Season’s Greetings

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my reader(s) good health, happiness and every success for 2012.

I’m taking a bit of a break with my beloved and I’ll be back in the New Year. Watch out for the launch on Monday 2  January 2012 of an exciting new blog on cycling http://velovoices.com where I’ll be one of the contributors.

Back next year

Please vote for Cavendish for BBC SPotY 2011

Manx Missile in rainbow jersey

Britain’s Mark Cavendish, winner of 18 races this year, including the Tour de France’s green jersey and the World Championship Road Race,  surely deserves to add “BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011” to his palmares.

Please vote for him – NOW. I’m not asking again.

Thursday night Postscript: The winner is Cavvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv  who typically started his acceptance speech by thanking his team mates.

Nice, really nice

Last week’s club discussion was the recent news that the Tour de France 2013, for its 100th edition, would start in Corsica, an island not so far from us and where most of the club have ridden at one time or another.  A couple of us, me included, are already planning our trips to go and watch the first three stages and the team presentation. It won’t be easy as there’s not a lot of accommodation on the island. We’ll probably have to rent an apartment for a week.

On your marks, get set..................

Talk then turned, not unnaturally, to the later stages one of which we rather assumed would be in Nice. After all, the ferry back from Corsica would most likely lead to an overnight stop in Nice. So it was more than nice to have our suspicions confirmed in Friday’s Nice Matin. Indeed we were going to be rewarded with two stages. A team time trial along the Promenade des Anglais (Nice-Antibes-Nice), 20km on the flat, everyone’s favourite spectacle. According to the newspaper, more than 250 towns had asked to stage this particular event. Then stage 5 will be starting in Cagnes sur Mer, most probably from the Hippodrome. Meaning, of course, that Stage 6 would also be within easy reach. That’s the first 10 days of July 2013 sorted.

In addition, as there isn’t enough accommodation on Corsica, the Tour Village is going to be based in Nice for the first four days of the Tour where there will also be a huge screen to watch all the action. I don’t know how much the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has paid for the privilege but I for one can hear the cash tills ringing now.

As I read the newspaper reports, it became apparent that there’d been a presentation to the great and good in the cycling world, by none other than Christian Prudhomme, at the Opera House in Nice. However, no one I knew had been invited. Had it been a spur of the moment thing or planned weeks in advance? It’s not unknown for invitations from the Mayor to arrive just a couple of days before the event.  But I had checked the post box on both Tuesday and Wednesday. There were quotes from a few of the professional riders who live on the Cote d’Azur but I learned on Friday evening, when one of them came to dinner, that he hadn’t been at the presentation nor had the other local riders. The quote had been given over the phone. Indeed, the only riders of any note in attendance had been Brice Feillu (who lives in Frejus) and Charly Berard, Bernard Hinault’s faithful lieutenant. However, looking at the photographs of the event it would appear that it was mostly attended by the press and local dignatories.

In year’s gone by, Nice figured prominently in the Tour. It’s been used on 35 occasions, most notably during the period of 1906 – 1937. But, in 2009, it was just one of the towns the peloton rode through as Stage 2 departed from Monaco en-route to Brignoles. It hasn’t been one of the staging towns since 1981. That year it figured heavily. The morning’s stage finished in a sprint on the Promenade des Anglais, won by Freddy Maertens, ahead of Sean Kelly. The former went on to win the green jersey and subsequently, the World Championship. In the afternoon’s team time trial (Nice-Antibes-Nice), Raleigh led Cyrille Guimard’s Renault Elf team by 43 seconds. However, it was Renault’s Gerrie Knetemann who assumed the leader’s jersey. But he was just keeping it warm for his team leader, Bernard Hinault, who took it five days later and kept it until Paris, his third Tour win. That had been Charly Berard’s first Tour de France.

Feats of endurance

Mmm delicious

I am not, and never have been, fond of mass participation events. Mass in my book being any number over and beyond me and my beloved. I’m a goat (Capricorn) rather than a sheep. However, there are times when you cannot do exactly as you please. By working for myself, I have sought to minimise these. However, while I was a wage slave, there were occasions when I toed the party line, notably the office Xmas party. Words guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of every manager. However, if you are a manager, then these are MUST attend events. Nothing short of death should excuse you.

By their very nature, they are organised, or should be organised, to appeal to everyone else and, to keep the taxman happy, generally to a per capita budget. I have long accepted that what constitutes a good night out for most is my idea of hell. I found the trick with office parties was to put in an appearance, eat and drink very little, be seen by as many people as possible, make a point of speaking to all my staff and thanking them for their efforts, but not to overstay my welcome and ruin everyone’s enjoyment. After all, few want to get off their face when the boss is around. Generally, leaving money behind the bar was also well received.

