In situ

My beloved is going to be home for three whole weeks which is wonderful. If I say this often enough maybe I’ll even convince myself. He’s spent an inordinate amount of time away from home in 2009. His intention was always to spend alternate weeks at home but his schedule  and commitments got in the way. So I’m a little unaccustomed to having him home underfoot for such a long period of time.

It was damp, cold and overcast this morning. I eschewed the bike,  escaped for a few hours and  treated myself to a badly needed trip to the hairdressers. I haven’t been since May, frankly an unheard of state of affairs. When I worked, I used to go every 6 weeks but, here, I can happily push that out to every 12 weeks. Let’s face it my hair spends half its life hidden under a helmet.

I like to think that I’ve got a good head of hair although it’s easily the worst in my hirsute family. So I really should take more care of it, indeed this is going to be one of my new year’s resolutions. I spent several enjoyable hours relaxing in the hair salon. I’m not a chatty client, au contraire, I like to relax, enjoy the peace and quiet and do nothing more strenuous than flick through a few glossy magazines.

Generally, my beloved, not famed for his powers of observation, doesn’t notice when I’ve been to the hairdressers. But even he cannot fail to note that it’s much shorter and has regained its colour. I have it highlighted to camouflage the grey but I’m fighting a losing battle. Why is it that all the grey streaks are around my face? I have barely a grey hair anywhere else.

This extended sojourn means he’s actually going to be here on my birthday. It’s many years since we’ve been able to celebrate my birthday together, just the two of us. He usually endeavours to be in town for his birthday but away for mine and our wedding anniversary. Actually, I don’t really mind too much. I never make a big thing of dates. Plus, it’s so soon after Xmas. I generally celebrate with a girlfriend whose birthday is a few days before mine.

This year, I’ll have to book somewhere for our celebratory lunch. Of course, as it’s my birthday you might be expecting him to make the arrangements, particularly given the Xmas present fiasco. But it’s generally safer if I make the bookings, then I know it’s been done. Not for nothing is he called ” the man who just turns up”.

Let off the leash

What do you call someone who takes the wrong turning on a pre-agreed route leaving behind the person with the house keys, money, mobile phone, spare inner tube and pump: careless, foolish, idiotic? I think we know the answer to this one. It did of course mean that by the time he reached home his lunch was ready and waiting for him!

Eighteen brave club mates ignored the Arctic conditions to cycle to Roquebrune Cap Martin last Sunday placing us 2nd at the pointage and  catapulting us into 3rd pace, above CC Cannes, in the season long Souvenir Cattanneo  – chapeau guys!

After yesterday’s damp conditions, the sunshine returned, though it was still very cold. Today’s ride was just a club run but I bet we had a very good turn out. I don’t know because my beloved let me sleep in until 09:00am after a night disturbed by my coughing and sneezing.The chest cold is in its death throes.

When we finally went out for our ride it seemed as if every man, woman, child and dog had taken to two wheels. Largely, I suspect because there’s only so much families and festivities one can stomach in the space of a few days.

My nose was streaming much more than usual and I had to keep stopping to blow it. Most cyclists just duck their heads closer to the road, block one nostril and blow. I’ve tried this, without success. I tend to end up with snot all over my face and jersey – not a good look. Maybe my mucus is the wrong viscosity for such a manoeuvre.

I’ve just watched my beloved boys in claret and blue being given a footballing lesson at the Emirates. Arsenal ran out the deserving winners 3-0. Villa were undone by 21 minutes of footballing brilliance from Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench an hour into the match to strike terror into the heart of the Premiership’s meanest defence. Abou Diaby, France’s new Patrick Vieira, added a third in the dying seconds. This means Arsenal are now 4 points behind Chelsea, with a game in hand, and Villa will have to try harder if they’re to win a place in football’s elite – the Champion’s League.

Tuesday postscript: With both Man City and Spurs recording wins yesterday, tonight’s match against Liverpool was a “6-pointer”. In truth neither team played well enough to win it and it looked as it was heading for a goalless draw when a Villa error in the dying seconds of extra time left Fernando Torres one on one with Brad Friedel. The result was inevitable. Martin O’Neil hung his head in sorrow. Six points lost and an even bigger dent in our ambitions.

My 2009 highlights

Cyclingnews has asked a number of industry insiders for their highlights of the 2009 cycling season. Incredible as it may seem, they failed to ask me! I know, maybe their email is sitting in my spam.

