Snowed in

Just when we’d been fooled into thinking that Spring was around the corner, the cold weather has returned with a vengeance. Yes, last night’s rain has 

Where's the sea gone?

turned into snow. It’s snowing all along the coast! The surrounding hills and mountains are also receiving further snowfalls: good news for winter sports enthusiasts. I wonder if we can sell some of it to Vancouver 2010? 

The boys riding the Tour Mediterraneen Cycliste Professionnel and the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca respectively must be wishing they’d opted/been selected for the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as they’ve both been enduring adverse climatic conditions. Indeed, the manager (Marc Madiot) of yesterday’s stage winner (Yauheni Hutarovich – FDJ) in the Tour of the Med had the foresight to take him on a quick warm up ride before the start. This obviously did the trick. 

Over in Qatar the winds have died down. Stages 3 and 4 ended in bunch sprints with wins for Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo). The former reached a speed of 72.4km/hr on his sprint to the line. Coincidentally, the same as my top speed ever which was recorded last year in Austria  descending a 10% incline!  Condolences to Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) who had four punctures yesterday: careless rider or crap kit, you decide. 

Mindful of yesterday’s VO2max test, I had been practising riding flat out on the home trainer. My appointment was at 09:00am, which necessitated an early start to avoid the traffic. I wanted to ride part of the way as a warm up. I drove as far as Beaulieu sur Mer, where the parking is free while they change over the parking meters, parked the car and hopped on the bike.  My beloved has accused me of becoming “very French” as I seek out free places to park. 

I had timed it to perfection, a quick 10km, at maximum effort, terminating in the climb out of the port in Monaco had left me “glowing”. I arrived with enough time to fill out the forms and take a comfort break. After a number of detailed questions about my medical history and that of my family, we moved on to the highly unpleasant bit: height, weight (Assos kit must be really, really heavy, I hope they took that into consideration) and BMI. I then had to inhale and exhale, as hard as possible, into a machine. The conclusion: average for a woman of my age! 

Then the test itself which was conducted on my bike, fitted with a power tap, and with a machine to gauge my effort fitted over my nose and mouth. I began to feel decidedly claustrophobic. In addition, I was wired up to an ECG and the doctor frequently measured my blood pressure. I started at a max output of 60watts and increased it at regular intervals by 30 watts. First off it was difficult to ride at a constant wattage, nothing like riding those static bikes in the gym. It was pretty easy pedalling to start off with but very soon it became much more arduous. I started to “glow” profusely despite being topless (thank goodness I’d worn one of my prettier sports bras). I have no idea how long the intervals were but it felt like 10 secs to start with and 10 minutes to finish. Their conclusion: I could be an excellent endurance athlete if only I lost the surplus 10kilos around my middle which is restricting my breathing!

Postscript: Nice airport closed, my beloved stranded at Heathrow!

Clouds in the Sky

After dropping my beloved off at the airport this morning I returned home. The storm clouds were gathering so, mindful of my VO2max test on Wednesday morning, I opted for an hour on the home trainer followed by a full frontal attack on the pile of administrative matters.

I stopped at lunchtime to watch Stage II of the Tour of Qatar where  cross-winds were creating havoc in the peloton. Mind you, Sky’s bad luck started in the neutralised zone when Kurt-Asle Arvesen crashed, breaking a collar bone. Sky were then caught out by Quick Step and Cervelo, who attacked, as echelons formed in the strong cross-winds, splintering the peloton. Boassen Hagen then punctured. They do say bad luck comes in threes.

As I started watching the transmission, there were a couple of escapees up the road, with over a 12 minute advantage, being chased by a group of 28, containing most of the favourites, although no one from HTC-Columbia or Sky. Joy upon joy, the two managed to stay away with Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) taking the stage win and Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) seizing the gold jersey. The two now have a 2 minute advantage over their nearest rivals. So much for me thinking that Edvald Boassen Hagen would hang on to gold.

Elsewhere, the more mature riders continue to rock. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) held off Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) to win the Trofeo Cala Millor in Majorca.

