Back from the brink

After three days of solid rain, my beloved and I managed to slip out this morning for a quick spin. It felt wonderful to be out in the fresh air, on two wheels. Sadly, we’re unlikely  to experience this again before Monday. As a consequence, we’ve scheduled a massive clear out in the office this week end. Yes, I know it’s not typically what you’d do over Xmas, but there’s a good reason. I have bought my beloved a large, HD, flat screen TV for the office, on which I’ll be able to watch tons of cycling next season – method in my madness!

You may not have been aware that many French races, Tour de France excepted, have been staring down the barrel of a gun since a small decree was passed at the end of October. This increased 5-fold the amount that organisers would have to pay for police outriders and police marshalls at both amateur and professional races. Fortunately, the cycling powers that be have successfully lobbied the French Home Office for a more gradual phasing in of the increases. Just as well. There’s no point in us incubating a future French Tour de France winner if there’s not going to be any races for them to hone their skills in!

Apart from a quick spin on the home trainer, I’ve been ploughing through the inevitable pile of things that have to be done at the end of calendar and financial year ends: not necessarily pleasant, but wholly necessary.

I’m going to take a bit of a break from blogging during the Festive Season so I’d just like to take this opportunity to wish all my regular readers, and indeed any irregular ones, good health, happiness and much success in 2011.

Ho, ho, ho

Surprises all round

First up, my beloved made it home. Yes, after languishing without hope in London, he seized the initiative and made his way back here. As it turns out, a wise move. The indications are that he would have been unlikely to have made it home for Xmas if he’d kept faith with BA and BAA.

Then, some not so good news: despite two weeks notice, we were advised by the owners of the chalet we were renting between Xmas and New Year, that it wouldn’t be ready in time. A quick search on the internet turned up little in the way of alternatives. Our skiing trip was cancelled.

The doorbell rang, it was the local fire brigade with their Xmas calendar: one of the great surprises of 2009 and an instant hit with the ladies. Yes, Cagnes sur Mer’s finest had bared all. Sadly, and most disappointingly, this year they had opted to pose in their uniforms, with their big red fire trucks. I took the opportunity this evening to express my disappointment to M Le President with the request that he convey my desire for a repeat of last yeat’s treat. One of the club members, hearing of my disappointment, suggested that maybe the club could have a revealing calendar for next year. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that generally cyclists look better in their lycra than without it. I just told him that I appreciated the thought.

Following on from last Xmas’s diary fiasco, I had advised my husband that Xmas presents were not required. I had hoped he would heed my sound advice. He didn’t. While, whiling away his time in London he decided to buy me something which he assured me I would enjoy. I felt like a soccer manager who’s just been told he has the full support of the Board, waiting for the inevitable axe to fall, in my case, on Xmas Eve.

Actually, it fell on the same day. My husband turned out his pockets and wallet to give me all the receipts from his trip.  One was from a bookshop for two cookery books. Two books which I would never, ever have bought myself. On the one hand, I do appreciate the thought. On the other hand, after so many year’s of marriage, it’s disturbing how little he understands me, or knows my likes and dislikes. Yes, once again he had shot himself in the foot. The books met none of my cookery book criteria. They were not by a well known cook whose cooking I rate, nor were each of the recipes illustrated with a photograph, nor were they what I refer to as  cookery porn: that’s to say, beautifully photographed dishes that I would probably never cook but which give me ideas and inspiration. I feel mean complaining but he’s wasted his money, again.

He has sought to rectify matters by whisking me away for a romantic couple of days at one of my favourite hotels. Weather permitting, we’ll be able to cycle in the surrounding countryside before relaxing in the Spa and then indulging ourselves over dinner. He’s also treating me to a romantic dinner “a deux” at one of our local Michelin starred restaurants. I’m sure he’s hoping that these two lovely surprises will cancel out the less pleasant ones. I’m sure they will…………………………………

Friday Postscript: Romantic, gourmet dinner was indeed excellent.

Surprisingly popular

Yesterday’s presentation of the club’s national junior and espoir teams passed  without a hitch. I like to think that this was entirely due to the amount of forward planning and preparation. All the club’s sponsors were in attendance along with the local dignitaries and the teams’ “Godfather”. We chose a locally based rider with an impressive palmares and an exemplary work ethic which we hope will rub-off on our youngsters who, not unnaturally, are thrilled to enjoy the patronage of a Grand Tour and Classics winner.

