Off on holiday

Yes, I’m dragging my beloved away for a few days’ vacation: my beloved and our bikes. We’re heading down to the Basque country to watch the GP Miguel Indurain and the Tour of the Basque country. I had originally planned this as a solo road trip where I was going to sign up for some Basque cookery classes but soon appreciated that this would be challenging to achieve given the route of the Tour. So the cookery classes went by the wayside – another time perhaps!

As my trip clashed with Easter, it seemed a bit churlish to leave my beloved behind. His wishes have been accommodated, free WiFi at our destination hotel. Apart from that I have our days mapped out. We’ll be riding some of each day’s parcours before and after watching the riders sign on for the stage and then we’ll be catching the day’s finish. The weather looks fine although it won’t be as warm as this week which has been somewhat exceptional. Conscious that I’m heading to a green and pleasant land I’ll also be taking my wet weather gear.

Apart from our cycling gear, we don’t need to take too many other clothes. This makes packing relatively simple. Rather than hiring a car we’re taking Tom III who’ll be literally stuffed to the gunwhales but not too stuffed that we can’t bring back a few goodies. I’m thinking ham, wine, cheese which we can pop into the cool bag. The car is clean, full of petrol, tyres checked and ready to go. All our packing has been done, just need to slip in the electric tooth brushes tomorrow morning. The only thing missing is my beloved. He’ll be winging his way back from London this evening.

He tends to make a speciality of returning just before we go away. This ensures that everything will have been done for him, all he has to do is turn up. I have had a few wobbly moments when he’s done this in the past and either missed his plane – occurrences far too frequent to enumerate – or it’s been delayed. Rather than try and return the same day as we leave, I now insist he returns the night before.  A small but sensible precaution.

Winning combination

Buoyed by the recent sunshine, I’ve had a quick potter around the shops. I’m not a particularly keen shopper but I could do with adding a couple of things to my summer wardrobe. You might be wondering why given my propensity for wearing either lycra or nightwear. But, even I venture out of the flat occasionally in something other than my cycling kit.

However, it soon became very apparent that I’m going to be having a cheap summer. Pastels –  colours more suitable for teething babies – are everywhere. Beige is as close as I get to anything light coloured! Moreover, every pair of trousers I looked at had matchstick legs. Not a word you’d use to describe mine. I can barely get my arms in these, much less my legs. No matter, I frequently wear shorts in the summer. They too are highly fashionable items this summer and they’re all the itsy bitsy variety. All very well for those with slender limbs and ages barely in double-digits. As one of my dear friends says “I’ll be shopping in my closet”.

About this time of year, I usually embark on a bit of a spring clean. Regular readers will be aware that I’ve not tackled any of the usual household chores, let alone started on those that only get done once a year. However, I have guests arriving shortly and will therefore have no excuse but to get stuck in. I’ve compiled a list of what needs doing and then prioritised it. Looking at the available time in the coming couple of months reveals I can realistically only do the urgent and important tasks, the rest will just get swept into the flat’s many nooks, crannies and storage cupboards.  I know the Duchess of Windsor said “you can never be too rich or too thin” but my version is that you can never have too much storage space.

I’ve just taken part in my first sportive of the season. It was the perfect day for a ride along one of my favourite routes and  I rode it with one of my girlfriends. Chatting while you ride helps those kilometres run down much more quickly. The participants set off from Mandelieu at one minute intervals and we were soon being overtaken by those that had started well behind us but were clearly intent on turning it into a real race. We however were enjoying the sunshine, the magnificent views both along the coast and in the L’Esterel hills. In no time at all, we were back were we started.

After some refeshment, it was into Tom III and back home to catch up on an afternoon’s live racing. Three races to watch, thank heavens for multiple screens and streaming possibilities. The next month, leading up to the start of the Giro, is jam-packed with races which we’ll be hard pressed to cover over on VeloVoices. Still, it’ll be fun trying.

You may have noticed that I’ve been very quiet on the football front. There’s very good reasons for this. Namely, my beloved boys in claret and blue are facing more mid-table mediocrity while OGC Nice are dicing with relegation. I think I can be forgiven to giving the topic a wide berth. I am however much looking forward to the start of the MotoGP season on 1000cc bikes. Though, if the racing is anything like the testing, plus ca change.

