Uninvited guests

No, it’s not the outlaw (my nickname for the mother-in-law)! Last week, we noticed a number of wasps on the terrace outside of the kitchen but they soon buzzed off. Several days later, the guardian of our building advised that my neighbour on the 4th floor had been inundated with bees, did I have a similar problem? I said that there’d been a few wasps a couple of days ago, but they’d now gone. Actually, they hadn’t gone, they’d just gone to ground. And they weren’t wasps, they were bees. More specifically, they’d built a nest under the full length tablecloth on the table outside our one and only guest room.

Initially, because we thought they were wasps, we checked on the internet how best to evict our unwanted visitors. We decided to go for the low tech approach: sugar water in a bowl. The wasps showed no interest in this whatsoever and on closer inspection, we realised they were bees.  We learned that a large number of bees escaped recently from a hive which was being moved nearby. We  think some of them have moved in with us.  Bees pollinate, present no real problem or danger, and are generally felt to be good for the environment, so we decided to wait and see what happens: honey anyone?

In a slightly warmer climate, one does have to take care not to attract unwanted guests, such as  ants, mosquitos and cafards. Living in an apartment block does pose its own problems. If one of you has an infestation, you all have one. As a consequence, we are regularly fumigated for all sorts of wee beasties. My own bete noir are the pigeons who tend to while away their days either roosting on the blinds or on the terrace balustrade. A number of neighbours have put fine wire the length of the balustrade but then the blighters sit on their garden furniture. Of course, it’s not the pigeons per se, more their droppings which pose a hazard. When the cat from next door prowled the length of our (very long) terrace, the pigeons took flight. However, after Mimosa (the cat) squandered a number of her nine lives falling from the 5th floor, our neighbours barricaded their terrace. I am loathe to acquire a cat merely to dissuade the pigeons.

During the summer months, we get lots of small lizards who enjoy sunning themselves on the wall but given that they feast on other creepy crawlers, they’re welcome to drop by. Rodents rarely make it up to the 5th floor although we do have a large population of squirrels on the Domaine. In my mind, squirrels = vermin with bushy tails. We also have a large population of magpies who regularly engage in running battles with the Domaine’s ducks: bigger, but not as fleet of foot. I’m sure there’s lots of other critters who, like us, enjoy living here but it’s largely a peaceful co-habitation.

Back to the bees! How did we persuade them to move out?

Fairy tales

Many of my French acquaintances were surprised to learn that I wouldn’t be watching today’s Royal Wedding. I certainly wish the couple every future happiness but, following my sister’s bash, have had my fill of weddings for this year. Instead, I spent a few pleasant hours mooching around Aix-en-Provence, while my beloved visited a client. It poured down en route but by the time we arrived the sun was shining on Aix’s cobbles. We breakfasted in a local hotel which serves the best breakfast I’ve ever had in France, outside my own kitchen. After my beloved had departed, I spent time discussing recipes with the lady who’s responsible for the afore-mentioned gastronomic delights.

Needing to walk off the calories, I strode around Aix, largely window shopping, though I did purchase dinner (asparagus and strawberries) in the local market. Architecturally, Aix is a beautiful town with plenty of honeyed stone buildings decorated with wrought iron balconies and impressive porticos over intricately carved wooden doors. The town’s been sensitively renovated and it’s a pleasure wandering along its narrow lanes, particularly in the old town, listening to the tinkling of falling water in one of  it’s many fountains.

I last visited Aix with my parents and it brought home to me how much they had both slowed up. Neither are particularly confident on foot, particularly on cobbles. I ended up leaving them to enjoy a coffee and newspaper in the famous Les Deux Garcons, so beloved of Cezanne and Hemingway, where we later enjoyed lunch.

