Plus ca change

I have slotted right back into my weekly routine following my return to France. The weather seems to have warmed up while I’ve been away and that Mistral chill has gone. I haven’t suffered unduly from jet lag, probably thanks to that good night’s sleep on the way back.

I’ve cycled twice this week and am looking forward to Sunday’s ride over to Menton. We tend to cycle over that way only on week ends, there being too much traffic during the week. It’s a lovely spot, albeit a bit bath-chairish: the Eastbourne of the Cote d’Azur. The ride over generally affords tantalising glimpses of the sea and coastline.

Menton
Menton

I’ve checked on the club website where, of course, there’s no mention of exactly where in Menton the pointage is taking place, I’ll just have to hope that I either chance upon it or it’s well sign-posted. I think it’s fair to say that after Friday night’s AGM, that’s one thing (among many) that’ll change in the future. Yes, I am now officially Madame La Secretaire du Club. I would like to tell you that I won by an overwhelming majority, but I stood unopposed, as did all the Committee. However, rest assured that I will not let this go to my head.

I have added yet another trophy to my growing collection and it’s the nicest yet; it doubles as a flower vase for all those winning bouquets! I suppose as there was no club championship this year I’m still the reigning ladies champion. In case you’re wondering, I am indeed wearing my Monaco volunteer trousers in the picture below. Unfortunately, none of my fellow winners weighs more than me, so I just had to grin and bear it!

Another one for the trophy cabinet
Another one for the trophy cabinet

Next week, the weather is looking a bit mixed. This will give me an opportunity to catch up with some of my more recent dental projects, the ironing mountain and my husband’s expenses. Plus, for the next 6 weeks or so, I’m going to be working out with a trainer – yes, those extra kilos are not going fast enough for my liking. She’s an ex-world class skier and sounds like she knows how to kick ass. I want a twice weekly routine to compliment the cycling and running, sorry that should be plodding given the speed at which I travel!

While the cat’s away…………………

I’ve been away for less than a week but a lot has happened in that time. On the football front, my team, the team that beat Chelsea and Liverpool, drew with Wolves at the week end – unbelievable, but true. More shocking and equally unbelievable, the team that beat Liverpool in the Champions League, Olympique Lyonnais, lost 4-1 away at OGC Nice.

Alberto “Big Brown Eyes” Contador won a 3rd consecutive Velo d’Or – who else were they going to give it to? Many will assume it was for his Tour win but I suspect it was really for standing up to Lance – a real crowd pleaser with the French.  

Tom “Bad Boy” Boonen says his counseling is going well. Glad to hear it Tom particularly as you’re now off the bike, on vacation and again at a bit of a loose end.

A number of Pro-Tour teams, including Astana, didn’t have all their paperwork ready by 20 October. Have you seen the dossier that needs to be completed for the UCI? I have and therefore quite understand. I don’t imagine that the riders on the affected teams (Sky, Euskatel, Caisse d’Epargne, Astana and Saxo Bank) will be looking for new homes anytime soon and I’m sure their paperwork will shortly be in apple pie order.

Sebastien Loeb wrapped up a 6th consecutive World Rally Championship while Valentino Rossi won his 7th Moto GP World Championship.

More shocking news: I came home to find the flat relatively clean and tidy. My husband had been using the vacuum. He’d obviously been a bit bored while I was gone. Maybe, that’s the solution to keep Tom out of trouble – housework!

Austin Diary III

I think it’s fair to say Austin, and taking part in Livestrong, exceeded my expectations, but I was now looking forward to getting back home.

My plane from Austin was delayed two hours due to a mechanical, I arrived in Dallas 10 minutes after my connecting flight had left. My luggage had been booked through to its final destination, so I was advised by the American Airlines staff to hot-foot it over to the Lufhansa desk and get them to change my flights so I could get home by AA via London. When I arrived at the Lufthansa desk it was empty. I noticed a security door behind the desk, I knocked (actually pounded would probably be more accurate) and found some one who could help.

I was soon booked on AA to London and BA back to Nice. However, no one could locate my luggage and I was advised by AA that I couldn’t get on the plane without my luggage as it couldn’t travel independently, internationally. I decided that this probably wasn’t a good time to point out that this often happened to my husband’s baggage. Just before boarding, the dispatcher said he was 90% certain my luggage was on board and they allowed me to get on the flight.

I followed my usual routine; a glass of champagne, ear plugs, eye shades and slept until London. Because I had flown into Heathrow on an airline other than BA, I had to go through security again and almost missed my flight. In fact, I only made it because it was departing from one of the closest gates.

