In September 2008, Team Astana asked fans to write a story to celebrate Chechu Rubiera. The winner was Sophia from Cannes. Congratulations to her.
Did you enter the competition? We'd love to see what you wrote about Chechu, and publish them here. We know there were fantastic stories, let's all enjoy them.
MARCO ANTONIO ORVIZ SIERRA
Yo soy seguidor de Chechu desde que corría en el Cartrans y ganó un campeonato de Asturias de Aficionados.
Por mi trabajo he podido conocerlo un poco y puedo decir que si hubiese algún palmares a las buenas personas humildes y accesibles, Chechu tendría mas maillots amarillos que Armstrong y que cualquier otro deportista del mundo.
En 2006 fuimos al tour de francia a la etapa que finalizaba en Beret. Ese día Chechu estaba enfermo y llegó a meta en el último autobús a mas de 25 minutos del ganador. Le espeamos a la entrada del hotel y nos pidió perdón porque había llegado tan mal y estaba agotado sin fuerzas casi ni para habalar,subiendo a la habitación totalmente cansado y hundido.
Al día siguiente vimos la etapa a 25 km de la salida y todo el equipo discovery pasaba tirando del peloton a bloque, con chechu a la cabeza. Esa etapa la ganó Popovic.
Cuando volviamos para Asturias por la autopista nos llegaba un mensaje de movil de chechu, agradeciendonos la visita y pidiendonos perdon por no habernos podido atender bien al final de la etapa y rogandonos que tuviesemos precaución con el coche en la vuelta a casa.
Ese mensaje lo conservo como el mejor trofeo que pudiera tener de él. Y es que ese es Chechu, la persona que te sorprende con sus detalles de grandeza. ¡Ánimo y a disfrutar de tu última vuelta!
Posdata: Su esposa Laura es igualita que Chechu. Son excepcionales.
I am in Spain. On my right I catch glimpses of the distant Costa Verde across fields of apple trees. On my left, framed by the hills of central Asturias, farms with their distinctive horreos litter the valley floor. Sharp and unexpected bends, plunging descents and leg breaking climbs; these are hills that even Chechu admits are too steep for training.
Today I am making good time, navigating without effort because I am following Chechu Rubiera's back wheel. I shadow him round every switchback and cling to him as he climbs to summits where once again I see his home country spread out in the autumn sunshine. I dare not lose him. Without Chechu to follow, leaning into corners and tucking for descents, I would be lost.
Of course I'm not on a bike - I'm following Chechu in a car with my family. And Chechu is on his motorbike, which makes light work of the twists and climbs. We are in Asturias on holiday and Chechu has kindly arranged to meet up with us. We are following him to meet his parents at the family bar in Baldarnon.
As I struggle with the gears Chechu pulls away, vanishes round a distant bend and is gone. He's dropped us. Still, through a fifteen year career in cycle racing Chechu must have dropped a great many people. It feels like a privilege.
Querido Chechu, An amazing man in Germany, your fan for many years, told me his story. On Alpe d’Huez in 2001, his heroes fly towards him. “I never forgot this picture, Chechu in the lead with Lance on his back wheel. They had a gap, no-one on their wheels. It was unbelievable.”
Then again in 2003, he is there on Luz Ardiden, you can even see him on the film. You wait for Lance, and he hears you say, “Go slowly, I bring you back”.
Our friend writes during his long recovery from a car accident. A drunk driver. His wife and daughter are gone. Yet still he rides his Trek, and thinks about cycling and Chechu Rubiera. He sends you his best wishes and has plans to watch you race next year. His words are so special, they look to the future.
Chechu, what can I add to this? You bring decency to a confused sport. We have never doubted you. The thrill of watching you race, powering up a climb or sprinting for the line won’t end with the season. You have endured our curiosity, and opened your life to us. You gave us your trust. You are the best.
Te queremos, amigo. ¿Uno año más? No problema.
Für MR, mit unseren besten Wünschen.
While the Vuelta was in full spate, we were on a singing tour in Ukraine with our Russian folk choir, cruising on the Dniepr river from Odessa to Kiev.
The only news we got about the progress of the race was through an SMS sent by Nicky the day Alberto Contador won the Angliru stage and took the gold jersey at the same time. It was quite frustrating not knowing what was happening on a daily basis but we were very busy moving to a different city every day and did not have much time to think.
However, our mind was brought back to the cycling world when, at the Krementchouk port of call, we were welcomed by Dimitri Borisov’s family. Dimitri (nicknamed Dima) is Yaroslav Popovych’s soigneur as well as his best friend from youth.
Dima followed Yaroslav in all the various teams he signed for, and therefore stayed three years with Discovery Channel, which is where we got to know him. We had been immediately attracted to this shy, well behaved, and sensitive young man who, at one point, was a rider in the Ukrainian national cycling team. Over the course of the years, we became very close friends.
Thanks to Dima, we also created ties with Yaroslav and his wife Cindy.
Knowing that we were planning a cruise in Ukraine, and that our boat would stop for a couple of hours in Krementchouk, near his hometown, Dima had asked his family: his wife Irina, his 8-year old daughter Maria, his mother Ludmilla and father Evgueni, to welcome us upon our arrival.
Little Maria greeted me with three beautiful white roses, and Irina suggested we have coffee in a nearby place because it was too cold to go for a walking tour around the town.
But instead of just coffee, the waitress of the typical Urainian inn they invited us to, spread out on the table, all at the same time, several delicious typical dishes of the region, and although we had just had lunch on the boat, we could not refuse to taste a bit of everything.
As there was still a lot of food left over, Dima’s mother asked the waitress to prepare doggy bags for us to take back to the boat and share with our friends at the dinner table. There was barbecue tongue, green and red pepper and tomato salad, and blinis (pancakes) filled with hot fudge.
If we had had more time, they would have taken us to their datcha (small country wooden house) where the whole family spends weekends.
Ukrainian people, who all speak Russian, have a great heart, are used to share everything they have – although they have very little - and never complain despite their hard life. When you come from a rich country like France where people are so individualist and always find something to moan about, it’s very refreshing and fills your heart with warmth.
