Companionship

I habitually ride on my own. Even when I ride with my beloved, or my club mates, I inevitably end up riding on my own. You might conclude that this was because no one can hold my wheel but, sadly, it’s the other way around.  However, from time to time it’s nice to ride along, shoulder to shoulder, chatting with someone who rides at the same pace.

I got back last night from dinner in Nice to find a message from my friend, she wanted to ride with me today. When I left the Domaine this morning it had just finished raining and the sky was not looking promising. However, my traffic light karma was in overdrive. There are twelve sets of traffic lights between us, over a distance of 5kms, and each one turned green as I approached. I covered the distance to the meeting point in record time and, on account of the dark clouds, we opted for a number of circuits of Cap d’Antibes – quicker to get back home, should rain fall.

As we navigated our first circuit of the Cap, the sun started to break through the clouds and began dancing on the waves. We didn’t need to say anything to one another, we just smiled. It’s just one of the many reasons we both chose to live in this beautiful part of the world and why neither of us likes leaving it for too long.

 There weren’t too many other cyclists on the road but we bumped into one we both knew and who rode with us for a while – the owner of our LBS. He’s recovering from a recent accident (contretemps with a bus) and man flu, so we promised to be gentle with him and ride at his pace! He has a new toy, a power tap. Every time we ascended, he kept telling us his wattage and, since we kept pace, ours too.  

We were making plans for the forthcoming season: which sportifs we were going to take part in, which live races we were going to watch and how many kilos we were going to shed. We had a coffee together before I headed back home. She’s coming round tomorrow evening to raid my extensive library of cycling books for something to keep her company over the Xmas period.

I shall be adding to this collection in the coming weeks as I’ve received a number of Amazon vouchers as Xmas presents. Some think vouchers are a cop-out, but I love them. It means I can justify buying some expensive tomes that I’ve been lusting over.  Remember, I’ve got another big book case to fill.

Cool kit

I have read various reports that Cervelo Test Team’s kit was the best-selling and most popular of the season. It’s hard for me to comment. Round here most wear their club kit, all the time. There’s very good reasons for this. Generally, one wears club kit when riding with one’s club. Also it’s the cheapest kit you can buy. It’s either sold at cost or at a subsidised price if, like us, you’re lucky to have plenty of sponsorship. For example, we pay only Euros 27,50 for a short sleeved cycling top with a full-length zip. Probably, the next most popular brand is Bwin, very reasonably priced kit made by Decathlon. Sightings of premium brands such as Assos or Rapha are rare.

While you do see people sporting pro kit it’s either because they are pros, they live next door to a pro (and it’s a freebie) or they won the kit in one of the many club tombolas. No local sportif or randonée would be complete without either a goody bag or tombola. As a consequence, hands down, the most oft-sighted kit here is that of Astana. I suspect that this is what may have led Lance to conclude he was now more popular with the French when he was staying in Beaulieu-sur-Mer earlier this year.

Aesthetically, the Cervelo kit benefits from its paucity of sponsors and simple colour palette. My Swiss friend is a big fan of their kit. He has both versions, here he is in the black one. He’s not a member of a cycling club, rather he rides with a group of like-minded friends who also acquired both versions of the Cervelo kit. Coincidentally, he lives in the town where Assos is based but possesses not a single item of their range. This is a man with a seriously extensive cycling wardrobe.  I should know, I have seen it.

Quelle surprise!

Yesterday evening, Ryan Giggs (PFA Player of the Year) was voted BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year. He’d obviously not expected to win as he’d not prepared, or even thought to prepare, a speech. Nonetheless, it was a well deserved and popular award. He’s always struck me as the “model professional” footballer having spent the last twenty years or so loyaly toiling on Man United’s wings and, very regrettably, as he’s Welsh, never on England’s. He’s a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goal scorer. Indeed, his goal a few year’s back against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final makes it into my top 5 goals of all time.

Cavendish was one of the ten contenders but never really in with a shout among the likes of Jensen Button (2nd) and Ryan Giggs. But I’ve no doubt his time will come. 

