Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

Bidding a fond farewell to Igor Anton

Like many cycling fans, I’m experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a thrilling Vuelta a Espana 2018. I just love it when you don’t know who’s going to win until the last few stages. It’s so much more exciting. I was bitterly disappointed not to go to any stages this year, particularly as the race started in Andalucia, and also visited Asturias and the Basque country. All places I love to visit.

Our first Vuelta was 2011, when we went to watch the stages which started and finished in Bilbao. Stage 19, the first stage of the Vuelta to be held in the Basque country for over 30 years, was fittingly won by Basque rider Igor Anton, then riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi #Carrots.

I say fittingly because the previous year Anton had crashed out of the Vuelta while wearing the red leader’s jersey. His brave soldier face and bloodied body as he was folded into his team car is an abiding memory. Sadly, he never again reached such heady heights and on Sunday bought the curtain down on his illustrious 14 year professional career (incl. GC win in Vuelta Asturias, 4 stages in Vuelta a Espana, 1 stage Giro d’Italia, 2 stages Tour de Romandie, 3rd on GC at Tour de Suisse).

The 35 year-old Basque from Galdakao in Vizcaya started his professional career with the Euskaltel – Euskadi team in 2005 and when it sadly folded nine years later, he joined Movistar in 2014 before signing for what was to be his last team, Dimension Data in 2016.

Anton explained why he was retiring in an open letter:

The Vuelta a Espana has defined me as a person in many aspects, it is where I achieved my best results, it gave me some of my best moments and some of my worst moments. Therefore, after thinking well about my career, I have decided that tomorrow I will end my career with my final race number, 102.

It is a fitting scenario and race to bring this adventure I have been on to an end. This chapter of my life has been unbelievable, and I would not want to change anything because I have been privileged to make a small contribution to the long and magnificent history of the sport of cycling.

I want to say a big THANKS to all the partners that supported me at my 3 teams; Euskaltel-Euskadi, Movistar Team and Dimension Data for Qhubeka. From the first day of my career until this very last moment I have been backed by these incredible organisations. At Team Dimension Data I had three very special years and it was a great experience to be part of this unique project, it made my career so much more interesting.

I want to remember my mother MaryJose in this time, who I dearly miss. She sacrificed a lot for me and put in great effort to help me achieve my dream. Also, my father, he allowed me to pursue this career. My wife, she suffered with me through all of the bad moments but always stayed by my side to help me through the tough situations. Then to my loving daughter Udane, because she is my engine now.

I’d like to wish Anton all the best, much happiness and every success in whatever he decides to do next.

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.

Monsoon

Only to be expected, I suppose, after our Indian summer! To be fair, rain was forecast for this week. It started early on Monday evening followed by an epic thunderstorm, or so my beloved claimed. That’s right, it didn’t wake me thus it couldn’t have been that epic. It only started to pour again mid-morning on Tuesday, after I’d dropped my beloved at the airport. His take-off was delayed a couple of hours as the weather closed in. When it rains heavily, my view of the sea is usually shrouded in mist. Visibility was so bad, I could barely see beyond the terrace.

storm3

If you look at weather charts for the Cote d’Azur, it’ll show October as the wettest month of the year,  not this year. That title belongs belonged to January, thanks to three solid days of torrential rain mid-month, until this week. In the space of 36 hours, the coast had up to 300mm of rain or three months’ worth! Some areas fared worse than others but the damage wrought on the beaches and in the hills was truly terrible.

storm4

The clean up operation swung into action on Wednesday, once the rain had stopped and Noah and his Ark had stood down. It continues apace. Today’s fine, the sunshine’s back but only until Sunday, when more of the wet stuff is forecast.  Of course, rain on the coast translates into snow in the Alps. So, it’s not all bad news.

The Domaine has not remained unscathed. The scaffolding at the far end of our block, recently erected for refurbishment and repainting of the façade, remained rock steady in the high winds but no doubt put back the schedule of works which is due to take almost two years to complete. I confess the thought of having workmen peering in my windows for the best part of a year while they paint the back, side and front of our block is rather unsettling. We’re not overlooked by anyone, don’t have so much as a net curtain to preserve our modesty and rarely use the shutters.

