My Little Cupcake

My Little Cupcake is my Facebook nickname for my dear friends’ middle son. I’ve known him for many years and, as the name suggests, I’m very fond of him. Like most teenagers he can inhale his bodyweight in baked goodies, which we often cook together, hence the nickname.

Alex helping me with registrations at Kivilev 2011
Alex helping me with registrations at Kivilev 2011

I take a close personal interest in his road racing as it’s almost three years since a two-week stay with me set him on the path of wanting to be a professional rider, just like his Dad. He’d previously taken little or no interest in cycling but I fostered it because I felt his alleged youthful mischievousness would be tamed by sport. I say alleged because I’d seen no evidence of it.

We now get together on a weekly basis, usually on a Saturday afternoon – racing permitting – to work on his English, the must-have language in today’s professional peloton. My beloved and I’d been on the road for most of April so we’d missed a few English classes but the two-week half-term has given us some opportunities to catch up and make sure we stay on or even ahead of the track. I always encourage him to talk about what he’s done since we last met in English. This invariably revolves around his training and racing. He races all over the region and in Italy so there are few opportunities for me to watch him race.

We had two such opportunities this last week-end. Friday he was racing in Vence, part of the season-long Tour de Cote d’Azur, where he was lying in second place overall. Friday was a Bank Holiday here in France and while it had started sunny, the weather turned to rain in the early afternoon, just as he started racing. One poor lad crashed out on the practice lap while the race leader came off on a corner late in the race and ended his chances of retaining the maillot jaune.

We watched the ‘minimes and younger’ category race. They looked so sweet and earnest as they raced around the short lumpy circuit, none more so than Astana General Manager Alex Vinokurov’s twin sons, who gave it their all but were roundly beaten by bigger boys. It didn’t seem to dim their enthusiasm or the support from their proud Dad.

Waiting for the race to start in Vence
Waiting for the race to start in Vence
Still in the peloton
Still in the peloton
On the attack!
On the attack!
Exhausted by his efforts
Exhausted by his efforts

Next up were my little cupcake and his friend and team-mate in the cadets. He’s currently struggling with some loss of power due to growing pains, which has affected his results but not his desire to go on the attack and try to shred the field.  The pair of them did this twice during the race but were eventually overhauled by a tactically more astute rider. They’ll learn.

In yellow! (image: Sylvie Rattalino)
In yellow! (image: Sylvie Rattalino)

Third place was however enough to see my little cupcake into the yellow leader’s jersey. I say “see” though by that time both we, and his parents, had returned home thanks to the heavy rain. Like all sports there’s lots of hanging around, particularly for the podiums, always held at the end of all the racing and generally preceded by interminable speeches.

Full gas
Full gas
Friends and rivals
Friends and rivals

Saturday treated us to glorious sunshine for a hilly 6km individual time-trial in the neighbouring Var where he finished an exhausted sixth. Sunday he raced in Martigues, some two hours down the road from us, and the pictures show he finished in the top five, high enough to keep his King of the Mountain’s jersey in what I assume is the Tour du Var. We supported him from afar and couldn’t be prouder of him if he were ours.

A trip down Memory lane

Yorkshire's Ben Swift with Bridlington in the background (image: Tour de Yorkshire)
Yorkshire’s Ben Swift with Bridlington in the background (image: Tour de Yorkshire)

Yesterday’s inaugural stage of the Tour de Yorkshire from Bridlington to Scarborough conjured up a number of ancient memories from when I was training to become a chartered accountant. I had worked as the junior on a two-man audit on part of a quoted group, based just outside of Bridlington, which manufactured portable cabins. The area was a popular  summer holiday resort, although we conducted our audit work out of season when the town was essentially mothballed. Not that we had much free time to enjoy the amusement arcades and buy “Kiss me Quick” hats or sticks of rock.

I recall we stayed in one of the few open hotels on the sea front, a relic from the town’s heyday, which probably wouldn’t fare too well in today’s Booking.com ratings. I can still remember the limited dinner menu which harked back to the Dark Ages with starters such as fruit juice or half a grapefruit with the ubiquitous glacé cherry. You might be thinking these were left over from breakfast but no, they were not.

Towards the end of the last week of our audit, snow began to fall heavily from Thursday midday. Blustery, high winds piled the snow into drifts, blockading us in at the company’s offices and preventing our return to the hotel. The Company’s MD was in town for a board meeting with a number of other senior group staff and they were all staying at a hotel just down the road from the office, well within walking distance.

As darkness descended, a small band of us, including the Chief Accountant and his assistant, made our way to their hotel, called Fenn’s Farm, hoping we’d find enough beds for the night. There were no spare rooms, so we had to double up. The MD gallantly gave me his room. I had thought I might be forced to share with the Chief Accountant’s assistant but she, rather fortuitously, seemed to have come prepared with an overnight bag and heated rollers ready to share with the Chief Accountant. After that I didn’t enquire too deeply about who shared with whom.

Back at the company’s office next day, it was obvious we wouldn’t be driving home that week-end but would have to take the train. I called the office to let them know what had happened. The line was bad and the message received the other end was that we’d been snowed in and had spent the night in a barn! Unbeknown to me, the audit senior on this particular audit had a bit of a reputation as the office Lothario, this incident had only helped to gild rather than tarnish said reputation.

The following year, I was the audit senior on the job but a number of faces had changed. The Chief Accountant and his assistant were no more but the MD was still in situ. While introducing me to the newly appointed Chief Accountant, he joked that I had looked better in his pyjama top. Lest the new man got the wrong impression, I pointed out that the MD had never seen me in his pyjama top. A loan I’d declined though I’d been grateful he’d given me his hotel room when we’d been snowed in.

You can tell how long ago this was, well before any notion of political correctness started to even creep in and well before the advent of mobile phones. Yes, I really am that old! Fortunately, we didn’t get snowed in on this audit and everything went according to plan though I never visited Bridlington again.