Fashion victim

When my beloved first started riding, I diligently researched which would be the best kit for him. The answer is the one with the most lycra. One of my pet hates is seeing riders wearing bib shorts where the lycra has long since departed. I appreciate that it may have a comfortable chamois, or have sentimental memories, but guys when those bib shorts start to sag, please, please buy yourselves a new pair. Likewise, can I caution against the wearing of white bib shorts. Before you buy, check in the mirror, even the smallest butts look bigger in white plus they get grubby really quickly and see-through when wet – nough said.

You can tell that I’m a firm believer in “dressing the part”. Ok, so it’s not going to make me go faster but I need all the help I can get to look good on my bike. Stylish, comfortable kit helps [me].

My bib shorts of choice are Assos. Yes, I know they’re expensive but they are IMHO the most supportive, hard wearing and seemingly road rash resistant, come in my favourite colour (black) and in a variety of lengths and thicknesses. I will concede that the overall fit could be better. I do find that the ladies sizing tends to be narrow in the leg and large in the beam. The most comfortable fit and chamois, but not the best lycra, is to be found in my Rock & Racing bib shorts.

However, my passion for Assos doesn’t extend to their tops. No that I reserve for Rapha (www.rapha.cc). I just love their smart, retro styling, choice of colours and keen attention to detail. Unfortunately, they don’t do a range for us ladies so the jackets (yes, I love those too) and jerseys tend to be a little long in both the body and arms. Again, the best fitting jersey is my Rock & Racing one. Normally I wouldn’t wear a pro-team jersey (I am so not worthy) but few in France have heard of the Rock & Racing team.

I also love the cycling tops from Twin Six (www.twinsix.com), suppliers of the Fat Cyclist jerseys and incredibly generous guys. Their tops are very reasonably priced and fun. Not a bad fit, I wear a men’s medium as I find the ladies jerseys are too short in the body. The only downside is that the material does pull easily but frankly, at their prices, who cares.

On all club rides and any sporting events, I proudly wear our club colours, though only on my top half. Unfortunately, I find the pads in the bib shorts to be a painful anatomical fit which no amount of chamois cream can soothe.

Postscript: Hurrah, Rapha now have a ladies line and I love their 3/4 bib shorts for the cooler months. Sadly, they don’t yet do bib shorts for the rest of the year, just shorts!

Yellow fever

My excitement is rising as the Tour de France is fast approaching. Having enjoyed its warm-up act, the Critérium du Dauphiné libéré, I’m now looking forward to the real thing. And I’m not the only one. Journalists seem to be taking a totally over-the-top approach to a couple of topics.

The key one, not unnaturally, features Lance. Will he be riding the Tour de France in Astana’s colours? If not, will he be riding for another sponsor? If so, which one? Will the Kazakh government agree to the UCI’s demands and pay up? Will Astana still have a UCI licence at the start of the Tour? Can Contador and Lance peacefully co-exist on the same team: will each be prepared to ride in service of the stronger rider.

When you look at the proposed list of starters, there are more chiefs than Indians: never a recipe for success. Will there indeed be any Kazakhs riding the Tour for the Kazakh sponsored team? The fevered speculation is filling endless column inches in the press and on the internet. Although, at least one thorny question has been answered in recent days: Vino won’t be able to resume his professional career until 24 July, 2009.

Then there are the riders who have suspicious values in their UCI biological passports. How many are there? Are there any big fish on the list? What action is the UCI going to take against them?

Another, equally interesting discussion involves another “will he, won’t he” situation. Namely, will Messrs Boonen and Valverde be riding the Tour this year? The UCI have given Boonen the green light (for the moment) while they have yet to opine on the case of Valverde. If they say yes, might he be arrested by the Italians when the Tour ventures onto foreign soil? If he does ride, will Contador be collecting his dues for support during the Dauphiné libéré? If he doesn’t ride, will the whole team be riding for Bert? The next hurdle for both of them is the ASO who will be more interested in serving its own commercial interests by ensuring that Lance rides than perhaps unduly worrying about these two.

