Winter fare

It seems to me that every time I venture outdoors, I’m wearing more and more layers. We could well be in for a similarly cold, or even colder, winter to last year. That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. However, I’ll probably have to stop saying that the day-time temperature here rarely falls below 10 degrees in the winter.

While yesterday’s weather threatened rain, the sunshine’s back today although I doubt the temperature will exceed or even equal 10 degrees. The snow has been falling not just on the mountains, but also in the hills close to the coast giving the wind a really wintery chill. The ski resorts are opening this week end and further snow falls are forecast. Now, where did I put my cross-country ski gear?  

I have good circulation, or so I’m told. My hands and feet are usually as warm as toast, and I only ever wear gloves when cycling, more to protect my hands should I kiss the tarmac than to ward off the cold. But, while I waited for my cycling coach yesterday, my hands felt as chilled as the rest of me. I love my new 3/4 Rapha bib-shorts but, on my return from New York, may be faced with the prospect of struggling into my full-length Assos tights which are loose everywhere but the calves.

I rode with my beloved on Tuesday, before he left for Paris. En route we met up with a small group of clubmates. I grabbed their wheels and clung on for dear life. Try as they might to dislodge me, I was having none of it. Winning, finally, their respect as we cycled together in a fast pace line along the coast road. I have noticed that I can much more easily close gaps in the peloton thanks to the interval sprint training I’ve done over the past 9 months or so.

I was feeling similarly strong when I rode yesterday. I managed to dissuade my coach from cycling up into the hills, as I now find the descents far too cold. Instead we rode around the Cap and indulged in one of my favourite pastimes (on the bike) – sprint training. Unfortunately, he’s promised (or was that a threat?) next month’s training together will involve assessing the progress I’ve made in improving my pedalling technique. Thank goodness he’s given me a heads up. 

I’m trying to sort out all of my paperwork before I leave tomorrow for New York. As a consequence, next week, I’ll miss club night. While most members have renewed their licences there’s still a few delinquents and each week brings us more new members. I have prepared a detailed file with complete instructions on the entire process, but you know that old saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink….”  So whenever I go away, there’s always a few problems to sort out on my return. It also means I’ll miss my English class next week, but the poor souls have been given work to complete in my absence. Slacking is not permitted in my classes.

On my return, the club is hosting the Telethon Cyclosportif which annually raises funds for good causes. The Telethon’s the French equivalent of  the BBC’s “Children in Need”. I have promised a few of my cakes to supplement the shop bought ones. I’ll make these today and then pop them in the freezer for my return. It’s a great way of using up left-overs in the fridge and fruit bowl. I’m going to make a couple of banana cakes, a carrot cake, a trio of savoury cakes and, of course, some of my (in)famous pain d’epices. That should keep the troops happy.

Two-wheeled chic

After torrential rain at the beginning of the week, we’ve enjoyed perfect riding weather for the past few days and I have been eager to profit. On account of the trip to the web designers on Wednesday, I only had time for a quick run (that’s quick in terms of time, not my speed) along the sea front where I could survey the damage wrought by the storms.

Yesterday and today were entirely different matters. I had two wonderful long rides, again along the coast, where I enjoyed the sunshine, the fresh air and could witness autumn’s stamp on the foliage. This is one of my favourite times of year. Assuming the weather co-operates, I like to set off on my ride between 10:30 and 11:00am, to avoid both the early morning chill and traffic.  As far as possible I ride along the coast road, now bereft of tourist traffic but thronged with cyclists. The route is undulating and affords me plenty of opportunities for overtaking. I try not to keep count, but …..

I’ve been putting one of my recent purchases through it’s paces. Until recently, I was faithful to Assos. I loved the quality of their bib shorts, particularly the material but chafed (not literally) at the cut and design. This season, on account of acquiring them at mates rates, I have started wearing Santini bib shorts. The Lycra isn’t such good quality but the pad is more comfortable, as is the fit. However, Santini do not do women specific bib tights or 3/4 bib tights.  Enter Rapha who, after years of my entreaties, have started a women’s line. I was however bitterly disappointed as they only did shorts,  not bib shorts, for the summer range. Now, hurrah, they’ve introduced 3/4 bib shorts for the autumn/winter range.

