The Musette: Cavalluci biscuits from Siena

Whenever we go to Siena, I hot-foot it to the nearest cake shop and buy some delicious Cavallucci biscuits. They’re one of the most well-known Christmas treats in Tuscany, dating back to Renaissance times when the church’s council handed them out to their congregation. Hailing originally from Siena, these old-fashioned biscuits have a soft crumbly texture and are made with plain flour, nuts, honey, candied fruit and spices.

Nobody knows the exact origin of their name which comes from cavallo (horse). Fitting perhaps since the famous horse race the Palio is held in Siena. Some believe that it comes from their shape, with a central furrow  – missing from mine – resembling a horse hoof, or perhaps because a little horse was once imprinted on top of them. Others point to how they were often consumed by roadhouses workers, where travelers would stop to rest and change their horses.

Ingredients (makes about 30)

  • 220g plain flour
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 15g honey
  • 70g walnuts or almonds, finely chopped
  • 40g candied orange and lemon peel, finely chopped
  • 80ml filtered water
  • 5g baking powder
  • 1 tsp aniseeds
  • 4g mixed spices (nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/(350ºF)/160ºC fan and line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Put the walnuts onto the tray and put them in the heating oven for about 5-7 minutes so they are lightly toasted, then chop them.

3. Put all the spices into a spice grinder and pulse quickly to combine them, or crush the aniseeds lightly with a mortar and pestle and combine with the other spices.

4. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the spices, candied peel and cooled, chopped walnuts, and mix. Make a well in the centre of the bowl.

5. Put the sugar, honey and water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, simmer gently until the temperature reaches 120°C/230°F.

6. Tip the sugar mixture into the flour mixture, using a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients.

7. Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls, place them on the prepared baking tray and flatten slightly. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned and firm on the base. Don’t worry if they’re really soft, they will harden slowly.

8. Cool on a rack, then dust with icing sugar. Stored airtight, and away from my beloved, they will keep for 2-3 months.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. I’ve made these with almonds and walnuts and the latter are superior in these biscuits. Of course, make sure your nuts are fresh, and preferably organic.

2. Use a lightly flavoured honey such as acacia or millefiori.

3. I’ve not frozen these biscuits but I’d suggest freezing the dough rather than the biscuit.

Days out: Alfred Sisley exhibition

As I was driving past Aix-en-Provence the other week on the way back from the start of stage five of Paris-Nice 2018, I was reminded of a lovely day we had spent there last October. When we stayed in Aix-en-Provence in July to watch two stages of the Tour de France, we noted that Aix’s Hotel de Caumont had an exhibition of the works of Alfred Sisley. I resolved we’d return to Aix to see the exhibition before it closed in mid-October. We duly set aside a day in our diaries to visit both the exhibition and the town. It was a truly glorious day with temperatures peaking at 29C in Aix!

After a trip to the market for some fruit and vegetables, we headed for the exhibition on the assumption it would be quieter over lunch. Our assumption was correct, the museum wasn’t crowded. The exhibition of some sixty works, not all of which have regularly been exhibited in public, retraced the various stages in the development of Sisley’s works by focusing on some of the painter’s favourite locations – very appropriate for a landscape artist – and works from his entire career.

Although we’ve admired his work, we really didn’t know too much about him other than he was brought up in France by British parents. We discovered that, more than any other Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley utterly devoted himself to painting landscapes, and remained faithful to the movement’s founding principles of painting the scenes in situ, outdoors. Said to be inspired by John Constable in his approach to painting landscapes based on rural motifs, Sisley would carry out a systematic visual analysis of precise places based on his knowledge and experience, exploring them in every direction, noting down the differences between the scenes with the changing light, weather and seasons.

