31 Aug 2011

Rugby World cup: what lessons from the recent games between major teams?

The Tri-Nations rugby competition has just finished with a victory by Australia in the final game against New Zealand, played last Sauturday. This constitutes quite a triumph for the Australians, since they had not won this triangular competition, which also involves Souuth Africa, for 10 years. They did not win all of their games however and were soundly beaten by the All Blacks in New Zealand.

The last game between Australia and New Zealand was very good to watch and held some lessons, but without perhaps all the clues for the bigger contest to come, which is the World Cup that will be held in New Zealand between September 9th and October 23rd. Whilst Australia derserved their victory, I felt at times that some of the New Zealander key players (Carter in particular) were kind of holding back to avoid serious injury so close to this competition that means so much to them. You have to remember 2 things here: New Zealand (aka "the All Blacks", since thay play usually in black) are clearly, on the basis of results between major rugby nations going back a long way, the best team in the world, and this has been particularly evident in recent years. Yet thay have only won the World Cup (which takes place every 4 years in a different country) on one occasion, which was in 1987, the first year that it was held on their territory. I think they should have won the 1985 edition, which was won by South Africa in South Africa, with considerable political pressure involved. Failures in key matches, such as the quarter final lost to France in 2007, or the semi-final lost also to France in 1999, have blighted their World Cup record to date. So the pressure will lie heavily on their shoulders in front of the home crowd, and it looks to me as if they have treated the recent Tri-Nations games as a series of practice games that didn't count as much as what is to come. They sent a second team to South Africa, and did not look too good against Australia in the last game.

South Africa have clearly also played the Tri-Nations games tactically in view of the World Cup. They only won one of them, symbolically betaing New Zealand at home, having lost to Australia at home the week before. But they sent second teams to Australia and New Zealand and were trounced there. On the other hand, Australia looked like the only team that went full-out at this competition, and they also look to be a serious contender as the number one outsider after the All Blacks who must have the favourite's position. 

And what about the Northern Hemisphere nations, and Argentina who does not yet compete regularly in any major tournament apart from the World Cup? Or indeed the Pacific Island teams who also have their chances in some of the games?

The Pacific Island teams (Fiji, Samoa and Tonga) can be redoutable in a single game through their spectacular and creative (and often quite violent) rugby. But it is hard to see any one of them getting further than the quarter final level, on account of lack of depth in the squads, and the fact that they so rarely play together. Argentina is a great rugby nation but their team lacks in collective experience as well, and does not look as good as the one that did so well in the 2007 World Cup. Their opening game against England on September 10th could be an interesting test of their form and capacities. 
From the American continent there are also teams from Canada and the USA.

As to the European teams, apart from Russia, Gerogia and Romania about whose teams I do not know a lot, one has to say that England and France look to be easily the best. France recently beat Ireland twoce in preparatory games, but England lost one of their games against Wales, also beating Ireland in a third game. The English attack has looked sterile, although they have plenty of strength on the physical side and in scrums and line-outs. France, as always is a bit of an enigma and quite unpredictable. They can play superbly in key matches, and are feared fro this by New Zealand. They have the players to go far, and heve been well prepared this year. Beside these two teams, I do not see Scotland, Wales or Ireland getting beyond the quarter finals.

On the basis of all this, the logical top teams would be New Zealand, Australia, England, France, and South Africa. The 4 semi-finalists are most likely to come from these five. But then rugby is not really about logic, is it? 

29 Aug 2011

My Norton Commando and its modifications

This story goes back to my New Year's bike resolution, which has finally come into being, thanks to the excellent work of Frank Chatokhine.

See here the original article and the bike as it used to be:

And here is what she looks like now.

I've actually had the bike for a month now, but have only just got around to taking a few pictures of it. Also I was a bit pissed off as the thing wouldn't start after I had ridden it some 500 kms to get where I spend the summer. As I came closer and closer, I noticed that it was not idling any more and was getting much harder to kick start. There was also quite a bit of backfiring going on from the left cylinder. One theory about the orgin of this, thanks to some welcome help and advice from fellow members of the French Norton owners club who live near Lectoure, is that this could be due to my using too much additive with the unleaded petrol. Frank Chatokhine says no though. An English mechanic I met at the Coyote days on the Nogaro circuit thought it might have something to do with the electronic igintion getting out of phase. The charge lamp on the headlight stays alight all the time when the bike is runnig, which doesn't seem quite normal Anyway I do occasionally manage to get it to run, so it may just be me and my starting procedure. I don't remember this being a problem before however. Investigation is under way, but the bike sure looks good!

