Peaking too soon!

There’s been a lot of concern expressed in the press about the form of certain riders, such as the Schlecks, ahead of this year’s Tour de France. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether they’re where they should be with just over two months to go. To be honest, when it comes to my own form, I’m not too sure what a peak looks like. That said a couple of key markers were established in Saturday’s La Louis Caput.

I had ridden strongly earlier in the week with my beloved who had even remarked upon it. While my Garmin faithfully records all the details, for me it’s often about how much time and distance my beloved puts into me on our rides. He’ll typically ride off up an incline, turn, ride back down and remount with me. The point at which our paths cross is always telling and it says far more about my form than his. I’d ridden the rest of the week on my own, faithfully following the training program. But it’s been so windy and I find riding into a constant headwind, praying that the wind’ll change direction, to be rather tiring. It’s like wading through treacle.

Saturday, my beloved expressed a desire to ride on without me. He’ll often ride all or part of one of these courses with me. After all it’s not about time as we’re merely collecting points for the club with our participation. Although, on my return, I will compare how I did the previous year. I reminded him about the route (there’s no arrows) and we set off quite late, leaving directly from home as I’d collected our frame numbers the day before. As I headed toward Vence, I was aware that I was about to do my best ever ascent, time-wise. Strange as I wasn’t feeling particularly on-song and I’d stopped twice to blow my nose. The wind had stirred the pollen from the trees and aggravated my allergy.

As I headed toward the base of Col de Vence, I was overtaken by the broom wagon. Never before seen on any of my previous participations in this event. Clearly, I was usually so far behind that no one had noticed that I was behind rather than in front of said wagon. The thought did cross my mind that we might be keeping one another company, again not an uncommon occurrence for me. Even stranger was the thought that I might not actually be last.

Some of my clubmates run a bike shop at the base of the climb, I waived as I sailed past. The first bit is steep so I shifted into my lowest gear and churned away. I’m particularly fond of this climb, know it well, ride it frequently and am aiming to peak for a race up it in September. It’s also one of my favourite descents largely because you can see the on-coming traffic and therefore make use of the entire road with a fair amount of impunity.

This was my maiden ascent of the year and I was keen to check out progress on a modern house which had been built on one of its early switchbacks. I was surprised to see that they still hadn’t landscaped the garden.  When you ride at my speed you’ve time to make quite an inventory of the area. The view back down to the coast was unusually spectacular. Later in the season it tends to be obscured by a heat haze.

I was going well. So well that I never even noticed my bete noire, the two kilometre stretch between 6km and 4km to go. I wouldn’t say I was motoring but the splits were looking promising. I’d even overtaken a number of people. I was overtaken by a group from one of the neighbouring clubs who invited me to ride the longer course (150km rather than 100km) with them. They were, of course, joking. I replied that I would if they pushed me. That’ll be a “No” then!

I had my photograph taken as I wound my way up the climb. Another first, he’s normally long gone by the time I reach this point. I said hello again to the boys in the broomwagon who confirmed there were plenty of riders behind me. Must have left it very late to start! I passed the sign telling me it was only two kilometres to the horse-ranch which is 500km from the summit. I was feeling good, I picked up the pace. I was on target to better my best-ever time by over 5 minutes: what an incentive. I got out of the saddle and as I did so I noticed the rider descending and about to cross my path was none other than my beloved. Damm, I was going to have to stop.

It would appear that my beloved wasn’t feeling too well. The combined effects of a late night, a busy week and the side-effects of the medicaments taken to fight off his gout. Now he didn’t necessarily expect me to stop, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was hoping I would. Ah well, my record breaking climb would have to be postponed!

Not again!

My beloved should wear this around his neck!I recently had to explain the concept of a “Distressed Purchase”. Typically, this arises when we’ve gone somewhere on holiday, and the weather isn’t quite as we anticipated, prompting us to buy something to keep warm. For example, on a rain soaked cycling holiday in Seefeld a couple of years back, we had forgotten to take our leg warmers and had to buy new ones. Or last year, while watching the Tour in the Alps, it was so cold we both bought anoraks, fortunately “on sale”.

This may surprise you given my obsession with planning and preparation. But years of travelling on business, and with as few changes of clothes as possible, means that even when travelling by car I don’t take the kitchen sink. Admittedly, whatever the weather, there’s two items you’ll always find in my luggage: a superfine black pashmina shawl and a cashmere sweater. But you typically wouldn’t take a down-filled anorak on a summer vacation, when the long-range weather forecast is favourable, would you?

My distressed purchases are few and far between and some, like the anorak, have proved to be valuable buys. For me it’s all about euros/wear. If an item ends up joining my list of “old-faithfulls” it’s more than paid its way.

My beloved, on the other hand, a man who spends his life circumnavigating the globe on a regular basis, pretty much only makes “distressed purchases”. Fairly early on in married life we established my beloved’s inability to acquire items of clothing which fitted or went with anything else in his wardrobe. I’m not sure whether he succumbs too easily to the blandishments of the sales people, is colour-blind or really does think his bum doesn’t look too big in it! Whatever, it’s safe to say, he shouldn’t be let out on his own.