All these issues will be coming to a head in the next 10 days or so. Of course, this fevered speculation allows the other genuine contenders to go about their Tour build ups outside of the cauldron.

My Tour, like that of the riders, kicks off on Wednesday 1 July, when I’ll be working as a volunteer. I have been much impressed with the professionalism of the Monaco organising committee which, in all aspects, is second to none and who will ensure that this is a truly memorable Grand Depart for everyone, particularly the spectators. I’m going to be deployed in the port area. Great gig as this is where the prologue starts and finishes and is the site of the team paddocks, a device “borrowed” from F1. I can hardly wait, but we’re all going to have to!

 

Don’t stand so close to me

On my blog there are plenty of photos of cyclists past and present but only one of them has ever had his photo taken alongside me – Vino. Generally, I find it’s not a good idea to be photographed with anyone who weighs less than you.  Let me illustrate why.

Swiss boys

Take Fabian Cancellara,  height 186cm (6ft 1”) and weight  80kg (176lbs), who when seen in the peloton appears to be one of the more generously proportioned riders. However, put Fabian next to my Swiss friend, an excellent cyclist who’s a not dissimilar weight to Spartacus et voilà, my friend looks (unfairly, though the billowing shirt doesn’t help) to be carrying a few extra kilos. Of course, one should bear in mind that 2kgs of Fabian’s weight can probably be attributed to that magnificent mane of hair, and assorted hair products to keep it under control.

Post Paris-Nice dinner

At the other end of the scale is Alberto Contador. Here he is with the owner of my LBS, his wife (typical, petite build) and a very good local rider who’s the French FSGT U23 Champion. First impressions: yes Bert’s actually taller than you think.

Whenever I see him I have this overwhelming urge to take him home and give him a good meal. Next, both of the guys admittedly weigh more than Bert but are not far off their ideal cycling weights and again, by comparison, look to be carrying a few too many kilos, but they are not.

My husband and I were at the same post Paris-Nice dinner with Bert and we, wisely, declined to have our photos taken with him. Incidentally, there’s absolutely no need for me to take Bert home and feed him up. He has a perfectly normal appetite, in fact, even a bit of a sweet tooth!

You may be wondering how my fight to shed those extra 10 kilos is going? It is going, more slowly than I might like, but it is going.

Into the box

I spent some time this afternoon sorting through my “Burkina Box”. I have a Swiss friend who worked on a voluntary basis in Burkina Faso where he made the acquaintance of their cycling team. I met some of them too in at the UCI World Road Race Championships in Salzburg.

Far from home

Each month my friend, who is also a keen and very good cyclist, collects his friends’ cycling cast offs, parcels them up and sends them off to his friends in Burkina Faso.

I thought this was a great idea and have decided to help. After all I get a goodie bag from every cyclosportif, brevet or randonée, the contents of which now go straight into the box. In addition, I have recently changed the set up on my Orbea to more closely resemble that of my BMC. So, into the box went handlebars, saddle, pedals, saddle bag and tyres. In fact, it’s embarrassing how much stuff I have amassed in such a short space of time.

The cycling club has recently changed its sponsors from Bouygues Telecom to Skoda, so that’s two sets of kit for the box. Although, I do appreciate  it’s unlikely there’s any African cyclists the same size as my beloved, or me!

Again and again

Two days in the Hautes-Alpes and my allergies have flared up again with a vengeance. I’m not sure exactly what is causing me to wheeze like an asthmatic grandma but clearly there’s more of it in the hills than on the coast.

Despite the hacking cough, sore throat and watery, pink eyes, I had an enjoyable time tackling some of those legendary cols around Briançon, watching a couple of stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé and catching up with friends. I was staying in the same hotel as the team from Française des Jeux who must have been pleased at Christophe Le Mevel’s 10th place on GC and Sébastien Joly’s 3rd place on the final stage.

While this is not my first trip to Briançon, it was my first opportunity to tackle the Galibier and Izoard. Previous trips had been spent riding shotgun for my husband while he trained for L’Etape du Tour 2006 (Gap to L’Alpe d’Huez): successful completion of which netted Euros 80,000 in goods and cash for charity.

