Lazy Sundays

When doing a sportif I haven’t done before I like to be as well prepared as possible. Ahead of todays’ L’Etape du Tour du Haut Var, my beloved and I visited Montauroux yesterday afternoon to pick up our numbers and check out some of the parcours. I’m reasonably familiar with the roads around there but I wanted to revisit the first few kilometres to check the gradient. If it was as steep as I remembered, I would need to warm up beforehand.

According to the event brochure, we could collect our numbers from the Salle des Fetes between 14:00 and 18:00. We arrived around 15:00 and our first problem was actually locating the afore-mentioned Salle des Fetes. It’s a bit off the beaten track, not in the centre of the village. I commented to my beloved that the organisers should have helpfully sign-posted the route. We do it for the Kivilev despite my club mates assertions that everyone knows the way.

Disturbingly, there seemed to be absolutely no preparations whatsoever underway for the following day’s race: nothing, nada. We finally located the Salle des Fetes. It was closed without so much as a notice on the door to indicate why it was not a veritable hive of activity. In the absence of anything to confirm our suspicions, we realized that something was not quite right. On reaching home, I checked the website and the race had been cancelled because  the organisers had not obtained the relevant approvals to effect necessary road closures!

All very tiresome  and while this may well have been known only at the last moment, you’d have thought the organisers would have emailed participants advising them of this sad state of affairs. I wonder how many turned up this morning to start the race?

This meant we could ride with the club this morning to the pointage in Beausoleil, just above Monaco. It wasn’t “beau soleil” when we set off. It was humid and overcast but I had every confidence that the sun would burn through the layer of cloud. My confidence was not misplaced and by 11 o’clock it had turned into a gorgeously sunny day. I love riding this route in the winter months. The lack of leaves on the trees ensures uninterrupted views across the bays.

En route there was the usual meet and greet with riders from other clubs as they either overtook us or passed by us on the opposite side of the road. As they merrily greet me by name, my beloved always asks who they are. To be honest I know hardly any of them by name but they all know me, and my cakes. I think that makes me infamous, rather than famous.

After the pointage we decided to make our regular pilgrimage into Italy for a cup of coffee. However, the roads were closed in Menton on account of its Citrus Festival so, rather than navigate our way over the border on unfamiliar roads,  we settled for a coffee on the sea front before heading back home. We had another stop en route to refuel with a coke as I was rapidly running low on energy.

Once home, I quickly prepared lunch before settling back on the sofa (yes, in my jimjams) for a veritable smorgasbord of sporting action: football, cycling, rugby. What more could a girl ask for?

Monday Postascript: A letter arrived today in the post from the organiser of the cancelled sportif, returning our cheque. Insufficient participants was cited as the cause of the “postponement”. This rings much truer than lack of authorisation but whatever excuse they’re using, they should be consistent.

The French are hugely price sensitive as we learned to our cost last year at the Kivilev when we charged the same price as the earlier sportif, La Charly Berard. The main difference was that we were giving away a cheap T-shirt while the organisers of the Charly Berard had sufficient sponsorship for a cycling shirt! We’ve halved our price this year and done away with the t-shirt.

Hither and thither

Well here we are, it’s Thursday evening, my beloved is due back at midnight Friday afternoon – see how time flies – bringing to an end my three-day spell of peace and quiet. I’ve been very busy but I don’t feel as if I’ve achieved much. I still haven’t gotten around to writing about Sunday’s exciting finish to the Tour du Haut Var in Fayence.

After a well-deserved early night my beloved headed out early to ride with the club. I set off about an hour later, to avoid the early morning chill. I went straight to the pointage and rode back home again to prepare lunch for my beloved’s return. I wanted to leave early to watch the cycling  so I could bag, once again, a spot on the finish line.  A quick trip down the motorway and we arrived in Fayence, parking the car outside of the town, to facilitate a quick getaway.

