Summer’s almost here!

After our wet and windy start to spring we’ve seemingly rushed headlong into summer. Daytime temperatures this week have finally gone over 20°C. We’ve been enjoying cocktails, mixed by my beloved – see, he does have some uses –  on the terrace, and have also started to eat our meals outside. Having a large wrap around terrace means we can choose to eat in either the sunshine or the shade.

On Wednesday, I shed my 3/4 bib-shorts and long-sleeved jersey a couple of weeks ahead of schedule for summer kit. Riding in these temperatures is such a joy, it’s a glorious time of year. Of course, when you cruise along at my speed, you have time to note nature’s changes. The recent mix of sunshine and rain means the grass is a long, lush, Kelly green, the new leaves are a vibrant lime green and the heady scent, and vibrant dash of colour, provided by cherry blossom and purple wisteria is omnipresent.

The other day I rode back home via Vence, an inland town I typically and regularly ride past on my way to elsewhere without stopping to check out its charming Old Town. This time I decided to stop, grab a drink, enjoy the weather and see what changes had taken place since I was last there in early November. When I’d been there in early March for Paris-Nice, I hadn’t ventured further than the race finish on the outskirts of town.

Aside from being a very popular current day tourist spot, many artists and writers have also enjoyed Vence’s charms in times gone by: Matisse – famous for the Rosarie Chapel on the outskirts of Vence – Chagall and DH Laurence but to name a few.

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Vence’s Old Town, like many of the old and perched villages in the area has some history and some great views of the surrounding countryside. It was the former ancient Roman settlement of Vintium, before it became the bishopric and seigneury of the Villeneuve family. The Old Town has fortunately conserved much of its historical heritage including the Marsellais Columns, the remnants of a Roman triumphal arch and later additions, such as the 13th century Signadour tower-gate and Levis portal, the Peyra gate (15th century) and the Breche gate (18th century).

Once you enter the Old Town, it’s lovely to wander around its maze of cobbled alleyways, stopping to admire the Renaissance Place du Peyra and its much photographed fountain. Not forgetting the wonderful ash tree on Place Thiers planted in memory of François 1st’s 1538 visit, and  the Chateau des Villeneuve, now a contemporary art museum.

Vence’s small but picturesque 11th century Romanesque Cathedral, adjoining the Saint Lambert Tower (12th century), contains 15th century stalls sculpted by Jacotin Bellot, a beautiful 16th century altar piece, a unique set of 17th century polychrome wooden statues, a mosaic by Marc Chagall (“Moses saved from the waters”) and a Saint-Veran sarcophagus dating back to the 5th century!

Aside from the Old Town’s historic charms, there are plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants scattered around pretty squares, where you can just sit on their terraces and soak up the atmosphere over a meal or just a refreshment. I made for one of my favourite patisseries which also serves coffee and light refreshments and was pleased to note that a number of new restaurants had opened which were animating the main street.

As I headed back home I passed the Chapelle des Penitents blancs, which boasts a cupola covered with colourful varnished tiles and a Renaissance bell tower. Thereafter, it’s a swift downhill descent whereby I swoop past St Paul du Vence and La Colle sur Loup, both worthy of a visit if you’re over this way.

Postcard from Sanremo: or how my day unfolded

We missed this race last year because my beloved had broken his leg. But, this year, we’re back and have enjoyed reenacting our #MSR traditions. We don’t do Milan. Instead we rise and head for breakfast in Italy. The Italians make the best coffee in the world and, while their croissants aren’t as flaky as the French ones, they’re not too shabby. It’s advisable to arrive early in Sanremo to bag a parking space, even in the parking reserved for the press.
We left behind the early morning storms and rain of the Cote d’Azur, gladly swapping it for sunshine on the Italian Riviera. The place was buzzing and I did a spot of food shopping. Just across the road from the press centre is a fantastic selection of shops, including a butchers. Just look at the photos above from a brochure they produced about their beef herd. Of course, having seen their photos, I couldn’t eat the produce. I also buy loads of fruit and vegetables, which are grown in the greenhouses littering the slopes of Sanremo, plus some foccacia. We’re now set for the following week, and beyond.
I know it’s not long since our late breakfast but thoughts now turn to lunch. I generally go to the same place. I have flirted with other restaurants but this one hasn’t been bettered. It’s sunny, but not warm, so we opt to eat inside. We fill our musettes with calamari (squid) and pasta con vongole (clams). It’s important to keep one’s tank topped up for a Monument, particularly one the length of Milan-Sanremo – almost 300km. Sated we trek the few metres back to the press room and our front row view of one of the many television screens. Just like the Germans we’d staked out our spot early on, using newspapers rather than towels.
The sun might be shining in Sanremo but the start of the race in Milan was cold and very wet. By the time the cameras cut to the action, with 116km to go, rain’s still falling and most of the riders are still wearing rain jackets though a few have wrestled off their overshoes. As they hit the coastline, the rain lightens and the break is within sniffing distance.
The press room fills up, everyone’s pounding on their keyboards. Meanwhile, I’ve had a power nap. That’s what always happens when I have wine at lunchtime. Don’t think I’ve missed any crucial action. Riders swap musettes for rain jackets with just under 70km to go.

