Spring is sprung

I so totally love this time of year.  The countryside is really green and lush, there are wild flowers in the hedgerows, the fruit trees, wisteria and lilac are blossoming, there’s catkins, pussy willows, plenty of new, lime green foliage and the birds are full of song. The mid-day temperatures are in the early twenties and it’s time to start climbing upwards, onwards and further afield. So, it’s really difficult, particularly when the legs are feeling (if not looking) good , to take a day’s rest as per the programme. But I did as instructed.

What’s made it worse is that I’ve gotten back from my English class to discover my beloved’s home and he’s gone for a ride. Which is great, but I wish I could too. As I look out the window, the sky and sea have merged and there’s this endless vista of azure blue. I could gaze at it all evening, but I must prepare my beloved’s dinner. He’ll be hungry when he gets back from his ride.

I see Cav’s back on song in Romandie. I’m not sure what his two fingered salute at the finish signified: 2nd win of the season or……………… Anyway, I’m pleased to see his season is finally back on track (along with Renshaw’s) and I’m sure he’s going to be racking up wins left, right and centre.

Someone to watch over me

I went on a training ride with my cycling coach today and, fortunately, our paths didn’t cross with any of my team mates. So my secret’s still safe for now.  Of course, it’s very disconcerting to ride with someone whose legs are only a little larger, but less flabby (bat wings) than my arms. However, it’s much easier doing intervals when he’s looking at the stop watch and telling me when to start and, more importantly, when to stop. This was a repeat of a loop and exercise I did last week. Today, I was 2.5km an hour faster. Yes, I try that much harder when there’s someone breathing down my neck. Don’t we all?

On my return journey I popped into my usual watering hole for the newspapers and a coffee only to meet up with my sister, who was returning to the  UK later today, and her friends, who have just arrived. This gave us an opportunity to briefly catch up. I sensed she would’ve preferred to stay and work on her tan.

I had totally forgotten that the water was going to be switched off today for maintenance/essential repairs. That’s right, no shower for me after my sweat inducing ride. I therefore felt compelled to stay home. Any excuse to slob about in my favourite fleecy tracksuit and watch some cycling on the internet. This also allowed me to tackle numerous items on my all important “to do” list. Including completing my lesson plans for tomorrow’s English lesson.

My beloved is back tomorrow afternoon. This meant, for once, he was away on his birthday (yesterday). However, he put his trip to the UK to good use, earning brownie points by taking his mother (aka the outlaw) out to dinner and giving her the recently taken photo of him riding in La Louis Caput. I confess it was a really good photo of him and while I was tempted to hang on to it, I do after all have the real thing. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my photo, taken by the same photographer. It seems to focus on my left shin, not one of my finer bits, and I appear to be grimacing quite badly. So much for smiling for the camera.  The wind was obviously making my gilet billow so  I look like an elderly Bessie Bunter on wheels. Haven’t these photographers ever heard of airbrushing?

Back to the cycling: Peter Sagan, the revelation of Paris-Nice, took over the leader’s jersey in the Tour of Romandie. He’s being hotly pursued by Marco Pinotti, who was wearing it after yesterday’s prologue, and Frenchman, Jeremy Roy. On the football front, it’ll be a  Bayern v Inter final and I wouldn’t bet against “the Special One” picking up his second Champion’s League title. That man is a master strategist and tactician.

Sign on the dotted line

This afternoon I spoke with the President of our local UFOLEP branch about a delicate matter so it was not an appropriate time to raise my concerns about certain clubs serving inferior brands of coke (ie not the real thing). As a club we have been much solicited and, while we have lost a few members, even more seem keen to join. In particular, because of the (financial) support we give to our racers, disaffected members from other clubs are knocking on our door.

