One from the vaults: Altitude attitude

Another one from the early days, July 2011, and as Greg Lemond (three times Tour de France winner and twice UCI Road Race world champion) famously said:

It never gets easier, you just go faster

Whenever I watch professional bike racers I marvel at their speed, particularly going uphill. By and large a professional will complete an average stage in half the time it would take me. They’re around 40% faster than me on the flat, 20-25% faster than me downhill and a staggering 3 times faster than me going uphill. This enormous difference can be explained in part by age, sex, power to weight ratio, years spent training and bike handling skills. Consequently, I always come back from watching them feeling inspired and enthused. So there’s only one thing for it, yes, a trip up the Col de Vence.

After a smooth ascent to Vence, I rode up the first steep section feeling positively enthused. Now I don’t generally look at my Garmin as I’m riding along but as I still can’t seem to download the data, I thought I’d check on my splits. I started off doing 5 minute kilometres which wasn’t too shabby as the first bit  is quite steep. As usual, this went out to 6 minutes once I reached 6.5kms to go and continued for another 2.5kms. This stretch is always my bete noire. It was a perfect day for a ride: not too warm, not too much wind and hardly any traffic. I gritted my teeth and rode on overtaking a whole bunch of people (don’t you just love tourists!). With 4km to go I was back to riding 5 minute kilometres and once I’d passed the riding school, I was positively sprinting.  I rode the last 500m en danseuse (dancing on the pedals) to complete my fastest ascent this year and a minute shy of my best ever. All that altitude training paid dividends. I’m still waiting for the improved power to weight ratio to kick in but maybe it’s being offset by rapid age-related decline. An hour to ascend, then just ten minutes to get back to Vence.

This is my rest week where I’ll be doing a couple of recovery rides and some splashing about in the pool/sea. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to tackle with a bit more vim and vigour “Operation Elimination of Silly Tan Lines” – the bane of all cyclists. I now have my sun bed handily placed on the balcony, outside the office. I could, of course, sun myself down at the swimming pool, but there’s a bit of a bun fight for the loungers during August and I’m wary of frightening small children with my current scary tan lines. In addition, I find  any more than a 30 minute daily dose of sunbathing a bit boring. How my sisters manage to spend all day lazing on the beach is quite beyond me.

Having deposited my beloved at the airport this morning, I have a couple of day’s welcome respite before we meet up again in San Sebastian on Thursday evening. Meanwhile, he’ll have held a training session in Boston and given a presentation in London. I’ll have hopefully restored order to the flat, caught up with numerous administrative tasks, rounded up all the volunteers for our club cycle race “La Ronde” and baked a few more cakes to feed the hordes.

One from the vaults: How’s it going?

This is one of my earliest posts from July 2009 and explains why I set up the blog.

This blog was supposed to be about training and fundraising for my Livestrong Challenge in Austin, Texas, in late October and I’m aware that I often stray into other cycling (and non-cycling) related areas. But it’s my blog and I can write about whatever, whenever.

On the training front, my spell at altitude coupled with adherence for the past four months to “The Training Plan” is at last showing dividends. My average speed (and average cadence) has increased and, more importantly, I’m finishing rides without feeling totally exhausted – so, I could go even faster! This is indeed great news and, if we then factor in my declining (albeit slowly) weight, I would anticipate further improvements by October.

This time of year, the club trips take in some of my favourites cycles in the hills around the coast and tend to be in excess of 100km. I’ve found that it’s advisable to start early to avoid finishing at hottest part of the day and to ensure I reach the concentration point before the pointage closes. Yes, once bitten, twice shy.

Two Sundays ago, we rode to Cipières, via Col de Vence, setting off early, ahead of the club. I had anticipated that my fellow club mates would catch me up on the Col but they evidently, at the last moment, elected to take another route. It was a very warm day and I ran out of water by the top of the Col and had to ride the next 25km without. Not a good move and unfortunately there was no  point where I could refill my bottle. Once at the pointage, I gratefully drank two cups of lukewarm coke, ate some broken biscuits (not one of the better pointages, definitely a “could do better”) and refilled the water bottle. I stopped in Gourdon on the way back for a reviving cold coke. I never, ever used to drink coke but when you’re really thirsty and out of energy I’ve found there’s nothing quite so reviving as a cold coke.