The bars are lower and narrower than those originally fitted to this bike. I did not go for clip-ons as I have maybe passed the boy-racer days. Seat is a Corbin, very nicely made in the USA. I purchased it in the UK. It is firm but good on a long ride. If I had to modify it, it would be to take a little more of the padding out just below the thighs, as with the rearsets fitted it rubs a bit there.

Wheel rims are Akront alloys and have been respoked. Front brake is a Norvil. It stops the bike pretty well, unlike the original effort. Twists the fork a bit if you squeeze too hard. Fitting this also meant that the old mudguard had to be replaces by a slenderer effort that is attached to the forks directly, as on a Manx. A Norvil master cylinder has also been fitted as well as suitable brake lines.

A close look under the tank (Roadster model, in metal and nicely painted with proper striping, not the transfer stuff), will just about reveal Boyer electronic ignition that has replaced the coils and points. The picture below shows this better, and the old clumpy brackets have gone too.

The frame was been painted grey when I previously owned this bike, some 7 years ago. I like it like that so left it alone. Same for the black mudguards, even if the front one is new. The side panels were repainted to match the tank.

Petrol taps and lines are new of course, but I also had the old big air filter and its casing removed, which meant relocating the ignition. The filters on the original twins Amals are K&N and are a tight fit but it works and lightens up the side, as you can see from the shot below, which also shows the Norvil rear-sets that have been fitted.

This has meant simply reversing the gear shift lever, which is fine as it avoids all the linkages otherwise implied and also means that the shift pattern is now 1 down and 3 up as on a modern bike (with fewer gears of course). Less re-adaptation time when you change bikes can be a safety factor! Getting your boot around the kick-start to change up involves a slightly curious piece of leg gymnastics though.

On the left hand side you can also see the way the ignition switch has been repositioned on a made-up bracket. The rear drum brake has not been modified and is still pretty useless.

Other mods? An anti-return thingmy on the oil tank to avoid the oil going down into the crank case when the bike sits for some weeks. And the original rear light, which is boxy and ugly, was changed for an item from a Triumph (I believe a T120), which looks much neater.

So there it is...

28 Aug 2011

Another Guzzi special

I realise that I have already dealt with this particular bike topic a few times, but I keep seeing more pictures of modified Guzzis that make me want to have one of these bikes some day. The base can be a Le Mans (one of which I used to own, which makes me think that one should never sell a bike that one enjoys riding and looking at), a T3, or even a California as in these pictures below. It all comes down to getting back to basics and lightening up everywhere possible.

24 Aug 2011

Yes, there is much more to life than wine

When I started this blog, less than a year ago (on October 6th 2010), I naïvely thought that it would be mainly about what is my profession, namely wine, plus a few other subjects that interest me at least as much, and some of which are of far greater importance than this albeit fascinating liquid.

I was very wrong, as the facts have shown. What are these facts? Simply the subjects that have most interested those who, by one means or another, have managed to see one or more of the 217 pages that I have published since that first effort which managed to combine wine, motorcycles and places to visit, which have been three of my main themes in this blog so far.

If one looks at the articles that I have published on this blog to date, here are the figures in terms of numbers per theme:

Wine, vin et vino: 50
Motorcycles and other objects: 50
The sports page: 21
Painting and other stuff: 18
Read on: 14 (about books and reading)
Places to go: 14
Good looking: 14 (miscellaneous)
Life and that: 14 (miscellaneaous)
Just for fun: 11
Sounds good: 8 (music)
Pet hates: 3 (I have been well-behaved here: I have more of these in store)

I suppose that this says something about me, or at least about the image I choose to project about myself. But who knows? This could evolve in time.