We both love his way of capturing the effects of the light dancing on the surface of the water, the brightness of the winter sun on the snow and the ice, the movements of the trees in the wind, the depth of the rural scenes, and the immensity of the skies which produce moving works worthy of peaceful contemplation. Archive photographs of the landscapes Sisley observed are exhibited alongside his paintings to illustrate the specific methods he adopted to analyse the scenes and takes the visitor from one favourite location to the next; from those where he lived—Louveciennes, Marly-le-Roi, Sèvres, Veneux-Nadon, and Moret-sur-Loing— to those where he stayed for short periods, such as Villeneuve-la-Garenne and Argenteuil, Hampton Court and the south coast of Wales.

Feeling much more knowledgeable about his work, we departed before the hoards returned to enjoy a late lunch in the open air. It’s rare to visit an exhibition where I’d be happy to have any of the artists’ works on my walls – I should be so lucky! – but I could honestly say that of this beautifully curated exhibition. It may now have departed Aix but I’m sure it’ll pop up somewhere else soon enough.

 

The Musette: walnut squares

I’m always on the look-out for athlete friendly baked goods, typically ones with low fat content, gluten-free, dairy free or even vegan to add to my repertoire. Before being introduced, these goodies have to be eaten and approved by my crack team of cake tasters.

On a recent trip to Dubai, I bought a cookery book written by the wife of the bloke that owns Noma, in Copenhagen. The much-lauded restaurant has recently re-opened after a hiatus of global guest appearances and pop-ups but was previously voted best restaurant in the world no less than four times!

“Could there be anyone worse to cook for?” I thought as I dived into the book, relieved to discover that neither foraging nor ants were required. Instead, it’s a bunch of scandi-style crowd pleasers. Now I retain warm memories of Danish cooking having spent a number of years in my late teens working at the (now long-gone) Danish Food Centre in Birmingham as both a waitress and trainee chef.

I was particularly taken with a recipe in the book for Walnut Squares which is husband René’s favourite dessert – no pressure then. The recipe isn’t particularly sweet, has little flour and is largely composed of nuts, specifically walnuts. It’s not an inexpensive cake to make but the walnuts render it moist and dense – a bit like a brownie – and give it great texture. It’s rich, filling, very moreish and, allegedly, keeps well.

Ingredients (enough for 24 hungry cyclists)

  • 800g (28oz) walnuts
  • 105g (4oz) plain flour
  • 135g (50z) ground almonds
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 225g (two sticks) unsalted butter
  • 150g (6oz) cane sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 6 large eggs, approx. 45g each without shell
  • 180ml (3/4 cup) double cream
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) full-fat plain yoghurt

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan). Ensure all ingredients are at room temperature.

2. Lightly butter the base and sides of two baking tins and sprinkle about 3 tbsp. of raw sugar in the bottom of the tins. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm (6” x 9”) – they’re great for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof (parchment) paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s a good size and shape to slice into fingers for serving to the hordes!

3. Pulse 225g (8oz) of the walnuts in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer the chopped walnuts to a bowl and set aside.

 

4. Add the remaining 575g (20oz) walnuts to the food processor with the flour. Working in two batches if necessary, process until the mixture is very finely chopped and powdery. Add the ground almonds and salt and pulse to combine. Set the walnut flour mixture aside. Note: adding the plain flour to the walnuts keeps the nuts from becoming an oily paste.

5. Put the butter and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Use the tip of a small knife to split the vanilla pod lengthwise, then scrape the seeds into the bowl, saving the pod for another use. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer set on high speed until it is light in colour and texture, about 3-4 minutes.

6. Then, one at a time, beat in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a tablespoon of the walnut flour mixture.

7. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Mix in about one-third of the walnut flour mixture, followed by the double cream, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in another third of the walnut flour mixture, followed by the yoghurt. Mix in the remaining walnut flour mixture and beat, scraping down the bowl as needed, just until smooth. Using the spatula, gently fold in the chopped walnuts. Do not overmix.

8. Spread the batter evenly in the tins and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tbsp raw sugar. Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden toothpick comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Set the tins on a wire rack to cool completely.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. This cake lives and dies on the quality of your walnuts. Ensure that they’re fresh and, preferably, organic. Rancid nuts are acrid and an abomination!

2. I noted that my squares below were fatter than Nadine’s above. The next time I make this cake – and there will most definitely be a next time – I’ll make it thinner by using three tins and reducing the baking time.

