One from the vaults: Postcard from Como

Although we’ve not visited for a few years, in the past we’ve gone to watch the last so-called Classic bike race of the season around the wonderful Lake Como in early October. Here’s a re-run of our trip in 2016.

One of the many advantages of living on the Cote d’Azur is its proximity to Italy and La Dolce Vita. We watched Il Lombardia for the first time last year which afforded us an opportunity to make our maiden visit to Bergamo. This year, the course route was reversed and the race started in Como and finished in Bergamo. The ideal opportunity for a quick trip to Como to see the last WorldTour race of the season and one of my favourite Monuments.

We set off early on Friday morning, eating breakfast en route. Or I should  say that my beloved breakfasted while I watched enviously. Sadly, I’m still forbidden coffee and pastry cream filled croissants! The sun shone and the first part of the drive along the coast is glorious. As soon as we turned left before Genoa, the clouds put in an appearance. One reason to never live anywhere other than on the coast.

lombardia-lake

We arrived in time for lunch on the lake. Sadly, it was a tad overcast but that didn’t lessen the pleasure of eating spaghetti vongole (clams). The afternoon I spent reacquainting myself with the old town. Many moons ago, I would visit Milan regularly on business and usually spend a week-end in Como, just 30 minutes away by train. However, this was a first for my beloved as we’d not really looked around much last year when the race concluded in Como. There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants, an eclectic mix of shops, plus plenty of buildings of architectural interest.

My beloved always likes to check out the price of property in the local estate agencies. While, I like to lust over a spot of property porn where the price is rarely given. Of course, any view of the lake just multiplies the price by a significant factor.

We stayed in a small hotel, right in the centre of town. It was housed in an old building which had been sensitively renovated, pleasingly mixing the old with the new. The WiFi worked, the rooms were light and spacious and the bed comfortable. The polished concrete floors and slate staircase looked good but, as we were later to discover, magnified every sound. Sadly, soundproofing between the rooms had been omitted which meant even heavy sleepers like me were in for a rude awakening. That was the only blot on a lovely week-end.

Neither of us felt particularly hungry at dinner time so we cruised a few of the bars which all have small serve yourself buffet tables of olives, grilled vegetables, pasta salad, pizza, focaccia etc to accompany their drinks, meaning we had no real need for dinner.

The sign-on for Il Lombardia took place less than 100 metres from out hotel meaning we rolled out of bed, grabbed breakfast and pitched up for a ringside seat. For many this was their last or nearly last race of the season but they were in for a long day in the saddle as the course had been reworked to include over 4,000 metres of climbing, much of it in the latter part of the race. It had rained heavily overnight and while still overcast, it was drying out as the riders departed from in front of the cathedral for their parade around the town.

lombardia-cathedral

As the crowds started to disperse, a handful of riders were racing to catch up.

lombardia-wait

Obviously, they didn’t get the memo about the time of the race start or, if they did, they hadn’t read it. These included the eventual victor Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange). It’s thirsty work watching racing, so we retired to a nearby café for fortification.

Rather than drive over to Bergamo to watch the race’s conclusion, we had arranged to meet friends for lunch at a local seafood restaurant for oysters and lobster – allowed under my regime. Dessert was a vegan ice cream from the shop next door to our hotel. It’s rare I can indulge in any dessert, let alone ice cream and I feel I showed great restraint by only darkening the shop’s door just the one time. After a disturbed night’s sleep, we had a power nap before watching the race conclusion on the television.

The route is surprisingly undulating, even alongside the lake, as the road frequently rises and falls around the surrounding hills. My beloved and I have frequently ridden around here but not this time. Having seen the forecast, we left the bikes at home. Luckily for the peloton, the rain only fell in the final kilometres of the race. Many had taken advantage of the short-cut back to Bergamo once their work for the day was done. Only a handful of riders finished the course which had been animated by two riders we know well – BMC’s Damiano Caruso and Cofidis’ Rudy Molard. We’d been enthusiastically cheering them on but sadly their early break didn’t succeed.

It was a later one which took the glory. It was a thrilling and fitting conclusion to the 2016 WorldTour season which saw Movistar finish top team for the fourth consecutive season and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) claim the UCI top rider spot. He’s had a fantastic season, dispelling the myth of the curse of the rainbow jersey which I’d love to see him retain next week in Doha.