When we first moved to France in search of a different pace of life my beloved had hoped to improve his backhand slice and golf handicap. In reality, running a global business means being available 24/7. So when he did have the odd hour or two, he would hop on his bike and ride. Sensing he needed more of a challenge than a 35km round trip to Antibes and back, I applied, on his behalf, for a place at L’Etape du Tour. This is generally the most difficult stage from that year’s Tour de France, run on closed roads for 7,500 amateur cyclists. I confess at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of the challenge, and, more fortunately, neither did he.

Bearing in mind his travel and work commitments, I spent hours on the internet looking for the best kit, the most suitable bike and put together a training and nutrition plan, which I heavily policed. I masterminded his fund raising and wrote articles on his endeavours for the trade press. He joined a local bike club doing as many club rides and events as possible. His first trial run was scheduled for early May and we stayed in Briançon, in the same hotel we had booked for the L’Etape.

Another pit stop

Over the long week end Richard covered a significant part of the parcours, climbing both L’Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Lauteret. The Col d’Izoard was still impassable but he did cycle up it as far as possible. This gave him enormous confidence that with a further 10 weeks’ of training he would be able to complete the parcours within the allotted time.

I drove back from Briançon looking like a rabbit with myxomatosis and only after 48 hours at home my symptoms have subsided a little. Regrettably, I had to banish all thoughts of the Cimes du Mercantour and only now am I reflecting on a disappointing month of training. However, I do need to get rid of the congestion to get my training back on track and to that end I have been dosing myself on Vicks Vapour Rub, an old favourite, and some cough medicine from the Pharmacy which tastes no where near as good as Benylin. I could easily have become addicted to that stuff and used to swig it straight from the bottle, no spoon required.

My next goal is the club organised circuit race in early August. I took part last year and was lapped 3 times on the 9km circuit. The ladies, all three of us, raced with the Grand Sportifs (men over 55). Fellow club members advised me to stay in the bunch and in my big bracket. I would have been happy to comply but they raced away from me at the start, up the hill and that was the last I saw of them until they lapped me again and again and again.

Friends together again

The focus of my training this week has been on the forthcoming “Cimes du Mercantour” which is described as “trés exigent” ie very demanding. I have opted for the shorter course over three hills, the last kilometre of two of these has a 15% incline. That’s going to be leg sapping. I rode up one of these hills last year but failed to finish the course. I’m sorry to say that I gratefully climbed off my bike and into the broom wagon. And, having lent my front wheel to a rider from another club, who’d punctured twice already, there was thankfully no way I could resume.

I was not alone. One of my club mates had a very nasty spill which resulted in him spending the next couple of months on crutches. I was therefore providing him with a welcome distraction from the pain of his injuries.

I understand that I’ll be riding with a current Olympic champion, Julian Absalom: no slouch on a road bike. My friend, with whom I part-rode La Charly Bérard, is also taking part, so we may well find ourselves riding together again. My husband, who has an early afternoon appointment with a flight to the UK, will be leaving me to my own devices.

This afternoon, I watched the stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé which ended at the summit of Mont Ventoux. This bought back memories of my own ride up there last year with the club where I fell short of the last few painful kilometres past Chalet Reynard.

I had a “jour sans”. Wholly my own fault as I had failed to properly refuel after the previous day’s strenuous ride. While I’m fond of saying you never get a bad meal in France, I have found this not to be the case when accompanied by my bike. Maybe restauranters assume cyclists are so hungry that they’ll eat anything. If so, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion right here and now.

I’m off to Briançon tomorrow to watch the stage from, all being well, somewhere up the Izoard. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with my friend Susi, whom I first met when we were both volunteers at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg, and whose acquaintance I renewed the following year in Stuttgart.

My friend Susi with her friend Alejandro
My friend Susi with her friend Alejandro

She has her own site (www.cyclinginside.com) with some really fantastic pictures and humorous insights into the races she attends while working as a photo journalist: a poorly paid and precarious profession for all but the lucky few. I am quite, quite sure that my friend will succeed in her new profession. After all, she is a former champion in three disciplines: speed skating, road cycling and triathlon. And no, I’m not challenging her to a bike race anytime soon!

