Place your bets please

The sun burnt through yesterday’s early fog leaving  perfect conditions for riding. My beloved and I decided to head up to La Turbie and lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. The chef used to work in a Michelin-starred establishment but left to run the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. The menu is chalked up daily on the blackboard: 5 starters, 5 mains and 5 desserts. When a dish is sold out, it’s scrubbed from the board. It’s a modest establishment which punches well above its weight.

We rode the short cut to La Turbie from Cap d’Ail to avoid the numerous traffic lights in Monaco. Skip one and you’re sure to incur a fine. This route includes a particularly steep bit 11-12% near Monaco football club’s training ground. I was struggling with the 39 x 27 but, nevertheless, managed it. Lunch was a fitting reward.

After lunch we climbed up Col d’Eze. Down on our left-hand side,  Eze village was shrouded in mist and looked like something out of a fairy tale. I have fond memories of my very first ascension of Col d’Eze for my one-woman protest against Astana’s exclusion from the 2008 Tour de France during Paris-Nice. It wasn’t supposed to be a solo effort, but my teammates never made it to the summit after falling victim to a couple of punctures. I am constantly amazed at how many punctures they suffer and can only assume they keep patching their inner tubes. Ours get sent to Burkina Faso.

After arriving home I started on the serious business  of  studying the form for today’s race. My middle sister, renowned for enjoying a flutter on the horses might have been able to impart some of her wisdom. She wins far more than she loses. But, unlike a horse race, one has to take account not only of the form of the team’s leader but also the strength of his support. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Fabian Cancellara who has to be odds on favourite whatever the state of his support. Setting him aside, there are a number of other riders one has to consider, although, I appreciate that they might only be fighting it out for the minor places.

One cannot exclude the usual suspects: Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro Ballan, Juan Antonio Flecha,  Heinrich Haussler, Stijn Devolder, Thor Hushovd, Filippo Pozzato and rookie, Peter Sagan. The papers have been suggesting that a coalition against Cancellara might be the only way to defeat him. It’s true that teams who have two or even three strong candidates should seek to tire out Spartacus’s troops by having them chase down constant attacks. My advice: just don’t take your eyes off Fabulous Fabian, not even for a second.

L’Equipe, who have Cancellara as their 5 starred favourite, have added a few more names into the mix: Sylvain Chavanel, Greg Van Avermaet, Juergen Roelandts and Nick Nuyens. Their advice is however pretty much the same as mine. They too suggest a coalition of interests, staying with Fabian and beating him in a sprint finish, or praying for a mechanical a la 2009.

Yesterday saw the traditional start of cycling in the Basque country with the GP Miguel Indurain won by none other than Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Olympic Champion, Sammy Sanchez. His first win since last August and his team’s first of the season. I note from the results that a Columbian called Robinson Eduardo Chalapud Gomez was 6th. Is this the longest name in cycling? The Tour of the Basque country starts tomorrow and I’ll be tuning into Basque tv to watch proceedings. The commentary will be incomprehensible but the pictures tell their own story.

This week end also sees the second MotoGP race in Jerez, Spain. Pole positions have been seized for today’s races by Messrs Stoner (MotoGP), Bradl (Moto2) and Cortese (125cc). Since the races run concurrent with the Tour of Flanders, I’ll settle for watching the highlights on Eurosport.

Smoking gun for hire

Last week one of my clubmates, who had both partaken of the birthday cake I had made and sampled my cakes at the Gentlemen, asked me if I also cooked savoury goods. Clearly, he’d not been quick enough to taste either my pissaladiere nor my savoury cakes.

I explained that baking was a recent passion for which I’d previously not had time to indulge but that my repertoire covered the entire spectrum. There was nothing I enjoyed more than a week end cooking for a crowd of people. He asked if I had always cooked and I explained that I’d started cooking when I’d met my beloved as the way to his heart was most definitely via his stomach.

I had hardly cooked at all while I lived at home and had suffered stoically through an entire year’s worth of cookery classes before being able to throw in the teacloth.  Nothing good ever came out of these lessons. I recall leaden bread rolls which if they’d been launched from a cannon would have been weapons of mass destruction. I think it’s fair to say I displayed no interest whatsoever in these lessons nor in the preceding year’s ones in needlework. To this day, if a button falls off something, you might never see me wear it again.