Reduced numbers

For some unfathomable reason I woke up on Sunday morning at around 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep on account of my beloved’s snoring. So I rashly decided to get up and get on with some work. At 6:30 I loaded up the car with my baked goodies and headed down to where we hold “The Gentlemen”. I was surprised to find it was raining  but 5kms away at the start of the two-man team time-trial, the road was dry, although the sky looked menacing, and it was chilly. As a consequence of the weather, and another race over in Mandelieu, numbers were down on last year.

As first, despite, several down jackets, I was really chilled. So cold in fact that I wrapped myself up in the thermal car blanket. Finally, the sun came out and I began to thaw enough to start serving my cakes to the hungry hordes who fell on them like locusts. The pissaladiere disappeared almost as quickly as it was cut, along with the pain d’epices. The French find it vastly amusing that an English woman can dish up such delicious Nicois Classics. I’d brought a couple of new recipes along with my tried and tested banana cake, pain d’epices and carrot cake. A new chocolate cake recipe, which was very squishy and moreish, along with a lemon poppy seed cake that was light and crumbly, with just the right amount of tang. Following favourable feedback, these two will be added to the repertoire.

It was pleasing to see many of our past and present riders stepping onto the top step of the podium to collect the prize for their category. For the last two years, the cups have been handed out by Jeannie Longo. But she was a no show this year. I wonder why? I encouraged the chap we’re hoping to persuade to take over the role of M Le President to fulfill the role of Master of Ceremonies – he’s a natural.

Although many participants felt incumbent on trying a slice or two of anything they could lay their hands on, reduced numbers meant that I had a couple of cakes left over to add to the freezer for my forthcoming English classes. In addition, I’ll now start building my stocks for La Kivilev at the end of May. This is where the large chest freezer will be brought into service down at the club so as not to take up all the space in mine. Though I will have to take regular inventories or padlock the chest so as to ensure nothing goes walkabout – yes, really.

First up however will be next week’s birthday celebration for two of my English group. I’ll be away in the Basque country the following week so have promised them a slap up afternoon tea, including their favourite chocolate chip cookies, before I depart. The two of them have worked very hard over the last few months and are regularly scoring top marks in their English tests and homework, so I must be doing something right.

I’m in training for this Sunday’s sportif organised by my cycling coach who’s still taking it easy on account of his busted 3-times but finally healing collarbone. Today I rode with another of his clients who’s training for the Nice Ironman. We had a really good ride although I was feeling a bit fatigued at the end of it. Definitely overdid it on the interval sprints – watch out Cav!

My beloved has arrived safely in Australia after a couple of days in Dubai. I had hoped to tackle some pressing items on the “To Do List” before his return next Monday but our accountant has come up with a million and one questions about the year end accounts. The guy who’s handled everything for the past 5 years’ or so left and his replacement, who strikes me as being very efficient, has gone over everything with a fine tooth comb. I think I’ve managed to come up with an answer for pretty much everything.

Creamed but never crackered

There are two things I absolutely love doing: anything to do with cycling and ditto cooking. Ahead of today’s Gentlemen, I’ve been whipping up a few cakes to satisfy the hoards.  In theory, it’s only around 150 cyclists and 20 or so volunteers. In practise it’s more as a lot of clubs will just happen to pass by the feedzone as part of their Sunday club ride. They’ll claim it’s to check on how their clubmates are faring. But no one’s fooled. It’s to sample my cakes.

Cyclists here don’t have the same “coffee and cake” culture as in countries such as UK, US and Australia. They don’t need to stop and buy anything as it’s freely provided as part of the Sunday club ride. To be fair most clubs buy the cheapest cakes from the supermarket, typically madeira, ginger or fruit and serve them with a selection of biscuits, dried fruit and chocolate. My club’s USP is my home-made cakes. Because they’re so much nicer than supermarket ones, people, not unnaturally eat more. Some have been known to try a piece of each!

