In flagrente

After a few hours of respite yesterday, the downpour started again and has continued unabated today. I popped out early this morning to collect the edible goodies I had ordered for Xmas. Pre-ordering enables one to avoid the unavoidably long queues. 

There was a record queue at the bread shop snaking all around the premises. But it’s well organised with different staff taking one’s order to those taking one’s money, so I wasn’t in there too long. I was much amused to see that the nearby greengrocer/general store had hired security. One expects this in Gucci but not at the greengrocer’s. However, this place probably takes more in a year than all the Gucci stores on the Cote d’Azur. In fact both the bread shop and the greengrocer’s are veritable gold mines. Apart from the fact that they sell excellent produce, they’re in a great location and, to top it all, have free car parking. The car of choice is typically a Porsche Cayenne with Monaco number plates. Yes, while the tax dodgers rent broom cupboards in Monaco,  they live in palatial pads in and around St Paul de Vence. 

Popular stocking filler!

 

I returned to discover that my beloved had received a visit from Cagnes sur Mer’s finest and had purchased the obligatory calendar. Here one doesn’t tip either the postman or the fireman, instead one buys their calendars for a sum of one’s choosing. If I had known that Cagnes sur Mer’s firemen were going to get their kit off in this year’s calendar, I would have made a bulk purchase. It would have saved me buying a number of copies of Dieux du Stade for my girlfriends. 

Monsieur mars

 

I particularly like the look of Mr March. Though I don’t recall any of these hunks coming round to rescue me from our fire in 2005. Mind you, it’s hard to tell in all that gear they wear. However, since our very own M le President is head honcho down at the fire station (incidentally, he doesn’t feature in the calendar, although he could), I may have to pay him a visit at work on a pressing club matter. Seeing my interest in the calendar, my husband has wisely confiscated all matches and the candle ban remains in force. He doesn’t want any more conflagrations. 

Postscript: Apparently, M Mars is a keen mountain biker – more good news!

It’s more than my job’s worth

Last Thursday, I unfortunately missed the postman who was bringing me my big box of Amazon goodies (books, CDs and DVDs) to enjoy over the Xmas period. If he can’t put the package in my frankly gi-normous post box, he usually leaves it outside my front door or, at worst, with the security guards on the gate (as per my instructions) but no, he chose to leave me a dreaded yellow slip and take my box away. Friday, there was nothing else for it but to brave the huge queue in the local post office to rescue my package.

After waiting 20 minutes I handed over my yellow slip to the clerk who then rummaged in a manual register. Alas, the postman had failed to enter my package into this registry and equally he had failed to put the reference number on the slip so they were unable to locate the package. I tried to look suitable unimpressed. They took a copy of the slip, promising to look for it when they had some free time and said they would call me.

From previous experience, I know that a promise from the Post Office to give you a call ranks right alongside “the cheque’s in the post”. Having heard nothing from them, on Monday I went on-line and got the tracking number from my Amazon account before re-tracing my steps to find an even longer queue.

When it was eventually my turn, I explained what had happened and this time the clerk managed to locate my tracking number on the computer system, but to no avail. The whole process rests or falls on the correct manual entry being made in the registry. This time I stood firm. I said the delivery contained Xmas presents (I didn’t mention they were for me) and I wasn’t leaving until I got them.  You could hear the collective groan in the very long queue behind. I apologised but said it was unfair to inconvenience me simply because one of their colleagues had not followed their own procedures.

After my bold stand, none other than the Post Office manager was dispatched to look for the parcel. Lo and behold, he was back within 15 minutes barely managing to hold a rather heavy and sizeable box – a result.

Cabin fever

Following close on the “Big Chill”, we’re now experiencing the “Wash Out”. Leaving aside my cold, it’s not been possible to ride for the past 4 days and the outlook is little better. After spending a couple of days cooped up inside, I had a list of errands longer than my arm which occupied most of the morning.

This afternoon, a spot of ironing (yes, the Vuelta ironing mountain is slowly subsiding) and then off to the club for the weekly catch up with my fellow committee members. There’s more to running a cycling club than one might think. Initially, of course, there’s quite a steep learning curve for the new incumbents. One is taking over tasks that have been done well but in a particular fashion for a number of years. Next, one’s thinking  how to improve the processes but first one has to make sense of what’s already there.

When the then president-elect asked me if I’d like to become Club Secretary I had the sense that he had exhausted all other avenues but I was more than happy to agree to help out. He explained that he wished to delegate much more than the current incumbent; wholly necessary as he still works full-time.

