Many have asked why I’m doing the Livestrong Challenge. The answer’s simple. Because, I can. I’m doing it as part of Team Fatty. The Fat Cyclist is a two-time award winning blogger who writes mostly about cycling. Quite by chance I came across one of his entries a while back which was a very amusing, an open letter to Assos poking fun at their advertising. Since then I’ve been a regular reader.
Fatty’s wife Susan is fighting metastasized breast cancer and, in early December 2008, he proposed that his readers should band together and ride in support of Livestrong. So I thought, why not? Like most of us I have lost family and friends to cancer but equally importantly, I have friends who have survived. So, given that I’m in a very fortunate position, I would like to be of some, small assistance to those who are not.
My mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s so many are surprised I’m cycling in support of the fight against cancer. Frankly, I am happy to raise money for any good cause, and there are plenty of them. But if I were cycling for Alzheimer’s my mother would inevitable hear about it and it would upset her. She knows she has Alzheimer’s but never acknowledges it. Any mention of the disease distresses her, so we never talk about it in her hearing. Why would we upset her unnecessarily?
Even though I haven’t been cycling for long, my mother remembers that I cycle. Indeed, she watched on TV the entire Women’s Olympic Road Race in Beijing, won so magnificently by Nicole Cooke, hoping to catch a glimpse of me on my bike. I’m touched that while my mother has lost so much she hasn’t lost her faith in me.
Every cyclist needs an LBS. Now I can see the non-cyclists going “L=little, B=black, S= slip, shoes?” No, it’s a Local Bike Shop.
Now, I know my limitations and my bike has only to make the slightest unusual noise and I’m straight down to my LBS to get it sorted. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m either clueless or helpless, but my bike deserves the best. I limit myself to keeping it spotlessly clean, tyres at the correct pressure and chain suitably lubricated. I can deal with a puncture, but fortunately have never been called upon to do so. Whenever it’s happened there’s always been someone around who can do it so much quicker and better than me.
Whenever I pass another cyclist in distress I always enquire if they need my assistance. They do not. However, not long after my husband allowed me to go solo, I saw an elderly gentleman struggling to replace his inner tube. I hopped off my bike and went to his assistance. The poor chap looked so mortified that a woman had come to his rescue until I pointed out I wasn’t going to actually do anything. No, the next bloke to come round the corner was going to do it.
I sent him off with my bike to sit on a nearby bench and I waited. No more than thirty seconds later, six cyclists came around the corner, halted, leapt off their bikes and proceeded to sort out the puncture in record time. As they took their leave, one of the sextet gave me back the bike. He looked at me and then looked at the bike and said “This isn’t your bike”. “Well spotted”, I replied, giving him one of my megawatt smiles. “It belongs to the old chap on the bench. No one stopped to help him, so I just gave him a helping hand. But I have never, ever had to change a tyre because Frenchmen are so charming and chivalrous.”
Last year I rode La Louis Caput all on my lonesome, ownsome until I joined up with the 150km tail-end Charlies at the feed zone. This was partly my own fault as I had deliberately started right at the back, then stopped for a comfort break (and a hot chocolate), before heading off up the Col de Vence.
This year, it was a good 10km into the ride before the main peloton disappeared from view (progress?) and I was left in the company of six chaps: 3 twosomes. One of whom sucked my wheel all the way to the foot of the Col de Vence. That’s a first. Thereafter, a pattern was established. One by one they would overtake me on the uphill slope and I would swoop past them going downhill.
We all met up again at the half-way point feed zone and exchanged a few words of encouragement. It’s at this point that our paths crossed with those doing the 150km course. This year, I was pleased to note that the better riders were still passing through. One of the twosomes set off first and I tucked in behind a larger group, hoping to get some shelter from the cold headwind we’d faced for most of the ride, but they left me trailing in their wake. C’est la vie!
My blood chilled as an emergency vehicle sped past me, lights flashing. Had someone had an accident? I was on a fairly benign stretch of road heading towards the final descent to the finish. As I reached the crossroads with 40km to go I met one of the motor bike outriders who told me the emergency services were dealing with a cyclist who had suffered a fatal cardiac arrest and the road was now closed.
