Imprisoned

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

Col de Vence

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

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

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

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

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

Get with the programme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nose job

Nose job?
Nose job?

Yesterday my husband was desperate to enjoy what little good weather was forecast. Unwilling to wait while I finished a small task, he left the flat about an hour ahead of me. I was about to leave the Domaine, by bike, when my mobile rang. By the time I’d fished it out of my back pocket, I’d missed the call. I didn’t recognise the number so waited to see if the caller left a message. He did.

It’s the type of call you dread receiving. It started with the words that my husband had been involved in an accident then calmed my fears by advising he wasn’t badly hurt. I raced home and rang the caller who told me that Richard had been taken to a local hospital and a friend was coming to collect his bike. In France, the firemen are the paramedics but, not unnaturally, they cart you off to hospital and leave others to worry about collateral issues.

I changed, grabbed the necessary paperwork and legged it over to the hospital where a long queue of domestic accidents awaited. I was assured that my husband was being dealt with and I could see him soon. Soon turned out to be a relative term. It was two hours before he rang me to give me chapter and verse of what he could remember.

He was riding through Juan les Pins when the car in front, without indicating, stopped abruptly. Richard braked, flew over the handle bars and hit the boot with his nose which it has to be said is fairly sizeable. He was dazed, cut his chin, his lip and split open his nose up to his forehead. Copious amounts of blood issued forth. Luckily a couple of team mates were riding in the opposite direction but first on the scene was a lady from another club who’s a nurse who organised everything and took care of Richard – far better than I could have done. With that much blood, I’d have likely fainted!

Despite it being a Sunday my beloved was impressed with the level of care and professionalism of the hospital and staff and was released into my tender car with plenty of pain killers. He pretty much ached all over from the impact and while his first appointment tomorrow – today’s a bank holiday – is with an ENT specialist, he’ll probably have to go and see his physio too.

My beloved was extremely fortunate that he wasn’t cycling faster, as the injuries would have been worse. Also the proper authorities were quickly alerted and he was tended to by a nurse at the scene. I’m trying to track down the lady in question via the cycling club network so that I can thank her. He now looks like an extra in a Hammer House of Horror movie and his chances of ever finding work as a model have flown out the window.  He’s also grounded for the next week or so. Spare a thought for me in all of this. I was looking forward to a quiet week watching the Giro and tackling my “to do” list now I’ll be resuming my  ill-suited role as Florence Nightingale!

Postscript: Amazingly, I have managed to get all of the blood out of his shirt!

Tuesday postscript: The ENT specialist was pleased with how quickly my beloved’s injuries are healing. The nose is broken, but not displaced, and the stitches come out on Friday.

injuries3

He’s on his way

A number of you have asked how did my friend’s son fare in his race two weeks ago. Well, despite agonising cramp, he went on to finish third. But he wasn’t happy – only the top step will do. So last week-end in a 6km time-trial up the Col du Tanneron he finished first in his category. However, his greatest pleasure was beating his two-minute man to the line. This was an eighteen year old – four years older – who set off two minutes ahead.

He was racing again this morning in Marseille so the week-end followed a similar pattern to that two weeks’ ago. I picked him up on Saturday afternoon after checking carefully that he had everything he needed. He was pleased as punch that his Dad had lent him some lighter racing wheels and had given him an early birthday present of new red and white cycling shoes and sunglasses. When we arrived back at the flat I left him to amuse himself while I whipped up one of his favourite meals: home-made lasagna followed by creamy rice pudding. Surely enough carbohydrates to fuel the team let alone my little cup-cake. He went to bed early. Racers can never get enough rest!

I woke in the early hours and assumed that it was my beloved’s snoring which had disturbed me. I rolled over and went back to sleep, rising a 04:30am to make him muesli and banana muffins for breakfast. I packed his musette with plenty of muffins to share with the other kids. I woke him at 05:15am and he appeared almost immediately, fully-dressed in his racing gear, in the kitchen. He admitted hat he’d woken up at 02:30, washed and dressed and found his way to the kitchen. It was all in darkness, so he’d retraced his steps, noticing that his bedside alarm clock  showed 02:45, he climbed back beneath the covers for some more shut-eye.

We had our usual chat about tactics on the way to the drop off point. It was tipping it down with rain and I hoped that the weather would be kinder in Marseille. It was. I’ve just spoken to his mother and she told me he’d won the race. No doubt I’ll hear all about it over dinner this evening. So, a quick recap, he’s been riding eight months, he’s done six races and has three wins, a third and two top tens. Not a bad haul!