In Nice, I waited by the luggage carousel with some sense of inevitability and was unsurprised by the non-appearance of my luggage which I duly reported. The desk clerk confirmed it was most likely still in Dallas and would turn up today. He was right, as I type this I am awaiting its delivery from the airport, hopefully undamaged. But if not, I am well insured.

Postscript: My delayed baggage has arrived safe and sound.

Austin Diary II

The alarm went off and I sprang out of bed. I felt dreadful, as if I’d been asleep for only 5 minutes. I went into the bathroom and, as I was brushing my teeth, caught sight of my watch – 22:05! Yes, I had only been asleep for about 5 minutes. I had set the watch on my mobile phone, totally forgetting that it was still on CET time. I went back to bed.

The alarm went off and I sprang out of bed. I checked, it was 04:00am. Everything had been laid out the night before, checked and double-checked, to ensure that it was all  present and correct. I washed, dressed and ate breakfast before making my way out of the hotel for my taxi-ride to Drippin’ Springs. Ricky, my cab driver, didn’t seem too sure on the exact location but fortunately we had a fellow participant leaving the hotel at the same time, who had driven the route yesterday. We gratefully followed him to the drop-off point.

It was pitch black, not too cold and just after 06:00am as I rode the mile or so from the car parking to the start. There were some krieg lights and volunteers helpfully waving torches but I couldn’t see much: easily the scariest bit of the whole event.  I eschewed any hot drinks, preferring to slowly and regularly sip water before availing myself of the portable facilities – nice touch. I was one of the early birds and made an executive decision that I was going to start at the front of the 90 milers.

Austin Start Line
Fatty and the Fatties

This turned out to be a wise decision as the highest fund raising teams were beckoned forward to the start line where we were feted and entertained by the Livestrong folks. A few words from Lance and then we were off. Lance and his celebrity chums were given a 6 minute head start. Word must have reached him about my training regime.

Lance at start
Lance readying himself to flee

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had heard various tales about the state of the roads, we were after all in “Texas Hill Country” and would be fording streams and cow guards. However, while the tarmac was a little rougher than I’m used to and cow guards, like most obstacles, are no trouble if you tackle them head on, the route was fine, not too much sand and gravel. The route was undulating and unfamiliar, there were a couple of steepish climbs of over 10%, but they lasted no more than 500 metres. More importantly, the descents were straight and fast. I sheltered from the wind by riding with four young guys from Texas who, like me, stopped only when necessary to fill up their bidons. There were power stops every 10 miles with drinks, eats, mechanical and medical assistance and more of those portable facilities. In addition, there were riders on the course checking if you needed, water, mechanical or medical help.

Riders overtaking shouted “on your left”. There was no undertaking and no dangerous riding. I did see a couple of crashes but nothing too serious. Although the guy that crashed the cow guard will probably be facing an expensive dental bill.  There were rolling road closures and every turn and junction was manned, so there was no need to stop. The route was well sign posted, particularly all the hazards. We had plenty of support on the road from those living in the area who were sitting by the roadside, refreshments to hand. There were around 3,800 riders and I would estimate they were split 1/3rd women, 2/3rds men with an average age of 35. I made better time than I anticipated and was greeted at the finishing line by the Fat Cyclist himself.

I should also thank  all of the 900 volunteers who worked so hard to ensure the participants had a wonderful, safe ride.

My abiding memory of the event wasn’t Lance, or even the Fat Cyclist, it was all those cancer sufferers and cancer survivors who took part and were quite rightly honoured, however far they cycled.

Austin Diary I

Texas, USAThe journey to Austin went pretty much as expected. After an early morning start, and two connecting flights, both the bike and I arrived in good condition to be collected by the hotel’s shuttle bus. My first impressions of Austin, albeit in the pouring rain, were favourable – pretty countryside. 

The following morning, the good weather returned and I met my friend for a ride into Austin, where she was working as a volunteer in the Austin Convention Center, handling  the Livestrong Event Registrations. I left her stuffing goody bags while I went to explore.

Of course, my first stop was “Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop”: a mecca for any cycling fan. The shop was easily 20 times the size of my LBS, extremely light and airy, while the staff were equally friendly and knowledgable. They happily re-inflated my tyres which had to be deflated while in transit and promised to check out my bike if I had any problems putting it back together. Thereafter, I had the obligatory mooch around the shop checking out all the stock. Amazingly there was nothing screaming “Buy Me” although I did buy a few t-shirts for friends.