As there was nothing I could do to assist, I rode off along the diverted route. To be honest I don’t really remember much about those final kms. I kept thinking about the dead chap’s wife, sitting at home waiting for her husband to come back from his latest sportif and bore her silly with tales of his derring do. Now, he was never going to do that again.
It turned out that I had ridden with the deceased, he’d been part of one of my twosomes.
I was awoken by flashes of lightening and loud overhead thunder at about 04:30am this morning. Now I generally sleep like the dead. Once my head hits the pillow I’m out for the count for 8hrs minimum. So, if anything wakes me up – it’s loud, really loud. My bedroom windows overlook the sea and, since we’re not overlooked, I see no reason to cover the magnificent view with curtains. The bedroom was lit up like the Blackpool illuminations by the thunderstorm.
When the alarm went off at 06:00am, I could hear the rain so turned over and went back to sleep: no L’Antiboise today. Yes, once again rain has stopped play on a Sunday. I had planned to do the 150km Brevet today thereby garnering maximum points for the club and putting in some valuable Livestrong training mileage.
Last year I had ridden the 100km with my husband. The course starts in Antibes, goes along the coast to Agay, then turns into the l’Esterel hills before returning back along the coast via La Napoule. The longer route takes you past Lac St Cassien and over towards Grasse before returning to Antibes via Valbonne. Both great rides in good weather.
It’s not that I’m afraid of getting wet but, as I found out in the Pyrenees, my brake pads need replacing. They’ve been ordered and will be fitted next week. We rode in the pouring rain in the Pyrenees over Easter. On the Saturday I was able to demonstrate “how to perform an emergency stop” to the rest of the group. My brakes failed as I was rolling down a hill to catch up with them. They were waiting for me by the side of the road. Noting that they were next to a grassy patch, and my husband was at the back I hollered “my brakes aren’t working”. My husband caught my arm, thereby slowing me down somewhat and I flung myself over to my right and onto the grass. Both the bike and I came away unscathed, though I did have some rather spectacular bruising to my right knee and elbow.
Now, I’m a pretty good descender, largely thanks to my bike. I had thought that it was due to my superior bodyweight but if my husband and I descend at the same time, I go much faster than he does and he’s a good 20kg heavier than me.
By 10:00am the rain had stopped and the roads were starting to dry out. So I went for a ride with my husband, meeting a number of club members en route. Let’s hope the weather will be fine for the Louis Caput sportif next week end.
I still remember the warm glow when I found the two-wheeled, red bike Santa had left for me in a nearby park the Xmas I was five. But I have conveniently forgotten how long it took me to shed its training wheels. When I was nine, I got a pale blue and grey Raleigh, but I was not allowed to ride it on the road, only in the garden and not on the lawn which took up about 85% of our garden.
At university, I once borrowed a friend’s bike and ran it into a parked car. I dimly recall I rode to work during the late 80s, early 90s on those few days when all forms of public transport were on strike. I also indulged in a spot of mountain biking in Austria. Though, lest you get the wrong impression, this consisted of me cycling down the hill from the hotel, along the valley and back to the foot of the hill whereupon my husband went to get the car to convey me and the bike back up the hill.
So, not exactly an auspicious history on two wheels even though my father was a keen cyclist, frequently cycling from Birmingham to Portsmouth (and back) to visit family, and my maternal grandfather made bicycle frames. Indeed, family and friends continue to be bemused by my very recent love affair with two wheels.
When I first started cycling my husband would not allow me to ride unaccompanied. If only you could have seen me, you would have understood why. So for the first 6-9 months I rode only at week ends or on the home trainer. Once I had my first road bike, it took me almost three weeks to master cleats and pedals, not realising that the latter could be loosened to make it easier to disentangle the former from the latter.