Last week end I rode along the valley of the Vesubié to Venanson. Again, I set off ahead of the club but, due to numerous pit stops thanks to what is euphemistically referred to in the peloton as “intestinal troubles”, managed to miss most of the groups both on the way there and on the way back. Thank goodness this is a route well populated by small villages with bars and restaurants. I lost count of the number of stops I made, well into double figures. I won’t be eating any more really spicy food ahead of any major rides, ever again. Let it not be said, that I don’t learn from my mistakes.

All my fundraising to date has been via collection boxes for coins, so I’ve no real idea how it’s going. Whenever I pop into somewhere that is kindly hosting one of my collection boxes, I do give it a bit of a shake to see how it’s faring. One or two are definitely nearing emptying point. It’s amazing how quickly all that small change adds up.

With the Tour nearing its climax, three month’s from my Livestrong Challenge, I’m launching my intensive email fundraising bombardment – you have been warned!

And finally…………………………….

Azur sky and sea but check out the snow caps in the distance
Azur sky and sea but check out the snow caps in the distance

Yesterday was one of those glorious winter days where the sky, along with the sea, was azure blue and cyclists enjoying the midday rays of sunshine thickly thronged the coast roads. After being housebound with a bad head cold for far too many days, I am back on my bike and discovering my loss of form. But no matter, I am back on my bike.

We’ve reached that time of the year when everyone is pretty much restricted by the cold to cycling along the coastal roads with the occasional shallow incursion inland. It’s what I call full-fingered glove weather. Not that I’ve resorted to the full-fingered variety, not necessary with my permanently warm as toast hands.

Sunday is of course club ride flag day and the club mates were out in force after a very wet and windy Saturday. I can’t remember the last time I rode with the club although my beloved, providing he’s not feeling too tired, will still turn out on a Sunday. But, after an exhausting few days in Paris, he was looking forward to a lie-in.  Our paths crossed with the club as they were heading back to base and we were heading out. It was a woefully small band of riders but membership is well down on those heady days a couple of years back when we were just shy of 200.

It’s more difficult to identify the various clubs during the winter months as only the larger ones, ours included, offer a full range of kit obliging those members of clubs who only have shorts and short-sleeved shirts to ride in non-club kit in the winter months. I was wearing my club winter jacket as it’s great at keeping out the wind and cold temperatures. Sadly it’s less efficient at moisture management. Unfortunately, the material tends to balloon in windy conditions making everyone, me included, look like Michelin (wo)man.

I let my beloved off the leash as it’s boring for him to have to stop and wait for me. Instead we arranged to meet for a coffee at one of our favourite pit-stops where the coffee’s great, the facilities are handy and it’s terrace is bathed in sunshine. As I cycled along, breathing in the glorious fresh air I realised just how much I’d missed my daily constitutional and vowed to make the most of the coming weeks. During the winter months I try to get out as often as possible and mix in some gym work and running on days when the weather keeps me off two wheels.

I feel the need to rebuild my base mileage particularly after several months of only being able to go for a long ride on Sundays thanks to the building works in the apartment block, thankfully now finished. The cycling programme is out and being fully embraced, particularly for the next few days. I’ll be taking an enforced rest at the end of the week thanks to a forthcoming business trip but then, I’ll be fully back in the swing. I can’t wait!

Handed over and out

I popped into the club yesterday evening to complete my three-stage handover to the new Club Secretary and her adjoint. As I entered the pair of them, along with the new M Le President, were gazing uncomprehendingly at the club computer. They told me it didn’t work. I switched it on and “Lo and Behold”, it functioned. Wonders will never cease.  They then asked me how the  large printer next to the computer worked. This is a bit of a shaggy dog story, so bear with me.

Some years ago, having discussed the possibility of acquiring a computer for the clubhouse, M Le President was seduced by an offer in a local supermarket. He bought the computer without authorisation from the rest of the management team. The computer runs on its own slightly compatible Microsoft-like software. M Le President acquired the large professional printer in a similar fashion ie without authorisation, from a bankruptcy sale.

