Just around the corner

Posted in Live Racing with tags , , on 11/09/2014 by Sheree

Life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates-620x440I’m going to have to disagree with Mr Gump. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates. They come with a guide so you can avoid the fillings you don’t like – and there’s plenty I don’t like. No, the wonderful thing about life is that we never really know what’s around the corner.  When I gave up my job in the City over 10 years’ ago now, I didn’t know what I would do but was excited by the prospect of getting well out of my comfort zone. I feel I’ve finally arrived.

I’m currently working having great fun on a newish project. Earlier this year, while skimming my Twitter timeline, I caught sight of a delightful painting. It was by an artist called Greig Leach, based in Richmond Virginia, the official artist for next year’s World Road Race Championships. I contacted him and asked if I could interview him for VeloVoices where we’re mightily keen on posters, paintings and photographs of cycling and cyclists. He agreed.

The picture that had caught my eye was one of his postcard-sized water colour and ink paintings. He produces a series of these during the year’s major races. I bought one of Peter Sagan’s (Cannondale) stage win into Montpellier in last year’s Tour de France and gave it to him for being voted VeloVoices Rider 2013. The picture now hangs in his entrance hall.

Peter and award2

Throughout the season, wherever possible, I’ve used these postcard-sized paintings to illustrate articles and frequently attach them to my Twitter and Facebook posts. Before the start of this year’s Tour, Greig approached me with a proposition. He wanted to turn his paintings of the Tour into a coffee table book.  He was going to raise the necessary cash on the crowd-funding site, KickStarter, following the template of a friend who’d successfully financed a similar project. Would I edit the book?

book du tour small cover for style v5

I’ve never done anything like this before but that didn’t deter me. My blogposts for VeloVoices are expertly edited by one of our three main writers.  No one edits these posts but then they’re just ramblings intended for friends and family. I often come back for a quick tidy up a week or so after I’ve posted. It is, of course, always easier to spots the errors of others. I should add that as an accountant I’ve proof-read many sets of accounts and, when I worked in investment banking, many legal documents. Editing’s a rather more skilled proposition.

Of course, I readily agreed. Who wouldn’t? I also helped publicise the project. I was advised to “bother the crap out of everyone you know!” Wise words. I took that advice to heart and pestered everyone I knew and lots I don’t. All in a good cause you understand.

Crowd-funding sites advise that projects which raise at least 30% of the required funds in their first week-end are more likely to be successful. We had barely raised 5%. But our target audience was watching a gripping Tour de France, with more highs and lows than the Alps. It all came together in the last week of fundraising, the week after the Tour finished!

Saying Farewell

As an editor, it’s rather tempting to superimpose what you might have written  but you shouldn’t. It’s not your tale to tell. Of course, it should be error free even though it’s written in a language not your own – American English. I won’t pretend it hasn’t been a challenge. I have cast my eagle eye over everything. And, I do mean everything. I have even checked that the racing numbers on the back of the jerseys correspond to the riders named in the narrative.

It’s only when you undertake such an exercise that you realise how many errors there are on most websites. You need to establish creditable reference points. Greig takes his Tour feed from NBC where the commentators are the much-revered pairing of Liggett and Sherwen.  Please don’t believe everything they tell you. I could find no substance for a number of their claims in my large library of Tour reference books.  It’s painstaking work and surprisingly time-consuming but then I’ve been on a steep learning curve and have gained plenty from the process.

The book is taking shape. Of course, it is all about the paintings but I want the narrative to do them justice.  I’ve also had to bear in mind that while Grieg and I are fans of the sport, it’ll be bought and read by some that are not. Just how much do you need to explain? More than you might imagine but not too much that it becomes tedious.

We’re on a tight schedule, the book is due shortly at the printers for its first blue-lined draft. We want that draft to be perfect – corrections cost money. The printed copies will roll off the presses at the beginning of November – just in time for Christmas. It’ll be the perfect gift for art-lovers, art-loving cyclists, cycling fans, cyclists and anyone else you know.

My work doesn’t stop there. I rashly promised Greig I’d get some signed by the Tour winner and he included this carrot in some of his crowd-funding incentive packages.

Safely Home

In recent days we’ve heard that the book is going to the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair. I’ve had to provide the publisher with a picture (cringe) and potted bio where I failed dismally to make myself suited to the job of editor.

Of course, we need to generate as many sales as possible in the window before the next Tour and I’m hoping that this will just be the start of Greig’s production line. Next up the Giro d’Italia, then the Vuelta a Espana, The Cycling Season and………………….