Both my mother and maternal grandmother were excellent cooks and  I, therefore, never felt either the urge nor the need to cook at home. Although I did start cooking at a restaurant where I worked on Saturdays earning myself the “Best Breakfast in Birmingham” award.  At university I elected for self-catering accommodation where I enjoyed cooking for myself and my flatmates. I also cooked cakes for my course mates and lecturers prompting some to joke that my degree would be in “Baking and Finance” rather than Banking.

I didn’t meet my beloved until the start of my second year ie after one whole year’s worth of cooking for myself and my flatmates. My beloved used to hate the “breakfast and chips” doled out in Halls on Wednesday evening. So I started to ply him with all sorts of savoury goodies. At the time I didn’t realize that his mother was a truly awful cook and that even food in Halls was a distinct improvement on anything she turned out.

When my beloved and I first got married, I was still at university, so money was tight. We were living in Leicestershire, home of “pick it yourself” so I used to make jams and chutneys as Christmas presents. Later I started making Xmas cakes and Xmas puddings sometimes turning out in excess of 30 cakes in the run up to the festive season. 

When we moved to London, I had less time to spend in the kitchen but still enjoyed inviting friends round for dinner and throwing parties. My motto was “the more the merrier.” That’s still true today. I’d rather cater for 50 than just me.

The French are fond of inviting you round for drinks and nibbles. I threw a party not long after we moved in by way of an apology to my understanding neighbours who’d endured plenty of dust and noise while we renovated the apartment. They were shocked to discover that I had made all the nibbles myself rather than buying them from the local traiteur.

From time to time, I invite some of my elderly neighbours around for a typical English afternoon tea which they simply adore. They’re a very game bunch of ladies who arrive beautifully coiffed and manicured, tottering on their high heels. They’re an inspiring bunch who never, ever complain about their ailments and have lots of interesting tales to tell. Keen to maintain their sylphlike figures they enjoy a couple of tiny smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, scones with my home made jam and some petit four sized cakes washed down with tea, served with lemon, never milk.

I did say that the chocolate and raspberry fort cake was the first birthday cake I’d ever made. Completely forgetting that I had previously catered for a friend’s son’s birthday party. I had been staying with them prior to our move to London and for their son’s 8th birthday party I did all the catering. I made all the typical kiddy crowd-pleasers: pizza, garlic bread, sausages (no sticks), strawberry jelly and cream and a large chocolate birthday cake.

As the dozen or so children turned up, the boy’s mother, along with all the other Mums enjoyed a few bottles of wine from the safety of the lounge, watching proceedings through the windows while I entertained the kids. I can honestly say we all had a great time. Every kid won a prize, they ate all the birthday tea and went home tired and happy. My friend’s son declared it his best birthday ever and a couple of the other Mum’s enquired whether I was for hire. I wasn’t, but maybe I missed my forte!

Just what was ordered

Having waved farewell to my beloved on Tuesday afternoon, I have spent the last few days enjoying the warm, sunny weather which I hope is here to stay. I’m trying to rebuild my form with some longer rides.  At the same time, I’ve a whole host of paperwork to deal with as it’s the end of the first quarter, plus  deadlines for filing accounts and tax returns are fast approaching. Additionally,  the club is keeping me busy as we attract ever more members.

I have found time, thanks to the tv in the office, to keep abreast of proceedings in the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. This is generally a race for those whose ambitions have to be put aside on Sunday while they support their team leaders, although Ballan did win both this and the Tour of Flanders in 2007. It’s raced around the Belgian coastline which is prone to fierce, peloton splintering, cross-winds.

Riders who have showed promise elsewhere this year largely prevailed. The first stage on Tuesday, 194km from Middelkerke to Zottegem, was won by Andrei Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), the lone sprinter in a 4-man break. He assumed the leader’s jersey only to lose it on the following day’s lumpy  219km to Koksijde. It was gratefully assumed by Liewe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) although the stage winner was  Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) who managed to hold off John Degenkolb (HTC-High Road).

This morning’s 111km sprint stage around De Panne was held in the rain, consequently a number of riders opted not to start : most notably, Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM). The sprint for the line from the leading bunch of around 50 riders was won by Jacopo Guarini (Liquigas) who managed to stay just ahead of Galimzyanov. Over 70 riders finished outside the time limit,  so there were only 56 competing in the afternoon’s individual time-trial.

