Week end musings

My beloved returned from Germany suffering from a cold and feeling very sorry for himself. A ride on Saturday morning soon restored his good humour which was further boosted by our boys in claret and blue who struck two goals to win away from home at Fulham. The chase for the 4th spot in the Premiership is heating up with Liverpool, Man City, Spurs and AVFC all in hot and heavy pursuit.

Sadly, OGCN lost 3-2 away at Monaco. After a couple of contentious refereeing decisions, which arguably cost the Aiglons the match, their fans, despite a heavy police presence, angrily stormed onto the pitch. The penalty is likely to be either a heavy fine or a match played behind closed doors, just what a cash-strapped club needs. Nice haven’t won for two months and are slipping ominously into the relegation zone. While we await the return of most of the first team from the African Cup, rumours abound that our one good striker could be leaving before the transfer window closes.

This morning we set out for a ride with the club. It was very cold, the sky looked ominous all along the coast but back in the hills the sun was sparkling off the snowy hill tops. On the outskirts of Antibes, the sleet started to fall and two-thirds of the peloton turned tail and headed home into a fierce headwind. Why get wet when you can always ride tomorrow?

After a warming coffee at our local watering hole, pouring over the Sunday newspapers, we headed back home. Perversely, by mid-day the sun was out in full-force and the weather was truly glorious. I was sorely tempted to get back on the bike and go out again however I was having the windows and terrace cleaned this afternoon. With friends coming for dinner on Monday evening, and guests arriving next week end, this was a task I couldn’t postpone.

Instead, I checked out what had happened overnight. Was Andy Murray going to be the first Brit for many a long year to lift a Grand Slam singles title? No, razor sharp Roger Federer disposed of him in 3 straight sets to win his 16th Grand Slam title. Later I checked on the results of French cycling season opener, GP La Marseillaise. This was won by Jonathon Hivert of newly-promoted Pro-Continental team Saur Sojasun, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil was 2nd and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis was 3rd. 

On a final note, I’d like to wish Christophe Le Mevel a speedy recovery. The other day he attempted to make running repairs to his TT bike while in the saddle but merely succeeded in almost severing his little finger. Christophe, if your bike needs fixing, please take it to your’s and my LBS: Stars’n’Bikes.

Postscript: Loic Remy is (thankfully) remaining at OGCN.

Game, set and match

I shall shortly be leaving to collect my beloved from the airport, he’s been away for three blissful days. Yes, after almost 5 weeks of living in one another’s pockets, I was granted a brief respite.

 I have long realised that while he’s away I am four-fold more effective. I’ve tried to figure out why and I think it all boils down to time management. When he’s not here, I can tackle things in my normal, logical, driven fashion and I don’t become side-tracked. When he’s home, my focus changes and everything revolves around his timetable, not mine. In addition, there’s that unfortunate tendency of his to volunteer my services. I need to put some preventative measures in place to stop this from happening.

Of course, one consequence of his birthday present to me, is that I shall have a training programme to which I must adhere if I’m to achieve my desired results. So, I can use that to prevent him from derailing my timetable. Yes, I had a very satisfactory meeting with my prospective trainer this morning and we’ve agreed upon a course of action for the next six months. I shall keep you posted.

When I told my family that I was getting a cycling trainer they all wanted to know why, given that I already knew how to cycle. So I decided to put it in context. “Did you ask my sister Lynn why she continues to have tennis lessons, even though she knows how to play tennis?” “That’s different” they said, “she’s trying to further improve her game”. “Exactly, I just want to cycle better, faster and for longer”. I think they took the point.

More guilty pleasures

I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy slobbing around the flat in my nightwear and fleecy tracksuit. Something else I like to indulge in, while wearing the afore-mentioned, is reading in bed. Now I can only do this while my husband’s away. When he’s home, we have to have lights off as soon as he wants to go to sleep. When he’s not here, I can indulge to my heart’s content. I always have at least one cookery book, one book on cycling and a book on something else on the bedside table, ready and waiting for a little illicit pleasure.