Beloved of Cezanne

They say that old age is fine providing that you’re healthy, have a bit of money and your wits about you. However, to that I would add that you need your partner to be healthy and have their wits about them too.  Otherwise, like my Dad, your situation is totally compromised. He’s now reluctant to go many places or do many things for fear of what my mother might do. He’s very sensitive to the opinion of others and doesn’t want my mother to embarrass either herself or him. Her very unpredictability leaves him constantly on edge and unable to enjoy many of the simple things in life. Nonetheless, he’s unwilling to consign my mother to the care of others, unless they’re close friends or family. This is taking a toll on his own health and mental fortitude.  I’m popping back to the UK next month to spend a couple of days with them while my sister is on vacation. My father is very reliant on her and my brother-in-law which is not without its own stresses. However my own commitments, geographical location and lack of daily flights to Birmingham outside of the summer months make it difficult to be of much practical assistance.

Once back home from Aix, we were delighted to see Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), in true opportunistic fashion, nip off behind Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) in the home strait of today’s stage of the Tour of Romandie and win. He’s now just 38 seconds behind Pavel Brutt (Katusha)  and 10 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC). I’ve also been checking out the practice sessions at the MotoGP in Portugal.  There’s plenty of sporting action to enjoy this week end, as well as our own participation in Sunday’s La Lazarides.

Full of promise

We’ve profited from the fine weather these past few days to log plenty of kilometers on the bike. The weather forecast keeps indicating adverse weather but it’s generally been holding off during the day. The combination of rain and warm sunshine has ensured that the countryside looks particularly green and bountiful, long may it last. We needed all that additional mileage to counter the effects of yesterday’s blow out birthday luncheon: my beloved’s. I quaffed champagne and ate asparagus, morilles and  lobster. All my favourite foods, beautifully cooked and served, in the relaxing surroundings of one of our local restaurants, which has a fabulous view of the surrounding area. Feeling decidedly sated we returned home to watch the Presidential Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Romandie.

Both races have given some of the peloton’s newest pros a chance to shine, as well as providing opportunities for those who are more established.  For example, the Tour of Romandie’s 3.5km prologue had Taylor Phinney’s name all over it, particularly as he rides for the Swiss BMC team. No one had thought to tell Basque rider Jonathan Castroviejo who registered the ride of his life to take it, and the leader’s yellow jersey, by a nano second. In yesterday’s stage, Pavel Brutt (Katusha) one of the peloton’s perpetual breakaway artistes maintained his advantage, in the wet and windy conditions, to win the 172.6km stage into Leysin, by a healthy margin, to take possession of the yellow jersey. After what for him would have been a disappointing Classic’s campaign, today Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) prevailed, ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana). I anticipate that the latter two will be fighting it out for GC come the end of the race.

Meanwhile, over in Turkey, some of the world’s best sprinters have been losing out to a number of opportunists. Andrea Guardini (Farnese-Vini-Neri-Sottoli) – remember him from the Tour of Qatar – beat Tyler Farrar (Garvelo), among others, on the Tour’s first stage into Instanbul. Stage 2’s sprint finish into Turgutreis was won by  non-sprinter (or so the others thought), Valentin Iglinsky (Astana), Max’s younger brother and clearly not a man to be underestimated, certainly not by Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD). On stage 3, Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF Inox) notched up his 3rd win of the season. Yesterday, Petacchi, feeling he had a point to prove, surprisingly prevailed on the Tour’s queen stage, at the end of a wet and hilly day. While today’s stage, 218km  into Fethiye, was won by Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Neri-Sottoli), his first ever podium. Thomas Peterson (Garvelo) now leads the pack ahead of Cameron Wurf (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1 – Sanofi Aventis).

A number of riders are using these races to hone their form ahead of the Giro d’Italia. Others, like Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard) are using the time to reconnoitre the more difficult stages, of which there are plenty, ahead of the race’s start in Turin on 7 May. I will be there.