Yesterday’s treat was a day out, on my own, in Sanremo to watch the thrilling finale of Milano-Sanremo. I like to drive over early, find a convenient and non-paying parking spot – see, I’m becoming very French – buy La Gazzetta dello Sport and settle down with a coffee to read what the pink pages have to say about the race. One of the things I love about cycling is its unpredictability. The Italian bookies had Cavendish as their favourite while Gazzetta mused that everyone would be riding to prevent him winning.

I then had a pleasurable stroll around the shops and indulged in a spot of window shopping before taking up my position. It was windy so I was keen to find a place which afforded me shelter while still letting me enjoy the sunshine. I opted for the large screen after the finish and right next to the podium which was also opposite Rai’s studio – a grandstand seat.

The pictures rolled and on the ascent of La Manie, Mark Cavendish (Sky) was almost immediately in difficulties. Word reached the front of the peloton who upped the tempo and distanced Cav. Faithful lieutenant Bernie “The Bolt” Eisel was sent back to keep him company while Team Sky deployed Plan B: Edvald Boassen Hagen. Queue the sound of money jingling in the bookies’ tills.

We all had a bit of a heart stopping moment when the cameras alighted on a bunch of paramedics tending to an unseen fallen rider, on the descent of La Manie, who was later identified as the Columbian Carlos Quintero riding for Columbia-Coldeportes. Luckily he suffered only concussion and a broken collarbone but it had worryingly looked much more serious on the screen with active imaginations working overtime.

The early breakaway group of nine riders, including the first Chinese rider to compete in this event Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i), which at one time had an advantage of around 13 minutes, were taken back on the Capo Berta with about 60km remaining.

The hopes of a number of favourites were dashed by falls. The King of Belgium, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was taken out of contention on the Cipressa while his predecessor to both the Belgian championship and crown, Tom Boonen (OPQS) was hindered on the descent of the Poggio. A couple of moves did go according to plan. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) launched two unsuccessful attacks, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) bridged across to what proved to be the winning attack of Aussi-champ Simon Gerrans  (GreenEDGE) and Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas) just before the summit of the Poggio.

Now, if you’re going to follow anyone downhill, it might as well be either Fabian or Nibali. Gerrans was in great company. Cancellara opened a bit of a gap by the time the reached the bottom of the descent and was starting to motor away. But Gerrans, knew what to do. He gave chase. This is where the script changes. Instead of Fabian leaving the two original attackers trailing in his wake, Gerrans worked hard to get back onto his wheel.

Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)
Simon Gerrans winner of Milano Sanremo 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

To give Fabian his due, he continued to motor towards the finish when lesser riders might have quailed at the prospect of allowing the other two to ride his coat tails. Had he not done so, the trio would have been swamped by the peloton and the win would have been fought out by Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. Instead, the three in-form riders headed to the finish line and Simon Gerrans had the smarts to ambush Fabian and take the win, making it successive wins for Australia.

I was then courtesy of my position, treated to a grandstand view of the podium. I would have taken a photo had the battery not already run flat in my phone. It seems to last no more than six hours tops. There’s nothing else for it, I’m going to take a trip to Orange hell to sort it. I skipped away and back to the car, handily placed to get back onto the motorway ahead of all the peloton’s cavalcade of motorised transport and most of the other spectators. It had been a great day out.

Recapping and recalling

I had thought with my beloved away yesterday that I’d find the time to put finger tips to keyboard, but no! All too soon he was back, gone barely 24 hours and back until the week-end. However, I’m going to snatch a quick hour or so to record my thoughts on the week end’s live racing at Paris-Nice. There’s simply nothing better than going to watch live racing and getting an opportunity to ride some of the course too.

We headed over to Sisteron on Friday morning, leaving rather later than I’d planned but I’d had to wait for my beloved. Story of my life! We finally set off and were a bit disconcerted to have rain en route but by the time we reached Sisteron, the sun was shining. We left the car at the hotel, mounted out trusty steeds and headed into town. I’d ridden around here three years ago when I’d ridden “La Sisteronne” but my beloved’s not familiar with the area. We decided to ride the final circuit of the day’s stage, finishing with a sprint for the line. Well, as close to the line as we could get, which I won.  We then popped over the barricades to watch the live action.

