#Festive500

I know two consecutive posts, whatever is the world coming to?

group-festiv500aI set myself a goal over the Christmas period: the Festive 500. Rapha, of which I am a long time client, issues a challenge to ride 500+ miles/kilometres or whatever from 24-31 December, write about it and, maybe, just maybe, win one of their fabulous prizes. This challenge has gained in popularity since its early days and it’s now pretty competitive with riders recording fairly impressive totals during the period. I’m a competitive soul, but I’ve long reached the age where I know my limits.

I’ve never risen to this particular challenge, not because I can’t, but because I felt that I have somewhat of an unfair advantage. One of the many blessings of living in what I consider to be the finest bit of God’s green earth is its weather. While my compatriots are facing cold, frost and an almost continual deluge, I whimper if the daytime temperature drops below 10C.

With my beloved home for a full two weeks – I know, however will I manage? – I thought I should take to two wheels every day. I’ve easily ridden in excess of 500km in a week but that’s usually in the summer months when I stray into Nice’s hinterland, not during the winter months when I tend to find two hours on the bike more than enough.

I should also add that my training plan had 31/2hrs of cycling, 1 1/2hrs of jogging, a spot of circuit training and swimming scheduled for the same period. While I do typically adhere to my coach’s plans pretty much to the letter, this past week I haven’t and frankly feel all the better for it. But don’t tell him!

Given the great weather, the roads have been pretty full of cyclists both amateur and professional alike and I did spot one of two well-known faces on my travels. Here’s the run-down of my #Festive 500:-

(image courtesy of Cofidis)
Aleksejs Saramotins (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Monday: I enjoyed a damp, overcast, almost foggy ride around Cap d’Antibes with my beloved and my friend’s son who left me trailing as they headed off together in a conspiratorial fashion. Between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes, I took shelter from the wind on the wheel of Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis —> IAM Cycling) who was I think somewhat surprised at my tenacity but shook me off on the approach to the ramparts in the old town of Antibes. I then did a spot of zig zagging around the piece of prime real estate that is Cap d’Antibes crossing paths with Andrey Mizurov (Amore & Vita) and my beloved  – going in the opposite direction – who failed to catch me in the run-in for home and a well earned lunch. On my way back I spotted  Nico Roche (Ag2R —> Saxo-Tinkoff) and  Rudy Molard (Cofidis). Total ridden – 42km

Tuesday: On Xmas Day, anticipating that the traffic would be less heavy than normal, we headed to Nice, climbed up the Corniche via Coco Beach  – a steeper ascent than from the port – and rode down to and around Villefranche sur Mer and Cap Ferret. Yes, we were sticking with prime real-estate. In fact, it’s pretty hard to avoid it unless you head into the hills and beyond. It was overcast when we started our ride but fittingly the sun came out in Villefranche. We rode up and around the old town stopping beside the sea for a reassuringly pricey cup of coffee before heading back home. Total ridden – 58km

Wednesday: Once more it started somewhat damp and overcast and not even a sighting of the World Champion resplendent in his rainbow jersey brightened our day. Our paths crossed once more with Andrey Mizurov and finally, just as we headed back home from a circumnavigation of Cap d’Antibes, the sun came out to play. Too late, I was already feeling chilled. Total ridden – 39km

Blue skies and sunshine; just what i ordered!
Blue skies and sunshine; just what I ordered!

Thursday: A little damp again to start off with but becoming brighter as we rode. We headed over to Golfe Juan, stopping for an inexpensive coffee at a favourite haunt of many local riders. We again saw the Mizurovs, all three of them, who, if they were doing the same challenge as me, would have already reached the 500km marker.  Total ridden – 57km

Friday: The sun shone, the mercury rose along with our spirits as we headed over to Cannes and another of my favourite coffee and comfort stops. Again the coffee is pretty pricey but the toilets are sumptuous. Once more we spotted the Mizurovs en famille. Total ridden  – 71km.

Saturday: My beloved elected to ride with his buddies rather than have me flailing along once more in his wake. I really didn’t mind and set off along the coast riding to Theole sur Mer and back in the warm sunshine. I even managed a spot of window shopping as I rode along the Croisette! Total ridden – 82km.

(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)
(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)

Sunday: Flying solo once again, I opted for one of my favourite routes to Valbonne and back. It’s an undulating ride and bits of it have featured in the parcours of recent Tours of the Med and Paris-Nice. I espied the World Champion enjoying a coffee in the sunshine with team mate Amael Moinard,  an unidentified Lampre rider and friends. In training for the forthcoming Tour Down Under, he rode for rather longer  – and further than me as I later discovered. Total ridden – 84km

Monday: My beloved feeling the effects of his two long rides at the week-end at a rather energetic pace was content with a recovery ride today, once more in brilliant sunshine. So while I had planned a slightly longer jaunt I was happy to agree to his wishes and we rode to Juan-les-Pins and back, stopping to enjoy a quick coffee in the warm sunshine. Total ridden – 48km

Those of you who are both eagle eyed and adept at mental arithmetic will note that I didn’t actually ride 500km but that wasn’t the true purpose of the exercise. 500km was merely a possible destination; it was the journey that counted. I’m not going to win any prizes, but the rides were reward enough.

