Well, what do you know!

Posted in Live Racing with tags , , , , on 12/07/2014 by Sheree

It’s the end of the first week of racing in the Tour de France and who would’ve thought the GC would like this? No? Me neither! Of course, that’s part of cycling’s charm – it’s unpredictability!

Scores on Doors

That said, there’s been some predictability. Everyone thought Peter Sagan (Cannondale) would run away with the green jersey for the third year in a row. He’s doing just that while also leading the “Best Young Rider” competition. He’s been around for so long that people forget he’s only just 24.

Commentators are fond of saying you can’t win the Tour in the first week but you can lose it. We’ll have to wait until Paris to see whether they were right or wrong about the first bit. However, they were correct in their assumptions that some would be down and out in the first week. That category included the defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) who, having fallen and broken his wrist on stage four, didn’t live to fight much of another day. While there was a lot of discussion of the dangers of racing on cobbles, only Froome was a DNF on that stage and well before any of the cobbled sections.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) now firmly in possession of the race leader’s jersey was a beast on the cobbled stage, as were his team. Some commentators seemed surprised but, come on, this is the man who’s a fearless descender and who triumphs in bad weather – Giro d’Italia 2013 anyone? He put precious time into Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and the other contenders so they’re going to have to attack wherever and whenever. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks with relish. It’s going to be a Classic Tour de France.

I was fortunate to be in the UK for Le Grand Depart. I’d planned this trip last August and assumed I’d pay my Dad a visit before heading to Yorkshire to watch the first of the three UK stages. With the former no longer an option, I’d gone to Yorkshire earlier than planned to re-acquaint myself with the area. We’d previously been regular visitors to Leeds when watching my beloved football team play away from home and I’d always enjoyed looking around the town’s splendid Victorian architecture.

We – my beloved was with me – stayed in a small, family run hotel in Wakefield, just outside of Leeds and, while he was working, I was able to watch the team presentation and attend the team press conferences. This was my third grand depart after London (2007) and Monaco (2009), both held outdoors, free of charge. So imagine my surprise to discover that this year’s presentation was ticketed and being held in the Leed’s Arena. I suppose they needed to recoup the cost of all the decorations around town.
TdFyellowphoneboxa
I should add the organisers did a simply superb job, more akin to Italian towns that  submerge themselves in a sea of pink during the Giro, only this time largely yellow. The presentation was sold out, providing food for thought for Utrecht 2015 and ASO.
TdFYork

In truth, Britain and specifically Yorkshire did a fantastic job organising the first three stages. Despite the simply ginormous crowds, there were plenty of facilities for everyone to enjoy a day out. Stalls selling refreshments, big screens to enjoy the action and everyone came in their droves. The atmosphere was simply wonderful. The start of the second day was held at York racecourse and again people were willing to pay for a grandstand view of the sign-in. More food for thought. And, once more, the race course made a day of it by providing family style entertainment long after the riders had headed for Sheffield.

The riders were surprised but ultimately delighted at their reception in the UK though it was evident that a few spectators hadn’t heeded the ASO’s advisory videos specifically those about dogs and selfies! The roads were so crowded that taking a comfort break must have been problematical for the riders.

Apart from a spot of rain in London, the sun shone in the UK, as it did back in 2007. Once more back on home soil in France, the weather’s been wet and miserable but that should improve as the riders head further south.

Since returning home, I’ve been watching the stages on my own big screen in the office: viewing while I work. I’ve particularly enjoyed those stages shown in their entirety. Now the peloton is heading for the real mountains, the race should become even more action packed. I’m going to catch the last bit of racing in the Alps and all the action in the Pyrenees live. I’ll be taking my bike, always the best mode of transport for watching any bike race, and pootling my way up a few of those cols. It’s only when you tackle them yourself that you truly appreciate the endeavours of the pros!

Bitter sweet

Posted in Uncategorized on 15/06/2014 by Sheree

I feel as if I’ve been bombarded for the last few weeks with suggestions for today, Father’s Day? I can’t say that I’d ever really noticed the saturation before but perhaps it’s because this year, for the first time ever, I have no need of anything for Father’s Day.

In a family of three Daddy’s girls, Father’s Day was always more special than Mother’s Day. Sorry Mum! We’d always meet up en famille for Father’s Day lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. There’s nothing my Dad liked better than spending the day with his girls – all four of us. The tradition lapsed somewhat once we’d moved to France and it progressively became more difficult to eat out with my mother as her Alzheimers progressed.