Sadly he failed to acquire the all important lead linking it to the computer which I finally managed to track down some 18 months later. At the same time I learnt we needed a Microsoft operating system in order to use the printer. Microsoft doesn’t and cannot run on this particular computer. Yes, a classic example of non-conjoined thinking! The new secretarial combo looked aghast, clearly they’d anticipated being able to use the club’s facilities to carry out their new role.

They wanted to know what I used. I gently explained that I made use of my own computer and printer for the club. The new M Le President demanded to know what had happened to the technology acquired by our predecessors. I explained that I had absolutely no idea but I could confirm that anything and everything we had acquired was in the clubhouse and available for everyone to use.

Luckily we had a licence renewal so I was able to show them once more the steps and paperwork to record the transaction. I had left the new Secretary a couple of envelopes but explained they would need to acquire some stationery as again the old management team had used their own supplies for the benefit of the club.

I then advised that there were cheques to be paid including the insurance on the club’s cars. The new M Le President didn’t seem to think it mattered that the invoice hadn’t been settled, he had after all a copy of the renewal. Good luck with that if anything happens to the car. I know exactly how much you’re going to receive from the insurers. It’s a big fat zero. But he wouldn’t be told.

My conscious is now clear. I have handed over all the documents, notes, checklists and idiot’s guides but, as they say over here “on ne peut faire boire un âne qui n’a pas soif”.

Benevolence

As the New Year gets underway you can’t help but wonder what it’ll have in store for you. I have in theory given up my responsibilities at the cycle club. A new management team has been elected and I have everything ready and in place to hand over to the new team but none of them seem to be showing much interest in getting the handover underway. I’m wondering if they are labouring under the misapprehension that their new roles commenced with the start of the new year?

I have no real worries on the Treasury front. The club’s honorary auditor and I are swapping hats. He’s an accountant, so there’s no need to teach Grandma to suck eggs. The incoming President, a recent retiree who lives locally and one who’s been president of another club is slowly getting to grips with the club’s affairs and is learning that I’m pretty much the go to person for pretty much everything. So the sooner I can pass on the baton, the better.

He recently complained that he didn’t have the email addresses of some of those on the new management team. I politely explained that was because a) they didn’t have email and b) nor did they possess computers. He seemed a bit taken aback, as well he might be. No doubt he was wondering where exactly these members were going to “lend a hand” not with the papaerwork, that’s for sure. He’s not been overly forthcoming himself. There’s been no circulation of the minutes of the first management team meeting nor an organisation chart explaining who’s now doing what. I understand via the grapevine that the first club event of the year, the famous Galette des Rois, has been scheduled for next Tuesday evening and today – two days before the event – received an invitation.

I have seen the new M le President out riding with the club and maybe he’s taken that opportunity to advise verbally of forthcoming events. But not all members ride regularly with the club. Here we may be coming to the crux of the issue. The Club was a member of three federations, two of which were solely for the benefit of our racers mostly, but not all, long since departed. The remaining association is the one which our president presides over. Yes, he’s once, twice a President and therefore keen to only promote membership of the one of which he’s president.  If that’s truly the case, membership will dwindle even further and the average age will rocket to around 65.

A sizeable number of disaffected members have already started another Sunday ride which leaves not from the club meeting point but from our local bike shop. Discussions are afoot to start another small club of like-minded and similarly skilled riders whose interests will no longer be catered for by our current club. I’m not sure the new president fully appreciates the ramifications. Shorn of racers, the club shirt will no longer feature prominently in the local press and our commercial sponsor, Skoda, may well withdraw its support. In addition, the subsidy we receive from the local authority is membership based. With the local sport’s federation strapped for funds, money will – and quite rightly so – be diverted from the old to the young. In addition, those members who currently sponsor the club are part of the disaffected block likely to move to pastures new, thereby further exacerbating the situation. Without those funds to bolster the coffers putting on events such as La Kivilev gets called into question. Already the decision has been made to return it to a cyclo-tourist ride, thereby eliminating the competitive  – and most attractive – element.

