www.chechurubiera.info - an online magazine for fans of Chechu Rubiera


25 July 2011

Celebrating « Santa Cristina » with Chechu and Laura

We only attended one stage of the Tour de France this year as, for the last six months, my husband Roger and I have been living part of the year in the south of Spain, to be closer to our daughter and to be able to take care of our grand-children.

But Andalusia is far away from Asturias and this does not mean we see Chechu any more than before.

This year we had decided to go to the Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux Tour de France departure on 19th July. I had no clue Chechu would be there.

The day before though, which was a rest day, Johan Bruyneel and Alain Gallopin had told me Chechu would be joining Team Radio Shack soon and stay until Paris with the sponsors: Nissan, Radio Shack and Trek, but unfortunately we did not manage to cross his path there and this made me very sad.

Then, when I learned that Chechu would be joined by wife Laura and that they both would be at the Sunday arrival of the Tour in Paris, I was overjoyed. I called Laura and we set an appointment at their prestigious hotel located near mythical Place Vendôme.

I use the word "mythical" because that's where the Hotel Ritz is located, the place where Princess Diana spent the last hours of her short life. She was an icon for the French.

Chechu had travelled up from Grenoble (penultimate Tour stage which consecrated the first Australian victory on the Tour de France with Cadel Evans) the night before with a charter flight carrying all the team sponsors.

Laura had arrived the same day in the morning and had had time to visit the Louvre museum with Asturian friend Sara Noval, wife of Chechu's longtime teammate Benjamin Noval.

She also visited all the exclusive shops around her hotel only to discover that one can find the same boutiques and merchandise in Spain, much ... much cheaper.

On Sunday 24th, Chechu and Laura, contrary to Spanish "tradition", were on time for our date.

I think Chechu was returning from a training ride in the Bois de Boulogne since he had to go to his room to change, while Laura stayed with me. She was wearing a lovely long loose-fitting dress which was still hiding her pregnancy. Because yes, Laura is expecting her second child at the beginning of December, when Noah turns 20 months.

Apart from sporadic headaches, Laura feels (and looks) well and for an almost 5-month pregnant woman is still very slim and fit.

Chechu does not want to know the gender of the baby and both of them don’t mind if it's a boy or a girl.

They had left Noah with Laura's brother in Asturias, who has two children a bit older.

Chechu told me that he intends to visit Scotland one of these days because he heard it is a beautiful country. So Nicky, you can expect him to come one of these days!

Of course, Chechu and Laura would also like us all from the website: Nicky and family, Rebecca and family, Roger and I, to visit him in Asturias, as some of us did several years ago, a stay which still revives stirring memories!

Celebrando “Santa Cristina” con Chechu and Laura – Domingo 24 de julio

Este año sólo asistimos a una etapa del Tour de Francia puesto que desde los últimos seis meses mi esposo Roger y yo vivimos parte del año en el sur de España para estar más cerca de nuestra hija y poder cuidar de nuestros nietos.

Pero Andalucía se encuentra muy lejos de Asturias y esto no quiere decir que vemos a Chechu más que antes.

Así, habíamos decido asistir a la salida del Tour de Francia en Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, el 19 de julio. No tenía ni idea que Chechu estaría allí.

Sin embargo, el día anterior, que era una jornada de descanso del peloton, Johann Bruyneel y Alain Gallopin me habian dicho que Chechu se uniría al equipo Radio Shack pronto y se quedaría con los patrocinadores, o sea Nissan, Radio Shack y Trek, hasta la llegada en los Champs Elysées. Pero desgraciademente no logré cruzar su camino y eso me hizo tristísima.

Entonces, cuando me enteré de que Chechu y Laura estarían juntos en Paris, me encantó. Llamé a Laura y ella me citó el domingo por la mañana en su prestigioso hotel situado cerca de la mítica Place Vendome.

Uso la palabra “mítico” ya que allí se encuentra el Hotel Ritz, el lugar donde la Princesa Diana pasó las últimas horas de su corta vida. Diana era un incono para los franceses.

Chechu había viajado desde Grenoble (penúltima etapa que consagró la primera victoria de Australia en en Tour de Francia con Cadel Evans) la noche anterior con un vuelo chárter llevando a Paris a todos los patrocinadores del equipo Radio Shack.

Laura había llegado de Asturias el mismo día por la mañana y había tenido tiempo de visitar el museo del Louvre con su amiga asturiana Sara, esposa de Benjamin Noval compañero de toda la vida de Chechu.

Laura también visitó las tiendas exclusivas alrededor de su hotel sólo para descubrir que se puede encontrar las mismas mercancías de lujo en España, y mucho... mucho más barato.

El domingo 24 de julio, en contra a la costumbre española, llegaron los dos a tiempo a nuestra cita.

Creo que Chechu estaba regresando de un entrenamiento en el Bois de Boulogne, puesto que tuvo que ir a su habitación para cambiar de ropa, mientras Laura se quedó conmigo. Llevaba un precioso vestido largo y amplio que todavía ocultaba su embarazo. Pues sí, Laura está esperando su segundo hijo para el principio de diciembre, cuando Noah comple 20 meses.

Aparte de dolores de cabeza esporádicas, Laura se siente bien y aunque embarazada de casi cinco meses sigue siendo muy delgada y estupénda.

Chechu no quiere conocer el sexo del bebé y a los dos no les importa que sea varon o niña lo importante es que todo pase bien.

Habían dejado a Noah en Asturias, al cuidado del hermano de Laura que tiene dos hijos un poco mayores.

Chechu me dijo que tiene la intención de visitar Escocia unos de estos días porque había oido que es un país muy hermoso. Por lo tanto, Nicky se puede esperar su llegada en un futuro cercano.

Por supuesto, a Chechu y Laura les gustarian también que todos nosotros que participan en su sitio internet: Nicky y su familia, Rebecca y su familia, Roger y yo, les visiten en Asturias, como lo hicimos hace varios años, una estancia que todavía hace revivir recuerdos inolvidables.


13 October 2010

Three days with Chechu

After our last trips to Fourmies, and Isbergues, two cities in the north of France, where we attended the two Grand Prix to be near Chechu, we decided last weekend to spend three days with him, as Team Radioshack was staying at the Novotel in Chartres, a one-hour drive from our home.

The team had just returned from the Tour de Vendée followed by Paris-Bourges, and were resting two days in Chartres, a beautiful town with a famous cathedral, south west of Paris, prior to starting in the last French ProTour race of the season, the Paris-Tours classic.

Unexpectedly for this time of the year, the weather was glorious, with deep blue sky and lots of sunshine, and we enjoyed doing a bit of sightseeing as well, mixing with tourists from all over the world.

The mildness of the climate was also very enjoyable for bike training. The Radioshack riders left every morning at 11am for two hours, with a 15-minute break for a drink in an open air café. That’s their normal routine. After lunch, they retired to their rooms to rest.

Chechu could only admire the famous Chartres cathedral from his bike and regretted not being able to visit it. He loves travelling throughout the world, is interested in all landmarks and historic monuments and appreciates architectural beauty.

Chechu was in a very relaxed and approachable mood, and we managed to have a long chat with him.

First of all we shared our satisfaction at the award of the Nobel prize for literature to Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, yet another Spanish language writer to win this prestigious honour (he happens to be my favourite writer).

Then we got on to sporting matters and discussed his decision to end his professional career. He said that his next race would be Tour of Lombardia and finally the Oviedo Criterium. He plans to issue a press release concerning his retirement between the two races.

He admitted that it's probably the right time to retire anyway, with everything that is now going on in the cycling world.

Chechu told us about little Noah, born March 30th, who “es de comer” (looks good enough to eat) and who loves it when his Daddy takes him for a ride on his mountain bike. Then Noah opens his big blue eyes and looks everywhere. A future rider? Probably, because Asturias is a paradise for bikers with its green undulating countryside and steep hills.

Chechu not only practises mountain biking in the off season but also cross-country skiing and tennis, although he admits that when he plays a tennis game, he spends more time picking up the balls than hitting them at his partner!

Roger asked Chechu if he might work on TV after retiring, to report on races like he did a couple of years ago? Chechu answered that it was fun and he would like that from time to time, but up to now he hasn’t received any proposal.

Photograph © Christine and Roger Kahane


19 September 2010

On the road to Calais .......Grand Prix d'Isbergues

"I knew you would be here!" said Alain Gallopin as he walked out of the team bus, "following Chechu everywhere!"

But this time Roger, who had tennis commitments, could not be part of the festivities, and I had to find another chauffeur to take me 240 kilometers north on the Calais road, to attend the Grand Prix d’Isbergues in which Chechu was participating.

Practically all the usual set of diehard fans were already gathered in the parking lot when the team buses arrived. Soigneur Dimitry Borysov, following the Radioshack bus in a team car, told me Alain Gallopin was holding a meeting. Indeed, all the riders were being informed of their schedule for the remainder of the cycling season.

Half an hour later, all dressed up in their cycling kit, the riders walked out of the bus and Chechu came straight to me to say that he would do several more races in France and Belgium.

Alain Gallopin confirmed that Chechu is in principle scheduled to ride in:

Sunday 26th September: Tour de Vendée (France)
Thursday 30th September-Sunday 3rd October: Circuit Franco-Belge (France-Belgium)
Tuesday 5th October: Binche-Tournai-Binche (Belgium)
Thursday 7th October: Paris-Bourges (France)
Sunday 10th October: Paris-Tours (France)
Quite a busy programme!