Not unnaturally, UFOLEP has rules to counter this. Apparently, we are permitted only four transfers during each two-year period. We had two last year, we’ve already had one this season and I’ve just submitted a request for another three ,while I know there’s possibly another three or four in the pipeline. Frankly, UFOLEP has very few races but coincidentally two of them are this week end. I suspect that neither FFC nor FSGT share UFOLEP’s scruples, so we may well be in the clear for the rest of the season. However, having three licences is proving expensive for both club and member. So, it’s highly likely that neither the racers nor the juniors will hold UFOLEP licences next season. 

M Le President is on vacation until Saturday and I know that our Directeur Sportif is going to get quite excised about this but clearly there’s not a lot we can do if those are the rules. We will have to wait for a bit of inter-presidential interface. Strictly between you, me and the gatepost, it appears that some of our would-be members are cycling club slappers. Yes, they’ve had more cycling clubs than you or I have had hot dinners. Which begs a whole lot of other questions. Meanwhile, we have at long last found someone who’ll fit into those super small cycling jerseys.

Discretion assured

Had my last appointment today with the opthalmic surgeon before my right eye gets lasered and underwent probably the worst bit of the whole process. My right eye was dilated with belladonna, then he stuck what felt like a small telescope in my eye and applied pressure to the eyeball. It felt as if it were being sucked out of its socket. Fortunately, it didn’t last long.

Knowing I was having  my one eye dilated, I had elected to walk there and back. On my return journey, I noticed a small group of British cyclists,  looking lost. They looked mightily relieved when I enquired (in English) if they needed any assistance. They did. I directed them back to the coast road: my good deed for the day.

Today was a rest day and tomorrow I’ll ride for a couple of hours before breakfast followed by interval  exercises and stretching. Wednesday, I’m riding with my coach on a route I ride regularly. I rode with him, and some of his other clients, last Thursday on his inaugural Private Club ride. When I first received the invitation, I was surprised as I was pretty sure (100%) that I was way slower than any of his other clients. However, we settled on a compromise whereby I would cycle a much smaller circuit.

I managed to stay with the group, and even managed some conversation with them, as they cycled at a leisurely (for them, not me) 28km/hr from Gattieres to Pont du Loup. We then took a right turn up the Gorges du Loup and I said goodbye, as they continued to ride at a similar pace. Within minutes, they had disappeared from view.

As we were riding from St Jeannet we were joined by my clubmates out on their regular Thursday morning ride. Obviously, they noticed me and indeed were impressed that I could keep up with the enlarged group. I think, or at least I’m hoping they think, that I just happened to be riding along with that particularly group of riders as I’ve been reticent about owning up to having a cycling coach. However, no one has said anything so I’ve probably gotten away with it for now. But given that my coach rides in kit advertising his training company, it’s only a matter of time before I’m rumbled. Or is it? My clubmates have seen me riding with a number of men, other than my beloved, and have been remarkably discreet. I should add that I always confess to my husband when I’ve ridden with another man – well, almost always.

Way to go!

I’ve just finished watching a thrilling Liege-Bastogne-Liege. With so many favourites on form it was going to be hard to pick a winner from the galaxy of stars. Indeed, the big names remained pretty much in contention until a certain Alex Vinokourov launched a trademark attack 16km from the finish. He was rapidly joined by another man much on form, Alexandre Kolobnev. 

He just wanted it more

Gilbert, Valverde and Evans gave chase but the hard men prevailed. Gilbert gave a massive kick to try and get up to the two lead men but was ultimately caught and overhauled by Valverde. The two Alexs battled it out with the Kazakh getting the better of the Russian in the final couple of hundred meters. No one should have been surprised. He’s won in before and said that this race was one of his targets for this year.  He was clearly on top form, as shown by his GC win Friday in the Giro del Trentino. It probably suited him to have the press and the rest of the peloton focus on Contador – good bluff. Roll on the Giro, it’s going to be an exciting tour and I’m looking forward to following it and riding some of its parcours.

Prior to L-B-L, I watched my beloved boys in claret and blue win 1-0 in the local derby match against Birmingham City. An important win, as it keeps us in the chase for 4th place, after Spurs lost to the Red Devils and Arsenal drew with Man City. Closer to home,  OGCN won 2-1 and finally erased any lingering relegation fears.

