Emotions Run High in Tour ta' Malta

Paul Grech Tuesday, March 23, 2010 , ,
Twelve months on, Francesco Pizzo finally exorcised his demons.

Last year, the Italian pre-race favourite had sped to an early lead in the Tour ta' Malta only to suffer a mechanical problem with his bike seat that saw him tumble down the rankings.

Eventually, he got back to finish third overall, an impressive comeback but nowhere near good enough for someone who could already taste victory.

That failure to win had been preying on his mind.

"I've been thinking about the Tour ta' Malta and was determined to come back to win it," he confessed after this year's win.

Pizzo did most of the hard work on the opening day's time-trial, when he opened a three-minute lead over the rest of the field. It would prove to be enough.

He said: "It was important to get a good result in the time-trial. From then on, it was simply a question of keeping the rest in check. If I could go on and win one of the other two stages then all the better but it wasn't vital. The important thing was to ensure that no one opened up a big enough lead ahead of me."

As it was, Francesco Guccione went on to win the final stage of the Tour ta' Malta in Gozo on Saturday, after breaking from the peloton with Pizzo shadowing him in third in what was, strategically, a perfectly-executed plan.

Indeed, with no team-mates to help him out, the time-trial was the only leg of the Tour ta' Malta during which he could really attack.

"It was very hard," Pizzo admitted.

"All the other main riders had good teams to back them up which, in cycling is a massive advantage."

With the overall result determined, attention then focused on the Maltese riders to see who would come first from the local competitors. David Galea held an overnight lead of 19 seconds over Maurice Formosa before the Xagħra leg but the tables turned on the final day.

"It is a huge satisfaction," was Formosa's immediate reaction.

"I didn't believe I could do it especially after the time-trial when I didn't do so well. However, I did much better than expected in the second race despite the fact that there are a lot of climbs in the San Martin route which, traditionally, aren't my forte."

Asked about the pressure of going into the final race in the lead, the Melita Pedal Power Club rider admitted that there was little rivalry in races like this.

"Apart from being my cousin, David is a good friend of mine particularly on the Tour when our aim is to ensure the best possible results from Maltese riders," Formosa said.

There were no surprises among the women where Iona Sewell won the Tour despite finishing third in Gozo.

"I had a bad start," the taciturn Squadra Donne rider said.

"But I knew that I had a good lead and for me it was just a case of ensuring that no one really got away."

Had that happened, it would have been something of a travesty as the Briton had dominated the Tour up till that point, building a lead of over three minutes ahead of her nearest rival. For her, there was also the added satisfaction of overcoming Claudia Koster, one of the two cyclists who had finished ahead of her last year when she came third.

Among the Maltese, Marie Claire Aquilina (Greens Cycling Club) came first.

"There were some very good cyclists here," she said, before intimating that she had hoped to do a bit better.

"Hopefully, this will help me improve for the National Championships and then next year for the GSSE in Liechtenstein."

Overall, this was another impeccably organised Tour that was rounded off with a traditional friendly ride that ended in Sliema yesterday.

"I don't think we've ever had a Tour as well organised as this one," race director and president of the Malta Cycling Federation John Zammit said.

"All merit goes to the large number of volunteers and helpers who made this possible.

"From a cycling point of view, we had some very strong teams here and have witnessed three days of high-class competition. At the end of the day, that is what motivates us to organise the Tour."

Away from the competitive aspect, there was also a more poignant side of the 2010 Tour that was dedicated to Cliff Micallef, the avid cyclist and former association secretary who lost his life in a traffic accident last year.

"We put flowers on his gravestone before the start of the Tour and I have to admit that for an hour or so I didn't really know where I was," Zammit said.

"All I could think of was the work and effort he had put into Maltese cycling, everywhere I looked I saw memories of him."

This article appeared on the Times of Malta of the 22nd of March 2010.

[Cycling] Looking for a Maltese Hero

Paul Grech Sunday, March 21, 2010 , ,

One of the most common questions asked whenever a major sporting event like the Tour ta' Malta is held on our islands, is about the possibility of seeing a local winner.

It is never an easy question to answer because there are far too many factors to consider, not least the quality of the field.

