More of the same

We’ve just gotten back from 4 days riding in the Vaucluse. We had thought about making another assault on Mont Ventoux, this time by way of Bedouin, but it was just too darn hot – late thirties. So we rose early, ate a quick breakfast, before setting off along the quiet country roads riding from one walled village to another before the mercury rose too far.

Gordes
Gordes

The terrain tends to be undulating with a number of false flats or steady climbs, puntuated by the odd short, steep climb.

The jungle drums must have been busy. In no time at all, the insect world had been informed of our arrival and were feasting on both of us. Yes, just as the last lot of horse fly bites were beginning to subside, I had a new batch. The Vauclusian ones were even bigger, but not as itchy.

Stranded

While riding with my husband last week, about half-way into our ride, he had a puncture. He urged me to ride on ahead while he changed the inner tube. I said I would wait. This was his first puncture since buying the Bontrager wheels in early May. He had everything he needed in his saddle pouch to effect the change but he couldn’t loosen the washer on the valve. It seemed to be threaded.

We had stopped near a house where the owner was pottering about in the garden so we asked if we could borrow some pliers. Despite our best endeavours, we still couldn’t budge the washer. There was nothing else for it, I would have to cycle home and drive the car back to pick up my husband. Lucky I hadn’t ridden on without him!

I rode home quickly, jumped in the car and drove back. My husband has many virtues, but patience is not one of them. He had been waiting about 75 minutes. Fortunately, he was waiting near a fountain where many cyclists stop to refill their bidons, so he’d had plenty of company and some further assistance but no one could shift the washer.

I drove my husband and his bike to my LBS where it took two pairs of pliers and considerable brute force to finally remove the washer. This is why I always ride with money, credit card and mobile phone. Sometimes, however well prepared you are, nothing and no one but your LBS has the right tools.

My sister Lynn

I’m the eldest of three girls which gives me  bossing rights over the other two. Today’s my sister Lynn’s birthday and as it’s a landmark birthday her husband asked me to write a short piece about her. He was going to create a bound book chock full of memories  for her to treasure and has been rifling through everyone’s photo albums to find photos to illustrate the book. This is what I wrote.

To be honest it’s hard to know where to start: devoted and loving daughter, long-suffering wife, successful business woman, supportive and loyal friend, promising golfer, generous sister, canny blackjack player, gold-medal winning shopper and sun bather, ideal holiday companion, hostess with the mostest. The list just runs and runs………. Maybe, I should just start at the beginning.

Frankly, I was none too pleased to be getting a playmate. I hadn’t asked for one and I certainly didn’t need one. Having been “Numero Uno” for some years now, I was not keen to share the limelight with anyone. Attempts to soften me up with a replica pram to push my dollies spectacularly failed when I used it as a wheelbarrow.

She was a tiny thing, with a shock of dark hair and big bright blue-green eyes. My first tactic was to frighten her to death. As a consequence, she developed nervous alopecia and all her hair fell out. I next tried squeezing her feet as I simultaneously rocked her in her pram. So, Sis you can thank me for those dainty feet which allow you to pick up spectacular bargains in shoe sales.

An early attempt to drown her in Saguaro, Spain, was foiled by an eagle eyed Mum. Undeterred, I tried ignoring her. I would shut myself in my tent with my toys, marooning her on the outside. She fought back by breaking Tramp, my fluffy corgi dog. This was war!

I recently revisited Laiguealia, the scene of our first family holiday in Italy and where I attempted to push Lynn out to sea in our red and white plastic kayak. Little did I know that the tide had turned, she kept coming back. I tried that tactic the following year in Torquay, with the same result. I am nothing if not persistent.

I remember rounding on her angrily in Stratford-Upon-Avon one day when her antics had curtailed what would have been a pleasant day out culminating in afternoon tea at The Welcome. I recall saying that life hadn’t been fun since she turned up. You have to understand, Lynn was not a pleasure to take out. She would scream all the way to our destination and then promptly fall asleep on arrival. In restaurants, she would bang on her high chair table and demand her lunch. She was a faddy eater wanting only fish and chips, ham salad, or more correctly ham and beetroot, or Spaghetti Bolognese. She even pined when Mum and Dad went on holiday to Switzerland and they had to cut short their vacation to return.

As soon as we had separate bedrooms, I put a lock and chain on my wardrobe to stop her “borrowing” stuff. Frankly, if she got her hands on anything, you would never want to use it again, even if you could. I didn’t like sharing then and I don’t even today. When I went to university, the lock and chain were passed on to my youngest sister.

Given our rocky start, it’s a wonder she even speaks to me let alone spends time in my company. But time and distance lend perspective. We’re now good friends and I truly appreciate the support both she and her husband give to Mum and Dad, indeed to all our family. She once bought me a cushion which said “Happiness is having a large, loving family in another city”. I’m very lucky to have a sister who understands me.

Mission accomplished

You may recall that my modest ambition for La Ronde was to be lapped fewer times than last year.  The circuit starts and finishes with a climb which takes in three left hand turns, two at roundabouts.  I was dropped by the peloton just before the finish line on the first of nine circuits, again an improvement on last year.

