2021 Cycling Season Predictions:

So, who’s going to win the brightly coloured jerseys?

Well, it’s been a huge shake-up across teams, and whilst Ineos Grendiers have the lion’s share of Grand Tour winners, it’s still a very open season.

Predictions and speculations;

Geraint Thomas (Ineos): Focusing on Le Tour, but a return to form has been a long-time coming, almost three years since he picked up pole position, pipped by ruthless ‘teammate’ Egan Bernal when he went for the double. Can he do it this year? Maybe. 6/10 chance.

Ganna Filippo (Ineos): Pretty much going to slay every track, TT and TTT race this year. Someone should check he’s not a Terminator. 9/10 chance on any TT/TTT race.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal): The young Australian rider put the scare up a few of the big names in every race he rode in 2020, coming from nowhere, to place himself directly in with the sprinters, nicely up the climbs and taking stage victory after stage victory on some of the biggest stages cycling has to offer. Some have speculated, that being in a team like Lotto-Soudal might hold him back. They might be right, but I would imagine with more victories in an under-funded team, brings bigger sponsors and bigger pay days. Could he win Le Tour? Not yet. But he’s a podium contender.

Tadej Pogačar (Team UAE): The Slovenian that decimated Primož Roglič’s hopes of winning Le Tour last year, by putting on a show-stopping TT to end the race was insane. I don’t think even he believed he could do it. Check the footage back after he gets off and his coach is crying with excitement – he looks like he’s just been told he’s won the lottery, but only has 30 seconds to live. Can he smash a few grand tours this year? I think he can. Which ones, I don’t know. He’ll have the power-struggle from Ineos to contend with at Le Tour, as well as fellow-Slovenian Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma power train, Bernal aiming for the Vuelta and young-gun (and surprise 2020 winner) Tao Geoghegan Hart likely to turn up at the Giro, expecting at least a shot to retain his title. He’s turned up to a bike race and it must feel like everyone else is planning on bringing motorcycles, just to keep him off their back.

Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): It’s not all about Roglič. There are at least two other big riders in the Jumbo camp. Van Aert has shown he has the legs to stay with the most gritted breakaways in the 2020 season, but dropped his chances several times in the interest of the team lead. If he is let of the leash this year, I can see him taking surprise wins away from the obvious choices, not just in the criteriums or the bigger Paris-Nice races, but full-on Grand Tours. I’d even bet a tenner on there being two JV riders on the podium at Le Tour this year, but this young man taking the higher of the two positions.

Written By Greg Arthur @gregarthur1000 @mondesportifsportblog

TWITTER: @gregarthur100

Contra Le Monde

This article shouldn’t take you more than four minutes to read.

In those four minutes, Contra Le Monde can catch you up on everything that’s been happening in World Cycling.

To blow your mind immediately…DISC BRAKES ARE ALLOWED NOW…I know, right?

Whilst it feels like the cycling calendars are closely synced with primary school term-times right now – as in they finished up just before Christmas with the Giro and have started almost immediately again – everyone is back at it. Riders have switched teams, the rider hierarchy is all over the place after a tumultuous 2020 season and cycling’s equivalent to Dave Grohl (Chris Froome) is still making sweeping statements about his new LP being the best he’s ever written.

Hang on…What’s changed?

Well, Team Ineos have kept their hilarious brand-awareness-product-placement team name of Ineos Grenadiers, and have signed a raft of new riders, from the U21 bad-boi of cycling, Tom Pidcock, who isn’t really that much of a bad boy, but he has an ear-piercing. He’s not exactly Gianni Moscon. Bigger signings have seen Adam Yates (of the Yates brothers fame) leave Michelton-Scott (finally), Laurens De Plus from Jumbo-Visma AND Richie Porte rejoins what was formally Team Sky, as well as some other lads who give it all the legs on two wheels.