There is, however, one certainty... the likes of Maurice Formosa, Christian Formosa, Jason Vella, David Galea, Steve Sciberras, Adrian Sciberras, Dermot Galea and Mark Bonnici will all be pushing as hard as they can to give a good account of themselves.

Then there is Etienne Bonello, so often the leading Maltese man in past editions of the Tour. His is the name that gets mentioned most frequently whenever there is talk of possible Maltese winners.

"After so many near misses, my name always comes up as the Maltese tour hopeful," Bonello acknowledged. "However, there are other riders who can also challenge for the top positions. It would be great to have many Maltese up front and fighting it with our guests."

It won't be at all easy, not least because the foreign teams come with a strategy to back their leading rider and put him in the best position to win. Split as they are among different teams, it is difficult for the local riders to react.

Bonello, however, is hopeful that national pride comes ahead of club rivalry.

"Foreign teams come with a group of riders who are of almost the same ability," Bonello said.
"That is very important as you can play many cards. Maltese teams tend to have only one or two strong riders. I am hoping for an alliance between the top Maltese riders. It happened last year and I am sure it will this year as well."

If that does come about, then perhaps we could get a step closer to seeing history being made and the red jersey of the Tour winner going to a Maltese.

"So far, no Maltese rider has ever won the Tour and this is enough for any Maltese cyclist to take up the challenge and be the first to stand on the highest step of the podium," Bonello commented.

"The Tour is an important race for local cycling indeed. It is as important as the Malta marathon is to the Maltese runners. This race helps in the development of the sports in Malta.

"It gives an opportunity to local cyclists to race against foreign competitors and improve themselves through experience.

"The Tour is the best promotion for cycling on the islands as it attracts media attention and there is increased following from the public."

For the first time in seven years, this year's Tour ta' Malta will include a leg in Gozo and Bonello, for one, certainly approves.

"The proposed route is really challenging," he said.

"The first stage is a lengthy time trial and if one is not a decent time trialist, one will lose plenty of time there. San Martin, I think, is the toughest of them all. It is a hilltop finish and after 10 laps, it will get really hard in the end for everyone.

"Gozo is a fast route despite the climb to Xaghra. It was a good choice by the organisers to incorporate this circuit, it will make the Tour more interesting. Well done to the organisers."
Italian challenge

Last year's winner, Francesco Guccione, will be on the start line to defend his title. He is set to face a major challenge for the red jersey from fellow Italians Filippo Ballatore and Francesco Pizzo.

Looking at the list of foreign riders coming to Malta, Bonello admitted that "this weekend will not be easy riding the bike for sure."

That said, the memory of former association secretary Cliff Micallef, who lost his life in a traffic accident last year, will surely spur the over 40 local cyclists on. They will be joined by 60 foreign riders coming from Italy, England and Holland.

This article was featured on the Times of Malta of the 18th of March, 2010.

[Triathlon] Iktar Sport ghal Rizultati Ahjar

F'socjetà fejn is-success huwa kollox, mhux daqshekk komuni li ssib lil xi hadd lest jissagrifika dan ghall-beneficcju tal-gid komuni, wisq inqas klabb shih. Imma hija dik l-attitudni adottata mis-St Patrick's AC. Fil-quccata tal-ghanijiet tal-klabb hemm il-hsieb li l-isport huwa stil ta' hajja li jwassal ghal socjetà iktar attiva u, b'rizultat ta' dan, iktar b'sahhitha. Il-klabb mhux qieghed hemm sempliciment biex jara l-atleti tieghu jirbhu t-tlielaq – minkejja li huwa accettat li importanti li dan ukoll isir – imma wkoll biex jigbed lin-nies lejn l-isport, irrispettivament mill-kapacitajiet taghhom. Hija din il-filosofija li ghenithom jikbru fl-iktar klabb li ghandu atleti li jikkompetu taht ismu.

Tradizzjonalment, u kif jixhed l-isem tal-klabb, l-attività primarja kienet dik tal-atletika. Izda meta klabb jibda jikber, mieghu tizdied ukoll il-herqa li jkun hemm esperjenzi u sfidi godda. Kienet din il-herqa li wasslet ghat-twaqqif ta' sezzjoni ghac-ciklizmu f'nofs is-sena li ghaddiet. Mawra bir-rota fi Sqallija mmarkat l-ewwel attività ta' din is-sezzjoni, kif ukoll l-ewwel success taghha, hekk kif in-numru ta' partecipanti kien iktar minn darbtejn dak li originarjament kien mahsub.

