High rise cycling

Krystian Herba World Record Stair Climber

I’m in Dubai for the cycling. Yes, I do know the Tour of Qatar starts next week and, no,  I haven’t got my dates and dunes jumbled.  Extreme Polish cyclist Krystian Herba was in town to break records – Guinness Book of Records. Yesterday, to celebrate the second anniversary of the world’s  tallest hotel, he climbed 2,040 stairs on his bicycle in a new record time. The previous record of 2,008 steps was set four years ago by Zhang Jincheng,  Xavi Casas and Javier Zapata in the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China.

The 30-year old Herba’s attempt was eagerly anticipated and he set off from the hotel lobby at 11am, after a countdown by hotel guests. He then took to the stairs  of the 72 floor hotel on his customised, Euros 5,000  saddles-less ROMET bike and – without setting so much as a toe to the ground – used his upper body to hoist himself and his bike up each flight of stairs.  Accompanied by his eight-strong support team – including his brother – he climbed 23 floors, took the lift back down  – still on his bike – and then climbed a further 68 making a total of 91 flights. He had hoped to achieve this feat in around 1 1/2 hours but he completed the mind-bogglingly strenuous task in 1:13:41!

As soon as he’d achieved his target, Herba somersaulted over his handlebars and landed on his feet to give a dramatic flourish to his amazing achievement and wow the waiting crowd of more than 50 people. He put his strength down to the fact that the hotel restaurant served excellent steak which he’d been eating regularly to build up his strength ahead of his attempt. The hotel’s management were equally delighted with the historical attempt which has garnered many column inches of publicity for the hotel. Adam Krzymowski, the Polish Ambassador to the UAE said

“It is very important for me and the Polish community. I drove all the way from Abu Dhabi just to watch and congratulate him on his efforts.”

After completing the challenge, Krystian Herba said:

“What I just accomplished was a defining triumph in my career and I cannot express how happy I am to be able to get the new world record at Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, the tallest hotel in the world. This is indeed a dream come true for me!”

Herba who’s been riding for 18 years, started stair climbing in 2009 and this is his seventh tower climbing adventure. The others took place in Europe and he’d previously only managed 1,212 steps. So this challenge was a big step up. He’s apparently in talks with both representatives from CN Tower in Toronto and Taiwan’s Taipei 101. But Herba’s set his sights on the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building which is also in Dubai.

No ordinary cookie

The past few days I have been fighting  a rearguard action but I’ve caved. It’s official, I have a cold which I’m now feeding with my favourite remedy – hot toddies. I think it was made worse spending a couple of hours down a cold, damp clubhouse yesterday evening. We had a meeting of the management team to re-elect the key members – like there were any other takers! Indeed the one club member who had shown in interest in becoming M Le President next year has done an about face. I suspect he was keen on high office while he thought he had me on board to do all the donkey work – think again.

This is, of course, quite a serious issue. If we can’t find someone to take over at the end of our period of office, we’ll either be left holding the baby or the club might fold. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the President must live in the same town as the club’s based, and be newly retired. Sadly, not too many of our members fall into this category.

Fond though I am of my fellow clubmates, they are often quite frustrating to deal with, even though I know they have the club’s best intentions at heart. Sometimes it’s like herding sheep, which either makes me a shepherd or a sheep dog. Though I do like to think of myself as a goat, it is after all my star sign.

I have at long last managed to recruit someone to help me with marketing our big annual cycling event “La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev”. Taking a leaf out of the book of my fellow writers on Velovoices, I have recruited a youngster to liven up the Facebook page. However, he’s not familiar with Twitter (can’t have everything) so we’ll broach that at a later date.  I have high hopes. Having discussed our potential strategy with him yesterday evening, I have instructed him to go forth and multiply our friends.

The cold has meant I’ve had to turn down an opportunity to ride with my coach today, but I don’t want to give him a cold.  It’s going to be an excercise free day. This is slightly upsetting as adverse weather conditions are forecast for this week end. It had to happen at some point. Although I am jetting off to the sunshine with my beloved this week end: pleasure for me and business for him. It’ll be a week in Dubai’s sunshine which at this time of year is in the mid-to-low 20 degrees centigrade. Ideal for a spot of sunbathing or sightseeing.