The organisers had laid on entertainment: a Brazilian singer and scantily clad dancers much to the appreciation of the largely male, elderly audience. Again, the spectators were mainly local, apart from Mauro Santambrogio’s fan club who’d travelled from, I assume, his home town near Como, in Italy.

Jon Tiernan Locke winner Tour du Haut Var 2012 (image courtesy of my beloved)

All the usual suspects were there: Daniel Mangeas, Stephen Roche and Raymond Poulidor but the talk wasn’t about Voeckler or Rolland, no the name on everyone’s lips was that of Brit, Jon Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing). Who, as anticipated, ignited the final few kilometres of the race up the (in)famous Mur de Fayence, to take the stage and the overall. It was a very pleasant afternoon in the sun and we headed back home happy as dusk fell.

Monday passed in a blur and I dropped my beloved off at the airport on Tuesday morning anticipating a few undisturbed night’s sleep and days to be spent as I pleased. Of course, things never quite go the way they’re planned. He’s back and apart from tidying the flat, dealing with masses of club and company administration, logging a few kilometres on the bike and penning a few articles for my other blog VeloVoices, the time has passed all too quickly. I still haven’t made any inroads into the ironing mountain, or should that now be range of mountains and the “to do” list is growing at an alarming rate.

I’ve guests coming for dinner this evening and I have been foraging in my freezer for a sticky, wine-rich daube which I’m going to serve with oven roasted onions and carrots and a white bean puree. Dessert is a help yourself affair. Cold creamy rice pudding and/or crumble either of which can be enjoyed with caramel apples and/or stewed strawberries. Helping them slide down a treat is plenty of my vanilla flecked [real] custard.  I generally don’t serve a starter during the week, instead my guests can nibble on  home-made foccacia and slivers of salami.

Spring is almost sprung

I enjoy nothing more than watching live sport, particularly live cycling taking place on roads I too have ridden and know well. So, on Saturday, after despatching my beloved with friends to go cross-country skiing, finished my chores, had a quick ride, leapt into Tom III and headed off down the motorway in the direction of La Croix Valmer, around the headland from St Tropez. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the birds were singing, lambs were gamboling, the Mimosa was in bloom – surely, Spring was just around the corner?

It’s a lovely drive but, as I neared the centre of town, there was a huge traffic jam caused by the team buses trying to reverse into their allocated parking spaces. I noted there were plenty of parking spots on the opposite side of the road and asked one of the many policemen on traffic duty if I could park there. He confirmed I could and gallantly stopped the on-coming traffic so I could do a u-turn and park.

I left the car and headed in the general direction of the finish, first to have a close look at the run in and secondly to bag myself a spot on the finishing line. A couple of hours from the riders’ anticipated arrival time, there were few people milling around, mainly the organisers and press. I bumped into one of the journalists from the Nice Matin who often writes pieces about the club and our events. I reminded him that it wasn’t too many months until the Kivilev.

We chatted generally about cycling and who we thought might make an impact on this week end’s racing. As we walked the final stretch we eliminated a number of riders from the frame. The organisers were correct, this was one of the more testing parcours. My purpose today was two-fold, watch the racing and report via tweets wearing my VeloVoice’s hat. I was hoping to add some colour to the event by chatting to other fans  but the French are very guarded about the internet and what they see as an invasion of their privacy. They were happy to talk but didn’t want me to mention them on the net, as if it were some work of the devil. Luckily I did find a few who didn’t mind a mention but the crowd, which swelled considerably as time wore on, was largely local and retired.

Things started to crank up when Mr Cycling arrived: Daniel Mangeas. I have only to hear his mellifluous tones rattling off some obscure rider’s palmares to feel at peace. The race’s patron, and event’s first winner, Raymond Poulidor, was also there looking extremely spritely and a glowing advert for the health benefits of cycling. Even Tricky, Dicky Virenque showed up and lent Daniel a hand.

Luckily for the riders, the weather is much improved on the last couple of weeks. Indeed, it was positively balmy. As the peloton approached the final five-loop circuit, the seven man breakaway had splintered into a 2-3-2 formation with the front two looking as if they might just manage to hang on, and they did. I just love it when a breakaway succeeds. Kinda restores one’s belief in the philosophy of having a go.