The Grand Prix d’Isbergues circuit is made of 5 or 6 loops, so we could see the peloton fly past at a tremendous speed several times, but it was impossible to single out Chechu nor take any good photos. Those loop races are very interesting for the public who enjoy the show of seeing the riders racing, and depart and arrive at the same place. But it must be rather boring for the riders to always cover the same route. That’s probably why quite a lot of riders drop out on the way – especially the ones who have to catch a plane home!

I spent several hours with Michèle, a Belgian fan of RadioShack from the Discovery Channel days. Michèle has become a close and very valuable friend. I don’t know of anyone who can better identify all the riders just from looking at their back, even in the middle of the peloton, and you can't catch her out on any subject concerning pro cycling. At the same time she is a very quiet, reliable, and discreet fan.

The race ended half an hour late and Chechu returned with his face grimy with dust, making a point that the race had been very hard. He boarded the bus for his shower before joining us for a chat, as well as photo and signature session.

Then the riders left in three different team cars for Brussels airport; some were flying home the same day, others - like Chechu and Saint-Petersburg’s native Ivan Rovny - were spending the night at the airport Novotel and would catch a plane this Monday morning.

Chechu always has a change of plane in Madrid. Oviedo-Asturias airport does not have great international connections.

But Chechu won’t stay home long. No more than 4 days to enjoy the company of Laura and Noah, who is now sleeping in his own yellow-decorated room and is doing much better at night (waking up only 2 to 3 times!). Indeed, Chechu will leave next Saturday to start the Tour de Vendée and proceed with a non-stop race programme in France and Belgium ending with Paris-Tours on Sunday 10th October.

So if you are a fan of Chechu, there are still plenty of opportunities to see him race and show him your support before the end of the pro-cycling season.


12 September 2010

The Grand Prix de Fourmies is a one-day, 200-km race, with a loop around the city which the riders race several times. Not a prestigious race on the global cycling calendar, but it was created 78 years ago and is well-known to French cycling fans.

Apart from French teams, this year were attending some big foreign teams like RadioShack, BMC and Vacansoleil, who need to increase their team points in order to secure invitations to the big multi-stage races next year.

Roger and I have just returned from one week on the Vuelta a España - reporting for Kazakh website Astanafans - followed by two weeks of grandchild-sitting in Andalucia. We headed north to greet Chechu and his team-mates on their arrival in Fourmies. Some riders came from riding in the Paris-Brussels race. Others, like Chechu, coming straight from Brussels airport.

Chechu did not expect us so I suppose he had a surprise on walking out of the team bus. He looked good and handsome as ever and came straight away to us. He showed us the latest photo of 6 months old blue-eyed Noah who now sleeps better and better at night. Those of you who read my reports will remember that during Tour de l’Ain (won by Haimar Zubeldia of Radio Shack), Chechu was very tired and took every opportunity to rest, even for 10 minutes at a time.

The weather had been beautiful throughout Saturday, and even at 7pm, I could take a few photos without a flash. Then Chechu joined his room-mate, pleasant and good-looking French rider Geoffroy Lequatre. New to the team this year, he has fitted in very well and is liked by everybody.

We had a long chat with Dirk Demol who we had not seen for a while and who has become a real friend. Dirk is adorable and looks after his riders like a mother hen with her chicks, knows them personally, and often worries for them.

Sunday morning was grey and wet when we left our Maubeuge hotel heading for Fourmies where the team presentation followed by the departures were set for 11:30-12.00.

There, in the rain and trying to shelter under their umbrellas, were all the regular fans we meet at races - Clemence and Evelyne who were in the same hotel as us and with whom we had breakfast, the Belgians Michèle - fan of Radio Shack - and Isabelle who works as a photographer for Cyclingnews, Françoise a long-time fan of La Française Des Jeux (FDJ), and Laetitia and Céline who support HTC-Columbia.

Busy around the Radio Shack bus were DS Dirk, Doctor Pedro and soigneur Ritchie, accompanied by his son Mateus who is currently studying in Brussels and this summer spent two months in Austin doing an internship at Livestrong.

We saw Chechu very briefly as he signed autographs and posed for photos, and soon he was off to the signature podium on the way to the departure line.

After 45 minutes, the riders completed the first loop and, as we were positioned on a short climb, I managed to take a photo of Chechu just as he passed us in the peloton. The next loop was much longer, nearly 100 km, offering a 2-hour wait before the next glimpse of any action. As the weather was not getting any better and we were already pretty drenched, we decided to head straight back to Paris and catch the closing stages of the race on the SPORT + TV channel.

After that, we switched channels to Eurosport and had the great pleasure of watching live Asturian rider Carlos Barredo’s Vuelta victory in the Lagos de Covadonga, a place which we know from the time we visited Chechu in his “tierra” a couple of years ago.

Tomorrow, the Vuelta stage will take the riders from Gijón (Chechu’s home town) to Coto Bello, the Chechu Rubiera summit. As you all know team Radio Shack has not been invited to the Vuelta a España and Carlos Barredo said in Sevilla (departure of the Vuelta) that he would try to win that stage for his friend Chechu.

Photographs © Christine and Roger Kahane for ChechuRubiera.info


10 to 14 August 2010

Saturday 14th August. Col du Grand Colombier

We had a long drive, lengthened by Jane (our GPS’s English voice) who sent us into blocked roads, farmyards, and various no-man’s lands. But after Roger gave her a good telling off, she finally got us to Culoz, departure of the 4th stage.

Chechu had arrived there by car a few minutes before us and was already fast asleep in the motorhome. He woke up just in time to put on his kit, before joining us for a chat and signing some postcards and race brochures for his fans, adding a special word for each one. Then he posed for a few photos and went off to the signature podium.

We met the usual mix of fans, photographers, and souvenir hunters we are used to seeing in most of the races. Belgian Isabelle who works for Cyclingnews with cute 6-year old daughter Flavie, Françoise a long-time Française de Jeux fan, Marion and Celine fans of Astana, RadioShack and HTC Columbia, and Robert who creates posters for the riders from his photos.This time his special target was nice Fumi and French girlfriend Marilyn.

Chechu promised not to abandon the race at the foot of the climb (as he did last year together with Vino) and we made a date for the arrival in Belley to say good-bye.

On the departure line, Chechu was with his usual buddies: Haimar and Markel, and at times rested his head forward on the handlebars, trying to get an extra forty winks before the count down.

And off they went all within less than a minute, heading for the Col du Grand Colombier, a HC climb. Tony Gallopin, Alain's nephew, is wearing the yellow jersey, so he was on the front line with the other holders of the leaders jerseys.

Returning to our car, I heard a voice calling me in the crowd. It was Melina Gallopin who had just celebrated her cousin's top position in the GC.

Melina told me she was on her way to Annecy to visit team soigneur James Collignon who has a physiotherapy practice in this beautiful town. James is a very nice guy who we have not seen recently on races.

When we got to Belley, final point of the race, we found the RadioShack motorhome hidden away from the main team parking area, but close to the last bend before the finishing straight. In fact, we were perfectly located to get shots of the rider as they approached the finish. It also came in handy because Roger was able to help soigneur Chopi direct the team cars, following the riders, straight to the RadioShack motor home.

As the riders flashed by, we noticed Haimar was in the leading bunch.

But there was a long wait to find out if he had -or not -won the final GC. All the staff (and faithful fans) waited anxiously, and as we were some distance from the finish line, Alain Gallopin phoned around to try to find somebody who had the result.

Eventually, we heard him shout "it's Haimar, by 20/100 seconds", and everybody broke into broad smiles and mutual congratulations.

By that time, Chechu was already back with the other riders except for Haimar. The riders went off to take their showers in the village municipal bath house, and there was an unexpected visitor who made everybody very happy, and Chechu not the least: James Collignon, long time soigneur for Discovery Channel and Astana who had come with his son.

As we had a long drive back, we could not wait for Haimar, who was still tied up with the victory ceremony, so we said our goodbyes to all our friends who we probably won’t see again until next year.

Friday 13th August. Stage 3.

When we reached the team hotel this morning before 10am, we were surprised to notice that all the riders (including Chechu!) had already had breakfast, and soigneur José Luis was clearing the table. Most of the food used by the riders is provided by the team.

So we decided to head across a gorgeous green, hilly and peaceful countryside for Montmerle-sur-Saône, where the stage departure was to take place along the river Saône. Although the weather forecast was pessimistic on TV last night, we had woken up to a glorious sunny day.

In Montmerle, the team buses were arriving one by one and parked along the riverbank. In front of the Shack motorhome, we met a nice English family who were taking pictures of the "Livestrong" inscription on the RadioShack bikes. The young mother was a survivor of a rare form of cancer and a year ago was only given a 20% chance of survival.

We then met Melina, Alain Gallopin’s daughter (named after Greek actress Melina Mercouri), the apple of his eye and who was visiting her father for the day. She got interested in cycling because she says it’s the only way to share something with her dad. Melina spent the day in one of the team cars, with soigneurs Elvio and Julien De Vries.

After a brief chat with Chechu, who had had a good night sleep and looked refreshed, and seeing the riders off, we decided to go to the feed zone, where we found Elvio, Julien and Melina.

We had to wait a good hour for the peloton to pass by, and Roger had a chat with Elvio about the future of the team.

