My sporting prowess of the last decade or so can be summed up in two words: Armchair fan.
Forget the operations and arthritis, the birth of a second child brought with it the realisation that I couldn’t travel around the north of the country playing bowls every weekend – summer or winter.
And yes, bowls is a sport before anyone chips in with a sarcastic response.
Whilst football is my first love, my real armchair passion is for professional cycling. To sit alone, or with twitter and WhatsApp for company, and to follow a race from near start all the way through to the finish, is an afternoon well spent.
I know enough about the teams and the tactics to follow the breakaways; the slow, torturous hunt of the peloton and who to expect to see jump out from the pack and to take the race on the line. Which is often how a race is concluded, where seven hours in the saddle is decided by a sprint over the final 500 meters – here’s looking at you Milan-San Remo.
The real beauty of these races – be they single day Monuments or three-week Grand Tours – is to see the country the riders are in, fly by. OK, so there are some races in America and the Middle East where the riders travel along massive highways through deserts that only the organiser of the race might love, but the European races – even here on my own doorstep in Yorkshire – really do take the breath away.
None more so than the end of season races in Italy.
I have a soft spot for the northern cities of the peninsula – having spent an all be it, too brief a period of time working in Milan, and as a regular visitor to Turin and Vercelli for fun and football (here’s a taster piece of something I wrote about Pro Vercelli earlier this autumn). I go back at least once a year, ideally in the latter half where the fog hangs low in the valleys, the Panissa is bubbling in the pans and the time is right for the red wines I so love from the region – Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme.
How rewarding it is then that we get to spend a week watching live, or through highlights, as some of the very best riders take on the hairpins and switchbacks of Tre Valli Varesine, Milano-Torino, Gran Piemonte, before finishing the major racing of the year with the final monument, the Race of the Falling Leaves – Il Lombardia. It really is the most wonderous time of the year for a Director Sportif that never leaves his house.
Each road, each provincial town – the reds, the browns – the grey heavy skies; every kilometer pedaled is etched into the mind and the heart; or on the plate of food it inspires – the glasses of wine I will drink.
There is no time for sadness that the season is over, only joy from the locations that are blown past, as an autumnal Italy captivates the attention; as the riders bring something special in to our lives – in to my living room.
Images: Panissa Vercellese; a rain soaked Gran Piemonte coverage on Eurosport