New Year’s Day Postscript: The winner was Geoff P from Melbourne, Australia who logged 1802.9km or maybe miles. That’s totally amazing  and to put it into perspective that distance would have taken me around 80hrs of riding. Yes, that’s 10 hours per day for the duration of the challenge, Clearly, Geoff’s a quicker rider and Melbourne is pretty fflat so it might only have take me 72 hours.

But IMHO even more amazing in second place was Paddy D from Wiltshire, England who rode 1605.9km in the cold and rain. There should be some sort of handicapping depending on where you’re based. Over 12,000 people took part and there’s probably many more who, like me, didn’t record their rides on Strava but who also rode along.

Finally………………….

My regular readers have been complaining about the dearth of recent posts. I can only plead pressure of work and some much needed decompression time away from the key board. But, I’m back! Sadly probably not bigger and better than before.

I need to recap on the past couple of weeks: first up, La Kivilev. Once again, fortune smiled on us and despite torrential rains on the Friday afternoon, the Saturday of the event dawned warm, sunny and dry. A few early clouds were quickly banished and the smiles on the faces of the volunteers matched those of the participants.

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev
Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

We attracted our usual stellar cast: the winner of this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Maxim Ingliskiy; the  Kazakh national road race champion, Andrey Mizurov and, well-known local father and son pairing, Stephen and Nico Roche who were making their maiden appearance in the event. Stephen’s presence was particularly welcome as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his holy trinity of Giro, Tour and World Championship. I like to think Nico was looking for that extra edge ahead of the Tour de Suisse or maybe just a welcome opportunity to stretch his legs with his Dad.

Other local riders who would have been there were it not for other commitments included Geoffroy Lequatre, Amael Moinard and Tristan Valentin. Geoffroy was however with us in spirit, if not in the flesh, as his better half animated the event village with the G4 Dimension stand showcasing their cutting edge, top notch cycling and casual wear designed by Geoffroy. It’s stylish and made from the latest hi-tec materials. It won’t make you ride as fast as Geoffroy but at least you’ll look and feel as if you could!

In terms of organisation, everyone agreed, this was our best yet but we can’t rest on our laurels and have already had our first post-mortem to look at where improvements can be made for next year’s event. It’s true that no sooner it’s over, we’re already planning for the following year.

After the Kivilev, I generally feel in need of a vacation. This year was no exception. My beloved was also much in need of some down time in a WiFi free zone. Back in October I had booked a ridiculously inexpensive trip to Barcelona to go and watch my first MotoGP live. Now, I’ve written almost nothing about MotoGP this season but that doesn’t mean to say I haven’t been glued to the action on the wide screen so I was really looking forward to this trip. Rather than drive, we had decided to fly to Barcelona and hire a car. We arrived late on the Thursday evening and drove straight to our hotel, just down the coast from Lloret del Mar.

This immediately brought back childhood memories of my first trip to Spain when I was five. We stayed in Lloret, then an unspoilt strictly Spanish holiday town with one hotel. There was a fiesta one evening while we were there and I so wanted one of those red and white spotted flamenco dresses particularly when I saw lots of cute, dark eyed moppets my age wearing them. I’m still waiting – one day!

The resort was busier than anticipated particularly with bus loads of tourists from all over Europe including what seemed like thousands of kids taking part in a local football tournament. Indeed, we had a team from Nice staying in our hotel. The resort was also ridiculously cheap by comparison with here. For example, we never paid more than a euro for coffee while here the cheapest is Euro 1.40. Just don’t get me started on the price of alcohol. Needless to say, you could easily get blind drunk on ten euros and have change to spare.

Friday morning, bright and early we braved the hotel breakfast buffet before climbing in the car and heading for Montmelo. I wasn’t going to miss a moment of the practice or qualifying sessions. Friday’s a quieter day at the circuit giving spectators the opportunity to wander at will and visit the pit lanes after the day’s practice sessions. It was noisy enough to warrant earplugs although most spectators didn’t bother. The circuit was well appointed and the eats and drinks on offer were reasonably priced which made a change from similar overpriced events in the UK.

I don’t like heights and I particularly don’t like walking up stairs where you can see through the gaps to down below so I had a few nervous moments each day ascending to our tribune seats. Once there, I never budged. Instead it was my beloved who popped up and down to fetch the assorted refreshments. Unsurpringly, many of the specatators arrive on their bikes and then strip off their leathers to sit in their skimpies to enjoy the racing, proudly displaying their tattoos. My beloved and I were a tattoo free islet in a sea of painted bodies.