Again, after that sumptuous lunch, it was drinks and nibbles with friends from the cycling world that evening where we enthusiastically discussed the many merits of the day’s race. A great way to pass an evening.

We were again woken up several times in the night by the other hotel guests returning to base. Consequently, we rose early and headed home where we knew warm sunshine awaited and we could go for a spin on our bikes. Lunch and dinner were courtesy of a superb delicatessen in Como. So we spent a relaxing day though opted for an early night to catch up on those lost hours of sleep.

 

One from the vaults: You shall go to the ball

We’re heading to September 2012 with this one and my favourite training ground, Col de Vence. Despite adding more years to the clock, I’ve finally mastered this climb and more recently turned in my best time ever!

Ever since I found out about the time-trial up my favourite hill, the Col de Vence, I’ve had it as my season’s objective. My cycling coach had me train by riding up inclines three times, each ascent faster than the last. Except I never quite managed that part. At best I might have managed a slightly, and I do mean slightly, faster second ascent but the third was always slower. Undeterred, I persisted.

My desire to take part in the race arose from the fact that the slowest time recorded last year was 67 minutes, way more than my best time. When I told my husband he replied “he must’ve punctured!” The event was held last Sunday and you’re probably wondering how I fared? I didn’t take part, instead I played a key supporting role.

One of my teens was planning on riding in a race to Auron on Saturday, when it was cancelled he decided to take part in the Col de Vence race. For minimes and cadets it’s a race rather than an individual time-trial. So I signed him up and arranged that he’d stay overnight with us. The teen with whom he has English lessons had just returned from his summer holidays and he wanted to take part as well. So I signed him up too. In the course of making sure they were both entered, I got chatting to the organiser. I explained that I had thought about entering based on the time of last year’s lanterne rouge. He said: “Oh him, he punctured………twice!” That’s right, my desire to enter vanished in a trice.

So, Sunday morning, after a winning breakfast of French toast, we arrived at the start bright and early. The boys picked up their numbers and went for a gentle warm-up. There was a much better turn-out than for La Ronde (our local club race) although the boy who won that was there too. Initially, I watched the time trial. Last year a new record of 24:24 was established, this year the race was won by a mountain biker with a time of 25:00. There was only one female entrant, so I’d have been no worse than second. She was much younger than me so I’d at least have been first in my age group – result!

The teens were nervous; butterflies in their stomachs. They set off up the hill. My beloved was waiting at the top. I went for a coffee and a catch up with all the riders I know and haven’t seen for a while. An hour later, we all gathered for the speeches and prize-giving. These events are always well supported by the local politicians so after what seemed like a cast of thousands had enjoyed their 15 seconds of fame, the winners were announced. Because the cadets, minimes and juniors had ridden together, my teens had no idea where they’d finished. In fact we still don’t know how they fared other than they weren’t in the top three. My one teen was delighted to have beaten the lad who beat him in La Ronde and we think he must have finished fifth. The other, after a two month holiday, was further back.

This competition has further whetted their appetites and I’ve found them a couple more races at the end of the season plus a potential club for next year. If either of them ever turns professional, I hope they remember who first set them on the road……………………………I meanwhile am back on my bike and training for next year. It won’t be 25 minutes, it won’t even be the teen’s time of 38 minutes, but it’ll be better than this year’s best time.

The Tour de France has come and gone………

Apologies that I’ve been somewhat missing in action over the past week but I was just one of a large band of volunteers from the city of Nice entrusted with ensuring the Tour de France went ahead safely.

Two months late, the Tour de France has managed to do what the summer Olympics, and countless other sporting events couldn’t, largely thanks to the determination of Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi who worked tirelessly with ASO, the Tour’s organiser.

Despite taking place under strict sanitary conditions, with heavy controls on spectators and press pack numbers, it should still bring in much needed funds to the  beleaguered French economy and the Tour’s broadcasters, advertisers, hoteliers and caterers.

To be honest, this could be one of the biggest ever tours, since the maiden one won by Maurice Garin in 1903, for a number of reasons, not all of them economic.

