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.

Postcards from Seefeld I

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!

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!

Worrying trend

Last year finding brochures with shoes and garments for the older woman in my letterbox troubled me. This year’s much worse. Indeed, it could hardly have gotten off to a worse start. I receive 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?

grimreaper

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.

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.