Unfortunately, this year it was both hotter and windier, so being able to stay in the peloton would have been a big advantage, if only for a few circuits. Nonetheless, I ploughed on alone, only pulling over when being overtaken, so as not to hinder any of the faster riders ie everyone else.  But they only overtook me TWICE.

To keep myself amused while riding on my own I tried to recall all 37 hit tunes from the Abba greatest hits album which my better half had played over and over again the previous day. I managed all 37, but then I do have an elephantine memory.

Of course, one advantage of riding on one’s own is that you get loads of encouragement from your clubmates, course officials and general spectators. The president elect (and my partner from The Gentleman)  used the megaphone to encourage me every time I approached the finish line.  I even heard one small spectator tell his Dad that it was just like watching The Tour!

La Ronde winners
La Ronde winners

After the race, I doubled up as a podium girl. I’m at an age where I never pass up an opportunity to kiss a few fit, young guys. I even muscled in on the winners photo which was published in our local newspaper. For information, the gentleman clutching my hand is a team mate who’s kindly helping me with my fund raising.

Gross, gross error

Much as it pains me to admit, I have made a terrible mistake. In a momemt of weakness, I bought my husband the Abba compilation of hits. Yes, I know. What possessed me? It arrived this morning from Amazon and he has been playing it ever since. It’s not that I dislike Abba, but would you want to listen to all 37 of their relentlessly catchy hits, one after the other? No, exactly and, what’s worse, I’ll probably find myself humming them tomorrow when I take part in my club criterium. It can be lonely riding along in the peloton’s wake. I wonder what Kenny van Hummel did to keep himself amused?

The horse fly bites have subsided somewhat so I now look part-way human again and can again expose my arms and legs without people covering their eyes and fleeing while screaming in terror. Slight exagerration, but they were very unsightly.

Fight like Susan

I got back yesterday evening after after a fairly hectic day and found a few minutes to check my email before heading out again. I saw I had an email from Twin Six, with their T-shirt of the month, which I immediately opened. As I did so, I saw a message at the foot of the page “Fight Like Susan”. What happened to” Win Susan”?

I went back to my email and saw I had one from the captain of the Fat Cyclist Austin Livestrong Team with the same headline message. I didn’t need to open it, I knew what it meant. Instead, I headed over to the Fat Cyclists’s site where, eloquent as ever, Fatty paid tribute to his much loved wife Susan: a truly courageous and inspirational lady. He’s right Susan didn’t lose, we’re the losers.

Mmm tasty………………

After yesterday’s marathon session in the saddle, I expected to feel a little weary today. Not so, I feel really good; the legs too. However, I am covered in horse fly bites, not an attractive look for anyone. They are also hugely itchy. All day I have been slathering on antiseptic lotion which provides some temporary relief.

The flies have enjoyed big chunks out of me all around the edges of my jersey sleeves, the legs of my shorts, wrists, ankles and have even bitten me through my clothing. This, I should add, was despite covering myself from head to foot in insect repellent.  I had forgotten that I am considered one of the insect world’s favourite snack foods. Research seems to suggest I get bitten because insects don’t like me but I have no idea how to stop this. Any and all suggestions will be most gratefully received.

Living dangerously

When we get back from a Sunday ride my husband always asks the same question “what’s for lunch?”  Of course, when he first started riding with the club, I didn’t ride. I would get up early on Sunday mornings, make his breakfast, fill his bidons and musette and put out his cycling outfit. On his return, his post-ride recovery drink would be waiting for him and, after his shower; lunch would be on the table.

To be honest, not a lot has changed since I started riding. I still get up ahead of him to prepare breakfast, bidons and musettes. I will have laid out our kit the evening before and checked our tyres. Nothing more annoying than discovering you’ve got a slow puncture five minutes before you’re due to leave the house. In addition, I prepare lunch. In the winter months, when the rides tend to be shorter, it’s easy to pop a casserole into the oven which is ready for consumption upon our return. This is less easy during the summer, when rides are longer and you want something refreshing rather than comforting to eat. However, I have found that there are plenty of cold soups, salads and desserts that I can prepare the night before to satisfy my husband’s demand for sustenance as soon as he returns.

Yesterday we rode for 71/2hours – a record for me. I have wanted to tackle the Cole de la Bonette since it featured in last year’s Tour. I find something quite satisfying about following on in the pro-peloton’s footsteps. I may never play on the hallowed turfs of either Wembley or Wimbledon but I can climb any of those mythical cols.

It’s essentially a 100km climb from Nice along the Tinée valley to the top of the col, at some 2,860m above sea level. No, we didn’t cycle from Nice and back. We started some way up the valley and started climbing in the relative cool of the morning, taking full advantage of the shade which soon

disappears once you’re past St Ètienne-de-Tinée. My husband had ventured that this would be good place to stop for lunch on the way back. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we probably wouldn’t be back until late afternoon.

Marmottes

I had been advised to look out for marmots on the climb and I think I may have heard them, assuming they make a noise similar to those rubber squeezy toys.

