Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

2014 Tour de France: short killer day in Pyrénées

Stage  17: Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary Pla d'Adet 124.5km

Although, with the exception of the sole time trial, this is the shortest stage (124.5km) it will also be one of the toughest. There are four categorised climbs crammed into the second half with little if any respite between them. The first three climbs are 1st Cat, while the Pla d'Adet is an HC. Being a short stage with a mountain top finish the racing is likely to be fast. I expect further shifts in the overall classification.

The impressive Thibault Pinot (now wearing the White Jesey for best young rider) will be looking to put more time into those who can time trial better than he, in particular Jean-Christophe Peraud who is just over a minute behind. Pinot would also love to move into second above Alejandro Valverde, who is only 49 seconds ahead and who has looked uncomfortably at the top of the climbs. He was briefly dropped by Pinot yesterday but recovered on the final descent.  Today there is no final descent, so any gaps made on the final climb will stick!

Equally Romain Bardet and Tejay Van Gardenen may well try to get back some of the time they lost yesterday – certainly not to lose anymore. I wouldn't be surprised to see Vincenzo Nibali take another stage win today. Should be as exciting as yesterday!    

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

2014 Tour de France: Valverde + Pinot gain Bardet + Van Garderen lose

Anyone who had seen Michael Rogers' performance winning stages in the Giro d'Italia will not have been surprised at how he powered away from his breakaway companions on the final descent to notch up a fine solo victory. This was his first Tour stage win.  See list of overall stage wins here.

Although the racing amongst the favourites only really started on the final climb – the Port de Balès – there was a considerable shake up in the overall classification. The fast pace set by first by Moviestar on behalf of Alexandre Valverde and then by FDJ for Thibault Pinot split the peloton into pieces. The big losers on the day were Romain Bardet, who dropped from 3rd place to 5th and Van Garderen who dropped from 5th to 6th. More significantly they lost a lot of time on both Valverde and Pinot, who did a particularly impressive ride today and moved into third place. Vincenzo Nibali is still very comfortably in charge.  

2014 Tour de France: First stage in Pyrénées

Stage 16: 237.5 kms from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon

Today is the longest stage in this year's Tour – 237.5km. It's a savage introduction to three tough mountain stages in the Pyrénées. Of the five categorised climbs – two are significant: Col de Portet d'Aspet (Cat 2) and the final Port de Balès (HC). It was on the descent from the Portet d'Aspet that Fabio Casartelli had his fatal crash in the 1995 Tour. 

Although this stage isn't a mountain top finish, it is straight down to Bagnères-de-Luchon from the top of the Port de Balès, so virtually no chance of making up any time lost on the climb. The Port de Balès has recently started to be popular in the Tour. It made its first appearance in the 2007 edition, after the road had been resurfaced then in 2010 and 2012. The famous chaingate incident occurred in 2010 when Andy Schleck slipped his chain when attacking Alberto Contador, who was criticised by some for not waiting for Schleck. Had they been riding together it might have been reasonable for Alberto to wait but as Andy had put in an attack I can't see why Contador should have been expected to wait for Schleck to sort out his chain. In the event Andy Schleck won the 2010 Tour because of Contador's drugs offence. 

Fortunately the forecast is good for the next two days with the possibility of showers on Thursday afternoon. 

Will Vincenzo Nibali show any weakness today – I doubt it. Instead it looks to be a battle for 2nd and 3rd places. 

See video preview of Stage 16 here.


Monday, 21 July 2014

Why are the Douro trains so dirty?

 Port vineyards through the streaks of grime 

The ride up the Douro from Porto São Bento
is recognized as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Unlike the road the train hugs the river from around Aregos (a little over an hour from Porto) right up to Pocinho, the train’s terminus. The landscape, classified by UNESCO, is increasingly magnificent, especially after Pinhão, with the vineyards (Port and Douro reds) playing a starring role. Sadly many of the windows of the Douro train are engrained with dirt, spoiling both the landscape and any photos you take.

Curiously the other suburban trains that operate around Porto are very modern and clean as are the ALFA trains running from Porto to Lisbon. Why doesn't Portuguese Railways bother to clean their Douro trains? Equally shouldn't the Portuguese Tourist Board put pressure on the railway to present their wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site in its best possible light?

It is true that train ticket prices are low but they are throughout Portugal and the trains are often clean. I understand that the Douro line is under pressure due to dwindling traffic because of the move away from the country to towns. Presumably improved road links have also played their part as have the popularity of Douro River cruises.

I presume that trains running during the winter between Regua and Pocincho will carry very little traffic. It is a pity that Portuguese Railways and the Portuguese tourist bodies do not do more to promote the regular services on the line, although they do run special trains between Regua and Tua. The journey up the Douro has obvious appeal to wine lovers but is surely much wider than that as the success of the cruises shows.

Is there a place here for some more imaginative promotion and marketing?

The Douro train@Pocinho