When one looks at the messages (or articles, if you prefer) most visited by all you readers out there across the world, one gets a very different picture. In particular, not a single suject that I have published about wine comes within the top 10 of the most visited pages. These have been a constant source of amazement to me: The top two pages, by very far, have been from the Sports Page section and about cricket (thank you India!). In fact these 2 pages make up for some 25% of all visits to this blog. The force of numbers and a national passion combined are redoutable! The third most visited page concerns the painting of Lucien Freud, which I posted well before his recent death, whose occurence boosted the visits in no inconsiderable manner. Kill a painter and boost your readership would be the cynical reaction! After that we have several subjects from the "Places to Visit" category and then a whole raft (is "raft" the appropriate word?) from "Motorcycles and other objects".

Internet never ceases to amaze me. And it is more or less unpredictable,given the size of the object and its intenable ramifications. What is the definition of a weed? A plant in the wrong place.

23 Aug 2011

England 4, India 0: the new number one team convince

The last of the current series of four test matches between England and India, played in England, has just finished with another resounding victory for the English team, who won this game by over an innings. In fact all these 4 matches have been won by confortable margins, and 2 of them with the English side just batting once.

India had hitherto been the world's number one side and I had predicted at the beginning of the series that it would not be easy for Englad to wrest this title from them. In fact they made it seem not easy, but very convincing, defeating India in every department of the game and creating what is sometimes called a whitewash, as India neither won nor drew a single game.

The other question mark placed before the series was whether the great Indian batsman, Tendulkar, would make 100 runs for the 100th time in international cricket. He very nearly did, reaching a somewhat chancy 91 in the last innings of this 4th test. But this is fairly insignificant in my opinion. He has already scored far many more centuries than any other player in cricket history, so what is another? Tendulkar can be a geius with the bat, but by far the best Indian batsman on this series was Rahul Dravid, who deservedly won the man of the series award on the Indian side.

For England, the man of the series was the fast bowler (and good batsman) Stuart Broad.

His performance, as that of all his fellow team members, was consistently good, both technically, physically and mentally,maintaning constant intensity and the necessary agression that makes one come out on top of top sports competitions. Ot would be hard to single out a single great performance by one player, as there were many. Teamwork and team spirit were very much the name of the game, and for that, the captain, Andrew Strauss deserves much credit.

The most spectacular of the English batsmen was probably Pieterson, who twice scored heavily, although the last innings of Bell, and the long one by Cook, were also extremely impressive.

Alongside the England team, India seemed at times to be almost lackadaisical on the field, lacking in the above qualities, with the notable exception of Dravid and one or two others. They looked tired in fact. But they are a great team and will no doubt come back to the very top level soon.

The official test cricket ratings now place England 1, South Africa 2, India 3, Australia 4 and Sri Lanka 5, at the top end of the list of the major international nations that also includes Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand and Bangladesh. For those not familiar with this great game of cricket, test cricket is the true game, in which international matches last 5 days (when rain doesn't interfere with play). There also are shorter, more spectacular forms of the game which last for just a day or less, and I spoke of one of these recently, when India won the World Cup for the ODI championship earlier this year. 

21 Aug 2011

Let's have more creative wine lists

A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of the wine list from a restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland. The restaurant is called The Outsider, and the owner's name is Malcolm Innes. The man obviously has culture and a keen sense of humour. So why on earth are such qualities not applied more often to wine lists? You certainly do not see them often in France, where wine is too often either piteously ignored, simply taken for granted, or else taken far too seriously by stuffy, over-technical sommeliers and the like.

Here is a shot of the Oustsider restaurant from, yes, the outside

and here is how it looks from the other side (in)

Looks nice, simple and full of people

Now here is the wine list, more or less in extenso. It is well worth a read, especially for the comments on each. I am not passing any judgement on the quality of the wines, most of which I do not know.

the Outsider wine list

red wine

Sabina Tempranillo, Spain 09
A perfectly sound red, yes, yes. Gently spicy and of freshly picked brambles and raspberries,

Forge Mill Shiraz/Cinsault, South Africa
Kermit runs away from Miss Piggy at 62km/hr and she chases three minutes later at 87km/hr. How long will it take for her to catch up with poor Kermit? Sup this frisky wine and just forget I ever asked you.