I’m not sure why they call the award the “Sports Personality” when, with few exceptions, that’s exactly what they are patently not. Please don’t take this as anything other than censure of the title. Winners need to be focused and self-centred, not well-rounded, witty, and amusing dinner companions.

Of course, some develop into sporting personalities after retiring, others simply never do. Whenever I’ve been lucky to meet one I’ve found the safest topics of conversation to be themselves and their sport.

Chilled

A brave baker’s dozen set out from the club’s rendez vous point this morning. The sky was leaden and it was cold, damp, still wet under foot from the storms the night before and the hills behind were now dusted with snow. We rode briskly to keep warm each trying to take shelter from the chilly headwind which surely must have originated in Siberia. I rode at the head of the peloton, sheltering behind club mates half my size is pretty pointless.  Other cyclist’s were rarer than hen’s teeth.

At the pointage in Golfe Juan, I felt chilled and decided to return home. While riding, I’d paid particular attention to my posture and there was no re-occurrence of my earlier troubles. Sadly, I may have to replace my saddle. I cannot get another of the same model as it’s one that’s only made available to the pros. It’ll have to be a Bontrager, the same as I have on my Orbea, but in white to match my bar tape.

I picked up the newspapers on the way home and was glad of the additional warmth as I stuffed them down my winter jacket. I wanted to get home, and finish off the tidying up in time to watch Arsenal v Liverpool. If Arsenal lose, AVFC stay in 3rd place. I’d been so buoyed up by the boys’ win that I’d forgotten to check on how OGCN had fared away at Lens: badly. We lost 2-0, our 3rd consecutive loss. Christmas can’t come soon enough for Les Aiglons.

Journalists have been attending the camps of Astana and Team RadioShack, respectively in Pisa and Tucson, and attempting to keep the Lance v Bert rivalry stoked.  The latter is wisely not rising to the bait. Yes, Lance on paper your team has by far the stronger riders but do you have the stronger team? This story is going to run and run until its conclusion on the Champs Elysees next July. We’re just going to have to wait and see.

Good news comes in threes

Yes, I’ve had three pieces of excellent news this weekend. First up, my cycling club has retained its departmental championship (2eme series). We were 3rd overall, just behind the two much larger local clubs. Seventy-three team mates turned out for the pointage, just over 75% of our cyclists.

Second, I have reduced my percentage  body fat with the 6-week challenge, despite the blow-out meals in Paris. I will, of course, be continuing with the works outs over the winter months. 

Man U 0 - 1 AVFC

Best of all, my beloved boys in claret and blue became the first team to win at the Theatre of Dreams this season. A header from Gabi in the 21 minute secured all three points. Both teams had chances and it was an exciting match right to the final whistle. The last time we beat Manchester United, Becks was a promising young player. We won 3-1 at home in 1995 at the start of 1995-96 season. Conversely, we haven’t won at Old Trafford since 1983.

It was a key match for both teams. With Chelsea drawing 3-3 at home to Everton, winning would allow Man U to draw level on points, albeit with an inferior goal difference. While, AVFC’s nearest rivals, Spurs lost at home 0-1 to Wolves, Villa’s neighbours – thanks boys! Villa  now go 3rd and will stay there if Liverpool beat Arsenal tomorrow.

I spoke to a friend’s husband before the match and he revealed himself to be a supporter of the Red Devils. Since he doesn’t hail from Manchester, I just had to call him a glory hunter, though he claims to have supported the team from boyhood. So he’ll remember when Villa beat Man U in the 1957 FA Cup Final, the very last time we won it.

Everything to play for

Sunset, just as the sun starts to slip from the sky, is my favourite time of day here. Today I can see clearly from Cap Ferrat to Cap d’Antibes. Nice’s terracotta glow is dimming while the sky is every bejewelled shade of the rainbow: crimson, apricot, gold, aquamarine, mauve and finally an inky indigo blue. This is surely one of the many wonderful reasons for living here.

Another is the weather which this week has been cold (15 degrees) but sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. But I have not been able to ride.  I am literally champing at the bit to be let out. I’m like an addict who’s been denied her fix and is now starting to experience withdrawal symptoms.