This morning’s pointage was replaced by a three-line whip attendance at the official opening of the recently completed cycling lane between Cagnes sur Mer and St Laurent du Var. To be honest, our legs still bore the lingering effects of yesterday’s La Louis Caput, so a gentle stroll on the bike was much appreciated.

At yesterday’s La Louis Caput, the mass start of earlier years had been abandoned in favour of a policy of “start when you like”. We set off at 08:00am but saw so few other riders that we concluded either there had been a poor turn-out or, everyone else had started before us. My beloved kindly rode with me to the half-way point when, with rain threatening, I suggested he might like to ride on ahead.

At this point I was passed by a few riders doing the 150km loop but they were all going too fast for me to tag on the back. I slogged on alone into a head wind and a darkening sky. It wasn’t until I started the descent for home that I managed to ride with anyone else. I got onto the back of a group of 4 guys. I also overhauled a group of triathletes who had ridden most of the route just ahead of me. If only I could ascend as well as I descend! Still I bettered last year’s time by a considerable margin, so I must be getting faster – musn’t I?

Brits on top

Britons win atop Mur de Huy! Yes, that’s right, two British girls finished on the podium at the Fleche Wallonne feminine: Emma Pooley (Cervelo) was first and Nicole Cooke (GB) was second. Sadly, neither will probably get as much column space as, say Bradley Wiggins who was well down the order in the men’s race.

I got back from this morning’s training ride just in time to watch La Fleche Wallonne. The legs were feeling much better than yesterday though they didn’t take too kindly to the interval sprint training. However, I was somewhat mollified by watching the professional peloton ride up the Mur de Huy. Sometimes, it’s good to watch the pros suffer on an incline. It’s a timely reminder that cycling’s a really tough sport – whoever you are. I think it was Greg Lemond who said “it doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster”.

It was a finely judged win by Cadel Evans. Gracing the rainbow jersey, he overtook Alberto Contador, who had probably accelerated too soon past Igor Anton, just before the line and dragged Joachim Rodriguez to 2nd place. I think Alberto can be pleased with his 3rd place and this portends well for Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It is to be hoped that the strike at L’Equipe will soon be over as not only am I getting serious withdrawal symptoms but I’m also badly missing its incisive run down on the Ardennes Classics.

Meanwhile, over in the Giro del Trentino, Riccardo Ricco beat off Vino and Basso to claim the 2nd stage. Vino’s still leading on GC after yesterday’s impressive performance in the TT. Evans and Vino are gunning for victory in next month’s Giro and both are coming nicely into form.

By hook or by crook

It’s hard to know what to make of the current situation particularly as I’ve not been affected by it in any way. In fact, I’m watching it with detached interest. As someone who’s previously worked in the reinsurance industry, this type of disaster, low probability/high impact, is fascinating. I’m sure most actuaries would agree with me.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano last erupted in 1821 and its outpourings lasted for over a year. Clearly, with the airline industry losing hundreds of millions of £/$/Euros per day, this won’t be sustainable for long. As an aside, I’m not sure that I’d appreciate having my beloved home, and demanding to be fed at regular intervals, for over a year. For the sake of my sanity, and the sanity of other women whose husbands travel as frequently as mine, it is to be hoped that a safe solution is found sooner rather than later.

Of course, the news has been full of tales of intrepid travellers who have ingeniously managed to get back to Blighty. Indeed, a colleague of my beloved needed to get back to the UK from Munich last Thursday evening lest he miss out on his week end birthday celebrations.  He took a train to Calais where he found that the only places left on the ferry were those reserved for cyclists. Undaunted, he acquired a bicycle from a local bike shop which he then rode (as required by regulations) onto the ferry. Apparantly, he was not the only businessman who resorted to this ruse.

