Postcard from Long Island

My beloved is on a roll. He successfully navigated our way from Manhattan to Sag Harbor without GPS and has twice selected restaurants for lunch that have been truly magnificent. I can only conclude that after almost 40 years of intensive training he’s now close to perfect. If only he didn’t keep leaving stuff behind in restaurants and hotel rooms.

Now that's what I call a beach - acres of soft, silky sand.
Now that’s what I call a beach – acres of soft, silky sand.

We’re currently chillin’ in The Hamptons. We’ve gone from life in the fast to the slow lane. A few days in New York was enough to catch up with some of our favourite museums and galleries and spend hours pounding the pavements just soaking up our surroundings.

Having watched the film “Woman in Gold” on the flight over my beloved wanted to visit the Neue Gallerie to see Adele Bloch-Bauer’s portrait by Gustav Klimt. I’d already seen the picture in the Belvedere in Vienna before it was returned to its rightful owner and acquired by Ronald Lauder for the gallery. It was well worth seeing again and a trip to the gallery’s typical Viennese coffee shop reminded me that another visit to Vienna might be in order. It’s been over 40 years since my last one – way too long.

No visit to the Big Apple would be complete without a trip to the Guggenheim which sadly was between major shows and the work of a Columbian artist who had mutilated furniture with concrete left us unimpressed. Our sensibilities were soothed by a quick trip to the Frick.

I’ve wanted to visit Long Island for a while largely as a result of watching Ina Garten’s cookery programmes. She lives in a wonderful house in The Hamptons with a truly magnificent garden. She’s a cook not a chef but her recipes deliver real crowd pleasers every time. I’ve not bumped into Ina but her cookery books are in all the book shops, surely the next best thing.

A little bit of France in The Hamptons
A little bit of France in The Hamptons

 

Renovated windmill in East Hampton
Renovated windmill in East Hampton

 

Impossibly cute fire station
Impossibly cute fire station

 

Old Colonial style Hotel in Sag Harbor
Old Colonial style Hotel in Sag Harbor

The Hamptons has lived up to the hype. It’s bigger than I imagined – but that’s the States for you. The property porn is spectacular with wonderful wood clad, historic and modern homes. I particularly love the older properties with a gingerbread trim. For a cool pad, without a sea view, don’t expect much change from US$ 2 million. Add at least another 10 million for a shore side location.

Acres of dunes and forest
Acres of dunes and forest

As we drove around we saw a veritable army of Latino gardeners maintaining the manicured perfection of many gardens. Landscape gardening is clearly big business, along with Pilates studios, organic food stores, art galleries and……bike shops.

Goin' fishin'
Goin’ fishin’

There’s been no problem sticking to my enforced regime. Organic juices, lobster, oysters, shrimp, striped sea bass, salmon and salads (no sauces or dressings) have been easy to source. I’ve even found some vegan, soy and gluten-free baked goodies to enjoy with my afternoon camomile tea. I’m writing this on the balcony overlooking Sag Harbor which is full of yachts – a bit of home from home. The weather’s been a balmy 27C and the season is surely winding down, meaning it’s easier to get tables in the restaurants.

And chill
And chill

If I lived and worked in New York, I too would escape to Long Island at the week-ends to indulge in a less frenetic way of life. Rested and relaxed, our next stop is the road race World Championships in Richmond Virginia.

My work here is done!

Okay, it’s confession time. I’ve spent the better part of this year accosting young scantily clad men and asking them for a favour. No coercion has been necessary, they’ve been willing accomplices. They’ve happily done what I asked because it’s all in a good cause. I am, of course, talking about my project to get signatures from professional riders featured in Book du Tour which will be auctioned for charity on Friday 25 September in Richmond at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Signed by 2014 Tour de France winner: Vincenzo Nibali
Signed by 2014 Tour de France winner: Vincenzo Nibali

The project didn’t get off to the best of starts. I’ve previously written about the delivery problems with the books and the challenges in obtaining Vincenzo Nibali’s signature. I’ve never been an autograph hunter, so I wasn’t sure exactly how I would fare. I was a woman on a mission and, more importantly, I had a plan. I went to the start of every race clutching a list highlighted with the names of my quarry. Lesson number one: it’s easier to collect signatures at the start and not the finish of any race.

The first race of the season on my programme was the Tour of the Med – cancelled.  At the Tropheo Laigueglia riders stay in local hotels, riding to the sign-on and start line. Lesson number two: you have to approach the riders when they’re not on their bikes or you need to be a lot fleeter of foot than me.