Storm1

High winds felled a number of trees in the Domaine. Fortunately none fell on parked cars and the gardeners, who love a bit of “Chainsaw Massacre” have been wildly sawing away for the past few days. The fallen trees will be replaced with new, younger ones to preserve the parkland and habitat for all sorts of wildlife. The trees, mostly pine, I suppose will end up on someone’s open fire.

Despite today’s sunshine, care will have to be taken on our rides. The road, particularly the cycle lanes, will be full of small stones and wet sand which often masks the broken glass. It’s a bit of a minefield for tyres. My beloved is absolutely bound to get a puncture. That man gets through more inner tubes in a month than I do in a year, and I cycle so much more than him.

Despite today’s strong sunshine, the mercury has dipped a bit and I’ll be wearing my Roubaix 3/4 bib tights and a long-sleeved shirt. Winter’s truly arrived. There’s not a cloud in the sky, so I won’t need any wet weather gear, at least, not today.

(all photographs courtesy of Nice-Matin newspaper)

 

Ride Postscript: Serious miscalculation on my part, a short-sleeved jersey would’ve sufficed!

 

Indian summer

Here on the Cote d’Azur, we’ve been enjoying the warmest October since 1943. October’s usually when I swap over to my winter training bike and into my 3/4 thermal bib shorts but, despite this being the first official week-end of winter, I’m still in shorts and short-sleeved jersey with a lightweight gilet. I like to think this is recompense for the wet winter or maybe the so, so summer. Either way, it’s glorious cycling weather and I have been at pains to profit from it.

With a number of projects (finally) put to bed and the professional cycling scene enjoying its off-season, I’m finally getting back into the groove and steadily logging the much-needed kilometres.  When you’re busy, it’s all too easy to procrastinate but boy do I miss being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair helmet and the sun on my face.

cagnes1

While temperatures are still delightfully mild, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing. No problem, as I prefer to head out after 10:30. With any luck, I’ll also be re-introducing my long mid-week ride on a Wednesday to compliment those on the week-end. Of course, everyone is out enjoying the fine weather, particularly the kids as half-term’s over and it’s back to school tomorrow. Large numbers are sunning themselves on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. One year, I was still swimming in the sea each day until well into November. If you swim each day, the drop in temperature is gradual and much less noticeable.

It’s the Nice to Cannes marathon next Sunday so we passed plenty of runners. Well, it would be too embarrassing to be passed by a runner wouldn’t it? We’re slow but not that slow. I like to think we were taking our time and savouring the weather. All the more so as rain is forecast for next week. No ride with my cycling buddy would be complete without a coffee stop. Again, we pick those restaurants with terraces in the sunshine and nice facilities.

cagnes3

Particularly on Sunday, I endeavour to leave Sunday lunch cooking or maybe gently reheating in the oven so that all I have to do on my return is lay the table. I usually get back just before my beloved who’s started riding each Sunday with his local bike shop team. The pace has dropped right off on the Sunday club rides as the average age of club members has soared and he’s been finding it way too slow.

cagnes2

After Sunday lunch we take a stroll along the seafront to better enjoy  the fine weather before returning home for The Big Match, my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. The boys haven’t scored in five matches and are sliding down the Premiership – not good. On a recent trip to London, I treated myself to some fleecy jimjams. They’re far too warm to sleep in but just perfect for post-ride lounging around the flat, which is what I’m now doing. Sunday’s don’t get any better than this.

 

Postscript: Actually, it would’ve been a lot better if Spurs hadn’t beaten AVFC 2-1

 

Slogans

I saw a brilliant slogan on the back of a t-shirt in my Twitter timeline recently it said “You own a car, not the road.” So, so true and I just know I’m going to be quoting that in a variety of languages to various vehicle drivers. The other one I like is “A metre matters”. That’s exhorting drivers to leave plenty of room when overtaking cyclists. Particularly pertinent to those towing caravans or boats. They have a similar campaign in Spain which demands a metre and a half overtaking space.

But as anyone who occasionally reads my blog or who rides themselves knows, the best drivers are those that also cycle.  We need to get more people cycling. Such as the gentleman who blithely blocked the cycle path as he was waiting to exit the petrol station. To make my point, I slammed on my (new) brakes and stopped within a hair’s breadth of his car. Did he retreat? No! I was forced to wait until the road was clear to swing out and overtake the bonnet of his car. I gave him The Look and noted his number plate.

