Fairwell summer

It’s official, our Indian Summer is over. After the diluvial rains of early October, we’ve been enjoying an unseasonally warm October and November. That’s now come to an end as day time temperatures dip below 20C.

 

Farewell.....................
Farewell…………………

I’m usually into my 3/4 bib-shorts and a long-sleeved jersey by mid-October but I’ve been wearing shorts until yesterday. My legs simply refuse to work, if they’re cold. But shorts, and an occasional gilet, have sufficed while I’ve recovered my form after my illness. I’ve had to go back to basics – little and often – sticking to the routes I know best. Enjoying once more the freedom of the road and the feel of the wind whistling through my helmet. There’s nothing quite like it and it was only once I resumed cycling, I realised quite how much I’d missed it.

Storm clouds gathering
Storm clouds gathering

Once I’m into winter wear, I usually swap bikes. But I’m not sure I can face the 53 x 39 bracket on the winter BMC. I’m going to carry on riding my racing BMC with the compact chain-set. Maybe, once I’m back from Australia in February, I’ll swap over bikes for a month or so.

It was only in early September that I finally felt I had enough energy to go for a ride. My beloved kindly rode with me on one of our favourite circuits around Cap d’Antibes. We plodded along at my painfully slow pace, it was as if I was starting all over again. The saddle felt like an instrument of torture. Thank heaven the sun was shining and the scenery provided a welcome distraction.

Perfect cycling weather
Perfect cycling weather

I only made it as far as Garoupe, the first climb. I suspect my overly enthusiastic ascent of the Antibes’ ramparts drained what little energy I had left. We tarried a while in the sunshine before returning to one of our watering holes for a fizzy water while I regained my strength, and used the facilities.

I’m ashamed to admit that I got off the bike at the base of the climb (average 7%) back to the flat. It was all I could do to push the bike back up the hill after my 25km ride. I realised then that it was going to take a couple of months to get back up to my typical Sunday ride of 80-100km. After a cool shower, I promptly fell asleep for two hours. I could probably have slept for longer but my beloved needed feeding.

I rested the following day, while on Tuesday I managed a recovery ride of sorts. I did however manage to overtake someone on one of those mobility scooters. You have to take your victories when you can. Particularly as I was overtaken by pretty much everyone else. I know I just have to keep plugging away and my form will return.

I haven’t yet resumed riding with friends as I don’t want them to have to wait for me. I enjoy riding on my own. I can ride when and where I want, and for as long as I want. In truth that’s not for too long or too far but I’m hoping that over Xmas, weather permitting, I’ll be back up to a century with ease.

The next chapter……………………..

Since returning from the Road World Championships in Richmond, I have been busy editing Greig’s latest opus. This time we don’t have to worry about raising sufficient finance. The book, The Art of Cycling: Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships, is being underwritten by the local newspaper which will also be handling its nationwide marketing.

 

Cobbles climb: iconic view from the races
Cobbles climb: iconic view from the races

I learnt a massive amount from editing Book de Tour and I’m delighted to be able to put that into practice. I follow a rigorous routine whereby I initially correct all the typographical errors. I then check the facts to make sure Greig’s correctly interpreted the race, appreciating that, this time around, he had many distractions. He painted from a live feed in the Greater Richmond Convention Center right opposite the podium and not from his home studio.

He enjoyed a very visible presence while painting and selling his original artwork, and prints, meeting many of the competitors, their family, television crews, and a number of his own admirers. Greig tells his wonderful tale in the book’s introduction.

Double art whammy as racer goes past Greig's mural
Double art whammy as racer goes past Greig’s mural

It was also the first time we had met in person, but sadly our respective schedules precluded too much interaction. Cue another visit to Richmond!

I then try to weave the story of the individual races from the individual narratives under each of Greig’s paintings. Obviously, as a resident, he was able to add plenty of local colour and individual perspective. However, unlike Book de Tour, the landscape was pretty much the same for every event. In addition, many of the competitors were completely unknown to either of us. But we tried not to let these be limiting factors.

One particular hurdle for Grieg was the lack of television coverage of any of the junior events. Luckily, he had friends out on the course who sent him photographs which he could then reproduce in his own inimitable fashion.

Having got the story straight, I meticulously check all the wording. Who knew there was such a wide variation in American-English and English-English? And then there’s the grammar! Our transatlantic cousins are mighty fond of the comma. I also have to be careful to keep Greig’s “voice”. He has a particular way of talking that I am at pains to preserve. We pore over the narrative regularly via Skype.

Flying flag in support of
Flying flag in support of France

 

Team time-trial World Champions
Team time-trial World Champions

Meanwhile, Greig’s still painting: flags, team jerseys and course maps. These help to further illustrate the narrative and results. I do my bit with the start lists. These I can download from the UCI site and transfer from pdf to word documents. We want to ensure that everyone who took part is included in the book. It’s a painstaking task converting pdf documents into word ones and re-checking every detail.