As the Club Treasurer and Secretary, I’m pretty much obliged to put in an appearance at all club events. However, here my role tends to be organisational rather than participational. In truth, I mind this less as I’m in charge. Events also follow a traditional pattern, although the annual dinner and dance has fallen by the wayside. Next year, we’re combining the AGM, which is being held on 6 January, with the Galette des Rois. Largely, it must be said, from necessity as the much in demand municipal venue isn’t available again until March.

In recent years, thanks to enlarged premises with a garden, we’ve also added a few events to the club agenda: Pancake night, Chocoholics evening and summer BBQs. These cost the club very little as it’s generally the members and their wives who prepare everything. Everyone mucks in and a good time is had by all, including me. But then that’s because I like nothing better than cooking for an appreciative crowd and proving that, contrary to popular belief, the English can cook.

Back on the treadmill

My coach is finally back out on his bike after a six week break with a multiple fracture of the right collarbone. Since he’s supposed to be “taking it easy”, I’m the ideal riding companion. I rode over to his office from whence we set off to undertake today’s training exercises.  Actually, we did tomorrow’s, as I did today’s yesterday. I saved my least favourite: pedalling in a high cadence. I find these exercises tiring and they expose my pedalling weaknesses. I have been working on this and my coach felt that I was making some progress. My action is getting more supple and I don’t bob about as much as before. Possibly because there’s less of me to bobble.

I did wonder whether my coach would put on any weight during his enforced rest. Well if he has, I haven’t spotted where he’s put it. On his slender frame there’s nowhere to hide. Sensibly, once the wind sprang up, he allowed me to ride in front, while he took shelter. Interestingly, he didn’t indulge in too much “look no hands” riding today. Obviously not keen to get another busted collarbone anytime soon.

We discussed my goals for next year. They’re going to be pretty much the same as this year with the addition of a couple of competitive time trials, one of which will be up Col de Vence.  I would love to do the Haute Route (Geneva to Nice) and am confident I would have no problem completing the arduous parcours. But everyone else would get fed up waiting for me and I’d probably be consigned to the broom wagon. I have no desire to take part in any event which has more than 500 participants, in truth, even then there’s about 495 too many. So that pretty much eliminates events such as L’Etape du Tour, La Marmote, Bosses du 13 and so on.

As part of my training package, I get to ride once a month with my coach but due to his injury we’re now playing catch up. So we’re riding again together next week. This will give me a welcome break from my beloved with whom I’m going to be spending the next three weeks. I know, it’s going to be tricky, but hopefully we’ll muddle through. He’s over in the UK racking up some serious brownie points taking the outlaw out for dinner. His brother’s keeping him company so the outlaw will be in heaven: both her boys together.

The great weather’s continuing. I sat outside, read L’Equipe and had a coffee after my 3 1/2 ride before heading back home. This evening was my last English class for a month. Two week break for Xmas, the week after’s the club AGM and then I’m visiting the folks. Wanting to maintain momentum, my two youngsters are finally getting good grades in their English tests at school, I’ve given them a project for the holidays. They’ve got to report on a football match and give me potted stats and bios on five of the players. Knowing these two they’ll plump for a match involving Barcelona. The month’s break will also allow me to restock my supply of cakes and cookies, the cupboard is bare.

Leaving well alone

It’s official winter’s here. I’m now wearing my winter riding jacket and, this morning, was wishing I’d worn full fingered gloves. The forecast next week shows midday temperatures dipping below 15C on the coast for the first time this year. Time to get out my woolly vest.

Since the commission decided a couple of months’ ago to reduce the length of the longer Kivilev course by 20km, I have been attempting to find a route which satisfies that requirement. I have looked at a number of alternatives, and ridden them to check them out, but the best I can do is a 10km reduction on the original length which involves more climbing, so we’re not saving much, if anything, in terms of time. There are ways of reducing the route but most involve using busy roads which frankly are best avoided. In addition, any route changes need to be approved by the local commune, it’s not unknown for them to refuse, particularly if it’s been used a few weeks before in another randonnee or sportive. Lots of the alternatives figure in earlier randonnees.