Not having a camera with me, or indeed my cameraman, I skipped the podium to head for home. As I approached my car, the same policemen advised me the road was still closed but that he’d let me know as soon as it was open. Not only did he let me know, he stood in the road and stopped the traffic, before ushering me out in front of two Astana vehicles who followed me back as far as the turn off to Draguignan.

All too soon I was home and my beloved, his face glowing from a day spent in the sun, was demanding to be fed. There’s no peace for the wicked, or me!

Are you gonna go my way?

Frankly, if Lenny Kravitz were to ask me, my answer would be affirmative. Sadly, Lenny wasn’t asking but I continue to live in hope rather than  expectation. I’ll explain the connection, but first I have to back track.

The mercury had risen a few degrees, the sun was shining so my beloved and I decided to venture up into the hills for a ride. It was still chilly in the shade, and one had to exercise caution in the corners, but I was riding really well.  I suspect Peter Sagan (winner of today’s stage in the Tour of Oman) and I had the same breakfast this morning.

My husband turned round early to get back for a conference call while I pressed onwards and upwards. I was riding strongly even though I was doing high cadence intervals. I was channelling my inner Alberto and spinning without too much movement on the bike. Not quite as supple as Bertie, but I’m getting there. I even overtook a few groups of cyclists but almost came to grief as a Monaco registered black Porsche passed by me way too close. Still, on the positive side, they’d have been able to afford to compensate my beloved for losing the woman who makes his life heaven [and hell] or, at best, replace my beloved bike.

A gentleman, probably in his early sixties, rode up to me and expressed concern with antics of the Porsche. We exchanged a few disparaging words about foreigners and tax dodgers. Then he accelerated gently away. I was determined to keep him in view. I picked up my pace and maintained the distance between us. As we crested the hill, at the entrance to the village, the road flattens out and I shot past him. I was well ahead as I started the descent but he caught me as I was delayed by a small traffic jam. He stayed on my wheel until the roundabout. I turned left after the roundabout, while he cut it. This was war! I tracked him. I didn’t know where he was going, but I was going too.

I stayed on his wheel until the next roundabout. I was hoping he was going to turn right. He did. I followed him up the slight rise, shifted into my big ring and then attacked on the downhill: game over. I know this descent like the back of my hand and I powered down it. I never saw him again.

This is one of my favourite games when I’m out riding. I like to get someone in my sights, ride up to them and past. Guys generally don’t like being overtaken by a female and will often give chase. I can hold my own on the flat, am vulnerable on any climbs but will crush anyone on the downhills.  Most rides around here involve a long ascent, then a few ups and downs, followed by a long descent. If you’re still in my sights come the descent, you’re toast!

Of course, some resolutely refuse to play ball and ride me off their wheels on the ascent, never to be seen again. But if I don’t at least try, I’ll never get into a winning position. I wonder if Lenny cycles?

Valentine’s gift

My beloved has inadvertently given me the perfect present – a whole day’s peace and quiet. Yes, he’s flown off to business meetings in Paris and won’t be back until late. Of course, I could have accompanied him and spent many a happy hour wandering around Paris on my own. It’s one of my favourite cities.

However, duty calls, we have back-to-back meetings at the club this evening. It’s difficult enough finding convenient times for us all to meet and I generally favour meetings just before our regular weekly one. Since none of us on the core management team live in the same town as the club, we try not to schedule multiple meetings on consecutive days. It’s not far but, with traffic, a round trip can take anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour.

I’m not getting off entirely scott-free. I still had to make him breakfast, press his jacket, take him to the airport and will have to rustle up a light snack for a latish dinner and collect him from the airport. The club’s close to the airport but I’ll have about an hour to kill between the end of my meetings and his anticipated return. I’ll pop round to my sister’s holiday apartment to check that everything’s in order for her arrival on Sunday. The shops will be closed and I know she’ll be desperate for a cup of tea and a light dinner after she’s landed. I shall leave her emergency supplies in the fridge.

