Hare and hounds

I had originally intended to head down to Rapallo for a couple of days to ride and watch the finish of Monday’s Giro stage, and the start of Tuesday’s. I changed those plans because the club scheduled the 175km ride for the Kivilev volunteers for yesterday. It’s a route I rarely get an opportunity to ride largely because it heads into the deserted Nicois hinterland where it’s inadvisable to ride alone; there’s no mobile phone signal and little passing traffic. The route’s not particularly difficult, but it does include over 2500m of climbing, just what I needed ahead of Saturday’s La Vencoise.

The “boys” were setting off from the club at 06:30am and mindful of the need to try and stay ahead of them, I set off at the crack of dawn in my yellow fluorescent gilet. All the better to be seen by what little traffic was around. It’s chilly at that time in the morning so I was wearing my armwarmers and 3/4 bib shorts. I parked the car in St Jeannet and rode to Bouyon largely untroubled by traffic, just a few early commuters heading in the opposite direction. The descent to Roquesteron was a little chilly and so I popped into the town bar for a coffee and comfort break.


I set off again climbing up towards Sigale which was where the boys overhauled me last year. I had calculated that if I made it onto the plateau without being overtaken, I would reach the picnic ground before them. It was turning into a gorgeous day; sunny with a hint of a breeze. My only companions were a few animals in the fields alongside the road.  I was enjoying the peace and quiet but more importantly, the solitude. I was still profoundly upset by events the day before at the Giro. I am always saddened to learn of the death of a fellow cyclist and it’s not just a case of “there for the grace of God………” If I ever meet my maker on my bike it’ll be because I’ve been knocked off it by a careless motorist. Professional cyclists take far more risks almost wholly because of the speed at which they travel on the bike, they are always testing its limits. Accident wise it’s not been a good couple of weeks for the club, apart from my friend who had been knocked off his bike on Sunday (cracked forehead, cracked vertebrae, massive bruising to right collar and shoulder bones, plus contusions to thighs) one of our promising youngsters, while on his bike, had been attacked by a motorist and left unconscious. Both were now recovering, but had been understandably shaken up by those events.

It also made me think about Andrei Kivilev in whose memory we hold our event. He too died in a cycling accident, albeit before the advent of helmets, in Paris-Nice 2003. Each year his widow attends the prize giving with Andrei’s son, who was born after his father’s death, he’s the spitting image of his late father.  Andrei’s parents make regular pilgrimages to visit their grandson and Andrei’s grave, he’s buried here. The club with whom Andrei first started his cycling career in France, and who also participate at the Kivilev,  hold a sportif each year in October, again in Andrei’s memory in which our club takes part.  Andrei’s family, our local Kazakh community, The Kazakh embassy in France and the Kazakh cycling Federation are grateful to us for keeping Andrei’s memory alive. I’m sure someone will do something similar for Wouter. It’s the least they deserve.

I finished the long slog up to Collongues, still no sign of my pursuers. I was starting to feel confident and enjoying the open roads. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of cars I’d seen since Roquesteron. The road flattens before the climb to St Auban and the plateau. Still no sign of my team mates although I had seen the club car containing the all important picnic which had overtaken me at Brianconnet.  I was starting to believe I might make it. Foolishly, and most unlike me, I hadn’t thought to bring my route map and on reaching a set of cross roads was uncertain which way to go. I opted for Thorenc, the location of the picnic though I had a nagging feeling it was straight on. My nagging feeling was right. My route took me over the testing Col de Bleyne however it also cut 8km off the route.


Had I been able to find the lake, I would have gotten there first: scant consolation. I couldn’t contact my team mates, no signal. So I descended to Greolieres, gave them a call to assure them I wasn’t lost, and stopped at a cafe for lunch. I’d not been here before but had passed by a number of times and it was always busy. The couple seated behind me were waxing lyrical about their lunch. I ordered a coke (necessary sugar hit), herb omelette and salad. The waitress enquired whether I wanted it runny or well-cooked, I requested the former. I sat back, drained my coke and contemplated the arrival of my soft, golden mound of quivering egg and mixed herbs.

I was rudely disappointed. The omelette was nut brown on the exterior and certainly overcooked on the interior, I couldn’t eat it. The proprietor was a little put out, but after offering to enter  his kitchen to show his chef how to cook an omelette correctly, he agreed not to charge me anything. I continued on my way. I rode up to Coursegoules, by way of St Pons with my stomach rumbling loudly, but I was almost there, the road was now pretty much downhill all the way back to my car which was parked outside of a particularly fine bakery. That thought kept me going. My reward was a cup of coffee and a coffee eclair – bliss. Coffee eclairs would be my perfect riding snack were it not for the mess they would inevitably make in my jersey pocket.

There was no time to waste if I were to get back to the club in time for this evening’s meeting. I drove home, showered, changed, grabbed my pre-packed bag and headed to the club.  I encountered a bit of ribbing about getting lost and missing the bountiful picnic but, in truth, I didn’t care. I had enjoyed my solitary ride. I had been alone, but not lonely.

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