Bring me sunshine

As I woke up this morning I could see the clear blue skies and feel the heat of the sun coming through windows. There wasn’t a moment to waste after two whole days stuck indoors. I was up, washed, dressed and out on the bike all within 20 minutes. The roads were just starting to dry out from the deluge of the past few days.

One consequence of the heavy rain tends to be rather more dirt, debris and stones on that bit of the road normally used by cyclists. Fortunately, it was early and the traffic light. I decided to choose a route which would give me a dry descent in the sunshine. Another hazard to avoid on the roads at this time of year are figs. They fall onto the road and make a sticky, squishy mess rendered more dangerous by the rain. Explaining that your road rash was caused by skidding on a fig is more likely to raise mirth than sympathy.

Gourdon
Gourdon

I was feeling wonderful this morning, riding at a good pace with a high cadence. There were not too many other riders out on the roads. At Pont Sur Loup, I  opted to ride up to Gourdon, via Pre du Lac, before descending  the Gorges du Loup, back down to Pont sur Loup. I then rode up to Tourrettes sur Loup before descending back home via Vence and La Colle sur Loup. Unfortunately, the forecast is for more rain tomorrow.

Soup, glorious soup

This week it’s looking increasingly as if I will have to resort to the home trainer to meet my training requirements. The weather has truly turned. Last week I was wearing tongs, linen shorts and t-shirt, this week I’m in trousers, trainers and a warm fleecy top. With the onset of torrential rain, the temperature has fallen ten degrees. The Col de la Bonette has been closed to all traffic,  thanks to the 20cms of snow covering the summit! The outlook is for more of the same.




Deluge on the Cote d'Azur

Deluge on the Cote d’Azur

Now, I don’t mind riding in the rain once the first downpour has removed the greasy diesel slicks from the road. I rode in the rain along the coast last winter and spring. Plus, I rode in the Pyrenees and Austrian Alps in the pouring rain. It’s only water after. The trick is to wrap up warmly and not stay out too long. Once your hands and feet are cold and sodden, it’s time to get back home for a hot shower and a mug of soup.


I love soup while my husband regards it as merely a starter, a promise of better things to come. I can and do happily dine off a pot of soup all week. At the moment I’m brewing up separate pots of bortsch and spicy butternut squash. Just think, only last week I was still enjoying watermelon gazpacho and chilled cucumber and mint.


 

Taxi!

Most Monday mornings my husband flies off somewhere for the week. I deliver him to the airport at some ungodly hour, wearing a coat over my night attire, and collect him late on a Friday evening, from a flight that’s invariably been delayed. At these times, and these times only, it’s just a quick 10 minute trip to the airport.

My husband likes to operate “just in time”. That’s to say, he only allows the absolute minimum of time to reach his destination. I, on the other hand, like to give myself some leeway to allow for the unexpected. This means I tell my husband what time I’m driving him to the airport. This will be about 10-15 minutes earlier than we really need to leave, to allow him his last minute  re-checking that he’s got everything he needs. Invariably he hasn’t, but that’s the subject of a whole other blog. 

I drop him off just outside either Terminal 1 or 2. When we first moved to France, Nice airport had an area called “Kiss & Fly”. The idea being that you stopped for a couple of minutes to either drop off or pick up. Of course, because it was free, people would park there for 30 minutes or more so there would be no place immediately adjacent to the terminals to drop off or pick up. Both these areas have now been barricaded.

In Terminal 1, there’s a car park which gives you 5 minutes of free parking to facilitate  pick up and drop off for all save those of us who drive Smart cars. Unfortunately, the ticket barrier refuses to acknowledge I  have a car and will not give me a ticket.  At which point, I usually have a queue of cars behind me so cannot reverse out. I have to call an attendant to lift the barrier to give me entry but I now don’t have a ticket to exit. These can only be obtained from the office which sells bus and coach tickets where there is always a long queue, and it takes me longer than 5 minutes to get there and back, so I have to pay. In Terminal 1, I generally pick up and drop off at the roundabout nearest to the Terminal. I can  hover here for a while or happily circumnavigate  while waiting.