In truth I cannot complain as I was unwilling to either stand as the new president or remain a part of the management team and continue to carry my rather unwieldy work load. A professional to my finger tips I am handing over things in a very different fashion as to how I received them. Everything is documented and in apple-pie order and I have offered to help ease in those acquiring new responsibilities. But that’s where it ends. So you can understand why, when I recently received an email entitled “Interested in Volunteering?” I deleted it immediately.

New term

Things are starting to wind down as holidays come to an end and the kids go back to school next week. The Domaine resembles less and less a single-storey car park though I have to applaud the inventiveness of some car owners as to how and where they abandon their cars. The weather has also turned and dropped a few degrees which makes cycling far more pleasurable. It’s amazing what a difference a small temperature change makes, plus it’s much less sultry.

A lot of families have a second homes in the Domaine but they head back to their roots in July and August while their extended families make use of their apartments. This is where the French indulge in one of their national pastimes “How many people can we cram into a three-roomed apartment with only one bathroom?” You do not want to know the answer to that question other than to understand it severely breaches my rule of one bathroom per couple.

It’s also start of the “new term” at the club as affiliation to our principal cycling association runs from 1 September to 31 August. The other associations, and indeed the club, run on a calendar year. This year the principal association has delivered us something of a dilemma, a doubling of its fees caused, we’re advised, by the rising risk profile of cycling and hence increased third-party insurance costs. We were obliged to raise membership fees by Euros 5 last year, after maintaining them at the same level for over six years, and there was almost a mutiny. Goodness knows what’ll be the fallout this year. I should add, we’ve always been one of the less expensive clubs to join thanks to our high level of local and corporate sponsorship. But many of our members are retired and on fixed incomes, so any increase is keenly felt.

It’s prompted many to say that they’ll just join one of the other associations as they’re both substantially cheaper. This is not going to go down well with the rank and file. You see it’s the principal association which organises the Sunday pointages and if, but only if, you have one of their licences you can amass up to 5 points for your club. Any other licence has a maximum of 1 point. This will have a direct result on our trophy haul most of which we recycle at other events. Those members who collect the most points through attendance at pointages are rewarded at the AGM. There’s stiff competition to top the leaderboard as the “Most Regular” with trophies and club kit handed to the top five. I’ve won the female category for the last five years largely through lack of competition.

Any shift in membership from the principal association will be somewhat embarrassing for the new incoming President who holds a high office in said association. Indeed, he did mention that he was only prepared to countenance membership of the principal association so this might well be our last chance. Of course, anyone who races tends to either have two licences or opts for the association with the most organised events. If this licence is no longer available, the few racers we have left will depart. As a consequence we won’t generate anywhere near our usual level of publicity for our corporate sponsors. This could have a knock-on effect when our three-year sponsorship deal’s up for renewal in 2015.

I’ve been giving the issue some thought and, given that my term of office ends this year, I’ll have no compunction in going for the cheaper option for both of us. You might be wondering why we’re even bothering to get  licences. Well it saves paying for a medical certificate for all the sportifs we enter, and which charge a supplement if you don’t have a licence. Yes, it’s still the cheapest option.

I have created a monster. My friend’s teenager whom I wore out by making him ride on the road while staying with me in July has been truly bitten with the bug. He’s determined to follow in his Dad’s footsteps and become a professional racer. He’s now trying to take part in as many races as possible. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best strategy but if he’s enjoying himself…….. He was going to do one this Saturday but it’s been cancelled so he wants to take part in this Sunday’s race up Col de Vence. Yes, it’s the same one I wanted to take part in, so I’ve signed him up for it. It starts early in the morning but as he’ll need to warm up we’ll ride over to it. No need for rollers and noseplugs. It’ll also probably be better if he stays with us overnight on Saturday.

Now, you might be wondering why his parents aren’t taking him to the race. It’s simples, as the meerkats would say, his Dad’s leaving to ride in Italy on Sunday morning and his Mum doesn’t drive! I suggested picking him up Saturday evening but he’s going to ride over to me in the afternoon, so I’ll have company for my afternoon viewing of the Vuelta.

Exasperated, well just a bit………….