After emotional goodbyes, we left Dima’s family on the wharf hoping to see them again sometime.
Later that afternoon, I managed to get a call from Dima on board. We were already cruising towards Kiev and normally out of mobile phone coverage, but I could hear him very clearly.
He was at the arrival point of the day's stage, on top of an Asturian pass of the Vuelta a España. He wanted to tell me that team Astana was in the process of winning the race, and to know how the encounter with his family had taken place.
Kiev and Odessa
Christine and Roger's Russian folk choir
It had been a short but very warm encounter and despite the fact that no one among these people speaks any word other than Russian or Ukrainian, and that my knowledge of the language goes back to my youth years when I was raised by my Russian grand-parents, we managed to exchange a lot of things and share deep emotion.
As a diversion from five weeks in a tiny village lost among the fields and vineyards in southern France, taking care of our boisterous but adorable grandchildren, we enjoyed a stopover for the night at Bourg-en-Bresse, a lovely county town on the Swiss border. Team Astana was staying here for the first two stages of the Tour de l’Ain.
It was a restful change to meet our Astana friends. Craig, the New Zealander mechanic, who spent a few days with his fiancée Angela at our Paris apartment. English mechanic Alan and Belgian bus driver Luc, both of whom we had not seen for over a year. Italian-born soigneur Elvio who has settled in France and whose long time girl friend Alice lives a stone’s throw from our home. Sports director Alain Gallopin whom I met recently in Etampes.
And of course the riders: Jani Brajkovic, Andreas Klöden, Michael Schär, Dimitriy Muravyev and Sergey Yakovlev.
The first stage of Tour de l’Ain ended up with a Dutch victory, young Michael Schär arriving 8th. Portuguese Sergio Paulinho was among those randomly selected for anti-doping testing, and reached the hotel half an hour after the others.
Craig enjoys a break from his routine evening meals where, like the riders, the staff gets served invariably the same menu: chicken with pasta or rice. So we took him out for dinner. On Sunday in August, all French provincial towns are ghost-like, everything is shut down. It took ages to get served in the only open crowded chain restaurant and when we took Craig back to his hotel, the riders were already in bed but the staff was getting some fresh air outside. Believe me or not, I remembered that I had not taken any photos all day.
In the morning, we went back to say good-bye and good luck to our friends. The day’s stage was hard and the whole team was moving to another hotel closer to the Swiss border. Fortunately, this time I remembered my camera.
Roger and I are now back in Paris and preparing our trip to Granada for the departure of the Vuelta a España where we hope to see our beloved Chechu.
Sunday 27th July. Morning. Etampes.
Last stage of the Tour de France 2008.
On Sunday 27th July, unlike the last stage of the Tour 2007 when it was raining cats and dogs, the sun was shining and it was almost hot. A big crowd was gathered in the centre of Etampes, a little town located 55 kilometres south west of Paris, to attend the departure of the Tour 2008 last stage.
After yesterday's time trial, everybody knew the name of this edition’s winner, and the CSC bus was totally surrounded by the press and fans, and it was not possible to get close.
In the Village, I met the regular faces: the two Bernards (Hinault and Thévenet), both winners of the Tour. Raymond Poulidor, the man who always came second to star Jacques Anquetil in the 1960s. Vincent Lavenu, the nice manager of the AG2R team. Alain Gallopin who came as a visitor to his ex-team CSC, and gave an interview next to me about the Schleck brothers. I heard him compare young Andy Schleck, winner of this edition’s white jersey, to Alberto Contador.
I met once more Dirk Demol, who I congratulated for the news of his returning to Astana starting 1st January 2009. Although he says it’s still confidential, since it’s in all the cycling websites, I guess it cannot be considered as confidential anymore. Dirk expressed his satisfaction at Carlos Sastre’s victory. These two seem to get on well and Dirk appreciates Sastre’s qualities.
I then went to the Columbia bus to say hello to George Hincapie who told me his wife Melanie would be joining him to celebrate the end of the Tour, after the stage.
Christian Vandevelde, whom I always liked but have learnt to appreciate even better recently, has become my Star. He is nice, relaxed, smiling and seems always available to answer any questions. I think it’s a rare quality for a rider who wore the pink jersey on the Giro this year and came 5th in this edition of the Tour. Christian said his wife Lea would be joining him in Paris for the evening party, and I have prepared a good bottle of wine to help the couple celebrate Christian's exploit.
Christian and Lea have been married six years. They live in Girona, Spain, during the cycling season, a beautiful house overlooking a golf course, have a one-and-a-half year old little girl named Uma, and are expecting a second child next February.
Sunday 27th July. Evening. Hotel Meridien Paris.
Celebrations and team parties.
It was getting very hot when we reached Hotel Meridien, located 2 kilometres from the Champs-Elysées, which traditionally accommodates all the teams on the last day of the Tour.
We arrived there around 5.30pm. The stage had finished a bit late, and after all the ceremonies and celebrations on the world’s most beautiful avenue, the team buses only started arriving at the Meridien, with all the wives of riders and staff, around 7.30pm. The riders themselves were due to get there a while later on their bikes.
While waiting I had a chance to talk to Chiara Evans, a lovely lady, who let me take some photos. She seemed very happy the Tour was over and she could return to Switzerland where she and Cadel have their home.
Chiara is Italian and the couple does not have any children yet but they do have a little puppy. Chiara is a professional pianist and gives concerts. When Cadel arrived, protected by Serge his bodyguard, a Belgian policeman who used to be bodyguard to Lance Armstrong and Alex Vinokourov, Chiara had just the time to kiss him and take a photo of her smiling husband, before he was carried inside the hotel by the supporters. People were applauding all along his way as if he had been the real winner, and he looked very happy.
I had a chance to talk to Willi, former Swiss cook of Lance Armstrong, who had followed him since the Motorola days, to US Postal, Discovery Channel, and then had moved to Astana at the time of Vino. Willi is now employed by the American Garmin Chipotle team, with Matt White as sports director, and Christian Vandevelde as leader of the Tour de France 2008 team.
A little while before Christian Vandevelde’s arrival, I had met his wife Lea.