Do these look good enough to eat?

Cold aside, I’ll still take my English class this evening, as I promised them a celebratory English afternoon tea in honour of the one who celebrated his 18th birthday at the week end. I’m preparing a traditional tea with some rather (if I say so myself) splendid chocolate chip cookies. They contain cornflake crunch, mini-marshmallows as well as the ubiquitous chocolate chips. I expect these to evaporate in seconds, rather than minutes.

Thursday postrscript: Did I say seconds? I should have said nanoseconds. They were a monster hit and more have been ordered!

Righteous indignation

During the winter months the clubs hosting pointages often award extra points if you pick up a ticket en route. This is generally a carrot to encourage you to cycle a bit farther and wider. I left the flat about an hour after my beloved, who wanted to ride with his clubmates. I had timed my departure to avoid the worst of the morning’s chill and damp conditions and to arrive with time to spare to collect my ticket. Or so I thought.

I arrived at the designated rendez vous point to collect my ticket only to discover no one was there. They were supposed to be there until 10:15, it said so on the announcement which I had consulted prior to leaving. I was not a happy bunny. I whipped out my mobile and took a photograph of the empty car park which handily also records the time and where I took it. I continued on my chosen path muttering about clubs who don’t stick to the rules. I have fallen foul of these a couple of times, arriving exhausted only to find the club’s volunteers have shut up shop before the witching hour: nul points and no refreshments. Of course, now that I’m Club Secretary, I receive a copy of the each pointage’s details so I KNOW when they’re supposed to close or how long they’re supposed to hang around to hand out tickets. Knowledge is power.

Fuelled by anger and still muttering to myself, I was riding really well and overtaking large numbers of cyclists on my chosen route to the pointage.  I was zooming down towards the coast road when out the corner of my eye I noted an oncoming car indicating it was turning left, across my bows. I continued, but so did the car. A collision was inevitable. I applied the brakes and skidded on the wet road only to be knocked over by the car which stopped. The lady driver emerged and demanded to know why I hadn’t stopped. I leapt to my feet and checked my bike. It appeared undamaged. I turned and advised the woman: 1) I had right of way; 2) she should have stopped and would have done so had I been another car; 3) driving while talking on your mobile is dangerous and illegal.  I suggested that in future she keep her eyes on the road. I mounted and rode off to a round of applause from the witnesses. I consigned her registration number to memory.

Finally, I arrived at the pointage ready to do battle for my additional points. The wind was rather taken out of my sails by one of the guys who said he’d seen me at the meeting point but had been unable to catch my attention. I recognised him but didn’t drop him in it. He and his team mates had been enjoying a cup of coffee 500 metres up the road! I got my  precious points. I’m now back home and surveying the damage. Two black knee caps, a sore left hip and shoulder where the car struck. I’ll live to tell my tale again and again.

Monday Postscript: All sorts of aches and pains this morning which I’m stoically ignoring. The worst is my left shoulder which I hurt when I fell over on Saturday and exacerbated when I attempted to hold off the advancing vehicle yesterday. The blackened knees look impressive but will be hidden beneath my 3/4 bib tights.

Live the dream

While I was enjoying my post-work out coffee and L’Equipe a little announcement caught my eye. Sebastian Vettel’s been awarded the Grand Prix 2011 from the French Academy of Sports. Well done Seb but that wasn’t what provoked my interest. Among the various awards was one for a Brit, Anthony Smith which recognised his exceptional and original endeavour with a raft! Now the French are masters of extreme sports and there’s a number of Brits who are far more celebrated here than back in Blighty – Dame Ellen MacArthur immediately springs to mind.

When I got back home I had to look up exactly what it was that Anthony Smith had achieved. One of the many advantages of (often) being mistress of my own universe. Yes, my beloved’s fled the nest this week. Now I’m very fond of saying things like:-

  • “You’re never too old to learn something new”
  • “Life’s not a dress rehearsal”
  • “You never want to have IF ONLY on your gravestone”.

You get my drift and so does 85-year old Mr Smith.