As anticipated, it was a largely local crowd, though I had stopped to exchange greetings with some Belgian fans in the camper vans on the outskirts of town: all fully paid-up members of the Tom Boonen fan club. Though today’s stage wouldn’t be one for Tom, too undulating. In any event, the leaders on GC had been happy to let a small group off the leash which were whittled down to Luis Leon Sanchez and Jens Voigt. Now while Fauso Coppi said “age and treachery will overcome youth and skill” this wasn’t the case and former Paris-Nice winner Sanchez pipped Voigt to the post.

We discovered that we were staying overnight in the same hotel as BMC, Saur-Sojasun and Euskaltel. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The Basques had gotten the short straw, they were sleeping next door in the L’Etap but were allowed into the Ibis to eat! Anyhow, as far as I’m concerned, riders are off-limits after a hard day on the bike. They need their rest and relaxation. I finally managed to drag my beloved away from a conference call and we headed into to town to find a good restaurant. I’m like a truffle hound, year’s of experience honed to perfection. We ate a truly magnificent meal, including a good bottle of wine, for Euros 60 in a lovely family-run establishment. She ran front of house, he cooked: my favourite type of restaurant.   Replete we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. All the teams were already tucked up in bed.

We nearly had an unfortunate incident at breakfast when my beloved swiveled sharply at the buffet almost sending two Euskaltel riders flying. Happily, they seemed oblivious to their near miss. However, I did note that they all dined on coffee and cake. Maybe, I should send the manager my resume and offer to keep them supplied during the Tour de France? Saur-Sojasun’s breakfast table was groaning with one of their sponsor’s soya based products – possibly obligatory. While over on the BMC table, many were suffering either from colds or tummy troubles. Even poor Thor looked diminished by his illness.  My husband had forbidden me to get within 30 metres of the mechanics’ van fearing I might be tempted to acquire a new BMC bike. But I already know that only Mauro Santambrogio rides the same frame size as me and he wasn’t at Paris-Nice.

Before the start on Saturday, we rode around the neighbouring villages, soaking up the sunshine and just enjoying the beautiful countryside. We returned to the town centre to catch the sign-on. An elderly Spanish couple, who kindly made space for us at the barricades, seemed to know all the Spanish riders who duly dropped by to exchange greetings. I was still trying to work out who they might be, and was going to ask them but they nipped off while I was taking Bradley Wiggins’ photo. As the race started, we followed the peloton out of town and back to our car for the journey back to Nice.

We had thought about catching the race on Col de Vence but some of our racers were taking part in a criterium on the Promenade and I wanted to lend our support. This of course ensured a packed house for the arrival of the professional peloton. Thomas De Gendt soloing in to take the stage some way ahead of his fellow breakaway companion, and local resident, Rein Taaramae. Neither posed a threat to the GC who ambled in later. Riding back I spotted Tom Boonen, and gave chase, but he evaded my clutches.

Sunday, I abandoned the bike in return for a ride behind one of the competitors. Since the cars have to make a loop, not all the riders would be followed by team cars instead it might be a Mavic neutral service vehicle, as was the case for the rider we followed, Elia Viviani.  It was more interesting than anticipated as you could clearly see both the effort expended and the speed the ride was travelling. As Elia was only going at twice my speed, I suspect he wasn’t giving it his all!

Unfortunately, there was no big screen at the start but instead I amused myself by watching the riders warm up and catching up with people I knew, many of whom were milling about like me. I had earlier wished Bradley good luck and had marvelled at how a man with legs thinner than my arms could cycle quite so fast. But thanks for the win Bradley, I’m assured of bragging rights down at the cycle club for a couple of months.

Not enough hours in the day……………….

Despite being freed of my housewifely burdens for four whole days this week, I don’t seem to be making my usual headway on that old chestnut, the “To Do List”. There are a couple of reasons for this:-

  • The fine weather (except for Tuesday) means I’ve been oft tempted out onto the road
  • I’m gearing up for forthcoming events at the cycle club
  • There’s been an increasing amount of televised live cycling
  • I’ve been moonlighting on my other blog: VeloVoices
  • A number of domestic and office appliances have malfunctionned

And that’s not all. The ironing mountain has expanded to become an entire range. My beloved is getting down to his last formal shirts and t-shirts. We’re talking items of clothing that probably haven’t seen the light of day for a year or two, which is possibly no bad thing. My terrace garden is looking decidedly sad. We really need to find plants that can withstand my wanton neglect. I’m thinking fake here!