At the moment, I’m immersed in “Super Freakonomics” having already read, and immensely enjoyed, it’s pre-cursor “Freakonomics”. It’s written by two guys who look at the world from a different angle, ask lots of interesting questions and try to answer them. I guess they’re attempting to make sense of modern times with mind-blowing, articulate and sometimes amusing results. 

I found comfort in one of their findings today and I quote “…..expert performers – whether in soccer or piano playing, surgery or computer programming – are nearly always made, not born.” So there’s hope for me yet. I am meeting with my prospective cycling coach tomorrow morning. I bet Jeannie Longo’s quaking in her Sidi’s!

Viral celebrity

A charming tale caught my eye in yesterday’s L’Equipe. Apparently, the Port Adelaide Cycling Club decided to pick a completely unknown European rider to support during the Tour Down Under. After some deliberation, they selected Arthur Vichot, a neo-pro with FDJ taking part in his first professional race and who, more importantly, was on Facebook. The club’s intention was to make a huge fuss of Vichot throughout the race with hordes of fans on the roadside calling out “Allez Arthur”, wearing “Allez Vichot” t-shirts, waving French flags and, of course, daubing his name on the road. Indeed, rumour has it he was better supported than one Lance Armstrong.

Allez Vichot

Prior to the start of the Tour, one of Arthur’s new found fans asked Lance if he’d ever heard of Vichot. When he said he hadn’t, she told him that he would do by the end of the Tour. Not only was all this support a tremendous boost to young Vichot, who finished a creditable 48th, just over 3minutes down on Greipel, but it also bought a smile to the lips of the more seasoned pros whenever they saw Vichot’s fans. In addition, the story has attracted the attention of the press worldwide.

Arthur’s Australian fan club has garnered more than a thousand members  and they’re eagerly going to follow his progress throughout the season. Some will even be coming over to Europe to watch him ride.

I thought this was such a lovely idea and The Port Adelaide Cycling Club are to be commended. Young Vichot will never forget his first professional race nor the kindness of the locals with whom, in time-honoured Aussi tradition, he shared a beer.

Manx missile or toothless terror

It rained yesterday: statement of fact, not a complaint. This allowed me to catch up with my admin and check out what had been happening in the cycling world while I’d been sequestered in Birmingham.

Andre Greipel, in imperious form, had won the Tour Down Under. The previous holder of the title, one Alan Davies, was cast asunder on Day 1 because his team had forgotten to bring the radios. I’m not sure who was to blame for this blunder, but I have a suggestion – checklists. Come on, you know it makes sense! 

Meanwhile, over on another continent, Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom won La Tropicale Amissa Bongo. Our local boy, Amael Moinard was 7th. Over on another continent, lime-green clad Vicenzo Nibali won the Tour of San Luis. Next up, the Tours of Qatar and Oman. Don’t forget your buckets and spades.

I had been looking forward to seeing a sprint fest between Boonen, who has laid claim to the sand dunes these past few years, and Cavendish, the fastest man on two (non-motorised) wheels.  Sadly, due to an infected tooth or teeth, Cavendish won’t be putting in an appearance before Ruta del Sol. It’s all yours Tom.

Toothless Tom

Tom will probably sympathise. I seem to recall he’s lost a few teeth for similar reasons. Indeed, at one time, I was wondering whether he might become “Toothless Tom”. Given that these problems are preventable with a rigorous dental regime, I decided to write to HTC-Columbia and give them the benefit of my encyclopaedic dental knowledge. You know what they say about a little knowledge being dangerous. Well, it’s totally true. It will be interesting to see if I get a response.

Thank heavens, I’m back

It feels like I’ve been away for weeks, not four days. I’ll never moan about the weather here ever again. Coming in to land at Gatwick, I found myself looking out on a bleak wintery landscape swirling with snow. I bought myself a salad lunch at M&S to eat on the Gatwick Express. It was the same price as a 2-course “menu” with coffee here. At Victoria I bought a Zone 1 tube ticket – £4 for 4 stops. It had only been £1.60 the last time I’d been in town – talk about rampant inflation. Or should that be daylight robbery?