I had brought a bottle of Pomerol red wine for Christian who had said “who can resist French wine”.
In the large Meridien hall, the whole Sastre family was waiting for the Tour hero. They were all dressed in yellow and red, the colours of the Spanish flag. Carlos’ little boy was restless and had to be told off several times by his grandmother (Carlos’ mother). Nobody paid any attention to this family because the crowd did not know who they were until the yellow jersey showed up surrounded by several policemen (like Alberto Contador a year ago). Carlos is so small that it’s not easy to see him in a crowd. He looked exhausted and could hardly make an effort to smile to the numerous fans who asked for autographs and wanted to take photos.
All the members of his team love Sastre who is a quiet and sensitive man. He realises how lucky he has been to have such a strong team, and that without this team he could not have won the Tour.
He also knows that Cadel Evans, with only one valuable team-mate (Yaroslav Popovych), had no chance.
One of the last riders to show up was Christian Vandevelde with a big American flag on his shoulder, the way Lance used to carry it on the Champs Elysées.
He was almost euphoric with joy, having performed maybe his best cycling season ever since turning professional. I gave him the bottle of Pomerol red wine to celebrate his wonderful Tour de France and although we always speak English, he kissed me and said “merci Madame”!
After spending maybe half an hour in their rooms, the riders and staff came down all dressed up, on their way to their various team parties.
Yaroslav and Cindy Popovych, both beautifully dressed up, were among the first.
As I know them rather well, I had a long conversation with Cindy. We talked mainly about Jason, their one-and-a-half year old little boy. Cindy had to leave Jason in the care of a neighbour while attending the last Tour stage. Her parents live in New Caledonia and Yaroslav’s family live in Ukraine. They have no relatives in Italy where they live. Jason, apparently, is a very happy baby, in the same style as his father.
Cindy said, in front of me, to some fans who keep calling Yaroslav by the ugly nickname of “Popo” that they both would appreciate people not to use this nickname which has a pejorative meaning in Russian (and German too!).
Presently all the Silence Lotto team appeared. Apart from Yaroslav and Cadel, all were wearing a “Hard Rock Café – Paris” white tee shirt, and had several American black and white stretch limousines waiting to take them to the Olympia, a well-known Paris music hall.
Then, one by one, the riders from all teams showed up, some with their wives, children, families, others alone: Egoi Martinez, the Schleck brothers (who had a lot of success with the young fans) accompanied by their father Johnny, an ex-professoinal rider. Thor Huschovd and his wife Susanne (he is very popular in France and speaks the language very well). And the Italian Liquigas playboys: Philippo Pozzato and Manuel Quinziato.
Then Alejandro Valverde with his beautiful wife Angela, lovely Nicolas Portal and his girlfriend Magali, who created his fan club before they met, popular Sylvian Chavanel who won a Tour stage this year, Fabian Cancellara and wife Stephanie, Dave Millar, nice Stuart O’Grady who posed for a long time for Australian fans, and ever-relaxed Jens Voigt.
I was a bit sad not to see the Hincapies but according to a team Columbia rider, George and Melanie had chosen to stay at another hotel. So I could not get news from Melanie about Julia and newborn Enzo.
Because of my heavy timetable I could not watch the last stage on TV nor the after Tour ceremonies but this has once more been for me an unforgettable experience.
Photographs by Christine Kahane
Brittany is in itself a country, where some elderly people don’t even speak French but a version of Gaelic, apparently only understood by the Welsh and the Irish.
The setting around the harbour and the city of Brest is very pretty and reminds one of Asturias, but without the mountains. The rolling green landscape is due to the rain that falls every other day. For in Brittany the weather changes drastically from one day to the next, and even from one hour to the next. And when the sun shines and the blue sky is cloudless, the wind is still blowing strongly. Brittany is not a place for those who like a dry and warm climate.
As soon as Roger and I reached Brest, at the extreme western tip of France, a six-hour drive from Paris, we headed for hotel Oceania, located in the centre of the city, and the quarters of Team Columbia (ex-High Road), to deliver the bottle of champagne we had brought for George Hincapie to celebrate the birth of little Enzo, two weeks ago.
That same afternoon we watched the big parade and team presentation. When Triki Beltran, Yaroslav Popovych and George Hincapie passed with their teams near where we were standing, all three waved at us and I must say it’s a nice feeling to be recognized by the riders you admire.
Although we missed the absence of our favourite team and had a bitter taste in the mouth facing this unjust unilateral decision made by ASO, we decided to think positive and concentrate on encouraging all the ex US Postal and Discovery Channel riders, whom we have known since the Lance years.
The celebration of the Tour in Brest attracted an enormous crowd and in the harbour a Spanish Navy frigate was anchored. Very elegant in their dress uniform, Spanish sailors and marine officers were waiting beside us for the opening ceremony of the Village. While they were explaining to me that it was their first experience of attending a stage departure of a major cycling race, I gave them the card of the Chechu website and Roger took a photo.
Before the start of the race we headed for the Quick Step bus and saw Dirk Demol (their current sports director) arrive. Dirk was clearly very pleased to see us and talking to him we could feel he misses his old team. I know Dirk visits from time to time the website and he said a few nice words in Spanish for Chechu and his fans.
Next to it was parked the Columbia blue bus and the whole team arrived on wheels from their hotel nearby. George was intercepted by two journalists and gave two simultaneous interviews, one in English and one in Spanish. Then he kissed me thank you for the gift.
Columbia team’s smart brand-new outfit (periwinkle-blue top and black shorts) is designed and produced by George Hincapie Sportswear company.
We then headed for the Garmin Chipotle (ex-Slipstream) bus and greeted the ever-smiling Christian Vandevelde (recent father of a little girl) and talented young Australian rider Trent Lowe, whom we had met for the first time last August in San Sebastian, when he was still Chechu’s team mate and was riding that race with him.
While chatting with the two riders, we saw Yaroslav Popovych pass by on his way to the signature podium. We had visited Yaroslav, and his soigneur Dimitri, who has become a personal friend, at their hotel the day before, while Yaroslav was trying his new bike specially made for the Tour, and he had graciously posed for several photos for the triplets' (Aurelia, Laurine and Floriane) website devoted to his fans. We chatted about Cindy and Jason, whom the triplets are planning to visit on the Tour's second rest day in Cuneo, as they will both be there.