Sierra Grande Merlot, Chile
Think of summer sun on the brow and naked frolicking hamadryads in dance. This wine is deliciously deep, and could well induce something resembling a chromatic dream.

Champs de Moulin Grenache France 09
Until I was ten I believed that I arrived into the world with my brother floating down the river in wicker baskets whilst my mother and father were on a church picnic. I've since become a less gullible atheist. A bundle of soft, plummy fruit.

False Bay Pinotage, Breede River Valley, South Africa 08
Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years. Let the mulberry, blackberry scent of this wine take you to the caravan of your youth and the vanilla perfume of your nanny's bosom.

Domalne de Bahourat, Cabernet Sauvlgnon, France 09
Do you see the moon as a dead thing over a dying thing? Let this wine take your mind off such nihilistic thoughts. Swim in its wild raspberry, chocolate and damson gorgeousness and relax a little.

Allanca, Dào Reserva, Portugal 07
There's a jazz number called Apple Honey, and this could be as mellow. Refined, seamless with a red cherry/vanilla smoothness.

Murphy’s Shiraz, Murray River, South Australia 09
Don't overlook the capacity that only man has to divert his senses for sheer pleasure. The Australians want to help you in this exercise with this tricky, smooth, damson, spicy joy.

Nieto Reserve Malbec, Argentina 09
The Caribs, cannibals who gave their name to the Caribbean, considered the French delicious, the English reasonable, the Dutch tasteless and the Argentineans, they just never sampled. Wonder what they would have made of this juicy firm bodied red wine that's garnished with red and black fruit?

Rioja Artesa Crianza, Spain 07
When you get a good steak in America, it's the best in the world, especially when it is served at the heat of a freshly killed animal. Wash it down with this deliciously deep, chocolate and cherry ripe wine

Sangiovese Ancora, ltaly 09
Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication. Glory to the grape... one sip of this wine will fill you with undiluted joy. Just delicious. Gorgeous vanilla oak, black cherry and rich chocolate.

Kahurangi Estate Plnot Nolr, Nelson, New Zealand 09
Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do. Which is a relief to know because | was brought up to believe that it was the major ingredient in everything I was no good at. Instinctively, you'll know that this is an expressive wine reminiscent of raspberries and jasmine.

Côtes du Rhone Villagss 'Les Coteaux', France 07
Dorothy Parker painted her living room in nine shades of red; pink, vermilion, scarlet, crimson, maroon, raspberry, rose, russet and magenta. Red. Symbolic of love and hate, sex and the devil and the clown's nose. No other colour so evocative. It doesn’t come more red than this damson, bramble, chocolate coffee wine.

rosé wine

Sabina Rosé, Navarra 09
Voluptuous and pink,

Ca'di Ponti Rose Sicilia 10
subtle and elegant

white wine

Sabina Viura, Spain 09
A dry and attractive gypsy of a wine that's a trifle fresh.

Forge Mill Chenin Blanc, South Africa 10
It's like falling from a white water raft whilst passing through a peach grove.

Champs du Moulin Colombard, France 09
This wine isn't about church on the corner, tea and scone, one more stuffed head on the wall. Enjoy the life with this riverside floral wine

El Caballo Sauvignon Blanc, Chile 1O
lmagine you're in bed, the ceiling fan's hypnotising, it's hot and sultry and the air is both spicy and dry on your lips. It’s South America; you've just got away with it. An appealingly easy-going wine.

Pinot Grigio/Garganega, ltaly 10
The crazy delicious things we could do in life rather than the dull stupid way of routine. You just don’t want to be 55 and looking and looking back on life with a Bukowski bittemess. Within this bottle lies something of the beautiful life, to colour your thoughts and provoke action.

Scotto Chardonnay California 08
Refreshing in a wrestling with an orangutan kind of way, a big arm lock of a wine delicately holding you.

Alasia Muscat Sec, ltaly nv
A sexy wine. This wine is the perfect type of perfect pleasure, it's exquisite and leaves you unsatisfied, wanting it again. A wine of silky textures, of honey blossom, of toast.