An apple a day

When I received this month’s training programme from my coach, it contained the suggestion that I eat apples for a day. He often gives advice on which supplements to take such as spirella (makes me nauseous), additional vitamin C (ditto), bottled water with high levels of minerals (fine), omega 3 (prefer krill oil). I wanted to get clarification as my nutritionist, who admittedly I haven’t seen for a while, only allowed me one piece of fruit per day. He’d suggested I follow the regime as a bit of a detox for one day, rather than three. I could only eat that one fruit all day though I could eat as many as I wanted.

Although I’m not a big apple fan, I followed his advice. Now, he didn’t say, but I was guessing that they shouldn’t be swilled down with my usual gallon of strong black coffee. So I felt uber-virtuous as I drank fruit tea and water. It was nowhere near as bad as I had feared, probably because I slept half the day away. My beloved is a bit congested and his snoring is reaching such decibel levels that frankly I fear for my hearing. He woke me up at 4 o’clock in the morning and, knowing I was going to get up in an hour to take him to the airport, couldn’t go back to sleep.

Having dropped him off at the airport – on autopilot – I usually come back and work. But I was chilled to the bone and made the mistake of slipping back under the covers – I was in my fleecy track suit – only to be woken loudly by the phone at 11 o’clock. Goodness, where had the day gone? I spent what was left playing catch up until it was time to collect him from the airport again – just a day trip. So I only managed to consume two rather large bio apples: one for brunch and one for dinner.

My beloved is departing later today – returning Saturday lunchtime – so as a treat, I made him french toast for breakfast. Pretty much everything I cook at the moment has to be photographed before consumption as it may form one of my many recipes for the forthcoming column “The Musette” on VeloVoices.

French toast is something I can always rustle up for breakfast or indeed as “pain perdu” for dessert. It only takes a few minutes to prepare and cook and it’s a definite crowd pleaser. My friends’ sons would happily eat it every morning for breakfast.  I occasionally make a savoury version with bacon and a dribble of maple syrup but most times it’s sweet with a dusting of cinnamon sugar – a mixture of cinnamon and icing sugar – and/or maple syrup. If it’s for dessert, I’ll serve it with a thick dusting of icing or cinnamon sugar and some poached fresh fruit.

Buoyed by our delicious breakfast we will be making the most of today’s fine weather – it poured all day yesterday –  with a lunchtime ride. He’s leaving for Italy on an early evening flight. Too early to eat dinner beforehand so I’ve made him some cake for a mid-afternoon snack. He usually moans that all the cake I make gets consumed either at various cycling club events or by my Thursday English class. This is a fair accusation, but this time I’ve saved him a few slices. Again, the whole process was recorded in glorious technicolour for a VeloVoices blog post. At this rate, I’m going to have enough material for a cookery book which I feel I should entitle “The Hungry Cyclist” in honour of my beloved.

 

 

Heavenly

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.

#Festive500

I know two consecutive posts, whatever is the world coming to?

group-festiv500aI set myself a goal over the Christmas period: the Festive 500. Rapha, of which I am a long time client, issues a challenge to ride 500+ miles/kilometres or whatever from 24-31 December, write about it and, maybe, just maybe, win one of their fabulous prizes. This challenge has gained in popularity since its early days and it’s now pretty competitive with riders recording fairly impressive totals during the period. I’m a competitive soul, but I’ve long reached the age where I know my limits.

I’ve never risen to this particular challenge, not because I can’t, but because I felt that I have somewhat of an unfair advantage. One of the many blessings of living in what I consider to be the finest bit of God’s green earth is its weather. While my compatriots are facing cold, frost and an almost continual deluge, I whimper if the daytime temperature drops below 10C.

With my beloved home for a full two weeks – I know, however will I manage? – I thought I should take to two wheels every day. I’ve easily ridden in excess of 500km in a week but that’s usually in the summer months when I stray into Nice’s hinterland, not during the winter months when I tend to find two hours on the bike more than enough.

I should also add that my training plan had 31/2hrs of cycling, 1 1/2hrs of jogging, a spot of circuit training and swimming scheduled for the same period. While I do typically adhere to my coach’s plans pretty much to the letter, this past week I haven’t and frankly feel all the better for it. But don’t tell him!