Then, this time last year, we had an unexpected treat. My brother-in-law, as a surprise, organised for my younger sister and my father to fly out and visit my middle sister and me. Purely, coincidentally, the same week-end as Father’s Day. Like most women, we don’t really enjoy surprises. I’d have liked my Father to stay with us largely because our flat is all on one level and the walk in shower is easier to for him to use but I’d got guests for the week-end. So he stayed at my sister’s holiday apartment. In truth, I think my brother-in-law had flown my Dad out so that he’d have company once his wife, my sister, went back home mid-week. In any event, it meant that I cooked and all three Daddy’s girls spent a very enjoyable Father’s Day together for the first time in many years.

In truth I was pleased that my Dad had come to visit. His last visit had been back in 2010 and the trip with my mother had been something of a nightmare for him. One he wasn’t keen to repeat even after her death. I’d been over in the UK in the Spring and we’d spoken about him coming to visit but he’d wanted to get my mother’s affairs settled, the garden sorted and her memorial organised before doing any travelling. First up was a much longed for trip to St Petersberg with friends in August. We’d tentatively arranged that he would come visit us in October and my beloved would travel with him, both ways.

Faced with the unexpected prospect of spending time with him, I hastily shuffled my agenda and we spent a couple of lovely days together. It was a bit like the old days when Mum would get lumbered with my two younger sisters and Dad and I would spend the day exploring, watching sport together and investigating new restaurants. We went for a road trip on the Friday and I drove along the coast to visit the location of our very first family holiday abroad. The one and only time my parents had ever camped. They’d travelled with friends who enjoyed sleeping under canvas – we hadn’t. We all regard TENT as a four-letter word!

I found a delightful hotel, overlooking the sea, where we ate lunch to the sound of lapping waves. A light, unhurried lunch where we chatted about Dad’s plans. He was obviously keen to make best use of whatever time he had left and we spoke at length about some of the things he wanted to see and do. My beloved and I also took him out for lunch on Sunday to one of our favourite restaurants. Again, we spent time enjoying a delightful meal, with great views and a lovely ambience. My Dad told me that the three meals he’d eaten with me had been the highlight of his trip.

At the time none of us appreciated the toll that looking after my mother had taken on his health. When I visited him in the UK in late October, he was clearly very unwell but the doctors, despite a battery of tests, had been unable to identify the problem. Bizarrely, when we described his symptoms to a friend who’s a leading dental professor, he immediately told us what was wrong and, sure enough, he was right. The symptoms were unpleasant, the treatment even more so and the outlook had a very short time horizon.

Mum Statues

My father’s now reunited with my mother in the plinth of the statue he bought in her memory, placed within easy sight of the family home. There they’ll remain because my middle-sister and brother-in-law are buying and remodelling the house. With any luck, they might even have another 66 years together!

Slogans

Posted in Training with tags , on 25/05/2014 by Sheree

I saw a brilliant slogan on the back of a t-shirt in my Twitter timeline recently it said “You own a car, not the road.” So, so true and I just know I’m going to be quoting that in a variety of languages to various vehicle drivers. The other one I like is “A metre matters”. That’s exhorting drivers to leave plenty of room when overtaking cyclists. Particularly pertinent to those towing caravans or boats. They have a similar campaign in Spain which demands a metre and a half overtaking space.

But as anyone who occasionally reads my blog or who rides themselves knows, the best drivers are those that also cycle.  We need to get more people cycling. Such as the gentleman who blithely blocked the cycle path as he was waiting to exit the petrol station. To make my point, I slammed on my (new) brakes and stopped within a hair’s breadth of his car. Did he retreat? No! I was forced to wait until the road was clear to swing out and overtake the bonnet of his car. I gave him The Look and noted his number plate.

Just ten minutes later, as my riding buddy and I were cycling side by side along the deserted two-lane coastal road, we were rudely tooted at by white van man who yelled at us to get out of the road and onto the cycle path! A cycle path intended for kids and those of a nervous disposition with a 10km/h speed limit. Sadly, the sequencing of the traffic lights didn’t allow  me to advise said driver that he owned a van, not the road. But I was oh so tempted to give chase – next time.

You can just make out the snow caps in the distance

You can just make out the snow caps in the distance

However, it was hard to stay annoyed on such a beautiful day. I thank my lucky stars daily that I’m fortunate enough to live here. No amount of rude white van men will ever change that!

Just what I needed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 18/05/2014 by Sheree

What I want to know is where can I get one of these?

Alternatively, I might get a dog if I could find one like Harvey that does the washing and irons.