Sadly, the designated club photographer, my beloved, was marooned in London by the extreme weather conditions. Another club member kindly took some photographs for me but I cannot extract them until my beloved returns. At the moment, I’m not sure when that might be: hopefully, prior to Christmas. So, for the time being, here’s our first newspaper report featuring a photograph of M Le President and the Team’s Godfather holding a maillot jaune from this year’s Tour de France. Obviously, we’re hoping that one day, one of our riders might grace this jersey.

The Teams' Godfather and M Le President

The afternoon tea was well received and everyone was most appreciative of my modest efforts, fondly imagining I had spent hours in the kitchen. Most fail to understand that it takes pretty much the same time to prepare tea for 5 as it does for 50, plus, I love cooking. There’s nothing nicer than the fug of home baking permeating the apartment.

As anticipated, a number of the young riders did inhale their bodyweights in cookies and cake, others showed more restraint, including those in attendance from the professional peloton. But I did spot Alex enjoying a piece of fruit cake. I should have enquired whether Astana would need an additional chef for next year’s Tour.

We did not thankfully run out of food, although they did eat my edible table decorations! Interestingly, the egg mayonnaise sandwiches fell on stoney ground. The ham ones proved to be the most popular while there was about a third left of both the herbed cream cheese and the smoked salmon ones. I took these along to the nearest shelter for the homeless where they were all gratefully received.  I also garnered brownie points with the Domaine’s duck population as I fed them the crusts.

On the cake front, the chocolate cookies and brownies proved as popular as the fruit and lemon cakes: the coconut macaroons, less so. However, these will keep and be enjoyed at club night this Tuesday and at my English class on Wednesday. 

Although the forecast was for rain today, and it was indeed overcast, the rain stayed away and it was warmer than it had been for the last few days. I enjoyed pottering over to Menton for the pointage, taking in all the Xmas lights and festivities along the route and exchanging seasonal good wishes with all the cyclist whose paths I crossed. Imbued with the spirit of the season, I returned home, slipped into my jimjams and settled down with the Sunday newspapers – bliss.

Postscript: In the absence of any positive news from BA ,and unable to get a seat on Eurostar  before Wednesday, my beloved has taken affirmative action. He took a train to Dover and hopped on a ferry to Calais, from where he’ll take a train to Paris via Lille. He has an overnight booked in Paris, close to the Gare de Lyon, and will leave tomorrow morning on the TGV to Nice, via Marseille. If all goes to plan, he’ll be at Antibes station by 14:15 tomorrow. Thank heavens for 3G+.

Postpostscript: Just had a text from my beloved, he’s due to arrive 2 minutes early into Antibes. Yes, despite Northern France and Paris receiving just as much snow as southern England, the French have managed to keep everything moving as per timetable.

Yet another Postscript: Further newspaper article!

Is there a future Tour winner here?

2010 Highlights

We’ve reached the time of year when it’s difficult to fill newspaper and cycling magazine columns without taking a retrospective look at the season. This seemed like a suitable discussion topic for my English class on Wednesday evening. We were surprisingly of similar minds:-

Rider of the Year

One day races:- There were only two candidates: Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both were competitive throughout the season and both wore Grand Tour leader’s jerseys but, after much debate, we settled on Spartacus: the 4th ITT rainbow jersey tipping the balance in his favour.

Stage races:- As winner of the Tour de France, the most difficult Grand Tour to win, Alberto should have been a shoe in but, sensitive to post-Tour issues such as that itsy, bitsy trace of Clenbuterol, our gong went to Vicenzo Nibali: 3rd in the Giro and winner of the Vuelta.

Memorable Performance of the Year

Actually, there were so many this year that it was hard to whittle it down to just one. Among others, we considered: Fabian’s wins in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, PhilGil’s wins at Amstel and Lombardy, Cadel Evans at Fleche Wallonne, Bobbie Traskel at K-B-K, Thor at the World Championships, Vino at L-B-L. Finally, we settled on Thor’s performance at the World Championship’s in Geelong. Given that the Norwegian team numbered only three riders, his win demonstrated perfectly his ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time to power to the line.

Best One-day Race of the Year

Here too we had plenty of contenders, but we finally plumped for PhilGil’s win in the Tour of Lombardy, his second consecutive win in the race. It was not just the manner of his win but that he gave no quarter despite the appalling weather conditions.

Best Stage Race of the Year

While we all agreed that the Tour is the most difficult Grand Tour to win, largely because of the depth of competition and the psychological pressures, it can be predictable. Both the Giro and Vuelta raised their games this year to produce thrilling and, at times, unpredictable racing. Finally, we agreed on the Giro d’Italia.