I drove the whole route yesterday to see if there were any unturned stones. There weren’t but it was an enjoyable drive. I broke my journey where I normally have a pit stop when riding the route. It’s the last toilet before heading into the Nicois hinterland. The route was frankly deserted and I was at times able to channel my inner Sebastian Loeb much to the amusement of the many onlookers: all sheep. In truth the existing route is well thought out and makes best use of the available roads and scenic countryside. Sometimes you meddle at your peril. It was one of those ideas which work well in theory, less so in practise. M le President has agreed that we won’t now change it.

This will of course also save me time as I can just update all the existing documentation, so much quicker.  I’ll be translating the brochure into English, Italian, Spanish and German before circulating it to magazines, websites, clubs and interested parties. It takes a while for a new event to build up a head of steam, but if we can grow it year on year we’ll be happy. I’ll also send an invitation to the Kazakh Embassy in Paris, maybe the Ambassador will again grace us with his presence. He certainly seemed to enjoy himself last year. We also invite the Kazakh Cycling Federation but as they largely compete on the Asian circuit it’s not been possible for anyone, other than racers from Team Astana, to attend.

Of course, we hope that next year’s event will again be supported by the professional riders who live locally. That’s a big draw for our participants. I’m also hoping to attract more exhibitors in the departure/arrival village to keep friends and relatives entertained during the race. At some point I’ll have to start planning my baking schedule. I now have a massive freezer chest at my disposal down at the club. Although I may just have to alarm the lid lest my cakes start disappearing.

You want how much?

Allegedly you can buy fans for your blog. I kid you not. I have received  a fair amount of spam alerting me to this practice. Obviously they’ve not read my open letter to spammers. Or, they have and they’re getting they’re own back. I declined to discover exactly how this might be achieved aka I hit the “delete” button. To be honest, I’m not sure why you would even want to engage in this activity. After all, only I and the people at WordPress know how many visitors my blog attracts. It’s our dirty little secret, until somebody hacks into my WordPress account. .

I have already inadvertently discovered that you can drive visitors to your blog with suggestive titles. Of course, the visits are fleeting since you’re not offering what they’re seeking. A few of them do browse but I sense I fail to retain their interest. I don’t have the right sort of lycra lovelies. My most regular visitors are my subscribers, family and friends. To be honest, I write the blog for my own amusement, so it really wouldn’t matter if no one dropped by. I quite enjoy recording my thoughts, views and musings. If someone finds them interesting or entertaining, so much the better. However, I’m seeking neither fame nor glory, not even my 15 minutes’ worth.

Of course, if I were hoping to win the blogging equivalent of an Oscar, I would presumably need to drive traffic to my site to vote for me. Likewise, if I were expecting to earn a living from blogging. But neither’s the case. No, low cost and low key’s much more my style. The thought of actually incentivising people to visit the blog sounds somewhat desperate; the blogging equivalent of “Billy no mates”. Do people who write blogs constantly check to see how many visitors they’ve had and which blog entries have been read? I don’t know, you tell me.

One indicator of blog popularity might be the number of comments you receive. But even those can be deceiving. l read a number of blogs but rarely feel moved to comment. I think that’s called lurking. However, I do comment from time to time when I agree with or empathise with the content. But, when pressed for time, which seems to be just about all the time recently, I just read the few I enjoy and rarely trawl further afield. There’s just too much data out there and sometimes, not enough information. Unsurprisingly, the sites I visit most tend to cover one or more of the following topics cycling, MotoGP, cookery or football. No surprise there!

 

Postscript: You can also buy friends on Facebook!!!!

Evoking fond memories

If I’m not spending time out on the bike, there’s no where else I’d rather be than the kitchen. After my cheffy attempts last week end to impress a couple of French guys, I’m cooking for a bunch of friends tomorrow evening. I’ve no need to impress, they know what I’m capable of in the kitchen. We have dinner together on a regular basis;  sometimes in one another’s homes, sometimes in restaurants. Whose place we eat at tends to depend on the time of year.

One couple have a delightful flat in Beaulieu sur Mer, close to the beach. This makes them our go to location for beach picnics. The other couple, who have two teenage boys, live like us in an apartment with a wonderful view of the sea. However, they have a much bigger terrace and an adjacent garden where they can easily accommodate eight or more. I, on the other hand, have the largest dining room, so I tend to be the hostess of choice in winter.

