One from the vaults: False start

Today, on our trip back down memory lane, we’re heading to November 2012 and those heady days when riding outside was possible! This was when I still had my cycling coach and we’d finally arranged our oft-postponed training ride in Italy.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation you undertake, things just don’t pan out the way you anticipated. Take this morning. It dawned gloriously sunny, perfect for a ride with my coach. We had reorganised our oft-cancelled ride in Italy for today and had agreed to rendezvous just after the motorway exit at 09:00. My kit and bike were prepared and ready the night before. Nothing worse than discovering you’ve got a flat five minutes before you’re due to leave the house.

I got up early, ate a hearty breakfast, dressed, put the bike on the car and set off with plenty of time to spare. At that time in the morning there’s always plenty of traffic and I hate to be late, for anything. I reached our meeting point early, parked, switched off the ignition and caught up with my emails on my Blackberry.  My coach was unusually early and after exchanging the obligatory kiss on both cheeks, I prepared to follow his van. I turned on the ignition, the car emitted a quiet cough and died.

I quickly leapt from the car to stop my coach leaving and he then took over. I’m a woman so of course I might be doing something wrong. I’ve long reached an age where this no longer bothers me. I handed him the keys and the instruction manual and stood back. Ten minutes later he confirmed I needed to ring Smart Assist. I gave them all the pertinent details, including a map reference for my location and they advised me to sit tight and await a call from the Smart mechanic.

I thanked my coach for his assistance and said I now regarded our trip to Italy as being jinxed. We’ve been trying to arrange it since early June and it’s been cancelled numerous times for one reason or another. He’s a chivalrous chap and I sensed his reluctance to leave me on my own. But I was fine. I had beverages, refreshments, indeed everything that one could possibly need and my knight in a white van would soon be with me.

I read a magazine, drank my bidon and waited. After forty minutes the mechanic rang. He asked if I’d contacted the emergency services. I replied in the negative. I’d been told to sit tight and wait for him to contact me. Well it turns out that even though I had exited the motorway, I was parked on their terrain and so I needed to ring “112”.

I did and after explaining my plight was put in contact with the motorway’s rescue service. They promised someone would be with me in 40 minutes, but actually he only took 20 and was himself a keen cyclist. There then followed a series of telephone conversations on my mobile with the motorway rescue services, the mechanic and Smart Assist whereby the last one promised the first one payment for his services. Tom III was then loaded onto the back of the lorry, I climbed on board and we headed for Smart in Monaco.

Although I’m guaranteed a replacement hire car in the event of Tom’s incapacity there’s always a problem: it’s always a  manual car. While I passed my driving test on one I haven’t driven one since. Luckily I had my bike and advised that, if necessary, I would ride home.

With space being at a premium in the concrete jungle that is Monaco, the Smart garage is situated just off a narrow lane where you’d be hard pressed to drive anything apart from a Smart. Undeterred, my rescuer backed his lorry the wrong way up a one way street, dropped off my car and left me in the capable hands of the Smart mechanics.

They kindly gave it their immediate attention. The problem was a dead battery. Now I’d driven the car to Aix-en-Provence and back yesterday and then to and from the airport in the evening without any trouble. It had also started this morning without any hint of what was to come. I should add that this is my third Smart and I’d never had any problem with them. Indeed, even if I could buy any car at all, my heart’s desire would be the one I’ve got. It’s totally fit for purpose.

You might be wondering if I’d inadvertently left something alight in the car? No, I had not. A wire had worked loose from the battery. It’s a wonder I’d not had any trouble with it before now. Within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was heading out of Monaco for home.  The sun was still shining so I dropped off the car, hopped on the bike and went for a quick ride. All was now right again with my world.

40 years of Memorable Moments: my beloved takes up cycling

I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained how we both came to take up cycling. Here’s the short version of events.

We had moved permanently to the south of France in 2005 hoping for a slower pace of life as we wound down to retirement. My beloved had expressed a desire to improve his golf handicap and his tennis game. While I wanted to spend more time on my many interests.

In reality, it was difficult to find partners to play tennis with when my beloved had time available or book golf tee-off times that fitted in with his limited down time. Consequently, he bought himself a cheap racing bike from Decathlon and regularly rode around nearby Cap d’Antibes.

Our first Christmas in France I bought my beloved a subscription to Vélo magazine. When the first instalment arrived in the post it contained a flyer advertising participation in L’Etape du Tour (amateur participation in the Tour’s most difficult stage). Believing my beloved needed a challenge, I signed him up and promptly forgot about it.

