Postcard from Pordenone

I know, I know I’ve been back a few days but oft cited pressure of work and my beloved’s accident has delayed its completion. Fortunately my beloved has a client in NE Italy, the location of a number of stages in this year’s Giro d’Italia. I do from time to time go with him on business trips and this one was no exception. It’s also a beautiful part of the world steeped in history, with gorgeous countryside – ideal for cycling – and it’s ringed by the Dolomites, equally good for cycling and skiing.

Staking out race leader Vincenzo Nibali's Astana bus
Staking out race leader Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana bus

After a pleasant drive over on Sunday afternoon, I spent most of Monday getting to know the area better by bike. Over the past few years, since I’ve taken up cycling as a hobby, the bike has taken me to many lovely spots which I’d have been unlikely to visit in the car. I like nothing better than heading off for a day in the saddle, revelling in the warm spring weather and investigating small towns and villages en route. I rode around here last July and now have a good idea in my head of the layout of the surrounding area and, as it’s well sign-posted, I’m most unlikely to get lost.

My husband’s clients have been very hospitable and only to happy to entertain us in various restaurants most evenings, you can’t beat local knowledge. But Italy’s the one place where I have never, ever had a bad meal or a even a bad cup of coffee. I used to say that about France but we have had one or two disastrous meals when we’ve been out cycling.

The advantage of a week in Italy is the effect it’s had on my spoken Italian. I don’t speak it often enough so a week of reading La Gazzetta dello Sport, watching RAI Sport and chatting in Italian brings it all flooding back. My beloved is making an effort to speak Italian though confuses it with Spanish with humorous results. However, we were both tasked with conversing in Italian when the client’s parents, who both only speak Italian, took us out one evening for dinner and a tour of the area. Amazingly, we had a most interesting evening and have learnt much about the area, particularly its history and viticulture.

The three days of the Giro d’Italia were planned with precision so that I could both see the start and finish each day. All went according to plan on the first two days. I happily snapped away with my beloved’s camera and I also managed to chat to a few of the riders to contribute to my article for VeloVoices.

Stage 13 before the start
Stage 13 before the start

On the last day, after three days of glorious sunshine, the heavens opened and the rain cascaded down. That, and high winds, made driving to the start quite perilous but it was ultimately a doomed effort as they’d closed the road well ahead of the departure time and Italy’s finest couldn’t be persuaded to let me through despite the proper credentials. Of course, it may have been that they were clearing rubble swept onto the road by the rain. I’ll never know. Feeling chilled to the bone, I drove directly to the finish to take shelter and warm up in the press room.

But my Giro adventure’s not yet over. A client meeting in Milan on Monday morning has paved the way for a trip to Brescia on Sunday to watch the final day.

Nose job

Nose job?
Nose job?

Yesterday my husband was desperate to enjoy what little good weather was forecast. Unwilling to wait while I finished a small task, he left the flat about an hour ahead of me. I was about to leave the Domaine, by bike, when my mobile rang. By the time I’d fished it out of my back pocket, I’d missed the call. I didn’t recognise the number so waited to see if the caller left a message. He did.

It’s the type of call you dread receiving. It started with the words that my husband had been involved in an accident then calmed my fears by advising he wasn’t badly hurt. I raced home and rang the caller who told me that Richard had been taken to a local hospital and a friend was coming to collect his bike. In France, the firemen are the paramedics but, not unnaturally, they cart you off to hospital and leave others to worry about collateral issues.

I changed, grabbed the necessary paperwork and legged it over to the hospital where a long queue of domestic accidents awaited. I was assured that my husband was being dealt with and I could see him soon. Soon turned out to be a relative term. It was two hours before he rang me to give me chapter and verse of what he could remember.

He was riding through Juan les Pins when the car in front, without indicating, stopped abruptly. Richard braked, flew over the handle bars and hit the boot with his nose which it has to be said is fairly sizeable. He was dazed, cut his chin, his lip and split open his nose up to his forehead. Copious amounts of blood issued forth. Luckily a couple of team mates were riding in the opposite direction but first on the scene was a lady from another club who’s a nurse who organised everything and took care of Richard – far better than I could have done. With that much blood, I’d have likely fainted!

Despite it being a Sunday my beloved was impressed with the level of care and professionalism of the hospital and staff and was released into my tender car with plenty of pain killers. He pretty much ached all over from the impact and while his first appointment tomorrow – today’s a bank holiday – is with an ENT specialist, he’ll probably have to go and see his physio too.