Just ten minutes later, as my riding buddy and I were cycling side by side along the deserted two-lane coastal road, we were rudely tooted at by white van man who yelled at us to get out of the road and onto the cycle path! A cycle path intended for kids and those of a nervous disposition with a 10km/h speed limit. Sadly, the sequencing of the traffic lights didn’t allow  me to advise said driver that he owned a van, not the road. But I was oh so tempted to give chase – next time.

You can just make out the snow caps in the distance
You can just make out the snow caps in the distance

However, it was hard to stay annoyed on such a beautiful day. I thank my lucky stars daily that I’m fortunate enough to live here. No amount of rude white van men will ever change that!

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!

No fond farewell

With summer long gone and the prospect of winter fast approaching, I was surprised to discover a couple of mosquito bites on my left leg. I usually find the first bites of spring and the last in the autumn to be the most painful. I haven’t applied any repellent for a few weeks now, assuming wrongly that they’d be long gone.

My tolerance of the bites has improved since I’ve lived here but I still have an allergic reaction. I am also allergic to latex. It’s a bit of a blow realising you’ll never be able to play cat woman or cross the threshold of an S&M club. Thanks to this summer’s warm sultry conditions these little blighters seem to have been even more prolific. I have spent a fortune on repellent and then even more money on unguent to soothe those areas where the repellent has worn off or hasn’t repelled effectively.Mmmm, a mosquito getting stuck in.

I’m working my way slowly but surely through the available preventative sprays. I bought an anti-mosquito bracelet which was supposed to be effective for a month – four days more like. This was supplemented with a spray which should have kept the mozzie munchers at bay for several hours but, when I’m out riding, lasts only as long as it takes me to break into a sweat. So, not long then.

I felt I was dealing reasonably with the issue this year until one evening when I dined al fresco in a friend’s garden. Mosquitos are attracted to static water and the combination of their swimming pool and watering butt meant the monster variety of mozzie munchers were out in force. I ended up with clusters of bites all over my legs some of which  later swelled – painful and unsightly. Served me right for wearing shorts!

A couple of evenings later, and I was dining outside again – will I never learn? This time I wore trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, so the wee beasties attacked my hands and feet despite liberal applications of a repellent. Again a couple of these swelled up making my cycling shoes feel a bit tight in places for a couple of days.

I often get attacked by hordes of insects while I’m out riding. It’s almost impossible to ride and swot at the same time. During the summer, I tend to ride most often in a couple of pairs of Santini bib shorts which I’ve had for a while. Indeed, they’re beginning to look well past their best and will now need to be replaced. The legs have silicone grippers and some elastication  which is starting to fray, exposing strands of latex. As a result, each time I took off my shorts my legs were ringed with red welts – my reaction to the latex.

Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, from time to time, bunches of enterprising mozzies had nibbled all the way round the hem of my shorts giving me another welt of bites. It was the combination of these two which saw me reaching for something soothing every five minutes or so to stop me itching the affected parts. In fact it looked so bad, I resorted to wearing 3/4 bib shorts despite the heat. This is one aspect I won’t miss as the days turn cooler, and indeed, colder.

Imprisoned

You may recall that my goal for this summer was to better my fastest ever ascent of Col de Vence. I achieved that last Saturday though conversely I also posted my slowest descent. Before you congratulate me I should confess that I was in the car and the ascent had been occasioned by going to watch my little Cup Cake ride an individual time-trial up the other side. He finished second to his arch-rival by a meagre couple of seconds. He was not a happy bunny but his Dad, who had ridden behind him, albeit at a respectable distance, thought he’d gone off too fast. I only saw him at the end, hunched over his handlebars, gasping for air. He’d certainly given his all.

Col de Vence

Work sadly has been grossly interfering with my cycling so much so that I’ve been reduced to two-hourly rides – better than nothing. The weather is now starting to cool and we’re enjoying an Indian summer, much my favourite time of year when temperatures are ideal for longer rides and many of the tourists have gone home making the roads so much safer.

Sadly, my desire to ride has been modified by my need to keep an eye on the workmen who are replacing the water downpipes in the entire building. I had thought that they might be able to forewarn you of their arrival as they methodically worked their way up the block. That seemed to work reasonably well in week one although they have now fallen behind their planned schedule. Apparently, the building is made of concrete reinforced with glass fibres – pretty much indestructible – which means drilling out is taking three-times longer than planned. As a consequence, they had to work the first Saturday. Not a popular move with the residents, many of whom (myself excluded) are elderly.