Terminal 2 is rather trickier, because as well as barricading in the “Kiss and Fly” area, they have also bollarded all the approach roads, so there’s no chance to hover. Instead you just have to keep driving past the Departures pick up and drop off area (only taxis can access Arrivals) until your passenger puts in an appearance. The car park does give you 20 minutes of free parking but it takes at least 20 minutes to walk from where you’ve parked to the Terminal. So again you have to pay. 

Usually,  my husband calls me as soon as the flight has landed and, in an ideal world, I’m there to collect him as he walks out of Arrivals. Each week we check our diaries to make sure I have the correct arrival and departure times. Mostly, this works well, but often as not he makes changes to his schedule and fails to let me know.  It’s on these occasions that sod’s law kicks in. He will have used up all the juice on both of his mobile phones. He can’t ring me from the airport phone booth because my mobile phone number is on his mobile and he cannot remember any telephone numbers, including our home number.  So he’ll go to our usual rendez vous point and will wait what he thinks is 40 minutes, but is generally less than 10 minutes. He’ll then get a taxi home. Meanwhile, having driven around the airport at least three times, I’ve been forced to park and I’m in the airport verifying that he was on the flight and having him paged. After a fruitless 45 minutes, I’ll call home and guess who answers? Yes, that’s right my missing husband. He’s done this twice and is only too aware that the “three strikes and he’s out” ruling will be enforced.

Viva la Vuelta

Well, the last three days have been both exciting and decisive. Valverde’s still in gold, and has put time into his opponents, despite having a dodgy moment on the steepest bit of the last ascent of yesterday’s stage. Assuming he doesn’t have either an accident, a mechanical (like Evans) or a bad day, the gold jersey is his to take home.

Other points of interest: we saw Cadel Evans attack, albeit not for long; Johnny Hoogerland, the supreme escape artist of la Vuelta, is in 12th place;  Amael Moinard is the best placed Frenchman in 15th. 

Sammy Sanchez
Sammy Sanchez

One of my faves, Sammy Sanchez, had to grit his teeth on two occasions, when others have attacked and left him distanced, to work his way back, and now lies 3rd, up from 6th. I’ve looked at the remaining stages and while there’s downhill finishes to both stages 15 and 19, I don’t think they’re decisive enough to allow him to take back enough time on Valverde, but maybe on Gesink. We’ll have to see. Likewise, I see little opportunity for Basso and Evans to get on the podium, unless bad karma is visited on those above. 

The peloton is much diminished, down to 154 riders, by the departures of those who have their sights set on Mendrisio.

Postscript: As I suspected, Sammy did have a go on the final descent today but it was neither steep enough nor technical enough to distance anyone.

Nothing but the real thing

Today’s pointage was at Greolieres by way of Gorges du Loup. We were a bit late leaving home and were overhauled by the “Super Fast” group from the club at La Colle sur Loup. I told my better half to go on ahead and I rode along on my own, occasionally passing the odd rider though largely being overtaken by groups of riders from other clubs.

The morning air was chilly and I was thankful for my armwarmers and gilet, their first outing for months.  There was a strong head wind along the Gorges and several octogenarians tucked in behind me to find shelter. Glad to be of service boys. I left them on the false flat after Bramafan.

My husband had ridden back down to the round about at St Pons to ride back up to Greolieres with me. I was looking forward to my half-time

Greolieres
Greolieres

beverage of choice: a Coke. Alas, the club hosting the pointage had chosen a 0% calorie supermarket brand! I was inconsolable.

The best thing about climbing for 40km is the homeward descent. I think it’s fair to say I overtook many more riders on the way down that I took on the way up. Two-thirds of the way back I had to stop for the instant sugar rush of a cold Coke.

Fortified, I popped into the newsagent to collect the papers, including The Sunday Times. The only day of the week I read an English paper. Then I rode home to have a quick shower and prepare lunch, before settling down to watch the local derby match: Blues v Villa. We won 0-1. It should have been 0-3 as two clear opportunities went astray in the dying minutes of the match. Let’s hope the Auxerre v Nice match goes the same way.