Montevista Reserve Vlognier, Chile 10
Most think of design in the terms of putting lipstick on a gorilla. With the Scottish Parliament Building it's looking confused, wearing a dress and teetering on broken heels. Comfort your eyes with a drop of this ultra clean wine of ripe pears, peaches with a twist of Turkish delight.

Turckheim Vieilles Vignes Sylvaner, Alsace France 08
As an animal, we have been seeing for millions of year, linguistically fairly recently. This muscular wine will produce one of those totem words and cosh you with it.

Sauvignon Blanc 'The Cat', Nelson, New Zealand 10
There is a delicate flower to be found amongst the weeds. A wine for the shade of a summer orchard. Light, fresh, full of gooseberry fruit and bramble leaves, delightful.

Gavi La Battistina, Piedmont, ltaly 10
l'm interested in this moment when two objects collide and generate a third. Wine glass, lips and you have a smile. This delicately smooth flowery wine of pear and acacia will do just that: it will make you smile.

Escaromont Pinot Gris, Nelson, New Zealand 09
A glass of this curvaceous wine will rocket you past Jupiter to a different sun and have you planting the weary seed of man all over again. Pack this crisp, floral exotic delight for the trip.

Eidosela Albarlno, Râis Baixâs, Spain 09
When life is jumping cricket and beautiful then try this soft, meadow flower wine.

Chablis La Colombo, Burgundy, France 09
The person you love is 72% water, about the same as a grape. I've always had a problem separating the two. Your lips sampling this soft elegant beauty and the same problem could be yours.

champagnes - sparkling wines

Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance. Devil you do or don't, you're forgiven.

Prosecco Frizzante Spagorosso, Domenico De Bertiol, ltaly

Cava Saint Monica, Spain

Gobillard Tradition NV Champagne

Gobillard Vintage 2005 Champagne

Gobillard Rosé Vlntage 2005 Champagne
Monsieur Gobillard has huge hands and those hands have cared after some fine vines to produce a damn good champagne

Veuve Clicquot NV


Well, I for one enjoyed reading this. I hope to go there soon!

17 Aug 2011

Riding a Ducati Multistrada in Lozère

Part of my summmer was spent riding motorcycles. This including three fairly rainy days with my friend Greg Rice, who filmed this sequence in Central France. Each of us travelled about 400 kilometers from our respective bases to meet here and explore some of the local roads and cuisine (we can highly recommend La Lozerette, at Cocurès, near Florac). The trip would have been perfect if it hadn't rained so much on day 2, and also if my clutch hadn't packed up on the way back. Greg rides a 620, and he is faster that me through the bends on most roads, but the 1000 tends to leave him behind on the straight bits, as you can see.

In case this doesn't work, here is the address on You Tube

I realise that this has nothing on Guy Martin's round on the TT circuit! (see http://morethanjustwine.blogspot.com/2011/04/isle-of-man-tt-circuit-with-guy-martin.html )

But the the Isle of Man circuit was closed to traffic, and also Guy Martin was riding a much faster bike, and also, well, I suppose he is a better rider too!

I also realise that there was this white line there at the end of this video, but then the vision was fine for a bike. White lines seem to be designed for cars.

Ride safely all the same.

16 Aug 2011

On the tricky subject of wine and alcohol

Wine contains alcohol. In fact one of the "official" definitions of the word wine goes something like this: "wine is the result of the total or partial fermentation of grapes or grape juice." And when one has fermentation, one has alcohol, since the (usually) natural process of fermentation is the transformation of starch or sugar into ethanol (and other substances) through the action of yeasts, as Pasteur discovered.

But wine is about so much more than alcohol, as all the litterature devoted to this beverage tends to show. And there are many liquid products that contain far more alcohol per volume than wine. Of course there are also products that contain less alcohol, such as beer and (generally) cider.

So what is this rather drawn-out and banal introduction leading to? To a debate that seems to be doing the rounds in some wine circles, and which also has its echos between several colleagues and myself, all of whom have various activities in this domain.

