One from the vaults: Down and almost out

Here’s a real oldie from March 2011 detailing my training on the roads near where I live and my main training hill, Col de Vence. I’ve since managed to reduce the time it takes me to ascend this challenge but I’m never going to get anywhere near the time of an average pro (20-22 mins).

If anything the ascent of Col de Vence was worse than I feared. We assembled at 09:00 in nearby Gattiéres. Club WTS generally comprises those of my cycling coach’s clients who are retired, or have their own businesses. I was the only female present. Among the group was one of the guys who had generously sampled my baked goodies on Sunday at the Gentlemen (a time-trial race). Despite my helmet and glasses, he had no problem recognising me and loudly proclaimed to the rest that I made the most delicious cakes and pissaladière. Buy that man a drink!

My coach ascertained beforehand everyone’s average ascent time. This varied from 32 to 50 minutes, excluding moi. When we reached the base of the Col, he urged those of us who needed more time to set off ahead of the rest. I needed no such encouragement? I was already heading upwards.

In any event, everyone had overhauled me well before hotel Chateau St Martin (within 3 km!). As my coach cycled past, he promised to wait at the top for me. I suggested that he should continue with the group, as I intended descending straight away in view of my Audax ride on Saturday.

The first part of the Col is the steepest and my middle finger, right hand kept searching for a nonexistent lower gear (I was riding my BMC with Campgnolo 53 x 39 gearing). I was asking myself why, oh why, had I not turned up on the BMC with the compact gearing? I slowed down to admire the progress of a rather magnificent modern house under construction and took a (much needed) short rest at the hotel to blow my running nose and have a good drink.  Galvanised, I continued to churn away.

I always divide ascents into manageable blocks, that way the task never seems so bad. Col de Vence is split into 2km chunks. 4km from the top, some of the group were already descending, including the marathon runner who’s only an occasional cyclist! Undeterred, I continued ticking down the kilometers.

The views down to the coast were fantastic and it’s too early in the year for any insects (thank goodness). There’s generally a flock of either sheep or goats towards the top of the Col, but not today. As the riding school hove into view, I gave a huge sigh of relief;  just 500 meters more. I got out of the seat and sprinted. To no avail, I had taken a whopping 60 minutes to get to the top: truly humiliating. I’m going to have to come clean when my coach calls me later today. I might be aerobically compromised, thanks to the lingering effects of my cold, but that was a shocking time. Fortunately, I’ll be back up there on Sunday’s club ride aiming to improve.  The descent, the most enjoyable bit, was achieved in a fraction of the time of the ascent.

One from the Vaults: Postcards from Seefeld I

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. This one’s from 2015 and features skiing!
My beloved and I spent last week in one of our old stomping grounds, Seefeld in Austria, where we both first learned to cross-country ski. We’ve been visiting the resort regularly for many years, summer and winter, though not so much since we moved to France. Our last visits were back in 2009, when we went cross-country skiing in February and cycling in June.

Seefeld
Seefeld

The resort has changed very little over the years and it’s like slipping your feet into a well-worn and favourite pair of slippers. I should at this point add, I never wear slippers. Along with cardigans and reading glasses, I think they shreak “middle-aged.”

That track has got my name on it
That track has got my name on it

We’ve skied all the resorts 250km of cross-country tracks, several times, just not on the same day! The tracks are graded just like alpine slopes from easy (green) all the way up to most difficult (black). My beloved always makes a beeline for the black  ones whereas I like to get my snow legs back first and will religiously practise a number of exercises before hitting the trails.

Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church
Exercises in front of iconic Seefeld church

Cross-country skiing, particularly skating, is all about technique. Get that right and you can glide along using the minimum of effort. If I’m obsessed with technique, my beloved is all about power. Combine our talents and you’d have a formidable athlete!

It's even nice walking in the snow
It’s even nice walking in the snow

Aside from the cross-country trails and downhill slopes, there’s around 250km of walks. There’s nothing I like better than working up a head of steam crunching through the woods on virgin snow. It’s so peaceful. Well, apart from the noise I’m making.

This has our names (and forks) on it!
This has our names (and forks) on it!

Then, having burned off copious calories walking and skiing, it’s time to refuel with an Austrian speciality: Apfelstrudel, Germknodel, Kaiserschmarr’n. I’ve tried them all in the name of scientific research.

Bliss!
Bliss!

Last week we were blessed with that nirvana combination of clear blue skies, plenty of new snow and tons of warm sunshine. Ahead of the half-term vacations and Carnival,  the resort was busy but not overly so. No fighting with the Germans to bag the best and sunniest seats!

One from the Vaults: Worrying trend

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. Here’s one from February 2014 and no it doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Finding brochures with shoes and garments for the older woman in my letterbox troubled me last year but this year’s much worse. Indeed, it could hardly have gotten off to a worse start. I’ve been receiving spam most days with offers of cut price funerals, exhortations to pre-pay for mine and, which I think is even worse,  a tempting funeral comparison website! A sort of permanent www.Hotelscompare.com. I’ve had so many of these emails that I’m beginning to wonder what it is they know that I don’t?

Okay, so the grim reaper can strike at any time. He’s no respecter of age but it’s got me wondering whether these sites have been surreptitiously following me on my recent rides? I only venture this explanation because I’ve recently had a couple of very close scrapes. Mostly perpetrated by motorists who blithely ignore the mantra of “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” and head straight to “Manoeuvre”  bypassing the other two steps. To add insult to injury, one of my neighbours in the Domaine perpetrated one of these close encounters. And, yes, I have added their vehicle registration number to my Black List.

The weather has been partly to blame. It has washed lots of sand, stones and rubble into the cycle paths meaning that I occasionally have to venture onto that part of the road which many motorists think only they are entitled to use. Of course, they show me no such compunction when making use of the cycling lanes to overtake or park.