 

A few months later my beloved received confirmation of his place in l’Etape, stage 15 of that year’s Tour de France, 187km (117 miles) from Gap to l’Alpe d’Huez. He was sceptical of his ability but I assured him that with the right planning and preparation, masterminded by yours truly, he’d have no trouble. It really was a case of « ignorance is bliss. »

I researched local cycle clubs and he joined one in a neighbouring town that was well-organised and had plenty of good local riders. I spent hours searching the internet for kit recommendations. At that time Assos was regarded as the gold standard – it probably still is. I put together a training plan, again something I’d found thanks to Mr Google, and bought him a more serious 9and more expensive) racing bike. He was all set.

My beloved mentioned to a long-standing business colleague what he was attempting and the latter suggested that he should undertake the ride for a dental charity. To support fund-raising efforts, the colleague would publish regular updates on my beloved’s progress in his leading UK dental magazine.

My beloved’s chief campaign manager (aka me) swung into action with the begging bowl. People were most generous – I’m a hard woman to say no to. We raised sponsorship of goods and services to the value of Euros 80,000 and I wrote a series of humorous, tongue-in-cheek articles for said magazine. Articles which later enabled me to acquire a UK press card.

My beloved’s training was going well, he was (finally) managing to keep up with some of the club’s riders. In early May I decided we should take a look at the route in some detail and cycle as much of it as conditions permitted. We based ourselves in Briançon at the foot of the Lauteret, the second and by far the easiest of the three ascents my beloved would be expected to conquer.

I drove the support car either driving behind my beloved or ahead, then waiting until he caught up. I was part-way up the Lauteret, still on a relatively gentle incline, when my husband swung over and got off the bike muttering that this was a foolish idea. I agreed with him and said something to the effect:

Look, no one would be in the least surprised if you didn’t take part given your age.

This immediately galvanised my beloved, who was 50 at the time, and he never once complained again!

Over that weekend he successfully ascended the Lauteret, l’Alpe d’Huez and a large part of l’Izoard which was still impassable in early May. This early reconnaissance gave him the confidence that he would be able to complete the challenge.

On the day of l’Etape my two sisters also turned out in support on what was an exceedingly warm day and, although my beloved had a wobble at the base of l’Alpe d’Huez, he successfully completed l’Etape within the time allowed. Others were not so fortunate. I still remember their sad faces pressed against the window of the dreaded broom wagon.

He went on to take part in l’Etape the following year, held in the Pyrenees, which turned out to be much more difficult than the one the previous year in the Alps. He’s not ridden l’Etape since but, given that this year’s is on home turf, he’s risen once more to the challenge and I’m back in the support car.

While my beloved appreciated my support, after completing l’Etape he suggested I too might like to take up riding. I told him that if I could manage at least 60km on my old bike (Euros 50 from Decathlon) I would order myself a road bike. The rest, as they say, is history!

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!

One from the vaults: Don’t call me, I’ll call you

My month of July is typically dominated by the Tour de France, but not this year. Here’s a real golden oldy from July 2009 where I talk about my typical daily Tour routine. This was well before I started writing about cycling for VeloVoices.

While careful planning and preparation is one of the cornerstones of winning a Grand Tour, it’s also key to watching each stage. I don’t like to miss a moment’s action, so my planning and preparation also start well in advance of Le Grand Depart.

No trips, meetings or holidays, unless they involve going to watch a stage. In which case, hotels are booked as soon as the Tour route is formally announced. No visitors, unless they’re cycling fans. No one else understands. Work commitments are rescheduled. All records, returns and invoices for the second quarter of the year are completed as soon as possible and delivered to the accountant.

Most mornings, I rise early to ride my bike, eating breakfast and collecting my newspapers (L’Equipe and Nice Matin) on the way back. Once home, I shower, throw my kit in the washing machine and clean my bike. I prepare a quick lunch, usually a salad, and eat it while dealing with that morning’s email. Next, I tackle a few things on my prioritised “To Do” List. That way I’m ready to enjoy the afternoon’s transmission on TF2.

I will have saved a few chores to do while watching the Tour unfold: tackling the ironing mountain, darning and sewing on buttons, cleaning shoes, cleaning silver, sorting out my recipes etc etc You get my drift, I like to multi-task. With the whole three weeks mapped out, I can easily tackle any unforeseen emergency without it intruding on my viewing time.