Anthony Smith, along with his three senior companions  – David Hildred, John Russell, and Dr Andrew Bainbridge –  recruited via a newspaper advertisement, realised a long-held ambition to sail across the Atlantic in a raft.

The “An-Tiki” was constructed from four water supply pipes nearly 40 feet long, and 14 cross pipes, seven of which held the crew’s fresh water supply. It had a 40 foot mast, a 400 square foot sail, twin rudders, centreboards and oars, but crucially no engine.

All aboard

The adventure was financed by compensation Mr Smith received from being run over by a van which broke his hip and left him needing sticks to walk.

It took them 66 days, averaging four knots per day, to travel the 2,600 miles from the Canary Isles to the Dutch Caribbean island of St Maartan. The crew said they wanted to prove the elderly are capable of embarking on adventures that are mistakenly considered dangerous. They hoped their endeavour would raise £50,000 for the charity Water Aid, which provides potable water to impoverished communities.

Anthony Smith is quoted as saying: “Some people say it was mad. But it wasn’t mad. What else do you do when you get on in years?”

Captain Smith and his crew

“’Yes, of course it’s a success,” Smith said with a smile. “How many people do you know who have rafted across the Atlantic? … The word mutiny was only spoken about two or three times a day.” Doesn’t this story just gladden your heart.

L’Equipe poll

At the beginning of each year, L’Equipe journalists pose ten key questions about the forthcoming cycling season and ask their readership to vote “Yes” or “No” to each question. Here’s the questions and the all-important results:-

1. Are the Olympic Games going to be good for the French?   67% said YES

Leaving aside the road races, the French have always done well on the track and in MTB. Last time out they also shone in BMX. There’s no reason to suppose they won’t do similarly well in London 2012. They’ve been less convincing on the road and could only offer up the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin who finished 3rd in the pre-Olympic dry run. While it’s not entirely impossible that someone of the stature of Dumoulin – and when I say stature, I’m thinking palmares not size – or Feillu could nick a place on the podium. Just don’t bet your shirt on it.

2. Will Arnaud Demare be the seasons’ revelation?   56% said NO

This is the lad who won the U23 Road Race in Copenhagen and who’s now a neo-pro at FDJ where he’ll have an opportunity to grow without too much pressure being placed on his young shoulders too early. He’s only 2o (21 in August) and one shouldn’t expect that, like Marcel Kittel before him,  he’ll rack up 18 sprint victories in his first season. But he will win races, just not yet. Remember, he was 4th in U23’s in last year’s  Paris-Roubaix and will no doubt benefit from Frederic Guesdon’s guidance.

3. Are we going to see a duel again between Cancellara and Boonen in the Cobbles Classics?   56% said NO

Go Tom go

The sentiment was that these two will play a role but there are others who will enter the fray. They’ll probably never repeat their respective golden years of 2010 and 2005 respectively. However, I sensed, that nonetheless, this was exactly what everyone was hoping for. Kitty Fondue and I are going to be hotly debating this very topic over on www.velovoices.com.

4. Will TAS exonerate Condator?   67% said YES

Now I’m not sure whether readers felt this was the most likley and most expedient outcome for cycling or whether, as time has gone on, Contador has impressed everyone more and more with his demeanor thus they’re more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The French are not overly fond of what we might call “the authorities” and this may have just tipped the balance in Bertie’s favour.

5. Will Evans succeed in retaining his Tour title?   56% said NO

Despite his excellent team, experience and the favourable parcours, readers felt his age would count against him and, in particular, his declining powers of recuperation. If he takes part, most expect Contador to win.

6. Will Thomas Voeckler get onto the Tour podium?   89% said NO

The French know their cycling. Voeckler ended up in the leader’s jersey when he profited from the misfortune visited on Messrs Hoogerland and Flecha. His defence of the jersey was heroic, but he was in it by chance. The verdict: top 10 placing is the best he can expect.

7. Will Bruyneel get Andy to win the Tour in 2012?   89% said NO

Most recognise that Bruyneel does have what it takes to make Andy win the Tour, but not this year. He needs a more favourable parcours, the absence of one Bertie Contador and to be uncoupled from his elder brother. Like I said, the French know their cycling. They’re not wrong about this.