Last man off was Bert De Backer (Skil-Shimano) who had taken the leader’s jersey with a sprint bonus that morning. But there were 27 riders within 10 seconds of him, including some notable chrono men. The sky was overcast and there was some rain on part of the course towards the back end. The biggest factor was once again the wind on what looked to be quite a technical course.

Sebastien Rosseler (RadioShack) comfortably won the time-trial and the overall. Westra was runner-up, once again, despite the frenzied and manical urgings of his DS from the team car. Although, for consolation, he had the climber’s and most combative jerseys.  De Backer won the sprints jersey and Galymzyanov the points one. Third-placed man on the podium was Rosseler’s team mate, 20 year-old Michal Kwiatkowski who had turned in a very fine performance in the time-trial. A Belgian winner on Belgian soil, just what the organisers and spectators wanted.

7-year itch

Yesterday was pretty blissful. My beloved and I rose late, largely thanks to the clocks going forward and his tardy arrival back into Nice the night before. We breakfasted, dressed, mounted our bikes and headed for that morning’s pointage, just up the road in St Paul de Vence. The sky was overcast and it was obviously going to rain at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

We enjoyed our ride before collecting the newspapers and heading for home. Narrowly avoiding the rain, which fell all afternoon, evening and overnight. After lunch, I settled down on the sofa (suitably attired) to enjoy the newspapers and a veritable smorgasbord of cycling.

Up first was all three stages of the Criterium International, or Jens Voigt Invitational as it’s more commonly known. As if by magic, guess who was a sole breakaway on  stage 1? None other than Jens himself, putting the hurt on the other teams and paving the way for Frank Schleck’s (Leopard Trek) win atop L’Ospedale, ahead of Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). My beloved and I know this area well having ridden around here on a trip with the cycling club. Stage 2’s 75km sprint stage was won by  Skil-Shimano’s Simon Geschke, his first pro-win, while Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack) won the 7km time-trial around Porto Vecchio. The results of those subsequent stages left the podium unchanged.

Next up was Gent-Wevelgem, shorn of Fabulous Fabian, but still choc full of talent vying for the win and those valuable UCI points. Allegedly, Tom Boonen (Quickstep) was left to watch yesterday’s win on the television so that he could better perform today and “justify his salary” so-said his manager, Patrick Lefevre. As the television coverage started, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was leading a small group of escapees, validating beyond any shadow of a doubt his team’s invitation.

After Voeckler was re-absorbed into the peloton, various attacks were launched and brought back, the last one just a few hundred kilometers before the finish. The narrow, twisting, farm roads had snapped the peloton into several bunches, but the main contenders barr Goss, Cavendish, Hushovd and Pozzato were in the leading group which sprinted for the line. Boonen powered past everyone to snatch victory, 7 years after his last win here in 2004. Danieli Bennati (Leopard Trek) was 2nd and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) finished 3rd.

To win in the Classics, you need legs, luck and good positioning. Boonen had endured a long wait for the team car after a problem at the foot of the Monteberg, 74km from the finish, before expending not inconsiderable energy chasing back to the front of the peloton. While the manner of his victory was quite different from that of Cancellara’s, it will have boosted his confidence ahead of next week’s Tour of Flanders.

We then watched video highlights of the final day’s stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya won by the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, his 2nd stage win. Collecting not only precious UCI points for his team Cofidis, but also justifying their invitation to the event. The overall was won by Contador who had assumed the lead after Wednesday’s queen stage. If anything, his popularity in Spain, where he’s perceived as being victimised, has grown as the doping case has progressed. If I were Pat McQuaid, I would eliminate Spain from my immediate travel plans.

Finally, we caught up with the last day’s action from the track World Championships where Australia have dominated and others have disappointed. Sated, we opted for an early night. All that cycling’s exhausting.

Stunning victory

Be afraid, be very afraid. If anything, Spartacus (Leopard Trek) is in even better form than last year. How is this possible? I don’t know, he just is. He was 2nd last week end in Milan-San Remo. Today, after a couple of punctures and a bike change, he literally rode from the back of the peloton to win the race.