My fridge-freezer has had a bit of a wobble. It’s stopped producing ice and, instead, the water just freezes thereby clogging up the entire mechanism. I’ve checked the mile high instruction booklet which seems to cover every small eventuality except this one. It may be time for a visit from the man from Gaggenau as the oven and hood lights also need replacing and these can only be fitted by, yes you’ve guessed, the man from Gaggenau. Of course, all the appliances are now outside of their 5-year  warranty period.

Bob, my formerly faithful robotic floor sweeper, keeps hiding under the bed. He’s like a heat seeking missile. I set him off in the lounge and in no time at all he’s made his way through the dining room, along the corridor and into the bedroom where he makes a bee line for the bed. He then attempts to suck up the ties on the mattress which get twisted up in his mechanism and he conks out under the bed where I can’t reach him.  I’ve tried pushing him out with a broom, but there’s no budging him. I do try to keep the door to the bedroom closed but as soon as I open it, quick as a flash, he’s in and up to no good.

I also need to put in a call to our IT man as both printers are printing sporadically. The one HP printer has always been the print equivalent of the supermarket trolley with the wonky wheel. Sometimes, it works impeccably and then, for no rhyme or reason, it refuses to perform various functions. Not all the time you understand, just from time to time. We’ve followed all the helpful instructions, re-booted, re-installed etc but it’s as if it has a mind of its own. Currently, it’s refusing to scan. The other printer, our heavy duty black and white one, which doesn’t scan, fax or copy, is generally used by my beloved. A man who, left to his own devices, could fell an entire Swedish rainforest in an afternoon’s print orgy. His rapidly failing eyesight means he simply has to print out everything; and, I do mean everything. Of course, he generally then forgets to pick them up the documents from the print tray before leaving for the airport! It’s gone on strike, it just won’t print at all.

To add to our woes, the HD service we receive from Orange over the internet isn’t working. This means a call to Orange. I’ve been stalling as I know I’ll have to do the rounds of various call centres before I haphazardly chance upon someone who can help. They do have an English speaking service but sadly it’s staffed by people whose English is infinitely worse than my French and I’ve found it’s easier to stick with the regular service. But this does mean I’ll have to deal with them as my beloved would rather have his molars extracted without anaesthetic than deal with Orange, other than face to face. And he’s tried that already.

My Twitter service on my Blackberry is working but well in arrears which means it’s a bit difficult to keep up with what’s happening and respond accordingly. The one I set up on Hootsuite for VeloVoices receives but now won’t send tweets and it takes so long to log into Tweet Deck that it keeps logging me out before I’ve gotten in. My only solace in the face of this overload of technical and mechanical insolence is to escape for a few hours of peace and quiet on the bike.

Drying out

We had our first downpour in ages yesterday afternoon and evening, but already it’s starting to dry out. By mid-day, I’ll be off out on the bike for a ride. The good weather is set to return for the finale of this week’s Paris-Nice. Last year, sadly, it was a race to the rain and we all felt miserable huddled in the VIP caravan watching the race unfold on the screen. Not as miserable as the riders, many of whom crashed on the rain slicked roads. Crashes which compromised their seasons. A significant number were also taken out with pulmonary infections robbing them of crucial racing and training kilometers.

In this year’s race, it started to rain towards the back end of Sunday’s short individual time trial. The conditions no doubt affected those riders and their results, but they didn’t suffer for too long. Yesterday, they were treated to a couple of deluges and they came home mud spattered, cold and wet. The washing machines in the team buses would have been working overtime yesterday evening. Today’s forecast shows low temperatures but probably no rain which will be a welcome relief after yesterday. The weather should improve as they travel further south.