With just over 55km to go in Alassio, the peloton’s finally in the sunshine and drying out. Cyling kit is being thrown everywhere with gay abandon. The spectators have yellow flares in Imperia, usually the preserve of Valentino Rossi fans at MotoGP races. The break is now just 30 seconds ahead. It’s going to be over for them all too soon. I finish Sudoku diabolico in Corriere della Sera and the boys still haven’t reached the Poggio. Riders at the back of the bunch are untangling themselves from bits of kit.

Thankfully the sun is still shining in Sanremo as cameramen and photographers start heading to the finish. It’s all over for the break as the Groupama-FDJ peloton streams past and the quartet find themselves at the back with Marcel Kittel who was riding his first (and possibly last) MSR.  Peloton now moving into fourth gear with riders being spat out the back, favourites to the front, as it heads up the Cipressa.

Riders top the Cipressa and head  down its winding, technical curves. It’s always best to lead rather than follow on descents. Peter Sagan’s sucking the Shark’s (Vincenzo Nibali) wheel. Teams are now all lining out and trying to get to the front of a very big bunch before they tackle the final climb, the Poggio.

With just 10km to go, Mark Cavendish who was riding with a broken rib  hits some traffic furniture and goes down – how unlucky is he? That looked nasty, I hope he’s okay. Like most fans, I hate to see riders fall. Meanwhile, the front of the peloton hits the Poggio. A couple of riders leap off front but soon blow up. Nibali goes with 7 km remaining with another rider and quickly builds an advantage. He swoops downhill, drops his break-mate, as Sagan’s team gives chase. More fallers. Italian commentators getting uber-excited but his Nibs still has final 2km to go on the flat, where he could easily get caught.

Nibali, quite probably the best descender in the peloton, gambled that the others wouldn’t work together soon enough to drag him back and he was right. Finally, it’s his MSR. Gosh, that was an exciting ride. Press room breaks out into cheers and applause. Bravissimo to the Shark, proper old school ride and victory. Sanremo was delighted to have an Italian winner, the first one since Pippo Pozzato in 2006. Plus, it’s the first by a Grand Tour winner since Sean Kelly. Nibs looked really emotional on the podium and joined in with singing the Italian national anthem.

 Post-race, back at the press centre, all smiles, he confirmed:

It hasn’t really sunk in yet, because it is all so unexpected. It was incredible. When the Latvian champion Neilands attacked, he asked me to collaborate. The team was riding for Colbrelli who was in great shape, but Neilands was strong and when I saw we had opened a 20 second gap, I decided to continue that attack. At the top of the Poggio, where the gradient is a bit higher, I accelerated and then pressed on. I believed victory was within my reach in the final part of the race when I saw the empty road in front of me. Even so, the final 2km were interminable.

Before the race I had two key points in mind: the Cipressa, if there was a breakaway group of 6, 7 or even 9, I’d try to get into it, but without working. Then there was the Poggio, the most dangerous place, where an attack by Kwiatkowski, Van Avermaet or Sagan was likely. I was well positioned in the group behind [team-mate] Mohoric, waiting for someone to move, and to react to it, and that is what happened. In the final 50m, I knew I’d won. I could see the finish line ahead of me, and I made sure I enjoyed the victory.