Best Performance: A number of worthy candidates, but for me it has to be Fabulous Fabian’s victory in the ITT in Mendrisio. He was just so dominant, so majestic and had so much time on everyone else that he was celebrating 100 metres from the finish line. This man is in a class of his own.

Honourable mentions:- 1) The Manx Missile for his win in Milan-San Remo and his 6 wins in the Tour. 2) Philippe Gilbert for his season ending flourish.

Best Team: In anyone’s book, best team = most wins = Columbia HTC.

Biggest Disappointment(s): Rebellin, Astaloza and Colom. Need I say more.

Rider to watch in 2010: Generally I find it’s riders who have changed teams to be given a greater role on a new one. Some will deliver and some won’t. As a consequence, I suspect all eyes will be on Sky and riders such as Edvald Boassen Hagen, Simon Gerrans, Serge Pauwels, Bradley Wiggins et al. However, my tips for 2010: Alexandre Vinokourov, back to prove the UCI and critics that they were wrong; and, this man, the indefatigable Johnny Hoogerland.

Most Memorable Race: Cadel Evans attacking to win the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio and confounding all of his critics.

 

Biggest Surprise: Bert bonking in Paris-Nice but he redeemed himself the following day by continuously attacking thereby winning over the French. Though whether they’d have been as charitable if he’d knocked housewives’ favourite Sylvain Chavanel off the podium is debatable.

Negative brownie points

Xmas Day

Santa left me just what I wanted: a dry, sunny day for riding. After a slap up breakfast, which included my delicious home made muffins, we set off on rapidly drying roads to enjoy a few hours in the saddle. As we left the Domaine, we noted that one of the fir trees had been felled in last night’s storm. Either that or Santa and his entourage had crash landed before making their deliveries.

On a clear day, you can see forever

The sky was a vivid blue though the sea was green rather than its usual azur. The storm had cleared the air allowing you to see for miles around. There were plenty of cyclists out enjoying the morning as well as loads of families trying out the bikes, trikes, scooters and skates left them by Santa.

As usual, we had opened our presents on Xmas Eve. Earlier in the week, my beloved had uttered those dreaded words “I’ve got you a couple of things”. Dreaded because I hadn’t actually asked for anything, meaning he’d used his initiative aka I would be getting something which he would like. 

I can’t claim to have been disappointed, more resigned, as befits Mrs Scrooge. He had bought me a small and a large desk diary for 2010. He said he thought the latter could be useful for the office. I don’t need to tell you that buying your loved one a “gift” for the office is unlikely to win you any brownie points. Indeed, you’re far more likely to end up in “the dog house”. Obviously, my beloved had failed to observe that I already have my 2010 diary, the same one I buy every year, and which I’ve been using for the past few weeks!

In case you’re interested, I bought my beloved a Panasonic Lumix combined camera and video, a waterproof carry case for his mobile phone, money, licence etc when he’s riding and a new razor/hair trimmer. Fortunately, he’ll be able to make reparation as my birthday is only three weeks away.

In flagrente

After a few hours of respite yesterday, the downpour started again and has continued unabated today. I popped out early this morning to collect the edible goodies I had ordered for Xmas. Pre-ordering enables one to avoid the unavoidably long queues. 

There was a record queue at the bread shop snaking all around the premises. But it’s well organised with different staff taking one’s order to those taking one’s money, so I wasn’t in there too long. I was much amused to see that the nearby greengrocer/general store had hired security. One expects this in Gucci but not at the greengrocer’s. However, this place probably takes more in a year than all the Gucci stores on the Cote d’Azur. In fact both the bread shop and the greengrocer’s are veritable gold mines. Apart from the fact that they sell excellent produce, they’re in a great location and, to top it all, have free car parking. The car of choice is typically a Porsche Cayenne with Monaco number plates. Yes, while the tax dodgers rent broom cupboards in Monaco,  they live in palatial pads in and around St Paul de Vence. 

Popular stocking filler!

 

I returned to discover that my beloved had received a visit from Cagnes sur Mer’s finest and had purchased the obligatory calendar. Here one doesn’t tip either the postman or the fireman, instead one buys their calendars for a sum of one’s choosing. If I had known that Cagnes sur Mer’s firemen were going to get their kit off in this year’s calendar, I would have made a bulk purchase. It would have saved me buying a number of copies of Dieux du Stade for my girlfriends. 