The race is broadcast in over 190 countries and will showcase France, the most-visited country on the planet, after months of lockdown, to around 3.5 billion people. This isn’t insignificant as it will remind the 10-12 million tourists, largely absent this year,  who usually line the route to cheer on the riders, what they are missing and where they should be looking to book their next holiday. Indeed, if we are to believe Eurosport, over 47% of those who watch the Tour do so to enjoy its truly magnificent scenery and its wealth of historical monuments.

So, what did I get up to and what did I see?

Funnily enough the answer to both those questions is not a lot. Let me clarify.

Tuesday evening we collected our instructions and missions for the Tour. Sadly, the promised Rapha t-shirts didn’t materialise and we were issued with a bright custard-yellow t-shirt, most certainly *not* one of my colours, with a black and yellow cap, plus a cheap and cheerful rucksack containing all manner of goodies! After the presentation, food and drinks had been laid on. I know only too well that an army of volunteers marches on its stomach.

Early on day one, bouyed with excitement, five of us set out for the Acropolis, home to Tour organisers ASO (and the press room) until Sunday. There was plenty going on as its logistics team was getting everything set up. The chap looking after us said I’d be able to put my language skills to good use pointing any foreign journalists in the right direction.

I hated to burst his bubble but the press couldn’t retrieve their accreditations until after 14:00 and my shift was due to finish at 13:30. In the six hours we were there, we answered just one query from the general public, which had absolutely nothing to do with the Tour.

I was sitting on the wall, in the shade, (rules one and two of volunteering) in front of the Acropolis when someone said that even with my cap and mask, they knew it was me. I should have worn my sunglasses too! This was a common refrain throughout the morning as I chatted with the long-standing ASO staffers that I know.

Later that day as I wandered around Nice, I did get asked lots of questions about the Tour by both visitors and locals alike. So not an entirely wasted day!

I’d chosen to stay in Nice and meet up with my beloved who, with his cycling club teammates, was taking part in the rehearsal of Thursday’s Team Presentation. Masqerading as former Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet of Team CCC, he rode up onto the stage several times with his teammates. This all took much longer than planned, so we had a quick bite to eat before heading back home. It was gratifying to see that Nice was busy with locals and holidaymakers alike

Less good were the numbers not wearing masks. During the rehearsals I was standing next to a policeman who must’ve asked at least 20 people to wear their masks in the space of 10 minutes. I said to him that he must do that a thousand times a day. More like 5,000 was his reply!

Yet another exciting day in prospect on day two and I was at one of the main tram terminii. This would’ve been where the VIPs parked their cars to get the tram into the centre of Nice. These VIPs would’ve been invited to the team presentation in Place Massena, starting at 18:30.

We were there from 11:30 until 18:00 with nary a sighting of anyone, much less a VIP. Luckily I had drinks, snacks and a book to hand (rules three, four and five of volunteering) and found myself a seat, in the shade, within sight of the pedestrian exit from the car park – just in case!

Of course, post-Covid and with Alpes Maritimes being classified “rouge”, VIP numbers were considerably reduced to just a handful of locals, including my hubby and a number of our ex-professional cycling friends, all of whom are familiar with how the local transport system functions.

Saturday, despite its very early start, seemed to hold more promise. A team of 16 of us were in the small bit of Place Massena not blocked off for the start of the first stage. We shared the space with eight French ambulance staff, eight firemen, eight armed gendarmes, plus a handful of well-armed soldiers who were constantly scanning the area for potential threats.

We were all standing adjacent to the entrance of the much reduced Village du Depart for the VIPs. Frankly, it was a wonder that there was any room for Joe Public to come and ask us any questions.

We had a frisson of excitement when HRH Prince Albert of Monaco and the Secretary of State for Sport turned up in their cavalcade of cars, flanked by gendarmes on motorbikes, lights flashing. Both stayed until the presentation of the jerseys.

Two very attractive German girls had unfortunately left their car for several days in the wrong car park, one they couldn’t exit until well after the stage concluded. As they were planning on driving back to northern Germany, this wasn’t exactly good news. Fearing an international incident, as the only German speaker, I intervened and duly asked ASO, the gendarmes and local police on their behalf. The answer was the same from all but at least I’d tried.