Postscript: Nice lost 0-2 away at Auxerre. It was Auxerre’s first win of the season and they languish just ahead of us in the League, one place from the drop zone.

Wrong turn

The husband of one of my friend’s has told me that he does his own ironing, although he is rarely allowed to operate the washing machine as he’s inclined to put it on just to wash one favoured item. He counseled that, early on in married life, his wife threatened to withhold sexual favours unless he did his fair share of housework. I never played that card. Firstly, it strikes me as one of those cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face type situations and, secondly, I never, ever make empty threats.

When we got married, I was still at university, while my husband was holding down his first job. I can still recall my horror, during our first month of wedded bliss, on discovering my husband had cleaned his rugby boots at the kitchen sink, spraying my new, white net curtains, white kitchen tiles and, indeed most of the kitchen, with mud!  He never had to clean them again  which was possibly the whole point of the exercise.

Thereafter, in recognition of his total lack of domestic prowess, he has limited himself to opening the odd bottle of wine or beer and making the occasional cup of tea or coffee. However, when we have guests, particularly members of my family, he will clear the table and generally try to convey an impression of domesticity. But my family are not fooled for a moment, they don’t call him the “man who just turns up” for nothing!

Infuriating

One of my husband’s bad habits………. that’s right, he’s not perfect. Despite many years of intensive training, he’s still the unfinished article. However, with so much time and effort invested, I’m inclined to persevere. To return, my husband has a bad habit of volunteering me to do things. Often, he forgets to tell me what he’s promised I will do for someone. I either find out when the party concerned gets in touch to chase me up for something I haven’t done, or sent or found out. Nothing, because I didn’t know. But, of course, I can’t let on that I didn’t know because it then paints my better half in a bad light. Or, I find out when the due date arrives and he suddenly remembers the commitment he’s made on my behalf.

Sometimes, I think he thinks I spend all my days cycling and watching cycling on the internet. You know what they say about not being fully appreciated until you’re no longer there to do it………..Well, that definitely applies to me.

I keep wondering whether he’d notice if I stopped doing something but then he’s not renowned for his powers of observation. Witness he never notices when I wear something new, have my hair done (even in a completely different style), change things around in the apartment; so, possibly not. Of course, I’m the one who’ll be clearing up the ensuing chaos. So it’s probably better to just grin and bear it.

Weapon of choice

I would have liked to be able to report that during the Vuelta my hors categorie ironing mountain has been much reduced; but that would be a lie. If anything it’s grown and having sorted it into various piles, in an effort to make it look as if I’ve done something, it now closely resembles a Vuelta

Stage 12 Almeira - Velefique or piles of ironing. You choose
Stage 12 Almeira - Velefique or piles of ironing. You choose

parcours, not dissmilar to this.  The small 3rd category climb is my pile of ironing while the remaining peaks are my husband’s. I have yet to figure out how this man generates so much ironing. I can only give thanks that his favoured sport of the moment (cycling) has kit which does not need ironing. A major improvement on tennis and golf where both kits have to be ironed. In addition, it requires some ingenuity to restore the snowy whiteness of tennis attire after he’s played on clay courts. It’s probably no different to dealing with the cycling attire of teams Francaise des Jeux, Columbia-HTC and Cervelo after a day riding in the rain. I wonder what they use? My weapon of choice is low temperature Ariel, plus Vanish (for whites), on a long, cool wash-cycle.

Ma cherie

The wind of recent days has sucked the humidity out of the air and lowered the temperature a couple of degrees: ideal cycling weather. In addition, the heat haze has gone leaving clear views of both the coastline and hinterland for miles around.

My husband and I set off just ahead of the club on Sunday morning. Riding up to Le Rouret over tarmac still  painted with the names of those who took part in this year’s Tour de France. At Pre du Lac we tagged onto a large group of riders who’d taken the opportunity to refill their bidons at the fountain. Halfway to Grasse, they suddenly all swerved right up a small tributary road. Who was I to argue with the collective, cumulative knowledge of the peloton. We followed and after a couple of short, steep ascents and descents found ourselves on the N85 Route Napoleon leading to St Vallier, by way of the Col du Pillon.