Yes, I’m feeling decidedly time-pressured. This is the first time in ages I’ve had a few spare minutes to devote to my own blog. For a woman who’s allegedly “retired”, I seem to be mighty busy. I gave up a high pressured job in the City to spend time doing what I wanted to do and not the things everyone else wanted me to. Where did all go wrong?

Don’t mind me. I’m just feeling a bit reflective after my epic fail on yesterday’s ride. At this time of year my tree pollen allergy makes me feel as if I’m riding with a heavy cold and I struggled up a climb I can usually do with ease. It was a truly glorious day. The sun shone, the countryside was green, lush and ablaze with meadow flowers, yellow broom and wild herbs whose scents seem the very essence of here. We’d rendezvoused with the boys mid-ride and enjoyed a quick cup of coffee, while gazing longingly at the sandy beach with the waves lapping the shoreline, before heading into the L’Esterel hills.

As soon as we hit the climb I started to wheeze like an asthmatic granny. No need to point out that I’m old enough to be a granny, that’s not helpful. I set my riding companion free and watched her soar up the incline, dancing away into the distance. The road was unusually busy with traffic. Depending on whether they were on two or four wheels, they seemed respectively to be practising for this week-end’s MotoGP at Le Mans or channeling their inner Sebastien Loeb.

Towards the top of the climb, on a stretch of fresh tarmac, a convoy of vehicles rushed past me. Obviously oblivious to the “A Metre Matters” campaign for cyclist safety. Their draft caught me unawares, I bobbled and my front wheel slipped unintentionally off the new tarmac and I landed ignominiously in the grass verge. I quickly leapt to my feet and brushed myself down. No one had seen my faux pas and only my pride had been bruised. I remounted and swiftly crested the summit. It was (thankfully) pretty much all downhill from there and I soon rejoined my companions who’d been topping up their tans while waiting for me to reappear. It’ll be a recovery ride for me today!

Nothing nicer

Posted in Live Racing with tags , , , on 25/02/2014 by Sheree

The cycling season has been underway for a couple of weeks and we’ve profited from our proximity to that racing. Friday I watched the Trofeo Laigueglia, now moved to a Friday to avoid it clashing with Tour du Haut Var, and over the week-end we watched the latter. The race seems to have settled into a format where stage one finishes on a circuit around La Croix Valmer and stage two explores the glorious hinterland behind Draguigan with a three-circuit loop around some of the walled towns, affording plenty of viewing opportunities for the largely French public.

The sun shone all three days which made the racing, and the viewing, a whole nicer prospect. But the cherry atop the icing on the cake was that one of our friends won one of the stages, finished third on general classification and was awarded “most combative”. If you follow cycle racing, you’ll soon appreciate that not everyone wins races. It’s a team sport but only one member of the team can win, unless, of course, it’s a team time-trial.

Everyone wants a few words with the stage winner Amael Moinard (image: Nice Matin)

Everyone wants a few words with the stage winner Amael Moinard (image: Nice Matin)

At this early point in the season, teams are keen to get that all-important first win under their belt and, having succeeded, it tends to open the floodgates. More wins follow. It’s also one of the few occasions where a team leader, getting into his stride for his objectives later in the season – a grand tour or classics victory – will allow one of his key helpers to try to take victory. Or, maybe, one of the young, up and coming riders from one of the ProContinental or Continental teams will hope to catch the eye of a team manager at a ProTour team.

It’s not unusual to bump into friends and acquaintances at such races and a bit of banter helps to fill in the time until there’s television coverage on the big screen and/or the peloton hoves into view. On Sunday we were handily placed on the barriers about 10 metres before the finish line. As the peloton came past, on its first circuit of the finish town, it was hotly pursuing the Norwegian national champion Thor Hushovd (BMC) while a number of his team mates were well-placed in that pursuing pack. He was soon swept up and the peloton remained largely intact until the final run in when race leader Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) and Amael Moinard (BMC) leapt free. The two worked to maintain their small advantage with the former taking the overall and the latter the stage win.

It so happened that my beloved had Amael’s eldest son (5 years old) on his shoulders, so he had the perfect view of his father taking the stage win. He understood exactly what had just happened, he was so thrilled and much enjoyed being swept up in the post-race excitement and interviews. Both Amael’s sons accompanied him on stage for the prize-giving but, at only 21 months, it’s doubtful that the younger one appreciated what he was witnessing. The eldest boy took possession of the trophy and I’ve no doubt it has taken up residence in his bedroom. There was however a certain sense of deja vu as the last time Amael had won back in 2010, on the final stage of Paris-Nice, his elder son had accompanied him onto the podium but he was then too young to enjoy the experience.