Pushing off on my left foot, I would cycle around the gated domaine where we live, then position myself handily near to one of the flower beds as I attempted to kick either one of my feet free. If I failed, I would just keel over into the flower bed. During this period, the gardeners wisely postponed putting in the summer bedding plants and I do believe that my miserable attempts to cycle provided them, and my neighbours, with some amusing moments. But they were hugely supportive and gave me a standing ovation, when I finally triumphed. And, even now, they exhibit a lively interest in my cycling wanting to know how many kilometres I’ve covered and where I’ve been.
I’m now endeavouring to employ those same flower beds to cushion the impact as I try to cycle hands-free. I watch enviously as fellow cyclists ride along nonchalantly, answering their mobile phones, taking off or putting on articles of clothing without ever once wavering from the straight and narrow. Of course, when I ask them how they do it they all reply that they learnt when they were young. Is it simply a case that I’m too old to learn new tricks? Who knows? But I’m not giving up; not just yet anyway.
It pains me greatly to say this but if I’m ever knocked off my bike by a car it is bound to have been driven by a middle-aged woman. I say this with some authority as all of my closest shaves have been with cars driven by unobservant, middle-aged women.
We’re supposed to be able to multi-task better than men but put us behind a steering wheel and we seem to lose this gift and more. Yes, we also lose any sense of spatial awareness. Girls, God gave cars three mirrors for a reason! Please endeavour to use them.
These incidents happened on roads I regularly frequent and, at this point, I should add that I’m a law abiding cyclist. I don’t jump red lights or cycle recklessly. I wear clothing which makes me clearly visible and I give plenty of hand signals. And, if you’ve seen my photos, you’ll know I’m not a small cyclist.
Two incidents happened on the very same roundabout where, from one of the eastern approach roads, there’s a very sharp, first exit, north- north- east. Incident no.1 involved a Twingo driver attempting to smoke, talk on her mobile and drive at the same time. However, not content with trying to dislodge me from my bike on the roundabout, she then tried to run me over on the ramparts of the old town, where due to the steep camber, there’s room for either one but not both of us. I managed to prevail, but only just.
Incident no.2 involved a mobile phone wielding woman at the wheel of a people carrier who, having failed to run me over on the same exit on the self-same roundabout, came to an abrupt, unscheduled halt 50 metres later as she searched in vain for a parking spot. Her startled look when I rapped on her window spoke volumes.
At the intersection of two one-way roads, I had to take evasive action to avoid being gunned down by a Berlin registered, turbo charged, Porsche whose driver (female, middle-aged with male passenger using mobile) totally ignored a red stop sign and my right of way. On the bright side, a Porsche driver would probably have been able to afford to replace my bike. Always assuming I had survived our contre-temps.
The most recent incident involved yet another middle-aged woman, driving a clapped out, red, Peugeot 205 in the on-coming direction, who turned left across my bows in complete ignorance of the road markings. Realising, rather too late, that she was about to turn me into road kill, she braked, allowing me to swoop past her bonnet, rather than over it. My front wheel met the curb stone full on (haven’t yet mastered the bunny hop) and I sailed over the handlebars to land on my right elbow and hip. I leapt to my feet, no real damage then, and checked the bike which was, thankfully, also unscathed. The woman opened the door and suggested I should look where I was going. In return, I ventured that an early visit to the optician’s might be advisable along with a refresher course at the nearest driving school as that thick white line over there gave me right of way. Having seized the moral high ground, I gave her “The Look”, remounted and rode off.
Now “The Look” is something I have perfected, along with a whole series of hand signals, to express my disgust at the driving antics of my fellow road users. However, I suspect that they go largely unnoticed as these drivers rarely glance in any of their mirrors. Nonetheless, they allow me to vent.
Not wishing to give you the wrong impression, I should add that, by and large, the drivers on the Cote d’Azur are pretty forgiving and understanding of cyclists. This may be because many of them are cyclists themselves. Of course, the solution to my dilemma may be to get many, more middle aged women to take up cycling.
Friends have been urging me to write a blog for some time largely on the strength of my amusing emails. But emails are easy to write; you write a long newsy note and then tailor it for each of your addressees. In my case, friends tend fall into one of two categories: sports fans or not. Though to be fair, those in the “not” category do try to show an interest in my sporting passions.
