Brits abound

With only two weeks to go to my departure for Austin, I realised that a few longer rides were in order and on similar terrain to that which I’ll encounter in Texas. Yesterday, like today and pretty much most days recently, was glorious. I left the Domaine around 10:00am, having avoided the early morning traffic. The Domaine is securitised by way of a barrier. To exit the mechanism automatically senses an approaching vehicle and raises the barrier. I am clearly too small (phew!) to be recognized as a vehicle and have to rely on the security guards to raise it as I approach. The service is outsourced and while we have a number of regulars, from time to time, we have newbies who don’t realise that they have to raise the barrier for me. This means it always has to be approached with caution. Obviously, we had a newbie in charge so I had to dismount and duck under the barrier.

I decided on a round trip to St Raphael. I hadn’t cycled along the coast for months; it’s a route to avoid in the summer for obvious reasons. My traffic light karma was in overdrive with all the lights turning green just as I approached – perfect. I breezed past loads of riders on the coast road between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes; it was clearly going to be a great ride. On the short hill up to Boulevard Kennedy on Cap d’Antibes, I was wheel sucked by four gentlemen who turned out to be Brits from the Wirral down here on their annual boys biking trip. They asked if they could cycle with me and I agreed. I sensed a tinge of envy in their voices when I revealed that I lived down here and was able to cycle most days – cycling nirvana indeed.

As we cycled along, I was happy to explain other cycling routes they might enjoy and places they might visit before their return to Blighty on Saturday. They much admired my beloved bicycle but were not familiar with the BMC brand! We also discussed at length the growing interest in cycling in the UK. I don’t think it’s ever going to approach the deeply entrenched continental European love of cycling but it’s nonetheless very welcome.

Many hours later, I arrived back at the Domaine to discover the same guard was on duty. I rode up the steep hill to the barrier which he opened only as I dismounted. I popped into his office to explain the need to open the barrier as I approached so that I wouldn’t need to slow down and could just sail through in either direction.

My husband is away in London, his gout having subsided sufficiently, so I was able to sink into my spa bath for a reviving soak before heading out again to a meeting over in Antibes.

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.

L’Antiboise

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.