I haven’t ridden outside as much as I would have liked thanks to the rainstorms that seem to have swept most of Europe. Indeed, six weeks into the New Year and I have completed as many kilometres on the home trainer as I have on the road. An almost unheard of situation. My normally cheery disposition takes a bit of a dip without my daily dose of sunshine and cycling. It goes without saying, I am a fair-weather cyclist.

I find that if I have something to mull over you can’t beat a couple of hours on the bike. Inspiration  – and not a vehicle – will likely strike and I return to the office fired up and even more ready for action. It starts when I first awake.

Perfect day for a ride
Perfect day for a ride

I look out the floor to ceiling windows to find out what the weather’s going to hold for me that day. If it looks miserable, I’m far more inclined to roll-over and go back to sleep. If the start looks promising, I leap out of bed, with a spring in my step, and work in the office until I adjudge it warm enough to venture forth.

One from the Vaults: Heavenly

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2014 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. Here’s one from February 2013.

The cold snap appears to be over and since returning from my trip to the UK I’ve been enjoying being out on my bike. I rode with my cycling coach this week who asked if I minded whether one of his other clients joined us. He assured me that she was at a similar level to me. Of course, I didn’t believe him. Experience has shown me otherwise. The lady in question was a triathlete thinking about training for the Embrun Ironman – one of the toughest ones. She’d apparently not ridden much lately and wanted my coach to assess her form to see if this tough event was achievable.

We picked her up in Beaulieu and she easily rode me off her wheel up the short sharp incline to Cap Ferret, thereby proving my point. Now, I’m suffering a little congestion after my trip to the UK but nonetheless it’s always annoying to be beaten by someone who claims not to have ridden for ages.

I have a girlfriend at another cycling club which has a very large female membership. They often join after their husbands have ridden at the club for a while, turning up in trainers on a bike that’s clearly seen better days. Three weeks later they’re leaving my friend for dust. Typically these ladies weigh under 50kg, rode extensively when they were younger but have always kept themselves fit and trim. It doesn’t matter how long either of us train, we’re always going to be at a massive (weight) disadvantage. However, we can gain back time/put the hurt on rolling along on the the flat and, in my case, going downhill.

With my coach we did some of my favourite uphill sprint intervals. As always the legs were fine while the lungs were found wanting. By the time I’d gotten back home, I’d been out for almost four hours and was in need of sustenance and a nap! Thursday also dawned bright and fair and I couldn’t resist going for a quick thrash around Cap d’Antibes. If on a scale of one to ten, yesterday was a four Thursday felt more like a seven.

Friday is the day I do, among other things, my housework so I generally don’t ride. However, I decided to make an exception today as the weather was so mild. It seemed a shame not to go out. There’s just something so liberating about getting on my bike and thinking “Mmm, where shall I go today?” As if the world were my oyster. The answer, as always at this time of year, was along the coast. I wasn’t the only one with the same idea. The roads were pretty busy for a Friday with throngs of riders in both directions.

On the way back, still feeling a seven, I stopped to drink in the sunshine and enjoy a quick coffee. As I sat there with the sun warming my face I reflected that I never, ever want to live anywhere else. I came back down to earth with a bump as, sadly, the housework was still waiting for me when I got back.

One from the Vaults: Are you gonna go my way?

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan.

Frankly, if Lenny Kravitz were to ask me, my answer would be affirmative. Sadly, Lenny wasn’t asking but I continue to live in hope rather than expectation. I’ll explain the connection, but first I have to back track.

The mercury had risen a few degrees, the sun was shining so my beloved and I decided to venture up into the hills for a ride. It was still chilly in the shade, and one had to exercise caution in the corners, but I was riding really well.  I suspect Peter Sagan (winner of today’s stage in the Tour of Oman) and I had the same breakfast this morning.

My husband turned round early to get back for a conference call while I pressed onwards and upwards. I was riding strongly even though I was doing high cadence intervals. I was channelling my inner Alberto [Contador] and spinning without too much movement on the bike. Not quite as supple as Alberto, but I’m getting there. I even overtook a few groups of cyclists but almost came to grief as a Monaco registered black Porsche passed by me way too close. Still, on the positive side, he’d have been able to afford to compensate my beloved for losing the woman who makes his life heaven [and hell] or, at best, replace my beloved bike.

A gentleman, probably in his early sixties, rode up to me and expressed concern with antics of the Porsche. We exchanged a few disparaging words about foreigners and tax dodgers. Then he accelerated gently away. I was determined to keep him in view. I picked up my pace and maintained the distance between us. As we crested the hill, at the entrance to the village, the road flattens out and I shot past him. I was well ahead as I started the descent but he caught me as I was delayed by a small traffic jam. He stayed on my wheel until the roundabout. I turned left after the roundabout, while he cut it. This was war! I tracked him. I didn’t know where he was going, but I was going too.

I stayed on his wheel until the next roundabout. I was hoping he was going to turn right. He did. I followed him up the slight rise, shifted into my big ring and then attacked on the downhill: game over. I know this descent like the back of my hand and I powered down it. I never saw him again.

This is one of my favourite games when I’m out riding. I like to get someone in my sights, ride up to them and past. Guys generally don’t like being overtaken by a female and will often give chase. I can hold my own on the flat, am vulnerable on any climbs but will crush anyone on the downhills.  Most rides around here involve a long ascent, then a few ups and downs, followed by a long descent. If you’re still in my sights come the descent, you’re toast!

Of course, some resolutely refuse to play ball and ride me off their wheels on the ascent, never to be seen again. But if I don’t at least try, I’ll never get into a winning position. I wonder if Lenny cycles?

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