Monsieur mars

 

I particularly like the look of Mr March. Though I don’t recall any of these hunks coming round to rescue me from our fire in 2005. Mind you, it’s hard to tell in all that gear they wear. However, since our very own M le President is head honcho down at the fire station (incidentally, he doesn’t feature in the calendar, although he could), I may have to pay him a visit at work on a pressing club matter. Seeing my interest in the calendar, my husband has wisely confiscated all matches and the candle ban remains in force. He doesn’t want any more conflagrations. 

Postscript: Apparently, M Mars is a keen mountain biker – more good news!

It’s more than my job’s worth

Last Thursday, I unfortunately missed the postman who was bringing me my big box of Amazon goodies (books, CDs and DVDs) to enjoy over the Xmas period. If he can’t put the package in my frankly gi-normous post box, he usually leaves it outside my front door or, at worst, with the security guards on the gate (as per my instructions) but no, he chose to leave me a dreaded yellow slip and take my box away. Friday, there was nothing else for it but to brave the huge queue in the local post office to rescue my package.

After waiting 20 minutes I handed over my yellow slip to the clerk who then rummaged in a manual register. Alas, the postman had failed to enter my package into this registry and equally he had failed to put the reference number on the slip so they were unable to locate the package. I tried to look suitable unimpressed. They took a copy of the slip, promising to look for it when they had some free time and said they would call me.

From previous experience, I know that a promise from the Post Office to give you a call ranks right alongside “the cheque’s in the post”. Having heard nothing from them, on Monday I went on-line and got the tracking number from my Amazon account before re-tracing my steps to find an even longer queue.

When it was eventually my turn, I explained what had happened and this time the clerk managed to locate my tracking number on the computer system, but to no avail. The whole process rests or falls on the correct manual entry being made in the registry. This time I stood firm. I said the delivery contained Xmas presents (I didn’t mention they were for me) and I wasn’t leaving until I got them.  You could hear the collective groan in the very long queue behind. I apologised but said it was unfair to inconvenience me simply because one of their colleagues had not followed their own procedures.

After my bold stand, none other than the Post Office manager was dispatched to look for the parcel. Lo and behold, he was back within 15 minutes barely managing to hold a rather heavy and sizeable box – a result.

Cabin fever

Following close on the “Big Chill”, we’re now experiencing the “Wash Out”. Leaving aside my cold, it’s not been possible to ride for the past 4 days and the outlook is little better. After spending a couple of days cooped up inside, I had a list of errands longer than my arm which occupied most of the morning.

This afternoon, a spot of ironing (yes, the Vuelta ironing mountain is slowly subsiding) and then off to the club for the weekly catch up with my fellow committee members. There’s more to running a cycling club than one might think. Initially, of course, there’s quite a steep learning curve for the new incumbents. One is taking over tasks that have been done well but in a particular fashion for a number of years. Next, one’s thinking  how to improve the processes but first one has to make sense of what’s already there.

When the then president-elect asked me if I’d like to become Club Secretary I had the sense that he had exhausted all other avenues but I was more than happy to agree to help out. He explained that he wished to delegate much more than the current incumbent; wholly necessary as he still works full-time.

The new president also wants the club to meet the requirements of all members, not just a select few. This is more difficult to achieve but, by splitting the club into sub-sets, each with their own budget, it should be  easier to achieve.

Some changes have been forced upon us. No one was willing to take responsibility for organising the annual club luncheon and dance. Attendances have been steadily declining over the past few years and feedback from the membership had indicated that the price per head was too high. A satisfactory compromise has been reached with a cold fork buffet after the AGM followed by a dance. The older members, of whom there are many, really enjoy the dancing.

We have increased the membership of the cycling school and the number of racers competing for the club, both of which are very encouraging and will garner plenty of positive press coverage for the club and its sponsors. We are now supporting increased participation in local sportifs and randonees. While my own section “Recreational Afternoons” will shortly have access to both the tv and internet to assist with teaching IT and English classes where numbers are growing slowly, but surely, thanks to my baked goodies.

Wondrous Japan

I was fortunate to catch up with an old friend over the phone yesterday. We keep in touch largely by email but like to talk to one another on or around our birthdays which straddle Xmas. We met while working on a major construction project for my previous employer. She’s an architect and designer with a track record in bringing very difficult projects to fruition. She has a real clarity of vision and not only did I love working with her but I also learned a lot from her too. She now lives in Italy, not far from Venice, so we don’t get to see one another often enough.

She’s just come back from a month-long trip to Japan, her first visit. I went two year’s ago during cherry blossom time and was totally enchanted. I had wanted to visit for so long that I was sure the reality would not live up to my expectations. However, any expectations I had were just blown away. It’s such a beautiful, magical place.