8. Will Cavendish become Olympic Champion?   56% said YES

While most agreed it would be more difficult than winning the World Championship’s Copenhagen – fewer team mates, hillier parcours – they felt his experience in winning Grand Tour stages, his mental strength and home advantage might just see him grab gold.

9. Will Team BMC crush everything it its path this season?   100% said NO

Can’t get more emphatic than that! History has shown  – Teams Sky and Leopard-Trek – that it takes a while for a team to bed down. In addition, when there are changes to a number of key personnel, it takes time for them to become cohesive. A case of too many chiefs and not enough (red) Indians perhaps?

10. Will Valverde give Gilbert a run for his money?   67% said YES

Readers think that this could well be the duel of the season particularly in the Ardennes Classics. PhilGil may be numero uno at the moment but let’s not forget Valverde occupied that slot in 2006 and 2008 plus he’s got a point to prove – always dangerous.

Be careful what you wish for

In addition, L’Equipe asked each of the 10 journalists who had posed the questions what they would like to see happen this season. Their replies, in no particular order were:-

  • Frederic Guesdon to win Paris-Roubaix  – sadly he won’t be doing that after crashing in 1st stage of the Tour Down Under. Curse of the Journo!
  • Juan Jose Cobo to ride up the 25% incline of le Caitu Negru (16th stage of Vuelta) in his big ring.
  • Bruyneel to stop Frandy from waiting for one another.
  • Peta Todd, Cav’s partner, to become the front woman for Cochonou (cold meat producer) in the Tour caravan.
  • Lionel Messi to take French citizenship and start cycling. (With those sublime feet, he could be a shoe in).
  • David Moncoutie wins Milan- San Remo in a sprint after having headbutted Mark Renshaw (Now they’re getting silly!)
  • Another’s a rather saucy reference to the fact that Mark Cavendish got his partner pregnant during last years Tour. However, it does acknowledge that Cav’s a brill Tweeter.
  • Tom Boonen wins a fourth Paris Roubaix title and snubs Roger De Vlaeminck on the podium. (I know exactly what SHE means, but I’m sure Tom’s too nice to do that).

Not enough points

After a few days back in the UK, I was literally chomping at the bit to get back on my bike. Not long after I’d landed on Saturday morning, I rode for a couple of hours with my beloved. It felt so joyous to be riding along in the fresh air and sunshine. I was glad to be home.

Having gotten up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, I needed a lie in on Sunday morning. My beloved departed to ride with the club and I left home an hour later. It was chillier than I’d anticipated so revised my plans. The pointage was being held in my home town so, after marking my points for the club, and wishing a happy new year to numerous riders, I set off along the coast road.

I wasn’t the only rider with the same thought, there was plenty of two-wheeled traffic in both directions. I rode to Cannes and back by way of Cap d’Antibes, wanting to get home early in order to prepare lunch for my beloved. On the way back I tagged onto a couple of groups but, having spied a lady rider in difficulty, I stopped to assist. She’d lost her chain and I had it back in place in no time. She complained that none of the male riders had stopped to help. I think this was largely because she’d halted behind a car and wasn’t all that visible.

As I remounted I became absorbed into  a bunch of riders from my local club which gave me an opportunity to enquire about their President who’d recently had a rather serious mishap with a circular saw. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to pick up his severed fingers before heading to the hospital. They’ve sewn them back on and he’ll have to wait and see, but he’s going to be off his bike for a few months.

The results of the pointage came through that evening. My club had held previously both the departmental and regional championships for ten consecutive years, but we’d lost both titles last year to my home town club. It’s no coincidence that the clubs winning the titles have the largest number of veterans, and ladies over 50, in their membership ranks. They score the most points. We just can’t compete.

In total, over 670 riders turned up and nearly 10% of those were ladies. Over 65% of those taking part were over 50 and just THREE were juniors. That’s a really sad number. The club was 5th overall with just 50% of our membership turning out. No trophies for us.