To quote from their site ” The Women’s ¾ Bib Shorts use a durable, fleece-backed fabric to ensure maximum comfort. The bibs are made from a luxury mesh material with a large cutaway section in the back to prevent overheating. There is also an elasticated pocket at the back of the bibs for small items.

The shorts use the same female-specific Cytech pad as the Women’s Shorts for total comfort. The shorts have a high-rise front chest panel for additional support that uses a softer fabric than the leg panels. The front zip has a soft Lycra guard for the lockdown puller.

The ¾ bibs have flatlock stitching throughout to prevent chafing and are finished with cream binding and soft gripper around the legs. Reflective tabs behind the knees provide added visibility.

A recent invention, ‘three quarters’ were the brainchild of Edwig Van Hooydonk and played a key role in the Belgian hardman’s successful bid to win the Tour of Flanders in 1989. Riding in cold, nasty conditions, he found that conventional shorts aggravated a recurring knee problem. His solution was a pair of cycling shorts that stretched below the knee and offered an elegant alternative to the wrapped bandages used at the time. The new look gained further international exposure when Van Hooydonk returned to Flanders to win again in 1991.”

So, how have they fared on my recent sorties? While I haven’t, like Mr Van Hooydonk, been riding in them over cobbles  I’ve found them to be an extremely comfortable fit. The sizing is similar to that of the Italian manufacturers, so I took a large rather than my usual medium.  They provide support in all the right places giving me a slim silhouette. The pad is well contoured and well-sized. The fleecy fabric has kept me as warm as toast. So warm I may not need to venture into full length tights, providing this winter is more clement than last. I know they’re not cheap but I would rather have one well-fitting, comfortable pair than lots of cheap pairs. Rapha tend to reduce the price of their stock at the end of each season, so I’ll hopefully pick up a pair for next season at a discount.

Of course, I didn’t restrict my spending spree to just the 3/4 bib shorts. I also treated myself to a couple of silk scarves which I like to wear around my neck for additional warmth and, of course, it goes without saying, a touch of style. If I can’t be fast, I can at least be chic! 


Cool kit

I have read various reports that Cervelo Test Team’s kit was the best-selling and most popular of the season. It’s hard for me to comment. Round here most wear their club kit, all the time. There’s very good reasons for this. Generally, one wears club kit when riding with one’s club. Also it’s the cheapest kit you can buy. It’s either sold at cost or at a subsidised price if, like us, you’re lucky to have plenty of sponsorship. For example, we pay only Euros 27,50 for a short sleeved cycling top with a full-length zip. Probably, the next most popular brand is Bwin, very reasonably priced kit made by Decathlon. Sightings of premium brands such as Assos or Rapha are rare.

While you do see people sporting pro kit it’s either because they are pros, they live next door to a pro (and it’s a freebie) or they won the kit in one of the many club tombolas. No local sportif or randonée would be complete without either a goody bag or tombola. As a consequence, hands down, the most oft-sighted kit here is that of Astana. I suspect that this is what may have led Lance to conclude he was now more popular with the French when he was staying in Beaulieu-sur-Mer earlier this year.

Aesthetically, the Cervelo kit benefits from its paucity of sponsors and simple colour palette. My Swiss friend is a big fan of their kit. He has both versions, here he is in the black one. He’s not a member of a cycling club, rather he rides with a group of like-minded friends who also acquired both versions of the Cervelo kit. Coincidentally, he lives in the town where Assos is based but possesses not a single item of their range. This is a man with a seriously extensive cycling wardrobe.  I should know, I have seen it.

Postcards from Mendrisio I

I arrived in Lugano on Tuesday evening after a 5 hour drive from Nice. No sooner had I arrived than we were out on our bikes enjoying the warm summer evening. We cycled around the lake and then headed towards Mendrisio to check out the parcours. It’s a tough course, particularly one of the hills which, while not long, reaches gradients of 12% and which is bound to be leg sapping in the road race. It was dark by the time we got back home, my first nightime ride.

Wednesday morning, I was up bright and early ready to head down to the finish area to watch the U23 and Elite Women’s TTs. I found an excellent spot to watch the races, just in front of the podium, to the right of the large TV screen and about 50 metres from the finish line.