Grand-Tour destroyer, Chris Froome joined Israel Start-Up Nation as team leader, switching his Pinnarello for a Factor. Since posting on social media about his return to form since a potential career-ending crash last year on a recon for the Dauphine, he’s back and genuinely seemed to have good numbers. Since the opening cross-wind heavy opening stage of the Tour of UAE, which saw almost everyone lose eight minutes on the GC, the jury is still out on whether he can keep up with the young blood coming through.

British sprint legend Mark Cavendish rejoins Quick-Step, hoping for a return to form from a faltered season with Bahrain-McLaren. ‘Superman’ Lopez has picked up where presumably Mikel Landa left Movistar last season, for the aforementioned Bahrain-McLaren. Tadej Pogačar has renewed with Team UAE, after an unprecedented win at Le Tour last year, taking pretty much every single jersey apart from sprinters green. He currently leads the Tour of UAE, and potentially safe money would be on him taking the young riders jersey at Le Tour this year, if nothing else.

What else is happening in cycling?

Not much…just some of the most exciting riding that’s happened since EPO-doping was brushed under the carpet for absolutely years.

With that, comes the ban on the ‘super-tuck’ (where riders sit on the top tube to get better aerodynamics and less wind resistance). The UCI has banned the super-tuck, but hasn’t banned a race in a country where the princess of that country has been missing for years. They haven’t allowed for hugely rapid testing for all riders and team coaches, so teams are dropping out, because a soigneur catches COVID from his girlfriend.

They’ve also all but banned Bradley Wiggins from doing tour commentary on the back of a moped too, which frankly, was hilarious. UCI – go home, you’ve had too much to drink.

Cycling in 2021. It’s going to be mental.

Written By Greg Arthur @mondesportifsportblog

TWITTER: @gregarthur100

“Le Zebre”

“Le Zebre”.

He walks tall in Black and White, cutting through the planes and then onto the riverside.

The air and grace of Le Zebre.

Paul Pogba for me is one of the greatest Football Players alive and playing the game. My first vison of seeing this ability was him wearing the Black and White of Le Zebre for the Italian Giants Juventus.

I can still see the run as he tore down the left flank on a night in Turin, playing the role of “Mezzala” a Midfield position famous in Italy, the drift from centre to wide.

Skill, Artistry and End Product.

Patrick Viera once quoted “But he’s much more gifted on the ball than I was, and he will also score a lot more goals than me”.

I watched on in Turin and believed him too.

If we rewind briefly, we are continually reminded of his time at Manchester United in the youth stages of his career, I can vividly remember him being substituted on late in the game and simply considered him to be another youth starlet in a long line of hopefuls that Sir Alex Ferguson had been flexing.

I was wrong, and so it would seem was Ferguson.

Cue the Free Transfer and the quiet exit from the UK into the caring and nurturing arms of Antonio Conte at Zebre…

Time passes and Juventus had just entered a mind-boggling supremacy that has lasted up until present day, it being the 2012/13 season. The previous season had been the first “Legitimate” lifting of the Coppa Campioni d’italia and gleaming decoration of the Scudetto since the “Calciopoli” scandal in 2003.

Conte’s new reign and littering of International superstars like; Pirlo; Buffon; Vidal; Del Piero were beginning to purr and rev their engines, just in time for the arrival of the youthful Pogba or Le Zebre.

Pirlo an influential and glorified World Cup Winner quoted “I will always remember the first day he trained at Juventus. He was only young, but we could see he was special”.

…And special he was, he shone bright, gleamed even on a stage that matched his grandioso style of play. He dominated in a midfield three including himself, Pirlo, and Vidal.

As we know with dominance and a quick rise onto a world stage, comes the quick harsh frankness of the football critique. Believe me it comes from all angles in this days multi-faceted social media outpouring.

A quick glance at Twitter will give you all you need to know about Armchair Management and Cheap Journalism.

However, Paul Pogba’s beautiful rise and education at Juventus including the masterminded intelligence of Antonio Conte gifted Pogba the belief and courage to progress his form and talents into the upcoming World Cup.