Each race has its own map showing where on the course the riders were painted
Each race has its own map showing where on the course the riders were painted

Then there’s the thorny question of who to ask for a foreword plus quotes for the sleeve jacket. Again, with Greig’s growing reputation, this proved a much easier task than with Book de Tour. Kathryn Bertine, one of the better known and higher-profile figures in women’s cycling provided a glowing, but well-deserved, foreword. I had no trouble getting a quote from newly crowned world champion Peter Sagan, despite asking him the week before his nuptials.

After a day spent editing, I like to leave checking the draft [book] until the following day to get better perspective. Yesterday, I sent everything to Amy, the publisher’s designer, who’ll set the book into the previously agreed format. She does this with Adobe InDesign, a programme with which I have no familiarity.

This will then allow Grieg and I to pore over the book from cover to cover to check its consistency. There’s a couple of things we’ve done differently this time. Specifically, we’ve omitted accents, largely because the UCI ignored them in the official start lists but also because of the vast amount of time I spent checking and re-checking the correct spelling of participants’ names last time.

In Book de Tour, Greig used the start list from a respected and popular website which contained no less than 60 errors! A pretty startling number given there were only 198 starters!

One of Richmond's many Monuments
One of Richmond’s many Monuments

We’ve also avoided the use of typical cycling terms such as bidons. The Americans call them drinks bottles and so have we. This avoids having to provide a glossary, though we have a section on Frequently Asked Questions based on Greig’s post-worlds experience. It appears that a number of Richmonders have seen the light, embraced cycling, become fans, and sought further information from Greig

Greig’s now working on the book cover, using one of the striking paintings which shows a readily recognisable Richmond scene. While, I’ll be checking and re-checking the content with the designer.

Sadly, the book won’t be available before Xmas though the newspaper will be pre-selling the book and offering book certificates to be exchanged in February. I do know one thing, I will not be collecting autographs on a copy of the book though I may ask Peter Sagan to sign a number for Greig and his supporters – a nice memento.

Spa Break

The title might conjure up images of a swanky country-house hotel where I’m being pampered. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m at home, enjoying the peace, quiet and, more importantly solitude.  My day isn’t dictated or driven by my beloved’s timetable and demands for three square meals a day.

I’ve been working away on Greig Leach’s and my next book: The Art of Cycling: UCI Road World Championships, Richmond2015, and various other tasks I need to get out of the way before year-end. I’ve been out riding most days, slowly re-building my kilometrage and strength. On my return, with no one clamouring to be fed, I’ve been able to relax in my spa bath.

View from my balcony
View from my balcony

After the deluge in early October, we’ve enjoyed an Indian summer with mild temperatures and hardly any rain. Typically, in mid-October, I make the move into 3/4 bib shorts, a long-sleeved jersey and my winter training bike. But here I am, in mid-November, in short-sleeved cycling shirt and shorts. I’m also still on my racing bike, largely because I don’t yet feel strong enough for the 53 x 39 chain ring on my winter bike.

Perfect cycling weather
Perfect cycling weather

I always enjoy a bit of me time, with no need to talk or interact with anyone else. It’s a detox of sorts. I have however acquired an uninvited house guest. Arthur, the lizard who normally resides on my fifth floor balcony, has taken refuge in the kitchen. On sunny days, he often pokes his head over the kitchen threshold but has never before, as far as I know, ventured inside. I found him the other evening, clinging to the kitchen wall, forced to become a clotted-cream colour to match the kitchen decor. It’s a colour which ill becomes him and makes his bulbous eyes look red.

Normally hued Arthur
Normally hued Arthur

I’m assuming Arthur’s taken refuge from the garrulous workmen currently, and noisily, repairing the building’s façade and re-painting it. They’ve spent most of this week on the scaffolding outside my flat from where they have serenaded me with songs in Arabic. Not one of the languages I understand so I’ve no way of knowing whether I should be pleased or offended. Though, it’s more probably the former, as I’ve assured the quality of their workmanship with a steady supply of my baked goods.

The extra freedom has allowed me to experiment with recipes that meet my regimen’s dictates and I now have a fridge full of vegetable-based dishes for the next week. I’ve also been able to finish planning and booking most of next year’s trips. I’ve ticked off numerous items on my vast “to do” list which has included ordering Christmas cards compiled from our vast array of photographs from this year’s trips.

I’ve been “threatening” to do this for years but never quite seem to have gotten round to it, largely because it’s so hard to pick six photographs which sum up our year. I have also ordered all of our Christmas presents, not that I buy very many, but it’s another chore off the list. I’ve also started on some tasks that have been on the list for so long that they’re looking to draw a pension.