Intrigue, back stabbing and unfounded allegations

A week or so ago, the local Town Hall contacted us saying they’d like to take a look at the Club’s books. No problem, they’re kept in apple-pie order. But we were intrigued as to why they wanted them. Were they going to increase, as promised by the Mayor, our subsidy? Apparently not, they were responding to allegations of mismanagement of funds. To say all three of us were outraged was putting it mildly. The books have been duly delivered and they’ll need them for a week or too. It won’t take them long to realise that, far from squandering the club’s funds, we’ve been spending them wisely. However, the allegation, or alleged allegation, clearly dissuaded the Town hall from upping our ante.

M le President decided he needed to get to the bottom of the allegations. We had our suspicions, but needed them to be confirmed so that we could tackle the alleged perpetrator. Suspicions confirmed, M Le President had the possibility today to dig further and it appears that an off the cuff remark, with little thought to the consequence, has been taken totally out of context by officialdom. Once vindicated, we intend to beard the Mayor in his den. If he doesn’t pay up, they’ll be no more cakes for him. That’s a promise, not a threat.

However, that wasn’t the only scuttlebutt down at the club today. Our ever, over emotional Directeur Sportif has thrown in the towel. This being France he has, strictly speaking “jetter l’eponge” (thrown in the sponge). Yes, he’s fed up with the antics of the senior racers. They don’t attend meetings, reply to his emails or provide him with their results. Whether we have anyone else willing to step into the breach is, as yet, uncertain. I must confess that, at times, they are a bunch of prima donnas who have no idea of the impact their lack of action has had on our hard working and unappreciated DS. I am anticipating that they’ll kiss and make up before the week’s out.

After launching a far and wide call to arms, we now, thank goodness, have enough volunteers for the Kivilev. That’s a relief, we can now turn our attention to the all important question of provisions. Exactly how much food will we need? To be honest one never knows until the final moment exactly how many are going to take part. It’s a question of extrapolation. We see how many people have signed up by the end of the week, by comparison with last year, and base our estimates on that. Last time I checked, it was only 6. The same time last year, we had 3. So, we’re going to have twice as many? No, inscription on line has fudged the basis – back to the drawing board. I do know that, irrespective of the number of participants, how ever many cakes I make, there won’t be any left.

No response

As predicted, young Alan Gilbert made his second podium appearance yesterday afternoon in front of an adoring home crowd. Looking a bit blase, bored even, he tried to enliven proceedings by eating the RTBF microphone. Maybe he was feeling peckish, teething or just at that stage where everything goes in his mouth. With those cute chubby cheeks, he looks like a baby who enjoys his food. His Dad, to whom he bears a striking resemblance, had just completed the Ardennes treble. Strictly speaking, it was the Ardennes quadruple and no one else has ever done this, not even the mighty Eddy. This was the one race PhilGil really wanted to win as it finishes in his back garden.  This brings his total of Classics wins to 8, the same number as the Badger, Bernard Hinault. No doubt Phil’ll be back later in the year to hoover up more wins in the autumn Classics and overtake the Badger.

L’Equipe published some advice on how one might beat Gilbert in this race, but obviously no one read it, certainly not the Schlecks. The pair  went clear with Phil Gil in the final few kilometres of the race on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons. The showdown that everyone wanted to see. However, it was more of a damp squib, as the Schlecks obligingly carried Phil to the line. They seemed powerless to resist. You might have expected a flurry of attacks to try and tire out PhilGil but, no, they meekly submitted: all hail to the Classics King.

Here endeth the Spring Classics season. It’s enjoyed unprecedented weather and some spectacular racing. The first half was graced by a load of unanticipated wins while the second half was dominated by Alan’s Dad, who will now surely be spending a couple of well earned weeks off the bike. He’ll probably need a couple of days to recover from yesterday’s celebrations with his fan club who had erected an enormous tent for the proceedings. Large though it was, I doubt that it could even begin to house all of PhilGil’s fans as he’s been equally, and deservedly, embraced by the Walloons and Flandrians.  One of the few things to truly unite Belgium.