Brazil 2014.

A samba beat delivered Pogba onto the World Stage in Brazil 2014. France housed the usual household names and carried Pogba into a position that allowed him to become “Best Young Player”. His performances summed up with a delightful assessment from Pierre Mankowski the French under 20’s coach “TECHNIQUE, POWER, FINESSE, VISION, MENTAL STRENGTH…HE HAS EVERYTHING”. France were eventually eliminated at the Quarter-Final stages in Rio De Janeiro by Germany, however for Pogba this was just the very beginning.

**************************************************************************************

Manchester United came calling in a bid the “I Bianconeri” could not refuse, in an excess of 100 Million Euros. Our Hero heeded the call and what followed was an assessment and magnification of performance like no other.

Pogba became the scapegoat, the reason, the issue, and the problem.

Becoming a World Cup Winner in Russia 2018 did little to stem the tide of blood thirsty reporters.

**************************************************************************************

January 2021, London.

A windy, rainy night in West London brings us up to speed with present day. I watch on as Pogba picks up the ball in a wide area, swivels, turns in an impossibly congested area, steers towards goal and unleashes an arrowed effort that sails into the far, far left-hand corner of the Fulham net.

He has returned.

Coincidentally, Manchester United now don a Black and White “Zebra” Jersey, distinctly similar to that of Juventus from those Halcyon days when I first encountered the youthful charge and sprint of “Le Zebre”. I recollected a spritely Antonio Conte instructing the young protégée with vigour and the light heartedness of a willing Father on a Sunday morning on the Hackney Marshes. The World at his feet.

The return of Paul Pogba?

I for one, Certainly think so.

Written by Alex Howard for MONDE-SPORTIF.

Follow us on TWITTER @mondesportifLDN

Austin 45

Austin 45, its sounds like a nostalgic American Sports Car, revved up smoking wheels, Skulls and Fluffy Dice dangling from the Mirror, with our protagonist driving off into the Nevada Desert Sunset…

But, this is Shepherds Bush and Home to a Football Club that never offers you a dull moment and tonight it is the return of a King, a Messiah, a God in the eyes of joy starved Queens Park Rangers supporters.

Let’s face it, this season has been an absolute misery, so let’s excuse ourselves this moment of wonderment and excitement.

Soon enough the Luton Town game will be over, and we can all return to our rightful mindset of Morbidity.

But what if? What if?

If Fairy tales exist, then tonight would be the absolute proof in the pudding as they say.

The Goat scene from Jurassic Park comes to mind, Luton Town, waiting for the inevitable consumption from Austin 45 as he buries a Hat-Trick and wheels away to celebrate in front of a load of streamed viewers.

I forgot the joy of streaming, yuck.

Yes, the transfer is full of scepticism from all corners of the Football League and yes, he may be a few years older and yes it could all come crashing down, but frankly, who cares.

The Man, The Legend has come home and I for one am genuinely excited.

He appears to have come from another planet, unfazed by the enormous weight on his shoulders and resting assured that he is back in Blue&White non other than to succeed and rescue us from this burning pit of Championship relegation we now face.

Our current young squad has lost its early optimism and our Strikers have the look of a pet Rabbit that has been cajoled and tossed around the garden all night by wild and feral fox.

Dishevelled, de-energised and morale depleted.

I imagine Bonne & Dykes watching Austin in training as if he has literally stepped from a flying saucer and embarked upon a goalscoring exhibition of The Harlington Training Ground.

If Austin lost a leg tomorrow, I would still fancy him burying both, guilt-edged chances against Fulham.

Anyway, optimism is the new feeling here, right?

Indeed, it is.

Austin brings with him not only a loyal worshipping of QPR supporters but also the firm knowledge of where the back of the net is, its key, it is essential.

For a team that is happy to hold the ball and play attractive football, we are vastly lacking a goal scorer whose sole ambition is to see the back of the net bulge and ripple.