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Book de Tour here!

Links:  Greig’s paintings of this year’s Tour de France and La Course (with unedited narrative) 

 

 

Maddening Men

Posted in Hazards on 08/08/2014 by Sheree

My beloved has always spent at least three nights a week away from home. Hence the longevity of our marriage. Just recently that time has been spent in the UK and he typically flies in and out of Gatwick with BA. During the summer months he tends to catch the last flight back on either a Thursday or Friday evening. A flight which is frequently always delayed. He can arrive at any time up to two hours after the due arrival time and well past my usual bedtime.

For the next two weeks, he’s catching an earlier flight. But as he departed on Tuesday there was some confusion on his part about what time he was due to land back in Nice. I asked him to send me an email to confirm the time. A not unreasonable request as my beloved likes me to be waiting for him as he strides out of arrivals. That way he wastes no time at all. Bollards have rendered the airport much less car friendly but the advantage of a Smart is that I can hover in places other cars can’t, though less so mid-afternoon.

It’s Friday, my beloved is due back shortly, and he’s failed to convey the required information. So I sent him a chaser asking confirmation of his arrival time. He sent back an email telling me the plane was delayed by 30 minutes. Yes, but which plane? I have an arrival time of 17:25 in my diary but there’s no flight from Gatwick arriving at that time, instead it gets in at 16:25. I’ll have extrapolate and see if that sheds any light on his probable arrival time.

My beloved is fond of saying we live 10 minutes from Nice airport – as the crow flies. Even early in the morning and late at night, a round trip takes me at least 40  minutes. Mid-morning or afternoon, you can double that thanks to the traffic. In the absence of clear instructions, I shall have to wait until my beloved sends me a message telling me he’s landed before going to fetch him. This does mean that he’s going to have a  bit of a wait. He’ll grumble, of course, even though it’s his own fault because once home he’ll either want to go for a ride or a swim while I prepare his dinner. You may well wonder what his last slave died of!

 

Another Postcard from the Basque Country

Posted in Favourites, Live Racing with tags on 05/08/2014 by Sheree

Another trip? I know. We’d only just gotten back from the Tour. Typically, we’d have gone directly from the Pyrenees to northern Spain for a further week’s vacation. But, as we’re taking quite a bit of time off in September for the World Champs, we came back home. With hindsight possibly not the best decision. I’ll explain why.

Last Monday I popped out to the supermarket to stock up on essential supplies. As I was leaving  the car park, a car reversed straight into my beloved Tom IV. I was too shocked to even honk my horn. It all happened so quickly.
The car, a swanky BMW driven by a Frenchman in his 50s, just shot straight out and hit Tom. After stopping, counting to ten, taking a deep breath and getting out of my SMART, I enquired, somewhat sarcastically, whether his mirrors had steamed up! But was rather taken aback when he freely admitted he never looks in his mirror (evidently) instead he relies on his obviously fallible reversing warning system. I pointed out that I could have been an old(er) lady or even a child. He had the grace to look chastened and asked if we could settle the matter privately.
I sympathised. Car insurance is expensive in France and it’s equally hard to maintain the maximum 50% “no claims” bonus. Also, the damage to his car was more extensive than the scratches inflicted on Tom IV’s paintwork which are being repaired next week at his local garage, at his expense – sorted.
Tuesday I ventured out to drop some papers off at the accountants before their summer vacation. When I returned to my car, someone, quite probably a white van man, had reversed into it and bust the lights on my bike carrier, which was now hanging on by a thread. Realising that maybe it wasn’t my week, I stayed home Wednesday!
Recently that’s not been my only challenge. I’ve been trying to bank a cheque made payable to me – to be split with my two sisters – as trustee, of part of my late father’s estate. Thanks to increasing money laundering regulations I’ve had no luck whatsoever and been made to feel like the sender of one of those spam emails from someone in Nigeria. Perhaps they could tell me what to do?
So it was with some relief I packed up my kit bag and headed to San Sebastian last Friday to enjoy one of my favourite races, in one of my favourite places.
View of Concha beach from the old town of San Sebastian

View of Concha beach from the old town of San Sebastian

We stayed in the Txacoli producing area of Getaria, just up the coast road from San Sebastian, in a delightful casa rural owned by a winery.
Home from home

Home from home

View from my bedroom window: vines and the sea!

View from my bedroom window: vines and the sea!

To be honest, any establishment that serves creme caramel and cheesecake for breakfast gets my vote.
Apple pie, cheesecake, flan, chocolate cake, tortilla...........