This time I was asked plenty of questions. Here’s the top 5, in reverse order.

5. Where’s the best place to watch the riders depart?

4. Where can I buy a ticket to get in there (VIP Area)?

3. How can I get across to the Old Town with all the roads blocked off?

2. How can I get to the beach with all the roads blocked off?

1. Where can I get some freebies?

Sunday I was back at yet another tram terminus, this time in Nice Nord. I was asked once if I had any change for the ticket machine. Slim pickins’ for another six hour shift. This time numbers had been reduced to four but there were also two people from the Metropole answering questions when people drove into the car park. Their presence rendered us rather surplus to requirements.

I later discovered that the volunteers’ roles had been fixed with ASO prior to Covid so we’ll never really know how busy we might’ve been. The team from Nice’s Sports department who managed the volunteers organised things well, and communication was excellent. It’s just that I hate not being busy. Remind me never to volunteer again!

One from the vaults: Another Trip down Memory Lane

Of course, at this time of year, we’d normally be watching the Vuelta a Espana and consequently we’re heading back to Marbella for the opening stages of the 2015 race. It’s an area which holds many fond memories for us, as I explain below.

We’ve just returned from a few days in Marbella, one of our old stomping grounds, where we were watching the initial stages of this year’s Vuelta a Espana. It’s an area we first visited almost 40 years ago when my parents bought an apartment there. As newly-weds with little money, we spent many a happy fortnight in the sun, exploring the surrounding area. My younger sisters spent all summer there prompting me to speculate why my parents hadn’t invested earlier. Two words – dollar premium.

In the early 1980s, we spent a month there over Xmas and New Year, taking the ferry to Santander and driving to Marbella via Madrid and Toledo. At the time, it was our longest holiday ever and truly relaxing apart from my beloved, a noted swimmer, getting swept out to sea on his windsurfer. He managed to paddle his way back to shore, albeit several kilometres down the coast, without the assistance of the Spanish coastguard, although it was touch and go.

Puerto Banus has mushroomed in size
Puerto Banus has mushroomed in size

As the years rolled by, we typically spent a week in Marbella either in May or September when the weather was warm but not so hot as to prevent us playing tennis for several hours. Retirement beckoned for my father and my parents decided to sell the flat, preferring to use the proceeds to holiday elsewhere. We however continued to spend a week there most years, often over the late May Bank Holiday.

From time to time my parents accompanied us, as did their closest friends. On my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, we spent what was to be our final family holiday together at one of our favourite hotels, courtesy of my Dad, and we’ve not been back largely due to our move to France.

Family favourite: Marbella Club
Family favourite: Marbella Club

MC-Suite-Terrace

MCH_Ene14_FOTO26_Spa_Piscina-X5

When we saw that the Vuelta was kicking off there this year, my beloved and I decided to take a trip down memory lane. In the intervening years, much has changed but our old haunts are still there and happily flourishing. The trip bought back many happy memories, particularly of times spent with my parents who are no longer with us. We’re not going to leave it quite so long before paying the area another visit.

The Tour de France is oh so close

Early this year the cycle club put out a call for volunteers for the Tour de France. Now, it’s been awhile since I last volunteered and given that our club is called Club Metropole de Nice, Cote d’Azur, and both the mayor and Prefet are members, I put up my hand. More accurately I filled in a form on line. I volunteered to help out for a week as we weren’t following the Tour as it departed Nice because my beloved was doing l’Etape, which has now been postponed until next year. And, as all you cycling fans know, the Tour itself was pushed back two months.

Mid-August I got a call from the Town Hall enquiring whether I was still available to volunteer. I replied in the affirmative and the lady on the other end of the line heaved a huge sigh of relief. Obviously, her task had not been going well. I imagine that many who might have been available in July were no longer free at the end of August. I basically said I would do whatever, whenever. It’s a strategy that has stood me in good stead in the past.

I’ve advised my beloved that he’ll be looking after himself for a week. I tempered it with saying I would ensure that there would be plenty of food in the fridge. He’s most unlikely to starve but I know from bitter experience that I’ll have to thoroughly clean the place after he’s been left to his own devices for that length of time.

