugs crap, in the (maybe naive) belief that eventually the sport will clean itself up. Let’s hope so.

Attention now turns to catching up on the sleep debt that has accumulated during the tour. Roll on next year, and onya Cadel.


I wasn’t expecting that…

30 July, 2007

During our week in Portugal we took a sightseeing tour of the Algarve which included a visit to the spectacular Cape St Vincent.

End of World

In the good old days when the world was considered flat, the Portugese thought this spot (situated at the south-westernmost point of Europe), was the end of the world. From the photo above you can probably see why.

We were fortunate enough to experience beautiful weather for our visit, however part of me was a little disappointed that we weren’t there in bad weather. Our tour guide showed us a postcard of a wave breaking right over those massive cliffs during a particulary fierce storm. Now that is something I’d love to see.

On the way home from Cape St Vincent our bus called in at a roadside cafe for refreshments. Our driver told us to make sure we checked out the stuffed animal display inside. We were expecting some sort of quaint teddy bear and purple dinosaur display. Instead, what we got was a full-on 1800s style taxidermy display, complete with a Noah’s Ark of African wildlife, including a lion, cheetah, zebra, giraffe, crocodile, hyena, elephant tusks etc. etc. Not at all what we were expecting and more than a little offputting in today’s politically correct, more enlightened times.

As well as the African stuff there were loads of deer heads, antlers, wild boars etc.

Someone had a hell of a time killing all of those beautiful animals to make their smoking room look cool.

We took a quick look around – the scariest thing was the zebra, which glared at us the whole time and looked as if it was about to spring to life at any moment. A bit like the donkeys that terrorised Wakes during our NZ trip a few years ago.

Anyway, here is what the lion looked like, just to show how real and scary the display was. Probably something we could have done without.

r001-018.jpg


Nice Work Qantas

25 July, 2007

Despite checking in for our London – Hong Kong – Melbourne flight a full three hours before departure, Qantas were unable to seat Wakes and I together.

The best they could do was sit us one behind the other (both on the aisle), and suggest we speak to the solo traveller in one of the seats next to us to see whether she would swap. Imagine the surprise of our fellow traveller, given she had herself requested an aisle seat and been told there were none available.

In our small section of the plane there were at least four other families who had been separated and were doing the seat-swap-shuffle. It was as if the bookings clerk had thrown the ticket allocations in the air and randomly assembled them.

(One bloke was travelling with a few young kids. If I was him I’d have stayed in my allocated seat for some peace and quiet…)

To rub salt in the room, we then sat on the tarmac for nearly three hours waiting for a take off spot. Time that could have been better spent by me raiding the free bar in the Qantas Club.

Qantas Logo

At least they are concentrating on making things better – like by developing a crappy new logo. How about leaving the logo as it is, saving the massive rebranding costs, and using the money saved to take a few seats out of the long haul planes so those of us over 165 cms can sit in our seats without having to rest our chins on our knees???


A Great Thing About Europe

23 July, 2007

Bidets!

A very pleasant addition to my daily ablutions.


The Worst Thing About Europe

23 July, 2007

Smoking!

In restaurants, in bars, at the beach, walking down the street, in shops, in airport lounges, in queues.

Everywhere!

During one particularly enjoyable meal in a classy restaurant in Portugal, the next table of three adults lit up and proceeded to blow their putrid smoke, not only all over us and our meals, but all over the young child who was with them.

It was virtually impossible to breath in the airport terminal building at Faro.

Come on guys, get with the program and ban this disgusting habit


The Second Worst Thing About Europe

23 July, 2007

Two yapping dogs in the adjoining hotel room.

I kid you not, they were there for a week. They really enjoyed the fireworks display on our first night.

We were going to complain until we saw the ‘Dogs Welcome’ sign in Reception.

Not sure where they crapped. It would be lovely to check in to the room after them and find a few little parcels under the bed…

By the way, the dogs really seemed to enjoy being dragged down to the beach through the hot sand and sitting there sweating in the heat under the beach umbrella.


Bummer, it’s time to go home

20 July, 2007

Marina, Praia da Rocha

Our week on the Algave is sadly over and we’re now back in London waiting for our flight home tomorrow.

Portugal was just fantastic, neither of us can speak highly enough of the town we stayed in, Praia da Rocha. Completely clear blue skies each and every day we were there, not a hint of cloud or rain, and temperatures warm but not uncomfortably hot. And despite some misgivings before we arrived, the food was first class. Last night’s flambed Crepe de Atlantis at the fabulous Atlantis Restaurant was the gastronomic highlight of the week.

The photo above was taken from atop the 17th century fort which overlooks the town. We sat in the bar there on our first evening and admired the most amazing sunset. Some of my other photos are here. The rest are inside my ultra-professional disposal camera awaiting developing.

The beach was amazing; fine white sand and virtually litter free. We had a perfect view of the beach from the balcony of our room. Check it out here

Not bad, hey?

We did manage to drag our lazy arses away from the beachside deckchairs for one day, in order to take the Highlights of the Algave bus tour. The tour included a visit to one of the old Moorish cities further up the coast, which was picture perfect. The main fort was undergoing some major archaeological work – Col Gray would have been right in his element.