3. I’ll also use raw sugar for the cake and not just the dusting on top rather than golden caster sugar, which was all I had in the cupboard.

4. If you serve this as a dessert – and why wouldn’t you? – serve with either whipped cream or crème fraiche to really turn up the volume.

5. The cake keeps well in a cake tin for at least a week – not that it’ll ever be around that long – or in the freezer for a month.

 

 

Things my beloved does: funds his employers/clients

One of my main tasks is making sense of my husband’s expenses and billing the correct clients. When I first took on the role I realised that if he incurred an expense on behalf of a client or employer and subsequently lost the receipt, we paid for the expense! He only claimed for those where he could find the receipt. The CFO of one of his former employers, and a good friend, confirmed this to me!

I confess that in order to perform this task correctly one requires the skills of a forensic accountant. It takes me back to my early years training to be an accountant and incomplete records! However, nowadays, this exercise is spread across numerous currencies, cash and credit cards. I try to ensure he pays for things by credit card so that there’s an audit trail, it’s harder when he pays for things with cash. I have to go back to the sum withdrawn, deduct the sum in hand and try and account for the amounts spent. It’s often a thankless and frustrating task.

I frequently have to quiz him as to how he got from place to place and what and where he ate his meals. As we all know, he’ll never willingly forgo a meal. Mind you, his memory, never good at the best of times, rarely reaches back more than a few days. If he can’t find a receipt, I can often get a duplicate, particularly from hotels or restaurants,  but not before I’ve had a thorough search of his belongings. I often find receipts in the oddest of places.

My insistence on a receipt is founded on the principle that if I don’t have a piece of paper to justify the expense, there’s no tax deductability! The French tax authorities are very strict.

Of course, my beloved doesn’t  care, because he doesn’t have to sort out the ensuing mess. You’ll notice a recurrent theme here. My beloved doesn’t do something properly and I swoop in and sort it out! He knows this is going to happen, therefore doesn’t care. If I allow him to do his expenses, it’ll cost us money! What’s a girl to do?

I schedule, analyse and invoice his expenses with the relevant supporting documentation on a monthly basis. Depending on how much he’s travelled, this can take anywhere from 1-2 days of solid detective work. I take the company’s expenses to the accountant every quarter but still check them monthly as it’s then easier to chase up missing receipts or obtain duplicates. This is one job I won’t miss when he finally retires.

What do professional cyclists do when they’re ex-professionals?

“I vacuum all the time” – Fabian Cancellara adjusts to retirement! This was the header on an email from Rouleur which rather set me thinking. I’ve interviewed a lot of cyclists, many of whom are now retired, though some are still very much connected to the world of cycling, and none of them have come clean about their domestic prowess. So I was shocked/bemused/surprised to discover that Fabian Cancellara has assumed responsibility for some domestic duties at his place. Perhaps Mrs Cancellara had gotten fed up of picking up the slack while he was off winning Monuments and maillots jaunes?

Clearly, he doesn’t need to work, I believe he acts as an ambassador for a number of high-end brands, but obviously neither does he now earn enough to afford a cleaner. I’m not sure of the going rate for one in Switzerland, but it’s probably more than I’d pay on the Cote d’Azur where, coincidentally, the costs are tax deductible. Maybe that’s not the case in Switzerland.

I’ve checked in with the other halves of a number of ex-professional cyclists and it appears that Spartacus is the exception, rather than the rule. In which case Mrs Fabs is to be congratulated and I’m wondering whether she’d like to train my beloved in the art of domesticity? He’s resisted any attempt on my part to domesticate him and we’ve settled on this uneasy truce whereby he tries not to make too much mess. You’ll note that I’ve not insisted on “no mess”. Objectives should be achievable.

Over the years I have found that my beloved is much more likely to help with a chore if I buy him a gadget to do it. Perhaps Fabs is the same and his missus bought him the Ferrari of vacuum cleaners as a retirement present and he daily swoops around Casa Cancellara putting it to the test. I wonder if he does the vacuuming in his Gore kit and records it on Strava? Just a thought.