When I set my targets at the start of each season, it’s important to me to target races that really count. I felt I was behind in my preparation for Sanremo, but during Tirreno Adriatico my form grew and I was only lacking in the final 300m. I went home and rested, but it was only during the race that I realised I had come to this Milano-Sanremo in great condition. I finished last season by winning Il Lombardia, and started this season with winning Milano Sanremo. One day races are special for me, but that also makes things difficult for me in my preparation for the Grand Tours. Perhaps Milano Sanremo was the race I least expected to win because it doesn’t really suit me. In the past I’ve attacked on the Poggio and made the podium, but I’ve always been beaten by a faster finisher than me. That said, today I won and I am very happy.

Happy too, we head home.

Cycling images courtesy of LaPresse – D’Alberto / Ferrari / Alpozzi – Pool Milano-Sanremo

Postcard from Paris-Nice 2018

One of these years I will endeavour to follow the entire route of Paris-Nice, just not this year.  This time I joined the race for the start of stage 5 in Salon-de-Provence. We’ve visited the town a number of times as my beloved has a client here. But, last year, during the Tour de France, was our maiden venture into its small but beautifully formed Old Town.

 

My overnight stop was chosen deliberately because of its prized location, with a parking place, most of which in the town had been suspended because of the race. The B&B is the family home of a doctor, who runs his practice from the front two rooms, and his designer wife who runs their home, the B&B and her design practice from the rest of the building which includes a delightful, enclosed courtyard garden and pool.

I was buffeted by the wind on the drive down but didn’t mind as the sun was shining. Everything looks so much better in the sunshine, doesn’t it? Spring was definitely in the air. The mimosa might be on its last legs but the bright lime green of new leaves and shoots was everywhere, along with what I assume is cherry, or maybe apple, blossom.

As anticipated the drive took me just over two hours. I easily located my lodgings and joined my hostess for a reviving cup of green tea while her tiny dog Lilli gazed at me in adoration and gave my shoes a quick clean and polish. The owner looked a tad put out at this open transfer of affection. I didn’t bother to enlighten her about my enduring and inexplicable attraction to dogs.

The house was charming and had been strikingly decorated. It certainly wasn’t to my taste but it made a pleasant change from a beige hotel chain bedroom, plus my bedroom and bathroom were very generously proportioned. Space is always a bonus. I was also their only guest and barely made a dent in the copious breakfast the following morning.

I had arrived suitably laden with baked goodies for a number of the teams. I noted with interest that my race winning brownies served up at Strade  Bianche had  wrought their magic in the team time-trial at Tirreno Adriatico. Maybe, they’d have a similar effect at Paris-Nice, I certainly hoped so.

 

Brownies handed out and gratefully received, the peloton departed and I tarried over lunch in the sunshine before heading back to the motorway to get to the race finish in Sisteron. This is a much used location by ASO and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited. I’ve also ridden extensively around here, so it’s always a pleasure to revisit. I typically stay at the same hotel, the Ibis. Definitely beige but usually in the company of a couple of cycling teams. This time it was to be Lotto Soudal and Astana.

As I joined the motorway I had an epiphany. I cancelled my room in Sisteron and drove home. I just had this feeling that I should watch the stage finish, not the stage start. This was to prove a wise decision.

Friday afternoon, I drove up to Vence to watch the final kilometres of a stage which covered roads I know, ride regularly and love. As ever I get a real kick from seeing the professional peloton ride on my roads. My instincts proved correct, the stage was won by a friend, Rudy Molard. I was so happy for him. And, yes, he’d been one of the recipients of my race-winning brownies!

Sadly this year’s Race to the Sun was no such thing. The week-end was a wash-out. I woke on Saturday morning to the sound of pouring rain, rolled over and went back to sleep. I had no intention of getting soaked like the previous week-end in Siena. Instead I watched an enthralling stage on the television before heading to the airport to collect my beloved where I discovered  – not for the first time – he’d misinformed me about his arrival time. I returned home, took his dinner out of the oven and returned once more much later.

Sunday morning we awoke to the sound of heavy rain and wind. We took an executive decision to watch the final stage on the television. This too proved to be wise as, with the exception of the last few kilometres, it rained all day. It felt like a bit of a cop out not to watch both stages live but, to be honest, my flu symptoms had reared their ugly head again. Serves me right for kissing so many in the peloton who were subsequently DNF or DNS on account of the flu. However, when you get to my age, the opportunity to kiss so many fit young guys in lycra shouldn’t be ignored, despite the consequences.

