Lots of firsts

I’m a girl who believes in lots of planning and preparation. If I’m doing a cyclosportif, I like to have cycled the route beforehand. This is so that a) I know I can do it and b) I know when to conserve, or conversely, expend energy en route. It also gives me an opportunity to scout possible locations for a pit-stop as these generally tend to be few and far between. I prefer to wear bib shorts or tights, so there’s no way I can discretely slip out of my kit behind a bush. It’s a full-scale strip job, so you can understand my concerns and preference for a toilet.

I am currently training for the Charly Bérard which largely takes place on the course of my first ever pointage. A year or so ago, one the girls at the club invited me to cycle with her on Sundays, promising that we could go at my pace. She cycles with two of the club’s very spritely octogenarians who are both glowing adverts for the long-term benefits of cycling. I can only hope to emulate them when I’m their age.

When I told my husband I was going to do that Sunday’s pointage he was somewhat dismissive of my ability to get up the climbs. This time however I will have to ascend a tad quicker for fear of falling behind the dreaded “broom wagon” and having my timing device unceremoniously removed.

Most of the club events I take part in are self-timed. You tell the person writing the certificate your time and they put it on your certificate. Whether you finish first or last, your club gets the same number of points. You just have to finish. There are usually two courses on offer: one 50% longer than the other with more points for the longer course. Trophies are awarded to the clubs whose riders garner the most points. There are no individual prizes save those for the youngest and oldest male and female entrants to complete the course.

In preparation, this week I did my first ascent this year of the Col de Vence (963m). This has to be my closest and favourite climb. I did it for the very first time in early April of last year. Buoyed with my feat of climbing Col d’Eze, via the more strenuous Grande Corniche, I decided I was ready to tackle the Col de Vence. I rode the slightly longer but less strenuous route up to Vence via La Gaude before turning onto the Col itself. The first few kilometres are the steepest but it soon levels out and there are simply splendid views down to the coast plus some pretty pricey real-estate to admire as you pedal your way up to the Chateau du Domaine St. Martin and beyond to the open pastures full of sheep.

I took comfort from the road markers telling me how many more kilometres I had to travel and the average gradient (7%). The top is a bit of an anti-climax but I couldn’t resist sending my husband a text to tell him I’d done it.

Today I cycled the quicker, slightly steeper route via La Colle sur Loup. Under darkening skies and into a strong headwind, I managed to ascend the hill for the first time without stopping at all: another first. Col de Vence is my favourite col not because of the ascent but because of the descent. You can easily see what little traffic there is coming up the hill so you can throw caution to the wind, keep your hands off the brakes and pretend you’re Samu Sanchez.  With that tailwind, it was my fastest descent ever.

Made famous by Lance

Last year I arrived at the pointage at St Agnès  ten minutes after it had closed, thereby collecting nul points. Something which still rankles!

I had cycled almost the entire route on my lonesome. From my map, handily placed in my back pocket; it appeared to be a left-hand turn out of Menton. This pointage was the same day as the Monaco marathon thereby rendering any road in Monaco out of bounds (guarded by hoards of armed police) to everyone, including cyclists. This meant cycling up and around Monaco. Once back on French soil, the police were only too happy to allow me onto the marathon route, ahead of the runners.

I was somewhat unnerved by the general lack of cyclists en route making me check and re-check the map to ensure I had not gone astray. Eventually, I found the road to St Agnès and wound my way up it not realising that this was the famous Col de la Madone. Allegedly one of Lance’s favourite training rides.

On arrival, I was too tired to cycle up the final steep incline to the village. So I walked and once there enquired about the pointage. I was told it was closed. I was too tired to come up with a pitchy retort in any language.

Fortunately I was  rescued by the mother of a club mate (there had been a race there that morning) who put my bike in her car and drove me most of the way home.

This Sunday I will be collecting maximum points. I will be leaving well ahead of the club peloton, the Monaco marathon was held last week end, I’m riding with a club mate and I can confidently cycle the distance.