There are no worries for 2011 since the riders signed with RadioShack for two years. Elvio’s opinion is that the team does not need any new stars because Machado has a huge potential and Jani is doing very well. Those two seem central to the team’s future.

When the peloton was announced at last, Elvio and Julien went to different spots along the road, about 50m apart. I stayed with Julien who told me that yesterday after the stage, Chechu was so tired that he lay on the floor of the motorhome on the way back to the hotel and slept for one hour and a half. That’s probably the reason why, when we greeted him at the hotel door, he seemed all perky. Julien also added that Chechu is the nicest rider in the world. But that, we already know.

I managed to spot Chechu among the mass of riders and took a picture of him grabbing his musette!

I asked Julien if any riders ever missed their musette, and he said yes, it can happen very easily when there are too many at the same time, which happened yesterday and today as well. But any left over musettes are handed to the team car following the riders and that way any rider missing food can get it from the team car.

Having chosen to go to the feed zone, we had to skip the arrival, and instead waited for the riders at their hotel. For once the three Spaniards arrived together, all busy on their mobile phones, but Chechu came back to see us after finishing his call although he looked really the worse for wear: red-eyed, five o’oclock shadow, and drawn features. When we asked how the stage had gone, he replied: "oh! too hard for me" because he explained once again that he is not good shape because he cannot train properly at home for lack of sleep.

Chechu confirmed that he still trains very regularly with Dani and Benjamin, although they are now on different teams, and also with Carlos Barredo and Samu Sanche. He agreed, with a smile, that they could put together a very good Asturian cycling team if they could find a sponsor to finance them!

Thursday 12th August, Tour de l’Ain 2010. A very cool race.

We had an early departure from Paris to drive 500 kilometers down to the Bourgogne region to get to the start of the Tour de l’Ain second stage, that would take the riders from the Parc des Oiseaux (Bird Park) to the town of Trevoux.

We did not get a chance to see much of the Parc des Oiseaux which looks well worth a prolonged visit for it’s quite famous in the region.

We only managed to get a glimpse of some pink flamingos since it was already the team presentation.

We had trouble finding the RadioShack bus because it had been replaced by a small motorhome van with the logo of U.S. Postal Service. The six riders were packed like sardines. Not at all the usual standard of comfort that you find at the big races.

Even though the race is fairly small, we were surprised by the size of the crowd and by the quality of the organisation, with a real sponsors’ village and a large number of volunteers to control the pedestrian and road traffic.

We first saw Chechu through the window chatting with Fumy inside the motorhome. We got one of his trademark smiles when he saw us but we could see that he looked tired. At least there was no trace of the bee sting on his eyelid and he confirmed it was all over.

Although we had managed to get a press pass, we could not approach the riders at the start line and could only get some shots from behind the barriers. We saw Chechu in a huddle and chatting with Haimar Zubeldia and Marco Irizar in the peloton.

We decided to skip the stage arrival and waited for the riders to return to their hotel in Bourg-en-Bresse, where the team is staying for the whole five days of the race.

Alain Gallopin arrived before Chechu so we had a friendly chat with him. He explained that he is wearing two hats at Tour de l’Ain: one as RadioShack team manager where Haimar’s win in the prologue made him very happy, and a second hat as the uncle and former coach of Tony Gallopin (son of ex-cyclist Joel Gallopin) who rides for Cofidis and is now second in the GC, having come third in today’s stage.

Alain told us that he had seen 4 ½- month old baby Noah with mummy Laura in the Clásica San Sebastián. The Basque city is a 4-hour drive from Gijón, Asturias.

Alain added Chechu would ride next in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes: 24-27th August, and the Classic de l’Indre in Chateauroux on 29th August.

When Chechu finally arrived he gave his big smile as he got out of the bus and stopped to chat a little bit with us. He asked if we were staying in the same hotel (which is not the case) and told us that when he is away from home he tries to catch up on his sleep. At home, baby Noah suffers from tummy aches and does not let his parents rest at night. Laura is even more worn out. Chechu seemed very preoccupied by this question, he enjoys sleeping so much and is always last at the team breakfast table.

We then left Chechu go and get some rest and a good massage reminding him that we would be following the race until the end, on Saturday. He said "me too" with a big smile!



Tuesday 1 September, Venlo-Liege. Day 6.

This morning, on our way to the Astana hotel in Venlo, we spotted several pink flamingos in a pond, part of a private house. Throughout our travels here, we have seen lots of horses grazing in the meadows. The Dutch love riding and horse jumping, and are very good at it in all contests.

The Astana riders were all at breakfast sitting together around a long table. I dream of taking a photo of that kind of scene but one must respect their privacy.

We sat in the hall and greeted Dani, Jesus, Chris, Michael, and Chechu as they passed by. Chechu was in a hurry because, as every morning, he had to do las maletas.

In the parking lot, we had a great surprise. Craig was there. He arrived last night and will drive the truck containing two sets of spare bikes to Liege. Although Craig is from New Zealand, he spends nine months a year in Belgium. Sean asked him to come because Alan left for Spain yesterday with the other truck containing the other two sets of spare bikes. The riders have four bikes each, so that makes a lot of spares to carry along. On reaching Valencia, the riders must be able to train.

At their arrival in Liege, the riders will be taken to the Holiday Inn where they can shower and change before catching their plane to Spain. Two planes have been chartered by the Vuelta organisers for all the riders and part of the staff of the teams. The rest of the staff will be driving all the way.

Valentin left with the Astana big bus at noon and will spend the night in Montpellier (1,000 kilometers). Tomorrow morning, there will only be 500 kilometers left for him, so he expects to be in Valencia by the beginning of the afternoon, taking advantage of the riders’ rest day - which is not a rest at all for most of the staff.

At the stage departure in Venlo, we once again met the band of faithful fans like Clémence 21, from Northern France, whose only passion in life is cycling. She follows as many races as possible, so many that she is not actively looking for a career because it would prevent her from devoting enough time to her hobby.

Then there is Isabelle, a Belgian fan, who would love to follow races on a full-time basis but she is raising her 5-year old daughter alone. Her passion is photography.

We also recognised the same crowd of young and middle-aged ladies that we had seen for the previous three days, which made us realise that a large percentage of the diehard cycling fans are women!

At the foot of the signature podium, we said good bye to Chechu. In ten days, we’ll be at his side once again in Cordoba where we hope to have another story to tell and additional photos to post. Meanwhile adios y hasta pronto en las carreteras españoles.

Monday 31 August, Zutphen to Venlo. Day 5.

Glorious day, clear blue sky, plenty of sunshine and no wind (let’s hope it lasts!) when we reached the Golden Tulip hotel which Astana shared with teams Euskatel and Caisse d’Epargne.

We arrived later than usual because of Jane, the English voice of our GPS, who misled us and got us lost in the forest. Every time we managed to get hold of a local, perched on his or her very typical upright black Dutch bike, he or she gave us different directions. It seems that the hotel we are looking for is known under two totally dissimilar names. We landed in private homes three or four times, and went round and round like in a labyrinth. No sign whatsoever in a language we understand.

On reaching at last the Golden Tulip, we found out other fans had had a hard time too finding this cosy hotel nestled in the middle of the woods.

While waiting in the parking lot and chatting with various members of the staff, we met the Spanish RTVE crew who had come specially to interview Chechu. I introduced Chechu’s website to Nicolas de Vicente, Sports Director of the station, and we exchanged cards.

A few minutes later, Philippe Maertens came out of the hotel and joined the TV crew to settle the details of the interview and let them know that Chechu would be out shortly. Philippe speaks Spanish as well as English, Flemish, French, German and I think Italian too, and I even heard him speak a few words in Russian.

Finally Chechu arrived, acknowleged our presence with a “Hola Chris”, and started the interview which lasted about 15 minutes in the parking lot. While shooting non-stop with my camera, I tried to listen to his answers to Nicolas de Vicente, but Chechu speaks so fast that it’s hard to to follow him. It’s well known that Spanish people speak extremely fast. It seems to me that South Americans, who talk much slower, are easier to understand.

From what I understood, Chechu finds this year’s Vuelta tricky and difficult. Yesterday Jesus Hernandez fell twice, and Vino too. I spoke to Jesus in the morning and he showed me his two plasters. But he is ok. Chechu managed to avoid the fall. The main concern of the riders is to keep their balance when the north wind is blowing combined with roads, slippery because of the rain.

When asked about the Alonso project for a future team, Chechu said it would, of course, be the ideal solution, especially for Alberto Contador, who is the best rider in the world at the moment in Chechu’s opinion. Alonso is Asturian like Chechu and knows a lot about cycling.

The last question presented by the RTVE journalist was about BarLata. Chechu is happy because the restaurant is doing very well with its Spanish specialties and tapas, and to complete the interview Chechu invited Nicolas and Fernando, the RTVE cameraman, to a meal in Oakland.

Before returning to his room in order to prepare las maletas, Chechu turned to me and said his usual « Hasta pronto Chris ». Nicolas told me that the interview would be on video on their website, www.rtve.es, tomorrow morning.

The morning was getting on when we reached the signature podium in Zutphen, a pretty typically Dutch little town, where we met Laura, Arturo and Lina who had spent the night in the town close by us because the Golden Tulip was full. Our little group was soon joined by Chechu himself with his bike, and we all watched the whole signature presentation together. Soon we were also joined by Carlos Barredo of team Quick Step, an Asturian friend of Laura and Chechu’s who regularly trains with him.