Cue Charlie Austin, its over to you.

Diego Maradona – USA 94’

#GOAT

How do you write an article on an Idol, a Football Idol?

I’ll start by writing his name Diego Maradona.

The year is 2020 and battle has commenced, on society at least, I won’t bore you with the depiction of living conditions but let’s just say that life and community as we know it has taken a drastic change, a far cry from our subjects’ lifestyle and career.

It draws on me to suggest that when we lose a person like Maradona we also lose that ability to fall back on his charm and heroics.

He is gone.

The hero, The villain, The magician, The mastery, The entertainment, The success, The outrage, The glory and the heartbeat.

I never even had the privilege of watching him play in the flesh, as many others we all have that one story that sticks with us, that won’t leave, he gave us all a moment of his time. Like everyone who met him, he seemed to for that singular moment consider you the dearest person in the world. His friend, His Amigo, His guest in the company of God.

My recollection is vague, being around 10 years old and staying up late to watch the USA 94 World Cup unfold. Not such a glorious memory of this competition as we all know England failed to qualify.

None the less, there was football to be watched and I remember the game between Germany and Spain reaching half time, my weary eyes trying to stay awake and then suddenly the commentary team whisking us all away to the earlier Kick Off highlights between Argentina and Greece.

Cue Diego.

With eyes now widened, I watched on as the washed-out transmission images rained upon British Television sets. USA World Cup transmissions had a aura about them that my 10 year old brain had never seen, from lands I’d only ever seen in Hollywood blockbusters or news reports, suddenly emerging into my mind was the Argentinian stars that I’d watched playing in serie A on Sunday afternoons via Channel 4.

The Royal blue hue of Argentina’s kit against the sun-bleached pitch at the Foxboro Stadium as Gabriel Batistuta picked up the ball from just inside the Greek half and mazed and dazzled before sliding home a scuffed if not genius finish. The cartwheeling celebrations of any South American team was always such fun and excitement to watch, passion and glory.

Cue Batistuta once more, emphasizing exactly what he’d done his whole career in Serie A with one of his iconic and trademark thunderbolts.

There’s seriously no better word to describe this man’s power in front of goal from any range.

With all the mastery and goalscoring prowess of Batistuta, he set me nicely for what would be my first and most impressionable memory of the man we all know to be…”Maradona”.

Tiki-taka was not a known element of football yet, but if you want a great example of slick, precise one touch football just outside the opposition penalty box look no further than Argentina’s third goal against Greece.

Effortlessly and like a moment from your favourite poets prose the ball lands at Maradona’s sweet, sweet left foot. It remains there as if the ball had suddenly taken on a bag full of hard cement.

Is this the moment?

The moment we had all been told about and read and glimpsed from old footage. Our Fathers and Grandfathers have all mentioned him at some stage or other and at this very moment in time I was about to witness the Genius at work.

I sat up, eyes now widened, and breath held still momentarily.

The ball trapped, he pushed it onto his trusty wand of a left foot and with that came the trademark stance, full weight of his body on the right and a clubbing, swinging, lunge of his muscular left leg.

The moment arrived, breath held, eyes widened.

The next moment can only be described as sheer exuberant World Cup Glory.

The net sprung back like it was on an elasticated chord, the goalkeepers despairing lunge for the ball played its part just like a ballerina dancing their final port-de-corps. Suddenly the U.S.A emerged into full zoom, Uncle Sam appeared in glaring stilts with all the stars and stripes, Hot Dogs, Corvettes, Apple Pies, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a Bald Eagle for the final cherry on top of the Pancakes.

My USA 94’ World Cup summed up in the next 1 minute or so of pure footballing fantasy.

I watched as the majestic Argentine wheeled away in a mass of Royal Blue, followed in suit by the rest of the squad.

It appeared that this angel of world football had landed into my psyche.