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

Putting your foot in it

I got back from my trip to St Raphael feeling pleasurably fatigued and sank gratefully into my spa bath to soothe my aching parts. I really don’t use it often enough. Generally because, when I return from a ride, I’m endeavouring to produce sustenance for my beloved as soon as he emerges from his ablutions.

Given that a little R&R was in order, I donned my fleecy tracksuit, flopped onto the sofa and picked up this month’s copy of Velo Magazine which had been delivered  LAST WEEK and had remained unread. What can I say? Too much to do.

There’s a picture of Cav on the front, sporting a beard, endeavouring to look mean and moody and failing. This month’s a bit of a bumper issue as, among other things, it contains details of all the French cyclosportifs, a team guide, the season’s calendar, features on afore-mentioned Cav and Boassen Hagen plus a list of the 50 top cyclists most likely to be hitting the headlines this season. I thought I’d check out this list to see if we’re in accord.

Their top 3 are Bert, Cav and Lance. I think that’s wishful thinking. Whichever continent you’re on, Lance generates more news than all the other riders put together. This is obviously a French perspective and they’re assuming (and why wouldn’t you) that Bert is going to retain his Tour title while Cav is going to win loads of sprints.  The next three, in order, are Schleck the Younger, Fabulous Fabian and Cuddles Evans – hard to disagree there. They’ve ranked Philippe Gilbert (7th) ahead of Tom Boonen (11th). I’m not sure I agree with that one. Though, to be fair, Tom is probably hoping for more coverage of his cycling, rather than non-cycling, activities than last year.

Surprisingly, there’s a dearth of Frenchmen in the top 50. First up in 25th place is the U23 Road Race Champion, Romain Sicard who this season will be riding as a neo-pro for the boys in orange, Euskatel-Euskadi. Just behind him in 28th place is Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), the so-called French housewives’ favourite. Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ), 10th last year in the Dauphine and Tour, is only in 37th place. There are three further Frenchmen bringing up the rear: Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), the younger of the brothers, is 42nd, 45th is Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) is 48th. No place for Amael Moinard, David Moncoutie, Tommy Voekler, Pierrick Fedrigo, Romain Feillu or, indeed, the Frenchman who’s garnered the most column inches to date, the viral celebrity, young Arthur Vichot (FDJ).

Turning next to the team guide, I check out the new teams and kit changes. By and large, I favour simple colour schemes which are easy to pick out in the peloton: such as, Cervelo, BMC, Sky and FDJ. Omega Pharma Lotto’s shirt is a big improvement on previous years.  I rather like the retro styling and black shorts for Quick Step, but the shorts are too short. Quel horreur, what were the folks at Footon-Servetto thinking? There’s an Italian team (Carminooro NGC) who wear a black kit edged in gold which looks quite classy. Though it would look even classier if  they dropped the outline round the crotch. 

Better in black

If only Footon-Servetto had gone for all black shorts. I really feel for those boys. You just know that those “gold” shorts are going to look “nude”  and turn see-through in the wet. You have been warned.

Round and round

I dropped my beloved off at the airport at midday. He was off to the frozen wastes of northern Europe, specifically Tuurku (north of Helsinki) for a few days, complete with extreme cold weather kit. Only then could I go out on my bike.

The weather, like yesterday, was cold but bright, clear and sunny so I decided to circumnavigate Cap d’Antibes five times.  I criss-cross a number of the roads and take a couple of different loops to add some variety. I also indulged in some interval training on the way back. Tomorrow, which promises to be warmer, I’m going to St Raphael and back, as I feel a longer ride is in order. My workload is thankfully tailing off, not a moment too soon,  which will leave me more time to ride and train for up-coming events.

There was the usual get together at the club this evening. Specifically, I needed to check on the logistics for next week with M Le President who’s proposing serving crepes to everyone who attends the monthly meeting. We’re already a little short of space at these meetings and the promise of crepes is bound to increase numbers. It’ll most definitely be standing room only. On our little two-ringed hot plate we’re unlikely to able to cook sufficient crepes, quickly enough,  to  supply the ravening hordes. I proposed that we cook them in advance and heat up in situ. He agreed.