As shops are closed on Monday mornings in the Netherlands, and the Zutphen offices had given half a day off to their staff in order to enjoy this unique Vuelta stage departure, a lot of people had gathered along the barriers. The lucky ones who own or rent a house or apartment located on Zutphen’s main street could stand on their balcony or window sill and enjoy this unusual scene as well as the sunshine because today was for the Dutch a very hot and rare summer day.

The highlight today was that in reaching our new hotel, we were told that the race would pass on our doorstep. And at 5:30 pm we had the great pleasure to see a grouped peloton at the head of which we could recognize Dani and Haimar.

After the peloton all the team cars passed before our eyes and we got a wave from both Astana cars, Sean in the first, and Philippe in the second.

Sunday 30 August, Assen. Day 4

This morning the timing was more relaxed. We packed our suitcases en route for Zutphen, tomorrow’s stage departure.

Keeping to our daily routine, we passed by the Astana hotel resort to say good-morning to everybody. The highlight was that I could get hold of all the Astana riders after breakfast and they signed one by one a few postcards of the Drenthe province, which hosts the first Vuelta days, for fans of Chechu who have become personal friends over the years and don’t have the good fortune to be able to travel as much as we do.

We then drove to the stage departure Village set up along the canal, in the center of the pretty city of Assen, where we met Laura, Chechu’s wife, together with Arturo Sintes and wife Lina. We sat together for a coffee under an awning while the rain had once more started pouring very suddenly after a half hour lull in the weather.

Arturo Sintes organises every year the “Volta Cicloturista a Menorca” where Chechu sometimes competes and often attends as a spectator. Chechu and Laura love Menorca and the Sintes have become their very close friends. This year, the Volta a Menorca 9th edition will take place on 23rd, 24th and 25th October.

After their signing on the podium, and in order to keep clear of the rain, some riders took cover in the Vuelta Village. Others stayed squashed together like sardines on the podium which is sheltered until the speaker announced the departure was imminent. Then, one by one, the poor riders beat a path through the puddles, the raincoats, and the umbrellas to get to the departure line.

With Laura, we had the same thoughts and while she kissed her Chechu goodbye, I told him “buena suerte, ten cuidado”. An ever nice Chechu answered “nos vemos pronto” and disappeared into the rain on his bike.

And finally, the miracle happened. Five minutes later the sun was shining again.

Saturday 29 August, Assen. Day 3

For the first time since our arrival we woke up early to some welcome sunshine. But although the sky is blue, the wind is still there and you can tell it is strong by the speed of the windmill’s sails.

In the morning, I took advantage of the nice weather to take some group photos of the Astana staff and riders. Graham Watson, the team official photographer is now on the spot. He did not come, like Sean Yates did, from England by car, but flew into Amsterdam airport and rented a car for a two-hour drive. I am happy because I managed to photograph the photographer! It’s my experience that people who love to take pictures don’t like to be photographed. And that seems to be the case for Graham.

Although it’s the week-end, there was no big crowd around the team buses at their resort hotel.

We met two charming Bavarian girls, total Astana fans, who had driven the whole night (8 hours) from Munich to get here in the morning. They could not find a hotel room for everything is booked up because of the race and they will spend the night in a campsite in a tiny tent on the rain-soaked earth.

Camping is not our cup of tea, specially in this kind of weather. Indeed, the clouds are playing hide and seek with the sun and we are often startled by a sudden ill-timed strong shower which does not last too long, but just enough to soak you.

That’s exactly what happened to the Astana riders who left at 10am for their morning training ride. They started under gorgeous sunshine and five minutes later it started suddenly pouring rain. On our way following the riders, we saw Michael Schär hurrying back to the hotel because he had forgotten his rain-jacket.

In the afternoon, we arrived at 2pm at the Assen motorbike TT circuit, site of the Vuelta 4km time trial first stage. The stands were already packed with at least 10,000 spectators and there were probably another 2 or 3,000 more fans milling around the circuit and the team paddocks.

Just before the start of the racing we met Laura, Chechu’s wife, who came with a couple of Spanish close friends we had met last year on the Vuelta. They will follow Chechu on the Dutch stages.

When the first rider left the departure ramp, there was an enormous ovation, which was repeated for every single rider, but the applause and roars of encouragement got ten times louder when a Rabobank rider, the country’s national team, was leaving. We are not used to such enthusiasm. The Dutch really love the bike!

Thanks to our press accreditations, I managed to get a spot at the foot of the departure ramp and take great photos of Chechu and his teammates.

Chechu was accompanied to the ramp by mechanic Javier who had lent him his jacket because it was getting cold. When Chechu saw I was wearing a horrible orange “Press” bib he laughed. When the countdown started, someone shouted “Chechu” interrupting his concentration, but Chechu had a big smile.

As soon as Chechu finished his time trial, it started raining heavily and we decided to go home because we were drenched to the skin. Nevertheless, we had a thought for the poor riders who had to compete on this slippery dangerous circuit, and for Graham Watson who had been sitting the whole afternoon on a small stool on the last bend, to be able to take great shots for the Astana website.

Photographs © Christine and Roger Kahane

Friday 28 August, Assen. Day 2

We left Paris baking under a heatwave. Fortunately, at the last minute, I crammed my rain shoes and a wind cheater in the trunk of the car, as well as Roger’s fleece jacket. But on our second stop, in Ostend, Belgium, Roger left it on the back of his seat in a café. Over here, it’s wet, cool and very windy.

At 8:45 this morning, we reached the luxurious Astana resort. We waited in the central unit lobby and could say a few words to Ivan Basso and Alejandro Valverde on their way to the breakfast room. The best conversation with the riders is to enquire about their kids. They all love it and this subject generally interests the fans too.

Chris Horner stopped by us and told us about the attack of asthma he had for the first time in his life on the Tour de l’Ain last stage, which caused him to lose the race. Chris is the youngest of five children and is originally from Texas.

We saw all the Astana riders going to the dining room. They must have had a very light breakfast because soon Haimar joined us, as promised, and spent fifteen minutes answering my questions. I learnt some interesting things for his profile which I am preparing.

A short while later, Chechu and Dani came out and sat down on the couch next to us which allowed Roger to take a few good photos of the group.

Outside, it was pouring rain and the riders had to leave soon for a training ride to get to know the Assen TT circuit. Roger and I followed them and took some nice pictures of the typically Dutch landscape.

In the afternoon, the weather was still unsettled, alternating showers, sunshine, and very strong gusts of wind which could make the stages in Holland very tricky.

The Dutch, who are very friendly and helpful and speak good English (they start learning it in school from a young age) had prepared a very pretty podium in a nice setting. The podium itself was separated from the public by a small artificial lake with radio-controlled swan-boats decked with flowers.

Unfortunately, there was too much distance from the stage to the people, and not only the public but also the press was kept too far away from the teams to see properly and take good photos.

Another mistake was that the Spanish organisers had not provided any interpreter, and all the speakers spoke high speed Spanish, which left not only the poor Dutch public but also all the rest of us in the dark.

Photographs © Christine and Roger Kahane

Finally, the team presentation was done so fast, each team spending about 20 seconds on the podium, that it leaves an impression of a botched opportunity compared to the Giro, the Tour, and even smaller race presentations like Paris-Roubaix and even Tour de l’Ain.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.

Thursday 27 August, Assen. Day 1

Roger and I left Paris yesterday and stopped overnight in the old Flemish town of Bruges where we had a romantic ride on the canal, followed by a sunset evening in Ostend on the coast.

Today we arrived in Assen to pick up our accreditations and the first person we met was Philippe Maertens who is just back from a one-week family holiday in the Provençal city of Avignon, at one time the seat of the Popes when they moved from Rome. Philippe needed a rest very badly after the exhausting time he had at the Giro and the Tour, which we could witness live.

Roger collects his accreditation for ChechuRubiera.info

Philippe Maertens, back from Vinokourov's press conference

Shortly before our departure from Paris, we had received a list of the teams hotels from the Vuelta organiser, as a result of which we changed the hotel we had booked previously in order to be nearer to our friends. Finding a medium range priced hotel at the last minute is always very difficult, and this was hard work. But in the end, we had the unpleasant surprise, when we reached the Mercure in Groningen, to find no sign whatsoever of the team. We were told that there had been a last minute change and that the team was now staying in a totally different location, very far from our hotel, and much closer to the TT circuit. This means that we’ll have to put up with over 100 kilometers driving every day for the next 3 days between visiting the team at their hotel and following the race activities. This kind of hitch happens quite often and you just have to grin and bear it.

In fact, Team Astana, as well as Liquigas and Caisse d’Epargne, are staying at a luxurious Centre Park-style resort, with bungalows and thatched-roof cottages, in a huge landscaped setting with a lake for boating and swimming and a sand beach, an indoor swimming pool and spa with a paddling pool, and gourmet cuisine restaurants. Totally out of our budget, so no regrets!

In the parking lot, the three mechanics, Faustino, Javier and Alan, were already working hard dismantling and cleaning the bikes. We had missed the riders return from training by half-an-hour. We saw the three soigneurs briefly : Valentin, Vincent and Youri who left to go and take care of the riders’ bodies, and met Belgian Dr. Peter Lagrou for the first time, although he has been with the team for three years. We introduced to him Chechu’s website and explained our presence.