It is a fact that alcohol is badly looked upon in some parts of the world, and even in some spheres within countries that produce and promote alcoholic beverages. There can be no doubt at all that abuse (i.e. "excessive" comsumption) of alcohol creates various disorders of physiological, psychological and sociological natures. And yet, comsumed reasonably (try to define that word!), alcohol produces a releasing of inhibitions that can be beneficial to certain intellectual and social activities, not to mention a sense of well-being that is very welcome in a stressful era or situation. In other words, alcohol is a drug to be treated with respect and precaution, but which has some potentially useful functions in society provided that it is well administered. And (personal note here) the decision as to what constitutes good administration should remain individual and not official.

So what about wine, apart from the fact that it contains alcohol? Well, for a start, not all wines contain the same proportion of alcohol. It is usually admitted that wines contain between 7% and 15% of their volume in alcohol. Buit there are several exceptions. Moscato d'Asti (a sweet sparkling wine from Italy's Piedmont), for example, contains around 5,5% alcohol. Fortified wines, such as port or sherry, often contain up to 20% alcohol. And even what are known as "table wines " in some parts of the world (in other words wines which have not been fortified by the addition of alcohol), can sometimes exceed 15% alcohol.

The question latent here is that of the increasing quantity of alcohol in wines, induced by a variety of causes: taste (wine critics as well as consumers) shifting in favour of "rounder" and more ripe styles of flavours, growing absence of wine cellars to age wine before drinking resulting in the favouring of the style of wine just mentioned, improved viticultural techniques to feed these flavour preferences, and so on.

The net result has been an avarage increase in the alcohol levls of virtually all wines of 2 degrees. My friend Luc Charlier will say that this is not a problem. I beg to differ. Although wines can be very good at levels above 14% alcohol, and often superior to wines at lower levels, the growth in alcohol levels in wines causes various difficulties: fiscal in some cases as wine is often taxed according to its alcoholic degree; physiological, as one cannot absorb a glass of wine of 15% alcohol as one can a wine of 8%; and psychologocal as the barrier against alcohol tends to rise in accordance with the degree thereof.

I would be happy drinking wine with no alcohol content, as what interests me in wine is its flavours and and the rest (the culture and all of that), but not the alcohol content. The problem here is that alcohol-free wine just doesn't taste right. And perhaps a certain dose of alcohol is inseparable from the product, in its imaginative extensions. Who knows? 

15 Aug 2011

The strength of ants, a myth?

The other day I noticed a dead ant pulling a wasp across some paving stones. It covered about 5 yards before I decided to do something else, but it got me thinking about the ant's performance. I estimated the weight difference between the ant and the wasp at about 1 to 10. 

I did a bit of research and came up with the following information.

The reason that ants can lift (and pull) so much is apparently due to a matter of scale. I expect it also helps them having several legs, in terms of traction, but this is not mentioned in the stuff that I found. Apparently ant muscles are no stronger than human muscles on a pull-for-pull basis, but the small size of ants gives them an advantage on how much muscle force they can produce.

A muscle is basically a bundle of fibres which can contract and create a pulling force. The amount of force produced by any muscle is proportional to the cross sectional area of that bundle of fibres. Consider a bundle of bungee cords:  one bungee cord has a small cross sectional area and doesn't exert much force (you wouldn't jump off a bridge with just one bungee cord to stop you!); a bundle of bungee cords, such as is used for jumping, has a much greater cross sectional area, and exerts much more force (enough force to stop a bungee jumper from hitting the ground!). In human terms, you can think of a bicep muscle: the bigger the bicep, the larger the cross-sectional area, and the more force that can be applied by that bicep. The strength of insect and vertebrate muscles, in terms of force per square centimetre, are identical.

The reason that ants can lift so much is because body size (in terms of volume, which is closely related to mass) increases as a cube of length, while the cross sectional area of muscles increases as the square of length. This is known as the "square/cube" rule. Hence, as the size of an organism increases, its mass increases at a much greater rate than the cross-sectional area of its muscles, so those muscles have proportionately more mass to lift just to make the body fonction. The small size of an ant means that it doesn't have a large body mass to carry around, but it has proportionately more muscle (in terms of that cross-sectional area) that can be used to lift heavy things. Conversely, humans are proportionately more massive, and thus have less muscle that is avaialble for other tasks, such as lifting heavy things. One could even extrapolate to surmise that If humans were the size of ants, they would be able to lift objects as heavy (or even more).

