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.

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)