Not for the faint hearted

Many moon’s ago, one of the guy’s first trip from behind the then Iron Curtain was to Austria where he ate Kaiserschmarren, a well-known and popular dessert. On subsequent trips, when he’s been racing in the Giro or Tour of Austria, he’s enquired as to its availability at each hotel and has been disappointed. Largely, I suspect, because it’s a dessert which needs to be made to order. It’s a thick, souffle pancake studded with plump rum soaked raisins, dusted with icing sugar and served with a slightly tart fruit compote. I promised him that the next time he came to dinner I would make it for him. Accordingly, I’m serving everyone a traditional Austrian meal.

We’re starting with a few nibbles including smoked salmon and caviar, washed down with champagne. Then, I’m serving tagliarini with a truffle sauce. The main course is an Austrian colossus, “Tafelspitz” with all the trimmings. It’s boiled beef, but not just any beef. I use ribs of beef but have the butcher take them off the bone to make it easier to carve. The beef is slowly simmered in a vegetable stock to which I have added the bones. When cooked, it just melts in the mouth. I’m serving it with traditional accompaniments: creamed spinach, saute potatoes, chive sauce and horseradish. Dessert will be the afore-mentioned Kaiserschmarren with spiced plum compote and apple strudel with vanilla sauce. You might think that two desserts is somewhat over the top but, don’t forget, the one couple have two teenage sons with the obligatory hollow legs who can easily consume their own body weights. I should add that there’s also home-made bread and petit fours, plus a cheese course. No one’s going to go home hungry and we’ll all need a long ride on Sunday morning.

The key to enjoying dinner parties, IMHO, is planning and preparing as much as possible in advance. I’ve done that and stuff’s either in the fridge ready for tomorrow or sitting in the freezer waiting to be defrosted at the last minute. I just need my beloved to decide which wine and champagne he’s going to serve in his capacity as Chief Bottle Opener.

Dear Santa…………….

What’s in your sack, Santa?

At this time of year the cycling press are happy to provide us with plenty of useful ideas for our Xmas lists. Now it’s been a few years since I last corresponded with Santa, but that’s not to say I shouldn’t give it another go. However, it’ll largely be an academic exercise as I’ve agreed not to buy anyone any Christmas or birthday presents again, ever.  While the whole point of present buying really isn’t reciprocity, I would hazard a guess that if I don’t buy any, I’m not going to receive any. Of course, with all the money I’ll save I could just buy myself something I really, really want.

Now if money were no object, I’d  like my own cycle team. I’m keen to nurture budding talent so I’d be more than happy with a continental ie French 3rd division side. This would also enable me to fulfill another objective as they’d largely only be racing at home.  Travelling with the team in my capacity as Owner, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, I’d get to visit and, more importantly cycle in, all parts of the Hexagon. With only one sponsor to satisfy, the kit could be simple and stylish. I’d probably ask Geoffroy Lequatre to spin a little G4 magic (www.g4dimension.com) and design the team’s kit and casual wear. Please note, we would definitely be avoiding the black, white and pale blue colour palette seemingly favoured by half the teams in the Pro-Tour peloton.

My beloved has taken some lovely cycling photographs with the Panasonic Lumix camera I bought him a few Christmas’s ago and I’ve been meaning to frame a few and hang them in the hall corridor. To supplement them, I’d love some of Jered Gruber’s magnificent photographs. If you’ve not seen them, please head on over to www.gruberimages.zenfolio.com and prepare to be enthralled. Oh, and don’t buy them all, save a few for me.

Despite the recent problems with my Garmin 500, I’d like some of the new Garmin vector pedals. I can use these on whichever of my bikes I happen to be riding, thereby avoiding the issues with different cranksets and hubs. Plus it’ll analyse and compare my left and ride pedalling actions. In theory more information about my riding should help me to further improve. In this case, less really isn’t more. It’s just less.

It seems a bit greedy but I’d like one of the new BMC bikes, specifically the model as ridden into Paris by this year’s Tour de France winner, the TMOI and Tour Bike.  Except, I don’t want it in yellow. It’s not really my colour and it’s such a difficult one to co-ordinate. Instead, I’d like it in black and white, with a white saddle and white handle bar tape. I’d also like to have my name on it. PhilGil’s got “Fast Phil” on his and I’d like “Slow and Steady Sheree” on mine. No point in denying the truth.

Last but not least, I’d like some trousers without matchstick legs. Yes, I know they’re fashionable but they don’t fit my slimmed down chunky legs, and never will, however little I weigh. Preferred colours: black, dark grey, navy blue and tan.

On the basis that it never pays to be too greedy, I’m going to stop here. Dear Santa, I’d be more than happy with any permutations of the above short but sweet list.

PS Just had another thought. Could you fix it for me to ride with Samu during my next trip to the Basque country?