En route to Birmingham New Street I kept thinking that I wanted to go home – now. I finally arrived at my parents late that afternoon ready to catch up with their news before settling down to watch the 2nd leg of that all-important League Cup semi-final, Villa v Bolton. It was a 10-goal thriller! Yes, when was the last time you saw 10 goals in a football match? It started with Villa going down two goals, putting Bolton in the lead on aggregate, fortunately only briefly. Villa levelled the score with a penalty and Bolton were reduced to 10  men. Thereafter, the goals came thick and fast. Finally, after a 10 year absence, Villa were on their way back to Wembley.

Thursday, I had offered to look after my Mum to give my Dad a break. It’s tough being a carer 24/7. I honestly don’t know how he does it. I decided that Mum and I should do something together. As she’s got a bit of a sweet tooth and enjoys a coffee and cake most days, I thought we would make a couple of cakes together.

Mum and I had never cooked together when I lived at home. I didn’t start cooking until I went to university. It’s always a bit of a nightmare cooking in someone else’s kitchen. They never have the same tools as you or use the same ingredients. My sister had kindly provided the baking tins, raisins, butter and baking powder. The rest was in the cupboards. My Mum had an old set of scales but it was in pounds and ounces so I reverted to an old tried and tested recipe: use the same weight in eggs, sugar, flour and butter. We made a Victoria sponge, sandwiched together with cream and apricot jam, and a raisin and apple loaf which we sliced and put in the freezer.

She seemed to enjoy the activity though it’s sometimes hard to tell. From time to time she says something that makes you wonder but most of the times it’s complete gibberish. I just try to look as if I understand, nod and say something affirmative.

Friday, we took a taxi into Birmingham to have lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant. It was intended to be a treat for my Dad but they both enjoyed the meal and the trip out. It rained all day Friday. I had forgotten just how damp it can be in the Midlands and I was soon coughing – break out the Benylin.

We left Saturday lunchtime. It had been lovely catching up with my parents but, after four days off the bike and having spent so much time indoors, watching tv, I was desperate to get home.  We got back late evening and headed straight to a local restaurant for dinner. Fortification for today’s pointage in Antibes, by way of Roquefort les Pins to pick up a ticket (more points).

Postscript: AVFC’s opponents in the League Cup final will be Manchester United who today (31 Jan) demolished Arsenal. The boys are going to have to pull out all the stops and more if they’re to defeat the red devils.

Pipped at the post

Another sunny day which I kicked off with a ride. I hadn’t gone far when I met up with two club mates and so I rode with them. I hadn’t seen either of them for a while. One was just recovering from a nasty dose of man flu while the other has been kept busy by his 12 grand-children.

We passed a number of club mates, going in the opposite direction, who had been out on that morning’s earlier club ride. Like me these two see no reason to ride when it’s really cold, preferring to leave an hour or so later. They also like to stop for a coffee and a chat on the way back: much more companiable.

Mind you I’d no sooner gotten back home, showered, changed and had lunch than I was off down to the club for our monthly meeting on the forthcoming Brevet Kivilev. Who knew that there were so many small details that needed to be taken care of – not me. For example, as the routes criss-cross 16 communes that’s 16 letters that have to be written to 16 mayors advising them of our plans. We’re also short of around 20 volunteers and while we’ve not yet resorted to press-ganging members and their families, or even strong arming them, don’t put it past us.

Nor have we started to solicit donations for the all-important tombola, the key prize of which is usually a bike frame. I’m donating one of those string vests (wouldn’t be seen dead in it), a Mellow Johnny’s T-shirt and a couple of cycling books. We’re hoping to drum up a few pieces of kit from the locally resident pros and anything else we can lay our hands on. M le President has done an excellent job on the tombola for the last couple of years. After all, if you had a local business, you’d want to keep on the right side of the head honcho down at the fire station – wouldn’t you?