This time of year the various associations, of which the club’s a member, hand out trophies and gongs. One of our members regularly features as having ridden the most kilometres in certain events. Having already made a clean sweep of our club awards, he’s set to do the same locally. I too have been honoured, I’m being awarded a diploma. I’m not sure what it’s for but no doubt all will be explained in due course. It might just be for the best catering at a pointage or for my undoubted organisational skills at our club events or, and more worryingly, the association is hoping to curry favour and persuade me to accept a position on it’s management board. Well guys, it’ll take more than a piece of paper to win me over. I’m not that easy.

Don’t talk to strangers

When I was very much younger my Mum cautioned me against talking to strangers. I’m sure your Mum probably said something similar. But who are these strangers? To be honest, Mum didn’t give me much clarification at the time or since. I’m sure her intention was to keep me safe. But statistics show that most people are either harmed or killed by people they know ie not strangers. There are few really random acts of violence.

To be honest, I never much heeded her words and have spent most of my life talking to people I didn’t or don’t know. In fact I’m happy to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone. The first instance I can recall was on a summer vacation to the Isle of Wight when I would have been around 18 months’ old. My parents (as a joke) deposited me in a large waste paper bin and walked round the corner. The joke was on them as I was rescued by a couple staying in the same hotel who heeded my cries for help. Just imagine the shocked looks on my parents faces when they returned seconds later to find me gone! Or maybe they were relieved.  In any event, we were shortly reunited.

While I was at primary school, Wednesday afternoons (and Saturday mornings) I attended ballet classes. My mother was hoping (in vain) to make me lighter on my feet. As a reward for my pirouettes my parents used to take me for afternoon tea at The Queen’s Hotel, later demolished to make way for New Street Station. Most of the hotel’s other guests were regulars, ladies and gentlemen of a certain age, often on their own. Once I’d been into the kitchens to see chef, and select my cakes, I would do the rounds of the hotel lounge. No one was safe. I would stroll up, bold as brass, and seat myself comfortably on a facing chair or sofa before smiling and then disarming them with my skilful interrogation techniques. No pliers or bright lights required. Once I had the facts at my disposal, they were filed away ready to be revisited the following week when I dropped by for an update. Early and very useful training for my future career as an auditor.

Now that I think about it, I’ve spent most of my life chatting to strangers and not come to any harm. Nowadays, when I’m out riding, I regularly strike up conversations with people I don’t know. I may not know their names, but they’re not strangers. We’re all part and parcel of the brother and sisterhood of cyclists.

About a year ago, I started chatting with someone who shared my interests: football and cycling. We regularly dropped by one another’s blogs and left comments. I knew his name, where he lived, the names of his family and his email address, but that was it. We were to all intents and purposes strangers. A few months ago he made me and two other strangers a proposal we just couldn’t refuse. He suggested we pooled our efforts to write a cycling blog. It launched at the start of this year, has been well received and it’s been such a blast. Mosey over to www.velovoices.com and check it out. While I was in the UK last week, I took the opportunity to meet up with two of the threesome and found we weren’t strangers at all, just long lost brothers and sisters in arms.

Out of sight, out of my mind (not)

Visits to my family in the UK are such rare occurrences that I never take my laptop with me. Not, of course, that my parents have access to the internet. But, even if they did, I would feel guilty spending even half an hour of the few precious hours I spend with them checking out what’s happening in the two-wheeled world. I’m not completely out of touch, I do have my Blackberry but emails and tweets tend to give me tantalising glimpses of what I’m missing. But I can be patient, every now and then.

My last UK trip was in October. This visit was arranged because of its proximity to my birthday, Xmas and ahead of next week’s start of the 2012 cycling season.  So for just a few days, while I’m seeing my family, and catching up with a few friends, I feel bereft of my usual daily anchors. The Times is a poor substitute for L’Equipe. But it’s better than nothing, and this week it did feature an interview with Sky’s World Champion, Mark Cavendish (seen right), and the planning and preparation that’s going into (possibly) making him Olympic Champion. A far harder task than securing the rainbow jersey he’ll be gracing all season long. My family sadly don’t share my love of all things two-wheeled, nor do some of my friends, though they all kindly show some interest which I repay by not talking too much or overlong (I hope) about my velo passions.