Professional cyclists, used to hopping onto planes with the same alacrity with which they climb into the saddle, have also had to use their initiative to reach races. The Spanish contingent, including Valverde and Contador, drove over 2,000km to Belgium in time for tomorrow’s Fleche Wallonne. Andre Greipel took 36 hours to get back home to Germany after spending fewer hours racing to 5 stage wins in the Tour of Turkey. Others, particularly if they didn’t fare as well as their Directeur Sportif might have hoped, may still be wending their weary way home.

Down but not out

Clearly, I had bitten off more than I could chew! I blew out on Sunday in the l’Antiboise. I had set off at 07:30am feeling in fine form with my beloved for company. The weather was ideal, I’d had a good breakfast and plenty of food in my back pockets (didn’t want a repeat of the Ste Agnes bonk). I rode well, and within myself, to the first feed zone. There it became evident I was the only female attempting the longer course. This should have rung warning bells but, no, I blithely carried on.

At the feed zone, I’d been looking forward to a coke sugar rush. Sadly, the club organising the randonnee was providing only a cheap, own brand coke – this should be outlawed by UFOLEP. I shall be making representations to the Chairman. 

After refuelling we set off  under heavy skies in the direction of Lac St Cassien. I must be honest, I really don’t like cycling around here. In theory, it should be the perfect spot but, in practice, the road’s too narrow and there’s too much traffic, none of whom are willing to crawl along behind a bunch of cyclists.

The climb up to Montauroux was an unpleasant surprise – far steeper than I’d anticipated. The legs were beginning to ache. A novel experience as it’s usually the lungs which give out first. I gratefully refilled my bidon at the fountain in the square, had a quick breather and we set off again. We were evidently the lanterne rouges of the longer parcours but we knew there were  a few riders just up ahead. There followed a long descent (never good news as I knew we’d just have to climb back up again) on rather gravelly, twisting roads which did little to boost my average speed or my mood. On the climb back up to St Cezaire sur Siagne, I promised myself a cold coke if I got to the top. This promise kept  me going but unbelievably we took a sharp left just before the village and set off up the Col de la Leque towards St Vallier. Only 9km uphill  but it was the straw which finally broke the camel’s back. My legs stopped functioning after 109km.

My beloved rode the final couple of kilometers to the next feed zone to alert the broom wagon which kindly returned to pick me up. At the feed zone I gratefully gulped down several glasses of the dreaded cheap coke – better than nothing. I was truly spent, a somewhat discouraging experience. I proceeded to the finish in the broom wagon while my beloved rode back. Once home, we showered, changed and drove to Alassio stopping en route for a much needed, belated lunch.

We decided not to take the bikes with us. A wise decision, as we both have leaden bodies, never mind leaden legs. After a good night’s sleep, I feel more sanguine and more determined that next year I’ll achieve my objective. The weather’s fantastic here and I’ve enjoyed pottering around Alassio which is emerging from hibernation. The beach is a hive of activity with hoteliers erecting their beach huts and levelling the sand outside their hotels ready for the invading hordes. As expected, at this time of year, the clientele is largely retired and wrinkly.

I’ve sent an email to my cycling coach, admitting that he was correct and I should have attempted to do a better time on the shorter course. As a consequence, I may well opt for the shorter parcours on the next two randonnees. Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes.

Postscript: It appears that we were the only two from the club to attempt the longer parcours.

At long last

My legs are nowhere near as tired this week as they were last. I’m not sure what that says: maybe, I could have gone even faster on Sunday. This week end we’ve got the l’Antiboise, which was cancelled last year due to rain. In 2008, I did the 100km course, which at the time represented quite a feat for me. I remember being totally exhausted afterwards and, close to the finish, we had to stop in Mandelieu Napoule for a comfort break and a reviving hot chocolate.

This year I have signed up for the 150km. I think I have already done most of the route with the Tuesday UFOLEP group, so I don’t feel too daunted. Although I am hoping to finish in a reasonable time so that I can get back to watch the Amstel Gold Race before we head off to Alassio for a few days. My beloved is meeting a client there on Monday so it seemed opportune to take our bikes and spend a couple of days visiting the places we didn’t see when we were there last year with the club.