No show

According to Sunday’s edition of Nice Matin, 142 hardy souls braved the hail and rain to complete “Les Bosses du Soleil”. I wasn’t one of them. My sister’s flight having been delayed the night before, I got to bed at midnight, well past my preferred deadline. When I awoke at 05:20am, my husband was sleeping soundly (ie dead to the world) and the sky looked grey and stormy. So, I switched off the alarm, rolled over and went back to sleep for a couple of hours. My husband slept until 10:30am. We just went for a long, gentle cycle later that day.

We rose early on Sunday as M Le President had issued a 3-line whip for attendance at the official club photograph held, fittingly, on the steps of the Town Hall with our sponsors (Skoda and Credit Agricole) in attendance.

This is always a bit of a nerve wracking time for me as I try to stand between two people who weigh more than me. Unfortunately, two of the chaps who do were “no shows” but the end result was quite pleasing. You can actually see me this year, standing next to my beloved.

The photo-shoot completed we set off towards the pointage at St Jeannet. The boys had obviously breakfasted on rocket fuel and I was rapidly distanced, not on the climb to Gattieres, but on the small rise out of the industrial estate. I just let them go.

At the pointage in St Jeannet they traditionally serve an anchovy spread on bread. I made the mistake of having some last year and, though it’s delicious, discovered it’s not ideal bike fuel. I love the descent from the old village: no braking required.

I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon, watching the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé Prologue and reading Vélo magazine’s excellent review of the Tour de France. Le Grand Depart is only 4 weeks away – I can hardly wait.

Bring me sunshine

This week I have been training with one eye on this week end’s “Bosses du Soleil”. I was aiming to do the shorter course as it’s pretty hilly (English understatement). However, I’ve been unable to shake off the congestion in my lungs despite caving in and resorting to some tablets from the pharmacy. By and large, I try to avoid all medicinal remedies. The congestion is clearing, but not quickly enough and I still sound like a granny who smokes 60 Woodbines a day.

My beloved has today returned from a whirlwind transatlantic trip suffering from laryngitis, so we’re both feeling a wee bit sorry for ourselves. The “Bosses du Soleil” might be a couple of bosses too many. In addition, the weather has turned very humid and it is looking as though a storm might be brewing. We’ll just have to see tomorrow morning.

This is doubly bad news as my kid sister arrives this evening for a long week end. If there’s so much as a cloud in the sky during her trip I will be held personally responsible. Yes, any time my family come to visit, they hold me totally culpable for any bad weather. Bad weather being defined by them as anything other than brilliant sunshine. This seems a little harsh but you have to understand that a holiday without adequate tanning time is no holiday at all. Indeed, my two sisters would represent Great Britain in the sun tanning Olympics, if there was one, and would, in all probability, win gold medals for their country. I am lighting candles as I type.

My sister is coming with her partner whom I have yet to meet. He works in my old stomping grounds and, as a consequence, we know a number of people in common. My sister has met many of them and, when introduced, they inevitably enquire what I am now doing. She tells them that I spend most of my time cycling. She says that she can tell from their facial expressions  they’re having a very, very hard time picturing me on a bike, let alone in lycra.

Farewell to Gareth Barry

I’m often asked what I miss about the UK, usually in anticipation of me reciting a long list which includes family and friends, baked beans, Branston pickle or other such cherished culinary icons. I’m sure you can understand that my popularity quotient has risen immeasurably since my move from central London to the Cote d’Azur. I have a guest bedroom (just the one mind), so family and friends can come and visit. Because there’s a lot of Brits living here, or who have second homes, most supermarkets have a UK section. Here you’ll be able to find Marmite, Wall’s sausages, baked beans, Branston pickle, Bird’s custard powder, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk etc etc However, I have no need to buy any of these products. Indeed, I never bought them when I lived in the UK.

No, I miss watching live Premiership football. Specifically, I miss watching my team: Aston Villa. I listen to their matches on the internet and watch them on satellite TV. But any sports fan will tell you, there’s no substitute for watching a live match, race, game, whatever. If you were to ask me to describe my perfect day it would most definitely include watching my team win LIVE.