U kien dan is-success li heggeg biex titwaqqaf ukoll sezzjoni li se tkun qed tiehu hsieb it-triathlon.

“Ilu jkollna domandi biex norganizzaw sezzjoni tat-triathlon fi hdan is-Saint Patrick's Athletic Club,” spjega Antoine Attard, President tal-istess klabb.

“Ghandna numru ta' membri fil-klabb li huma tri-atleti ta' certa reputazzjoni u success, fosthom Danica Bonello Spiteri, George Vella u Michael Gellel. Jigifieri t-triathlon kien estensjoni naturali ghalina hekk kif qed nespandu s-servizzi taghna biex inkunu nistghu nappoggjaw lil dawk li huma avventuruzi u qed ifittxu sfidi godda.”

“L-gharfien li stil ta' hajja sportiv jaghmel sens qieghed jikber,” huwa kompla. “Minkejja r-rizorsi limitati taghna se naghmlu dak kollu li nistghu biex nibnu struttura organizzata halli ninkoraggixxu lil dawk li jridu jadottaw stil ta' hajja simili. Ghall-bidu se naghtu servizzi bazici bhalma huma struzzjonijiet u post fejn sessjonijiet ta' informazzjoni jkunu jistghu jsiru. Imbaghad naraw kif nistghu nkomplu nikbru.”

Is-sezzjoni se tkun immexxija minn Cyprian Dalli, is-Segretarju tal-klabb, li ricentement beda jikkompeti wkoll fit-triathlon. Huwa hu l-mutur biex minn idea, is-sezzjoni tat-triathlon inghatat il-hajja.

“L-ghan ewlieni jimxi id f'id mal-missjoni ewlenija tas-St Patrick's AC, li hija dik li tippromwovi stil ta' hajja attiva permezz tal-isport,” huwa jghidilna, eku ta' dak li qal separatament il-President tal-klabb.

“L-attività taghna se tkun iffukata fuq zewg aspetti: dik li ninkoraggixxu atleti jippruvaw it-triathlon, specjalment f'dawk ix-xhur li fihom il-giri fit-tul ikun wieqaf, u li nheggu triatleti li s'issa m'ghandhomx klabb biex jinghaqdu maghna.”

“Il-membri tas-St Patrick's AC li digà qed jikkompetu fit-triathlon kienu entuzjasti hafna b'din l-idea. Fl-istess hin, dawk li s'issa jiffukaw biss fil-giri wkoll qed juru hafna interess fil-possibilità li jippruvaw it-triathlon fix-xhur li gejjin.”

Din l-inizjattiva sabet ukoll l-appogg tal-Malta Triathlon Association, kif ikkonferma l-President Manuel Azzopardi.

“Hija ahbar eccitanti hafna ghalina li wiehed mill-klabbs tal-giri ewlenin f'Malta ghazel li jwaqqaf sezzjoni tat-triathlon. L-MTA tqis dan bhala pass importanti ’l quddiem fl-inizjattivi taghha biex jingibdu iktar atleti lejn it-triathlon. L-isport tat-triathlon ma 'jisraqx' l-atleti lil sport ohra imma jsahhah fihom id-determinazzjoni favur l-isport b'mod generali. Il-fatt li atleta jiddeciedi li jipprova triathlon ma jfissirx li huwa jkun se jieqaf minn sport iehor. Anki jekk jiddeciedi li jiehu t-triathlon b'mod serju, il-probabbiltà hi li huwa mhux se jkun irid jieqaf jigri jew jiehu sehem fil-kompetizzjonijiet tac-ciklizmu. Jiena nqis it-triathlon bhala shab ta' sport iehor, iktar milli rivali.”

Azzopardi stqarr li l-assocjazzjoni hija lesta taghmel dak kollu possibbli biex tghin lil din is-sezzjoni.