He emerged onto my screen still in the throes of incandescent celebration, grasping the television camera in his sweaty palms, thrusting it up and down in a myriad of vim and displaying the face of man fanatically enchanted with the beautiful game. Maradona got it, he knew what it meant, the buzz, the emotion, the zest.

He was the spark, and he shined brightest.

Diego Armando Maradona.

30/10/1960 – 25/11/2020 Amen.

Written for Monde-Sportif by alexhowardwrites@outlook.com

The Premierships New Clothes

It’s important to remember the true spirit of Football, am I right?

Earlier in the week a well-known football writer suggested that the new football dreams of billionaires owning football clubs and throwing millions upon millions at elite sportsmen(and women) is a new age of Sportage and should be celebrated instead of us curling our toes as the latest youngster leaves for soccer stardom. Embellished recently with the move of Birmingham City’s young starlet Bellingham, a great talent, but a footballer none the less.

Is this the new normal we speak of?

I’m not hear to criticise the money or the prospect of throwing money at young superstars but I do wonder how success is now monitored throughout the game. Is it as easy as hiring a top manager and giving him the purse strings to supplement his employment wishes?

I don’t know, but what I do know is that the gap between football clubs in the EFL compared to the PREMIERSHIP is a growing segregation at an alarming rate. Yes, we have all seen it coming over yonder since the arrival of the Premiership in 1992, but did we realise the implications it would have on the traditional grassroot, Hackney Marshes demographic.

I doubt it. I fear the golden glimmer of traditional football has long since kicked the bucket and furthermore the historical monumental heroics of the “Tackle”.

God, I miss the tackle.

To stay on point and to give further fuel to this debate and argument, should we celebrate the acquisition of football clubs by foreign Magnates? Does it hamper the progress of young British talent? and what can the Premiership do to untarnished the grip that Billionaire football owners have grasped on the national game?

In recent seasons I’ve noticed that clubs have taken to singing the charm “He’s one of our own” a sacred song and dance about the upbringing and promotion of homegrown talent by your football club.

Does this happen often? Is this success in the modern game?

I can name maybe a few…Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Ebere Eze, Wan-Bissaka……any other suggestions???

My point being, do we now measure success of our clubs through silverware that is bought by Billionaire backers or the traditional nurturing of youngsters.

I’m at a loss, its confusing and it harnesses the point that I’m trying to make, why not just buy every talent that moves in the English game and wait for the flowers to grow. I call out Manchester City, a reality that was accustomed to the old era at Manchester United and adopted by that genius Sir Alex Ferguson.

I say genius because managers have only just caught up with his philosophy.

Gregarious and Humbling, the achievements of the not so mighty anymore Manchester United.

We all watched them in Europe, what else to do on a Wednesday night in the 90’s.

Moving to a conclusion, but by no means an answer, how do we measure success in sport.

                                                                                                                                                                  

The Billionaire money train or Home grown talent…

Answers on a postcard,

Alex – Monde Sportif

September 27th, 2020                                                                                                                                                                                      Page 2 of 2

From the Terraces…

From the Terraces…

Now, my favoured level of football spectatorship is the English Championship.

You’re still able to tackle, hunger and desire is in abundance and your ticket will almost certainly be under 30 quid. To satisfy any further objection to the Championship level you can genuinly purchase a ticket right up to matchday, give or take a few choice fixtures.

There, you’re sold and the pipedream of Premiership football, the mecca of all that is good and wanted is merely a glitch on the true supporters matchday experience. That said we all want our club to play amongst the countries and perhaps europes elite. The talismen, the Ronaldo’s, the messi’s, and to watch our fearless managers ply their nowse and energy into competing and plotting against the worlds finest coaches.

Agreed?

When the team i support (Queens Park Rangers) were promoted in 2012 all was set for what would be a rollercoaster ride to end all rollercoaster rides, the Liverpools, the Manchester clubs and of course our old arch enemies the Chelsea. I must say i was excited and very much looking forward to watching my team on Match of the Day after years of anguish and floundering in the lower levels of English football. Some of those days being extremely depressing, like donating your pocket money into a bucket to fund the club through the next week of existence. Also being the brunt of humiliation when your club announces that it’ll take up a new name and amalgimate with other sporting sectors to be renamed the Rangers Sharks (or something to that effect).