Indeed, I have a number of pension-related tasks on my list, specifically forms to complete as I have decided to start drawing one of my many pensions in January. The provider gave me the option of an upfront lump sum and a smaller pension. The all-important question was whether I thought I would live beyond 78 years of age. My answer was an emphatic “YES”. I also qualify for a small French pension and the authorities have demanded a French translation of my birth certificate. No problem! I easily translated it and sent it off. But no, it needs to be translated by an “approved” translator. So I paid someone Euros 60,00 to do it. Word for word, it exactly matched mine, which gave me no end of satisfaction. Well worth the money.

My beloved returns briefly tomorrow afternoon before heading off to China as part of a British Trade Mission for ten deliciously long days, so I’ll be able to prolong my spa break!

 

Postcard from Castres

It seems odd to have a few days away yet not be watching any bike racing. Though, in a way, our visit has a cycling connection. I was in Castres for a stage start of the 2013 Tour de France, found what little I saw charming, and made a mental note to return. My beloved had a business meeting here on Monday, so we decided to spend the weekend enjoying the area, including the neighbouring UNESCO World Heritage site of Albi.

We stayed in a delightful and beautifully restored 19th century property (pictured above), within walking distance of the old town, which has some magnificent old cedar trees in its garden. Our charming hosts made us feel more like invited, and not paying, guests. I’ve given them a glowing reference on Booking.com which generally means we’ll never be able to stay there again as it’ll be constantly fully booked!

Sete edit
Sete “Old Town”

We drove down via Sete, an old fishing village just south of Montpellier. I have a beautiful pastel of the Old Town hanging on the wall in my lounge which, while it was painted nearly 20 years ago, is still easily identifiable today. We sat in a beachside restaurant down the coast, enjoying the unseasonably warm sunshine, where I had a seafood salad.

The sky really was that blue!
The sky really was that blue!

Yes, I’m still on my new regimen which is working its magic. Just in time for Halloween, my face no longer frightens small children and I can lose the hat and sunglasses I’ve hidden behind for most of 2015. I reckon my energy levels are back to 75% capacity, meaning I’m ready and willing to take on all comers, including my friends’ children.

Back to Castres, which comes from the Latin word Castrum meaning fortified place. Pretty much nowhere was safe from the Romans! I’m going to let the photographs speak for themselves. I took these with my phone, as my official photographer forgot to pack his camera! As a side note, he also forgot to pack the chargers for his phone and laptop (again).

Castres Town Square
Castres Town Square

There’s a statue of Jean Jaures, Castres’ most famous son, a famous French socialist and newspaper publisher, standing guard over the town square while the town has turned his birthplace into a museum in his honour. .

Goya Museum
Goya Museum

Like me you might be wondering why there’s a museum dedicated to the Spanish artist in France. Located in the former 17th century Episcopal Palace  – the town had flirted with both Catharism and Protestantism – it features a wide range of Spanish works up to the 20th century. The museum was established off the back of  a donation to the town by a local art collector, Pierre Briguibol, of three paintings by Goya. This small collection was then boosted by works gifted from the Louvre in 1949 and subsequent acquisitions, such as Joan Miro’s Gaudi series.

Houses overhanging Agout river
Houses overhanging Agout river

The Agout river divides the medieval town which has plenty of cobbled walkways, timbered houses, warm yellow-stone buildings with highly decorative wrought iron balustrades and balconies to delight the eye.

Interesting wood panelled shop-front
Interesting wood panelled shop-front

Next on my list was Albi, a town I’d driven through early one morning en route to the Tour start in Castres. It’s another medieval city, on the banks of the river Tarn, the source of the clay for the town’s pretty red-bricked buildings and its truly magnificent 13th century Sainte Cecile Cathedral. It’s Europe’s largest brick building. The colourful painted interior is fabulous and unlike any other I’ve seen before – and I’ve seen a few!

It's a whopper!
It’s a whopper!

Albi’s most famous son is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the neighbouring Palais de Berbie houses the largest collection of his works.

The rose coloured town of Albi on the banks of the river Tarn
The rose-coloured town of Albi on the banks of the river Tarn

While the cathedral dominates the town and its skyline, there’s plenty of winding cobbled streets lined with more half-timbered houses, many dating back to the 16th century, to explore.

2015-11-01 Albi half-timber
More half-timbered houses than Stratford-upon-Avon

Plus further examples of delicious wrought iron work, like this balcony pictured below.

2015-11-01 Albi iron

 

The patterned red brick and green paint work on the house to the left echoes that of Albi’s main covered market. As far as I’m concerned, no visit is ever complete without a mooch around a town’s main market.

We also drove over the rolling countryside to Cordes-en-Ciel, a steeply walled town, and allegedly one of the prettiest in France. The views from the top of the Old Town were breathtaking.

You can see for miles
You can see for miles

Its buildings were largely made of honey coloured brick rather than the stone of Castres, or the red bricks of Albi.

2015-11-01 Cordes hill

This corner of the Midi-Pyrenees is well worth a visit with its undulating countryside, vineyards and plethora of medieval villages to potter around. It’s excellent cycling countryside thanks to the low volume of traffic and afore-mentioned rolling hills. I have a feeling we’ll be back.