Austin is billed as the “Live Music Capital of the World” borne out by the number of venues showcasing live music. In fact, downtown Austin is pretty much wall-to-wall restaurants. It also has some delightful period buildings Austin State Capitolnestling in among the obligatory sky scrapers. Thursday afternoon, we hit the shopping malls. Well, someone’s got to take advantage of the weak dollar.

Friday morning, I reassembled the bike. It was all going swimmingly well until I got to the left pedal which stubbornly refused to be re-attached. I tried everything, in every position; a veritable karma sutra, all to no avail. Finally, after anointing the screw joint with my miracle, super charged, wrinkle erasing cream, it obliged. It was now all systems go. I took the bike for a ride around the area to confirm all was well. It was, but I didn’t enjoy riding on US roads. The tarmac seems to end quite abruptly leaving the cyclist with little option to ride on a very uneven road surface. Passing traffic is limited to gas guzzling 4x4s pulling trailers or gas guzzling RUV and SUVs. If any one of these hit you, it’s unlikely you’d live to tell the tale. Friday afternoon, I registered for Sunday’s ride.

Saturday I rode around the town lake, evading joggers and dog walkers alike: so much better than dodging 4x4s. Lunchtime, Team Fatty had a rendez vous at a local Austin institution where I, and everyone else, got to meet the Fat Cyclist in person. Actually, he’s not fat, certainly not by US standards. I also met up with my husband’s cousin.

Austin Oct 2009
Reunited

The ride was scheduled to start at 08:00am on Sunday, in a rural location about 20 miles from the hotel where I was staying. But my comprehensive instructions advised I get there at 06:00am. So I booked my taxi for 05:30am and had an early night.

The ride

For those of you not taking part in this week end’s Livestrong Challenge, I thought you might like to experience the ride second-hand. These details have been taken from www.livestrong.org. My annotations are in italics.

The 90 mile (145km) course will take you deep into Hays and Blanco Counties on lonely and picturesque country roads that are responsible for making Lance a household name. I thought winning the Tour de France made him a household name! 

The course departs out of Dripping Springs, ‘the gateway to the hill country’, onto a complete lane closure on Hwy. 290. Riders will make a right hand turn onto Roger Hanks parkway where the beauty of Hays County begins.   After winding around the rivers and streams of the Texas countryside (hopefully you’ll see a Texas longhorn and a white tailed deer or two but nothing more sinister), you will continue in the direction of the quaint town of Wimberley before turning on River Road and beginning your ride alongside the Blanco River. Here the course becomes more rural (rural’s not a good word, it conjures up pictures of uneven tracks rather than smooth tarmac) as you make the journey towards the town of Blanco where a well deserved Power Stop (this is presumably where I get my batteries re-charged) will be waiting. From Blanco, you will head home (I think not) where an amazing (I’ll be the judge of that) post event party will be ready for your arrival. I suspect by the time I get there the party may well be over or, at least, running out of steam. The total climbing elevation for the 90 mile (145km) course is 2,782 feet (a bit, but not much, more than Col de Vence).

Due to the varying difficulty of the LIVESTRONG Challenge courses and in an effort maintain a high safety standard, the LIVESTRONG Challenge Ride support (Mechanical, Medical and Course Signage) will end 8 hours after starting (4:00pm ). If you are still on course after 7.5 hours (possibly) and on pace to not finish in 8 hours (hopefully, not), you will be politely asked by our staff to allow a SAG vehicle (aka the Broom Wagon) take you to a safe location near the finish line. Here, you will be allowed to ride through the finish and enjoy the post event party activities.

They also helpfully include a few tips on bicycle safety which, naturally for such a litigious nation, include the bxxxxxxg obvious; such as:-

1. Crossing Fast-Moving Traffic – There are a few points in the course where you will have to cross fast moving traffic. These intersections will be controlled by Hays County police officers. Please make sure that you use extreme caution when crossing the road and follow instructions given by officers. Why would’t you?

2. Steep Climbs – Every LIVESTRONG Challenge event has at least one ‘good’ climb. Please make sure you read the course descriptions, cue sheets, study the course profile and train appropriately. If possible and when safe, it is a good idea to pre-ride the course to know what you’re up against. Looking at the course profile, I’m not too sure which one’s the steep climb. 

Map and profile
Map and profile

 

3. Steep Descents – What goes up must come down. With every good climb there is always a fast descent and the Challenge is no exception to this rule. Please be prepared, watch other riders around you and look out for signage and course marshals indicating a steep descent. When descending, it is always a good idea to have your hands on the brakes just in case – when using the brakes, do not press on just one – slowly press on both sides to ensure a safe slow down. Note to self: steer well clear of cyclists who do not know how to use their brakes, presumably they’ll have a big red “L” on their backs.