In an effort to make up time, they’ve decided to work concurrently on the left and right sides of Block A.  Disaster struck Monday afternoon, and severely interrupted my viewing of the Vuelta a Espana, when water gushed from top to bottom from one of the external (thankfully) pipes. We were all a little taken aback as the water had allegedly been switched off. Cue loads of plumbers in dirty boots muddying the terrace and laundry floors. These types of occurrences don’t fill one with confidence.  But I was far luckier than one of my neighbours who had water gushing into his flat. As a result, I’ve had no water in my laundry for two days and am unable to do any washing. In all the neighbouring flats, my laundry space is their kitchens and so they’ve been much more inconvenienced.

Last week I managed to work around them thanks to their two-hour lunch break. Just over two hours is generally all I need to ascend Col de Vence and then return home. This week the two-hour lunch break appears to have gone by the wayside and they’re having to work through lunch – sacre bleu! As a consequence, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll be able to venture out at all until they pack up tools and head for home – around 18:00.

I’m already chaffing at the invisible ties which bind. In practice, and in the event of an emergency, they do have access to a spare key but, if water starts cascading through the flat, I don’t want them fumbling for a key I want the matter resolved pronto. So, despite the perfect weather conditions, I might have to resort to the home trainer.

Get with the programme

Bouyon - only half-way
Bouyon – only half-way!

Sunday, after the departure of my beloved on a 10-day trip to Thailand and Malaysia, I decided to bite the bullet. I needed a long, tiring ride. I set off in the company of two of my girlfriends who were riding part of the route with me. As I plodded along behind them, in the armchair seat, I realised I was feeling the effects of too many years, too many kilos and not enough kilometres. Something I need to address this summer. We broke our ride for a drink. They both had coffee but I needed the sugar hit of a cold coke to keep me going.

We parted, they turned for home and I rode on. This is one of my all-time favourite rides, ridden in either direction, providing a not unduly testing terrain: 1500m of climbing over 85km. The weather, pressure of work, trips away without the bike and sheer laziness on my part means I’ve ridden less kilometres for the first part of this year than I have in the last three or four. The rot simply has to stop.

I needed another infusion of coke before tackling my favourite descent, the Col de Vence, where I clocked one of my fastest descents ever – those extra kilos again. From thereon it was downhill all the way until my final climb back to the Domaine where I was frankly on autopilot. No time to shower and change, the Dauphine transmission was about to start. I usually watch this in HD on the big screen in the office but for some reason, I couldn’t get it to switch on and ended up with a pirate feed that was at least 3km behind the live one!

My previous really long ride had been on the Giro d’Italia’s first rest day  – yes, that long ago – and was largely ridden on the flat while the rest of the time I have made do with a quick dash around some of my traditional short winter routes in between assignments. So I’ve got my training programme out, dialled it back a bit and have rides planned for the forthcoming week. I’m just praying the weather co-operates. The sky’s currently a brilliant azure blue and cloud-free. Let’s hope it’s finally here to stay.

I’ve added a weekly ride up my favourite Col de Vence as my aim is to improve on my best time for the ascent from Vence. I’m also going to head over to the Col de la Madone on some week ends, it’s longer and more testing. Plus, there’s a couple of hills I’ve never gotten around to tackling, largely because I shouldn’t ride them on my own, I do need to ride them with my beloved.

He, on the other hand, has signed up to ride the Tour team time-trial route as part of a four-man team which badly needs to get in some practice ahead of the challenge. Individually they’re all pretty good at time-trialling but it’s a very different matter holding it together as a team. The week end after their challenge I’m hoping to take part in the local Rapha Women’s 100 but my availability will depend on my friend who’s due to give birth that very week end. Her husband is likely to be away and I may be on call.

At the end of July my beloved will be putting me through my paces once more in the Basque country. Earlier in the year we found some great hilly climbs but couldn’t tackle them thanks to the driving rain and snow. I just know we’re going to be revisiting them. I’ll also be hoping to spend some more time with him in Italy which will give me an opportunity to ride in the Dolomites, following some of the parcours from this year’s Giro albeit in much better weather.

So I have plenty of plans, I just need to stick to them.