Sean Yates and Philippe Maertens had just returned from the press conference organised for Alex Vinokourov which had been held in French in the presence of twelve journalists.

We then visited the central reception building, heart of the complex, with the various restaurants, the bar, and the two indoor swimming pools.

In the hall, we spotted Assan Bazayev and Maxim Iglinsky surfing on their white twin computers. Apparently, there is no internet connection in the bungalows.

By now, late afternoon, the weather had improved because up here in the north of the Netherlands the mornings are very cloudy and the sun shows its best face at the end of the day.

We then headed to the riders’ bungalow and reached it just as Haimar Zubeldia was coming out and going for his massage by Spanish soigneur Joaquin Gonzalez nicknamed “Chopi”. We set up an appointment with Haimar for tomorrow after breakfast for our little interview to appear in the “Amigos” section of ChechuRubiera.info.

A few minutes later it was Chechu’s turn to come out and follow Belgian soigneur Vincent, his masseur during the Vuelta. Chechu looks well. He arrived on Thursday afternoon from Spain, with his fellow countrymen: Haimar Zubeldia, Dani Navarro, and Jesus Hernandez , flying into Amsterdam airport where Valentin picked them up with the Astana bus.

Chechu shares his bungalow with the three Spanish riders but each has his own room.

We said hasta mañana to Chechu and this restful place surrounded by meadows with flocks of sheep and windmills.

Photographs © Christine and Roger Kahane


9 to 12 AUGUST 2009

Photographs © Christine and Roger Kahane

Wednesday, final day: Tour de l'Ain

This morning we saw the riders off at 9.10am. They had a long way to go to reach the departure of the Tour de l'Ain last stage which was taking place in the southern part of the region.

Whilst waiting in the car park of the wooden alpine hotel (surrounded by pines and Christmas trees), I saw Alexandre Vinokourov, who was chatting with Faustino, and asked him about his children. Children are my soft spot and I cannot help asking the riders about theirs. When I know their names, it makes things easier. Vino has a girl and twin boys, who are his living image.

Steve Morabito came down the stairs first. He has the legendary Swiss puntuality. He told me he would not ride the Vuelta, as I had thought, but the Eneco and the Tour of Missouri.

Steve was followed by Chris Horner. Chris was not wearing his yellow jersey because it was too large and they had to get him a smaller one. Was it premonitory? I just read that he lost it to a Cofidis rider. Chris was using the Tour de l'Ain as preparation for the Vuelta and I am sure he is not too disappointed by his performance. He is in great shape.

Then came Jesus Hernandez who does not seem to be an early bird, had the eyes half closed, and was yawning. However, when he saw us, he managed a smile and said goodbye.

The two Asturian riders followed him, Chechu leading the way to Dani and we kissed good-bye, y hasta pronto en la Vuelta.

We drove Dr. Dag in our car to the Geneva airport, where he had a plane to catch to Brussels. Geneva airport was supposed to be close by. But we got lost because there were no signposts, and found ourselves in the middle of a real mess of road works. The car nearly fell into a huge hole at the end of a road under repair where there was no sign of any kind nor any barrier. We all three had a tremendous fright. We had asked our way to several people in the street but their information was totally useless.

It seemed that the whole city of Geneva was under work and our GPS could not detect this aspect.

After dropping Dr. Dag and his four pieces of luggage at the terminal, we took the motorway straight to Paris, making all along the five-hour ride plans for our next race which will either be the Grand Prix de Plouay in Brittany in ten days, or the Vuelta a España which will start at the end of the month in northern Netherlands.

Tuesday, day 4: Lelex-Lelex (morning), Saint-Genis Pouilly ITT (afternoon)

All the riders were yawning this morning because they had a very short night, and the transfer to the departure point, across the Col de la Faucille mountain pass, was a bit long.

We saw all the riders sign their name on the big board, and I gave a quick kiss to Chechu before he took off for the departure line. The stage departure and arrival taking place in the same picture-postcard Alpine village, we had two hours to kill before the peloton would return to Lelex, and went to take a coffee with Dima.

Dima needed to be cheered up because he had pushed the wrong button on his new camera and lost 600 photos he had taken all over the summer on the Giro, the Tour, and during his holidays on the Black Sea with his parents.

But above of all he was upset because in one click he had lost a beautiful and unique photo of him and Alberto Contador taken the night of the Tour de France party.

Chris Horner came second in the morning sprint and took an option on the yellow jersey.

At the same time as the pro-cycling Tour de l'Ain, there is an amateur race which today ranked among the riders, 55-year old French Jeannie Longo, the female cyclist with the best palmares in the world. Although a big professional, she often joins small races to please people. She is a humble and altruist great cyclist. She is still competing and winning the most prestigious races. After the race, we saw her eating out of a tupperware box, sitting at the back of her own car. I told her what a wonderful example she was and she answered that there were many women much more wonderful than her!

Valery Dmitryev was the one of the last riders to cross the arrival line. I tried to make a little conversation in Russian to get to know him, and he told me he was 24, married, and already the father of two children: a three-and-a- half year boy and a three-month old baby girl. Which means he was already a daddy at age 20.

Thanks to Sean Yates' passes, we were admitted to the VIP club where we enjoyed a nice meal with specialties served with local white and red wine.

In the afternoon, the ITT was so near to the team hotel that all the riders arrived on their bikes.

We had the great pleasure of experiencing for the first time a special time trial. Craig, who was driving the car following Dani Navarro on the 8.8 kilometer scenic circuit, offered to let us join him in the car. It was something very special.

When it was Chris Horner's turn to leave, I told him « maybe tomorrow you'll get the yellow jersey in the mountain », and he answered that he hoped to get it now.

And in the end, Alexander Vinokourov won the stage, while Chris Horner came third and took the yellow jersey.

Day 3: Trevoux

Once again, Chechu arrived last at the breakfast table. It was 11.15 am and some of the staff were already eating lunch because departure was set at 12.30pm.

Five minutes after entering the dining room, he came out to sign the Astana musettes and caps I had collected for his fans, while his omelette was being prepared, and returned to eat.

I was waiting in the lobby, wearing my Astana T-shirt, a present from Craig when he visited us in Paris last year, when Alexander Vinokourov wearing a yellow outfit came to the front desk. I said « dobri dién » as he passed and he answered « bonjour ». He needed a photocopy of his passport to get an Indonesian visa for an Asian championship race he wants to ride there soon.

Then it was Sean Yates' turn to came to the front desk to complain for the theft of his jogging shoes from his room. We are getting to know Sean better. He speaks good French and explained to us that he lived in France for 15 years (in Paris, Tours, Lille and Nice). He offered us two Astana passes to get anywhere on the Tour de l'Ain circuit as well as to the VIP quarters.

Sean said that he would be the sports director on the Vuelta together with Alexandr Shefer.

We saw the Astana riders off to the departure of stage 2 , all squeezed into the camping car driven by Dima, Chechu always sitting next to him. It was starting to rain and Chechu looked at us and said: « It's a pity to have rain during your holidays » not thinking one minute that within an hour, he would be on the road with the same weather conditions. I told him « Chechu, te queremos mucho » and he answered « Gracias » while the camping car was drawing away.

Although the weather was miserable, it did not actually rain on the race. Alexander Vinokourov tried a breakaway which was very impressive but the race was won by a Spanish sprinter of Caisse d'Epargne, Gil Joaquin Rojas.

The riders only got back to their new hotel in the Jura chain of mountains at 7.30pm, which means that they would not have dinner before 10pm, after the shower and massage session. Dima takes care of Chechu, so I know Chechu is in very good and caring hands.

Tomorrow morning, the departure from the hotel is set at 8am. The Astana hotel is located on a hill on the Swiss border, right on the morning's circuit and close to the afternoon 8.8km ITT, and has a beautiful view over the green valley below.

Day 2: Bourg-en-Bresse

A late start and very relaxed morning at Hotel Mercure. Roger and I were on the spot at 9.15am but the first rider, Chris Horner, only came down for breakfast at 10. Chechu - true to his reputation - came last, quite a while after all his team mates. He seems to like to sleep, his way of recharging his batteries.

Waiting for Chechu in the hotel lobby, I had a short interview with Jesus Hernandez which I'll use in the profile of this rider I'll write for Alberto Contador Notebook. I learned several interesting things about this charming and talented rider who is very close to Alberto. Jesus will ride the Vuelta, and he is sure Chechu will take part in it too.

Meanwhile, Roger had a chat with Chris Horner, who was Robbie McEwen's team-mate in Silence Lotto. Chris is preparing actively for the Vuelta and said that the first stages in Holland and Belgium are very hard and tricky. All the Belgian riders know how to exploit the conditions, especially wind and cobblestones and that sort of thing. He thinks the race could very well be over after the Dutch portion. He also thinks that the Spanish mountain part is harder than last year. The Vuelta goes close to south of Valencia, the place where he lives during the winter time with his wife and his three children.

When Chechu (who is sharing room with Dani Navarro) arrived for breakfast, some of the staff were already having lunch since the riders were due to leave at 1pm for the team presentation in the town centre. After posing for one or two photos (I cannot help it) he did not deny that he would like to ride one more year but he indicated that he had not signed anything yet.