“Ahna se noffru l-gwida biex titwaqqaf din is-sezzjoni. Nistghu nassistu fl-organizzazzjoni ta' kompetizzjoni tat-triathlon li l-klabb jista’ jaghzel li jtella’, u nistghu nghinu biex il-klabb jircievi l-assistenza kollha li jkollu bzonn. Certament li se nestendu l-kuntatti kollha li ghandna biex naraw li din is-sezzjoni ssib saqajha kemm jista' jkun malajr.”

Azzopardi huwa onest bizzejjed li jammetti li l-MTA hadet gost b'din l-inizjattiva mhux sempliciment ghax kiber in-numru ta' klabbs, imma wkoll ghaliex tista' tisfrutta, f'sens pozittiv, il-klabb ta' St Patrick's AC.

“Min-naha taghna, nisperaw li nibbenefikaw minn din is-sezzjoni wkoll permezz ta' postijiet fejn jistghu jiltaqghu l-atleti, ohrajn fejn jistghu jitharrgu, rizorsi umani u apparat. Is-sezzjoni se tkun ta' beneficcju ghaz-zewg nahat.”

“Il-possibilitajiet huma attraenti hafna. Bhalissa ghandna klabb wiehed biss, B'Kara St Joseph Sports Club, u s'issa l-atleti li riedu jiehdu sehem fit-Triathlon jew kienu jissiehbu ma' dan il-klabb jew inkella direttament mal-MTA. Issa se jkollhom alternattiva u dan se jfisser bidla shiha fil-mentalità. Anki affarijiet zghar, bhalma huma r-rapporti mit-tlielaq, se jkunu jinkludu t-tim li minnu gej l-atleta, u dan se jwassal ghal rivalità b'sahhitha li minnha jibbenefika kemm l-atleta kif ukoll l-isport.”

Ghalkemm Cyprian Dalli jishaq li “ghadu kmieni wisq biex din is-sezzjoni tibda tahseb halli torganizza t-tlielaq”, Manuel Azzopardi huwa kunfidenti li eventwalment dan se jsehh.

“Nahseb li se jasal punt fejn il-klabb jigi inkoraggit mill-atleti tieghu biex jorganizza xi tellieqa. Dan ifisser li l-klabb jibda jinvesti fl-apparat li huwa mehtieg ghal dawn it-tlielaq, li facilment jistghu jkunu inkluzi fil-kampjonati nazzjonali.”

“Fuq kollox, klabb gdid ifisser ukoll ideat godda.”

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-harga ta' l-20 ta' Marzu 2010 ta' l-GENSillum online.

[Rugby League] Mill-Holm Ghar-Realta

Paul Grech Sunday, March 7, 2010 , ,
Meta fl-2005 tim mimli plejers Awstraljani ta’ dixxendenza Maltija ghamel mawra f’pajjizna bil-hsieb li dawn jintroducu r-rugby league, l-pjanijiet taghhom kienu jidru pjuttost ambizjuzi. Minkejja l-popolarita’ li r-rugby kien irnexxielu jikseb permezz ta’ sensiela ta’ rizultati eccellenti ghat-tim nazzjonali, il-fatt kien li ftit kienu dawk konxji li madwar id-dinja kien hawn zewg kodici tar-rugby.

Il-qasma fid-dinja tar-rugby kienet saret l-fuq min mitt sena qabel fejn fil-qofol ta’ kollox kien hemm il-flus. Dawk li riedu li l-plejers jithallsu adottaw ir-regoli maghrufa bhala tal-league filwaqt li dawk determinati li jzommu r-ruh dilattenteska tal-loghba baqghu jilghabu l-forma tar-rugby li saret maghrufa bhala l-union.

Kienet din ta’ l-ahhar li nfirxet madwar id-dinja filwaqt li dik tar-rugby league baqghet konfinata ghal certu partijiet ta’ l-Ingilterra, l-Awstralja u n-New Zealand. F’Malta wkoll, qabel l-2005, ir-rugby league qatt ma kien dahal fix-xena bil-union ikun dak li jikseb l-attenzjoni.

Dik il-mawra, pero’, serviet biex tinzera z-zerriegha ta’ nteress f’din il-forma ta’ rugby b’regolamenti ftit differenti – per ezempju, fil-league hemm tlettax-il plejer filwaqt li fil-union ikun hemm hmistax – imma li hija iktar miftuha u propensa ghal l-attakk.