In spite of the weather, or maybe because of it, this year’s Paris-Nice was a rip-roaring race which kept us on the edge of our seats throughout before a long-range, smash and grab by the Spaniards on the final stage causing a couple of wags to re-christen the Promenade des Anglais, Promenade des Espagnols!

Le Grand Depart 2020!

How exciting! Le Grand Départ of the 2020 Tour de France is going to be in Nice. Rumours have abounded for a while but the fantastic news was confirmed today at a presentation given by Christian Estrosi, Mayor of Nice and Chairman of Nice-Côte d’Azur,  alongside Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France.

On Saturday 27 June, proceedings in the Tour de France will kick off in Nice for only the second time, after the one in 1981. The city’s roads and surrounding countryside on which I regularly cycle will provide the organisers with plentiful opportunities to draw up a variety of scenarios for the first few days of the 107th edition. Needless to say #IAMEXCITE.

The Tour’s last visit was in 2013, its 100th edition, after its start on the island of Corsica. Though, of course, it has visited many times (36) since the victory of René Pottier in 1906 up until the 1981 Grand Départ, when Bernard Hinault started the race in the world champion’s jersey only to immediately take possession of the maillot jaune on the stages in and around Nice.

At today’s presentation, Christian Estrosi confirmed:

It is a source of immense pride to welcome the Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2020 to Nice for a second time following 1981. Le Tour is the third biggest international sporting event and consequently ensures considerable economic benefits for our entire area. Seven years after welcoming the 100th edition in 2013 which attracted almost 100,000 spectators, this is a further step which strengthens my desire to make Nice an essential city for hosting major sporting events.

As a result, we will have our heart set on offering optimal conditions to the organisers and teams. Nice boasts an exceptional playground for cyclists, from the Promenade des Anglais up to the high passes of the Mercantour national park. This rich relief will make it possible to launch the 107th edition of the Tour de France in the finest way possible.

I await further details with great interest, it’s going to be so much fun.

That winning feeling

As a fan of cycling I appreciate that all too few riders win races, not because they’re incapable of winning but because most spend their careers in the service of others. So when a professional cyclist you know wins a race or a stage, you know how much it means to them, their family and friends. It’s the best feeling ever. Probably better than winning yourself.

Friday I witnessed a rider I know, admire and have interviewed win a stage of a WorldTour race. He’d targeted the stage because it finished not far from where he now lives and on roads on which he trains. However targeting a stage and winning it are two entirely different things. This is how it happened.

Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) got the jump on the leading group with just over a kilometre to go and pedaled as if his life depended on it. Momentary confusion in the group enabled him to hold them off and solo across the finish line, arms aloft.  Thereafter he collapsed, gulping in air, trying to take in what had just happened. He’d won his first WorldTour race, something he’d been threatening since his two podium places at the start of the season.

Like a lot of riders in the peloton, Rudy doesn’t live far from the finish and as he explained post-race:

I knew the course like the palm of my hand. Since the profile of this Paris-Nice was announced, I was delighted with such a finale which suited my qualities. I was on a good day and it’s fantastic to win a stage here. I really needed to attack before the sprint. I tried several times and it worked. It’s just great.

Indeed, it was great Rudy and I feel privileged to have been there to witness your victory which was popular with many of the riders. I feel sure it’s the first of many. Of course, my race winning brownies might also have played their part!

 

Postscript: After Saturday’s Dantesque stage, Rudy was last man standing on his team. Without support, and still feeling the effects of his endeavours on Friday, he slid down the GC.

More postcards from Siena

The last two years we’ve driven to Siena in Tom, this year my beloved put his foot down and we hired a larger car. Thank goodness! We had a dreadful journey with driving rain, sleet, snow and cross-winds. We had about 10 minutes of sunshine walking back from the restaurant where we lunched in Sarzana.

 

We’d previously stopped off in this town on the way back from Siena, two years ago. Failing to appreciate that it was an old walled town with its treasures, restaurants included, within, we’d finished up at a restaurant in the nearby countryside. Lunch was delicious but included in the price was a dance and sing song! We did not join in. 