4. Cattle Guards – Cattle Guards are a staple on Hill Country roads. These are put in place as a barrier for cattle while allowing for motor, pedestrian and bicycle traffic. To ride over a cattle guard safely, take a straight line (or else your wheel will get stuck in the guard and you’ll fall off, probably taking out several other riders and getting sued for dangerous cycling) and do not pedal. Some cattle guards are very smooth and some are rough. If you have any doubts, please do not hesitate to get off your bike and walk across, but watch your step–your bike cleat can (will) get stuck in the metal grates. Pay special attention to course signage indicating a cattle guard.

5. Low Water Crossings – You will encounter a series of low (how low?) water crossings during your journey through the Hill Country. Depending on the amount of rain, they have the potential to be moist and slick. Our course team will monitor the crossings during the weeks leading up to the event. Please pay close attention to course signage and volunteers when approaching the low water crossings. Do not hesitate to walk across if you are not confident riding.

I will not be twittering while riding but I’m pretty sure Lance will. The Fat Cyclist is bound to have a race summary, with photos, up on his site well before I get back to France, so if you can’t wait, you know what to do and where to go………………

Ready, steady, almost time to go

Today I went for what might well be my last long training ride prior to my departure. The weather forecast is predicting rain tomorrow. I was so cold after yesterday’s ride that this morning I decided to put on my winter jacket; a wise move as it turned out. The sky was blue, the sun was out but it was really, really chilly. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t pass another cyclist during my entire trip. 

This afternoon, when it had warmed up a bit, I had my final instructions and practice reassembling and disassembling of the bike. The owner of my LBS is a superb teacher and I’m now confident this will not be a problem although I will have to pop into Mellow Johnny’s to get my wheels inflated, and buy everyone a t-shirt. His assistant helped me secure the case to the car and it’s now resting in the entrance hall ready for my departure on Wednesday morning, bright and early.

I’m slowly ticking everything off on my “To Do List” and have started packing my small case. I am a champion packer. Years of travelling for business and/or pleasure means that I now have this down to a fine art. Everything that I need can be safely packed into a case which is allowed in the cabin. My two sisters, both seasoned travellers, are aghast at how little I take with me without seeming to appear too often in the same outfit.

I’m meeting up with one of my oldest friends in Austin and when I say “oldest” I mean one I have known the longest. She too has packing down to a fine art having worked for many years as a travel guide for an upmarket tour company. I once met up with her mid-tour at a hotel in Nice and laughingly joked at what I thought was one couple’s luggage for a 3-week trip. They had matching red suitcases, the largest I have ever seen: plenty of room for 4 average sized cyclists or my entire wardrobe. Turns out they were both hers! 

My secret is to stick to a very limited colour palette and outfits that can be cleverly accessorized. I’m going to be in Austin for effectively just three days. Wednesday and Monday I’ll be travelling and Sunday I’ll be in Lycra. That just leaves Thursday, Friday and Saturday. So that’s one pair of black trousers, 3 t-shirts, 3 scarves/shawls, one pair of shoes, a small hand bag, sample sizes of toiletries, underwear and a nightdress: leaving ample room for my cycling gear, shoes, helmet and pedals. 

No, the pedals are not going into the bicycle case. They’re plan B. If the bike goes missing in transit, I can hire a bike and put my pedals on it.

DNF

The training has gone well, I’ve averaged around 500km a week for the past month so feel I have plenty of mileage in my legs ready for next Sunday’s Livestrong Challenge. This isn’t my first ride for charity but I am hoping it’s going to be rather more successful than the last one. Friends may recall that Richard and I rode 125km from Birmingham to Oxford in July 2007, just before Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in London. Richard finished the course and I ended up in an ambulance!

We had set out from Solihull in the West Midlands at 07:15am in light drizzle, having quaffed a couple of Red Bulls; which incidentally does not give you wings, but it was worth a try. The rain later disappeared only to be replaced by a heavy crosswind or was it a headwind, when I could really have done with a tail wind. Who would have thought that the route to Oxford would have been so undulating; not me. Thanks to the weather leading up to that Sunday, the country roads were awash with debris, particularly gravel, mud and twigs which gave rise, on my part, to some kamikaze descending.

The “race” was well organised and the route clearly signposted. However, something (maybe the Red Bull) rendered us invisible to motorists, most of who were driving 4x4s and seemed to derive great pleasure in drenching us with muddy water and driving us into the hedgerows – it would never happen in France!