My beloved has made a quick recovery from his chill which I think he picked up cross-country skiing on Saturday. I know he’s keen to go again – maybe later in the week. However, I don’t want him becoming ill as he’s off on a business trip next week and I don’t want anything to interfere with those plans.

As he’s in Paris, the City of Love, you might be wondering whether he’ll be tempted to buy me a little something for Valentine’s Day. The answer is unequivocably “No”.  He’s been excused all present buying duties following my recently introduced dictate. And let’s face it, it’s not something he enjoys doing, or is one of his [few] competencies –  unlike say, opening a bottle of wine. I’m saving him the angst and me the disappointment. Surely a win:win situation.

Excellent conditioning

My beloved and I used to be keen cross-country skiers. But, apart from a trip down memory lane to Seefeld in Austria three year’s ago, we’ve not done much skiing in the past  ten or so years. Encouraged by friends, and emboldened by the weather, yesterday we headed to Greolieres-les-Neiges where they have a number of short, well-prepared tracks suitable for all levels. The snow was in great condition and, while it was initially overcast, by about 11 o’clock the sun was out and we were sweating profusely from our efforts.

The routes are surprisingly undulating and it took some time for me to refind my snow legs and rediscover my skating technique. But perseverance paid dividends and I was soon gliding along on the downhill stretches. It was much harder work going uphill. Our friends, more used to the Classic technique, found skating hard going and I suspect they regretted opting for skating skis, but were too polite to say anything.

However, we all managed to make it back in one piece to our pre-booked table in the restaurant for lunch. There’s nothing quite like a morning’s skiing to work up an appetite. One of the teenage boys was practically asleep on his feet, despite being boosted by some of my super duper cookies,  and I bet that, for once last night, he opted for an early night. Not even sausage and chips managed to revive his flagging energy levels.

After lunch the air had a distinct nip to it and we decided to head for home and an early hot bath: no apres-ski for us. We were tucked up in bed fast asleep by 10 o’clock. We woke late and it was decidedly chilly. We were both creaking a bit from yesterday’s exertions. I opted for a run, followed by a short ride, once the sun had decided to put in an appearance. I was hoping to watch the final day’s racing in the Tour of the Med on Mont Faron but the race has been afflicted by the vagaries of the recent weather, and today was no exception. The stage was again shortened and due to finish on the Col des Gardes.

I suspected those that have been riding in both the South of France and Mallorca were wishing they’d had an opportunity to ride in the balmier Middle East. But Philippe Gilbert is returning to ride in next week end’s Tour du Haut Var specifically to become more accustomed to the inclement weather he’s sure to find in the Cobbled Classics. So, maybe not!

Link: Cross country skiing in Greolieres les Neiges

Who’s gonna carry the flag?

Today L’Equipe has posed the question as to who should carry the French flag at the forthcoming Olympics.  They’ve also questioned whether France  – like Great Britain and USA – should allow the athletes themselves to choose the flag-holder. In any event, it’s academic as the decision’s going to be taken by a committee (what else?), the French Olympic Committee, on 9 June.  That aside, L’Equipe has been canvassing its readership to see who they feel should carry the flag and then contacting the potential candidates for their reactions.

Teddy Riner courtesy of Wikipedia

Two candidates were equally favoured by L’Equipe’s poll: five-times world Judo champion Tenny Riner and Olympic and World Champion hand-baller, Nicola Karabatic: two good choices. They’re both big enough to carry the flag with ease and readily recognisable by the French public. In third place was the former husband of Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria,  basketball player Tony Parker. A number of the candidates proposed by readers – all of the swimmers –  would be ruled out simply from the timing of their events. Interestingly, while both Karabatic and Parker would be happy to fulful this honnor, Riner wants to focus exclusively on winning that elusive olympic gold medal.