A tale of two deliveries

I have a favourite brand of coffee. I’ve dallied with others but return time and time again to my favourite. What can I say? I’m the faithful type. Living as I do in the south of France, you might assume that my preferred brand would be French or, at the very least, Italian. But, no, it’s German. Over the years, I’ve been able to satisfy my coffee cravings thanks to regular trips to German speaking countries where the product is freely available. In recent years my beloved has made bulk purchases from their airport shop which I store in the freezer until required.

In the past six months or so my beloved has made fewer business trips to Germany, specifically Munich, and I’ve turned to their on-line store which ships worldwide. I placed my first order for 6 kilos earlier in the year and it arrived by courier within 3 working days – excellent. At the beginning of last month, when supplies were rapidly dwindling, I placed another order. Three days later I was advised it had been shipped.

I waited and waited, but no delivery. I contacted the company’s customer services (luckily I speak German) who advised it would be with me shortly. A week later and still no sign of my coffee. Suffering severe withdrawal symptoms and desperate for my fix, I recontacted customer services who explained that DHL, their preferred courier service, had been unable to effect delivery because of a problem with my address. I checked on my account, the address was correct. Obviously, the parcel had been incorrectly labelled. Given that they had my email address, my landline and mobile, why had no one thought to contact me? DHL passed the problem onto the French Post Office and their Colissimo service.

Customer services provided me with a 12-digit reference and suggested I contact Colissimo. I did. The French parcel service works off a 13 digit reference and my package could not be located without the full reference number. Believing customer services had made an error, I recontacted them but no, that was the reference provided by DHL. They could do no more. I left for my trip to Paris and New York. Maybe, in my absence, matters might be sorted. In hope, rather than anticipation, I sent Colissimo an email explaining the problem.

I returned from my trip to discover the staus quo unchanged. I politely but firmly gave the company 5 working days to deliver my goods after which I would require a full refund. An apology wouldn’t go amiss either. They said they thought that this was not an unreasonable request and they would be happy to give me one. But, of couse, what I really want is my coffee fix. Undaunted, I have continued to bombard Colissimo and finally I have a 13 digit reference for my package. The problem is that, by my reckoning, the package has been on French soil for at least 15 days. I’m going down to the post office this afternoon but fully expect to be told that my parcel of caffeine has been sent back. The coffee in question comes from Dallmayr’s a venerable German institution.

It’s a delicatessen, restaurant and catering service based in Munich dating back to the 17th century. The main store, after being destroyed in World War II, was rebuilt in 1950 complete with its former neoclassical facade. Dallmayr’s went on-line in 2000 to increase its product distribution and, in 2003, opened its first branch store in Munich Airport’s Terminal 2.

The store was started by Christian Reitter and settled in its current location, near Marienplatz, between 1671 and 1700. His two daughters inherited the store but the name comes from its 1870 owner, Alois Dallmayr, a Bavarian merchant. Dallmayr sold the store in 1895 to Anton Randlkofer, who died two years later. His widow, Therese, took over the store and managed the business very successfully, significantly improving its reputation through leveraging her not inconsiderable social contacts.

In 1930, to cushion itself post the Wall Street Crash, Dallmayr’s expanded its product portfolio with coffee. By 1933, a fully fledged department within the store, including electric bean roasting, had been established by a 19 year old coffee expert, Konrad Werner Wille from Bremen. The unground coffee beans, mostly from Ethiopia, are still stored in hand painted porcelain Nymphenburg jars and quantities purchased are still measured on historic balances.

The main brand, Dallmayr Prodomo, and my favourite, was created in 1960. Over 200 tons of coffee are roasted daily in their coffee roasting premises in Munich and Berlin and sold worldwide. The coffee business was further expanded postwar to include a vending machine service, initially in collaboration with BMW, another famous Bavarian brand, for which Dallmayr remains the German leader.

In 1977 Werner’s son, Wolfgang and Georg Randlkofer took over the management of the family business. In 1984, Nestle purchased a 50% ownership of the coffee division, to establish a foothold in the German coffee market (reduced to 25% in 2003), and in 1985, the coffee division was established as a separate company under Wolfgang Wille. Today Dallmayr is still one of Germany’s premium brands. No visit to Munich, in my opinion, is complete without a visit to their store. It’s a gourmet’s delight. I have also dined in their delighful restaurant.

Postscropt: Fruitless trip to Post Office. The 13-digit number has been assigned to send the parcel back from whence it came. It’s currently in Paris en route to Munich. Coffee anyone?