When heading for the podium Yaroslav was followed by Cadel Evans accompanied by his body guard Serge, a well-known figure in the cycling world for he worked before for Alex Vinokourov and Lance Armstrong.
One of the Silence Lotto buses had on both sides a big banner with the slogan “Yell for Cadel”.
Turning round we almost bumped into Matt White without recognizing him straight away. He has abandoned the Discovery cycling jersey for a more classical outfit since he is now sports director for Garmin Chipotle, a job which he clearly enjoys.
Finally, on our way to the departure line we met Triki Beltran and I kissed him good luck. He said he felt very well, was very slim and relaxed. I showed him the picture I had taken at the Dauphiné in Avignon a month ago, of him with Chechu, two very good pals, which I always keep on me since then.
As the riders rode out of Brest at 12:30, the sun was shining but the wind was blowing as hard as ever.....!
Day 4 : Tuesday June 10
Today was the first hot day since the beginning of the Dauphiné and we had to wear caps because the sun was burning.
The little town of Bourg Saint-Andeol was hosting this morning the departure of the second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné and there were barriers everywhere.
With the many road works and the various diversions on the surrounding roads, almost everyone who was not a local got lost, including the Astana team.
Although Saint-Paul is located only 10 kilometres away, Valentin had to make several unexpected detours and arrived last to find all the parking lots already occupied. So he had to park the bus half a kilometre away from the signature podium.
The riders from all the various teams were scattered and arrived one by one and not, as is customary, team by team to sign the race book. The Astana riders were the last to come, hardly five minutes before the start of the race.
Chechu was delighted to see us near the podium and left his bike in our care while doing his signature duty. After that, although in a hurry, he took time to add a few words to the postcards of Avignon I had prepared for Nicky and Rebecca. Sorry girls, it won't be a surprise but I have to show his fans yet again how nice a person this man is.
Before reaching the start line, where we followed Chechu in the public no-go area, he spent his last minutes talking to us, mentioning that he would participate in the Clasica a San Sebastián, the Burgos race, and the Vuelta, where the whole team will be at Alberto's side.
Chechu, who does not like the heat, being from a part of Spain where the climate is similar to the one of Brittany (or maybe Scotland?) was not specially pleased with the sudden heat. He told us about Benjamin's heavy fall yesterday and saw today's stage as a test for him to see if he could recover.
We were sad to leave the Dauphiné race where over the years we have got to know quite a lot of people. But most of all we were sad to leave Chechu because we don't know when we'll see him again, and the Triplets and their parents with whom we have lived the last three days in a kind of osmosis. They are a generous, outgoing and warm family as are often the people of Provence.
The Triplets were interviewed and photographed today, together with Yaroslav Popovych, by the daily newspaper which organises the race: "Le Dauphiné Libéré" for an article to be published in to-morrow's issue.
We later heard that George Hincapie won today's stage and are very happy about it. We like this tall, shy guy who was Lance's loyal team mate for such a long period. Marrying a French girl seems to have given a bit of a European flavour to his style.
At the time of penning this, the Astana riders must be in the hands of their soigneurs: Valentin and Richie.
Last night Richie told us that Levi liked "soft" massage and he had to be careful because he has a tendency to massage strongly, while Alberto and Chechu prefer "hard" massage and Lance always asked for "extremely hard" massage.
Day 3 : Monday June 9
Today I made a new friend among the Astana staff. His name is Nikolaï. But for me, he will be from now on "Kolia", the Russian nickname for Nikolaï.
Although raised in Sochi, a famous Russian seaside resort located on the Black Sea, he is a native of Irkutsk on Lake Baikal.
Being half-Russian myself, I know the people love singing and have music in their blood. So, I started singing for him a Siberian ballad recounting the story of a prisoner on Lake Baikal, and Kolia of course knew it and sang with me. So we both gave a serenade at the door of the Astana hotel in Saint-Paul. And now we are friends for life!
New friends, Christine and Kolia
First of all, I must report that Valentin spent a very good evening at the Triplets and enjoyed asparagus, lettuce, and strawberries from the garden. But when he returned to the Astana hotel, at 1.30am, the hotel was locked and Valentin could not get in. He had to wake up his room-mate by phone to open the front door for him. So this morning, Valentin had no time to shave, as he got up at the very last minute. And Valentin has very dark hair!
The stage departure was set in the historic area of Avignon, along the ramparts of the old city, beside the Rhone river and the famous Pont d'Avignon.
As soon as Roger and I entered the "Dauphiné Village" we bumped into Nesserine, one of the podium girls of last year's Tour de France, who had often presented Alberto Contador with the Credit Lyonnais stuffed lion, a bunch of flowers, a trophy, or a bottle of champagne.
Old friends, Christine and Nesserine
We have known Nesserine for the last four years and followed her successful career with interest. She had arrived the same morning from Paris with the TGV straight into the Dauphiné Village to take care of the VIP Club. Nesserine had only nice things to say about Alberto with whom she had conversed in Spanish.
At that point, Thierry Cazeneuve, organiser of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, passed us and I managed to get hold of him for a photo. He said we were right to defend Astana, which was one of the best teams in the world in his own opinion, and he does not care what ASO and other malicious-minded people think. The fact that Alberto pulled out of participating in the Dauphiné after his triumphal Giro did not vex him and he is pleased with the victory of Levi in the Prologue.
Near the High Road bus I spotted a nice tall and slim looking woman holding a baby boy, with another little boy next to her. It was Dede, former world-class cyclist and wife of Canadian rider Michael Barry. He is another ex-Armstrong team mate, who wrote that great book on the US Postal team entitled "Inside the Postal Bus". She let me take a family photo knowing it would be posted in Chechu's website.
Dede Barry and son, Ashlin
When the team buses arrived in the parking lot, we moved on and went to greet our Astana friends.