Only two cyclists were proposed: double-Olympic MBT Champion, Julien Absalon and the evergreen Jeannie Longo. The latter’s participation in the event is in doubt following recent revelations in connection with her husband and training partner’s use of EPO as a recovery aid, even supposing that at only 43kg she’s capable of carrying the flag for any length of time. Absolan, competing in what will probably be his last Olympics – and gunning for a third gold – would appear to be a sounder choice. He replied that it would be immensely prestigious to be selected to perform this task. Meanwhile, Jeannie couldn’t be reached for a comment.

Potential candidates should note that carrying the flag could be something of a poisoned chalice. Only five of the forty (Winter and Summer Olympics) who have previously undertaken the task, have gone on to win gold medals. I have to confess that I do think the athletes themselves should make the choice. Nothing is nicer for an athlete than the confidence of their peers. However, I’m with Riner. In the highly improbable event of me ever being in contention at the Olympics, I know I would want to concentrate solely on winning. The opening ceremony and any associated ceremonial duties would be an unnecessary distraction. It really isn’t about taking part, it’s about winning: winning gold.

Still pedalling furiously

The professional peloton might be racing again but I’m still training, and I should add that I’m maintaining my fine form. My first event is going to be a sportif  at the end of February on a parcours not too dissimilar from one of the stages in the forthcoming Tour de Haut-Var, and indeed it’s organised by the same team. However, whether I do the long or the short course will depend very much on the weather. I’m familiar with the terrain, and more importantly the climbs. It’s an area I enjoy riding in and  it’s a lovely part of the world. The course route weaves around a number of the old walled villages from whence you get breathtaking views.

Next up will be my coach’s WTS Classic which has moved (thankfully) from the end of January to the end of March. It covers a not too dissimilar terrain to the first event,  and this year it’ll include a timed time-trial. Helpful advice from Messrs Martin and Cancellara would be most welcome. Twitter would be fine and in English, German or Fabianese – I don’t mind.

Thereafter, I’ll be taking part in the same events as in previous years always aiming, of course, to produce a better time. These events tail off in mid-June, taking account of the increased tourist traffic. After a three-month break, there’s a final flurry of events looming large towards the end of September, all of which involve climbs: Mont Chauve, Col d’Eze and Col du Vence. I’m going to be training hard during the summer months for these last three events with regular ascensions of all three, plus Col de la Madone. This’ll be supplemented with some climbing in the Basque country during the first week of the Vuelta.

My cycling coach has suggested I look to acquire a power meter. I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. It’s expensive but it’s not the price I find offputting, more it’s inflexibility. I have three racing bikes: two BMCs both fitted with Compagnolo and one Orbea with Shimano Ultegra. I think the Garmin Vector, available this March and compatible with my Garmin 500 would be a better bet. It’ll be much more easily transferable between the bikes, I’ll just have to change the pedals, even I can do that! It’ll also provide separate analyses of my left and right legs. I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to to say but it’ll be interesting nonetheless.

Heart’s Desire

I should warn you that I’m no longer going to be blogging here much about professional cycling. You will however be able to find your heart’s desire over on VeloVoices where I’m one of the contributors.

Season underway

The amateur cycling season is now underway. Last Sunday saw the 62nd running of ES Cannes’ Gentleman (51st Souvenir Fausto Coppi). A “Gentleman” is a two man time-trial where the combined ages of the participants have to exceed 60 years. This race starts and finishes in front of the Hotel Carlton in Cannes and is 13kms in length,  circumnavigating the Cannes Croisette. Despite the chill, a new record was set on Sunday by Messrs Heck and Lemoine of nearby SPOC, Nice, – 16.18 mins, av speed 48.21km/hr.

Casting my eye over the list of participants I see lots of former members of my cycling club, including the afore-mentioned Heck. Our best placed twosome was a male/female combo of our best female rider and a former French amateur time-trial champion, Cristel Pastorelli, paired with Ludovic Boyer, part of last year’s winning 4-man French amateur time trial team. They were a respectable 30th and the first, by some way, of the mixed pairs.