Given the great weather, the roads have been pretty full of cyclists both amateur and professional alike and I did spot one of two well-known faces on my travels. Here’s the run-down of my #Festive 500:-

(image courtesy of Cofidis)
Aleksejs Saramotins (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Monday: I enjoyed a damp, overcast, almost foggy ride around Cap d’Antibes with my beloved and my friend’s son who left me trailing as they headed off together in a conspiratorial fashion. Between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes, I took shelter from the wind on the wheel of Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis —> IAM Cycling) who was I think somewhat surprised at my tenacity but shook me off on the approach to the ramparts in the old town of Antibes. I then did a spot of zig zagging around the piece of prime real estate that is Cap d’Antibes crossing paths with Andrey Mizurov (Amore & Vita) and my beloved  – going in the opposite direction – who failed to catch me in the run-in for home and a well earned lunch. On my way back I spotted  Nico Roche (Ag2R —> Saxo-Tinkoff) and  Rudy Molard (Cofidis). Total ridden – 42km

Tuesday: On Xmas Day, anticipating that the traffic would be less heavy than normal, we headed to Nice, climbed up the Corniche via Coco Beach  – a steeper ascent than from the port – and rode down to and around Villefranche sur Mer and Cap Ferret. Yes, we were sticking with prime real-estate. In fact, it’s pretty hard to avoid it unless you head into the hills and beyond. It was overcast when we started our ride but fittingly the sun came out in Villefranche. We rode up and around the old town stopping beside the sea for a reassuringly pricey cup of coffee before heading back home. Total ridden – 58km

Wednesday: Once more it started somewhat damp and overcast and not even a sighting of the World Champion resplendent in his rainbow jersey brightened our day. Our paths crossed once more with Andrey Mizurov and finally, just as we headed back home from a circumnavigation of Cap d’Antibes, the sun came out to play. Too late, I was already feeling chilled. Total ridden – 39km

Blue skies and sunshine; just what i ordered!
Blue skies and sunshine; just what I ordered!

Thursday: A little damp again to start off with but becoming brighter as we rode. We headed over to Golfe Juan, stopping for an inexpensive coffee at a favourite haunt of many local riders. We again saw the Mizurovs, all three of them, who, if they were doing the same challenge as me, would have already reached the 500km marker.  Total ridden – 57km

Friday: The sun shone, the mercury rose along with our spirits as we headed over to Cannes and another of my favourite coffee and comfort stops. Again the coffee is pretty pricey but the toilets are sumptuous. Once more we spotted the Mizurovs en famille. Total ridden  – 71km.

Saturday: My beloved elected to ride with his buddies rather than have me flailing along once more in his wake. I really didn’t mind and set off along the coast riding to Theole sur Mer and back in the warm sunshine. I even managed a spot of window shopping as I rode along the Croisette! Total ridden – 82km.

(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)
(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)

Sunday: Flying solo once again, I opted for one of my favourite routes to Valbonne and back. It’s an undulating ride and bits of it have featured in the parcours of recent Tours of the Med and Paris-Nice. I espied the World Champion enjoying a coffee in the sunshine with team mate Amael Moinard,  an unidentified Lampre rider and friends. In training for the forthcoming Tour Down Under, he rode for rather longer  – and further than me as I later discovered. Total ridden – 84km

Monday: My beloved feeling the effects of his two long rides at the week-end at a rather energetic pace was content with a recovery ride today, once more in brilliant sunshine. So while I had planned a slightly longer jaunt I was happy to agree to his wishes and we rode to Juan-les-Pins and back, stopping to enjoy a quick coffee in the warm sunshine. Total ridden – 48km

Those of you who are both eagle eyed and adept at mental arithmetic will note that I didn’t actually ride 500km but that wasn’t the true purpose of the exercise. 500km was merely a possible destination; it was the journey that counted. I’m not going to win any prizes, but the rides were reward enough.

New Year’s Day Postscript: The winner was Geoff P from Melbourne, Australia who logged 1802.9km or maybe miles. That’s totally amazing  and to put it into perspective that distance would have taken me around 80hrs of riding. Yes, that’s 10 hours per day for the duration of the challenge, Clearly, Geoff’s a quicker rider and Melbourne is pretty fflat so it might only have take me 72 hours.

But IMHO even more amazing in second place was Paddy D from Wiltshire, England who rode 1605.9km in the cold and rain. There should be some sort of handicapping depending on where you’re based. Over 12,000 people took part and there’s probably many more who, like me, didn’t record their rides on Strava but who also rode along.

What, no leftovers?

"Before" image courtesy of Wikipedia
“Before” image courtesy of Wikipedia

Well that’s not strictly true. As a woman who never knowingly undercaters, we do have a few tasty morsels to sustain us this week. The Christmas feast went really well, if I say so myself. Sheree’s little helper was indeed a dab hand with the vegetable peeler and, also, very adept with a whisk and mixing spoon. He’s elected to stay until Christmas Eve, when I’ll be reluctantly handing him back. He was a big help with the clearing up and he’s proved more adroit at loading the dishwasher than my beloved. His chilli chocolate truffles were a big hit and, after sending my guests home with goody bags choc-full of truffles, we’ve more in the freezer for when only a hit of chocolate will do.