There was torrential rain on day one of the Tour du Haut Var. Lesson number three: water and books don’t mix. It has to be dry. Day two I staked out Tommy Voeckler and Cheng Ji. Success  – merely because their team buses were parked next to one another. Lesson number three: don’t be too ambitious. More rain at Paris-Nice meant no signatures.

At this point in the season I wasn’t worried, I had an ace up my sleeve – the Tour of the Basque country. It’s a decidedly relaxed event and it’s easy to trap catch the riders at the morning sign-on. It didn’t hurt that I stood next to the two lovely podium girls, Miren and Eiharne, who had kindly offered to help me. Fortunately, there was no need for them to restrain or wrestle any of the riders to the ground. I say fortunately but I dare say the boys might have enjoyed the experience. Lesson number four: enlist the assistance of younger, leggier, beautiful girls or borrow a doe eyed poppet.

Reigning world champion Michal Kwiatkowski
Reigning world champion Michal Kwiatkowski

As a minimum, I wanted to collect the signatures of all the stage winners, jersey holders, top ten overall and the big names such as Alberto Contador and Chris Froome who were sadly DNFs. All but two of the top ten riders feature in the book. Laurens ten Dam managed to avoid Greig’s brush but, like Jose Serpa and his bandito tache, would have been instantly recognisable with his beard. The other MIA was Basque rider Haimer Zubeldia. I remember post-Tour everyone joking about Zubeldia on Twitter. He tends to finish well without anyone noticing. Greig didn’t either but I still collected his signature on the classification page.

The organisers made my job more difficult at the Amstel Gold race by restricting access to the snake-pit to VIP guests while official press, photographers and team PR people were kept to the outer edges. With riders streaming in and out from both sides, catching anybody for a signature was fraught. However, once they’d lined up for the start it was a much easier task and I collected signatures from stage winners (Ramunas Navardaskus) and contenders (Alejandro Valverde) alike. Lesson number five: be prepared to change tactics.

Seven times a grand tour winner: Alberto Contador's signature
Seven times a grand tour winner: Alberto Contador’s signature

La Grande Partenza of the Giro d’Italia held just up the road from me in San Remo offered more opportunities. I hung around at team hotels and press conferences, securing Alberto Contador‘s signature in the hotel garden. I struck out at the team presentation and on stage one. Lesson number six: don’t bother trying to collect signatures on the opening stage of a grand tour, the riders are too keyed up.

Chris Froome signed this page with a wry smile
Chris Froome signed this page with a wry smile

A day in the Alps for the Criterium du Dauphine landed a couple of big fish namely Romain Bardet and Chris Froome. Riders of their stature tend to stay in the team bus until the very last moment. Lesson number seven: stake out their bikes and don’t move until they appear.

Next up, the big one, the Tour de France. Getting signatures at the press conferences was much more problematical. Some teams held them in their hotels, others came to the press centre but not always with the entire team. Undeterred I managed to catch a few less in demand riders. In fact, one or two of them looked positively relieved that someone wanted  to talk with them. I kept my powder dry until stages two and three, (see lesson six). Again, patience paid dividends. On later stages I managed to get the autographs of stage winners Mick Rogers and Alexander Kristoff plus a whole parcel of riders who feature in the book such as Jack Bauer and Luis Angel Mate.

Peter Sagan left his mark too
Peter Sagan left his mark too

A few days back up in the Alps yielded Peter Sagan, a clutch of Europcar and Lotto-Soudal riders, but Mark Cavendish proved elusive. Ironically, he’s one of the few riders whose signature I’d previously secured on two separate occasions for friends. Just not this time. At the Clasica San Sebastian I successfully tracked down stage winner Blel Kadri.

It's Spartacus aka Fabial Cancellara
It’s Spartacus aka Fabian Cancellara

On to my last throw of the dice, the Vuelta a Espana. After failing to collect any signatures at the team presentations of the other two grand tours, I left the book behind for the Vuelta’s. Rookie mistake and lesson number eight: never make assumptions and always have your book with you. The teams were all relaxing in the nearby hotel and I could have collected autographs agogo. I skipped the opening team time-trial, but scored in subsequent stages securing signatures from Fabian Cancellara, Niki Terpstra and Mr Combativity, Alessandro de Marchi, to name but a few.

I have secured the signatures of around 70 riders. My job is complete – well almost. Alas, my path has not crossed that of four-time stage winner Marcel Kittel, whose autograph I secured for a friend at the 2014 Tour de France. Nor have I managed to get signatures from any of the fabulous women riders in La Course. However, there’s a couple of days before the book is auctioned on Friday 25 September so I’ll be on the look out beforehand.