We’re getting together outdoors this evening to receive our Rapha kit, luncheon vouchers, free masks, hand gel, tram passes and accreditation. I’ve been pre-advised of my role which is essentially meet and greet, something I’ve done before and where my linguistic skills and local knowledge are hugely helpful.

I’ll be honest, I’m not looking forward to wearing a mask all day but it has to be done. How much cycling I’ll see remains to be seen. In fact, I may not see any cyclists at all! Typically, I would get my press accreditation and be jostling with the thousands of journalists, TV and radio crews who follow the Tour. Most of these will be reporting from the studio rather than in situ and conducting interviews via Zoom or similar.

Hopefully, next week I’ll have something interesting to report back on. Meanwhile, here’s a few earlier posts about some of my volunteering at cycling events:-

World Championships: Part I

World Championships: Part II

La Kivilev

Tour de France 2009: Monaco

One from the vaults: Back from the Basque country

Usually at this time of year we’re just heading back from the Basque Country having watched one of my favourite one-day bike races, the Clasica. We missed out last year while we were enjoying our #adventuredownunder so i was particularly looking forward to spending a week at Akelarre – a restaurant that’s now become a hotel too – and watching some bike racing. Hey ho, there’s always next year. Meanwhile, here’s one I prepared earlier…….

I’m back from a number of days of unintended blog silence. Although the hotel we stayed at in San  Sebastián had free WiFi, I decided not to take my notepad with me. On these short trips, I really want my beloved to have a break. If I start using my notepad he’ll get out his laptop and start working. I do allow him to remain in contact via his phone but somehow that seems less intrusive.

I had so enjoyed my trip last year to the Basque country that I was looking for any excuse for another visit. The Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian was happy to oblige. It was originally planned as a solo trip, while my beloved was in the Far East, but, when his trip was delayed for a couple of weeks, he decided to join me.

I flew from Nice to Bordeaux, took the bus to Bordeaux station and then a train to San Sebastian. The hotel was a 15 minute walk from the station and within sight of the start and finish line of the race. I could have waited for my beloved, who was going to fly into Bordeaux later that day, but experience has taught me never to wait for him unless there’s absolutely no alternative. In any event his flight was late and, still suffering from jet lag, he decided to stay overnight in an airport hotel and drive up the next morning. Meanwhile, I spent many hours happily wandering around San Sebastian enjoying it’s architecture, sights, sounds and smells. This place is foodie heaven.

On our trip last year we had made the pilgrimage to Arzak, a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars and rated 8th best restaurant in the world.  About three months before our trip it took me endless emails to finally secure a table one lunch time. This year it took just one. I always say when you can easily get a table in a city’s top restaurant, you know it’s enjoying tough times. Initially, unsure whether I would be able to secure a booking at Arzak, I also tried to book tables at two of the city’s other 3 starred restaurants. Again, there was absolutely no problem in obtaining a table. Yes, I know three x 3 starred restaurants is way over the top. I agree. I cancelled one of them.

Not only were there gastronomic delights in store but I found out  Bon Jovi were in town Friday evening for the penultimate date of their 2010/11 World Tour. There was no problem in buying tickets which ranged in price from Euros 20 (standing) to Euros 275 (Diamond VIP Circle). Now I’m not sure exactly what you got for your money for the top priced ticket but, at the very least, I’d want a night with Jon Bon Jovi himself. I plumped for tickets costing Euros 60, allocated seats. It’s official, I’m old. This is the first concert I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended plenty, where I’ve deliberately opted for a seat.

Despite, or because of, his Garmin, my beloved arrived in San Sebastián, minus his jacket, which he’d left in the airport hotel bedroom, and with barely enough time to make our lunch date at Arzak. It was just as good as we remembered. It’s not a restaurant that you could eat at regularly because there’s a real sense of drama and theatre when you eat there which would be lost with regular visits. We had a mind-bogglingly fantastic meal (again) and left feeling truly sated. We’d work off those calories at that evening’s Bon Jovi concert.