Team of the Year

Hands down, no contest. Liquigas were the best stage racing team and HTC-Columbia the team that racked up the most wins.

Best Kit

No argument: Cervelo Test Team.

Worst Kit

Unanimously awarded to Footon-Servetto

Unsung Hero of the Year

Again, we found it difficult to whittle down the contenders as so many team mates sacrifice their own chances of glory for their leaders. In addition, the work of many riders is done and dusted before the television cameras hove into view. In the end, we decided that the unsung heroes were the hard working domestiques in every team without whom no leader would ever win races.

Best French Rider

Loyal, and ever-smiling, Tommy Voeckler of Bbox without whom his team manager might not have reeled in replacement sponsor Europcar.

Breakout Rider of the Year

Votes were split between the loquacious Peter Sagan of Liquigas and the cherubic faced Richie Porte of Saxobank.

Worst Pro-Tour Race of the Year

There aren’t any, we all love cycle racing wherever and whenever.

Story/Issue of the Year

Sadly, we all agreed these had to be the doping issues. Namely,

  • Pellizotti  being banned from racing due to (unfounded?) passport irregularities
  • Floyd Landis’s accusations against Lance, plus his own confessions
  • Contador and Clenbuterol

Disappointment of the Year

UCI’s unilateral changes to the way teams are evaluated which demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding of the evolution of the sport.

Please can we have some more………….

The weather this week has been remarkably cold (for here) and I’ve not enjoyed venturing forth on two wheels much before 10:30-11:00am. Pretty much the same time that most club riders are heading back home for lunch. Happily, I have no such restrictions. Mind you, I’m still wrapped up from head to foot. So much so that no one will notice I’ve lost 6kg on the new regime. If this continues, more and more riders in the professional peloton are going to weigh more than moi. I’m referring here to the boys. There’s no way, for example, I could reach the weight of Jeannie Longo, at least not without severing a limb or two which might well prove to be counterproductive.

I didn’t ride too badly on Sunday, though I was conscious of a loss of power in both the legs and lungs. Monday was much worse. I could barely turn the pedals. Subsequently, I’ve restricted myself to practising my cycling technique on the home trainer. This is beginning to take effect. The owner of my LBS (local bike shop) complimented me today on my cycling action.

Yes, at long last, I have had the set up on my most recent bike purchase  changed. I would entrust no one other than the owner of my LBS with this all-important task. In addition, he also gave the bike a complete once-over to ensure that everything was working as it should. It is now.

While he was giving his due care and attention to these tasks, it gave me an opportunity to check out the  goodies in his shop. I’m definitely going to be springing for a new pair of Shimano custom fit shoes. Mine are still fine, but starting to look a little down at heel. I treated my beloved to some new, warm gloves and socks, and, a replacement pair of Oakley’s. Yes, he’s lost yet another pair, this will be his third in two years. The LBS owner and I have a private bet as to how long these will last.

This evening, I planned the menu for Saturday’s reception which is being held after the presentation of our two national teams, the juniors and espoirs, to the local press, sponsors and dignitaries. M Le President sprung this on me on Tuesday evening. There had been no mention of a “reception” on the invite. As it’s at 04:00pm, I’ve gone for an English afternoon tea with champagne: soft drinks for the cyclists. I know this will go down well, particularly with the local officials. The Mayor is partial to my cakes and kindly makes reference to them in his speeches.

The menu’s been planned down to the last currant. I have purchased all the ingredients and have them grouped together in the kitchen ready for a massive bake-in tomorrow.  I just hope M Le President has got his numbers correct. It’s particularly tricky when you’re dealing with youngsters. I find that they all have hollow legs and can eat at least twice their body weights in cakes and cookies. As you well know, in my book, there’s simply nothing worse than not having enough food for everyone.

Divine intervention

I was saddened this week to learn of the untimely death of Aldo Sassi, one of the most reputable cycling trainers, based at the Mapei Centre in Varese. It was he who had worked with Cadel Evans to lift the rainbow jersey in 2009 and had assisted Ivan Basso in his quest for an untainted maglia rosa.

I had recently read an interesting article on his training methods which are markedly similar to those of my own trainer.  Sassi worked initially from the VO2 max and power output at the rider’s anaerobic threshold. From this he built a training programme based on a 3-day algorithm:

  • Day 1 – strength and resistance training on hills
  • Day 2 – anaerobic threshold work
  • Day 3 – long rides with climbs

Additionally, Sassi believed in a rider’s clear commitment to goals which needed to be shared with and understood by his team. Lastly, he believed that mental and inner strength were the all-important factors.