With a couple of groups up the road, at 33km to the finish, Fabulous Fabian left the peloton behind on the Oude Kwaremont climb. He quickly caught and passed the 2nd group. Realising this was their bus to the next group, they lined out behind him, clinging grimly to his wheel as he powered up to the first group, containing team mate Stuart O’Grady. There’s now only 25km to go. O’Grady took a few turns on the front before dropping back, only to regain the group a bit later.

With 17Km to the finish, Bram Tankink (Rabobank) put in a dig, Cancellara went with him and past him. Tankink cramped and was unable to follow. A moment’s hesitation, who was going to give chase? Too late, he’s gone. Legs pumping like pistons, Fabian disappeared from view. It was all over. In truth, it had been over for some time, they just didn’t realize it. It was now only about the minor places.

Cancellara finished a whole minute ahead of his pursuers (Jurgen Roelands, Omega Pharma-Lotto 2nd, Vladimir Goussev, Katusha 3rd) to emphatically retain the crown he won last year.  He’s not racing Gent-Wevelgem tomorrow, he doesn’t need to race again before next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. You wouldn’t bet against him doubling up there too.

I enjoyed watching the race on the big screen in the office, my feet resting on the corner of the desk after my exertions this morning. I put the alarm on for 05:30 but never heard it go off. I woke at 07:00 and after a light breakfast decided to venture back up the Col de Vence.

It was a warm and sunny, with a light breeze which strengthened as the morning wore on. I rode up to Vence via l’Ara and began my ascent with purpose. I felt so much better than on Thursday and covered the first few kilometers in a much better time. I had my customary stop at Chateau St Martin to blow my nose and have a good drink. Riders kept whizzing past me, in both directions, proffering words of encouragement which were gratefully received.

With 6km to go, I met a group of mountain bikers descending including my playmate of last autumn. His mum had obviously followed my advice. He was looking pleased as punch in his club kit as he swooped past calling out my name. I waved  and returned his greeting.

For some reason I have yet to fathom, the two kilometers between 6km and 4km to the finish I find the most difficult. However, once there’s only 4km to go, I manage to pick up my pace. I even sprinted out of the saddle for the last 200 meters. A result, only 70 minutes today. An improvement on Thursday, but still nothing to write home about. I’m hoping the rain stays away long enough tomorrow morning for me to have another go. Thrice in a week will be something of a record for me.

My beloved’s back this evening at midnight. He’s just rung to say he’s had a very successful but tiring exhibition. He’ll be looking forward to his ride tomorrow, I do hope he’s not going to be disappointed.


After yesterday’s disappointing ride, I went for a quick spin this morning, as per the programme. I am now mulling over whether to do tomorrow’s 150km Audax or whether to ride one of my favourite routes which includes a trip up Col de Vence again. For various reasons, I’m inclined to favour the latter.

  • Firstly, the Audax starts in Mandelieu La Napoule at 07:30 tomorrow morning, so I’ll have to get up at 05:30. Not an attractive proposition, particularly when I’ll be having a late night this evening thanks to the racers’ monthly meeting and I’ll  have to collect my beloved from the airport at midnight tomorrow evening.
  • I like the route of the Audax, although I’ll be riding a very similar route for the l’Antiboise on 17 April.
  • The pace of the Audax is fine, not at all taxing. However,  I find the frequent comfort breaks and lengthy lunch stop rather tiresome. As a consequence of these, it’s unlikely I’ll be back in time to watch E3 Prijs and the Criterium International.
  • There’s a crowd of around 50 who ride the Audax. I really prefer the freedom of riding on my own. I can go where I want, when I want. I can stop when and where I want.

Excellent, decision made. That really wasn’t too difficult. The Audax will depart without me and I’ll head off up the Col de Vence again, hopefully quicker than yesterday.

While I didn’t manage to catch Nick Nuyens win in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, nor any of the proceedings in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya where Contador, having won Wednesday’s queen stage, is leading the GC, I have been dipping into the UCI Track World Championships in Apeldoorn. Generally, the favourites have prevailed, although there have been a couple of upsets where riders have failed to appreciate that the track doesn’t allow for a slingshot finish.  

GB raised the bar a few years back with a very dominant performance going into the Beijing Olympics.  Other nations have now responded, although GB and Australia appear to have an embarrassment of talent. Given that, for London 2012, nations are restricted to one competitor per event, it’s making track cycling even more highly competitive.