After a long walk along one of San Sebastian’s beaches, cooling our feet off in the warm water lapping the sand, we drove over to the football stadium to see Bon Jovi. The boys didn’t disappoint, despite it being the end of a very lengthy tour, belting out 27 songs from their repertoire with gusto. I did however think that in the big screen close ups they looked tired, too many nights with the Diamond VIP circle perhaps?

Saturday heralded the main event and we were handily poised to soak up the pre-race atmosphere which is very relaxed and familiar, not at all like the Tour de France. The event is obviously well supported by the Basque riders who earned the loud, vocal support of the crowd. Equally well received were such luminaries as Sylvain Chavanel, Frank Schleck and Philippe Gilbert. This is an event typically won by an in form rider off the back of the Tour de France and merry go round of criteriums. Indeed, Phil Gil had flown in on a private jet in the early hours. Nonetheless, he looked as fresh as a daisy and once the orange led peloton had reeled in the early escapees, Sammy Sanchez launched his offensive to escape from the Belgian flag clad Walloon.

Sunday heralded a visit to another 3 starred establishment, Akelarre, situated beyond Monte Igueldo, with a panoramic view of the sea. This was pure Basque cuisine ratched up several notches. Again, it was a highly enjoyable meal in very relaxing surroundings. However, for me, the highlight was a guided tour of the kitchen by the chef and restaurant owner, Pedro Subijana.

While we’re heading back to the Basque country in early September to watch the stages of the Vuelta near Bilbao, I am already plotting my return to San Sebastian next year. I am hoping to combine the Tour of the Basque Country (early April) with a cookery course in Basque cuisine. As a consequence, I have been trying my hand at a few words in Basque. I just need the Basque made simple or Basque for idiots course, then I’ll be all set.

One from the vaults: Speedy girl

Yet another blast from the past (July 2012) about my cycle training. You will have observed that all my training is about going faster on the ascents. I love descending but……..you’ve got to ride up in order to ride down.

Last week’s tummy troubles, probably caused by a virus, resulted in a bit of a blip in my training but I’m back on the case. My coach has suggested I make three trips up an insanely steep climb going fast, faster and fastest. I may just have to wear my “Speedy Bike Club” jersey. My Swiss friend calls me Speedy girl. He’s being ironic as I’m many things, none of them speedy, on a bike. So, we both have this particular jersey making it a very select club. That’s right, my beloved is NOT a member.

I’ll need all the help I can get, psychological and otherwise, as it’s definitely going to be a tricky climb. It’s not long, just over a couple of kilometres, but I find it really difficult, particularly the stretches at 16 and 17%. It’s the sort of hill where, as you climb, you keep checking that you really are in your granny gear, just in case you’re not, and there’s still one more gear. Of course, there never is but I still have to check!

Over the years I’ve developed a couple of techniques for ignoring the voice in my head that says “Are you insane? Turn round and go home now.” I try to imagine something pleasurable, whatever takes my fancy on the day and at that moment. Or, I promise myself a treat once the exercise is over. It might be an ice cold coke, an ice cream, a juicy peach or a cup of coffee. Again, whatever I fancy and what’s readily available. So tomorrow, I’ll once again be gritting my teeth and trying, against the odds, to think pleasurable thoughts.

As tomorrow’s  a rest day in the Tour [de France], I may just mentally revisit some of the best moments from the last ten days as I climb this particular hill, looking for all the world as if I’m riding in slow-mo which, of course, I am.  Few local riders brave the climb, or conversely the descent (best bit), so I’m not likely to be overtaken: scant consolation. Though passing motorists occasionally proffer encouragement from their car windows.

However, my real dilemma is going to be the three speeds. I can’t go any slower or I’ll just fall off the bike. Conversely, I find it really hard to go any faster as I’m already “on the rivet”. I’m just going to give it my best and see how I fare. Already I’m beginning to regret my whim of doing this particular uphill individual time-trial.

Who do I think I am? Sir Bradley Wiggins? I think not, as he and former team mate Chris Froome were likened to stick insects on Twitter. Not an accusation that can be levelled at me. Nor would I feel comfortable in the new generation, seemingly translucent skinsuits they’re all wearing. Although I may have come up with a solution – SPANX skinsuits. I’m calling the company tomorrow though there’s the vague disquiet that the surplus, compressed flesh might just roll out of the suit in folds at the wrists and thighs. Still, it’s worth a try.