He likened a cyclist to  Formula 1 saying that while a rider has certain physiological attributes, “if you only have the driver and no car you cannot win. You have to have the driver as well as the car. Some might try to show that if you have a good driver you could still win with a bad car. This is not true in cycling. You have to be able to produce 6 watts per kilogram on the climbs or you will eventually lose.”

Sassi was recently criticized for working with Riccardo Ricco. Frankly, I thought, given Sassi’s sterling reputation, it was a stroke of genius on Ricco’s part to commit to working with him. Sassi said ” I think I made a good choice in selecting Riccardo Ricco. I am sure of it. He has the motor, the car, but the driver is not completely there. I am going to help him build his mental strength and self-belief.” Sassi is to be lauded, Ricco has paid the price and, like everyone, deserves a second chance.

If  it was left to Pat McQuaid, UCI President, he wouldn’t, however, be getting a second chance. McQuaid was quoted in L’Equipe this week as saying if he were a team manager, he wouldn’t hire Ricco. I suspect that Vacansoleil have hired Ricco because he will garner them plenty of points in the all-new UCI ranking system and help them stay in the sport’s first division. Remember, Mr McQuaid “what gets measured is what gets done”.

I’ve already blogged on this very topic but frankly it’s hard to support a system that seems to drive away rather than attract sponsors. It’s even hard to get sponsors to commit if you can’t guarantee inclusion at the world’s best races. Pegasus Cycling recently lost a sponsor but have fortunately been saved at the nth moment by another. Rumours abounded that Geox, both a new sponsor and a global brand, might pull out after being excluded from the first division, despite ranking ahead of teams that have been included.

This problem has been best articulated (IMHO) by Jonathan Vaughters in his blog on the cyclingnews.com website entitled “The Geox Paradox” where he highlights the current issues in sponsorship. This man knows what he’s talking about, you cannot say that of everyone involved in the sport.

My deepest sympathy goes to Aldo Sassi’s family, friends, clients  and colleagues: the world of cycling has suffered a grave loss.

Not on my patch

Yesterday and today the weather’s been glorious and I’ve been looking wistfully out of the window wishing I could go for a ride. On the odd occasion I have had to venture out in the car, I have looked enviously at those riding road bikes, wanting desperately to be in their saddles and shoes. I cannot recall ever having to spend so much time indoors. I now have a severe case of cabin fever. My cold is much improved, although it’s still hanging around.

I am definitely, come what may, riding with the club tomorrow. The pointage is at Vallauris, by way of Cap d’Antibes, and I’m hoping the weakened lungs will be able to cope with the climbs. I’m off to visit the nutritionist next week and have lost another 2kg. I might have said goodbye to more had it not been for the cold. I’ve barely eaten anything this past week, but my weight has stayed steady. I’m not sure from where I’ve lost the 6kg, although my rings are much looser. So that’s thinner fingers then – just want I wanted!

I have used the peace and quiet, in the absence of my beloved, to clear lots of things on my ever expanding “to do” list. He’s back this evening, so there’s not a moment to waste. I now have the warm, smug glow of someone who’s achieved a lot in the last few days. The house is clean and tidy, the fridge and freezer are full and there’s only an ironing hillock to be tackled.

I’ve also managed to resolve the problem with Bob who, after swooshing around the floor for a couple of minutes, kept stopping to tell me his brushes needed cleaning. They didn’t. I consulted the instruction booklet, re-set his programme and he’s stopped complaining. I can’t stand whingers and whiners. He’s now back in line for a Xmas gift. 

We have yet to erect and decorate the Xmas tree. My beloved is only home this week end for about 36hours and decorating the Xmas tree is one of his (only) jobs, largely because, if it were left to me I wouldn’t bother. If he leaves it until next week end, we’ll only be able to enjoy the tree for a few days as we’re going cross-country skiing with friends between Xmas and New Year. Hardly seems worth it…………………

Now you may be thinking, what no tree! Where are you going to put your presents? My family is  buying me gift vouchers which I’ll enjoy spending on-line in the New Year. Girlfriends tend to combine Xmas and birthday gifts, therefore they arrive in January. After last Xmas’s diary debacle, my beloved has been expressly forbidden to buy me anything. He, however, like most men, is a bit of a big kid when it comes to Xmas.  I have bought him a few things to open on Xmas Eve.  You should also know that  I don’t display any Xmas cards, nor do I allow any other festive decorations.

Postscript: Top dogs in Brum! My beloved boys have beaten the Baggies.