His efforts will not go unrewarded. I’ll be making him French toast for breakfast before we head out together for a ride and the start of my Rapha 500 Challenge. I’ve never done this before on the basis that it’s really to encourage those in less favourably climatic spots to get out on their bikes, or that’s what  told myself. But I’ve since discovered that’s not the case and so will be logging kilometres covered for the next seven days.

We’re meeting up with my little helper’s Dad which might just prove my undoing. It’s fine riding with pros on the flat, or even going downhill. At this time of year they just putter along at 30km/h. I can maintain this with ease on the flat but, as soon as the road turns upwards, I go backwards. I can’t employ my trick of “doing a McEwan” – ghosting to the front of the peloton before sliding gently through it as we ascend –  as there’s only four of us. Meanwhile, my friend the pro, still in his big gear, will maybe shift his little ring into something larger and continue pedalling and talking with ease at the same speed.

After our ride we’ll return for one of my beloved’s favourite meals, a fry up. I don’t mean a full English but some of yesterday’s leftovers turned into a large bubble and squeak. We’ll have to see how my little helper enjoys this quaint British Boxing Day traditional fare. He is rather partial to a roast potato and they were particularly crunchy yesterday thanks to the liberal application of boiling hot goose fat. Well it is only once a year!

We typically indulge in oysters on Christmas Eve and foie gras on Christmas Day but, in view of yesterday’s blow out, we’ll be enjoying rather plainer fare. I’m thinking plenty of crunchy salads, home-made soup – NOT turkey – and fish. Yes, we’re starting our New Year’s resolutions early.

Plugging away

After the storm, the sunshine
After the storm, the sunshine

I’ve not written much about my own training programme in recent weeks. I am, of course, still faithfully following the advice of my cycling coach but the various breaks have made it feel as if I’m, at best,  constantly treading water. October  turned out to be quite a benign month weatherwise and I tried to profit as much as possible by racking up the kilometres. After a cracking mid-month storm, I noted there was a dusting of snow on the hills and a decided nip in the air. Yes, it was official, autumn had well and truly arrived. I packed up my summer cycling wear and donned my long sleeved mid-season shirt and  3/4 bib-shorts – the latter unlikely to be forsaken much before May.

Possibly because this period was so wet last year, we’ve had a dearth of organised pointages (Sunday club association rides). Instead these have been replaced not with club rides but rides with friends. We had a final trip of the year up to the plateau at Thorenc for a picnic lunch complete with support and chow wagons. I really like this route but it’s not one I’m allowed to do on my own as there’s no mobile phone coverage on the plateau.It was an enjoyable ride up but we came back by car after a delicious repast.

My coach and I were proposing to go for a long ride in Italy but thanks to numerous cancellations this oft expressed desire has been shelved until next year. Honestly I was beginning to think the idea was jinxed especially after my car broke down. The coast road will do just fine for whatever exercises he has in mind.

Last week I had a severe case of cabin fever. We rode Sunday morning returning just in time to avoid the heavy rain shower. This continued all day Monday followed by the most amazing electric storm in the early hours of Tuesday morning. It continued to pour down all day Tuesday. At this point I was thankful we live in a flat on a hill. Wednesday morning the sunshine returned briefly for an hour or so lulling us into a false sense of security. The downpour started again just as we were attempting to leave the Domaine. My beloved, who was going to be spending the next few days at an exhibition in Paris, decided to brave the downpour, while I beat a hasty retreat, so returning just over an hour later totally drenched.

Thursday dawned brightly on the coast with the menacing black clouds lingering on the hills. I wasted not a moment and went out for a longish (100km) ride along the coast, recording one of my best times for the ride. It only started to rain again later that evening as I was leaving my English class. It continued to rain on Friday, so much that I expected Noah and his Ark to put in an appearance.

It’s now stopped raining and the sunshine – thank goodness –  has returned. But it’s much colder and there’s a thick dusting of snow on the hills. The mid-season jersey has been replaced with the winter one and I’ve gotten out my woollen socks, although I’m still wearing half-fingered gloves, but probably not for much longer. It’s at this point climbing hills is restricted to the shorter ones. It’s not the ascent I mind, so much as the bone-chilling descent which can often be slippery too in the winter months.

I have a well-honed selection of winter routes which include shortish climbs where I can practise any number of fiendish exercises set me by my coach. I like the sprinting and endurance ones best and often provide a few moments of amusement for those labouring away on the maintenance or renovation of some of the fine coastal properties. This is supplemented with sessions on the home trainer – hour max – a spot of jogging and the occasional session in the Domaine’s gym. Though I note with some horror my coach has suggested a spot of swimming in this month’s programme. I’ll soon disabuse him of that idea.

Of course, with Xmas and temptation looming, I feel the need to step it up a bit. If I don’t all my clothes will start feeling snug!

False start

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.