On average, my beloved makes a distressed purchase every other trip. This will be for a variety of reasons. Primarily, because he’s forgotten to take it with him. Yes, despite my efforts to get him to follow a list, he still forgets stuff. We’re talking cuff-links, adaptor plugs, re-chargers those types of things. Equally, these are the types of things he forgets along the way to which I should add ties, toilets bags and his laptop cable and charger. Next up are those occasions when the airline misplaces his luggage on a long-haul trip where he’s changed planes at least once. The airline won’t lose the luggage but generally my beloved and his luggage only connect when he’s due to return home. Of course, the insurance company and airline give you a daily allowance which my husband uses up in a nano-second.

He’s now on unfamiliar territory, and very dangerous ground, as he can’t remember his size or the brands he normally wears. In addition, my husband works on the one per day rule. No matter that you can wash and dry things overnight or even put them in the hotel laundry. His luggage has gone astray, he’s away for seven days therefore he needs seven pairs of socks, underpants, shirts. He will go on a veritable orgy of spending acquiring all manner of vile items which are ill-fitting and ill-suited for the purpose. Often they are never worn again. Sometimes I get lucky and this happens in India where stuff’s cheap, no matter how much he buys.

I recall a trip to Canada where he was due to play a round of golf with a friend. He went out and bought new golf kit, head to toe, for one day’s golf! A man who’s got more golf kit than half the ProTour. Needless to say this was neither covered by insurance nor strictly necessary. Don’t forget this is a man who could open his own sports shop, offering a very wide range of sporting goods and apparrel.

Another of his obsessions, though I confess rather less expensive than some of his other indulgences, are swimming goggles. He’s always buying “the latest and best” and promptly losing them, along with swimming shorts, flip-flops and towels. In truth, my husband is legend when it comes to misplacing things. He always claims that he’s not lost them he just can’t place his hands on said item at this particular moment in time. I’m fond of saying if I had a euro for every item he’s lost I’d be a wealthy woman. Of course, I’d be even better off if I then didn’t have to fork out for the replacement!

Header image courtesy of a SmartSign store.

Plan of action

Today’s the day of the L’Antiboise, a 100 or 150km ride, along the coast and through splendid countryside. The cycle club was assured a good turnout in support of one of our larger, neighbouring clubs as it had offered to pay everyone’s subscription (Euros 2). We’re hoping that providing visible support to the larger clubs, and their events, means they’ll return the favour come La Kivilev, which is only six weeks off.

I particularly enjoy this ride and we generally choose to ride to and from home to the departure/arrival point adding a further 20km to our route. I’ve only once, disastrously, attempted the 150km route. It’s not that I can’t do 150km, it’s that I can’t do it as fast as the bloke driving the broom wagon would like. Only one of our members has opted for the longer route, the chap who wins all the cups at the club for greatest total distance cycled in a season. He makes a clean sweep every year, a competition no one else really bothers to contest.  He’s won so many cups that he proudly uses to adorn pretty much every surface in his apartment. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure he’s even got them in the smallest room in the house!

It rained for much of yesterday, stopping only briefly at around mid-afternoon. April is generally the wettest month here and, while I would prefer it stayed dry so that I can ride, I do appreciate that our local vintners and vegetable growers, not forgetting the Carros strawberry farms, are probably crying out for water. We set the alarm for an early morning call but, as soon as we woke, could hear that the rain was still falling heavily. It’s forecast for tomorrow too, but then we’re assured of wall-to-wall sunshine.

In anticipation of this calamitous sequence of events, my cycling coach has sent me some exercises to do on the home-trainer, and there’s always the gym. But I’m going to look on this rare Sunday without a ride as a bit of a gift and enjoy the things I don’t normally get to do on a Sunday morning. I’m going to cook my beloved a delicious breakfast, then we’re going out for coffee and the newspapers before settling down to watch Amstel Gold. Did I say settling? What I should have said was that my beloved will be settling while I will be standing, hunched over the ironing board clearing the ironing mountain. I’ve procrastinated long enough.

Pain in the nether regions

What do my beloved and Tom Boonen have in common? Well, neither of them will be lining up at this weekend’s Amstel Gold Race because they’re both suffering from an inflamed foot. In Tom’s case, he’s aggravated a tendon, all that stomping on the pedals over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. He does stomp on those pedals doesn’t he? Next time my cycling coach berates me for my lack of supple pedalling  like Contador I shall say I’m doing a “Boonen”. Just don’t expect to see me riding over cobbles anytime soon.

Meanwhile, my beloved has had a recurrence of his gout. An ailment which tends to invoke mirth rather than sympathy. We’re not exactly sure why it’s chosen to return although it’s struck him in the left and not the usual right foot. I suspect that because it was cold and wet while we were on vacation in the Basque country, my beloved failed to drink enough water. Either that or it was too much excellent Rioja! The downside, at least for me, was that his ailment delayed his departure by a whole 36 hours, and counting. He left early yesterday morning and will be back later this evening. I’ve barely had time to do a few things on my most recent to do list, let alone tackle any backlogs.

Yes, I am referring to the ironing mountain. I can’t wait until the Giro as I have a very dear friend coming to stay with me at the end of the month and so simply must clear the spare bedroom where all the ironing is now piled up on the bed. None of it mine, you understand. Maybe, during Amstel Gold on Sunday afternoon.

On our return from the Basque country I had a rather frustrating day, once again trying to deal with Orange. I should add that I suspect the issues would have taken a similar amount of time had I been dealing with BT or any, indeed, other service provider. The nice man who promised to send me the outstanding invoices simple failed to deliver everything! So, I’ve requested them again. My beloved then started agitating about the HD service which we seem to have lost. I told him I couldn’t face Orange again for a couple of days. But no, he decided he would deal with it. Whenever my beloved, a man with no patience whatsoever, decides to take matters in hand I’m always the one who gets dumped on.

Sure enough after a lengthy wait “on hold”, a couple of buttons and less than 30 seconds, the telephone receiver was abruptly shoved into my hand! To be fair, it’s useful to have two people to go through the various instructions – one to listen and one to push buttons on the remote –  but after a frustrating hour during, which I was unable to watch the Brabantse Pijl cycle race, our helpful technician went off duty without having resolved the problem. He promised a colleague would call back the following day, he hasn’t. I have planned the recall for Monday morning.

I’m now savouring my final hours of freedom and wondering how I might usefully spend them. Sadly, it looks as though my “panacea for all ills” aka a long ride on the bike might be out of the question, on account of the rain. But first, a large cup of coffee and L’Equipe will go some way to restoring my equilibrium.

For want of a spoke, the race was lost

Sign-on at GP Miguel Indurain
Sign-on at GP Miguel Indurain

Sadly my plans to ride some of the Tour of the Basque country course have gone awry. We arrived in Estella on Friday evening, dined well and enjoyed a good night’s sleep to awake to yet more glorious sunshine. We decided to ride a couple of the loops of the GP Miguel Indurain, catching the race both en route and as it passed through the town. I also rode up to the summit finish twice, please note the peloton only had to do it once!

Sunday, also dawned fair but soon turned grey and overcast. We were now in the heart of the Basque country, ideally placed to view each of the start and finishes of the six stages in the Tour of the Basque country. Undaunted, we muffled up and rode out, heading due north. I hadn’t been riding for long when my bike went “kerrching”. Never good news. I stopped to discover I had broken a spoke on my rear wheel. Initially, I wasn’t too concerned. Every small town here has a bike shop. Surely, someone would be able to fix it?

A quick search on the internet revealed a large bike shop on the outskirts of Bilbao which we could visit en route to the following day’s stage, finishing and starting in Guenes, 20km south-west of Bilbao. The shop took the wheel and suggested I call back later. My beloved elected to ride some of the day’s course while I spent an enjoyable day bombing around the Basque countryside, in the warm sunshine, in the company of my friends, Dom and Susi,who were taking photos for Cycling News. At the stage’s conclusion, we headed back to the bike shop. They hadn’t managed to find the requisite parts but suggested I leave it in their tender care for another day. I was happy to do so though rather chafing at the bit to get back into the saddle.

Chris Horner before stage 1 start
Chris Horner before stage 1 start

managed to find the requisite parts but suggested I leave it in their tender care for another day. I was happy to do so though rather chafing at the bit to get back into the saddle.

I rang the shop the following morning and they confirmed it would be ready for collection that evening after stage two’s conclusion in Vitoria-Gasteiz. This is a place I’d seriously underrated on my last visit there during the Vuelta. The stage had finished on the town’s outskirts, today we saw its delightfully charming old town.  When we returned to the bike shop, it was to bad news. They’d been unable to source replacement spokes for my Campagnolo wheel.

Undeterred, I decided I would have a chat with the men from Mavic the following morning. It just so happened that I’d previously met one of the Mavic guys at Paris-Nice. I turned to him for some words of wisdom before the start of stage three. He basically told me that the wheels were a bugger to fix and he couldn’t help me. I’m assuming that’s a technical term. He advised I carried spares in future – noted.

I then turned to see which of the ProTour teams were sporting similar wheels. A couple of the guys at Movistar had the same model but in view of the fact they were fiddly to fit, and knowing how hard the mechanics have to work, I decided not to ask. Though I did keep looking longingly at anyone who had a bike the same frame size as mine and my beloved had to keep admonishing me to step away.

In any event, it’s rained pretty much solidly for the last four days. So it’s doubtful I would have actually ridden even had I been able to fix the wheel. My beloved has been out most days, only to come back as mud-spattered as a cyclo-cross rider – thank heavens I bought plenty of kit with us. The washing machine will be going into overdrive on our return!

For my previews and reviews of both races head on over to VeloVoices.