Back in support

Early this year my beloved signed up via his club to take part in this year’s L’Etape du Tour scheduled to be held the weekend after the Tour de France 2020 start in Nice. While COVID has moved the Tour’s start forward two months, it’s had a similar effect on L’Etape and with under two months to go until the event, my beloved is ramping up his training and I’m back in my support role.

This year’s stage, its 30th running, covers 175km (110 miles) with an elevation gain of 3,600 m (12,000 ft) in the beautiful Niçois hinterland.

The course starts with a rising false flat  – don’t you just hate those? – most probably into a headwind, in the first 50 km (30 miles) which will help everyone warm up and spread out the peloton which will most probably number less than 5000 participants. It’s also likely that masks will have to be worn up and until the start.

The riders then tackle the first challenge of the day, the Col de la Colmiane. After going over the top, a 20 km ( 12 miles) descent will give the riders’ legs a break prior to climbing the major difficulty of the day, the Col de Turini (profile below).

Riders will however need to leave something in the tank to avoid mistakes on the extremely long descent that will take them back to Nice. It’ll also be chilly at the top so they’ll need to wear a light vest or jacket for the descent. The (in)famous Col d’Èze, set against the backdrop of the superb view from the Moyenne Corniche, is ideally positioned near the end of the course. This is where they should burn their final reserves before heading (gratefully) to the finish line where I shall be waiting for my beloved.

My beloved has been steadily building up his mileage and on Sunday decided to tackle the Col de Turini which he’s never ridden before. When you see the elevation and the photos you may understand why!

The scenery is breathtaking! My beloved, despite his pained expression, was grateful to reach the summit in relatively good shape and before the afternoon onset of rain.

He’s previously tackled both La Colmiane and Col d’Eze, he just has to string them all together now and hope that everything goes ahead as planned. If not, at least he’ll be in great shape!

 

 

 

One from the vaults: I’ve started, so I’ll finish

Bouyed with the success of my Livestrong Ride last year, I made London-Paris 2010 my next cycling challenge. This is how I fared…….

Yes, I made it to Paris in one piece. The event was everything I hoped it would be: great weather, well organised, fun and with a great sense of camaraderie among the participants. A few things perhaps didn’t go as planned but these were minor and generally beyond the control of the organisers.

I had a couple of issues. Two in fact: my feet. I suffered dreadfully with a condition known as “hot foot”. I was advised that my shoes were too tight, too loose, my cleats needed to be moved further back, I should wear Scholl gel inserts etc etc. I am seeking professional advice from a podiatrist whom I’m quite sure will come up with a solution for the problem. In addition, and probably to be expected, my nether regions were feeling a bit sore by the end of the three very long days. As you can see from this photo of me above on the Champs Elysees, I’m grimacing as I ride over those cobbles.

The more observant among you may be wondering where are the other 349 participants? Or, am I making my usual bid for Lanterne Rouge status? There’s approximately 340 souls ahead of me and about 9 behind. I deliberately dropped off the back so that my beloved could digitally capture me. I had set off from the lunch break momentarily at the head of the entire peloton until I slid, as is my wont, gently back through the peloton to my rightful place as a tail-end Charlie.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I went over to London a few days ahead of the start to catch up with friends and family. Apart from a quick spin each day, I tried to rest my legs, conserve my energy and eat wisely. My youngest sister lives but a few kilometers from the start so I was able to ride there on the morning of the event. Fortunately, and surprisingly, it was warm enough that I didn’t need either leg or arm warmers.

We were advised to arrive a whole hour before our scheduled departure time during which the numbers in Group 5 swelled alarmingly as riders from  other groups decided that they’d prefer a slower paced start. We rolled out at 07:00 and headed south into commuter traffic. It was fair to say that our reception was less than rapturous as cars honked their horns, shook their fists and, despite the presence of motobike outriders, attempted to drive us off the road. In no time at all there were cars mixed in with riders and the peloton was shattered.