Despite the forecast, the weather was fine here too. We set off just ahead of the club for the pointage in Biot where my beloved elected to wait for his team mates  while I decided to continue in anticipation of shortly being overtaken. Surprisingly, I managed to stay ahead of the club, riding instead with a number of other groups, before returning home via Valbonne and Sophia Antipolis. This gave me an opportunity to finish lunch and have a leisurely shower before my beloved returned. He had ridden his new bike and was enthusiastically describing the experience to me. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say he’s very, very pleased with it.


Yesterday we went for a quick spin around Cap d’Antibes. It was a more strenuous ride than we’d anticipated thanks to the wind. We just wanted to spin our legs ahead of today’s ride: La Louis Caput. I spent most of yesterday afternoon down at the club discussing the finer points of the detailed planning and staffing for La Kivilev. I have put my foot down firmly over the arrangements for the handing out of dossards and last minute registrations. This is my area of responsibility and no, we will not be following the usual arrangements. I have come up with something much, much better. While I was working, my beloved was going through the final checks before riding away on his new bike (an early birthday present), a Trek Madone 6.9SL with all the bells and whistles. He’s a very happy Easter bunny.

The alarm went off at 6am. I rose to check on the weather. It had rained heavily overnight. Indeed, the handrail on the terrace was still glistening with water. We decided to check on the weather forecast. The outlook was for further rain and storms this afternoon. the likelihood of rain was 70%. An executive decision was required. Given the terrain, and the possibility of encountering a storm on the exposed plateau, we regretfully decided to forego the Louis Caput, and went back to bed.

Of course, it’s not rained, although the sky is heavily overcast, particularly in the hills behind us. We could still do the course but, having taken so long to get over my last cold, I am reluctant to risk another soaking while my beloved does not want to get his new bike dirty. Sadly, the outlook for the rest of the week is not great, only Easter Monday looks to be bathed in sunshine. However, we know it’s unwise to look too far ahead as the weather can change quite quickly. We’re now wondering whether or not we made the correct call. If it does rain, we’ll feel vindicated. If it doesn’t, we’ll be ruing missed opportunities.

This morning I am going to continue the Spring cleaning offensive and attack the terrace. This afternoon, I’ll be baking for both the Kivilev and my guests. Both my sisters are over on holiday and will be coming round for dinner on Monday evening, along with my new brother-in-law, who is a fish eating vegetarian. I am anticipating plenty of grief over the weather. In view of our recent sojourn in Italy, I fancy giving the meal an Italian theme with plenty of anti-pasti followed by something from my River Cafe repertoire, probably a dish involving salt cod and potatoes.  Dessert will be a delicious coffee tart served with home-made vanilla ice cream and/or an sticky lemon and almond cake, served with fresh raspberries.

Postscript: It has rained solidly since late morning, totally vindicating our decision. However, I hope it eases off in time for tomorrow’s club ride.

Phil’s the man

Worth the pain!
I’m back from a 4-day trip to Varese and a 4-day enforced internet silence. Yes, we took my beloved’s laptop. Yes, we had WiFi on tap. My beloved forgot to take his charger. Yes, we bought a spare charger in MediaMarkt. No, it didn’t work, but the instructions said they’d sent us the correct Dell connector if we identified it on line. We didn’t bother. It did of course mean that my beloved had a real break from work (no bad thing) and was able to answer the most pressing emails and calls via his Blackberry.

The purpose of our trip was 2-fold: check out our Swiss friend’s new bike shop and afore-mentioned break.  We stayed in the same B&B I stayed in for the 2008 World Championships’s  in Varese. Indeed, we’re now quite regular visitors and the owners (and their cats) treat us like family. They’re very busy with their flower shop over Easter, so generally don’t accept guests during this period. We therefore had the run of the place which feels pretty much like home.

Our friend has opened his shop on a busy stretch of road between Lugano and Mendrisio along which absolutely every cyclist in the area travels. In the three weeks that he’s been open, he’s been exceedingly busy and has sold a complete bike and a set of carbon wheels each week, along with assorted repairs and sundries. More importantly, he’s enjoying himself. I’m sure he’s going to make a success of it.