Yes, Football as we well know is a money game and achieving Premiership status if nothing else alliviates the purse strings and allows for the odd superstar to brandish his name upon your teams back, glory days, oh the glory days.

Not so…

I recall calling up for tickets to watch a premium A class game and being quoted 120 britsh pounds for two tickets. Hence the radio commentry coming to my aid. Priced out of the market and the stadium given up to prawn sandwich goers and the more affluent supporter. Theres nothing to be said as the game has been going this way for years and supporters who earn a modest wage have to find other ways and means to show support. Typically targeted as the armchair supporter, the terminology now becoming a divide between what is touted as being real and genuine supporters.

I wont go into one internet post suggesting that geographic residence should also determine your team. Each to their own in the mingled affair of football supporting.

Anyway, it brings me along nicely to the point of this article, From the terraces…

Priced out of watching my now elite football club, star studdied and supported by new fans i was led into a darkened wood by a friend who made the suggestion that i spend most Tuesday nights and the odd Saturday watching and supporting his local team, that being Tooting and Mitcham Football Club.

I took him up on the offer and was soon being driven at speed in an Orange Ford Focus RS down the A3 to Mitcham. I have had more glamarous moments in my life, however this seemed appropriote being the Father to a new child and money being at a premium, i followed and was led into Non-League football.

It wasnt my first taste of Non-League, me and my friends used to spend our pocket money watching the likes of Sutton United and Carshalton Athletic, I myself gracing the pitch playing for Colliers Wood (yes as far as my football career went). However, this new adventure had a new meaning, i had come face to face with the new aged Premier League and i didnt like it.

Where to start…

I vividly remember being very excited for the Sky Sports broadcast of Manchester United Vs Queens Park Rangers one sunny afternoon in Manchester. I’d set up my stool in the living room, graced with a few cans of Carlsberg and Salted Peanuts eagely awaiting the images and footage of my team plying their trade on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford once more. Sure the result didnt matter but what you wanted was a competetive game, with your team giving at least an account for themselves.

Cue 5 minutes into the game…Ashely Young bursts, no wait, Ashely Young runs into the QPR box feeling the feeble and extended arm of Shaun Derry press ever so lightly into the smalls of his slender and ever so gentle back, only to watch him arobatically fly into the air, twist and turn like an olympic diverand then crash hard into that hallowed turf, all the while protesting and screaming into the face of the onlooking and probably bribed referee.

The referee picked Young up from the hallowed turf, brushed him down, made sure he was ok, smiled, joked, smiled some more and then produced a Red Card for Shaun Derry and a penalty for Manchester United.

The rest is history, and so too was my love and distaste for the English Premiership.

Fooled, Juped, disheartened. I turned to Non-League and the not so hallowed turf of the A3 and Mitcham.

The charms and beauty of Non-league are evident from the moment you arrive at the ground. Its humble and joyous and a real good laugh, just how football should be. Rivalries are met with fun and excitement, not fear and violence. A quick and sharp reminder of the endearing love of football before bevarages and fight club took over.

Tooting and Mitcham urged me to remember my love for football, our love for football as spectators. What more do we want than a good honest game of football, tackles flying in and a good old traditional penalty box scramble with the ball falling to the trustworthy left peg of the left back, who sweeps the ball across the box only for their defender to slam the ball into the middle of the goal.

Yes, we all know the goals and lets face it, it beats any tick-a-tacker 43 pass-pep-klopp artistry.

To follow on and conclude this endless rant i urge football supporters up and down the country to watch your local non-league club.

I dare you to fall back in love with what we still strenously call “The Beautiful Game”.

Alex – MONDE~SPORTIF

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