My beloved was extremely fortunate that he wasn’t cycling faster, as the injuries would have been worse. Also the proper authorities were quickly alerted and he was tended to by a nurse at the scene. I’m trying to track down the lady in question via the cycling club network so that I can thank her. He now looks like an extra in a Hammer House of Horror movie and his chances of ever finding work as a model have flown out the window.  He’s also grounded for the next week or so. Spare a thought for me in all of this. I was looking forward to a quiet week watching the Giro and tackling my “to do” list now I’ll be resuming my  ill-suited role as Florence Nightingale!

Postscript: Amazingly, I have managed to get all of the blood out of his shirt!

Tuesday postscript: The ENT specialist was pleased with how quickly my beloved’s injuries are healing. The nose is broken, but not displaced, and the stitches come out on Friday.


Fatally flawed

priority+from+left+at+roundaboutI haven’t written much recently about my close shaves with four-wheeled vehicles.  Largely because I’ve come to appreciate that other road users, and I’m including pedestrians in this sub-set, can be neatly divided into two groups: those that ride a bike and those that don’t. The problems lie with the latter group. Not a day goes by when I narrowly avoid being knocked off my bike by the rash actions of a motorised vehicle or a pedestrian. I largely avoid disaster because I don’t cycle particularly fast, spot danger looming and take evasive action. My average speed in an urban environment hovers around 22-25km/hour. I’m a tortoise not a hare!

I never continue to be amazed by the number of vehicles, in their rush to get wherever they’re going, who are quite happy to place my life in peril rather than slow down and allow me to pass by safely. A classic is the right-hand turn. I’m approaching one, so I signal to the oncoming traffic, and that behind me, I’m going straight on. This seems to be the equivalent of a call to arms as vehicles rev their engines and drivers apply feet to accelerator pedals in an effort to overtake me and then turn right into my oncoming path. Would they do that if I were another vehicle? Before you answer, remember we’re talking about France here, the country with one of the highest rates of mortality on the roads.

The answer is that it depends on the right hand turn. If there’s a slip road, then the turn’s large so, if there’s room to squeeze in front, they will: likewise with a scooter or motor bike. Accounting no doubt for the high level of two-wheeled fatalities. Of course, as you cycle across these death traps yawning chasms, motorists have two choices: slow down and then turn behind you or speed up and cut in front. Now, I don’t think it’s going to take a genius to work out their generally preferred option.

We’ve covered traffic turning right, but what about traffic exiting right. With the exception of roads clearly marked ” GIVE WAY TO RIGHT” albeit in French, I have right of way on my bicycle. I know because I’ve checked in the French version of the Highway Code. However, it’s as if other road users have applied a ruling of their own, a sort of I know there’s a big fat white line telling me to stop but as it’s only a cyclist I can just nip out. The ones I particularly dislike are those who’ve stopped, looked in your direction, waited and then shot out at the last moment narrowly missing your front wheel. Did they not see me, or did they see me  surreptitiously feathering the brakes? Who knows?

I should add that this group is particularly dangerous on roundabouts. In France, pay no heed to where cars are positioned on a road, they’ll pretty much always opt for the shortest queue. Yes, I’m turning first right at the roundabout but I’m in the shortest queue on the left-hand side of the road, generally reserved for those turning left or maybe straight-on.  This means if the car on the right-hand side isn’t turning right, equally possible, I’m going to cut him up as I turn right. For the cyclist these are the most dangerous as they need to get across quickly to avoid hitting the car on their inside, they’re not on our radar and they’re paying us no heed whatsoever!

Now, what about oncoming traffic turning left across my bows. Regular readers will know that I’ve been knocked off my bike twice. Both times by inattentive lady drivers. In both instance, I had right of way and they were in the wrong. However a sense of righteous injustice won’t save my life. Luckily my ample padding saved me from anything more serious than cuts and bruises.

Lack of speed however does not apply when I’m descending. Again those additional kilos and my fast wheels help me drop like a stone. Similarly, concentration, awareness and keeping over to my side of the road have seen me stay largely upright, safe and sound. Of course, I also generally ride on roads I know really well which helps enormously. I tend to more cautious when dealing with the unknown.

What about those pesky pedestrians? Indeed, they will happily step out in front of cyclists. Why oh why? You wouldn’t step out in front of a speeding car, so why step out in front of a speeding cyclist? Many zebra crossings in France are controlled by traffic lights. So, do they wait until the light turns green before stepping into the road. Hell no, they step into the road and then freeze in the middle of the lane. This leaves me in a quandary, which way are they going to move? It’s often hard to tell whether they’re going to rashly push on or rapidly retreat.

I have practised emergency braking with my coach but I can’t stop on a sixpence certainly not when I’ve just come barreling down a hill at top speed. I have nightmares about headlines saying “Speeding Cyclist Crushes Pensioners” except, of course, it would be in French and probably say something along the lines of “Une grosse cycliste britannique écrase les petits retraités françaises”.