Soon the riders came out the bus and took their bike heading for the signature podium, where one by one they sign the stage book. Chechu, as ever relaxed and in a good mood, posed for a few photos. I told him Nicky had already posted many photos of him on the website. Chechu is always very thankful for whatever we do for him.
I managed to get hold of Benjamin and asked about Sara and the future baby. He said it's going to be a boy who will be called Benjamin, because it's customary in Spain to give the first son the father's name.
Then the riders all rode to the start line and at the front , we saw Levi and Thor Hushovd talking amicably for quite a while. I told Roger that, in my opinion, they had made a deal so that Levi would let Thor grab the yellow jersey. As Richie said tonight, it's less stress on the Astana team. They have plenty of time to regain the jersey in the time trial and the mountains.
This is Roger Kahane, photographer and Chechu fan. And Christine's husband.
Day 2 : Sunday June 8
After losing our way and turning several times around the Avignon ramparts because there were no signposts, we reached the Prologue departure point after all the team buses.
I was wearing my turquoise Astana Tshirt and a lady approached me and asked if I was writing for the chechurubiera.info website because she thought she had recognised me.
From Avignon, she said that although she knows very little English, she enjoys visiting the site dedicated to fans of Chechu, for whom she had huge admiration, as well as for Johan, Lance and Yaroslav.
I introduced her to the Triplets since she also knew their website, and she was very pleased to see them in the flesh for she had heard about them, and could hardly believe to see how much alike they look like.
While I was watching the Astana riders warm up on the trainers, I was contacted by a local radio reporter (Radio Bleue) who started interviewing me on my motivations for being a fan of Astana. While answering his questions I spotted Alain Gallopin passing by, and called him to carry on with the interview. The reporter was delighted and I think I made his day.
The Triplets also were interviewed and the programme is being broadcast tomorrow. The Critérium du Dauphiné is an important event in the area.
Then Chechu received the visit of a very good friend and ex team mate, Triki Beltran, now leader of the Critérium du Dauphiné Liquigas team. They were clearly delighted to see each other and talked for quite a while before Chechu went back on the trainer.
When it became Chechu's turn to take his place on the departure ramp, we managed to get a space with a good view and took a couple of good photos of his take off.
After a while, Roger and I paid a visit to George Hincapie who was training in front of the High Road bus. George waved to us and I asked about the baby to come. He said Melanie is due to give birth in two weeks and he does not want to miss the birth, so he hopes it will happen between the end of the Dauphiné and the start of the Tour de France.
Tonight the Triplets have invited Valentin for dinner. But since Valentin had to help out Levi with the podium ceremony, he will only be available for dinner at 10.15pm. nyway, the Spanish enjoy eating late and the Triplets have a special permission to miss school for two days, while the Critérium du Dauphiné riders are in the area.
First day : Saturday June 7
We had a date with the Triplets Jambois (Aurelia, Floriane, Laurine) at 4.30pm at the Astana team hotel.
Located in the centre of the picturesque village of Saint-Paul, this hotel was Lance Armstrong’s favourite hotel, and the team has been using it for the last nine years, whenever they are in the region.
It was chilly and windy. On arrival, we were greeted by Pedro, the team’s Basque doctor, and Chris, one of the Belgian mechanics, with smiles.
We had a chat with Pedro, who had just returned from the Giro. He reconfirmed all that had been reported in the press about Alberto. He was vacationing when he was called to the Giro. He had been handicapped by his injuries in the elbow and the wrist. Alberto was in far from race condition and carried two or three excess kilos in weight. Right now he is, without any doubt, the best rider in the world.
And we will have to wait a little to see if he is as good or better than Lance. Pedro said that Alberto is a very uncomplicated and nice person.
He added that he thought Alberto would take part in the Clasica a San Sebastian and the Burgos race and was not totally sure yet about the Olympics.
We were interrupted by the arrival, from their training session in the nice and green hilly country roads, of Tomas, Jani and Chris.
Levi was due to arrive any time, but the remaining four riders had had travel problems. Sergio, who came from Portugal, had missed his plane and was landing in Marseille, an hour-and-a-half drive away, where Polish soigneur Richie had gone with a team car to pick him up.
And the three Asturians had missed their connection in Paris Orly, which was to take them to Avignon, and had been re-directed to Marseille.
Meanwhile Basque soigneur Valentin, who is in charge of taking care of the Astana team bus (the bus is parked at his place near San Sabastian the whole year round) had left at the crack of dawn and gone to Avignon to pick up Dani, Benjamin and Chechu.
But upon getting to Avignon and hearing what had happened, had had to turn round and drive to Marseille.
So it was around 8pm when they arrived at Saint-Paul in the big Astana bus. They were all tired but in a good mood.
There was a popular event on the village green, where the hotel is located, with an orchestra, and villagers were putting on a play. People were disguised as the protagonists of the French 1789 Revolution, and there were folk dances. This celebration seemed to greet the Astana riders.
Previously we saw Sergio arrive, who straight away changed into his team jersey and started to practice on the trainer, and a bit earlier of Levi.
Levi told us that the Criterium du Dauphiné was his last European race. He said his last week on the Giro had been very tiring and he hoped to be a good leader for the team on the Dauphiné.
He said his cyclist wife, Odessa had just left their Girona apartment, where they generally spend the cycling season, for the US the day before. He added that they have a ranch in California with lots of animals needing care. We left Saint-Paul after 8pm and headed with the Triplets to their place, a ten-minute drive away, in the middle of the countryside, where their parents Eliane and Alain (who they call by their first name) had prepared a superb dinner.
We had hoped that Valentin would join us, but due to the late arrivals and upset schedule he was too busy, and promised he would have dinner at their place tonight.
Our hotel is located next door to the village church. So after mass, at 10am, Roger and I will head for Avignon, a one-hour drive south, where we have a date with Dimitri, Yaroslav Popovich’s soigneur.
Photographs by Christine and Roger Kahane
Well I'm back home and the day was good, but I also have bad news.
Chechu crashed during the stage, and he didn't make it to the summit. He had his knee badly bruised and was a little sad.
There were a few people waiting for the riders, and to my surprise, we saw a woman climbing on her mountain bike, one of the famous climbers of Spain, Rosa Fernandez. She's been to Everest, Makalu, Aconcagua etc...