The route is popular with walkers and cyclist alike but the only cyclists we saw were going in the other direction. We refilled our bidons at Bousiéyas, about half way up, where the climb starts to ramp up.

For me, the very worst bit of the ride was the horse flies, once my liberal application of insect repellent had melted away. I must have ridden a good part of the route with only one-hand on the handlebars as I used the other to swat at them. The best bit was as always the magnificent scenery.  The relief when I reached the top was indescribable.

On top of the world

I felt as if I was on top of the world. Thereafter, it was downhill all the way back.

Of course, when we finally got back home my husband’s first words were “What’s for dinner?” Unsurprisingly, my response was “whatever you can find to eat in the fridge, dear!”

Seeking a good home

Since the announcement that Lance and his acolytes would be Team Radio Shack in 2010, there has been copious speculation as to the fate of Alberto Contador, the winner of this year’s Tour de France. While rumours have abounded about a new Spanish Fernando Alonso-led squad, choc full of Spanish stars, and sponsored by Santander, this won’t come to fruition before 2011. So what’s going to happen in 2010?

According to today’s L’Equipe (as good a source as any), he wants to buy himself out of next year’s contract with Astana. Despite the Kazakhs, promising he’ll be their leader and throwing Euros 4 million (net) at him for each of the next four years, Alberto’s brother Fran, who’s his agent, says “it’s not about the money.”

Put yourself in Alberto’s shoes and you can understand why, despite his friendship with Vino. He was prevented from riding the Tour in 2008, because he was riding for Astana. The return of Vino and Kash to the Astana fold could give rise to similar issues with ASO for 2010 and Astana without those two would be a considerably weaker side. He’s endured a number of months of uncertainty due to the war between Bruyneel and the Kazakhs, culminating in the blatant preference of Bruyneel to put Lance, and not Bert, in yellow and the subsequent psychological stresses of being isolated from the team one’s supposed to be leading. Frankly, this must have been both confusing and wearing for Alberto.

Given that ASO will be courting Lance for next year’s Tour, we can assume that the course will be Lance-favourable, featuring not too many steep mountain top finishes, two ITTs and one TTT. Many of this year’s favourites found their GC chances laid to waste by the TTT. So Bert has to join a squad that can perform at TTTs. This doesn’t leave him with too many choices. You only have to look at the performance of the teams in this year’s to see how limited.

STAGE TEAM STANDING

Standing Team                                        Time Gaps

1. ASTANA 46′ 29″

2. GARMIN – SLIPSTREAM 46′ 47″ + 00′ 18″

3. TEAM SAXO BANK 47′ 09″ + 00′ 40″

4.LIQUIGAS 47′ 27″ + 00′ 58″ 5.

5.TEAM COLUMBIA – HTC 47′ 28″ + 00′ 59″

6. TEAM KATUSHA 47′ 52″ + 01′ 23″

7. CAISSE D’EPARGNE 47′ 58″ + 01′ 29″

8. CERVELO TEST TEAM 48′ 06″ + 01′ 37″

9. AG2R-LA MONDIALE 48′ 17″ + 01′ 48″

10. EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI 48′ 38″ + 02′ 09″

Merely mislead

According to the club website, last Sunday’s pointage was at Andon. However, every other club, at least according to the Nice Matin was going to Canaux. A quick check on the map before we left revealed that the two were not too far apart.

My husband and I set off very early while it was still quite fresh. To be honest, I would have worn arm warmers had I realised it was going to be that chilly through the Vallon Rouge and Gorges du Loup. The super fast group from the club over took us on the climb up to Greolières where they subsequently stopped to refill their bidons. We checked. The website was wrong. The pointage was at Canaux.

This week end, we’re off to Marie sur Tinée. A delightful perched village and the setting, IMHO, of the best ever pointage feast. If I was to award a cup, and I’m still toying with the idea for next season, this would win it hands down: definitely worthy of 3 toques.

Mindful of the fast approaching Rondes de la St Laurent, I have been working on my sprinting for the past week or so. I rather like the period post-Tour, when everyone is inspired to get out on their bikes. A bit like the UK post-Wimbledon, when, for two or three weeks, you can’t get on a tennis court for love nor money. Generally, of course, this means there are more riders I can overtake. For example, on Tuesday I overtook one yellow and two spotted jerseys. Immensely satisfying, particularly as they were all overhauled on a climb.

I’ve convinced my husband to take part in the Rondes though have advised him that I expect him to pace me back up to the peloton, à la Lance and Kloeden, should (or should that be when) I get dropped, as us girls get to race with Les Grands Sportifs.

At this point, I should add that my husband is not too good at pacing. If it’s really windy he will gallantly offer to ride in front of me. He then sets off at a pace I can’t sustain and is forced to slow to let me get back on his wheel and, as soon as I do, he sets back off again at an unsustainable pace. This is far more tiring for me than having to ride on the front into a headwind.

Somehow, I suspect that neither Cav, nor anyone else, is quaking in their boots at the thought of my improved sprinting prowess. Though, to be fair, the finish is uphill, so it probably wouldn’t be to Cav’s taste. Perhaps he could lend me his lead out train.