The riding around Varese is different to the Core d’Azur: not better, just more undulating. On Tuesday, we rode along the lake from Como to Bellagio, up the Ghisallo and back. The route is constantly up and down and therefore it’s difficult to establish any kind of rhythm. Despite it being the run up to Easter, there was little traffic and the roads were peaceful. The weather was gorgeous. Warm enough to encourage me to wear my bib-shorts for the first time this year. The climb up to Ghisallo is brutal, it hits over 18% at one point. My cadence was so low, the legs were barely turning. The view was however worth it.

Wednesday, we opted for a gentler ride around the eastern side of Lake Maggiore which, while still undulating, is much kinder on the legs. Again, there was little traffic. We returned to base after lunch to watch La Fleche Wallone. La Gazzeta dello Sport favoured a Spanish win largely on account of the finish being on the brutal Mur de Huy. They speculated that this would suit either Contador (SaxoBank Sungard) or Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). But mostly, they bemoaned the lack of an Italian challenge.

The Italians were enjoying better luck in the Giro del Trentino which had started with a 13.4km time trail around Lake Garda the day before. This had been won by Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack), his 4th win of the season. He was a second ahead of Andrea Malori (Lampre-ISD) and a couple ahead of team mate Tiago Machado. Another man in fine early-season form, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), had taken Wednesday’s 184km stage ahead of Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) to record his 6th win of the season. The Italian moved into the lead on GC where he remains going into today’s final stage. Yesterday’s queen stage, which finished atop the cat 1 climb of Fai della Paganella, was won by the latest Columbian climbing sensation, Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC), former 2008 Varese U23 world champion.

Meanwhile, back in Belgium, the peloton had reeled back in the early escapees and was steeling itself for the final ascent of the Mur. The favourites were pretty much all in contention but who would prove to have the best legs? It was Phil Gil, again. With 300 metres to go, he powered off the front of the peloton leaving himself ample time to celebrate, as he crossed the line ahead of Roaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), his third win in a week and his first in this particular classic. So, there you have it, two of my favourite smiles atop the podium. Who’s going to have the will to beat him this Sunday?

Pretty much perfect week end

Yesterday morning the sun was shining as we set off for a gentle ride prior to today’s l’Antiboise. We basically rode the last circuit of Saturday’s stage of Paris-Nice 2011. On our way back, my beloved tried to lure me up the steep ascent to Chateauneuf. I tried but frankly 13%, even in bottom bottom, on the 53 x 39 was just too much for me. As we climbed the Col de Testanier today, I felt that effort in my legs. Back home we toyed with the idea of a trip to Stade du Ray to watch the local derby, OGCN v Monaco, but felt far too lethargic to watch what we were sure would be yet another bore draw. Well, how wrong were we? Five goals, with OGCN running out the winners. Five goals at Stade du Ray, when did that happen last? My beloved boys in claret and blue also won 2-1 away to West Ham, moving them sharply up the table.

I did however find time in my busy day to check on the individual time trial in the Vuelta Ciclista Castille y Leon. Alberto Contador, the 3-time defending champion, had been taken out of the running by a couple of mechanicals on Friday’s queen stage. Not wishing to leave the race empty handed, he was a shoe in for a win in the 11km time trial which he took in imperious fashion ahead of team mate Ritchee Portee (French announcer’s pronunciation). We might have been treated to more of the racing had it not been for a 3-setter ladies Fed Cup match.

When the alarm went off this morning at 6am, I did not want to get up. Largely because I had spent most of the night listening to my beloved snore. It’s a family trait and due to yet another genetic default (can I get a refund?). He’s recently started snoring while he’s still awake although he denies it vehemently as he can’t hear himself. Add selective hearing loss to his list of defects. After an extra precious 15 minutes, we got up dressed, breakfasted and set off for the start in Antibes.