Although it's a very relaxed type of race compared to the major tours, there was a nice podium presentation by Daniel Mangeas, commentator for the Tour, Dauphiné and major French races. Daniel is an encyclopaedia with regard to cycling and knows everything about all the riders. He does not need notes. He knew my uncle (a TV journalist) and remembers us.

While waiting for the departure, Steve Morabito is the only rider with whom I speak in my native French. He lives in nearby Switzerland and has many friends cross the border to encourage him today.

The team also had the visit from Tony Gallopin, a nice looking green-eyed junior pro rider, who is the son of ex-rider Joel Gallopin and Alain's nephew.

There was quite a long wait before the start, and our team's riders were all packed in the small Astana camping car where the air conditioning was not working. And it was a hot day.

We witnessed the arrival of the stage, in the Bourg-en-Bresse suburb, while the rain was breaking out, and managed to reach the Mercure Hotel at the same time as the Astana camping car to see that all the riders were ok.

Tomorrow we are heading to the Jura chain of mountains.

Day 1: Arrival of the riders

Finally, Chechu arrived. Until the last minute, we were not sure he would take part in the race. It was total suspense. But Chechu finally arrived from Geneva n airport, together with his fellow countrymen Dani Navarro and Jesus Hernandez in the Astana mobile home driven by soigneur Dima Borisov (who has the reputation of being a fast driver). Chechu seemed happy to see us, and we told him we would follow the race almost to the end. He regretted that we were not staying in the same hotel.

Bourg en Bresse, capital of the « Ain » department, covering the Jura chain of mountains, celebrates the departure of the Tour de l'Ain after an absence of five years.

We were also very pleased to see Sean Yates again and I gave him a messages of support from a special fan. He confirmed he had not been well since the Tour of Romandie but that he is now totally OK.

The French national TV Channel 3, which has a regional program, sent three reporters specially to interview Alexander Vinokourov. He is riding for a so-called « Kazakh National Cycling Team » staying in the same hotel as Astana, which seems to create a bit of embarrasment.

Furthermore, Roger and I were surprised to discover that the French TV crew had filmed us without our knowledge and presented us as the Vinokourov fan club. Some people may have seen us on the sports programme tonight and those who know our preferences would not have understood.

Chris Horner, always friendly and relaxed, seems to be fit again after his Giro crash. He confirmed that he is planning to ride in the Vuelta. But when I asked Chechu if he would be take part in the Vuelta, he said he still did not know.

Less than 30 minutes after their arrival, Chechu and his teammates left for a one-hour training session. We said goodbye and hasta mañana.

Tomorrow, we will attend a team presentation on a podium set in front of the imposing city opera house, on an elegant city square.

The race: Tour de l'Ain is a four-day stage race, with a mountainous profile. It takes place in the Jura Mountain range (straddling the border between France and Switzerland, north of the Alps). At 1534m, the Grand Colombier is a steep and decisive climb, coming at the end of Stage 4.

See race website (in French)



Giro May 12, 2009 – Epilogue

This morning, we took it easy since we were already in Padova where the stage departure was taking place. The Giro Village was located on a beautiful piazza, next to the Basilica di S. Giustina, with a convent on one side. The nuns were watching with great interest all that was going on from their balcony.

There was a bigger crowd than ever around the Astana bus. Even the staff could not believe their eyes. Some fans were sitting on the shoulders of friends in order to be able to see Lance, if only for a few seconds.

The first rider out of the bus today was Yaroslav followed by Chris, Jani, Steve, Dani, Levi and Chechu who must have been surprised by the great ovation he provoked. As always, he posed very gracefuly for a group of latin fans.

Master Armstrong (as they call him on Italian TV where the RAI journalists seem to worship him) came out last and the crowd crushed around him like flies around whatever, all the way to the departure line. He was protected by the ample bulk of Luc Meersmen acting as bodyguard.

Roger took the pictures today because I could not face the crowd in this heat (almost 30°C), and he is taller, so can hold the camera quite high in the air above the dozens of fans massed four or five deep. It's so much easier to meet the team at their hotel!

Just before the Astana bus' arrival, we had bought a dozen pink wristbands, the kind you can see on Chechu's wrist next to the yellow Livestrong.

This pink bracelet, in memory of the victims of the Abruze earthquake, is supported by the Giro and sponsored by the RCCPI (Italian Professional Cyclists Association). I gave one to each of the Astana staff as a souvenir present from ChechuRubiera.info.

We then said our last good-byes to our friends and let the caravan, followed by the riders, followed by the team cars, head north.

Giro May 11, 2009

Last night we stayed at the same hotel as teams Lampre and Astana. A real treat that gives an interesting insight into team life, and the lobby is an excellent vantage point for following the comings and goings of the various team members.

But the breakfast room is an especially good place to watch what's happening in the boys' morning life. First to arrive at the breakfast table are the staff: mechanics and soigneurs, followed by the directors, and finally the riders who try to get as much rest as possible, and come generally one by one.

Jani was the first, followed by Steve Morabito, his room mate. Then came Yaroslav who shares with Andreï Zeits, then Lance who has his own room, then Chechu with Dani, and lastly Chris and Levi.

Chechu continues to suffer from allergies. The weather is too hot for the season. Today it was 33°C in the sun. There are thousands of snow-like flowers coming off the trees and curling in the air in all directions before they reach the ground. Dima also suffers from the same problem. These allergies cause the eyes to swell and have clearly disturbed Chechu's sleep.

While writing postcards in the hotel hall, we bumped into with Damiano Cunego's parents on a morning visit to their son, who spent 15 minutes chatting with Mama and Papa next to us. Damiano has very fine features and is really handsome.

At 11am, we saw the team off to Grado, for the next stage departure. Valentin said good bye because he was leaving for the Tour of Cataluna and being replaced by Alejandro Vasquez. « Hasta pronto, Valentin, hasta el Dauphiné » – our favourite race.

Roger and I skipped the departure of the stage and drove to Padova where we had a good two-hour walking tour along the paved streets of the old town, stopping at Saint Antony's cathedral to light candles and buy a few good luck medals.

Then at 4.30pm, we drove to Astana's hotel, which the team is sharing with team Liquigas, and waited over two hours for the riders to arrive. It took them one hour and a half to cover 30km because the roads are narrow, there are plenty of road works and it was the start of the evening rush hour.

All the riders looked pleased because several have improved their ranking in the GC. Chechu was happy and felt better than in the morning. He chatted a few minutes with Roger about his need to get over the allergy problem and sleep better.

Tomorrow is our last day at the Giro. We'll see the riders off on their way towards the mountains and then we'll go and visit Verona before returning to Paris.

Roger, who unlike any other Englishman is a very nervous driver, quarrels endlessly with Jane (the English voice of our GPS) because they never agree on routes. It is something amazing! But frankly, I prefer Roger shouting at Jane, when we get lost, than at me which is what happens when the GPS is off.


Giro May 10, 2009

This morning we woke up to a glorious day, warm and sunny. After packing our cases we drove to the Astana hotel. Everybody there was delighted with the team's performance in the TTT, very close to Columbia but without the pressure of having the pink jersey from the beginning.

We chatted with a group of cycling tourists and their Italian tour operator who organises riding holidays to follow the Giro. They were of all ages and wearing different jerseys supporting various causes like MS etc.

Craig had a little problem last night when the electricity broke down in his room. Trying to repair it with his own tools (he is a top mechanic) he produced an electricity blackout on the whole floor.

We had to wait three hours to see the first rider. They were all tired from the TTT, and wanted to rest as much as possible. We noticed that neither Chechu nor Lance were freshly shaven.

Just before, Monica and little Mikha came to visit Jani. Liz Kreutz joined the group and took the nine-month old little boy in her arms. We also took a photo of her with her brother Matthew.

Lance used a side door to exit the hotel, so he could avoid most of the crowd that had been awaiting their star for hours.

We then followed the Astana bus containing all the riders to the departure parking lot and at 12:30 all of them were off to the signature podium.

Mike Barry passed us and said « hello ». Two years ago in Annecy on the Dauphiné he signed my copy of his very good book « Inside de Postal Bus » recounting his memories from the time he was part of US Postal. Since then we keep a link, as we also do with Christian Vande Velde. Two nice guys.

After the riders left for Trieste, we drove to the next hotel, and in the mid-afternoon, saw the Giro peloton pass through the village of Cervigno where we are staying to night, and Roger spotted Yaroslav playing the guardian angel alongside Lance.

And the icing on the cake is that at the end of the day I was rewarded by a great photo with Lance!


Giro May 9, 2009

First thing this morning, I received a text from Dima for the anniversary of the victory of WWII, which in Russia is celebrated one day after the rest of Europe because they received a separate surrender from Germany on May 9. Russian people take very seriously anniversaries and birthdays.

After sending my daily report and photos to Nicky, in order to keep the website up to date, we drove to the ferry terminal which took us to Lido di Venezia, where the TTT was to take place three hours later.

The team buses (without the riders) were already in the parking lot, and on our way to Astana, we passed Team Barloworld. Gianni, the very nice driver and friend of the Triplets, offered us an extra strong expresso out of the team's brand new machine.

At Astana, Valentin explained he had to park the bus in that spot the night before to get a space and to avoid ferry congestion. Everything in Venice works by water transportation.

Then, we had a long and interesting personal chat with Richie, and carried on to the Giro Village where there was not much to see but where the Italian people are very welcoming and friendly.