This time we found a delightful patisserie and restaurant where for the princely price of 25 Euros we enjoyed a three course lunch with water and coffee. Of course, in Spain, we’d have had wine too. Fortified by lunch, and a brief exposure to sunlight, we continued to battle the elements and traffic before finally arriving at our destination in Siena, where I scored another room upgrade. I know I don’t know how I do it either.

We dashed round the corner from the hotel to what must be the most beautiful press room in the WorldTour to collect our accreditation which, despite the length of the queue, progressed surprisingly swiftly and smoothly. Soon thereafter we were quaffing a very respectable Chianti in one of our favourite watering holes. This one has a very generous nibbles buffet. So generous in fact, that we didn’t require dinner. We were only too happy to sink into our crisp white cotton sheets well before our usual bedtime ahead of what was sure to be an arduous day.

The following day dawned heavily overcast. About the only thing my beloved and I would have in common with the professional riders braving Dantesque conditions was plenty of base layers. Theirs would be topped off with lycra, ours with cashmere and waterproof down coats.

It started raining heavily as soon as the ladies race set off. They raced all day in the rain and, as anticipated, the strongest riders prevailed with a surprisingly large number of participants finishing in the wonderfully historic Il Campo – surely the world’s best finish.

My beloved and his camera took refuge behind the podium out of the driving rain, along with most of the male peloton. There was no getting away from it they were all going to be plastered in mud. Recalling that famous stage in the 2010 Giro d’Italia won by Cadel Evans who made the most of his skills as a former mountain biker to prevail. Would that be the case today?  

Meanwhile, I headed to the team buses to distribute my race winning brownies to a number of teams. I like to think they encourage the riders to get back to the buses quicker. Did the podium get any brownies? Now, that would be telling! 

Despite trying to shelter at every opportunity, we got drenched. We headed back to the hotel for a change of clothes and some warming soup feeling thankful we weren’t riding. We’ve previously ridden around the area, including on the white gravel roads, it’s definitely an experience to be savoured in fine weather.

There was a brief lull in the rain which enabled us to watch the exciting finale of the women’s race before we returned later to watch the men’s. I love watching them grind their way up the final climb. It was an enthralling race with a totally unexpected podium. But then, that’s bike racing! I just love it when someone totally confounds the pundits and wins their maiden race. Of course, in this case, I bet no one predicted the podium.

I should probably have cheered from afar as I wasn’t feeling too good and was running a high temperature but, after an early night, I felt much better the next day. This meant my beloved, who’s always at a bit of a loss when I’m ill, had to dine out on his own. 

The last two years we’ve headed home on Sunday, but not this year. We had a full day to walk around previously unexplored places in Siena in the weak sunshine and watch the sportive riders come home. There were some impressive times while I suspect some of the tail-end Charlies had been enjoying some of the facilities en route, and why not?

We retired to one of our favourite family-run restaurants for a simply splendid Sunday lunch amid plenty of locals. My late father would have approved: white linen tablecloths and napkins, the husband and grand-daughter in the kitchen, the wife running front of house, small number of covers, and full of locals who regularly eat there. Of course, there are lots of great restaurants in Siena.

Sunday evening we were still stuffed, despite walking for most of the afternoon and were only too happy to lounge around our splendid hotel which was housed in an elegant and charming 17th century palazzo which had been a wedding gift from Pope Alexander VII to his niece – those are the sort of relatives we could all do with! The hotel is centrally located, just a few steps from all of Siena’s many, major monuments.

Despite the weather, we were sorry to leave on Monday morning. We had a good drive home with the car carrying precious cargo: Chianti and lots of Italian edibles!

All cycling images courtesy of RCS

 

 

 

 

Back on the trainer!

Yes, I’m (unexpectedly) back on the home trainer. We enjoy around 300+ days of sunshine every year leaving around 65 when it’s not so great. Some of those 65 have occurred in the last two weeks. It was lovely the week after we returned from Dubai, but it’s been downhill ever since, culminating in snow. That’s right, SNOW! A pretty rare occurrence on the Cote d’Azur.

It never lasts long but chaos ensues every time. The morning snow was forecast, I was up at the ungodly hour of 05:00 am to run my beloved to the airport to catch a flight to Prague, by way of Lyon. We had thought it might be a difficult drive but the temperature was 4ºC and I dropped him off before returning to my bed. When I awoke a couple of hours later it was a whole different ball game. Snow was falling, and sticking!