I had a “chute” at the start of an ascent, about half way into the course. I conveniently managed to land in a pile of mud which clung stubbornly to my pink Rapha rain jacket. On the subsequent steepish ascent, I found it difficult to get going again. At this point in a pro-tour race the mechanic usually gets out of the Directeur Sportif’s car to give the rider a bit of a push. As luck would have it there was no one around, so I kissed the tarmac again and, unbeknown to me at the time, broke my cleat. I then had problems attaching my shoes to the pedals and after 100km conceded defeat, allowing Richard to continue without me.

As I walked very disconsolately along the road pushing my Orbea Diva, I was picked up by an ambulance (hopefully my one and only trip in such a vehicle) and deposited at the next feed and service station. While, the mechanic there could have fixed a puncture, he was at a total loss as to how to deal with my broken cleat – so, race over. Frankly, I’m not sure I could have completed 125km but I would have liked to have given it a go.

Four in a row

From last week to this, we’ve gone from an Indian summer to autumn. Today I wore my long sleeved club jersey and gilet, teamed with ¾ bib shorts for what might well be my last assault this year on the Col de Vence. It was a chilly descent back home and I was forced to don my windproof.

After my 100km ride I was back home in time to watch the Tour of Lombardy on Rai Tre. I prefer, if at all possible, to watch racing on the host broadcaster’s channel.  Of course, I should have been tackling the Vuelta and post Vuelta ironing mountains, but what the heck!

I see the weather around Como was a little chillier than here and the sky somewhat greyer, but at least it was dry. Obviously the Italian commentators were hoping for and even anticipating a 4th Cunego victory.

Philippe “Pants on Fire” Gilbert had other ideas. Going for his 4th consecutive win in 10 days, he took off in the last 6km and only Sammy Sanchez was able to bridge up to him. Vino tried too but dropped back to the chasing group.

Both riders worked together until the final few hundred metres. Sammy gave it his best shot but he was never going to beat Gilbert in a sprint. Let’s not forget this is the man who bested Tom Boonen in a sprint at Paris-Tours last week end. The Italians had to settle for Cunego’s team mate, Santambrogio, winning the “most combative”.

Podium Boys
Podium Boys

So, two of my favourite riders finishing 1st and 2nd; a highly satisfactory result which could  have been bettered only if Vino, rather than Kolobnev, had also finished on the podium. This wasn’t the only good bit of sporting news. Villa beat Chelsea 2-1 at home. Let’s see if OGCN can make it three in a row tomorrow evening.

Tomorrow we’re off to Beausoleil, followed by a climb up Mont des Mules to La Turbie, weather permitting. Yes, there’s a storm brewing with spectacular flashes of lightening illuminating the shoreline. With any luck it’ll have cleared up by tomorrow morning.

Postscript: Chilly, but sunny and very enjoyable ride today; Vino won the Chrono des Nations (3rd in a row) but OGC Nice failed to give me 4 in a row by losing 4-1 away at Lorient.

Smart

One of my last preparatory acts is to break down my bicycle and put it into its hard case ready for transporting all the way to Austin, Texas. I intend to practise taking it apart and putting it back together again, several times, under the watchful eye of the owner of my LBS and his able assistant, one of my former club mates who has moved to a club which better supports his racing ambitions; Sprinter Club de Nice.

Yesterday, in readiness for today’s exercise, I transported my hard case down to the LBS. No mean feat in a Smart car. It did fit into the front seat, or should I say seats, of the car while leaving no room for me. It wouldn’t fit into the boot. So that just left the bike rack on the back of the car. While not a wholly satisfactory way of transporting the case, it was my only option.

The Smart bike carrier is triangular. Cupped holders secure the wheels and a separate arm secures the bike frame. I have happily transported the bike afar on this contraption, though I must admit to nervously glancing frequently in the mirrors to verify that a) it’s still there and b) it’s still in one piece.

In order to attach the case, I had to dismantle the arm, but it kept slipping off the cupped holders and listing to the right-hand side of the car. Undeterred, I tethered it with yards of wide white rope. The end result was weirdly sado-masochistic but not even Henry Houdini would have been able to escape. I will have to use the same method to transport the case containing the bike back home. Wisely, I have decided to book a taxi for the 10 minute trip to the airport early next Wednesday morning; far less stressful.

I took the bike down this afternoon and, after a quick espresso, work started in earnest and, as is so often the case, was nowhere near as difficult as I’d thought. I watched carefully, visualised the process, took notes and am going back on Monday afternoon to reassemble and disassemble it once again. In the meantime, I need to acquire a No 15 spanner to deal with the pedals. I’m now feeling quietly confident. Let’s hope it’s not misplaced.