I’d just gotten back when my beloved rang. His flight from Nice had been delayed so he’d missed his transfer to Helsinki. He was booked on the subsequent flight but would arrive too late to catch the bus to Tuurku. The good news was that he’d bought some of my favourite coffee just in case he didn’t have time on the way back. I didn’t linger chatting, I had a bowl of soup with my name on it waiting for me.

Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to have to clear the guest room and put the spare bikes on the balcony. I’ll also need to make room in the laundry (aka  bike room) for the bikes and kit of my week end guests, who are now arriving Thursday evening.

Extras please

As I mentioned yesterday, friends, who used to run a restaurant, are coming over for dinner this evening. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I regard dinner parties as an opportunity to experiment. I am attempting to reproduce the pork belly dish I had the other week at the Michelin starred restaurant in Birmingham and, in my humble opinion, improve on it. 

Pork belly is such an accommodating cut and I enjoy cooking it lots of different ways. Generally, I slow roast it over a bed of onions and apples. This ensures that most of the fat melts and the crackling crisps up beautifully. My youngest sister says I make the “best roast pork in the world”: surely an exaggeration. Personally, I prefer it flavoured with fennel seeds and garlic and, again,  slow roasted. 

This time I have soaked it in brine, slow roasted it in lard (confit), allowed it to go cold, pressed it and cut it into cute cubes which I will re-heat on the hot grill. I’m serving it with a piece of crackling, apple and onion jus and pangratto. 

The pork will be preceeded by a chestnut veloute, followed by the obligatory cheese and then dessert is pears cooked in red wine, with almond thins. I always have at least one cold dish, either the starter or the dessert. I should add that both these dishes are my own versions which I’ve made several times.  As it’s a Monday evening, I’m skipping the nibbles with drinks and petit fours with coffee. One can go too OTT.

Postscript: According to my beloved, the pork was divine. However, I’m already working on how to make it even better. More importantly, our guests enjoyed themselves even though I had run out of coffee. Thank goodness my beloved is coming back via Munich on Friday so he can stock up on my favourite brand.

Week end musings

My beloved returned from Germany suffering from a cold and feeling very sorry for himself. A ride on Saturday morning soon restored his good humour which was further boosted by our boys in claret and blue who struck two goals to win away from home at Fulham. The chase for the 4th spot in the Premiership is heating up with Liverpool, Man City, Spurs and AVFC all in hot and heavy pursuit.

Sadly, OGCN lost 3-2 away at Monaco. After a couple of contentious refereeing decisions, which arguably cost the Aiglons the match, their fans, despite a heavy police presence, angrily stormed onto the pitch. The penalty is likely to be either a heavy fine or a match played behind closed doors, just what a cash-strapped club needs. Nice haven’t won for two months and are slipping ominously into the relegation zone. While we await the return of most of the first team from the African Cup, rumours abound that our one good striker could be leaving before the transfer window closes.

This morning we set out for a ride with the club. It was very cold, the sky looked ominous all along the coast but back in the hills the sun was sparkling off the snowy hill tops. On the outskirts of Antibes, the sleet started to fall and two-thirds of the peloton turned tail and headed home into a fierce headwind. Why get wet when you can always ride tomorrow?

After a warming coffee at our local watering hole, pouring over the Sunday newspapers, we headed back home. Perversely, by mid-day the sun was out in full-force and the weather was truly glorious. I was sorely tempted to get back on the bike and go out again however I was having the windows and terrace cleaned this afternoon. With friends coming for dinner on Monday evening, and guests arriving next week end, this was a task I couldn’t postpone.

Instead, I checked out what had happened overnight. Was Andy Murray going to be the first Brit for many a long year to lift a Grand Slam singles title? No, razor sharp Roger Federer disposed of him in 3 straight sets to win his 16th Grand Slam title. Later I checked on the results of French cycling season opener, GP La Marseillaise. This was won by Jonathon Hivert of newly-promoted Pro-Continental team Saur Sojasun, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil was 2nd and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis was 3rd. 