Fuel is always an issue for me on longer rides. I have yet to find an energy drink which doesn’t give me intestinal troubles. I’m also not a fan of gels, for the same reason. I find that a reviving coke at the mid-way point, plus my own home-made energy bars, and dried fruit, do the trick. Providing, of course, I remember to take them with me.

Now that I’ve almost finished my workload, I’m going for a slightly longer ride tomorrow, just to loosen the legs. I’ve had a very light training schedule this week which ramps up for the following three weeks to take account of the randonnees I aim to complete. With any luck, I’ll be able to schedule my laser eye treatment towards the end of next month when, for several subsequent days, I’ll be totally occupied with the Brevet Kivilev.

Sadly, I haven’t had much time to watch the action from the various stage and one-day races taking place this week. Though I have found time to read the results. Hurrah, at last a Belgian (albeit a Wallon) has won one of the semi-classics – La Fleche Brabaconne. Yes, a Shack attack from Sebastien Rosseler (one of those riders who weighs more than me) saw him leapfrog over two Flandriens to the top step of the podium. Theo Bos 2 -0 rest of the peloton in Tour de Castille et Leon. While over in the Tour of Turkey, it’s  Greipel 3  and Visconti 2 (plus the leader’s jersey).

Bottled

There’s a very pleasant citrusy fug in the apartment thanks to the gi-normous amount of Seville orange marmalade I have made. One of my clubmates kindly gave me a large quantity of Seville oranges which I felt honour bound to use. In addition, my beloved adores good quality English marmalade something one can’t easily find here. Seville oranges on their own are a little too bitter, so I added some oranges from the tree at the cycling club, which are small, sweet and very juicy.

Marmalade takes a lot longer to prepare than jam. First you have to extract the juice. There’s not much usually in Seville oranges. Then take out all the pips and innards, leaving just the peel, which I blitz rather than shred. My beloved, who jetted off to Germany this morning, does not like large chunks of peel. The orange jewelled rubble then needs cooking in a large quantity of water for about 2hours. At the same time, I cook the pips and innards in water for a similar time to extract as much pectin as possible. The two (pectin and peel) are then combined with an equal weight of sugar and brought to a steady boil for about 5 minutes. I test that it’ll set, turn off the heat and allow it to settle for about ten minutes. I then skim off any scum and ladle into warm, sterilised jars.

I have probably made about 5kgs of marmalade and a further 2kgs of tomato and chilli jam which I regard as a cupboard staple. It’s delicious with cold cuts, quiches, cheese, fritters and grilled squid and I’ve just used the last jar of the large batch I made last summer. A lot gets handed out as either gifts or swopsies. Here, it’s perfectly acceptable to take home-made goodies to thank someone for a dinner invite, much more acceptable than a bottle of wine.

We don’t eat or use a lot of jam, so I tend to make small quantities for us when the fruit is in season.  I prefer to make what I can’t easily buy here such as the Sevillle marmalade (mine is generally laced with alcohol) lemon curd with the local Menton lemons or the afore-mentioned tomato and chilli jam made with sun-ripened tomatoes.

I’ve also been whipping up some chocolate goodies for tomorrow evening’s “soiree chocolate” being held after the cycling club’s monthly meeting. I’ve made chocolate covered salty pretzels, brownies, rocky road, gooey chocolate cookies, orange and chocolate cake (well I’ve got all that marmalade to use), chocolate macaroons and a white and dark chocolate fondue with fresh and dried fruits.

As you may have gathered, I haven’t cycled today. It’s a rest day although I have done my core exercises and some stretching. This is fortunately a recovery week ahead of Sunday’s 150km ride. I say “fortunately” because I’ve the financial year end and various tax related matters to complete, plus the first quarter’s expenses and Vat return. Not forgetting, a presentation which needs to be translated into French before Friday.