She is a big friend of Chechu and she waited with us in the summit. She was very nice person. We waited 5 hours, and then we saw Contador and Dani finally arrive.
We tried to speak with him but seconds after he stopped, there were about 40 journalists around him. It was total chaos, so I decided to speak to Dani, who was alone. He was very very nice!!! He laughed all the time, saying that Angliru was hard. Great rider.
On the way down, we stopped again because we saw Benjamin, Chechu and the rest. Again, the journalists made it impossible, and someone told me that the riders were very angry with them because they followed them during the training.
I said "Hi" to Chechu and Benja, who was very happy. He told us that tomorrow they will be at Fuentes de Invierno, I will try to go there.
Contador again was impossible to reach, and I saw in his eyes that he was a bit tired of photos. It's a pity that the real fans could not talk to him because of the journalists. It's a real shame.
Photographs by Bruno Lopez Vizcon's companion!
And there's more. Go to ALBERTO CONTADOR NOTEBOOK
Encounter with a dad-to-be
As we have done year after year, my husband and I attended the presentation of the teams taking part in the 2008 Paris-Roubaix at the race departure in Compiègne, a nice historic town located 75 kilometres north of Paris.
Once again, we felt the absence of our favourite team and all the people we know.
We mainly wanted to say hello to Dirk Demol, now sports director for Quick Step, but at the team hotel we were told that Dirk would only arrive in the evening.
Then we headed for the High Road team hotel and waited in the lounge for Roger Hammond and George Hincapie, two ex-US Postal and Discovery riders.
When George appeared, on his way to the dining room, he immediately approached us to say hello.
Big George is shy and it’s not easy to have a chat with him. He said that Melanie, his lovely French wife, whom he had met during the 2003 Tour de France (where she was a podium girl for Crédit Lyonnais main sponsor of the race) is seven months pregnant and going to give birth to a little boy at the end of June.
It will be George’s second child, and the whole family is delighted at the idea of welcoming an heir, specially three-and- a-half year old Julia (nicknamed Juju). Don’t forget that George is of Colombian origin, speaks Spanish with both his parents and his brothers, and in Latin countries having a boy is important.
On our way back from Compiègne, it was a miracle that we were not stopped for speeding because we were in a great a hurry to witness Alberto Contador’s TT and overall GC victories in the Tour of Basque Country race live on TV.
Photographs by Christine and Roger Kahane
Ana and Julian Sevillano in Miami, Florida emailed us this photo of their gorgeous dog, Chechu.
And yes, the perdiguero frances was named in honour of a certain Asturian cyclist.
Ana and Julian caught up with Chechu in Palo Alto, venue for the stage 1 of the Tour of California.
Any more pets called Chechu? GET IN TOUCH
We're grateful to members of Barcelona road club, Amics del Pendès, for their team photo taken with Chechu last weekend.
The team is from Barcelona, and it sounds like Chechu went out with them for a ride.
See TEAM WEBSITE (español)
I must have had an intuition when I purchased that Astana Cycling Team T-shirt at the small town of Saint-Arnoult en Yvelines, yearly departure point of the penultimate ProTour race: Paris-Tours. It was the last T-shirt labelled “final clearance” on the rack of a stall, and no-one seemed interested in it.
Turquoise and yellow, the colours of the Kazakh national flag, happen to be two of my favourite colours, and from the start, I loved the Astana Cycling Team outfit.
So I bought the T-shirt for a ridiculous price (by French standards!) without trying it on, and it just happened to be the perfect fit.
I am now sure that, back then in October, I must have had a gut feeling that somehow Chechu and that T-shirt would be connected, although there was not the slightest sign, nor did Chechu have a clue concerning his future at that time.
I loved that T-shirt at first sight and wore it throughout my recent trip to Florida. Totally cut off from cycling news and with no access to the internet, in the middle of the night (due to the time difference), I received an sms from Scotland with Nicky’s five words. "He has signed with Astana”.
That’s when I realised that, unconsciously, I had known it all the time.
Christine in the turquoise t-shirt in Orlando
Chechu Rubiera has not put a wheel wrong in his thirteen seasons as a professional cyclist. Yet astonishingly, after the withdrawal of Discovery Channel and with the new season only weeks away, he's still not on the 2008 roster of a ProTour team.
Chechu once told us that he had the best fans in the world. We travel across Europe, with our Asturian flags, to stand and cheer at the roadside as he passes. We watch for him on TV and on the internet. We gather his news, his photos, and his words. We learn his language and visit the country he loves.
The team which hires Chechu Rubiera in 2008 will gain not only a dedicated professional and gifted athlete, but an extraordinary group of fans around the world. From Australia, South America, Africa, Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain and Hungary. And in the US, from California, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Washington, Arizona and Kansas. Not forgetting his aficionados, Spaniards who have supported him since his first win twenty years ago.
Of course, we all wait for another win. It’s his dream and ours.
Chechu Rubiera is important to us, not just for his titles and trophies. We support him because he is a decent man, who since 1995, has performed his role as team leader and gregario in Artiach, Kelme, US Postal and Discovery Channel with sacrifice and loyalty, and who has represented the interests of professional riders with integrity.
Chechu Rubiera is a role model, both to us and the new generation of young, clean cyclists, on whose integrity the future of professional cycling depends.
The cycling community, struggling to survive every day, can’t afford to lose Chechu Rubiera. They must ensure that this outstanding career does not end here.
You can send a message of support to Chechu Rubiera today.
See MESSAGE BOARD
7 November 2007 Michel Roth and his wife Carolin, from Germany, watched Chechu storm up Alpe d'Huez with Lance on his wheel in 2001 and 2003.
We saw Chechu riding first time in France in 2001 on Alpe d'Huez. He was pacing Lance at the front of the peloton. It was such a great moment. We stood at the bottom of the climb, Chechu had such great speed there. No-one could follow. Cool.
In 2003, it was the same situation at the bottom of the Alpe. Crazy. Chechu led the whole peloton. Nobody could follow.
After that, we went every year to the Tour and every year, it was great with Lance and the team. The best in the world.