When my beloved returns from Canada (four days of peace and quiet), we’re going to drive over to Sisteron on Friday, ride some of the parcours and watch the race finish. We’ve been to Sisteron a number of times and it’s lovely cycling around there. We’ll do the same on Saturday morning before bidding the peloton farewell. We’ll then drive back to watch the finish. I haven’t yet decided whether to watch on the Col de Vence or head to the finish on the Promenade, or attempt both. My beloved will miss Sunday’s time-trial up Col d’Eze as he’s heading to Bordeaux for a meeting the following morning. I’ve already warned him he’ll have to make alternative arrangements to get to the airport. Tom III and I will be otherwise engaged.

More cycling related good news: the GP Miguel Indurian, the Vuelta al  Pais Vasco and Clasica San Sebastian have all been saved, for now. I am of course delighted as my two holidays this year have been planned around these very races when I shall again be riding some of the parcours and watching the racing. Our first trip, over Easter, will give us an opportunity to explore the Basque country between Bilbao and San Sebastian. One of the advantages of watching the Tour of the Basque country is that it takes place in quite a small geographic area. There’s no need for the teams, or us, to change hotels and the finish is within easy reach of the start. This will enable us to see the sign-on, drive to the finish and the cycle some of the route before watching the riders arrive across the finish line.

We’ll need to do plenty of cycling to burn off the calories we’ll be consuming in the Basque restaurants. We won’t this time be going on a trawl of Michelin starred establishments, instead we’ll be seeking out “neighbourhood” restaurants. I shall still need to take care however so as not to set my regime back ahead of my forthcoming season of sportifs.

Cause for concern

This week is one of my “rest weeks”. Which means, of course, because the weather’s been so great all week, I’m longing to get out on the bike. I’m allowed a couple of recovery rides, a run or two and some gym sessions but nothing quite cuts it like the wind whistling through your helmet as you barrel down a hill or along the sea-front.

My first target of the season, after last week end’s sportif was cancelled, is an event run by my own cycling coach. It used to be held at the end of January but he’s moved it a couple of months, and added a timed portion. His events generally attract a fairly serious crowd so I could well be playing my usual role of lanterne rouge. I won’t be the oldest rider although it’s likely I’ll be the oldest female rider.  I might be last in the scratch but, unless Jeannie Longo puts in an appearance, I should be fastest in my age group. I may even collect a trophy for my ever expanding collection.

After the WTS Classic there’s the usual run of events in April, May and June;  weather and the authorities permitting. We’ve just had a knock back from those self-same authorities for our Gentleman on Sunday 18 March, an event that’s been happily run, incident-free, for many years. I’m holding back on the cake production until we get a positive response. It’ll be a great shame if it’s cancelled, as once events disappear from the calendar, they rarely reappear. Unlike some of the World Tour events in Spain our problem is not lack of funds, it’s an excess of traffic.

The event is held on a Sunday around an industrial estate. So where’s the traffic? The same town hosts a truly gi-normous market every Sunday. But it’s not one of those idyllic, traditional Provencal markets with stands bursting with colourful fruit and vegetables and lots of local produce. No, it’s full of stuff that no one else wants, largely clothing, toiletries, any old thing in fact. It attracts huge crowds of people from outside the region, all of whom drive through the industrial estate to reach the market. We may have to find another place for the event, maybe, the neighbouring industrial estate.

At least as far as the Kivilev is concerned, we’re getting positive feedback from the communes, although worryingly the final authorisation generally doesn’t turn up until the Friday before the event takes place. We’ve already submitted the application so we’ll just have to wait and see. A couple of unfortunate events have also occurred. A popular three-day Tour is taking place the same week-end as the Kivilev. It’s been moved from its regular slot in the calendar on account of the elections. This will severely restrict the number of local racers competing in our sportif.

The last couple of years, either the Conseil regional or the Olympic Committee have lent us their car podiums. This gives a certain gravity to the event and enables us to more easily make announcements and, of course, make the all important presentations. In addition, Alexandre Vinokourov will be riding in the Giro, so he won’t be able to attend. If available, the other Kazakhs will participate, but he’s our headline act.

On a good note, we paid a quick visit this week to the company which kindly lend us one of  their refrigerated vans. This made a huge difference to the storage, preparation and presentation of the all important food during and at the end of the event. The van is ours again for the duration. M Le President is now out hunting for sponsors. He’s been doing well but, as I always say, you would want to keep on the good side of the head honcho down at the fire station, wouldn’t you?