Good intentions

I live my life largely by a few simple rules and philosophies:-

  1. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you
  2. Planning and preparation are key to success
  3. Keep it simple

I also belive that if you can help someone, you should. Now this doesn’t fall into 1 above. My assistance is unconditional. I’m not making a note and expecting the favour to be repaid: quite the contrary. Nor am I anticipating some reward in the afterlife. I have long realised that I derive enjoyment merely from being useful.

Sometimes I proffer my assistance, other times I wait until I’m asked. I received such a request this week from a friend, in respect of a mutual friend with a contractual problem. Sometimes an uninvolved third party can throw clarity on a problem because there is no emotional link. In this instance, I was able to make use of my knowledge of contract law, my use of the English language, a more than passing acquaintance with the UCI regulations and my contacts at the UCI.

The mutual friend in question is owed both a contractual and moral obligation by his team and I am hoping we can find an equitable solution to the problem. However, it was interesting to note his own approach to the issue which, if he’d gone ahead, might seriously have compromised his case.

My first point of call was the UCI Rulebook, readily accessible on its website in both English and French. Having confirmed the regulatory position, I then looked at the legal documents and associated supporting correspondence. I then rang the UCI to check my understanding and ask them for their advice which  we are following.

Now it’s easy for me to be sanguine, it’s not after all my problem. However, I don’t like to fail at anything. Not being able to satisfactorily resolve this issue for a friend would count as failure. So this is not the only route I’m pursuing because, as I’m fond of saying, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.

Postscript: Surprisingly, this issue is still on-going but it’s slowly wending its way to a satisfactory solution. I must confess it’s been more of an uphill struggle than I anticipated but we have stuck firmly to our guns and, indeed, have brought in the heavy guns, namely the UCI. These problems often need a bit of a terrier like attitude, something at which I excel.

Spam attack

I started this blog to keep in the loop my friends and family who had kindly sponsored me to take part in Livestrong Ride of the Roses in Austin 2009. I never really intended to continue, but friends said it was a handy way of keeping abreast of our news. So, I did. From time to time, some 3rd parties chance upon my blog and kindly make encouraging comments. I reciprocate, it’s only polite. To be honest, it’s no hardship, their blogs are usually a million times better than mine and I can continue enjoying their spin on whatever.

WordPress gives you plenty of information about your site traffic; such as, your most popular posts, number of hits etc etc. I’ve already learned, to my cost, that a suggestive title drives visitor numbers through the roof. I assume that, like many bloggers, I receive my fair share of spam. But I’m not sure what they’re hoping to achieve: my email address?  Thereafter, perhaps they’ll send emails offering me cheap loans, fake luxury goods or discounted medicaments.

I define  “spam” as any comment from an unknown third-party, the content of which  bears little or no  relationship to the original blog entry. Yesterday, I received 174 spam messages. This is a record. Interestingly, many of the spam comments are carbon copies of one another albeit from different IP addresses. From their URLs, it would appear that many are in the business of selling. Well you’re wasting your time on my site, this lady’s not interested and nor are my regulars.

Supersized disappointment

After my jaunt to the land of  supersized portions, you might be wondering how the regime is faring. I’m still on track, aided by the cold which has robbed me of my appetite. The US wasn’t too bad. I had porridge for breakfast, salads for lunch and, for dinner, fish with vegetables. One night, I just couldn’t resist it, I had a half a dozen naked cowboys. They’re oysters.  Still, you’ve got to admit, it’s a catchy name.

My sister and brother-in-law are over in France for a few days vacation. It’s rare they venture over here in the October-March period even though they have a flat nearby. I’ve invited them round for dinner. Fortunately, I always have something in the freezer for such occasions, as I’ve not had either the time or the inclination to cook today. I’m feeling much better thanks to those whisky toddies so won’t be passing my germs on to them. I’m much less congested and the thumping headache has passed.

It started raining yesterday afternoon and it’s continued all day today. The forecast for later in the week is milder. I’m hoping to fit in a ride on Wednesday morning before going to Munich. Germany is also the land of pretty large portions so, again, restraint will be called for. Keep me away from the gluehwein, sausages and apple strudel.

My beloved boys in claret and blue played against Liverpool this evening. I was hoping for the revenge of the returning manager. But once again my (and Gerard’s) hopes were dashed. Liverpool, even shorn of the holy trinity of Torres, Carragher and Gerrard, proved too much for my boys. We went down 3-0 having created few chances and looked very static. Stuart Downing had a reasonable match, I couldn’t say that about anyone else. We’re still very much work-in-progress. Meanwhile, Liverpool can take much heart from the movement and speed up front of Babel, Dunn and Ngog.