We try to get out most days but have become perhaps overly cautious when it’s wet or damp, which covered most of the last ten days or so. We’re already recognising that it’ll be a cold week-end in Siena for the Strade Bianche race and will be packing plenty of cashmere and wet weather gear. On the bright side, we’ll only be watching, not taking part! Cakes will no doubt be gratefully received by those riders I know who are taking part in what’ll no doubt be a long, hard and cold race.

That race coincides with the start of Paris-Nice which may not be a race to the sun this year! The outlook is not favourable, we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed as this year’s route means I’ll be watching it live from Wednesday onwards, not just at the week-end.

 

My European cycling season starts now!

 

The previous week I was enjoying balmy temperatures among the sea, sand and skyscrapers of the Tour of Dubai, a six-day long sprint fest where those likely lads in lycra got to enjoy some of the trappings other sportsmen take for granted – club class airline travel and 5* hotels. This week-end the riders were back to earth with a bump and “enjoying” overcooked pasta and chicken at Ibis and Kyriad hotels, and riding in the pouring rain.

You might be wondering whether Arthur Vichot, back to back winner of the last two editions of Tour du Hau Var Matin, was going for a consecutive three-peat? He wasn’t, he didn’t take part. Instead it was the season opener for his FDJ team-mate and team leader Thibaut Pinot, last seen competing in the Transjurassienne, a cross-country ski race in which he finished a very creditable 50th.

It was the race’s 50th anniversary, as good an excuse as any for rolling out plenty of past winners and having Daniel Mageas – the voice of cycling – as MC. The winner of the first edition and the event’s god-father, Raymond Poulidor was in sparkling form. Three former winners were still racing: Sylvain Chavanel, Pippo Pozzato and Davide Revellin, the latter celebrating his 27th year in the professional peloton!

The race started, as is the custom for the past few years, in Le Cannet des Maures, a pretty village in the Var but, having gotten soaked at the start, unlike the peloton, we skipped the finish in Fayence and headed for home and watched the race on France 3.

Day two kicked off in Vidauban’s recently opened leisure park. As we entered the village du depart, we noted an unseemly scrum in the far corner. Was it one of the teams, no it was freebies! Wine, coffee, crepes, sandwiches and oysters – far too much to stomach at 10:00 in the morning but, as you can see from the crowds, I was in a minority of one.

After the race start, we headed for lunch and the finish in Flayosc, just 17 kilometres away. While the peloton went round in ever decreasing circles before thrice coming across the line ahead of the race finish. The result was an all French podium, guaranteed to delight the crowd. The race winner was double stage winner Jonathan Hivert. His small son was almost in tears standing in front of the podium. It’s so lovely for riders’ kids to share in the (all too infrequent) joy of victory.

TdHV7

Races such as these are often great for spotting emerging talent. The best young rider and fourth overall was 21 year old FDJ neo-pro Valentin Madouas who has had a great start to the season. Let’s see how he fares at his next race, Strade Bianche. Euskadi’s 22 year old neo pro Fernando Barcelo waltzed off with the mountains’ jersey while 21 year 0ld Miguel Angel Ballesteros from Alberto Contador’s Conti squad finished 17th overall. I wonder if he’s any good at golf?

TdHV5

The cherry on the icing of two days’ of exciting racing was Rudy Molard’s third place on the podium, replicating his recent result from the Tour of Provence. It’s always lovely seeing friends do well in races. Chapeau to another friend who’d been ill all last week but still managed to finish – Amael Moinard. These boys are tough.

 

 

Postcard from Dubai: 5 places I visited

I’ve visited Dubai plenty of times, largely for business with a few days of pleasure tacked on. This time my beloved’s Dental Exhibition coincided with the Tour of Dubai – how great is that? – giving me my first taste of live racing this season. We stayed in the same hotel as at this time last year. It’s in a great location, reasonably priced, with truly helpful staff, all the amenities you could need, large clean airy rooms and, even better, I scored an upgrade.

I did help my beloved assemble his stand, it’s not something you can do on your lonesome but thereafter headed off to watch the cycling where he joined me for its last two stages.