On my return home to the sunshine this morning, there were two items high on my agenda: a bike ride and a quick catch up on what I’d missed during the past four days (was it only four?). So much seems to have happened. A bit of a dust up over who’s on who’s side in the Contador v UCI/WADA decision and the fear that it might be delayed, once again. The wild cards for the Giro have been announced with German Team NetApp springing a bit of a surprise while Acqua & Sapone’s hopes and dreams went down the plughole. OPQS’s Tom Boonen deciding to up sticks and head back to Belgium, passing up on an opportunity to ride with me this winter. He must have had a savage pay cut so the team could pay for Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin.

The route of this year’s Vuelta was unveiled on Wednesday. I’ve planned to be there at the start, shortly after the Clasica San Sebastian but, with the entire race taking part in northern Spain, I am now being tempted to linger longer. I’ve looked at the parcours and winced. This is most definitely a route for Spanish mountain goats, particularly those that weigh less than me. You know who you are!

Sylvain plots Fabian's downfall

There’s also been numerous team presentations, broadcast over the net, where riders have been forced to wear outfits they’d rather not and assume daft poses for publicity shots they’d rather not. It’s a tough life, even without the hours spent in the saddle.

We’re all (aren’t we?) poised in the starting blocks for next weeks’ season opener, the Santos Tour Down Under. The Australian viewing public have chosen their man to follow Vacansoleil’s and 2010 Tour of Qatar winner, “Wouter Mol”, and we’re all chomping at the bit for the action to commence. Fortunately my beloved is going to be heading to the UK on Monday leaving me ample opportunity to view proceedings. The speculation has already started as to who might win but the beauty of cycling is that none of us really has any idea. But it won’t be me.

I might know your secret

Russian pasta dish

I rode on my own yesterday and it was such an enjoyable ride it forcibly reminded me why I love being out on my bike: freedom. I rode one of my regular winter week end routes and was loathe to get back, but I knew my beloved would be expecting me to feed him. Lunch over, I dealt with a few club related matters and in no time at all it was time to leave for dinner.

We had been invited by friends to celebrate Russian Xmas with them and I was much looking forward to it largely because my friend’s such a fantastic cook. I had checked on the internet what Russians typically eat at Xmas and was somewhat dismayed at the unappetising list of courses. Nonetheless, I had every confidence that my friend would serve up a veritable feast.

We left home just after 17:30 giving us enough time to call into my favourite florist for flowers for our hostess. Shock, horror, the florist was exceptionally closed. Undeterred, we headed into Nice to collect the chocolates for the boys (remember, it’s Xmas) and drove along the same road to find a florist. My beloved was champing at the bit to put our destination address into the GPS. I told him not to touch it as the address was already in the GPS’s history. We eventually found a florist, but it’s offerings were very drab, so I had to wait while they made up something more to my taste.

I got back into the car and, as we were now running late, decided to ring my hostess. My hand closed on my mobile in my bag and I fished out my powder compact! I’d left my mobile at home and so had my beloved. No fear, we weren’t too far away. My beloved triumphantly announced that he’d put the address into the GPS and we drove off. Fifteen minutes later we were back where we started: the florist’s. He’d put in the wrong address and erased the correct one. Lucky I have an elephantine memory!

Once reprogrammed, we arrived ten minutes later, but over 45 minutes late. I was not a happy bunny. Luckily our hosts were unconcerned, it hadn’t interfered with their preparations for the feast and were amused by our tales of woe. We exchanged greetings and presents, and sat down to enjoy a glass of my favourite beverage, without which no celebration is complete.

I could tell we were not going to be disappointed, the table was literally groaning under the weight of the selection of appetizers or “zakushi”. It was a mixture of typical Russian dishes and some from Kazakhstan. The stories concerning each dish’s provenance merely added to my enjoyment. We ate Russian salad, beetroot and cabbage salad, herring, blinis with fish caviar, horse sausage and horse milk cheese, salad in aspic, cabbage and potato pirozhki. I tucked in with evident enjoyment and we toasted the feast with vodka.