I’m not sure what was the IOC’s rational for this change. After all, countries are not restricted to one competitor per event in swimming or athletics. Nor do they need the cycle track back to stage other events. While I applaud the decision to have a similar number of Olympic events for both men and women, this decision strikes me as unnecessarily harsh because a number of track events have already been banished from the Olympic agenda.

On a lighter note, Santini have the licence for the World Championship jerseys. Being Italian, their sizing errs on the small size. However, watching Gregory Bauge don the rainbow jersey this evening after winning gold in  the Men’s Sprint, I’m willing to bet his jersey was an XXL.

Back in the saddle

In view of this week’s challenges (150km Audax, time-trial up Col de Vence), I felt I needed a longish ride at a reasonable pace. I got up at the crack of dawn on Monday to drop my beloved off at the airport and, when I got back home, started tackling the week’s pile of admin. But by 10 o’clock the fine weather was beckoning through the office window and I couldn’t resist.

I plumped for my long-sleeved winter jersey and gilet, discarding the windtex for the first time in months, but stuck with my 3/4 tights. There was a fair amount of traffic.  Caution always needs to be exercised in an urban environment. The “give way to the right” rule is not as common as you might think and I had to forcibly remind a couple of drivers that the fat white line in front of their car gave me, the cyclist, not them, right of way. 

I decided to cycle along the coast for 60km, turn around and cycle back. It’s one of my favourite routes thanks to the scenic views and an undulating circuit which takes in some of Saturday’s Audax route. On the way back, I stopped for lunch at one of my regular watering holes in Las Trayas before continuing my journey.

I made a further stop for coffee before finally reaching home. I felt fine after 120km cycled at 22km an hour average speed but was still feeling the after-effects of the cold. Let’s hope I shake these off this week.

The sunshine beckoned again on Tuesday but I was on duty for the club at the AGM of one of our sponsors. Attendance is a three-line whip and our presence was well received. There’s always a good turn out of retirees on account of the generous buffet provided after the AGM. M Le President and I lowered the average age a bit, but it was probably still pushing 70.

I had to be back down the club at around 16:30, so decided to go for a quick jog along the sea front. I was wheezing like someone who smokes 80 Woodbines a day, but the congestion is clearing. After last week’s marathon club session, there wasn’t too much to be tackled. A couple of delinquent licences and two new members.

This morning, I again rose early with the purpose of making the cupcakes (easy to transport) for my birthday boys. Two of my English class have birthdays this week, so I’ve decided to make them each a dozen cupcakes to enjoy with their respective families. I still have some of the chocolate frosting left from the weekend’s birthday cake, so I’m going to make a dozen chocolate ones and a dozen vanilla. The chocolate frosting will cover probably six cupcakes and I’ll cover the remaining ones in peanut butter frosting. The twelve vanilla ones I’ll flavour and colour:  rose, lemon and violet.  They’ll look pretty as a picture and, hopefully, taste even better.

With just two months to go, I’ve also got to start making the cakes for the Kivilev. I’m not attempting to provide cakes for all the potential 800 attendees, just those that stick around for the prize giving and, of course, the volunteers. I’ll be making my famous pain d’epice, banana bread (Nigella’s recipe), my date and fruit slice, Corsican chestnut and almond cake, and my Jeannie Longo endorsed fruit cake. I need to knock out at least 4 cakes a week, should keep me busy in the evenings I’m not down the club!

Run, run, runaway

After yesterday’s early start and busy morning, it was with some relief I sat down to watch the Moto GP season opener from Qatar. I hadn’t had either the time, or frankly the inclination, to watch the practice sessions, so had no idea who was where on the grids.

For me, one of the many charms of MotoGP is Eurosport’s commentary team of Toby Moody and Julian English. Catherine Riley of The Times  said ” …they could make a lap of a supermarket exciting and if there’s a better motorsport commentary team anywhere, I’ll eat my armchair”. No need to go that far Catherine. I would echo her opinion and say that there isn’t a better English language sports commentary team. If only the commentators who covered cycling were as knowledgable, witty and amusing.