A number of club members are surprised that I’ve decided to hang up my hat at the end of my elected term of office. When questioned closely I realised that they had no idea how much time running the club takes up. I didn’t care to elaborate for fear of putting them off from offering to take my place or lend a helping hand. But the time spent recently on getting a new licence rather beautifully illustrates the point.

The youngster in question needed a licence to take part in a recent race. As the matter was of some urgency, I took the paperwork to him rather than the other way around. I was in his neck of the woods in any event delivering replacement licences to some of our racers who had misplaced the originals and required copies to take part in the recent French amateur championships. That particular day I had totally forgotten it was the first day of the summer sales and, as a consequence of the traffic, a round trip of 45 kilometres took me over three hours. I then popped all the paperwork in the post to the association and asked that the licence be sent directly to the youngster because I would be on vacation at the end of July and the beginning of August. All paperwork is normally returned to my home address.

While on vacation, I sent the youngster a text to check whether or not he had received his licence. He hadn’t. So I contacted the relevant association only to discover that the lady who processes licence requests was on vacation from mid-July to mid-August.  No one deals with her job while she’s away, the work just piles up. However, one of her associates very kindly offered to check through the paperwork. Seeking assistance and clarification, I sent an email to the secretary of the association, who’s also a member of our club. He helpfully suggested that the youngster could ride on the basis that his application was in the works. The association president, in true job-worth’s fashion, declared that nothing could be done while the lady in question was on vacation. And you wonder why no Frenchman has won the Tour since Hinault?

A few days later, the association got back to me saying they could find no trace of the paperwork. Typical! In three years of sending paperwork back and forth this was the first to be lost in the post. There was no way round it. Duplicates were required. I contacted the youngster asking him to acquire a duplicate medical certificate and I again went around to pick up the paperwork which this time I delivered in person to the association who gave me a temporary licence for him. He took part in the race and came second to the regional and departmental champion. Having tasted competition, he’s keen for more so I’ve sorted out details of all the up and coming races for him.

I assumed his permanent licence would arrive while I was at the Vuelta but a text from him confirmed it was still outstanding. I returned home to find a letter containing the licence. Except, it wasn’t. Instead, they’d renewed the licence of his elder brother who used to be a member of the club. So I got onto the association this afternoon and politely asked if they could properly process the application and send the licence direct to the correct brother. They will do once I send back the wrong licence!

By the time he finally receives his licence two whole months will have elapsed since I made the initial application and, by my reckoning, I will have spent at least 8 hours of my time and half a tank of petrol on this one small matter. In addition, he, or rather his parents, have had to pay out for two medical certificates. You might be thinking that this was somewhat of an extreme example but sadly people never stop to think that they’re wasting my time and I’ve dealt with many such issues. The youngster appreciated my efforts and in the end for me that’s really what counted. When he gets his first professional win, I’ll look fondly back on this particular challenge and realise that it was all worthwhile.

Overdose

It’s true, I’ve overdosed on sport. With the Olympics being in the same time zone – well, give or take an hour – the temptation has been to watch pretty much everything I can, and more. It’s been wholly addictive from the opening ceremony, the pool, the track, the streets of Britain and so on. It’s just gotta stop! Work has pretty much ground to a halt, the housework is piling up, including the ironing, and I sense the economy is suffering. As we ease into the final days, I’m limiting my exposure.

Of course, I did manage to squeeze in last week end’s La Ronde du St Laurent which you may recall was cancelled twice last year due to rain. Rain in August! Not this year. Although we did have a ten minute downpour on Monday evening, the fair weather’s continued all summer long. We had our usual 400+ turnout for the race and pointage although there were a few long faces. I hadn’t made any cakes. Largely because we still had leftovers from the Kivilev at the end of May which we’d frozen specifically for this event. I still thought we put on a better than average spread, though not perhaps up to our/my usual standards. Afterwards, I got to reprise my favourite role as the world’s oldest podium girl. Like I always say, at my age any chance to get to kiss a load of fit young blokes should be grabbed with both hands.