On our way back, we passed a little group of riders made up of Eki, Richie, Chris, Alan, Philippe, Luc and Elvio who were testing the riders' bikes and shouted at us a big « hello ».

Meanwhile, all the Astana riders had arrived and were already in the bus resting before going out to test the circuit and later on warming up on the rollers.

Suddenly, Janez (Jani) Brajkovic, dressed in a long-sleeved yellow Livestrong T shirt came out of the bus and went towards a red-haired young woman holding a little boy. Jani took the baby in his arms and presented to the staff « Mikha » or « Junior », his hardly one year old son who he took inside the bus to introduce to his team-mates. Jani's family had come to Venice as neighbours since Slovenia is just next door.

While we were waiting for our Boys to come out of the bus and start their training on the rollers, Vincent, the friendly Eurosport French journalist, creator of the « Planet Armstrong » program, had settled next to us with his heavy equipment. We met Vincent at the last edition of Paris-Nice and have been e-mailing since.

Yaroslav was the first rider to start exercising and was acclaimed by the crowd. He held his arms up to acknowledge recognition.

The next one out was Lance, to an ovation from the public, followed by the other Astana riders, Chechu and Levi coming last.

We had a good spot and took loads of photos. When it was finally Astana's turn, as the last team, to ride out to the start, we moved to the press room where we could see the race on a giant screen with all the journalists. Next to us was sitting Mark Cavendish waiting anxiously for the results, later joined by his sports director Eric Zabel. That's how we witnessed the first-ever British « maglia rosa » victory, by the young Manx rider of Team Columbia.


Friday May 8. The anniversary of the end of WWII is celebrated in many Europen countries but not in Italy - guess why? So unlike almost elsewhere in Europe, it's not a holiday and everything is open.

We spent over two hours this morning, at another hotel, trying to send Nicky and Rebecca my report, and the photos we had prepared the night before. The wifi connection is extremely unreliable if not non-existent here.

Then we drove ten minutes to the team hotel, passing several teams on our way already out on their morning training ride.

Every single Astana member was out in the parking lot. Duffy (operations manager as well as cook) who was joking imitating the Aldo Maccione way of walking; our close friends Craig, Dima and Valentin; also Richie, Elvio, Luc Meersman (father of rider Gianni Meersman, ex-Discovery rider) fleet manager, mechanic Chris, who had just arrived the night before from New Mexico (Tour de Gila) together with Levi, Chris Horner, and Lance, and of course Chechu and Yaroslav who posed for us and for the triplets' website.

Lance was the only one wearing a different jersey, his special Mellow Johnny's black and white long-legged and long-sleeved outfit and looked very sun-tanned.

When I asked if he knew if the baby to come was a boy or a girl, he said no. And a moment later he added « One or the other »!

He also told Roger that to escape the crazy crowd on Piazza Saint Marco after the team presentation he had jumped into a taxi boat. We thought we had seen him get onto a gondola and wondered how long it would take him to reach the Lido di Jesolo where our hotels are located knowing it's a 45 minute ride by ferry.

Chechu, our Star, was happy to see us, in a good mood as always, very handsome and slim, and he offered us his new Astana bidon like he does every year.

After a two-and-a-half hour training ride along the Lido di Jesolo, the team returned to their hotel for lunch, a nap, and a good massage. Their work was over for the day.

Roger and I decided to enjoy the delicious spring weather and spend the afternoon strolling around Venice where we have only been once over the long years we have been married. Venice is a unique and breathtakingly beaufitul city that you must visit at least once in your lifetime.

On our way to the ferry terminal, we passed team Liquigas and spotted Ivan Basso, one of the main contenders, leading the group.

In Venice, near the press headquarters, we bumped into Liz Kreutz. She follows the Giro for Lance and is accompanied by the eldest of her two brothers, Mathew (the other one, Nathan, she calls « my baby brother ») who drives her car. On long races Liz generally takes along either one or other brother. She is a lovable big sister and an adorable person.


Getting to Venice airport was the easy part.

We landed midday with beautiful sunny spring weather. We had selected a hotel located in the Lido di Jesolo to be near our favourite team and other teams that we like too.

But we also knew it would be difficult to get to the team presentation ceremony that was taking place in Venice itself.

The team time trial is in yet another place and all three places are separated by water, the only way to get from one place to another is by ferry.

After getting lost several times, we found Astana's hotel. We only saw Allan, the English mechanic who was working on Lance's special yellow bike.

All the other members of the team were having lunch and getting ready for the departure to the team presentation.

We drove to the ferry, which is quite far away, and just managed to jump on the boat that was leaving for Venice, a 45 minute ride.

We arrived just in time for the start of the team presentation and secured a good location to take photos. Piazza San Marco is an awesome setting for such a celebration, the weather was glorious, and there were many tourists.

Soon Astana arrived (they had shared their ferry with the Garmin Chipotle team) and I could give a welcome kiss to my two darlings; Chechu and Yaroslav, adorable Liz Kreutz, who I had not seen for a long time, Christian Vande Velde (an ex Discovery rider) who is always very charming, Eki, Alain Gallopin, and Philippe Maertens. Soon the riders were off to change from jogging suits into their team jerseys.

It was not easy to take good photos because the podium was half in sun and half in shadow. The organisers made a special show for team Astana, which was kept as the last team to go, and Lance arrived separately, to wild applause, with Johan while his team-mates were already on the podium. The crowd gave him a huge welcome.

He was interviewed on his cancer dedication, and Johan talked about the financial difficulties, confirming it was all true. He said he hoped that, by the end of June, if the Kazakhs had not found a solution, he would find one himself.

Then the Astana riders all left the podium, Lance at the back, and that was when pandemonium broke out, with all the journalists and photographers running after him and crowding around him, all interviewing him at the same time. We have never seen anything like it. Lance mania is really back.

On returning to our hotel, we were surprised to see a mound of « Giro » children's swimming rings in the lobby, with a cute little girl in the middle of them. That's how we met Allegra, and her dad, the manager, who also runs one of the town's websites, www.Jesolo-ok.com. After an exchange of « amabilités » he offered to post a link to ChechuRubiera.info on his website!

That concluded a pretty busy and eventful day.


Christine with Yaroslav Popovych at the team hotel, Paris-Roubaix 2009

A fan from Austria asked me some interesting questions and I thought my answers might be useful to all Astana fans who are planning to attend stages of the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France or the Vuelta a España.

The three Grand Tours are very popular and attract big crowds and huge security, especially when star riders are taking part. In the past, the top riders even had their own bodyguards, but with the current economic downturn I expect they may be the first to go.

The stage departure area, which includes the parking lot for the team buses and a kind of "village" with hospitality tents, is generally encircled by barriers. The general public is not admitted here.

To get inside the team bus parking lot, you need either official accreditation (delivered to media, press people, sponsors or VIPs), an invitation (for riders' families and friends) or a special wristband (offered to only a few of people) valid only for one day and mentioning the date of the stage. These wristbands are distributed by the race organisers on a random basis.

So unless you have a good and well-placed friend in the cycling world who can help you get an invitation, the only alternative is to write to RCS Sport (for the Giro d’Italia), ASO (for the Tour de France) or Unipublic (for la Vuelta a España) requesting a wristband for the stage of your choice.

I rarely attend a big race stage arrival because the riders are tired and in a hurry to get back to their hotel, and have little time to devote to their fans.

In my opinion, the best way to get close to a team is to visit the riders and the staff at their hotel. Here's a reminder of my six tips, previously posted on ChechuRubiera.info.

1°) The first golden rule: if you do manage to get up close to your favourite team/riders, don't be pushy. Always stay polite, courteous, and respectful of the staff and riders’ condition (if they are tired or just finished a hard stage for example).

2°) The best place to approach the team and have a chance to take a photo, get an autograph and maybe talk briefly with a rider is at their hotel. Every day, during a multi-stage tour, the team changes hotels, except on rest days where they generally will stay two nights in the same place.

Some of the race organisers will give freely the names of the teams’ hotels, so ask them by phone/email. Some teams put this information on their website.

3°) Once at the hotel, the best contacts and the most appreciated are outside, on the parking lot, nearby the team bus and team cars. Neither the hotel managers nor the riders or team directors appreciate being bothered inside the hotel. They particularly don’t like photos to be taken inside, unless you have asked permission in advance.

4°) Try to establish and cultivate a trustful relationship with the mechanics, the bus drivers, the masseurs-therapists, etc. who reach the hotel long before the riders and stay in the parking lot taking care of the bikes, the lunch bags, and all kinds of race equipment.

Even better and very valuable (but more difficult) is to establish contact with the team communications director (seen only at the really big races).

5°) To make contact with riders at the race venue itself, time trials are the best opportunities because the riders warm up for a good hour on trainers in front of the team bus. You can take as many photos as you want but beware not to disturb the riders’ concentration by requesting autographs.

6°) And finally, if you can address the rider in his own native language, it’s a plus for you.



On the eve of the departure of the Paris-Nice multi-stage race, starting with an individual time trial at the small town of Amilly, located 150 kilometres south of Paris, we drove to welcome the Astana boys at their arrival at their hotel.

It was a great feeling to realise that, even after several months apart, they all remembered us by our names and were so pleased to see us. We feel that from fans we have become, over the years, real friends.

Alberto, Benjamin, Dani and Sergio, who had arrived the night before, were having lunch when the Astana bus driven by faithful Valentin arrived from Charles de Gaulle airport with on board Michael Schär, Alexandr Dyachenko, Haimar Zubeldia, Dr. Pedro Celaya, and Yaroslav with his ever smiling face.