The hills were most definitively alive with the sound of cyclists. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on the road. But then the French holidays are over and everyone is back at work. My husband remarked that I seemed to know most of them, or rather most of them know my name.

You see, my christian name, pronounced correctly, sounds exactly like the french word for “darling” and engenders amusement and affection in equal measures. Not long after I started riding with the club on a regular basis, I passed a clubmate, going in the opposite direction, in a group of about 30 riders. He hailed me from the other side of the road “Salut Sheree”. This occasioned some ribbing as the rest of the peloton queried why he was being so familiar with a woman who was not his wife. I could hear him vainly explaining that “Sheree” was my christian name.

While a lot of woman cycle, not many cycle with clubs. On average, we make up only 5% of those taking part in local pointages, cyclosportifs, brevets and randonnees. We all know one another by sight, if not by name. I am one of the fortunate few able to cycle most days and am therefore a well known figure on my distinctive bike.

It’s the combination of these two factors that accounts for my being somewhat infamous. But it’s rather companionable when you’re cycling along to be hailed by your name by those passing in either direction.

In Napoleon’s footsteps

St Vallier de Thiey
St Vallier de Thiey

Tomorrow we’re off to St Vallier de Thiey, just above Grasse. This is also the date of the club’s annual picnic on the shores of Lac St Cassien. Two year’s ago, doubting my ability to cycle all the way to the Lac via St Vallier, I instead drove the car to the picnic and cycled around the lake. Last year, I went to watch a friend compete in the Monaco Ironman. This year I’m doing the pointage, but not the picnic.

St Vallier was the Archbishop of Antibes  martyred in the 17th century by the Visigoths. While Le Thiey is the mountain at 1552m overshadowing the village which has a pretty12th century church and ancient city gates. 

The route is a gentle incline all the way to Pre du Lac. Thereafter, it’s reasonably flat  to Grasse where you take a sharp right-hand turn up the Route Napoleon to St Vallier. So called because, this was the route Napoleon took  on his return from exile in Elba after having first landed in Golfe Juan. My return route will depend on the weather and how I’m feeling.  

My first trip to St Vallier was last October. Wanting to increase my kilometrage, I had been exhorted by a club mate to ride with an UFOLEP group on Tuesdays, who “rode along the coast”, his words. This was my first outing with them and I was somewhat apprehensive as to whether or not I could a) keep up and b) ride the distance.

I joined the group at St Laurent du Var and we rode along the coast at a pace I could just about sustain to Mandelieu where we took a right-hand turn and headed inland, in the direction of Grasse, over a succession of short steep climbs which saw me slide ignominiously out on the back of the peloton and halfway-down the hill. My club mate kindly kept me company and, from time to time, even gave me a helpful push. I honestly don’t remember the route we took but I do recall we stopped for a picnic lunch in St Vallier. Yes, French cafes are quite happy for you to eat a picnic lunch while seated at their tables, providing you buy something to drink. Ever the pragmatists, the owners understand that the revenue from 30-40 drinks is not to be sneezed at. Shame English cafe owners don’t embrace the same view.

I confess that I am not a real fan of picnics. Many years ago my husband, for reasons I have been unable to fathom, bought me a picnic set for Xmas. We have used it twice. Both times to have a picnic in the gardens of Cleveland Sq, where we used to live in London, with my goddaughter. Frankly, I prefer to stop at a cafe or restaurant, have something to eat and drink, and continue on my way.

I had fondly imagined that after lunch our return route would be downhill all the way. Not so, we were not done climbing. Again, I barely recall the route but we continued to climb before finally descending past the high security prison, built on high above Grasse. This was the first time I had ridden in excess of 100km. Furthermore, I had anticipated that it would be along the undulating coastal route, not in the hilly, arriere pays. While it had been enjoyable, I was truly, but pleasurably,worn out.