Next up was borsch, more of a beef and vegetable broth than a purely beetroot soup. Again, it was delicious. The main course was Russian pasta “Pelmeni” served with sour cream and tomato sauce. More gelatinous than Italian pasta and therefore more akin to Chinese dim sum. The question now weighing heavily on everyone’s mind was whether we still had enough  room for “zaedkami” – dessert. After a brief respite, we were tempted by a dazzling array of goodies including Kazakh chocolate which I admit can more than hold its own with anything produced in Belgium or Switzerland. Finally, we all conceded defeat. It had been a truly delicious, and interesting, feast and, after the best part of five hours at the table, it was time to go home.

We woke late this morning and rode over to the pointage at the offices of Nice Matin. We’d missed the club and decided to go for a ride on our own. We were soon joined by a handful of riders from another club who normally leave me standing – but not today. I was in epic form and it got me thinking. Was this the result of my overindulgence the night before? Had I stumbled onto the secret of the strength of riders from Eastern Europe? Was this what set them apart from their Continental counterparts?

Debits on the same side as the window

This one’s got my name on it!

The club’s AGM is by and large a rather boring affair, apart from the food and the prizegiving. In case you’re interested, I have yet again, for the third (or is it fourth, I’ve lost count) time in a row, made a clean sweep of the trophies in the “feminine category”. Lest I get too big-headed I should point out that there’s barely any competition. I have again suggested that just one big trophy will suffice as I’m running out of room in the terrace shed trophy cabinet.

It’s boring because it’s long-winded. We’re cyclists, we don’t like sitting still for too long but everyone has to have their say. I generally pray that not too many public officials turn up or, if they do, we’re merely a pit stop on their pressing evening agendas. The starring role is reserved for M le President who’ll faithfully read from his pre-prepared script which I’ve already forcibly pruned back. I suggested that getting things off one’s chest in print (the public officials get copies), and on the night, would not be advisable. But there’s more than just a spot of pissaladiere to look forward to. Although as I’ve made it, it will be worth it. This year’s highlight will be the presence of two local professional riders who’ll probably  say a few words too, but they’ll be words worth listening to.

Easily the most stupefying bit of the whole evening in the past has been the presentation of the club’s accounts. In previous year’s these have been read out, in their entirety or, much worse beamed onto a screen where even those sitting in the front row would need binoculars to see the figures. It’s got to be done, but no one’s found a way to make it either interesting or informative. I should mention that the presentation of the accounts is prefaced by the auditors, one of whom (a real rarity) is actually an accountant and the other’s a retired chief of police, saying they’ve checked the accounts and they’re satisfied that they’re correct. No true and fair view here!

I had planned to graphically explain the accounts briefly with the aid of a few pie charts, or “camemberts” as they’re called here, but the  beamer’s broke. Fear not, inspiration has struck. I’m going to be using a wheel, from a racing bike, to illustrate my points. How apt is that? Whether this will be any more successful remains to be seen, but I am bearing in mind my audience: retired lift engineers and municipal gardeners. It’s going to be short and sweet. I will, of course, be getting in my dig at M Le Maire for fobbing us off with the same subsidy for 15 months as we normally get for 12, despite our vastly increased membership. By the same token, I won’t be making any reference to this season’s fall in numbers.

I have today been slowly ticking off everything on my AGM “To Do ” checklist until all that remains is my own contribution to the best bit: the food. In honour of our professional cyclists I’m making a reduced fat galette des rois. The regular version is frangipane encased in puff pastry. My lighter one has apples mixed into the frangipane and it’s shrouded with filo pastry. In addition, I’m making some chocolate galette des rois, savoury cakes, pissaladiere, fois gras toasties and cooking some mini sausages. The rest of the food has been bought and/or ordered for collection en route. My faithful band of helpers, without whom none of these events would ever take place, are lined up to prepare everything while we’re boring everyone else to tears. Ah, so that’s why we’re not short of volunteers, they’re nobody’s fools.

Postscript: AGM went well and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. There were a couple of lowlights: our subsidy for next year is being reduced by a third – economic crisis! My beloved accidentally deleted all his fab photos of the event. None of the Professional cyclists got an opportunity to evaluate my “lite” galette des rois – too slow, eaten by the hordes ahead of those I bought from the Patisserie!

Highlights: I got to kiss both Amael and Geoffroy when they presented me with my (two) trophies.