Apple pie, cheesecake, flan, chocolate cake, tortilla………..

As usual the trip was punctuated with catching up with a number of cycling friends over a glass of wine and tapas, or pintxos as they’re called in the Basque country.
Valverde celebrates his win with an embrace from his wife and son

Valverde celebrates his win with an embrace from his wife and son

Just like at the earlier Tour of the Basque country, it seemed odd to be there without the Euskaltel team though there were a number of its former riders plying their trade (thankfully) with other teams. The sun shone, the crowds were plentiful and a Spaniard won the race.
I even sat on the beach for an hour or two!

I even sat on the beach for an hour or two!

Now I’m back home with my nose firmly to the grindstone for several weeks until we leave for that extended trip to the World Road Race Championships in Ponferrada.

Postcards from Not Too Far Away

Posted in Favourites with tags , , , , , on 31/07/2014 by Sheree

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten to visit a few places I’ve been meaning to visit for some time. It’s not exactly a bucket list; I’m far too young for one of those! At the end of June, thanks to an invitation to a dental meeting, I finally got to visit Turin. This is a town we’ve driven around on numerous occasions. I had a trip planned back in 2012 to watch the start of the Giro which I cancelled at the last moment – pressure of work. I even passed close by when I was at this year’s Giro in early May.

castellotorino

So, finally I get not only an opportunity to visit but time to look around. Our hosts had organised a bus tour of the city and it’s truly delightful. Well worth a visit just to marvel at its splendid architecture but I would counsel against visiting in the height of summer. It’s hot, humid and the mosquitos have fearsome bites, as my legs will attest. After a delightful dinner at a restaurant on the river, I looked like someone with a severe case of the pox, despite a liberal application of deterrent. So, I’ll be returning again to Turin to visit its museums and splendid buildings when those pesky blighters have gone into hibernation.

Aude

Last week, during the third week of the Tour, I finally visited Carcassonne. Again, another town I’ve driven past on the motorway many times. On the last occasion, in early April, fog made the place look like something out of Disney. Sadly, despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site, the place it stuffed full of shops selling tourist tat and restaurants offering Cassoulet. The castle itself is a wonder to behold but the plethora of tourist coach trippers make it difficult to appreciate let alone look at the old buildings within its walls. Possibly, another one to visit in cooler climes. The villages surrounding Carcassonne are charming but there’s a wind that blows all the time in the Aude and which would really get on my nerves were we to spend more than a couple of days there.

Figarol

After Carcassonne, we moved onto the Pyrenees and a delightful spot called Figarol which my beloved was much taken with. It’s very beautiful and out-of-the-way but – there’s often a but – with so few restaurants and amenities nearby, we found ourselves eating in the same place on a couple of occasions. The country’s fine for a day or two and then I find it’s scenic attractions (and flies) pall. I’m a city gal at heart.

While at the Tour last year, I visited Albi and Castres – both deserving of a trip – and stayed in a hotel in Najac, about a 45 minute drive from Albi. It was delightfully bucolic with some nearby walled towns such as Cordes en Ciel that are well worth a potter around.

Najac

 

As I discovered to my cost on the bike, the terrain is rather more undulating than I had remembered. My beloved and I have recently introduced a new system whereby we set off together and agree a rendezvous point, generally a watering hole but, in between, we’re free to cycle at will. This saves him having to huff and puff while waiting for me.

Luberon

En route for home, we stopped off in the Luberon and rode along some familiar routes beside the vineyards in the hot sunshine. I made the serious (rookie) mistake of not booking somewhere for dinner and after countless trips into restaurants to enquire if they had a table for two, we had to settle for a little pizza place round the corner from where we were staying. A place, I hasten to add, we normally wouldn’t have considered. But regular readers will know that my beloved will die if he doesn’t have at least three square meals a day!

I don’t consider myself a big fan of pizzas and I always have a Margarita. I know, predictable and boring. But, this was the best pizza I have ever eaten! It had a wafer thin base, a delicious herb and tomato topping, with just enough cheese. It had been cooked in a wood-fired oven – I so want one of those – but the edges weren’t burnt. We also had a bottle of their finest red which was easily the best wine of the entire trip. So all’s well that ends well!

Clasica San Sebastian

We’ve only been home for a few days but we’re off again tomorrow, this time to my beloved Basque country, sadly sans velo and with our wet weather gear. Yes, a spot of rain is forecast.

 

 

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!

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