But there is another factor in what I observed that makes me curious, and that is the sheer persistence of this animal and its sense of purpose. Well, maybe another time....

14 Aug 2011

Test match cricket: England become number one (England 3: India O)

And so it goes on, and so my prediction of a tough call for England to gain the number 1 spot for test match cricket nations in the current series against India has proved to be very wrong.

England now holds this slot, mathematically, as even if India wins the last of this series of 4 test matches, they now cannot catch up. And, on the strength of what we have seen in the first three tests, and especially in the third one that finished yesterday one day ahead of schedule, India do not look in good shape at the moment. Many of their top batsmen have failed to deliver the goods at the right time, their bowlers have mostly looked average, and their fielding has not been top class. No team can win at the top level with such failures. England have looked much better in all the above departments: batting well all down the order, bowling with agression and discipline and fielding well.

From this 3rd test match, the man of the match has to be the English opener, Alastair Cook (above), whose innings of 294 put England in a virtually impregnable position. But the bowling, from the likes of Broad (photo below, getting the Indian opener Sehwag caught for nothing), Anderson and Bresnan equally won the game for England by a massive margin of an innings and 242 runs. It has been an all-round performance on the part of the English team, following on last winter's Ashes victory over Australia in Australia.

This has been India's second largest defeat ever in test cricket, and they will neeed to ask themsleves a few questions to come back from this, as all great teams do. They have won or drawn the last 12 test match series they have played, and, although this defeat was away from home, it will not ride easily. But India have some great players, and Sachin Tendulkar may yet make his 100th test match century in the last game at the Oval. He looked to be playing well today, until he got himself run-out through backing-up too generously when on 40.

photo by Getty images

The English team will make the most of their celebrations, as they had set themselves this goal (of becoming number 1) and they have worked hard and played well to earn it. Team work, as much as many strong individual performances from a large number of players, have made this possible.

13 Aug 2011

MV Agusta 350-4

Following a special request from one of my most faithful readers, Luc Charlier, who must have noticed my comment on this, the noisiest (and one of the fastest) bikes at the recent Coyote Days classic bike meeting in France, here are a couple of pics and and access to sound bites of this fabulous machine, ridden by all kinds of great riders, including naturally Agostini, but also John Surtees, Mike (the bike) Hailwood, Gary Hocking and several others.

The first picture is by me and from this meeting (see two posts back on this blog).

I have tried to copy here some sound clips of the MV4 (or 3) but it doesn't seem to work. But if you want to hear them, here is the place to go. Look for the Surtees, Hocking or Agostini entries in particular, with the MV Agusta. Lots of other joyful sounds here too.
And here are a couple more pictures of one of these machines (a more recent one judging by the disc brakes on the front and the wheels), this time by Phil Aynsley, and one of them with Giacomo Agostini on board.

11 Aug 2011

Coyote days part 2: enter the sidecars

As I said in my previous article, the sidecar sessions were easily the most spectactular of last weekend's Coyote days racetrack sessions for classic motorcycles on the Nogaro circuit in South-Western France. Most of the teams on the track really went for it, and some looked impressively fast. They were rightly applauded by the spectators for the show they put on.

It is sometimes hard to understand how these contraptions work (the one above, on a Ducati base, was far too high to be able to corner properly) or even how they stay on the ground, but they are very impressive to watch, and the passengers deserve our praise for their capacities as contortionists, and probably for their blind faith in the driver.

As with the previous subject, one's reactions to this kind of event depend on which side of the fence (real or virtual) you stand. I was clearly a spectator, but I hope to be a participant in the future, though with a solo bike I should add.

The sidecar sessions mixed bikes from various eras, hence with different appearances that went from the maked to the fully faired and streamlined formula one look-alike, including the "dustbin" type fairing that I can remember from the 1960's and early 1970's when I watched a lot of races in the UK (see the first and last machines in this queue on the short straight out of the hairpin by the stands. They also has their sidecars on different sides, which made for some interesting situations on the corners at times.