A father and son pairing finished third. While the Jacques Guissart prize, given in honour of the chap who’d won the most titles, most notably with Jacques Anquetil, went to a combo from the host club.

Also taking part were a couple of locally based pros, Christophe Le Mevel and Yauheni Hutarovich, both limbering up for the forthcoming Tour Mediterranean, riding with local riders, not one another. Jeannie Longo often takes part in this race with her husband but I can find no mention of her on the start list. My LBS (local bike shop) owner and his partner were a very respectable second. I’d like to have taken part but I need to find myself a more reliable partner than my beloved. We’ve ridden a gentleman together but it was a bit of a disaster as he kept riding off and leaving me!

The event was covered by our local newspaper, the Nice Matin which regularly features local riders and events. For example, last week, it featured an article on one of the Monaco firemen, who’s aiming to win the World Championship crown this year in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Yes, there are World Championships for a number of professions, the most fiercely contested tend to be for those who work in the public sectors.

Franck Giusta a 32 year old who rides for UC Monaco frequently trains with the Pro Tour riders who call Monaco home. He won a silver in the time trial last year and a bronze the year before. Not unnaturally, he’s aiming for gold this year in the same event. It’ll be more difficult to do as well in the road race as he’s the only representative. In the run up to the World Championships in August, he’s riding in a team time trial in Tuscany, organised by Michele Bartoli, followed by the Monaco Criterium.

Franck gives thanks in the interview to the support, assistance and advice he’s received from Alexandre Vinokourov and his regular training rides with Philippe Gilbert. Franck’s a friend of a friend and we’ve met a couple of times so I’ll be rooting for him in Ostrava. I wonder if there’s a World Championship for retired accountants?

Watery welcome

As usual after any trip, it was good to be back on home soil: France. The weather was cold, but not as cold as we might have expected from the weather reports, although as we were landing we could clearly see the snow on the surrounding hillsides and mountains.  An unpleasant surprise awaited us in the apartment. The radiator in our lounge had sprung a leak in our absence. Judging from the pool of water, it hadn’t been running for too long, but long enough to wreak some damage.

We alerted the lady who’s the elected representative for the building as to the problem. She immediately rang the plumber but it’s Saturday and therefore it’s difficult to a) get someone to come out and b) because we have central heating central to the building, it has to be someone who knows the building. She eventually located the plumber who’s going to take on responsibility for the building’s central heating system, assuming this little episode hasn’t put him off.

He arrived with his tools to find us knee deep in wet towels and plastic containers. Operation mop up in full swing. I’d also popped downstairs to see my elderly neighbour who’d noted nothing amiss but my eagle, and younger, eyes noted a water stain running the length of her bedroom. She wasn’t too worried as long as I could assure her that water wouldn’t be running down the walls. I could, so I left. Returning later with a full update and the bad news that her bedroom was going to be cold. She’s fortunately got a small heater to alleviate the problem.

The plumber was unable to switch off the radiator, although we managed to do so later that evening. Instead, he elected to close off all the radiators in the building above ours and drain the system. This means most of my neighbours would have no heating in their bedrooms during our coldest snap. A charm offensive beckons. It took four hours to drain the system, we were somewhat fearful that we’d have to sleep in watches to ensure we didn’t have a catastrophe but finally, around 22 hours, the water stopped. Bed beckoned.

I’m now faced with the tedious business of alerting the insurance company who’ll send around an “experte” to assess the damage.  I have to obtain quotes  and then we’ll haggle over how much they’re going to give me. Meanwhile, I’m going to get the radiator replaced pronto otherwise my neighbours are going to be facing further chilly nights. However, not just any old radiator will do. It has to be one capable of withstanding the pressure of a central system. The choice is limited and they’re not pretty but, fortunately, it’ll be hidden beneath my radiator cover.

Postscript: The building plumber, who couldn’t respond to our calls yesterday as he’d left his mobile at home, turned up this morning to decommission my radiator and restore the heating to my neighbours.