For us, it capped off a marvellous week-end of racing. There’s really nothing better than seeing a friend win a stage. Made all the more memorable, as we shared the moment with his wife and children.

Worrying trend

Posted in Training with tags on 14/02/2014 by Sheree

Last year finding brochures with shoes and garments for the older woman in my letterbox troubled me. This year’s much worse. Indeed, it could hardly have gotten off to a worse start. I receive spam most days with offers of cut price funerals, exhortations to pre-pay for mine and, which I think is even worse,  a tempting funeral comparison website! A sort of permanent www.Hotelscompare.com. I’ve had so many of these emails that I’m beginning to wonder what it is they know that I don’t?

grimreaper

Okay, so the grim reaper can strike at any time. He’s no respecter of age but it’s got me wondering whether these sites have been surreptitiously following me on my recent rides? I only venture this explanation because I’ve recently had a couple of very close scrapes. Mostly perpetrated by motorists who blithely ignore the mantra of “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” and head straight to “Manoeuvre”  bypassing the other two steps. To add insult to injury, one of my neighbours in the Domaine perpetrated one of these close encounters. And, yes, I have added their vehicle registration number to my Black List.

The weather has been partly to blame. It has washed lots of sand, stones and rubble into the cycle paths meaning that I occasionally have to venture onto that part of the road which many motorists think only they are entitled to use. Of course, they show me no such compunction when making use of the cycling lanes to overtake or park.

I haven’t ridden outside as much as I would have liked thanks to the rainstorms that seem to have swept most of Europe. Indeed, six weeks into the New Year and I have completed as many kilometres on the home trainer I have on the road. An almost unheard of situation. My normally cheery disposition takes a bit of a dip without my daily dose of sunshine and cycling. It goes without saying, I am a fair-weather cyclist.

I find that if I have something to mull over you can’t beat a couple of hours on the bike. Inspiration  – and not a vehicle – will likely strike and I return to the office fired up and even more ready for action. It starts when I first awake.

Perfect day for a ride

Perfect day for a ride

I look out the floor to ceiling windows to find out what the weather’s going to hold for me that day. If it looks miserable, I’m far more inclined to roll-over and go back to sleep. If the start looks promising, I leap out of bed, with a spring in my step, and work in the office until I adjudge it warm enough to venture forth.

Double booking

Posted in Hazards, Live Racing with tags on 19/01/2014 by Sheree

My beloved has double-booked himself again! This happens more times than you might imagine despite him keeping a detailed diary. I can only conclude that he gaily accepts all and any invitations without first checking his agenda. This time he’s told a client he’ll go to an exhibition in Singapore which clashes with our departure for the Tour of the Basque country. After last year’s horrific weather he did say he wouldn’t be coming this year. However, when I made the hotel bookings last November he affirmed his attendance. We’re now looking into options as to how he can join me in the Basque country.

Weather at last year's Vuelta al Pais Vasco

Weather at last year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco

His oversight does however have an upside. Freed from the restrictions of having to fit in with his ever-changing timetable, I can now drive down to the Basque country at my leisure, leaving when I want and stopping en-route where I want. A whole new world of possibilities has just opened up and it’ll also give the recently acquired Tom IV a good run out.

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at possibilities for my beloved. The best option seems to be a routing via London Heathrow, followed by a day or two working in London, before hopping onto an evening flight to Bilbao where I can collect him. This means I should have anywhere between 3-5 days flying solo. Time to make plans.

Typically my beloved will arrive back from a business trip several hours before we leave on holiday. This way he just pitches up and everything’s been done for him. Not for nothing is he known as “The man who just turns up”! If he’s flying long-haul, I’m always concerned whether or not the flight will be on time. And, if not, whether it’ll dismantle our my plans. This did happen on several occasions when we were living in London, despite our proximity to the Heathrow Express service at Paddington. This has occurred much less often in recent years largely because we live so close to Nice airport and most of our holidays are now undertaken by car.

Nonetheless, I have taken the precaution of checking that my beloved has all the key dates for 2014 writ large in his diary: the last week of the Giro d’Italia, the first week of the Tour de France, the Clasica San Sebastian, the World Championships in Ponferrada. That’s right, pretty much all our holidays revolve around one cycling event or the other. I wouldn’t have it any other way, nor would he. It’s taken us to some marvellous spots, we’ve met tons of interesting people and made some lasting friendships. Vive le cyclisme!

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