My husband knows not to expect collecting from or being taken to the airport while a stage is in progress. Close family and friends do not call me during a stage. My sisters, who are currently staying just down the road, know not to call round until after the stage ends. At a minimum, I am out of commission from 14:20 until 17:30 each day.

Thank goodness for rest days, which allow me to take a longer ride, shop for food and do anything else that needs to be done.

One from the vaults: Home sweet home

I’ve really dug deep with this one. It’s from June 2009 when we decided to take a cycling vacation in Seefeld Austria. Sadly, the weather did not co-operate! When I first started blogging, I made little or no use of my photographs. But if you want to see photos of Seefeld and the surrounding area, there are plenty of other posts on my blog.

Sunday was the final day of our vacation and it was still raining, or should I say pouring. Undeterred by the climatic conditions, we have however had a most enjoyable vacation. Most days we have waited for a lull in the precipitation before venturing forth on our bikes, muffled up like Michelin men in rain jackets, leg and arm warmers. It’s warmed up as the week has progressed, although the surrounding mountains still have a dusting of snow.

During the week, we have ascended and descended all the surrounding hills, several times, most of which are an average 10% gradient.  I foolishly made the mistake of buying my beloved husband a book on rides in the surrounding area enabling him to seek out the highest climbs. However, we have also ridden along the valley visiting some of the villages perched part-way up the hills.

Now, we’ve seen plenty of cyclists out and about in the valley but, surprisingly, have not passed any, or indeed been passed by any on the climbs. Slogging back up one of these from the valley on Thursday, I was delighted when it levelled out at 7%. Yes, I know I can’t believe I even entertained that thought, but I did. Of course, it’s been great training as most of the climbs near us are only 7% average gradient.

I have a routine when cycling with my beloved. I always carry the cash, the mobile and the keys. I reckon that the combination acts as a powerful disincentive for my husband to misplace me. Equally, I don’t trust him not to lose any one of them should I be foolish enough to entrust him with them. History greatly supports my fears.

Nonetheless, my beloved managed to lose me on Friday in nearby Mittenwald, Germany. I searched all over for him, without success and as soon as the heavens opened (once again) I headed back across the border into Austria. It was cold and wet and, having climbed back up to the valley, I time-trialled home while passing cars regarded me with considerable disbelief.  My husband trailled in over an hour later looking (or so I like to think), a bit sheepish.

I am of course questioning why on earth did we decide to have a cycling holiday in Austria? Why did we not stay at home and enjoy the warm, sunny weather so ideal for cycling? The answer is my beloved. If he takes vacation and stays at home he keep straying into the office to answer a few emails or answer the phone and several hours later he’s still in there. From time to time, I need to ensure that he has a complete break. Conversely, my holiday starts when he heads off on a business trip. Roll on Monday!

One from the vaults: Slogans

Yet another of my many posts about cycling and road hazards! This one’s from May 2014 and riding my bike daily is the one thing I’ve really missed during lockdown. Fingers crossed I’ll shortly be able to venture forth.

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.

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!

One from the vaults: Marital aid

While I love a good argument, my husband dislikes any form of confrontation, particularly one he’s likely to lose. Yes, I generally like to have the last word. So he tries very hard never to give me the satisfaction of having it. Just about the only thing we ever used to argue about was directions while driving the car.

Yes, of course, that old chestnut. Women can’t find their way out of a paper bag, read a map, nor do they have any spatial awareness. While guys never ask for directions, never check on a map beforehand, never turn around after making a wrong turn etc etc But all that ended with the advent of GPS.

Having a GPS means never having to ask for directions, never having to check the route beforehand, never, ever having to say sorry, and, of course, if you do get lost, it’s not your fault!

Yes, there’s another woman now telling my husband, and your’s, exactly what to do and when. Hard as it is to believe, he’s actually listening. Has anyone ever heard a GPS with a man’s voice – no, I thought not.  The more sophisticated versions will even find you restaurants, petrol stations, whatever you need. How many marriages has this device saved? Is anyone keeping track?

They also do similar devices for bikes, and I’m sorely tempted to get one. However, it’s rare for my husband to take me on a wild goose chase on two wheels. Not that he hasn’t tried. But, it’s more that I now know my way around the surrounding countryside so much better than he does.

What he really needs is a device which keeps track of his peripherals: glasses, wallet, keys, mobile phone, briefcase. Now I know that my husband is not alone in being regularly parted, often only temporarily, with these things. But boy, do we waste a lot of time and energy trying to find them. While this would  deny me many more after dinner stories and jokes, frankly we’ve been married so long I already have at least three book’s worth, how many more do I really need?

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.