Toby Moody and Julian English in pole position
Toby (bald) and Julian (beard)

As the picture shows, neither are spring chickens but, first and foremost, as long time  journalists, they bring to their commentary a rare depth of knowledge and a real love of the sport combined with a rare ability to pronounce correctly riders’ names.

Given I know so little about this sport, I decided to acquire a veneer of knowledge. I am indebted to for their articulate explanations.

MotoGP is the motorcycling equivalent  of F1. An 18-race series visiting fourteen countries, four continents, with global television viewing figures totalling 337 million in over 200 countries. In 2010, over 2.2 million made the pilgrimage to watch the world’s best and most skilled riders line a grid astride cutting-edge motorcycle technology with prototype machinery from just four manufacturers: Ducati, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.

Established as a World Championship by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) in 1949. MotoGP is the oldest motorsport championship and the blue riband of three racing classes that take place on a Grand Prix weekend.

Each GP event takes place over three consecutive days. The first two  comprise practice and qualification for each class; the third is race-day. There are free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, and a single qualification practice on Saturday afternoon which determines grid order for Sunday’s race. In each category, the three fastest riders take positions on the first row of the grid, with the rest lining up in threes behind.

After warm-up sessions for each category on race-day, the 125cc race kicks off the programme, followed by the Moto2 class and then, last but not least,  the jewel in the crown, MotoGP.  Races vary in length between 95-130km and normally last between 40-45 minutes.

So what’s the difference between the various categories?

  • 125cc – Is the first step on the World Championship ladder for young competitors. Maximum engine size is 125cc (single-cylinder units). The maximum age for riders is 28 years (25 for wild-card riders or those newly contracted and competing in a 125cc GP for the first time) and the minimum age is 16 years.
  • Moto2 – This 4-stroke, 600cc class was introduced in 2010 to replace the 250cc category.  Moto2 aims to be a prestigious yet cost-effective adjunct to the premier league, MotoGP. Honda is the sole engine supplier, Dunlop provide the tyres while the prototype chassis are provided by a number of engineering firms such as Suter (Swiss), Kalex (German) and Moriwaki (Japanese).  The minimum age for riders is 16.
  • MotoGP – This provides the ultimate test on two wheels for its finest talents. The maximum engine capacity is 800cc (4-stroke engines) and the machines are all prototypes.  The minimum age for riders is 18.
125cc winner Nico Terol

So, on to Moto2 where German, Stefan Bradl (1989) surged away from his first pole position to record his 2nd ever win. Andrea Iannone leapfrogged from 16th on the grid into 2nd place after battling with Yuki Takahashi. Tom Luthi came through in the final laps to take 3rd. Last year’s 125cc champion and Moto2 rookie,  Marc Marquez, crashed out on lap 4: a  touch too much of youthful exuberance.

Riding his first season for Honda, whose bikes were quickest in pre-season testing and practice, former MotoGP champion, Aussi Casey Stoner (1985) won at Qatar for the 4th time in 5 years. His team mate Dani Pedrosa surged past him on pole and led for half a lap before being overtaken by last season’s champion, Jorge Lorenzo.  But by the end of lap 2, Stoner was back in the lead with Lorenzo in 2nd place.

Honda boys


Seal of approval

Yesterday’s birthday celebrations continued well into the small hours without us. We had all been asked to arrive early at the venue to preserve the element of surprise. The hall had been beautifully decorated with cycling artifacts and mementoes. All of us from the cycling club were seated together on the Criterium International table. When the star guest turned up it was evident that he’d had no idea and was genuinely delighted to see so many friends and family gathered in his honour.

It goes without saying that the food was spectacular, despite it being catering on a grand scale. As the afternoon wore on, many of the guests danced off the feast. The cycling quiz was a bit of a damp squib as my team mates clearly don’t share my obsession with the sport. Only ex M Le President made a stab at it and, frankly, did rather well without resorting to checking up on the internet via his mobile.

Chocolate and raspberry delice

If I say so myself, the birthday cake looked rather splendid and was reduced to a few crumbs within moments of it being cut. Fortunately, the birthday boy managed to snag a piece. One of my clubmates is a professional chef and he was highly complimentary which was very satisfying. It looks somewhat dwarfed in the photo by the other creations but they were intended to feed the 60 odd guests. My beloved called my creation “Chocolate Fort Cake”. I think there’s an intended pun in there.