On a final note, I’d like to wish Christophe Le Mevel a speedy recovery. The other day he attempted to make running repairs to his TT bike while in the saddle but merely succeeded in almost severing his little finger. Christophe, if your bike needs fixing, please take it to your’s and my LBS: Stars’n’Bikes.

Postscript: Loic Remy is (thankfully) remaining at OGCN.

Game, set and match

I shall shortly be leaving to collect my beloved from the airport, he’s been away for three blissful days. Yes, after almost 5 weeks of living in one another’s pockets, I was granted a brief respite.

 I have long realised that while he’s away I am four-fold more effective. I’ve tried to figure out why and I think it all boils down to time management. When he’s not here, I can tackle things in my normal, logical, driven fashion and I don’t become side-tracked. When he’s home, my focus changes and everything revolves around his timetable, not mine. In addition, there’s that unfortunate tendency of his to volunteer my services. I need to put some preventative measures in place to stop this from happening.

Of course, one consequence of his birthday present to me, is that I shall have a training programme to which I must adhere if I’m to achieve my desired results. So, I can use that to prevent him from derailing my timetable. Yes, I had a very satisfactory meeting with my prospective trainer this morning and we’ve agreed upon a course of action for the next six months. I shall keep you posted.

When I told my family that I was getting a cycling trainer they all wanted to know why, given that I already knew how to cycle. So I decided to put it in context. “Did you ask my sister Lynn why she continues to have tennis lessons, even though she knows how to play tennis?” “That’s different” they said, “she’s trying to further improve her game”. “Exactly, I just want to cycle better, faster and for longer”. I think they took the point.

More guilty pleasures

I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy slobbing around the flat in my nightwear and fleecy tracksuit. Something else I like to indulge in, while wearing the afore-mentioned, is reading in bed. Now I can only do this while my husband’s away. When he’s home, we have to have lights off as soon as he wants to go to sleep. When he’s not here, I can indulge to my heart’s content. I always have at least one cookery book, one book on cycling and a book on something else on the bedside table, ready and waiting for a little illicit pleasure.

At the moment, I’m immersed in “Super Freakonomics” having already read, and immensely enjoyed, it’s pre-cursor “Freakonomics”. It’s written by two guys who look at the world from a different angle, ask lots of interesting questions and try to answer them. I guess they’re attempting to make sense of modern times with mind-blowing, articulate and sometimes amusing results. 

I found comfort in one of their findings today and I quote “…..expert performers – whether in soccer or piano playing, surgery or computer programming – are nearly always made, not born.” So there’s hope for me yet. I am meeting with my prospective cycling coach tomorrow morning. I bet Jeannie Longo’s quaking in her Sidi’s!

Viral celebrity

A charming tale caught my eye in yesterday’s L’Equipe. Apparently, the Port Adelaide Cycling Club decided to pick a completely unknown European rider to support during the Tour Down Under. After some deliberation, they selected Arthur Vichot, a neo-pro with FDJ taking part in his first professional race and who, more importantly, was on Facebook. The club’s intention was to make a huge fuss of Vichot throughout the race with hordes of fans on the roadside calling out “Allez Arthur”, wearing “Allez Vichot” t-shirts, waving French flags and, of course, daubing his name on the road. Indeed, rumour has it he was better supported than one Lance Armstrong.

Allez Vichot

Prior to the start of the Tour, one of Arthur’s new found fans asked Lance if he’d ever heard of Vichot. When he said he hadn’t, she told him that he would do by the end of the Tour. Not only was all this support a tremendous boost to young Vichot, who finished a creditable 48th, just over 3minutes down on Greipel, but it also bought a smile to the lips of the more seasoned pros whenever they saw Vichot’s fans. In addition, the story has attracted the attention of the press worldwide.

Arthur’s Australian fan club has garnered more than a thousand members  and they’re eagerly going to follow his progress throughout the season. Some will even be coming over to Europe to watch him ride.

I thought this was such a lovely idea and The Port Adelaide Cycling Club are to be commended. Young Vichot will never forget his first professional race nor the kindness of the locals with whom, in time-honoured Aussi tradition, he shared a beer.