One of the teenagers who started road cycling while he was staying with me at the end of June came second in his event, just behind the regional and departmental champion who’s actually a year older. The latter sat on his wheel for most of the race which means he ignored my sage advice to do the reverse. He’ll have learned his lesson and won’t do that again. He’s now got the competitive bug as he’s training for the next race at the beginning of September. I predict it’s just the start of a large collection of trophies and medals.

My two sisters have been over soaking up the sunshine, quite one of their favourite activities. I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the beach to check on their progress. I found them both nut brown and wrinkled. It won’t be long before I look like the youngest and not the oldest! It’s beyond me how they can spend so long just soaking up the sun but they probably feel the same way about my sports addition although they did admit to watching the Olympic action on the television in the evenings.

I did a rough tally the other evening of medals won by those athletes who live on the Cote d’Azur. While large numbers of them are clustered in tax sparing Monaco – all the non-French – there’s plenty of swimmers and other water sports athletes dotted up and down the coast. If my calculations are correct, the Cote d’Azur’s in third place – not a bad haul!

I need to make an effort to get everything back on track this week end before we head down to the Basque country for more cycling: the Clasica San Sebastian and the start of the Vuelta. This time we’re leaving the bikes at home in favour of walking. We know from last year – temperatures approaching 40C –  that it’ll probably be too hot to ride and certainly too hot to lounge on the beach. I’m up for exploring some cool ancient buildings, something we struggle to do when we’re accompanied by our bikes. Better get started on that ironing or we’ll have nothing to wear.

(In case you were wondering, the picture is of Andy Murray’s dogs wearing his gold (men’s singles) and silver (mixed doubles) medals.)

Spoilt

Another day, another post! I don’t expect this will last long. I’m feeling fatigued from yesterday’s ride with my coach. We’re playing catch up after he was “hors combat” with his broken collar-bone. I set off early to have coffee with some Australians with whom I had been in correspondence for over a year and who’re holidaying here briefly as part of a longer trip around Europe. This meant I had to channel my inner-Spartacus to make my appointed time with my coach. This particular ride usually takes over an hour but I had barely 40 minutes to spare. I made it, but paid for it the rest of the morning.

I’d worked up a good sweat in my stylish new G4 kit but, as we rode down the shaded Vesubie valley, I  became totally chilled. When I’m cold, my body seizes up. I was struggling. My coach rode ahead of me so that I could benefit from his slipstream. As ever, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that as he’s half my width, there’s little or no benefit to be had.  For the first time ever on our rides together, I had to stop for an injection of Coke, it’s the only thing that bucks me up. I was sorely in need of fortification.

By the time I got back home, I’d been in the saddle for six hours. I wasn’t hungry but I did feel dehydrated. After a liquid lunch (soup) I could barely keep my eyes open and dozed off on the sofa, rousing only for the last few kilometres of the fifth stage of the Tour de Suisse. My legs were feeling decidedly lead-like again.

My beloved is thankfully away until this evening so I’ve been able to press on with the housework as we’ve a guest arriving this week-end. It’s one of my English pupils and the younger son of some dear friends. While many might not fancy the prospect of a teenager for two weeks, I’m relishing the occasion. His mother was concerned I might find him too tiring. I’ve reassured her that’s not going to happen! In fact, I have an action packed programme for the two of us and I, for one, can’t wait.

I was up early this morning, finished a short piece for VeloVoices. While a lot of the writing is programmed, I do like to respond to news items or do things on the spur of the moment. Lucky then that I have understanding editor(s). With the Tour just around the corner, we’re going to be busy, busy, busy so I need to “bank” a few pieces to relieve the pressure.

My friend who’s cycling from southern to northern France, in aid of charity, kindly sent me a text to let me know she was okay. The first three days were going to be the most tiring but she’s survived those and it now sounds as if she’s beginning to enjoy the adventure. I shall look forward to hearing all about it on her return.

The Nice Ironman organisation have been dealt a bitter blow. Their star turn, Lance Armstrong has been banned pending a USADA investigation into an alleged doping conspiracy while he was a top level cyclist. Of course, there’ll be plenty of other top athletes taking part and I’m looking forward to meeting with some of those I was fortunate to meet last year while working on the G4Dimension stand. This year, they’ve secured a plum spot in the village, right next to the LiveStrong stand. While I’m working, I’ll be leaving my young guest in my beloved’s capable hands.

