Blazin' Saddles

Vintage Arenberg

Blazin' Saddles

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Reclining on the sofa of his luxury Port Stephens apartment with live coverage of Paris-Roubaix on the box, it was only apt that Saddles cracked open a bottle of d'Arenberg pinot noir.

Currently on his own tour Down Under, BS has grown accustomed to Australian wine - especially the red variety - and the time difference meant that this year's Hell of the North started just after Saddles had savoured a dinner of seared tuna followed by local barramundi with crispy skin and a chorizo ratatouille (truly historic).

When choosing a wine from the local drive-through bottle shop (only in Australia...) Saddles had no choice but to go for a 2008 pinot noir from the d'Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale. It has to be said, it was quite a vintage and well worth the 30 Australian dollars spent - even if, with the harsh exchange rate as it is, that amounted to payment for almost an entire month's worth of these humble blogs.

Coincidental it was, then, that as soon as Saddles treated his demanding palate to the zesty tannins, fruity body and subtle aftertaste of the d'Arenberg pinot, on a cobblestone path through a Belgian forest almost 15,000 kilometres away from Sydney, fallen giant Tom Boonen was grappling with a broken chain and seeing his hopes of nailing a record-equalling fourth Paris-Roubaix title evaporate as quickly as the chances of Katusha ever employing another Spaniard.

Yes, the notorious Arenberg forest section of the fabled bike race once again had a major role to play in the outcome of the spring's most revered classic.

An Andy Schleck-esque chain slip left Belgian powerhouseTM Boonen stranded for an eternity while he waited for a Quick Step team car to come along with a replacement bike.

With the hapless Boonen out of the picture, Garmin-Cervelo super-domestique Johan Van Summeren latched onto the wheel of former Roubaix winner Frederic Guesdon (FDJ). Everyone in the resulting breakaway - with the exception of Van Summeren - was eventually swept up by reigning champion Fabian Cancellara, who had to settle for silver a week after an identical result in Flanders.

In an aside that Saddles will now briefly make, Cancellara's back-to-back runner-up finishes in these last two cobblestone classics could arguably seen as equally, if not more, impressive than his clean sweep last year.

Given the way the Swiss Leopard was marked from the outset of both races, it showed remarkable consistency, dedication and talent for Spartacus to take second place in both races. In fact, his "second best" finishes perhaps showed just why Cancellara is, er, the best.

Back to Summie's unexpected win - and besides an obvious chapeau to the 30-year-old Belgian, Saddles would like to proffer his hat to Garmin-Cervelo manager Jonathan Vaughters.

One week after the sideburned tactician was lambasted for his handling of the Ronde, Vaughters played his cards right with Van Summeren and world champion Thor Hushovd, who refused to aid Cancellara in the chase down while having to maintain his alertness in the event of his team-mate being caught.

Hushovd's sprinting skills were not needed, however, and Summie defied a slow flat rear tyre to take the biggest win of his career before celebrating by proposing to his girlfriend Jasmine.

"I think it's a special way to do it. Some people give a ring when they propose, I gave her a rock," Van Sumerren said while brandishing his cobblestone trophy. Besides the sole metal tact vendor in the Dutch town of Limburg, there is probably no one as happy in the Low Countries as our man Summie right now.

Almost two metres tall, gangly and blessed with teeth that would make Austin Powers look like an advert for Colgate, Van Summeren was clearly never going to have a better chance of tying down his girlfriend of seven years. The romantic story reminded Saddles of Peter Crouch's astute answer to the question 'what would you be if you weren't a footballer?' a few years back: a virgin.

Talking of sportsmen who would probably still be in possession of their cherries had they chosen a different career - such as, say, a barman - in other news this week, it emerged that Riccardo Ricco has changed his mind about riding away from the sport.

It seems that the disgraced Italian thinks the best way to win back "the esteem of fans" is to return to racing with immediate effect, claiming that his alleged botched self-administered blood transfusion was merely a life-threatening virus.

Quite who Ricco thinks he'll line up for is anyone's guess, given that his former team Vacansoleil dropped him as quickly as any self-respecting football manager would drop Manuel Almunia.

But with five new berths all of a sudden available at Katusha, maybe Ricco won't have to look for too long to find a reputable employer.

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