We were reduced to watching the dying kilometers of what had evidently been an exciting Milan-San Remo on my beloved’s mobile phone. On a screen that size it’s difficult to work out who’s who, but it was easy to see that a number of the favoured riders were in contention until Matt Goss pipped them on the line.  The result was confirmed by my friends watching the race live.

We left the party early anticipating arriving home in time to watch the race highlights on Eurosport only to discover a scheduling change meant it wouldn’t be on again until 1 o’clock in the morning. Far too late for someone with a 6 o’clock start the following day. Luckily the armchair sports fan had summarised the race. I read his as-ever excellent report, made my savoury cakes and pissaladiere for the following day’s “Gentleman”, took the cakes out of the freezer to defrost and was fast asleep in bed by 21:30.

Today, I rose as programmed at 06:00, washed, dressed and packed everything into the car before heading down to the finish line to set out my wares to feed the ravening hordes of the “Gentleman”, a two-person time-trial where the combined ages of the two must exceed 60. The weather was fortunately kind to us and before long the sun was shining. Proceedings started at 08:30, made more difficult by heavier than anticipated traffic round the industrial estate.  I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure numbers were up on last year’s edition.

The homemade cakes were well received with some riders finding it necessary to sample at least one of each. Disappointingly, I only received one enquiry as to my marital status but plenty of compliments, including one from Jeannie Longo who ate a piece of my fruit cake. I have managed to keep back a few pieces of it  for my sister Lynn who is something of a fruit cake connoisseur but everything else disappeared pronto.

After two (long) weeks at home, my beloved departs early tomorrow morning for a week long business trip leaving me to savour the peace and quiet. I plan on spending plenty of time out on two wheels enjoying the fine Spring weather. My cycling coach has a test ride up Col de Vence on Thursday for which I feel ill-prepared after my heavy cold. Hopefully, a few gentle but long rides will help me refind my form. Assuredly, I will post the slowest ascension of the group but, hopefully, be faster than at a similar time last year.


In an ideal world, I would be looking forward to watching Milan-San Remo live tomorrow. I would have checked out the start lists and given some thought as to who might be in with a chance of victory. I would have contacted my friends and made arrangements where to meet after the race. I would be happily contemplating starting my day with coffee and La Gazzetta before a quick mooch around the shops and then heading to the finish to find a good position to watch the race unfold. Instead, I have been doing none of these things.

I have been making the chocolate genoise cake for tomorrow’s birthday celebrations. It’s the first time that I have attempted this type of cake and so far  so good. The cake looks light and airy and is now sitting in the fridge which will make it easier to slice into three tomorrow, or so I’m advised. I have made the meringue buttercream, another first, which is also sitting in the fridge. Tomorrow morning it’ll be flavoured chocolate and then I’ll begin the tricky task of assembling and decorating the cake. If all goes well,  two of my English class turn 12 next week and I’ll make them both birthday cakes.

My cake making preparations were disturbed by yet another of our riders who finds himself ill-prepared for the week end’s races. I’m flattered they think I can magic up licences late on a Friday evening.  All associations work slowly and most licences take 10 days to emerge from the chrysalis. I have however come up with a solution which may enable him to race, then again it may not.

I’m still not sure whether I’ll race this week end. I rode today and, despite the warm spring-like conditions, still feel compromised by the lingering effects of my cold. We’ll just have to see how I feel on Sunday morning. I only have the pissaladiere and savory cakes to prepare tomorrow evening for Sunday’s apero. Everything else is ready.

I had some sad news today. One of my few remaining relatives died. The rest really can be counted on the fingers of one hand. He’d not enjoyed particularly good health these past few years but, meeting a widow, a couple of year’s his senior, had put a bit of a spring in his step. He had a stroke in early January, while they were on holiday, from which he appeared to be making a full recovery. All was going well until he was moved to a rehabilitation ward from where it’s been pretty much all downhill. He passed away this afternoon, after rallying briefly yesterday. He wasn’t on his own when he died, my sister Lynn was with him.

While he’d lived a full life, he didn’t quite make his four score and ten. I also have to wonder about the part played by the UK’s NHS in his untimely demise. If he’d gone to stay with his friend, rather than being transferred to the rehabilitation unit, might he still be with us? Sadly, we’ll never know the answer to that one.