Wiehed fost dawk li ngibdu lejn din il-forma tar-rugby kien Roderick Attard. "L-ewwel darba li kont rajt ir-rugby league kien fit-2005 meta gew il-Malta Knights,”huwa jirrakkonta. “Kont rajt li hi loghba veloci u ghogbitni imma billi kont ghadn nibda fir-rugby ma' kont ghamilt xejn iktar milli narhom jilghabu."

L-interess u r-rieda li jipprova din il-loghba, pero’ baqgha hemm. "Regghu gew sentejn wara, kellna loghba kontra l-British Defence Forces fejn provdewlna anke' xi kowcing,” huwa jkompli. “Kien hemm plejers tajbin hafna u dak ikkonvincini nipprova. Lghabt dik il-loghba, zammejt il-kuntatt u dejjem bqajt ninvolvi ruhi fil-loghob tar-rugby league. Il-fatt li fih iktar tackles oghgobni, l-istess bhal fatt li trid titrenja seww biex tkun tista' tilghab."

L-istorja ta’ Attard, pero’, mhix sempliciment wahda ta’ bniedem li oghgbitu din il-forma differenti tar-rugby imma dik ta’ wiehed li grazzi ghal dak l-interess inizjali nfethitlu dinja mimlija opporunitajiet. Ghaliex ghad-disa xhur li gejjin huwa se jkun qed jilghab b’mod professjonali ghat-tim tar-Rugby League tal-Gateshead Thunder

"Dejjem kont nohlomha," hija r-risposta kemmxejn ovvja ghall-mistoqsija dwar is-sensazzjoniji tieghu ghal dan l-izvilupp. "Hija l-holma ta' kull atleta Malti li tkun tista' tiprattika l-isport tieghek b'mod professjonali. Sena ilu r-rizoluzzjoni tieghi kienet li nikseb post fit-timijiet nazzjonali kemm tar-rugby league kif ukoll tar-rugby union. Fir-rugby union ma' rnexxielix nilhaq dak il-ghan imma mbaghad irnexxieli nikseb dan il-kuntratt."

Mhux hazin ghal plejer li sa sitt snin ilu lanqas kien jaf x'inhu r-rugby. "Kont ilhi nieqes mil l-isport ta' tim xi sentejn," huwa jirrakkonta dwar l-introduzjoni tieghu ghal dan l-isport. "Kont sejjer ftit hazin fl-iskola u missieri kien issugerieli li nieqaf mil-futbol biex inkun nista' niffoka iktar. Ftit wara kont bdejt niehu sehem fir-regatta pero' dik kienet ta' darbtejn fis-sena u jien ridt xi haga iktar kontinwa."

"Kien dak iz-zmien li habib tieghi, Daniel Azzopardi, beda jghidli dwar il-loghba tar-rugby u kemm kienu jiehdu gost minkejja t-trejning iebes li kienu jaghmlu."

"Fil-verita ma kellix ideja dwar ir-rugby. Kont naf li l-ballun huwa differenti u li kien contact sport imma mill-bqija ma' kellix ideja."

Dan kien sitt snin ilu u matul dan il-perjodu Attard zviluppa fi plejer ghatxan li jitghallem dejjem iktar dwar il-loghba tieghu u kienet din il-kilba li jsir jaf iktar li waslitu biex jipprova r-rugby league. Min dik il-prova eventwalment waslet l-opportunita' li hu jmur jilghab ma' klabb Ingliz. "L-ewwel kuntatt kien meta gie Malta tim kompost mill-Gateshead Under 17 u plejers mil l-iScotland U17. Maghhom kien hemm wiehed mill-kowcis ta' Gateshead Thunder li kellu l-opportunita' jarani nitharreg u kien hemm li nnutani.”

“Wara kellna loghba kontra Bamber Bridge fejn laghab mat-tim Malti plejer, Chris Parker, li huwa tal-Gateshead Thunder u l-interess kompla jikber min hemm. Kien hemm ukoll Anthony Micallef, ir-raprezentant tal-Malta Rugby League li ghen hafna."