Our three-year tenure at the helm of the cycling club ends this year and I, for one, have been making plans for next year. I never intended to take on quite so much work but as others have fallen by the wayside, I’ve assumed more and more responsibility. I’ve done it partly on the basis that “it won’t be for long”. I did set out my ideas for re-organising things so as to share out the workload and sent it to M Le President last year but it was clear he’d never even bothered to look at it let alone discuss it with me. After, the success of this year’s La Kivilev, he’s decided he will stay on as President if we can find a few more willing souls to lend us a hand.

Now I thought about this long and hard but I have no intention of extending my term of office. My fellow members have embarked in recent months on a charm offensive but I’ve worked in investment banking, and hence, with some of the best bull-shitters in the business, so remain unmoved by their blandishments. There’s a meeting of like minded souls this evening at the club to see if there’s enough people willing to take up the reins. As I’ve discovered to my cost, people love important sounding titles but, in reality, don’t want any responsibility. I therefore have no desire to remain part of the management team and get dumped on again. Meanwhile I have everything in apple-pie order ready to effect a handover at the end of the year, something I never benefited from. Actually, I’ve set up most things so that they can just be copied, pasted and blindly followed.

Finally………………….

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

My regular readers have been complaining about the dearth of recent posts. I can only plead pressure of work and some much needed decompression time away from the key board. But, I’m back! Sadly probably not bigger and better than before.

I need to recap on the past couple of weeks: first up, La Kivilev. Once again, fortune smiled on us and, despite torrential rains on the Friday afternoon, the Saturday of the event dawned warm, sunny and dry. A few early clouds were quickly banished and the smiles on the faces of the volunteers matched those of the participants.

We attracted our usual stellar cast: the winner of this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Maxim Ingliskiy; the  Kazakh national road race champion, Andrey Mizurov and, well-known local father and son pairing, Stephen and Nico Roche who were making their maiden appearance in the event. Stephen’s presence was particularly welcome as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his holy trinity of Giro, Tour and World Championship. I like to think Nico was looking for that extra edge ahead of the Tour de Suisse or maybe just a welcome opportunity to stretch his legs with his Dad.

Other local riders who would have been there were it not for other commitments included Geoffroy Lequatre, Amael Moinard and Tristan Valentin. Geoffroy was however with us in spirit, if not in the flesh, as his better half animated the event village with their G4 Dimension stand showcasing their cutting edge, top notch cycling and casual wear designed by Geoffroy. It’s stylish and made from the latest hi-tec materials. It won’t make you ride as fast as Geoffroy but at least you’ll look and feel as if you could!

In terms of organisation, everyone agreed, this was our best yet but we can’t rest on our laurels and have already had our first post-mortem to look at where improvements can be made for next year’s event. It’s true that no sooner it’s over, we’re already planning for the following year.

After the Kivilev, I generally feel in need of a vacation. This year was no exception. My beloved was also much in need of some down time in a WiFi free zone. Back in October I had booked a ridiculously inexpensive trip to Barcelona to go and watch my first MotoGP live. Now, I’ve written almost nothing about MotoGP this season but that doesn’t mean to say I haven’t been glued to the action on the wide screen so I was really looking forward to this trip. Rather than drive, we had decided to fly to Barcelona and hire a car. We arrived late on the Thursday evening and drove straight to our hotel, just down the coast from Lloret del Mar.

This immediately brought back childhood memories of my first trip to Spain when I was five. We stayed in Lloret, then an unspoilt strictly Spanish holiday town with one hotel. There was a fiesta one evening while we were there and I so wanted one of those red and white spotted flamenco dresses, particularly when I saw lots of cute, dark eyed moppets my age wearing them. I’m still waiting – one day!

The resort was busier than anticipated, particularly with bus loads of tourists from all over Europe, including what seemed like thousands of kids taking part in a local football tournament. Indeed, we even had a team from Nice staying in our hotel. The resort was also ridiculously cheap by comparison with here. For example, we never paid more than a euro for coffee while here the cheapest is Euro 1.40. Just don’t get me started on the price of alcohol. Needless to say, you could easily get blind drunk on 10 euros and have change to spare.