The two Tribunes opposite, particularly the VIP one, were largely empty. In fact, the volunteers outnumbered guests 3:1. Gradually, folk trickled in but you could still count them on the fingers of one hand. The winners of both races were predictable but I enjoy watching emerging talent in the U23s and seeing the ladies race since both feature so infrequently on the TV.

My Swiss friend was helping out on the Santini stand where I indulged my husband with a pair of their latest shorts and a transparent windproof top – much cheaper than Assos. Their ladies line however was not at all to my taste, so it’s not about to wean me off my Rapha and Assos habit.

After a long day standing in the sunshine, I was looking forward to dinner and an early night. One of the problems with watching races on one’s own is that, having secured a good spot, one has to stay put for the duration. The trick is to drink enough to stay hydrated but not so much that you need a comfort break.

I caught up with one of the girls with whom I worked as a volunteer last year in Varese. She was working in the VIP stand but  was kinda bored as there were hardly any VIPs to look after. Ah yes, one of the perils of being a volunteer is periods of terminal boredom.

Thursday morning, I took the train into Mendrisio with my friend’s mother, herself a keen cyclist and extremely spritely for her age. I stood in the same spot as the day before. The Men’s Elite TT comprised 3 laps of the circuit and, with Cancellara in the line-up, the stands soon filled up. The organizers had shipped in a load of schoolchildren who obligingly raised the roof everytime a cyclist passed adding an encouraging cacophony of sound.

Fabulous Fabian
Fabulous Fabian

What can I say that hasn’t already been said by those more eloquent and articulate than me about Fabian Cancellara’s performance? It was truly out of this world. I kept checking his bike on the big screen to spot the jet propulsion engine, but it was just his heart, lungs and legs. He was always going to win on home soil but it was the manner of his victory. He quickly overhauled Larsson, his minute man. Next up was  Bradley Wiggins, who was subsequently undone by a mechanical and a missing in action support vehicle. Cancellara then overtook Sebastien Rosseler who shook his head in disbelief, checking his speed on his monitor and ultimately finishing well down the pack.

The roar from the spectators was amazing as they watched Fabian on the big screen. It’s the first time I have ever seen someone celebrate a TT win 100 metres from the line, but he had time to spare. Larsson, who also overtook Wiggins, was 2nd and Tony Martin 3rd. Martin was later pictured slumped on the ground totally exhausted by his efforts. My man Vino finished a hugely creditable 8th, beating the gold and silver medallists from last year, in a very strong field.

The World Championships gives those emerging cycling nations an opportunity to compete with the best. There were two competitors from St Kitts & Nevis and, while they finished well down on the rest of the field, this will have been a huge learning experience for them. I feel I should also mention the performance of one Edvard Novak, from Romania, who beat his two-legged team mate. That’s right, Edvald is a below the knee amputee – chapeau!

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 ( 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 (, 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!

Why oh why?

Many have asked why I’m doing the Livestrong Challenge. The answer’s simple. Because, I can. I’m doing it as part of Team Fatty. The Fat Cyclist is a two-time award winning blogger who writes mostly about cycling. Quite by chance I came across one of his entries a while back which was a very amusing, an open letter to Assos poking fun at their advertising. Since then I’ve been a regular reader.

Fatty’s wife Susan is fighting metastasized breast cancer and, in early December 2008, he proposed that his readers should band together and ride in support of Livestrong. So I thought, why not? Like most of us I have lost family and friends to cancer but equally importantly, I have friends who have survived. So, given that I’m in a very fortunate position, I would like to be of some, small assistance to those who are not.

My mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s so many are surprised I’m cycling in support of the fight against cancer. Frankly, I am happy to raise money for any good cause, and there are plenty of them. But if I were cycling for Alzheimer’s my mother would inevitable hear about it and it would upset her. She knows she has Alzheimer’s but never acknowledges it. Any mention of the disease distresses her, so we never talk about it in her hearing. Why would we upset her unnecessarily?

Even though I haven’t been cycling for long, my mother remembers that I cycle. Indeed, she watched on TV the entire Women’s Olympic Road Race in Beijing, won so magnificently by Nicole Cooke, hoping to catch a glimpse of me on my bike. I’m touched that while my mother has lost so much she hasn’t lost her faith in me.