 

 

 

Postcard from Sanremo: or how my day unfolded

We missed this race last year because my beloved had broken his leg. But, this year, we’re back and have enjoyed reenacting our #MSR traditions. We don’t do Milan. Instead we rise and head for breakfast in Italy. The Italians make the best coffee in the world and, while their croissants aren’t as flaky as the French ones, they’re not too shabby. It’s advisable to arrive early in Sanremo to bag a parking space, even in the parking reserved for the press.
We left behind the early morning storms and rain of the Cote d’Azur, gladly swapping it for sunshine on the Italian Riviera. The place was buzzing and I did a spot of food shopping. Just across the road from the press centre is a fantastic selection of shops, including a butchers. Just look at the photos above from a brochure they produced about their beef herd. Of course, having seen their photos, I couldn’t eat the produce. I also buy loads of fruit and vegetables, which are grown in the greenhouses littering the slopes of Sanremo, plus some foccacia. We’re now set for the following week, and beyond.
I know it’s not long since our late breakfast but thoughts now turn to lunch. I generally go to the same place. I have flirted with other restaurants but this one hasn’t been bettered. It’s sunny, but not warm, so we opt to eat inside. We fill our musettes with calamari (squid) and pasta con vongole (clams). It’s important to keep one’s tank topped up for a Monument, particularly one the length of Milan-Sanremo – almost 300km. Sated we trek the few metres back to the press room and our front row view of one of the many television screens. Just like the Germans we’d staked out our spot early on, using newspapers rather than towels.
The sun might be shining in Sanremo but the start of the race in Milan was cold and very wet. By the time the cameras cut to the action, with 116km to go, rain’s still falling and most of the riders are still wearing rain jackets though a few have wrestled off their overshoes. As they hit the coastline, the rain lightens and the break is within sniffing distance.
The press room fills up, everyone’s pounding on their keyboards. Meanwhile, I’ve had a power nap. That’s what always happens when I have wine at lunchtime. Don’t think I’ve missed any crucial action. Riders swap musettes for rain jackets with just under 70km to go.

With just over 55km to go in Alassio, the peloton’s finally in the sunshine and drying out. Cyling kit is being thrown everywhere with gay abandon. The spectators have yellow flares in Imperia, usually the preserve of Valentino Rossi fans at MotoGP races. The break is now just 30 seconds ahead. It’s going to be over for them all too soon. I finish Sudoku diabolico in Corriere della Sera and the boys still haven’t reached the Poggio. Riders at the back of the bunch are untangling themselves from bits of kit.

Thankfully the sun is still shining in Sanremo as cameramen and photographers start heading to the finish. It’s all over for the break as the Groupama-FDJ peloton streams past and the quartet find themselves at the back with Marcel Kittel who was riding his first (and possibly last) MSR.  Peloton now moving into fourth gear with riders being spat out the back, favourites to the front, as it heads up the Cipressa.

Riders top the Cipressa and head  down its winding, technical curves. It’s always best to lead rather than follow on descents. Peter Sagan’s sucking the Shark’s (Vincenzo Nibali) wheel. Teams are now all lining out and trying to get to the front of a very big bunch before they tackle the final climb, the Poggio.

With just 10km to go, Mark Cavendish who was riding with a broken rib  hits some traffic furniture and goes down – how unlucky is he? That looked nasty, I hope he’s okay. Like most fans, I hate to see riders fall. Meanwhile, the front of the peloton hits the Poggio. A couple of riders leap off front but soon blow up. Nibali goes with 7 km remaining with another rider and quickly builds an advantage. He swoops downhill, drops his break-mate, as Sagan’s team gives chase. More fallers. Italian commentators getting uber-excited but his Nibs still has final 2km to go on the flat, where he could easily get caught.