The new president also wants the club to meet the requirements of all members, not just a select few. This is more difficult to achieve but, by splitting the club into sub-sets, each with their own budget, it should be  easier to achieve.

Some changes have been forced upon us. No one was willing to take responsibility for organising the annual club luncheon and dance. Attendances have been steadily declining over the past few years and feedback from the membership had indicated that the price per head was too high. A satisfactory compromise has been reached with a cold fork buffet after the AGM followed by a dance. The older members, of whom there are many, really enjoy the dancing.

We have increased the membership of the cycling school and the number of racers competing for the club, both of which are very encouraging and will garner plenty of positive press coverage for the club and its sponsors. We are now supporting increased participation in local sportifs and randonees. While my own section “Recreational Afternoons” will shortly have access to both the tv and internet to assist with teaching IT and English classes where numbers are growing slowly, but surely, thanks to my baked goodies.

Wondrous Japan

I was fortunate to catch up with an old friend over the phone yesterday. We keep in touch largely by email but like to talk to one another on or around our birthdays which straddle Xmas. We met while working on a major construction project for my previous employer. She’s an architect and designer with a track record in bringing very difficult projects to fruition. She has a real clarity of vision and not only did I love working with her but I also learned a lot from her too. She now lives in Italy, not far from Venice, so we don’t get to see one another often enough.

She’s just come back from a month-long trip to Japan, her first visit. I went two year’s ago during cherry blossom time and was totally enchanted. I had wanted to visit for so long that I was sure the reality would not live up to my expectations. However, any expectations I had were just blown away. It’s such a beautiful, magical place.

We found that we both adored the architecture of the original wooden dwellings, the peace and tranquillity of the temples, the almost too beautiful to eat food, the enchanting traditional arts and crafts, the hustle, bustle and colour of the food markets and the unrelenting charm and politeness of the Japanese. Frankly, I can’t wait to return and have a long list of things I still want to see including Keirin racing, which in Japan, differs markedly from that shown in the Olympics on the track. Let me explain.

Since it started in 1948 Keirin racing  has become a Japanese social institution attended annually by around 57 million spectators  who place bets amounting to 9 billion Euros. Races are held almost every weekend at 50 tracks around Japan.

Picking the winner of a Keirin race is a complicated matter. The riders have to announce their tactics in advance while the punters  take account of the background of each rider, their blood group, astrological sign and thigh measurements, starting position and seasonal form. This is augmented by information about the athletes in special newspapers. bizarrely, most people don’t watch the races “live” but watch on the TV screens at the track.

Once the riders come out of the tunnel, “the racers gate”, they ride slowly to the start, fix their bikes in position in the starting machine, and bow before getting into the saddle. There are usually six to nine racers who are clad in standardized, bright, single coloured jerseys and helmet covers, for easy identification. The races are usually 2000m in length and held on steeply banked tracks.

The race starts slowly. The riders jockeying for an advantageous position behind the pacemaker, who slowly raises the pace before leaving the track after three laps. A bell then rings opening up the sprint where the riders reach speeds of up to 70 km⁄h in the photo-finish sprint for the line. 

A certain amount of pushing and shoving is tolerated by the rules and, as the speeding riders jostle for the best position, spectacular crashes are not uncommon. The surface of the track is rough, providing good traction even in the rain. The racers wear plastic body armour under their jerseys to prevent serious injury.

Top riders will race 80–100 times a year, prize money can be upwards of Euros 100,000 for the winner of a large event, with the best earning up to Euros 1.5m a year. The riders all use approved and specially built, similar, steel framed, bikes with a choice of gearing: 12–16 teeth on the sprocket and up to 55 on the chain ring.

Prospective racers must attend the Japan Bicycle Racing School, dedicated to teaching the academic and practical skills they will need to compete. The 10% of applicants fortunate enough to be accepted undergo a strict, 15–hour per day training regime. During the 10–month period of training and study, the students generally aged between 18 and 22, learn the rules and tactics of the sport, bicycle mechanics and physiotherapy as well as riding technique, and endurance.

Those who pass the exams are approved by and registered with the Japan Keirin Association as competitors, eligible to take part in Keirin events. There are approximately 4000 registered riders and each year 150 new riders are admitted, first to a four-month stint in the newcomer’s league, thereafter they are assigned a ranking which is adjusted, based on performance, every four months.

Cold, colder, coldest

A week or so ago I had a dramatic spike in viewing figures. Nearly 300 people viewed my site over two days, rather than the usual 1-12.  At first I couldn’t figure out why. Evidently, one of my posts “Hot, hotter, hottest” had a similar title to a new site which features hot looking, scantily dressed  ladies performing certain acts. In fact, the sort of site where you might find a Cherry Whipley!