Friday morning, bright and early we braved the hotel breakfast buffet before climbing in the car and heading for Montmelo. I wasn’t going to miss a moment of the practice or qualifying sessions. Friday’s a quieter day at the circuit, giving spectators the opportunity to wander at will and visit the pit lanes after the day’s practice sessions. It was noisy enough to warrant earplugs although most spectators didn’t bother. The circuit was well appointed and the eats and drinks on offer were reasonably priced, which made a change from similar overpriced events in the UK.

I don’t like heights and I particularly don’t like walking up stairs where you can see through the gaps to down below so I had a few nervous moments each day ascending to our tribune seats. Once there, I never budged. Instead it was my beloved who popped up and down to fetch the assorted refreshments. Unsurpringly, many of the specatators arrive on their bikes and then strip off their leathers to sit in their skimpies to enjoy the racing, proudly displaying their tattoos. My beloved and I were a tattoo free islet in a sea of painted bodies.

Everyone's favourite rider: Valentino Rossi
Everyone’s favourite rider: Valentino Rossi

A number of things struck me. We were in Spain but the most popular guy on the circuit by a mile was Valentino Rossi. Indeed, stalls selling his branded products couldn’t take the money fast enough. Not all the riders are well known enough to sell their own brand of essentially t-shirts, caps etc. It’s basically just Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, new kid on the block Marquez and Spiess. I thought Spiess’s designs were superior but he doesn’t sell as much as the others. Rossi outsells everyone else 1,000 to 1, with Marquez, who’s likely to be the next Rossi, way down in second place. Stoner might be the reigning world champion but he doesn’t seem to engender much support apart from his home crowd.

I’d chosen our tickets well. We had an excellent view of the straight, the leader board, a big screen, the first corner, the first hill and the descent giving us a grandstand seat where most of the action unfolded during practice, qualifying, warm-up and race-day. The weather was excellent throughout the three days albeit with some rain on the Saturday which quickly dried up. Everything worked as per the programme and there’s more than enough action and variety to retain one’s interest throughout the three days. The only thing missing was the excellent commentary from British Eurosport’s crack team of Toby Moody, Julien English and Neil Spalding which I adore as it greatly adds to my knowledge of the sport. It just wasn’t the same in Spanish. Would I go again? You bet.

The Monday after the MotoGP was spent in Barcelona, a place my beloved has visited frequently for work but has never had an opportunity to look around. I was happy to be his guide as we wandered around enjoying Barcelona’s magnificent architecture. Arriving at the airport for our 20:00 flight we were told that the flight had been switched to 08:00 that morning. My beloved had been advised but hadn’t noted the change! Thank goodness he’s a “gold” card holder. We were booked onto the following morning’s flight and put up in the airport hotel where we were fed and watered.

Isola 2000 40 years ago
Isola 2000 40 years ago

This last week end we went up to Isola 2000 with some friends. It was kinda nice having the entire resort to ourselves apart from the assorted wildlife. I drove up there on Friday afternoon while my beloved rode. However, he couldn’t face the ride from the village to the resort so I had to cram him and his bike on the car. After a delicious dinner, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for anything. The descent from the Col de la Lombarde is technical, lots of hairpin bends. I overshot a couple but fortunately without serious consequence largely because the road’s wide and the surface excellent. We rode as far as St Etienne sur Tinee which is where you start the climb for Col de la Bonette conquered by  me and my beloved two years ago. We stopped for coffee and chocolate before turning around and heading back to Isola 2000 and that Col.

I let everyone else go at their own pace ie faster than mine. We’d half thought we’d conquer the 17km climb in around 2 hours but as I glanced down at my Garmin I realised I was certainly slo-mowing. The incline’s an average of 8% but for the first five kilometres  my Garmin never dropped below 9%. In fact, 9% was starting to feel like a false flat. It’s only as you start to approach the village (3km from the summit), and a series of tunnels, that the road flattens for a bit. I’m unaccustomed to long, steep hills so this was good training. At least that was what I kept telling myself. Three days later, my legs still ache!