Nibali, quite probably the best descender in the peloton, gambled that the others wouldn’t work together soon enough to drag him back and he was right. Finally, it’s his MSR. Gosh, that was an exciting ride. Press room breaks out into cheers and applause. Bravissimo to the Shark, proper old school ride and victory. Sanremo was delighted to have an Italian winner, the first one since Pippo Pozzato in 2006. Plus, it’s the first by a Grand Tour winner since Sean Kelly. Nibs looked really emotional on the podium and joined in with singing the Italian national anthem.

 Post-race, back at the press centre, all smiles, he confirmed:

It hasn’t really sunk in yet, because it is all so unexpected. It was incredible. When the Latvian champion Neilands attacked, he asked me to collaborate. The team was riding for Colbrelli who was in great shape, but Neilands was strong and when I saw we had opened a 20 second gap, I decided to continue that attack. At the top of the Poggio, where the gradient is a bit higher, I accelerated and then pressed on. I believed victory was within my reach in the final part of the race when I saw the empty road in front of me. Even so, the final 2km were interminable.

Before the race I had two key points in mind: the Cipressa, if there was a breakaway group of 6, 7 or even 9, I’d try to get into it, but without working. Then there was the Poggio, the most dangerous place, where an attack by Kwiatkowski, Van Avermaet or Sagan was likely. I was well positioned in the group behind [team-mate] Mohoric, waiting for someone to move, and to react to it, and that is what happened. In the final 50m, I knew I’d won. I could see the finish line ahead of me, and I made sure I enjoyed the victory.

When I set my targets at the start of each season, it’s important to me to target races that really count. I felt I was behind in my preparation for Sanremo, but during Tirreno Adriatico my form grew and I was only lacking in the final 300m. I went home and rested, but it was only during the race that I realised I had come to this Milano-Sanremo in great condition. I finished last season by winning Il Lombardia, and started this season with winning Milano Sanremo. One day races are special for me, but that also makes things difficult for me in my preparation for the Grand Tours. Perhaps Milano Sanremo was the race I least expected to win because it doesn’t really suit me. In the past I’ve attacked on the Poggio and made the podium, but I’ve always been beaten by a faster finisher than me. That said, today I won and I am very happy.

Happy too, we head home.

Cycling images courtesy of LaPresse – D’Alberto / Ferrari / Alpozzi – Pool Milano-Sanremo

Where would you recommend?

People are always asking me for recommendations. Typically, they’ll ask me to suggest a hotel in Nice or somewhere along the Cote d’Azur. Or, they might ask me to suggest things to do while visiting the area. I recently had a group (of dentists) asked me to find them a hotel and put together an agenda for a four-day week-end in Nice. Over time, I’ve built up quite a database of where to stay, what to do, what to see, where to eat and so on which I like to keep as up to date as possible.

Recently a business colleague, who’s proposing to visit the south of France next year en famille, asked me to suggest locations and places to stay for a three-week vacation for 20 people. I found some truly fabulous places for him as he’s anticipating it being a trip to remember. Luckily he has very deep pockets so it was a dream job – plenty of property porn. I can’t wait to see his final choice!

I first started recommending places when we lived in central London and a very senior Swiss colleague complained to me about the hotels his secretary booked for him in London. When I looked at where he was staying, I took his point. I sent him my list of recommendations, which he shared with colleagues, and they were all thrilled.

Meanwhile a senior US colleague complained about the restaurants my London colleagues typically took him to for dinner. After a quick chat, I fully appreciated the issue. Few of his London-based colleagues actually lived in the capital so for them it was unfamiliar territory. I cemented my reputation by getting him a table at a restaurant where they were notoriously difficult to obtain. I gave him my list of recommended restaurants which he posted on the company’s intranet site and I dutifully kept the list up to date.

 

My beloved’s business colleagues also asked me for hotel and restaurant recommendations, so my lists were doing the rounds and becoming (in)famous. People who’d profited from the listings would ask: “Have you been to X and if so, where would you recommend staying/eating?” I went international, though on a much smaller scale. Since moving to the Cote d’Azur, I’ve continued the practice albeit only locally.