Because this blog is largely about cycling, you might be forgiven for thinking it was my first love. But no, that’s football. My maternal grandfather was a Villa fan. My mother grew up a stone’s throw away from the ground. My father moved from Portsmouth to play for Villa’s youth squad. If you cut my arm off my blood would run “claret and blue”. My first date with my husband was a football match, which Villa won. He often jokes that when he married me he promised to “love, honour, obey and support Aston Villa”.

We were for many years Villa season ticket holders and we travelled all over the country watching them play, home and away. I now have a season ticket for my local team, OGC Nice, but I can’t work up quite the same passion and enthusiasm as I do for the Villains. You might be wondering what has occasioned this outpouring. It’s simple: today, it was confirmed that Gareth Barry has played his last match for Villa. He’s moving to Manchester City; coincidentally, the subject of one of my favourite sporting books “Manchester United Ruined my Life” by Colin Schindler.

After 12 years of faithful service, Gareth is moving on and taking a bit of me with him. He’s not my favourite player ever, that’s Paul McGrath for whom the famous violinist Nigel Kennedy (yes, him of Four Season’s fame), penned “God is Paul McGrath”.  He’s not even a local, he was signed as a youth player from Brighton but he’s played 440 games in a Villa shirt and, as is right and proper, he’s (at long last – well done, Capello) regularly donning an England shirt. I wish him well and every success at Man City, but obviously not at the Villa’s expense.

Unfortunately, when you’re trying to break into the Big Four (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea) and fail, you run the risk that all those players you’ve so cannily bought and/or developed will be cherry picked by those clubs with bigger wallets and/or more (recent) trophies in the cabinet.

Friends along the way

I took up cycling really on a challenge from my husband who said I either had to start playing tennis again, take up golf or cycle. He kind of snorted out the third alternative and I’m quite sure he never expected me to take up cycling. It wasn’t even a case of reverse psychology.

I had just gotten back from working as a volunteer at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg. One of the few occasions when the guys, the gals and the youngsters all take part and one gets to see six races in a few days. I had originally intended just to go and watch but when I went on the site to buy tickets, I noted that they were looking for volunteers, so I volunteered.

I had said that I was happy to do anything and, given my relative availability the organisers asked me to turn up a week before the racing started. I found myself a small, family-run,  B&B just outside of Salzburg and set off into the unknown on what turned out to be the first of many solo, cycling-related, road trips.

One packed lunch or two?

I spent my time in Salzburg largely looking after the volunteers. Firstly, I sorted and handed out the uniforms. These had been made in China and the sizing was all over the place. For example, I wore an XL t-shirt, a small jacket and medium trousers. Caps and bum-bags were thankfully all one-size. Thereafter, my new-found friend Valeria and I were in charge of distributing the packed lunches each day to the 2,000 volunteers. Yes, an army of volunteers does march on its stomach.

Home sweet home

Fortunately, our billet was round the back of the podium, next to all the TV wagons and their chow truck. Needless to say we were sitting pretty with refreshments on tap all day long.

We ensured that the packed lunches were distributed well before any racing started and then settled down in our ringside seats to enjoy the action.

During the podium ceremonies we were entrusted with the handbag of the Lady Governor of the province of Salzburg. This was our equivalent of a backstage pass and, as a consequence, got to meet and have our photos taken with some of the winners.

On the last day, after presenting the medals in the men’s road race, the presentation party left the podium via the back stairs. We were standing at the foot of the stairs, undertaking our bag guarding duties, and we duly shook hands and were thanked in turn by the afore-mentioned Governor, the Mayor of Salzburg and the President of Austria.

The best thing about this event wasn’t meeting the riders, or even seeing all the cycling up close and personal, it’s all the people that you meet along the way that make it such fun. Like this gentleman in the photo, Super Mario Cipolini.

Super Mario

He’d retired before my interest in cycling was borne and was therefore fairly ambivalent until I met him – what a charmer!

I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the people I met at Salzburg at this year’s Le Grand Depart in Monaco, where I’ll be a volunteer and they’ll be spectators.