Now, I am generally very careful both with the content and titles. In fact when we were first discussing appropriate titles for the site some wit came up with ” No Panties Required”. It’s true that one doesn’t require underwear on a bike, nothing should come between you and your pad. But I did feel that it was a tad inappropriate and many viewers might come away sadly disappointed, despite the plethora of lycra clad lovelies, that there was nothing more scintillating than the cycling adventures of a middle-aged woman.

This week has been very cold, rarely reaching 10 degrees C at midday. However, by muffling myself up like Michelin Man, I’ve managed a couple of hours on the bike most days. Yesterday, however, we awoke to a winter wonderland and icy roads. Time for the hometrainer to put in an appearance.

Today’s pointage is over at Roquebrune Cap Martin but as the roads will be  icy until well into the morning, we’re going to pass on this one. Additionally, I’ve got a sore throat and impending head cold. Just what a girl wants for Xmas. I spent most of yesterday curled up on the sofa, under a throw, trying to stay warm and sinking plenty of hot lemon with honey and even a wee dram of whisky – my sure fire cure for a cold. Indeed, I’m feeling much improved this morning.

My boys in claret and blue are still hogging a Champion’s League spot after beating Stoke 1-0 at home yesterday, I think it’s fair to say they rode their luck but got the desired result. Meanwhile, OGCN stopped the rot with an away draw at Grenoble.

Companionship

I habitually ride on my own. Even when I ride with my beloved, or my club mates, I inevitably end up riding on my own. You might conclude that this was because no one can hold my wheel but, sadly, it’s the other way around.  However, from time to time it’s nice to ride along, shoulder to shoulder, chatting with someone who rides at the same pace.

I got back last night from dinner in Nice to find a message from my friend, she wanted to ride with me today. When I left the Domaine this morning it had just finished raining and the sky was not looking promising. However, my traffic light karma was in overdrive. There are twelve sets of traffic lights between us, over a distance of 5kms, and each one turned green as I approached. I covered the distance to the meeting point in record time and, on account of the dark clouds, we opted for a number of circuits of Cap d’Antibes – quicker to get back home, should rain fall.

As we navigated our first circuit of the Cap, the sun started to break through the clouds and began dancing on the waves. We didn’t need to say anything to one another, we just smiled. It’s just one of the many reasons we both chose to live in this beautiful part of the world and why neither of us likes leaving it for too long.

 There weren’t too many other cyclists on the road but we bumped into one we both knew and who rode with us for a while – the owner of our LBS. He’s recovering from a recent accident (contretemps with a bus) and man flu, so we promised to be gentle with him and ride at his pace! He has a new toy, a power tap. Every time we ascended, he kept telling us his wattage and, since we kept pace, ours too.  

We were making plans for the forthcoming season: which sportifs we were going to take part in, which live races we were going to watch and how many kilos we were going to shed. We had a coffee together before I headed back home. She’s coming round tomorrow evening to raid my extensive library of cycling books for something to keep her company over the Xmas period.

I shall be adding to this collection in the coming weeks as I’ve received a number of Amazon vouchers as Xmas presents. Some think vouchers are a cop-out, but I love them. It means I can justify buying some expensive tomes that I’ve been lusting over.  Remember, I’ve got another big book case to fill.

Cool kit

I have read various reports that Cervelo Test Team’s kit was the best-selling and most popular of the season. It’s hard for me to comment. Round here most wear their club kit, all the time. There’s very good reasons for this. Generally, one wears club kit when riding with one’s club. Also it’s the cheapest kit you can buy. It’s either sold at cost or at a subsidised price if, like us, you’re lucky to have plenty of sponsorship. For example, we pay only Euros 27,50 for a short sleeved cycling top with a full-length zip. Probably, the next most popular brand is Bwin, very reasonably priced kit made by Decathlon. Sightings of premium brands such as Assos or Rapha are rare.

While you do see people sporting pro kit it’s either because they are pros, they live next door to a pro (and it’s a freebie) or they won the kit in one of the many club tombolas. No local sportif or randonée would be complete without either a goody bag or tombola. As a consequence, hands down, the most oft-sighted kit here is that of Astana. I suspect that this is what may have led Lance to conclude he was now more popular with the French when he was staying in Beaulieu-sur-Mer earlier this year.