My recommendations are always based on places at which either I, or people whose opinions I value, have stayed or eaten. Thus they’re personal suggestions, not based on Trip Advisor or other such sites. Obviously, I’ve not stayed at any of the places I’ve suggested for my most recent assignment however they are based on detailed research and feedback from a few years ago when I searched for and found rental accommodation for a very picky group of 26 sailors.

Of course, there are far fewer properties catering for large numbers most fall in the 8 – 12 persons category. However, particularly in France, you have to check carefully the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, toilets and room sizes. No one wants to find themselves sleeping on a sofa bed and queuing for the bathroom every morning. We once stayed in a luxury alpine apartment which allegedly catered for 11 people. The living space was fine for the two of us and we each had a toilet and bathroom, but it wasn’t large enough to swing a cat in, let alone share with one!

As you know, I absolutely love researching and planning our own vacations and derive just as much pleasure doing it for others, whatever their budgets.

Postcard from Paris-Nice 2018

One of these years I will endeavour to follow the entire route of Paris-Nice, just not this year.  This time I joined the race for the start of stage 5 in Salon-de-Provence. We’ve visited the town a number of times as my beloved has a client here. But, last year, during the Tour de France, was our maiden venture into its small but beautifully formed Old Town.

 

My overnight stop was chosen deliberately because of its prized location, with a parking place, most of which in the town had been suspended because of the race. The B&B is the family home of a doctor, who runs his practice from the front two rooms, and his designer wife who runs their home, the B&B and her design practice from the rest of the building which includes a delightful, enclosed courtyard garden and pool.

I was buffeted by the wind on the drive down but didn’t mind as the sun was shining. Everything looks so much better in the sunshine, doesn’t it? Spring was definitely in the air. The mimosa might be on its last legs but the bright lime green of new leaves and shoots was everywhere, along with what I assume is cherry, or maybe apple, blossom.

As anticipated the drive took me just over two hours. I easily located my lodgings and joined my hostess for a reviving cup of green tea while her tiny dog Lilli gazed at me in adoration and gave my shoes a quick clean and polish. The owner looked a tad put out at this open transfer of affection. I didn’t bother to enlighten her about my enduring and inexplicable attraction to dogs.

The house was charming and had been strikingly decorated. It certainly wasn’t to my taste but it made a pleasant change from a beige hotel chain bedroom, plus my bedroom and bathroom were very generously proportioned. Space is always a bonus. I was also their only guest and barely made a dent in the copious breakfast the following morning.

I had arrived suitably laden with baked goodies for a number of the teams. I noted with interest that my race winning brownies served up at Strade  Bianche had  wrought their magic in the team time-trial at Tirreno Adriatico. Maybe, they’d have a similar effect at Paris-Nice, I certainly hoped so.

 

Brownies handed out and gratefully received, the peloton departed and I tarried over lunch in the sunshine before heading back to the motorway to get to the race finish in Sisteron. This is a much used location by ASO and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited. I’ve also ridden extensively around here, so it’s always a pleasure to revisit. I typically stay at the same hotel, the Ibis. Definitely beige but usually in the company of a couple of cycling teams. This time it was to be Lotto Soudal and Astana.

As I joined the motorway I had an epiphany. I cancelled my room in Sisteron and drove home. I just had this feeling that I should watch the stage finish, not the stage start. This was to prove a wise decision.

Friday afternoon, I drove up to Vence to watch the final kilometres of a stage which covered roads I know, ride regularly and love. As ever I get a real kick from seeing the professional peloton ride on my roads. My instincts proved correct, the stage was won by a friend, Rudy Molard. I was so happy for him. And, yes, he’d been one of the recipients of my race-winning brownies!

Sadly this year’s Race to the Sun was no such thing. The week-end was a wash-out. I woke on Saturday morning to the sound of pouring rain, rolled over and went back to sleep. I had no intention of getting soaked like the previous week-end in Siena. Instead I watched an enthralling stage on the television before heading to the airport to collect my beloved where I discovered  – not for the first time – he’d misinformed me about his arrival time. I returned home, took his dinner out of the oven and returned once more much later.