Stage 15, Tour de France 2006
In 2006, we are on the Alpe again, but Chechu was injured and we had to wait for him for a long time. But I have this great picture of him on the Alpe.
We love him cycling. (If and) when he steps off the bike, we wish him and his family all the luck for the future.
He is one of the best climbers I have ever seen.
5 to 27 JULY 2008
This time last year, Christine Kahane met the Discovery Channel staff, looking forward to Tour de France 2007. Now Discovery has disbanded, and Johan Bruyneel is top man at Astana. Read Christine's report from this week's 2008 Tour presentation in Paris.
The Tour de France 2008 unveiling kicked off at 11am on Thursday 25th October, 2007 in the huge Paris Palais des Congrès convention centre, located one mile due west of the Champs Elysées.
Despite an(other!) strike at Paris CDG airport, Johan Bruyneel made it, arriving among the stragglers, followed by Alain Gallopin, and I greeted him with a kiss. He said the only two Discovery people who would attend were Alberto and himself.
When I queried how I would find Alberto, Johan rather facetiously suggested I just follow the swarm of photographers...et voila!
There was Alberto sitting in the second row between Cadel Evans and Oscar Pereiro. All three were surrounded by so many photographers and media that you could hardly catch a glimpse of them, and I had a hard time getting near enough to say a few words to Alberto and take some pictures for our website. The photos were almost all blurred because I was being jostled by heavy cameras held by big men.
Then the lights went down and a giant screen broadcast a very well-made feature highlighting the best and worst moments of the Tour de France 2007.
Patrice Clerc, Manager of ASO, made a short but very clear speech saying “never again” ie. no doping anymore.
He stressed that ASO will exercise total freedom in deciding which teams (and riders?) may be admitted to the race. And that each rider will need to show a passport validated by an independent and neutral medical commission before being able to qualify for the Tour de France.
At noon, Christian Prudhomme, Manager of the Tour de France, began his presentation of the detailed 2008 itinerary by saying that the Tour belongs to France’s cultural heritage and must be protected. He added that 200 French towns applied to host a stage, and that the Tour, for the first time in its history, signed a partnership with an entire French administrative region (Brittany).
As a result of this agreement, the 2008 Tour will depart from Brest and the first three stages will all take place in Brittany, a region where several famous champions originated from, such as Jean Robic, Louison Bobet, or Bernard Hinault who was attending the event.
The giant screen then gave us an animated, stage-by-stage terrain-hugging look at the 2008 route: 3,550 kms and 21 stages, with no prologue, no plane/train transfers, fewer mountain passes, and only two time trials, but with a mix of difficulties designed to make the racing very open and undecided from beginning to end.
From time to time, we could catch a glimpse, on the right side of the screen, of the face of 2007 Tour winner, Alberto Contador with his angel look, who seemed totally serene, a couple of days after signing a two-year contract with Astana.
13 - 14 OCTOBER 2007
SATURDAY : Christine Kahane checks in with the team at the hotel prior to the race
Paris-Tours, last classic of the 2007 cycling season
Upon arriving at the hotel accommodating several cycling teams, we are told that team Discovery Channel only has 6 riders instead of the 8 originally planned, Bileka and Devolver having scratched at the last moment.
Lately at Discovery it has been a disaster. The Belgian riders Devolver, Meersman and Van Goolen have been injured, and Bileka had to return at once to Ukraine for an emergency, his coach, to whom he is very attached, being seriously ill.
The mechanic Nick Mondelaers confides to us that Trek will be Astana’s supplier next year.
Dirk Demol tells us he decided to sign a one-year contract with Quick Step, following the choice of his heart. On the one hand, Quick Step is a Belgian team and, on the other, his decision has been determined by Tom Boonen and some other young riders, whom Dirk has coached in the past, and they all want him back.
Johan Bruyneel wanted Dirk to sign with Astana, a solution which would have granted him a three-year contract and material security, but Dirk is a sentimental person.
The soigneurs/therapists Elvio Barcella, Ryszard Kielpinski and Valentin Dorronsoro will follow Johan to Astana, and everybody expects that Alberto Contador also will join Astana together with Tomas Vaitkus.
We witness the arrival of Tomas Vaitkus and Brian Vanborg in Tomas’s personal car, a BMW with a Lithuanian license plate. But Tomas lives during the whole cycling season at a Spanish seaside town located between Valencia and Alicante.
The three big Tours, that have broken off relations with the International Cycling Union, have opted out of the Pro-tour system. Therefore, the organizers of the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta have no obligation to invite the teams they don’t like. For example, ASO, which never had a good relationship with Johan Bruyneel (since the time of Lance Armstrong’s supremacy) could very well exclude Astana from the 2008 Tour de France, the more so following the Vinokourov-Kaschechkine doping scandal in this year’s Tour.
This could be another reason why Dirk Demol did not choose to sign with Astana.
SUNDAY : Christine talks to Dirk Demol and Valentin Dorronsoro before the race begins
It’s a beautiful sunny day with a totally blue sky; no clouds, but a biting cold when we leave for the departure of Paris-Tours, taking place in the small town of Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines, 50 kilometers south-west of Paris, on the road to Rambouillet.
It’s an emotional moment for Dirk Demol as he talks about his last appearance with Discovery Channel. Dirk is sentimental and admits it. He will soon take a two-week vacation on a Spanish island to unwind. This year has been very stressful.
As for my friend Valentin, soigneur and bus driver, he is following the riders to Tours and then will take them back to Charles de Gaulle airport (more than 250 kilometers each way). Then he will drive the Discovery Channel bus to the Belgian depot, all of this in the same day.
His season ends with this race, and tomorrow he will fly back to his home, near San Sebastian. Later on he may visit Cuba with a friend in November. Valentin enjoys travel (which must be a pre-requisite in this business!).
Report and pictures by Christine Kahane, Thursday 26 October
The whole cycling world gathered this morning at the Paris Palais des Congrès where the details of the 2007 Tour de France were to be unveiled.