The battles between teams and machines seemed far more keen that with the solo bikes. The more modern machines, powered by four-cylinder japanese angines, had a huge power advantage on the BMW and Ducati twins, not to mention the odd English twin outfit.

One of the elements that really makes me enjoy sidecar racing is its sheer physicality. The two on board, and especially the passnger, clearly have to fight and balance all the time just to keep their contraptions on the track. And they are so close....And also, sometimes, men and women as a team which inevitably adds a sexual charge to the struggle.

Above are some of the faster boys and you can see by their track positions that they were not hanging about. And below, in their order of speed, are the two fastest outfits on the track that day: number 11 easily the fastest, followed by number 33.

And, on the final lap, one of the passengers just had to celebrate like this (and he held this position for a good kilometer!). It makes lying down and scrambling about in that little box-like space look quite easy.

I really like sidecar racing. Think I'll go again.

all photographs by David Cobbold

9 Aug 2011

Old bike racing at Nogaro: the Coyote days

This event, called Journées Coyote, is a two day annual meeting involving bikes from the period 1950 to 1980, and is held on the Nogaro race-track in the Armagnac area of South-Western France over the first or second weekend in August.

One has a pretty good view of some of the most interesting parts of the track from gradiants placed near the paddock area, which is also full of activity and has stands selling all kinds of parts and paraphanalia, as well as the usual greasy sausages and beer (why no wine?). To take pictures of bikes on the track you need a decent telephoto or to get close up to the safety mesh that surrounds the track (see above). Even then you need a 200mm lens at least.

There are no actual races involved as each category of bikes has several 20 minute sessions around the track, going at the speeds thay choose, but mostly quite fast. As the bikes, and the riders, have variable capacities, there can be considerable differences in those speeds but everything seems to go well. 

I missed last year's event but managed to see half of the 2nd day this year. There was plenty of interesting machinery out there. Unfortunately my Commando won't start at the moment so I wasn't able to ride this to the meeting. The now fixed Ducati did the job well enough.

Here are a few pictures and comments. And for those who may be interested (and there was a contingent there from the UK), here is the web site: http://coyote-racing-team.com/crt/JOURNEES.html

What I enjoyed most about this event was the mixture of bikes, as well as the very friendly atmosphere in the paddock area. Here is a beautifully prepared Guzzi Le Mans 850 painted (the fairing and stuff) in a nice shade of green. I spoke to its owner, who hails from Brittany. He has been running it at this kind of meeting for about 10 years. He doesn't go that fast but clearly has a good time. I guess he doesn't want to damage his handywork, which is fine. The red Guzzi in the background seemed a bit faster. See below:

Italian bikes were quite prominant, with various sizes of Ducatis taking the lead part, like this 900. 

At least in the twisty section, where I spent most of my time, the fastest were not the biggest, and the Ducati singles were not exactly hanging around. This one had just passed the bike behind on the outside comming into the bend.

And there was also a series of pretty fast and nice-looking Yamaha singles, like these 2 who obviously like racing each other.

English bikes, mainly Nortons, were also evidence and quite a few Hondas and the occasional Kawasaki. Here is a good-looking Honda Four:

Riding styles varied quite a bit between the modern, let-it-all-hang-out one seen on the bike in front, and the taughter, more classic style as shown by the orange Laverda rider behind (who always showed perfect line in this curve).

One of the nicest bikes on the track that day, and certainly the noisiest, was this 350 (I think) MV Agusta. It went fast and sounded loud and firm.

Part of the fun of these events is wandering around the paddock area and looking at the macinery there, not all of which is destined for the track. One of the rarest machines I saw was this immaculate JPS Norton F1 (the one with the Wankel-engine), with Gironde number plates. There can't be many of these in France!

As it started up alongside the equally immaculateSuzuki RG 2 stroke, you can see that both smoke equally well! It sounds quiet and more like a 2 than a 4-stroke. I wonder how it goes?

all photographs by David Cobbold

Next time I will show you something of the sidecar sessions, which were by far the most spectacular of the day.