Sunday morning we awoke to the sound of heavy rain and wind. We took an executive decision to watch the final stage on the television. This too proved to be wise as, with the exception of the last few kilometres, it rained all day. It felt like a bit of a cop out not to watch both stages live but, to be honest, my flu symptoms had reared their ugly head again. Serves me right for kissing so many in the peloton who were subsequently DNF or DNS on account of the flu. However, when you get to my age, the opportunity to kiss so many fit young guys in lycra shouldn’t be ignored, despite the consequences.

In spite of the weather, or maybe because of it, this year’s Paris-Nice was a rip-roaring race which kept us on the edge of our seats throughout before a long-range, smash and grab by the Spaniards on the final stage causing a couple of wags to re-christen the Promenade des Anglais, Promenade des Espagnols!

Le Grand Depart 2020!

How exciting! Le Grand Départ of the 2020 Tour de France is going to be in Nice. Rumours have abounded for a while but the fantastic news was confirmed today at a presentation given by Christian Estrosi, Mayor of Nice and Chairman of Nice-Côte d’Azur,  alongside Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France.

On Saturday 27 June, proceedings in the Tour de France will kick off in Nice for only the second time, after the one in 1981. The city’s roads and surrounding countryside on which I regularly cycle will provide the organisers with plentiful opportunities to draw up a variety of scenarios for the first few days of the 107th edition. Needless to say #IAMEXCITE.

The Tour’s last visit was in 2013, its 100th edition, after its start on the island of Corsica. Though, of course, it has visited many times (36) since the victory of René Pottier in 1906 up until the 1981 Grand Départ, when Bernard Hinault started the race in the world champion’s jersey only to immediately take possession of the maillot jaune on the stages in and around Nice.

At today’s presentation, Christian Estrosi confirmed:

It is a source of immense pride to welcome the Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2020 to Nice for a second time following 1981. Le Tour is the third biggest international sporting event and consequently ensures considerable economic benefits for our entire area. Seven years after welcoming the 100th edition in 2013 which attracted almost 100,000 spectators, this is a further step which strengthens my desire to make Nice an essential city for hosting major sporting events.

As a result, we will have our heart set on offering optimal conditions to the organisers and teams. Nice boasts an exceptional playground for cyclists, from the Promenade des Anglais up to the high passes of the Mercantour national park. This rich relief will make it possible to launch the 107th edition of the Tour de France in the finest way possible.

I await further details with great interest, it’s going to be so much fun.

That winning feeling

As a fan of cycling I appreciate that all too few riders win races, not because they’re incapable of winning but because most spend their careers in the service of others. So when a professional cyclist you know wins a race or a stage, you know how much it means to them, their family and friends. It’s the best feeling ever. Probably better than winning yourself.

Friday I witnessed a rider I know, admire and have interviewed win a stage of a WorldTour race. He’d targeted the stage because it finished not far from where he now lives and on roads on which he trains. However targeting a stage and winning it are two entirely different things. This is how it happened.

Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) got the jump on the leading group with just over a kilometre to go and pedaled as if his life depended on it. Momentary confusion in the group enabled him to hold them off and solo across the finish line, arms aloft.  Thereafter he collapsed, gulping in air, trying to take in what had just happened. He’d won his first WorldTour race, something he’d been threatening since his two podium places at the start of the season.

Like a lot of riders in the peloton, Rudy doesn’t live far from the finish and as he explained post-race:

I knew the course like the palm of my hand. Since the profile of this Paris-Nice was announced, I was delighted with such a finale which suited my qualities. I was on a good day and it’s fantastic to win a stage here. I really needed to attack before the sprint. I tried several times and it worked. It’s just great.

Indeed, it was great Rudy and I feel privileged to have been there to witness your victory which was popular with many of the riders. I feel sure it’s the first of many. Of course, my race winning brownies might also have played their part!

 

Postscript: After Saturday’s Dantesque stage, Rudy was last man standing on his team. Without support, and still feeling the effects of his endeavours on Friday, he slid down the GC.