Blogs on the other hand may be read by any number of people, known and unknown, whom I would prefer not to offend. I now have an even healthier respect for those who write daily blog entries. Where do they find their inspiration? More importantly, how do they find the time? I know that’s rich coming from someone who only works part-time but in between the cycling, household chores, taking care of my high maintenance husband (have I mentioned that before?), looking after our company’s administration etc etc I struggle to put fingers to keyboard every day. However, I do have surges of inspiration when I write 4-5 shortish blog entries.
Having spent years trying to condense reports into executive one-page summaries, I find I do the same with my blog entries. But is less really more?
I rode the La Charly Bérard with a girlfriend. It was the first time for both of us and we’d elected to ride the shorter course: only three hills. At the start, the organisers were urging all the girls to the front of the peloton. We declined. What was the point, we were only going to be overtaken by the boys. We knew it would be much better to get underway at our own pace, well to the rear of the peloton, out of everyone’s way.
Five minutes after the depart réal, there was just the three of us: me, my friend and a guy 500 metres up the road. I managed to bridge up to him once past the steepish 2km climb to Falicon. As I drew alongside, I engaged him in polite conversation and soon realised that I was talking to the Wim Vansevenant of La Charly Bérard. Well not this year pal; it was going to be a three-way, tightly contested fight to the finish to be this year’s lanterne rouge.
It was a perfect day for a ride, sunny without being too warm. And, with the Broom Wagon keeping us company, we were in no danger of getting lost. I had cycled most of the route beforehand, so knew where to go and what to expect: for me, the perfect scenario. Just as well really given that the guy charged with removing the “fleches” (directions) was a couple of kms up the road from us.
So how did we fare? My friend won the Lanterne Rouge and Wim Vansevenant claimed the same prize for the medium course. Me, I was just glad not to be last.
However, I had won a prize in the tombola: a month’s cycle training. I was thrilled. I never win anything on tombolas or in raffles. In fact the last thing I won was a box of broken biscuits in a working men’s club raffle when I was playing in the bank’s ladies darts team. I know, is there no end to my sporting talents?
I got back last Friday from a cold and wet few days at a major exhibition in Germany, looking forward to a few hours out on the bike. Goodness knows how I ever spent all those years working long hours in an office. I could never go back to it. Me, my bike and the open road: it’s such bliss. I even managed a couple of hours on Saturday before the rain arrived and settled in for the day.
Saturday afternoon, I settled down to watch Pippo Pozzato get the better of Tom Boonen at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen but most commentators failed to appreciate the uber smart ride from Astana’s Max Iglinsky.
Sunday morning I woke at 06:30 to discover it was still raining – game over. So much for setting off nice and early so as not to miss the pointage. Maybe it’ll only be postponed. I hope so, I have unfinished business with the Col de la Madone.
You’re probably wondering how I fared in “The Gentleman”. That Friday evening I had a call from M le President (yes, that’s what we call him). He asked me whether I was riding the short or the long course on Sunday. I said I had thought that as a mixed pairing we would be riding the short course. It appears that my partner had also volunteered to ride with one of the youngsters on the short course and therefore we would have to ride the longer one. No problem, I said. Of course, I had been training all week for the short course. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I could hold my top speed for another 13km, even though I was getting a tow!
That evening I checked out the start list for Sunday and found that there were NO all-female teams! So, if I had managed to find a female partner the trophy would have been ours. Instead, all the girls had teamed up with chaps and were mostly riding the short parcours. That’s right; you know when they say “you should be careful what you wish for? Well, I was riding in the 100+ category with all the two-man teams. Either we were going to be last in that category or first in a category of our own.
My partner had only enough time to change the number on his back after completing the short parcours, where he and his partner turned in the fastest time in their category, before we were off into the strong headwind. What can I say? We finished strongly, my partner was hugely supportive and rode the perfect race, but I could have gone faster. We finished last. I wonder what we might have achieved if only we’d trained beforehand.