Aesthetically, the Cervelo kit benefits from its paucity of sponsors and simple colour palette. My Swiss friend is a big fan of their kit. He has both versions, here he is in the black one. He’s not a member of a cycling club, rather he rides with a group of like-minded friends who also acquired both versions of the Cervelo kit. Coincidentally, he lives in the town where Assos is based but possesses not a single item of their range. This is a man with a seriously extensive cycling wardrobe.  I should know, I have seen it.

Quelle surprise!

Yesterday evening, Ryan Giggs (PFA Player of the Year) was voted BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year. He’d obviously not expected to win as he’d not prepared, or even thought to prepare, a speech. Nonetheless, it was a well deserved and popular award. He’s always struck me as the “model professional” footballer having spent the last twenty years or so loyaly toiling on Man United’s wings and, very regrettably, as he’s Welsh, never on England’s. He’s a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goal scorer. Indeed, his goal a few year’s back against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final makes it into my top 5 goals of all time.

Cavendish was one of the ten contenders but never really in with a shout among the likes of Jensen Button (2nd) and Ryan Giggs. But I’ve no doubt his time will come. 

I’m not sure why they call the award the “Sports Personality” when, with few exceptions, that’s exactly what they are patently not. Please don’t take this as anything other than censure of the title. Winners need to be focused and self-centred, not well-rounded, witty, and amusing dinner companions.

Of course, some develop into sporting personalities after retiring, others simply never do. Whenever I’ve been lucky to meet one I’ve found the safest topics of conversation to be themselves and their sport.

Chilled

A brave baker’s dozen set out from the club’s rendez vous point this morning. The sky was leaden and it was cold, damp, still wet under foot from the storms the night before and the hills behind were now dusted with snow. We rode briskly to keep warm each trying to take shelter from the chilly headwind which surely must have originated in Siberia. I rode at the head of the peloton, sheltering behind club mates half my size is pretty pointless.  Other cyclist’s were rarer than hen’s teeth.

At the pointage in Golfe Juan, I felt chilled and decided to return home. While riding, I’d paid particular attention to my posture and there was no re-occurrence of my earlier troubles. Sadly, I may have to replace my saddle. I cannot get another of the same model as it’s one that’s only made available to the pros. It’ll have to be a Bontrager, the same as I have on my Orbea, but in white to match my bar tape.

I picked up the newspapers on the way home and was glad of the additional warmth as I stuffed them down my winter jacket. I wanted to get home, and finish off the tidying up in time to watch Arsenal v Liverpool. If Arsenal lose, AVFC stay in 3rd place. I’d been so buoyed up by the boys’ win that I’d forgotten to check on how OGCN had fared away at Lens: badly. We lost 2-0, our 3rd consecutive loss. Christmas can’t come soon enough for Les Aiglons.

Journalists have been attending the camps of Astana and Team RadioShack, respectively in Pisa and Tucson, and attempting to keep the Lance v Bert rivalry stoked.  The latter is wisely not rising to the bait. Yes, Lance on paper your team has by far the stronger riders but do you have the stronger team? This story is going to run and run until its conclusion on the Champs Elysees next July. We’re just going to have to wait and see.

Good news comes in threes

Yes, I’ve had three pieces of excellent news this weekend. First up, my cycling club has retained its departmental championship (2eme series). We were 3rd overall, just behind the two much larger local clubs. Seventy-three team mates turned out for the pointage, just over 75% of our cyclists.

Second, I have reduced my percentage  body fat with the 6-week challenge, despite the blow-out meals in Paris. I will, of course, be continuing with the works outs over the winter months. 

Man U 0 - 1 AVFC

Best of all, my beloved boys in claret and blue became the first team to win at the Theatre of Dreams this season. A header from Gabi in the 21 minute secured all three points. Both teams had chances and it was an exciting match right to the final whistle. The last time we beat Manchester United, Becks was a promising young player. We won 3-1 at home in 1995 at the start of 1995-96 season. Conversely, we haven’t won at Old Trafford since 1983.

It was a key match for both teams. With Chelsea drawing 3-3 at home to Everton, winning would allow Man U to draw level on points, albeit with an inferior goal difference. While, AVFC’s nearest rivals, Spurs lost at home 0-1 to Wolves, Villa’s neighbours – thanks boys! Villa  now go 3rd and will stay there if Liverpool beat Arsenal tomorrow.

I spoke to a friend’s husband before the match and he revealed himself to be a supporter of the Red Devils. Since he doesn’t hail from Manchester, I just had to call him a glory hunter, though he claims to have supported the team from boyhood. So he’ll remember when Villa beat Man U in the 1957 FA Cup Final, the very last time we won it.