Although we were not able to get an invitation to attend the "show", we did manage to mingle with the crowd amassed in the lobby, and before the doors of the Paris’ largest amphitheater were opened, we had a chat (and photo opportunity) with the three managers of Discovery Channel, Dirk Demol, Lorenzo Lapage and Sean Yates. They told us no DSC rider would attend the event, nor Johan Bruyneel.
Roger spoke to Dirk Demol who, as usual, was very graceful and ready to chat and pose for photos. He is still basking in the euphoria of the team’s superb collective performance in the Vuelta, as well as the excellent individual exploits of DSC riders in that race : Janez Brajkovic, Vladimir Gusev, Tommy Danielson, and Egoi Martinez, the first three being still very young, and Egoi only 28. Dirk sounded very optimistic about the team’s future with a host of recent signings for the coming season.
I took a few pictures of two famous French past champions : André Darrigade, a sprinter in road races in the 1960s, who won many green jerseys, and Laurent Fignon, winner of the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, and now a TV reporter. Even Christophe Moreau, the French "great white hope", was more available than usual and posed amicably for me.
By the time you read this little contribution, the route and other details regarding the 2007 Tour de France should be common knowledge.
Photo by Christine Kahane
Caperucita en Manhattan, Carmen Martin Gaité.
Christine Kahane writes, I recently read a well-written and entertaining little book which I strongly recommend to those who are interested in Spanish culture.
Caperucita en Manhattan (or Little Red Riding Hood in Manhattan) is a charming short novel, easy to read for those who are learning Spanish, which has been translated into all the major languages.
Carmen Martin Gaité adapts the well-known tale by Perrault/Grimm to our modern society, with Little Red Riding Hood living in Manhattan.
All the main characters from the tale appear in this novel. It’s a spontaneous, sensitive story that initially appears to be a children’s tale. But it is not.
Through the ingenuous but lucid and critical vision of a ten-year-old girl, who is accumulating all kinds of experiences and who at times does not manage to understand what is happening in the minds of the adults surrounding her, the fundamental philosophical ideas and truths of life, such as the fight for freedom or the struggle against fear, are encountered. Furthermore, this book incites everyone to keep forever the vision, the spirit and the heart of a child. Those who enjoyed the “The Little Prince” by French writer Saint-Exupéry will love “Caperucita en Manhattan”.
Nicky adds, According to Amazon.com, this title isn't available in English. However, there are other recommended works by Carmen Martin Gaité, including Variable Cloud and The Back Room.
Race2Replace Webisode : Mining for Chechu
Seven years in the shadow of an American Icon, once faithful soldiers in Lance Armstrong’s rolling army, seven elite cyclists, chase the dream: Who will be the next Lance?
So begins each video in Discovery’s Race2Replace series. Currently found at the team website, Race2Replace is a promotion that combines short videos, called “webisodes”, with a campaign of TV commercials, and a cycling contest for fans.
The webisodes are vignettes that show something about each rider’s personality, and indicate what sort of leader he would be, should he take over Lance’s position as team leader.
Chechu’s webisode is called Mining for Chechu, and visits his home in Asturias, in the north of Spain. It’s a combination travelogue and introspective interview, in elegant English.
Chechu shows us his garden and house, filling us in on the background of his family and the coal mining history of the place. His stories are warm and charming, and include several generations of family, back to his great-great-grandmother and the intriguing place where she did her laundry!
Chechu also goes on a training ride with teammate and fellow Asturian, Benjamin Noval, and shows us his electrical engineering studies. Throughout the video, he communicates his love of cycling, the importance of training and taking care of himself, his contentment with home, his desire to win and awareness of how complicated that is, and how vital it is for people to challenge themselves mentally.
The video is deeply beautiful, surprising to all of us who were not aware that Asturias must have been the Garden of Eden. The mountains and fields, the cattle and apple orchards all spin past our eyes to the rhythm of enticingly lovely Spanish music. Ideas like loyalty, faithfulness, and endurance permeate the text of the video.
Perhaps it’s good to live near family and reminders of the past, surrounded by nature and agriculture, with a view of it all from the bicycle. Chechu’s life seems to have made him a man with a beautiful soul. The cycling world senses this, but only labels it collegially by calling him “The Nicest Guy in the Peloton.” Mining for Chechu gives some clues as to how Chechu got that way, and how he stays that way.
Review by Rebecca Bell.
Lance Armstrong: tour de force, Daniel Coyle, 2005
I don’t read sports books generally. In recent weeks, however, I’ve delved into more cycling books than ever before. Some I’m happy to skim for references to Chechu, a few have caught my attention because they’re well written.
American journalist Daniel Coyle has written a lively book about the 2004 pro cycling season, which gives colour and life to a world I simply can’t imagine.
Coyle was given extraordinary access to the US Postal team and to Lance Armstrong’s private world. He offers glimpses of life on the road with US Postal and some perfect moments to savour. I love the idea that cyclists check out each other's backsides to see who is carrying too much weight. And poor Jan Ullrich had to hold in his stomach at an early season sign-on. Coyle enjoys the cool efficiency and all-knowing of the US Postal’s Belgians. Bruyneel’s commentary, given word for word, to Armstrong on 2004 final time trial is thrilling. Interesting chapters on Hamilton, Landis and Ferrari bulk out Coyle’s entertaining commentary.
This book has an easy, flowing style, packed full of great stories and you will laugh out loud.
A quick note: the US title is Lance Armstrong's War.
We discovered cycling.tv soon after its launch last year. It had a kind of home-spun feel. Whilst the live race coverage, mainly from Belgium, was truly impressive, features such as the video diary of the Etape du Tour hopeful, Alex Aruja, shot over his long training period, were mesmerising.
This kind of real person’s view of cycling is sadly missing from the redesigned slickness of cycling.tv 2006. But no complaints, the quality of pictures is matched by great commentary (we’ve been known to turn the sound off during David Duffield’s rambles on Eurosport).
At the moment, the content is focussed on the Belgian classics but they’ve just announced that, together with OLN, they will be broadcasting from the Giro d’Italia to the US in May. Don’t miss that, if you thought the Tour de France is exciting, wait until you see the Giro. And of course, Chechu’s scheduled to ride this year.
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