1. Sky Dive Dubai

The six days of racing started each day from Sky Dive Dubai which is near to the Dubai Marina, a 30-45 minute trip by Metro, tram and shank’s pony from where I was staying. However, I didn’t mind as I had a great view of the ongoing developments en route. I’d not previously visited Sky Dive Dubai which, as its name suggests, is for sky diving – not something I’ve ever fancied trying. We witnessed an aerial diving show on the Saturday with some divers gently floating to earth while others plummeted out of the sky. The latter have discouraged me from even contemplating having a go.

Each day’s stage start was held here. It’s a dead-end road beside the Marina, with large grassy areas and an outdoor gym which is popular with joggers, dog walkers and gym bunnies. None of whom seemed much interested in their space being colonised by loads of fit guys in lycra. The teams were all staying in the nearby 5* Westin Hotel having been flown in Club Class on Emirates. A nice treat for guys more used to Ibis, Kyriad  – and that misnomer  – Premiere Classe hotels and EasyJet steerage.

The area also provided a fitting backdrop for the racing particularly with the skyscrapers looming out of the early morning mist. The facilities in the start zone were excellent and aimed at encouraging families to spend the day watching the action on the big screen while the kids amused themselves on a variety of attractions. There were also plenty of food and sponsors’ stands. In truth you could count the spectators on the fingers of one hand in the days leading up to the week-end but the locals came out in their hordes on Friday and Saturday (Arab week-end).

2. Kinokuniya Bookshop – Dubai Mall

Easily one of my favourite shops in Dubai and one of my favourite bookshops worldwide. That’s praise indeed as my first port of call anywhere is generally a book store. My two younger sisters would be horrified to learn this was the only shop I visited in Dubai.

Kinokuniya is a Japanese owned group with shops in Japan, USA, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Taiwan and Dubai. The shop in the Dubai Mall is a whopping 6,500 square metres and it stocks more than half a million books and over a thousand magazines in English, Arabic, Japanese, French, German and Chinese. It also has a wonderful selection of stationery – another of my weaknesses. It has the largest selection of cookery books I have ever seen and I can happily spend  – and did – hours browsing through the various sections. I had deliberately left plenty of room in my luggage to bring back a few books which naturally enough included two cookery books – a girl can never have enough!

3. The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC

This hotel is just a block from where we were staying. We ate in one of its many restaurants last time and this time had two very enjoyable meals in its Bar Belge. Now, if I like it so much why didn’t I stay in it? Experience has taught me that when I’m watching live racing, and my beloved is working at an exhibition, we spend very little time in the hotel and are unable to enjoy its many benefits. So why pay for them?

Both times we ate early to benefit from Bar Belge’s Happy Hour prices and much enjoyed our seafood dinners which were no more expensive than at our own hotel. On our second meal there we struck up a conversation with our waiter who came from Bangalore, a city my beloved knows well, about cricket and his mother’s search for a suitable bride for him. He very kindly gave Richard a freebie dessert of Belgian waffles, speculoos ice cream and warm chocolate sauce.

4. City Walk

The final day’s stage of the Dubai Tour finished in City Walk, an area we’d not previously visited, just a short stroll from our hotel and the Dubai Mall. Walking anywhere in Dubai tends to be tricky, most people drive or take a cab, but I like to walk and am undeterred by the pavements that end abruptly the wire fencing down the middle of many roads.

City Walk has a distinctly European vibe probably catering for Dubai’s large expatriate community and I felt quite at home with many familiar names such as Galleries Lafayette, BHV Marais and so on…….Again, it’s a family friendly area with plenty of attractions for all ages.

5. Al Hallab

My beloved’s clients in Dubai originally hailed from Syria and, last time, they introduced us to a fabulous Syrian restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel but, sadly, it has moved and neither they or we know where it has moved to. Their default restaurant is a Lebanese one with four locations in Dubai that serves equally fabulous food.

Arabs love groaning tables, do not expect or even try to finish everything. You need to leave something to demonstrate their generosity. Because I don’t eat meat, they order me a load of separate dishes which I couldn’t hope to finish even if my beloved decided to help me out. Fortunately, my regime excuses me from dessert. We’ve now eaten at three of the four branches and they’re all equally excellent.

Of course, there’s loads more to see and do in Dubai aside from the short list above.

Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.