I do love this time of year. Every town is tastefully lit up, the shops are full of goodies for the forthcoming festivities, there’s a thick cover of snow on the distant mountains, Xmas trees are everywhere and I’ve lost count of the number of Santas I’ve seen attempting to scale a balcony. Indeed, we even have our own competition in the Domaine for the best decorated balcony. Needless to say, some are very tasteful while others are not. But they all add to the sense of fun and occasion that is Xmas.

I shall be venturing forth tomorrow, whatever the weather. There’s only so much a girl can take. But I’ll be back in the afternoon to listen to how those boys of mine in claret and blue fare against the Red Devils. An upset may be on the cards.

Phenominal fundraising

The Fat Cyclist’s best posts are his open letters. Last Thursday, he wrote to Johan Bruyneel eloquently articulating the case for his employment as a professional cyclist with Team RadioShack. On Friday, Johann responded on his blog, inviting the Fat Cyclist to attend the team’s training camp this week end if he could raise US$10,000 for each of two charities: Livestrong (naturally) and World Bicycle Relief Fund. Furthermore, if he could raise US$25,000 for each charity, the team would sign and donate a Trek Madone.

By Sunday, Fatty had his fundraising strategy in place. Donating in multiples of US$5 to either charity would give the donor the chance of winning  either a custom painted Fat Cyclist Gary Fisher Superfly (donated by Gary Fisher Bikes) or a Team RadioShack signed Trek Madone.

Within 24hours, and less than three days after Fatty had written the letter, Team Fatty had raised US$50,000. Johan upped the stakes by doubling the target and offering one lucky donor the trip of a life-time to the last day of next year’s Tour in Paris. That ceiling was broken through on Tuesday. The amount raised now stands in excess of US$115,000 and it closes tomorrow noon (MST).

I am always amazed at the generousity of Americans to good causes. The cynics amongst you might say that it’s tax deductible and that they’re only in it to win something. However, I suspect that if the only prize on offer had been getting Fatty to the camp, his loyal readers would still have raised the money. I hope he has a blast. It couldn’t happen to a nicer chap.

Postscript: Team Fatty raised an amazing US$135,000

Grounded

I awoke this morning to a truly spectacular sunrise. As I looked out of the bedroom window, from the bed, I could see a pewter ribbon of water edged with liquorice before a burst of Euskatel orange which faded through Sammy Sanchez gold to watery turquoise and pale grey. This foretold of further fine, riding weather. No good to me though, I’ve been grounded for a few days.

I’ve been nursing a saddle sore for a while and, as a consequence, have not been riding properly astride my saddle, which has put pressure on my left knee and right hip. Saturday, the sore spectacularly erupted. Obviously, I had to ride on Sunday, in defence of our championship (still awaiting news of whether we managed to successfully defend it – I fear not), but had to cut short my ride as there’s a limit as to how long I can ride out of the saddle.

Since then, it’s as if I’ve got my nose pressed up against the window desperate to be let in, or, in my case, out. I’m even more desperate since seeing the long range weather forecast for next week: rain, rain and more rain.

On the plus side, this has allowed me to spend more time in the gym as I enter the last week of my 6-week challenge. I don’t think that there’s been any momentous change but my jeans are definitely a lot looser. In one way this is good, in another it’s not. My jeans now have a tendancy to slip off all of their own accord as I discovered yesterday evening when I bent down to get something out of the car. Fortunately, it was in the dimly lit garage and there was no one around to witness my humiliation.

I dropped my beloved off at the airport yesterday morning and am now enjoying some peace and quiet. He’s back briefly Sunday evening before departing again on Monday. This lengthy respite should allow me to clear all the jobs on my “To Do” list, including the ironing mountain, and ready the apartment for Xmas.

Slim margins

And we're off!

Over 200 local cyclists supported yesterday’s Telethon ride from St Laurent du Var to Mandelieu, and back. As usual, the ride was monitored, marshalled, fed and watered by a large number of volunteers without whom this type of activity would simply not be possible. So, thanks guys, I had a great ride.

My clubmates wisely rode at the head of the peloton, generally a safer place to ride. I managed to hang with them, only sliding back briefly on the Garoupe climb. However, I did bob back and forth trying to say hi to those riders that I know, particularly from other clubs, returning each time to my beloved’s side.