We found that we both adored the architecture of the original wooden dwellings, the peace and tranquillity of the temples, the almost too beautiful to eat food, the enchanting traditional arts and crafts, the hustle, bustle and colour of the food markets and the unrelenting charm and politeness of the Japanese. Frankly, I can’t wait to return and have a long list of things I still want to see including Keirin racing, which in Japan, differs markedly from that shown in the Olympics on the track. Let me explain.

Since it started in 1948 Keirin racing  has become a Japanese social institution attended annually by around 57 million spectators  who place bets amounting to 9 billion Euros. Races are held almost every weekend at 50 tracks around Japan.

Picking the winner of a Keirin race is a complicated matter. The riders have to announce their tactics in advance while the punters  take account of the background of each rider, their blood group, astrological sign and thigh measurements, starting position and seasonal form. This is augmented by information about the athletes in special newspapers. bizarrely, most people don’t watch the races “live” but watch on the TV screens at the track.

Once the riders come out of the tunnel, “the racers gate”, they ride slowly to the start, fix their bikes in position in the starting machine, and bow before getting into the saddle. There are usually six to nine racers who are clad in standardized, bright, single coloured jerseys and helmet covers, for easy identification. The races are usually 2000m in length and held on steeply banked tracks.

The race starts slowly. The riders jockeying for an advantageous position behind the pacemaker, who slowly raises the pace before leaving the track after three laps. A bell then rings opening up the sprint where the riders reach speeds of up to 70 km⁄h in the photo-finish sprint for the line. 

A certain amount of pushing and shoving is tolerated by the rules and, as the speeding riders jostle for the best position, spectacular crashes are not uncommon. The surface of the track is rough, providing good traction even in the rain. The racers wear plastic body armour under their jerseys to prevent serious injury.

Top riders will race 80–100 times a year, prize money can be upwards of Euros 100,000 for the winner of a large event, with the best earning up to Euros 1.5m a year. The riders all use approved and specially built, similar, steel framed, bikes with a choice of gearing: 12–16 teeth on the sprocket and up to 55 on the chain ring.

Prospective racers must attend the Japan Bicycle Racing School, dedicated to teaching the academic and practical skills they will need to compete. The 10% of applicants fortunate enough to be accepted undergo a strict, 15–hour per day training regime. During the 10–month period of training and study, the students generally aged between 18 and 22, learn the rules and tactics of the sport, bicycle mechanics and physiotherapy as well as riding technique, and endurance.

Those who pass the exams are approved by and registered with the Japan Keirin Association as competitors, eligible to take part in Keirin events. There are approximately 4000 registered riders and each year 150 new riders are admitted, first to a four-month stint in the newcomer’s league, thereafter they are assigned a ranking which is adjusted, based on performance, every four months.

Cold, colder, coldest

A week or so ago I had a dramatic spike in viewing figures. Nearly 300 people viewed my site over two days, rather than the usual 1-12.  At first I couldn’t figure out why. Evidently, one of my posts “Hot, hotter, hottest” had a similar title to a new site which features hot looking, scantily dressed  ladies performing certain acts. In fact, the sort of site where you might find a Cherry Whipley!

Now, I am generally very careful both with the content and titles. In fact when we were first discussing appropriate titles for the site some wit came up with ” No Panties Required”. It’s true that one doesn’t require underwear on a bike, nothing should come between you and your pad. But I did feel that it was a tad inappropriate and many viewers might come away sadly disappointed, despite the plethora of lycra clad lovelies, that there was nothing more scintillating than the cycling adventures of a middle-aged woman.

This week has been very cold, rarely reaching 10 degrees C at midday. However, by muffling myself up like Michelin Man, I’ve managed a couple of hours on the bike most days. Yesterday, however, we awoke to a winter wonderland and icy roads. Time for the hometrainer to put in an appearance.

Today’s pointage is over at Roquebrune Cap Martin but as the roads will be  icy until well into the morning, we’re going to pass on this one. Additionally, I’ve got a sore throat and impending head cold. Just what a girl wants for Xmas. I spent most of yesterday curled up on the sofa, under a throw, trying to stay warm and sinking plenty of hot lemon with honey and even a wee dram of whisky – my sure fire cure for a cold. Indeed, I’m feeling much improved this morning.

My boys in claret and blue are still hogging a Champion’s League spot after beating Stoke 1-0 at home yesterday, I think it’s fair to say they rode their luck but got the desired result. Meanwhile, OGCN stopped the rot with an away draw at Grenoble.