I told my beloved he could ride at his own pace, no need to wait for me. He was gone in a trice. I set off with a bunch of riders from a neighbouring club, but following wheels that wander all over the place is not my idea of fun. I left them behind. I know the route well and although the forthcoming Easter vacation has heralded an influx of holidaymakers, and additional traffic, the roads weren’t too busy. I sailed along enjoying the peace and quiet, taking in the glorious  surroundings. From time to time, small groups of riders would zoom past me, calling out greetings as they did so. It was the perfect day for a longish ride. In view of the early hour, I had donned my arm warmers and gilet which were much appreciated on the final descent. I’ve yet to discard my 3/4 bib shorts.

On the ascent of the Col, most unusually, I started overtaking riders and arrived at the mid-way point, and feed zone, with a number of others. I was gasping for a coke. Initially, I was advised they were out of coke, but someone found a bottle (thank goodness). I needed that sugar hit. The club which organises this ride is renowned for the paucity of their offerings. All that was left was some dried out cake and a piece of chocolate brioche. I quickly ate the latter. One of the other riders commented that the fare on offer simply didn’t bear comparison with my own cakes. The guy driving the broom wagon enquired whether I would be riding the longer course. I told him that I had learnt my lesson from last year and would be sticking to the shorter route. He looked immensely relieved.

It’s pretty much all downhill from hereon in on winding, wide roads in excellent condition. I wasn’t too tired and it wasn’t too windy for me to ape Sammy Sanchez. In no time at all I was back in Mandelieu and on the home stretch. I rang my beloved to advise him that I would be home soon. I had taken the precaution of leaving his lunch, which just needed re-heating, in the fridge. By the time I reached home, he’d showered, changed and eaten lunch. I could take a relaxing shower, slip into something slinky and settle on the sofa ready to view the  Amstel Gold Race. Unfortunately, I dropped off to sleep and missed most of the action, including Frank Schleck taking out fabulous Fabian, in a Leopard Trek pile up. Now there’s a wheel to avoid. My beloved woke me just as Schleck the younger soloed off on a suicide mission. Phil Gil was exhorting the chasing pack but, as we were to discover on the Cauberg, they didn’t have the legs to chase. Phil did. He crossed the line well ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Simon Gerrans (Sky) for his second consecutive win. Someone, presumably his wife, handed him his baby son Alan, the spitting image of his Dad,  who was greatly enjoying proceedings. Get used to it Alan, it’s going to happen a lot.

Bit of a roundup

After four days off the bike, it was a pleasure to resume my training programme. I’ve been riding really strongly this week, particularly on the climbs, and feel on track for this week end’s brevet, the l’Antiboise, organised by a neighbouring club. Last year, I unwisely and unsuccessfully rode the 150km parcours, bonking spectacularly after 103km. This year, I’m riding the 100km course which, with the ride to and from the start, will be a 120km round trip. We’ll be setting off relatively early so as to be back in time to watch the Amstel Gold Race. I understand from an article on Cyclingnews that some, as yet unidentified, locals have been sabotaging the course with tacks!

We have friends who live in Valkenberg, just a stone’s throw from the Cauberg, and were fortunate to be in the area on business a few year’s ago and watched the race from a good spot (near the big screen) on that hill which is decidedly leg sapping. I was riding my friend’s “sit up and beg bike” which I would have been hard pushed to indeed push it up the hill, let alone ride. On race day, the hill is thronged with spectators, particularly on the lower sections which are bordered by bars and restaurants, and it has a fantastic atmosphere.

While we’re all awaiting the next monument in the Classics season, those cute boys in lycra have still been racing. PhilGil, last year’s Amstel winner, won Wednesday’s Fleche Brabanconne, so he’s on form for his objectives of next Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and next weekend’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Sungard), Igor Anton (Euskatel-Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (Geox) and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) are the main protagonists in the 5-day Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon, which is chock full of 2nd and 3rd division teams. This isn’t an overly bumpy parcours, indeed, the first two stages have featured the sprinters and have both been won by Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), clocking up his 6th stage win in this race. The French teams have been racing in the Coupe de France whose leader is young Tony Gallopin (Cofidis). In the 4th round, Sandy Casar (FDJ) emerged as the big cheese in Paris-Camembert while Jimmy Casper won his 4th GP de Denain Porte du Hainault.