The meeting ran into the regular monthly club meeting for which there was a particularly good attendance. All the better to hear that we had retained our regional championship, 2nd division on account of the number of members. Not only that but we’d come 2nd overall, beating off two larger clubs from nearby Antibes. I think this gives M le President bragging rights at the next UFOLEP meeting.   

Got back home (again) just in time to watch the highlights of today’s first stage in Adelaide of the Tour down Under which was won by Andrei Greipel (HTC-Columbia) who narrowly beat Gert Steegmans (Radio Shack) whom we’ve not seen competitively on a bike for a while – welcome back Gert. I last saw him in the tribune watching the team presentation at last year’s Tour de France in Monaco, where he resides.

Meant to be broken

I generally don’t cycle on a Monday. It’s the designated day for all matters administrative but, from time to time, rules are meant to be broken. I just couldn’t resist riding today. The sky was a clear blue, the sun was shining, and the mercury had risen above 10 degrees for the first time it what seems like months. This morning, I dropped my beloved off at the airport, drove back, changed and went out on the bike – bliss.

It’s hard to articulate how much I love cycling. I’m not sure whether it’s the freedom of the road, the physical exertion, just being out on one’s own in the open air, the weather, the scenery or what. Just that I really miss it when I can’t ride and I won’t be able to ride while I’m at my parents’  later this week. So I’m making the most of today and tomorrow. Can you blame me?

It’s back!

The alarm went off at 07:00am and neither of us wanted to get up, but duty calls. When we arrived at the rendezvous point there were only three other club mates. Fortunately, by the time it was 08:30am, most had turned up. In fact, considering the climatic conditions (cold, damp and very overcast), it was a good turn out. Almost immediately after we set off, the peloton broke up into half a dozen groups, I was in the lead group and didn’t get distanced until the climb out of the Port of Nice.

Eventually, I was overtaken by all of the groups, but didn’t lose sight of the last of them until the climb up to Cap d’Ail. Something of a record. The sky looked distinctly heavy and threatening rain as I rode through Monaco. I arrived at the Town Hall in Beausoleil, just as my  club mates were setting off on the return leg. While it was hard to tell, judging by the entries on the register, I feel we may well have retained our regional championship.

By the time we got back home, we both felt really chilled. Lucky then that I had put a casserole in the oven before we left that morning. After a quick shower and change (into my fleecy tracksuit), I was ready for lunch. We then settled down to watch my beloved boys in claret and blue who were home to West Ham. Sadly, despite a number of opportunities, the boys failed to get onto the score sheet. It was a rather boring draw.

Fortunately, help was at hand to put some sporting zing into my afternoon in the shape of a 51km criterium around Adelaide, ahead of next week’s Tour down Under, won by Sky. Evidently starting as they mean to go on. They managed to disrupt the HTC-Columbia train to deny Andre Greipel, snatching a win for Greg Henderson and 2nd place for Chris Sutton – chapeau boys!

Perfect present

I’ve made little mention recently about football largely because the arctic conditions in Europe have forced the cancellation of a number of fixtures. Furthermore, the African Cup has denuded the French League of players, none more so than OGCN who have lost 8 players for the next few weeks. Consequently, they managed to lose a cup game away to amateur opposition in northern France. As they’re hovering just above the relegation zone it’s to be hoped that recent transfer window signings will boost the squad ahead of the return of  those playing in Angola.

Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue whose last two matches have been cancelled due to afore-mentioned conditions, delivered the perfect present for my birthday. An  away (0-1) win against Blackburn Rovers in the first-leg of the League Cup semi-final. A competition they last won in 1996. I was there at Wembley to watch them beat Leeds. I am eagerly awaiting the return leg at Villa Park which should see them through to the final. Though sadly, this time, I won’t be at Wembley to see them play in the final. I’ll just have to watch it on tv.

This wasn’t my only great present. My girlfriend with whom I celebrated our birthdays over oysters and champagne bought me book of 1001 cycling photographs. While my kid sister has bought me tickets to see Peter Kay at the O2 Arena in London in November.

Sadly, it rained all day preventing me from celebrating my birthday as I would have wished, in the saddle on the open road. Still, there’s always tomorrow or the day after.