Everyone's favourite rider: Valentino Rossi
Everyone’s favourite rider: Valentino Rossi

A number of things struck me. We were in Spain but the most popular guy on the circuit by a mile was Valentino Rossi. Indeed, stalls selling his branded products couldn’t take the money fast enough. Not all the riders are well known enough to sell their own brand of essentially t-shirts, caps etc. It’s basically just Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, new kid on the block Marquez and Spiess. I thought Spiess’s designs were superior but he doesn’t sell as much as the others. Rossi outsells everyone else 100 to 1, with Marquez, who’s likely to be the next Rossi, way down in second place. Stoner might be the reigning world champion but he doesn’t seem to engender much support apart from his home crowd.

I’d chosen our tickets well. We had an excellent view of the straight, the leader board, a big screen, the first corner, the first hill and the descent giving us a grandstand seat where most of the action unfolded during practice, qualifying, warm-up and race-day. The weather was excellent throughout the three days albeit with some rain on the Saturday which quickly dried up. Everything worked as per the programme and there’s more than enough action and variety to retain one’s interest throughout the three days. The only thing missing was the excellent commentary from British Eurosport’s crack team of Toby Moody, Julien English and Neil Spalding which I adore as it greatly adds to my knowledge of the sport. It just wasn’t the same in Spanish. Would I go again? You bet.

The Monday after the MotoGP was spent in Barcelona, a place my beloved has visited frequently for work but has never had an opportunity to look around. I was happy to be his guide as we wandered around enjoying Barcelona’s magnificent architecture. Arriving at the airport for our 20:00 flight we were told that the flight had been switched to 08:00 that morning. My beloved had been advised but hadn’t noted the change! Thank goodness he’s a “gold” card holder. We were booked onto the following morning’s flight and put up in the airport hotel where we were fed and watered.

Isola 2000 40 years ago
Isola 2000 40 years ago

This last week end we went up to Isola 2000 with some friends. It was kinda nice having the entire resort to ourselves apart from the assorted wildlife. I drove up there on Friday afternoon while my beloved rode. However, he couldn’t face the ride from the village to the resort so I had to cram him and his bike on the car. After a delicious dinner, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for anything. The descent from the Col de la Lombarde is technical, lots of hairpin bends. I overshot a couple but fortunately without serious consequence largely because the road’s wide and the surface excellent. We rode as far as St Etienne sur Tinee which is where you start the climb for Col de la Bonette conquered by  me and my beloved two years ago. We stopped for coffee and chocolate before turning around and heading back to Isola 200o and that Col.

I let everyone else go at their own pace ie faster than mine. We’d half thought we’d conquer the 17km climb in around 2 hours but as I glanced down at my Garmin I realised I was certainly slo-mowing. The incline’s an average of 8% but for the first five kilometres  my Garmin never dropped below 9%. In fact, 9% was starting to feel like a false flat. It’s only as you start to approach the village (3km from the summit), and a series of tunnels, that the road flattens for a bit. I’m unaccustomed to long, steep hills so this was good training. At least that was what I kept telling myself. Three days later, my legs still ache!

Report card: Could do better

I’ve had another of those readership spikes (263!) but this time  it’s not completely obvious which blog entry they read, though it seems likely to one of those where I was discussing cycling near Eze. Possibly people planning a week end break in the area – who knows.

Good enough to eat

I was hoping to illustrate this post with some fine photographs, taken by my beloved, of my club mates, our sponsors and a couple of pro-riders (Amael Moinard and Andrei Mizurov) enjoying the Galettes des Rois yesterday evening. Sadly, his photos were not up to scratch. This has left me in something of a quandary as I also needed a photo to illustrate my article for Nice Matin. I’m now going to have to ask my fellow club mates if any of them have photos which fit the bill. I knew I should have taken my camera too.

Mizu and ex-M le President

Many of my fellow cyclists remarked on how much they had seen of my beloved recently, noting that it’s very rare for him to be at home for this length of time. They also expressed their concerns as to how I was coping with this. I replied that I was bearing up well despite insane provocation.   

The evening went well. We had a good turnout of members and their families with everyone enjoying the selection of galettes, the mince pies, the Xmas cake and the Rocky Road. I took a couple of the remaining few slices of Xmas cake down to my LBS where it was enjoyed in record time by the owner, his assistant and a local rider.

Monday and Tuesday were cold but sunny. We rode for a couple of hours both days. But it started raining late last night and continued well into this morning. I really don’t need to ride outside in the rain. After a quick session this morning in the gym, this afternoon I cleared a few administrative matters relating to the club. The outlook for the rest of the week thankfully looks clear ahead of the defence on Sunday of our regional title at Beausoleil. M Le President will be working, so I have been entrusted to rally the troops. Woe betide anyone who turns up without their licence!