Qabel dan setgha jsehh pero' huwa kellu jmur ghal perjodu ta' prova fejn, taht ghajnejn grupp ta' kowcis huwa kellu juri x'kapaci jaghmel. "Il-kowc kien jaf li jien rugby union plejer u ssetjajt f'mohhi fuq il-bazici tal-posizjoni tieghi. Gheni hafna Chris Parker min qabel fejn qalli x'jippretendu minni bhala half back. Rajt hafna DVDs biex nifehm ezatt xi jrid jaghmel hafla back u meta mort hemmhekk ghidt li rrid naghmel dawn l-affarijiet. Konnha 40 triallist fuq weeekend. Kellna gurnata fejn ghamilna ftit drills. Kullhadd kellu jilghab zewg loghbiet fuq 30 minuta imma jien laghabt tlieta. Wara ra' l-video session u qalli li kollox sew."

"Jien kont qed nistenna li jghidli hekk imma kif qalli xorta hadt hafna gost. Imbaghad bdejt nahseb kif se nghid lil tal-familja, fuq l-affarijiet amministrattivi li rrid niehu hsieb. Imma hassejtni ferhan."

Il-bniedem li ha dik id-decizjoni kien Chris Hood, il-maniger tal-klabb min vicin Newcastle. “M’hemmx dubju li huwa ghandu hafna fuq x’hiex jahdem imma huwa ghandu t-talent,” huwa jghid fuq Attard. “Id-difiza tieghu hija tajba, l-forma fizika hija tajba wkoll imma rridu nahdmu fuq l-attakk tieghu. Ghandu certu kapacitajiet u huwa fuq dawk li rridu niffukaw.”

L-fatt innifsu li huwa inghata din l-opportunita hija ahbar kbira ghal-loghba tar-rugby league gewwa pajjizna. “Hija ahbar fantastika,” jghid Anthony Micallef, ir-raprezentant tal-Malta Rugby League. “Roderick huwa plejer lokali u ghalhekk plejes ohra jisghu jharsu lejh u jahsbu ‘la rnexxielu hu, jista’ jirnexxieli jien ukoll.”

“Jien cert li hawn plejers li huma tajbin bizzejjed biex jaghmlu pass simili imma li forsi s’issa ma’ kienux jahsbu li hemm din il-possibilta. Permezz ta’ Roderick se jibdew jemmnu iktar.”

“Ir-rugby league f’Malta qed jaghmel hafna progress,” huwa jkompli. “Issa stabilejna kampjonat u dan qed jghin ikabbar l-interess ghaliex ir-rugby league qed tintlghab f’Malta fuq bazi regolari, u mhux darba kull sentejn. In-numru ta’ plejers li jafu din il-loghba qed jikber u dan jghin ukoll lit-tim nazzjonali li huwa ffurmat primarjament min plejers lokali.”

L-ghan hawn huwa li t-tim Malti jikwalifika ghat-Tazza tad-Dinja u fost dawk li ndubjament se jkunu nvoluti hemm Roderick Attard. Dak, pero’ qieghed fil-futur ghaliex ghal issa l-attenzjoni tieghu hija ffukata esklussivament fuq il-Gateshead Thunder fejn issa jibda l-iebes ghaliex irid jiggustifika l-ghazla tieghu u fl-istess hin jeghleb numru ta' sfidi godda. "It-temp zgurli ha jkun sfida. Li ha nkun wahdi, ma ddejjaqnix hafna anke jekk naseb li mhu xe jkun facli li nkun il-bod mill-familja u t-tfajla."

Dan pero' mhux qed itappan il-holm tieghi. "Short term qed nistenna li nkun wiehed mit-tlettax ta' l-ewwel tim. Irrid nitla hemm, nitrenja sew u nkun fil-first team. Fit-tul irrid nipprova li r-rugby jkun xoghli u iktar il-quddiem li nigi u nkun plejer ahjar u naghti ftit lura lir-rugby.”

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-harga ta' Frar 2010 tar-rivista ta' kull xhar, Sportiv.

[Featured Article] Growing Up in Malta Magazine: Sport Mad

Paul Grech Monday, March 1, 2010 ,

Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer