Jumping for joy

I was at the Tour de France, specifically the last three days and got to see Bradley Wiggins crowned the first British winner – historic or what? I was there thanks to a girlfriend who was working for Eurosport, interviewing the riders pre- and post-race. What a brill job? Indeed, she’s an old hand at this and not only is she a gifted linguist, her other half’s a professional cyclist, so she knows many in the professional peloton and, as you can see from the photograph, she’s very attractive –  it doesn’t hurt. In fact, and deservedly so, she’s built quite a following on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re interested, you can read about my experience over on VeloVoices.

In effect, with the travel, that took out five whole days but I don’t regret a single moment! I was in two minds whether or not to go but my beloved, ever the voice of reason, said I might regret it if I didn’t and he was soooooooooooooo right. I made loads of great contacts for future VeloVoices interviews whom I’ll hopefully be able to catch up with either during the Vuelta or maybe the World Championships. My Tour highlight in truth wasn’t Wiggo’s win but rather Tommy Voeckler’s endorsement of my (in)famous pain d’epice! I also got to meet Maurice Greene who’ll be commentating during the Olympics for Eurosport and, while he knew nothing about cycling, really got caught up in the whole atmosphere.

I flew back from Paris at the crack of dawn on Monday morning, in truth it’s debatable whether it was worth getting a hotel room at all on Sunday evening. The plan was to head straight down to Pordenone, north-east of Venice, where my beloved was meeting one of his clients. I’d decided to go along because it’s close to where one of my dearest friends lives whom I don’t get to see as much as I’d really like. In the end, due to other commitments, we didn’t leave until after lunch by which time I was really flagging. You know how I need my eight hours a night.

Mindful of my commitment to racing an uphill time-trial, I took my bike because Pordenone is in the foothills of the Dolomites. On day one, Tuesday, I rode out to the base of the Dolomites and alongside of them on some strade bianche where I needed to fully concentrate in order to stay upright. I discovered that speed really was essential. I did a round trip of about 75km, nothing too demanding as it was all on the flat. On day two I decided to check out the route to Asolo as I really didn’t want to get lost en route and have to call my friend to come rescue me – too embarrassing to contemplate.

Another 75km round trip along country roads with nary a car in sight and plenty of picturesque villages to explore. Wednesday I rode over to Asolo. Again around 75km but it was made more difficult by the heat and a headwind.  It took me just three hours and I only really encountered traffic on the last 20km stretch where I was almost cut up by white van man on the exit out of Montebelluno. It was another relatively flat stretch apart from the climb up to the historic town centre.

All this cycling has been negated by delicious evening meals at charming family run Italian restaurants. Packed restaurants where we’d only gotten tables thanks to either reservations or contacts! Ecomonic crisis?

Today, I decided that there was nothing else for it, Dolomites here I come! While I chose my first climb more by luck, it looked as if it was one of the easier ones, even though it seemed to go on for ever. But, of course, at the pace I ride, it does. I saw nary a cyclist today although, in truth, I’ve not seen many all week and a quick search on the internet has only turned up the Octavia Botecchia Velodrome, so named in honour of the first Italian winner of the Tour. Will they rename the Manchester Velodrome after Brad? But no local cycling club. There must be one. I’ve located one for the railway employees but they wear a rather lurid red, yellow and blue kit. Those I’ve seen wearing a red and white kit could just as easily be a team from one of the town’s major manufacturing companies. My search continues, for my next visit……………

Summer celebrations

My recent regime of hill climbing is proving more difficult than anticipated. With the exception of Col de Vence and L’Ara – two climbs with which I’m most familiar – my three consecutive ascents of other hills are proving to be more slow, slower and slowest. The exact reverse of what I’m supposed to achieve. I am of course persisting but may well have to seek advice from my cycling coach once he returns from his cycling trip from Verbier to St Tropez. Yes, he’s put together a challenging ride for a small group of American clients, staying in 5-star luxury en-route. These types of trips appear to be very popular with north Americans so he’s hoping it might lead to further business.

It’s Saturday, so we’re riding with one of the teenagers and our friends who have a tandem – never fancied giving that a go. In theory, the teenager can’t ride during the week unless accompanied by his older brother. However, we do know that he’s been out most days, generally on his own. We’re perpetuating the myth, to prevent his mother from worrying, by taking him out with us at the week ends. We’ve broken the “news” to his Dad whom we chatted to on Skype yesterday, en route back home after successfully racing on the Asian circuit. I do hope, despite his hectic race schedule, that he’s going to be home for his younger son’s first bike race.

This week the temperature has really ratcheted up a notch, indeed it’s been almost sultry. I like to get up and out on the bike early to profit from the slightly cooler air and find myself choosing, wherever possible, shaded routes. I still haven’t resolved the hot feet problem but I do find improved hydration and circulation by wearing compression socks helps. I should add that the socks are only worn indoors.  The last two days, it’s gotten quite windy in the afternoons. However, it’s not been a cooling sea breeze, no it’s been a hot Saharan wind. We don’t have air conditioning, I open the windows front and back and the flow of air keeps the place cool. Yesterday, the wind was blowing dust and debris onto my recently washed and cleaned floors, so I shut the windows which unfortunately made the flat feel like a sauna.

Yesterday evening, Bastille Day celebrations kicked off down on the specially closed-to-traffic sea front, animated at regular intervals by live bands and DJs playing different types of music. The whole place was teeming ensuring a bumper evening for the local restaurants though equally a large number brought their own and had a picnic on the beach. As usual, there was a splendid firework display. These types of festivities will continue all week end long up and down the coast. While sound carries a long way on still summer evenings we’re just far enough away not to hear anything.

This week end is the traditional start of the French summer holidays meaning we can look forward to a bumper crop of free entertainment. When I say “free” I mean there’s no charge for entry. As local taxpayers we do indeed pay for the entertainment, but it’s a small price to pay in order to maintain the coast’s biggest source of income – tourism. According to the local newspaper, we’re heading for a bumper season with bookings well up on previous years. I suspect that on account of the global recession, northern Europeans are staying somewhere closer to home, the French are staying home and we’re attracting even more visitors from eastern Europe and Asia.

Speedy girl

Last week’s tummy troubles, probably caused by a virus, resulted in a bit of a blip in my training but I’m back on the case. My coach has suggested I make three trips up an insanely steep climb going fast, faster and fastest. I may just have to wear my “Speedy Bike Club” jersey. My Swiss friend calls me Speedy girl. He’s being ironic as I’m many things, none of them speedy, on a bike. So, we both have this particular jersey making it a very select club. That’s right, my beloved is NOT a member.

I’ll need all the help I can get, psychological and otherwise, as it’s definitely going to be a tricky climb. It’s not long, just over a couple of kilometres, but I find it really difficult, particularly the stretches at 16 and 17%. It’s the sort of hill where, as you climb, you keep checking that you really are in your granny gear, just in case you’re not, and there’s still one more gear. Of course, there never is but I still have to check!

Over the years I’ve developed a couple of techniques for ignoring the voice in my head that says “Are you insane? Turn round and go home now.” I try to imagine something pleasurable, whatever takes my fancy on the day and at that moment. Or, I promise myself a treat once the exercise is over. It might be an ice cold coke, an ice cream, a juicy peach or a cup of coffee. Again, whatever I fancy and what’s readily available. So tomorrow, I’ll once again be gritting my teeth and trying, against the odds, to think pleasurable thoughts.

As tomorrow’s  a rest day in the Tour, I may just mentally revisit some of the best moments from the last ten days as I climb this particular hill, looking for all the world as if I’m riding in slow-mo which, of course, I am.  Few local riders brave the climb, or conversely the descent, so I’m not likely to be overtaken: scant consolation. Though passing motorists occasionally proffer encouragement from their car windows.

However, my real dilemma is going to be the three speeds. I can’t go any slower or I’ll just fall off the bike. Conversely, I find it really hard to go any faster as I’m already “on the rivet”. I’m just going to give it my best and see how I fare. Already I’m beginning to regret my whim of doing this particular uphill individual time-trial.

Who do I think I am? Bradley Wiggins? I think not, as he and team mate Chris Froome were likened to stick insects on Twitter. Not an accusation that can be levelled at me. Nor would I feel comfortable in the new generation, seemingly translucent skinsuits they’re all wearing. Although I may have come up with a solution – SPANX skinsuits. I’m calling the company tomorrow though there’s the vague disquiet that the surplus, compressed flesh might just roll out of the suit in folds at the wrists and thighs. Still, it’s worth a try.

Back on track

We all need goals and I’m not talking football here. I’m  saying we all need something to aim for whether at work or play. I’ve been a bit slack the past year or so with not having any major cycling event as an objective. Instead, it’s been a bit vague and woolly. I just want to ride better. By that I mean quicker and with improved technique.

As you know, I’m not overly keen on mass events. I’ve love to do L’Etape du Tour with a group of 50 or so like minded individuals, with full team support. Sadly, this isn’t going to happen any time soon. As a consequence, I’ve plumped for an uphill time-trial as this year’s goal. Largely because last year’s lanterne rouge was way slower than me. Of course, and I didn’t think to check, he might have had a mechanical. I saw the times turned in by the ladies, all young enough to be my daughters, and I know there’s no way I can get even near to their last-placed finisher. So, I’ll most probably be the female lanterne rouge and most definitely, la doyenne. Chances are all the ladies will be given cups just for turning up. It’s the only way I’m going to get one.

Of necessity, a time-trial restricts the number of riders on any given part of the road though, given my snail-like pace, I’m sure to be overtaken by many. I shan’t count it’ll be too depressing. When I set this objective back in January, it was so far off I promptly forgot about it. It’s now only two months away and I’m having a bit of a panic.You have to remember that this is my most oft ridden Col and where I was once embarrassingly overtaken by someone running – uphill, not down.

Actually, I have no idea of the exact date of the event or whether its even being held this year. Events do have a habit of dropping off the calendar but I’m assuming a) it’s taking place and b) I’ll be here to take part. If not, I’ll just keep prevaricating won’t I?

Of course, having been given a good work out by my boys over the past two weeks or so I am feeling in pretty reasonable shape but, since this is all uphill, I really need to step up the weight reduction programme which has stalled somewhat in recent months.

Back in late April, I recorded my best ever time for an ascension of Col de Vence but I’ve not been able to improve on that, until now. Having ridden the hill so often, my split times are engraved in my elephantine memory. This week, my coach set me the task of riding three times up the first part of the hill. I was to progressively increase my speed at each attempt, something I wasn’t too sure I could do. I could and managed to significantly improve my time by the third attempt. Subconsciously I must have been riding slower on the two previous attempts? Well, no, I was on record setting pace both times.Okay, I didn’t ride the entire hill but I’m sure we’ll be working up to this over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, this Sunday’s ride takes us up and over the Col. I’ll be ready.