A large portion of our Group took a wrong turn and we lost a considerable amount of time waiting for them. Needless to say they got plenty of good natured ribbing about this. Lunch was an all too brief stop at Lamberhurst and then we were off again to Dover.  Reinforcements were drafted in to try and make up for time lost. Those of us who were flagging were helpfully pushed on the uphill bits. I made the acquaintance of Nigel Mansell and his two sons who were riding the event as a warm up to their cycling challenge for the charity UK Youth. They were aided and abetted by ex-pro Magnus Backstedt who pushed me for 2km on a false flat at 55km/hr. That’s the fastest I’ve ever ridden on the flat and the highest cadence I’ve ever attained. Who needs an engine when you’ve got Magnus!

Sadly, our efforts were in vain, as we just missed our ferry and had to endure a long wait on the tarmac for the next one. Arriving in Calais, we cycled another 5km to the warehouse where we left our bikes overnight. I finally reached my hotel at 22:30 and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Day 2 dawned. More fabulous weather, a good breakfast and I was raring to go – yes, really. What a difference a day makes. Our reception on the other side of the channel was in marked contrast to the day before. People were waving, cheering, clapping, taking our photographs and generally enjoying the spectacle. Drivers waited patiently for us to pass or willingly pulled over to ease our passage. Yes, the French love cycling, and I love France and the French.

To be honest, I felt much happier on home turf and cycling on the right side of the road. Numbers in the group had thinned, the pace was better policed and more consistent. However, I still had to ride all the descents on my brakes because of the lead car thereby foregoing any benefit at the base of each climb. But this was an issue common to all groups, save 1 and 2. Lunch was another hasty affair but I was so hungry I made the mistake of eating all of my delicious ham baguette which lay like a stone all afternoon in my stomach. With hindsight, I should have eaten two apple tarts and skipped the baguette.

The group made regular stops throughout the day to refuel and I made sure that I ate and drank enough. I steered well clear of the gels and modified the strength of the energy drinks but even so by Day 3 I was mainlining Imodium Plus.  We arrived that evening in Amiens with enough time to enjoy a meal with a few of our fellow participants and discuss the day’s highlights.  On account of numbers, we were dispersed across several hotels until we reached Paris.

I awoke on Day 3 feeling my age – not a good sign. I felt nauseous, weak and generally ill at ease for the first 25 kms which was ridden (thankfully) at 3/4 pace. Thereafter, I felt much better and we rode 122kms to lunch which this time was a very quick 10 minutes. I grabbed a chocolate eclair and eschewed the baguette. This was a mistake, I should have had two eclairs. I joined the lengthy queue for the ladies’ toilet. Sadly, one was out of order and the other had been occupied for an unconsciably long time by a man who was nearly lynched as he emerged from the cubicle looking quite sheepish.

We were riding the last 45kms into Paris together and the ladies were sent to the head of the peloton where most of them stayed. However, all of us in Group 5 gradually slid back to our rightful places. It was a great ride in and a real sense of occasion as we arrived on the outskirts of Paris flanked by our motor cavalcade. As we headed towards our final destination, roads were closed until we had rolled through. As I glimpsed the l’Arc de Triomphe I felt a huge sense of relief tinged with pain as we hit the cobbles. One of the ride captains advised me to ride on the white lines, advice he’d gotten from Stephen Roche, a man who knows a thing or two about riding and winning Grand Tours.

I saw my beloved on the bridge, sucked in my tummy for the photo and tried to look purposeful. I rode round the corner to the hotel, the finish and a bit of an anti-climax. It was all over. Someone kindly handed me a glass of champagne and I went to collect my belongings.

Over dinner that evening we likened the experience to childbirth: we had quickly forgotten the pain among all the other good memories. Indeed, that’s what made the event for me. The support crew were fantastic, we didn’t have to sweat the small stuff. The motor outriders were fun guys who kept us smiling all day long with their humour, gallantry and music. I rode with a great bunch of people who, sadly, I may never meet again.

On Sunday morning, I bumped into a couple of guys who were riding back to the UK via Dieppe (short cut) and honestly a part of me wanted to ride with them. That would have been the part without my feet, so it would have been tricky.

Finally, a word of thanks to my cycling coach. I could not have done this without the training. A number of (male) participants claimed to have gotten on their bikes for the first time just three weeks before the event. I find that really hard to believe.

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.