I haven’t passed much comment on the football of late. There’s not a lot to say about either of my teams whose fortunes seem to mirror one another. OGCN, with one of the smallest budgets in the French first division, generally punch above their weight and are playing Lille in next week’s semi-final of the French Cup and should finish the season a couple of places above the relegation zone. My beloved boys in claret and blue are going through what I hope is a transition phase and, despite the inevitable end of season loss of one of their best players (again), should survive to rebound next season.

My beloved has been away for a couple of days which has enabled me to complete a number of tasks for the club before I leave for next week’s break in Varese. My beloved has decided to take a week’s holiday but if I don’t get him out of the office, he’ll just be working away on his emails. We’re staying in the same B&B I stayed in while volunteering at the 2008 Road Cycling World Championship’s in Varese. We’ve become good friends with the owners and stay a couple of times a year either visiting clients or friends nearby. It’s a lovely area to cycle around; witness the large number of professional riders who live and train in the area. I particularly enjoy cycling around the lakes and covering some of the route of the tour of Lombardy.

Sweet treats

I’m trying to find time each week to bake cakes for the forthcoming Kivilev (now only 7 weeks off). My home-baked goodies enjoyed a very warm welcome at the recent Gentlemen, and I’d like to continue in this vein for subsequent club-hosted events.  The numbers of participants will, of course, be much higher for the Kivilev but I’m aiming to only provide them with home baked cakes at the finish. Last year, the volunteers who were in charge of the post-race refreshments held my cakes back for those who remained for the presentations. I don’t want them to do that this year. I also made the mistake of not pre-cutting the cakes, allowing the volunteers to cut them up into too small slices. I have taken note, it won’t happen again.

Over the past year, I have been refining my selection of cakes suitable for ravenous riders. Basically, I need loaf or sheet pan cakes which slice easily and  freeze well, or which improve with keeping for a couple of days. There will, of course, be plenty of my (in) famous pain d’épice. I’m also making a number of cakes using two of Nigella Lawson’s recipes: her banana bread and chocolate loaf.  Both of these cakes remain very moist and moreish, even after lengthy spells in the freezer. I shall also make a couple of large fruit cakes which tend to improve, and cut more easily, if you leave them for at least a week or so before eating. These will also spare some space in the freezer. I’ve already made some chestnut and almond cakes, from a Corsican recipe, which have a nice nutty flavour and lose none of their texture or taste after a few weeks in the freezer.

One of my more recent bike-friendly experiments, proved particularly popular. I basically replaced the sugar and fat in a traditional carrot cake
recipe with apple and date puree. It was an inspired substitution, so I’ll whip up a few batches of these too, along with plenty of my oaten squares, which are bound with mashed banana and apple puree before baking. We also have around 90 volunteers to feed some of whom will start work very early in the morning. An army of volunteers, particularly male ones, marches on its stomach. Feed and water them on a regular basis with tasty and filling food and you’ll get little or no complaints.

As well as providing sustenance for the participants and volunteers, we also have to prepare a small apéro for the local dignitaries and guests. I’m going to make some savoury cakes using feta cheese and herbs, plus some pissaladiere to go with the usual drinks and nibbles. We don’t yet know whether we’re going to be graced with someone from the Kazakh Embassy, but we’re hopeful.

And if that were not enough, we then have to prepare and cook the post-Kivilev BBQ for all the volunteers and their partners. Our usual fare of grilled sausages and chicken with a mixture of salads, washed down with wine has proved popular and it’s easy to cater for large numbers on this basis. While most of the food will be purchased from the supermarket, I may just prepare a few sweet treats to thank everyone for all their hard work: maybe a couple of cheesecakes, something gooey and chocolatey and a large, berry-red, luscious summer pudding. If you’re interested, send me an email as we’re still a few volunteers short, particularly for road marshalling duties.