The weather was fine but cold and even I acknowledged that it’s time for full-fingered gloves and thermal leggings. I tend to resist wearing the latter as long as possibly largely because of the time it takes me to get into them. I bought them when I first started riding. I thought I might need XL but they were too large in the beam and so bought L, without trying them on. The difference between XL and L seemed to be largely in the width of the legs and the past two winters I have taken at least 10 minutes to struggle into or out of them. My beloved reckons if he’d filmed the activity for YouTube it would have been one of their funniest and most popular videos.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I took them out of the drawer to wear this morning for the Departmental Championship. Well, all I can say is that the new regime is having some effect. While, they are still snug in the lower leg, I could slip into them with relative ease – whoopee.

Our reign as departmental champions (10 consecutive championships) was going to be under threat today thanks to either the non or late renewal of licences by a large number of members. Thankfully, the young, the old and the ladies (all high points’ scorers) turned out in their droves and I’m now anxiously awaiting the result.

Yesterday afternoon, we listened to my beloved boys in claret and blue win easily at home against lesser opposition, before heading off to watch the OGCN v Marseille derby match. I made the fatal mistake of underestimating how cold it was going to be. My layering of cashmere and down was insufficient: I should have worn old faithful. This is a black, down anorak purchased in the late 80s at half-price, but still nonetheless expensive, and which was my constant companion for football matches in the English Premiership. In fact, I recall wearing it for a whole season one year, even including the matches in July and August. It doesn’t get too many outings in Nice, just the odd match over the winter period.

OGCN, despite losing 1-3, played a blinder (a technical football term) in the first half: equalising not long after OM’s opening goal which was a brilliantly executed counter-attack, against the run of play. Sadly, we lost Apam just before half-time for elbowing Heinze. It was always going to be a struggle to contain OM with just 10 men. We ran out of steam in the last 10 minutes, succumbing to a further two goals, one of them from an OGCN old-boy – the curse of the returning player.

Madame Scrooge

A number of my French friends have enquired whether my beloved and I are returning to the UK to spend Xmas with our families. The answer is  unequivocally – NO!

I recall reading somewhere that the most stressful events are, in no particular order, death of a spouse or immediate family member, divorce, moving house, a family holiday and spending Xmas with your relatives. Inviting more people than you can happily seat or cater for to a blow-out Xmas Day luncheon challenges even the most gifted hostesses. 

When we were growing up, we regularly spent Xmas with (childless) friends of my parents. You might be thinking my parents did this to avoid alternating Xmas’s with the grandparents. But this wasn’t an issue for us. My Dad’s an orphan and I saw my grandmother, who lived with my aunt and uncle, every week.

When we married, we spent our first Xmas with my beloved’s recently widowed mother (aka the outlaw) and Boxing Day with my parents. I believe I may have mentioned that my mother-in-law’s cooking carries a government health warning. Her modus operandi is to nuke everything. So, no weight gain that Xmas.

The following Xmas we were aiming for a similar arrangement but in reverse order: Xmas Day with my parents and Boxing Day with the outlaw. On Xmas morning, my beloved cracked his head open on the door lintel prompting a quick trip to A&E where they patched him up, gave him a tetanus injection but forgot (or so he claimed) to tell him to steer clear of alcohol. Cue Boxing Day morning and my beloved was feeling too unwell to travel to the outlaw’s.

Xmas number three and, fearing we were heading for a precedent, which might be difficult to break, we decided to visit friends in Hamburg. Indeed, most years, work schedules permitting, our preferred option has been to take vacation over Xmas, and spend it skiing. Hence, fairly early on, we established that our custom and practice was doing our own thing.

Of course, we have spent a couple of Xmas’s with my family, largely at my husband’s behest. In general, it’s once every 8-10 years, where they come and stay with us and I do all the catering, clearing up etc etc etc.

This year, we’ll once again be having a quiet Xmas at home. Treating ourselves to a little of our favourite foods while burning off any excess calories on the bike. I will endeavour to restrict my beloved’s access to our home office to an hour or so a day, leaving us plenty of time to tackle outstanding jobs, such as hanging our new artwork.