We gave everybody a warm welcome and then spotted Alain Gallopin who was giving an interview to the Eurosport crew. Eki arrived and spontaneously spoke to me in Russian while giving me three kisses (according to the Russian custom), and we took some photos together before he got besieged by a Belgian TV crew.

Yaroslav was particularly joyful to see his fellow countryman, close friend and soigneur Dimitri who had not been able to accompany him on the Tour of California because his passport was not ready at the time.

I had plenty of time to take the photos I had promised to some of Chechu’s fans, before we were admitted into the conference room where Alberto met the press in the presence of Philippe Maertens, Astana's very forthcoming and efficient PR man, who acted as translator.

Afterwards, Alberto gave a few personal interviews to three or four different TV channels in the parking lot and it was a unique occasion for the few fans to take many photos.

Previously, Alberto had asked me to say "hello" on his behalf to Rebecca who takes such good care of his image through albertocontadornotebook.info.

On Sunday, it was raining cats and dogs when we left Paris, and poured all the way to Amilly. We spent three hours around the Astana bus, drenched to the skin, keeping company with our favourite riders while they warmed up for the time trial in the cold and wet atmosphere.

We also had the chance to chat a lot with Valentin and Dimitri.

We were accompanied throughout by Michèle, a charming and pretty fan from Liège, Belgium, a fan of Astana (and particularly of Tomas Vaitkus), who spent the weekend with us.

Of course, the icing on the cake was Alberto's convincing victory in the time trial, over a course which didn't particularly suit him but was tailor-made for the specialists like Bradley Wiggins and David Millar.

Photographs by Christine and Roger Kahane


As always, in the course of our yearly trip to the US, we stopped in Fort Lauderdale, where our daughter got married, and which remains for that reason a special place for us.

Early last Sunday morning (6.30am is the normal hour for starting the day in the US but still sleeping time by European standards), the departure of the annual marathon took place along the beach of the posh resort of Fort Lauderdale, 30 miles north of Miami. As it was a non-professional event, everybody could participate and got a medal for completing the whole circuit whatever their ranking position.

We noticed straight away that many of the runners were wearing the yellow Livestrong wristband, and some were even wearing Livestrong yellow or white Tshirts, as well as Livestrong caps. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is very well-known and popular in the United States where Lance himself is an icon.

Encouraging the runners, in their long effort, were small groups of cyclists wearing national team jerseys, because Lance, by competing in several famous marathons, has created a link between runners and riders.

We even saw a cyclist wearing a Tour de France T-shirt and had a brief chat with its wearer. He said he had travelled specially to France in 2005 to witness Lance's final Tour victory and was proud to ride his own yellow bike and wear his French T-shirt.

Everybody who likes riding in the United States seems to look forward to Lance's comeback on the professional cycling scene, and I had a the opportunity to talk about Chechu's website, explaining that Chechu had been Lance's best help during five of his seven Tour de France victories.

And let's remember that it's thanks to Lance that Chechu decided to extend his pro-cycling career by one year (and who knows maybe more?) to his fans' greatest satisfaction.



The Tour de France 2009 unveiling kicked off at 11am on Wednesday 22 October 2008 in the Parisian Palais des Congrès convention center.

The 3800-seat capacity venue was full to overflowing, and a lot of photographers and media people were even standing, proving that the Tour is really one of France’s major sports events.

As always, we arrived well ahead of time and in the large hall, a number of cycling world personalities were already chatting.

We said hello to Bernard Thévenet and snapped famous rider Felice Gimondi, who, at 66 years of age, is still fit and has the Italian elegance and charm. Felice Gimondi happens to be the 1965 Tour de France winner, an important year to us since that’s when we got married, and when our personal friend, French rider Henry Anglade, won his second title at the French cycling championship.

Christine with Felice Gimondi

In a corner, apart from the crowd, we spotted the Silence Lotto director, Geert Coeman, with his star cyclist Cadel Evans. We approached them and I asked about Yaroslav Popovych’s future with the team. Yaroslav is very close to our heart and the latest rumours have a bit destabilised us. Cadel said he wants Yaroslav to stay at his side in his team. He very willingly posed for a photo, and Geert Coeman wished me a good stay in Paris -not knowing I was a Parisian since we conversed in English.

Johan Bruyneel, Alain Gallopin, and Alberto Contador were among the last to arrive. They were staying at a hotel located on the other side of the street and were waiting for the last minute, when everybody would already be seated, as they knew Alberto’s arrival would draw a crowd.

I kissed hello to Johan, Alain, and Alberto (on Rebecca’s behalf). Alberto joined his rider mates in the first row and took his allocated seat between Carlos Sastre and Samu Sanchez.

Soon all three were surrounded by so many photographers and media that one could hardly catch a glimpse of them, and I had to elbow my way through to get near enough and take some pictures for our website. Several times I even lost my balance and my spectacles, and almost fell to the ground.

Then, Johan wrote a kind word on my copy of his book “We Might As Well Win”, while Alain took a seat next to his brother Joel, father of talented young rider Toni Gallopin. It’s striking how the two brothers are as alike as two peas in the pod.

Alain and Joel Gallopin

The ceremony started with various speeches by the new 32-year old ASO general manager, Jean-Etienne Amaury, followed by Christian Prudhomme, then Prince Albert Grimaldi of Monaco, the principality that that will host the departure of the 2009 Tour de France edition.

Prince Albert of Monaco

At noon, the lights went out and the giant screen displayed an animated, stage-by-stage terrain-hugging look at the Tour de France 2009 route, a rather unusual one, after which Christian Prudhomme commented in detail all the points of interest of each stage.

Roger and I are already planning our programme for next summer in order to be able to follow several stages in the field. Our experience has shown that one has to plan those things well in advance if one does not want to be left without a place to stay.

Photographs by Christine and Roger Kahane



Gloomy Sunday!

Amilly, 9th March 2008. It was a dark and wet day in a tiny town located 127 kilometers South of Paris, where the riders of the teams selected by ASO competed in the Prologue of the Paris-Nice 2008 multiple stage race.

The team buses were lined up in the gloomy parking lot of a factory surrounded by warehouses, next to the race arrival point, and reachable by crossing a wet waste ground. Not the best surroundings to cheer up riders already depressed by the conflictual atmosphere in the professional cycling world, and the lousy weather in which they had to perform this prologue.

Apart from diehard supporters and the usual photo and autograph collectors, the crowd was scarce in this place so far from Paris and not easily accessible by public transportation.

I talked to several people who I frequently meet at race departures. They all regretted the absence of last year’s winner, Alberto Contador, the most talented among young riders, and the unjust exclusion of the new Astana team. Something was really missing without Johan and his boys.

Straight away, next to the Silence Lotto Belgian bus, I spotted my friend Dima (Dimitri Borisov), a former member of the Ukrainian national pro cycling team before he became Yaroslav Popovych’s personal soigneur once Yaroslav turned professional.

After my chat with Dima for an hour, Yaroslav returned from his training spin under the rain and straightaway addressed me in Russian. He spoke about his wife Cindy and his one-year old son Jason who is almost walking. Dima, Yaroslav and his wife and little boy, and Volodymyr Bileka, (another Ukrainian rider native of the same town as Yaroslav, who used to be part of the same teams since he turned professional), all share a house near Florence, Italy. Each one takes his turn at cooking, washing up, cleaning etc. and things are well organized by Cindy.

It reminded me of my days as a student in London when I was sharing a bed-sitter with an Italian girl and there was one kitchen for the whole floor. That's where I met my future husband.

Then, I went to say hello to young Australian Trent Lowe, another ex-Team Discovery rider I had met last year at the departure of Clasica San Sebastian where we had gone specially to meet Chechu. Trent Lowe is now part of US team Slipstream Chipotle, together with Christian Vandevelde, an ex-US Postal rider who I like because he is always in a good mood like our Chechu.

It was raining cats and dogs when we made our way towards the CSC team bus where Bobby Julich was starting his warming up. I asked how his daughters Olivia and little Chloe (15 months) were doing. Bobby answered they were still in California at this time of the year (the whole family moves to their Nice house after Easter) and that it gets harder every year for him to leave home and his three women.

I wanted to say hello to Jens Voigt and take a picture for Tom (Nicky's husband) but he still had not arrived.

The last riders in the starting order generally stay at their hotel until the last minute, especially with this kind of weather.

At 2pm, our French friend Daniel and I, drenched to the skin and totally frozen, decided to make our way back to Paris. I was a bit sad and nostalgic.

I missed Johan, Valentin, Richie, smiley Tomas (Vaitkus), grumpy Volodia (Gusev), serious Alberto (Contador), and my Chechu, all the ex-Team Discovery members, now part of new Astana, whom I used to greet, year after year, at the departure of Paris-Nice.

In fact, this Sunday outing with Daniel came down to a good test for my new camera and a nice chat with Dima. Next September, with our Russian choir, Roger and I will go on a cruise on the Ukrainian Dniepr river, and Dima’s home town is located on our way. We may meet Irina (Dima’s wife who has the same name as my mother!) and Maria his 8 year old daughter.

In any case, Dima will be with Yaroslav in Spain for the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, together with our Chechu but not as team mate anymore.

Photographs by Christine and Roger Kahane