Exasperated, well just a bit………….

A number of club members are surprised that I’ve decided to hang up my hat at the end of my elected term of office. When questioned closely I realised that they had no idea how much time running the club takes up. I didn’t care to elaborate for fear of putting them off from offering to take my place or lend a helping hand. But the time spent recently on getting a new licence rather beautifully illustrates the point.

The youngster in question needed a licence to take part in a recent race. As the matter was of some urgency, I took the paperwork to him rather than the other way around. I was in his neck of the woods in any event delivering replacement licences to some of our racers who had misplaced the originals and required copies to take part in the recent French amateur championships. That particular day I had totally forgotten it was the first day of the summer sales and, as a consequence of the traffic, a round trip of 45 kilometres took me over three hours. I then popped all the paperwork in the post to the association and asked that the licence be sent directly to the youngster because I would be on vacation at the end of July and the beginning of August. All paperwork is normally returned to my home address.

While on vacation, I sent the youngster a text to check whether or not he had received his licence. He hadn’t. So I contacted the relevant association only to discover that the lady who processes licence requests was on vacation from mid-July to mid-August.  No one deals with her job while she’s away, the work just piles up. However, one of her associates very kindly offered to check through the paperwork. Seeking assistance and clarification, I sent an email to the secretary of the association, who’s also a member of our club. He helpfully suggested that the youngster could ride on the basis that his application was in the works. The association president, in true job-worth’s fashion, declared that nothing could be done while the lady in question was on vacation. And you wonder why no Frenchman has won the Tour since Hinault?

A few days later, the association got back to me saying they could find no trace of the paperwork. Typical! In three years of sending paperwork back and forth this was the first to be lost in the post. There was no way round it. Duplicates were required. I contacted the youngster asking him to acquire a duplicate medical certificate and I again went around to pick up the paperwork which this time I delivered in person to the association who gave me a temporary licence for him. He took part in the race and came second to the regional and departmental champion. Having tasted competition, he’s keen for more so I’ve sorted out details of all the up and coming races for him.

I assumed his permanent licence would arrive while I was at the Vuelta but a text from him confirmed it was still outstanding. I returned home to find a letter containing the licence. Except, it wasn’t. Instead, they’d renewed the licence of his elder brother who used to be a member of the club. So I got onto the association this afternoon and politely asked if they could properly process the application and send the licence direct to the correct brother. They will do once I send back the wrong licence!

By the time he finally receives his licence two whole months will have elapsed since I made the initial application and, by my reckoning, I will have spent at least 8 hours of my time and half a tank of petrol on this one small matter. In addition, he, or rather his parents, have had to pay out for two medical certificates. You might be thinking that this was somewhat of an extreme example but sadly people never stop to think that they’re wasting my time and I’ve dealt with many such issues. The youngster appreciated my efforts and in the end for me that’s really what counted. When he gets his first professional win, I’ll look fondly back on this particular challenge and realise that it was all worthwhile.

Nice, really nice

Last week’s club discussion was the recent news that the Tour de France 2013, for its 100th edition, would start in Corsica, an island not so far from us and where most of the club have ridden at one time or another.  A couple of us, me included, are already planning our trips to go and watch the first three stages and the team presentation. It won’t be easy as there’s not a lot of accommodation on the island. We’ll probably have to rent an apartment for a week.

On your marks, get set..................

Talk then turned, not unnaturally, to the later stages one of which we rather assumed would be in Nice. After all, the ferry back from Corsica would most likely lead to an overnight stop in Nice. So it was more than nice to have our suspicions confirmed in Friday’s Nice Matin. Indeed we were going to be rewarded with two stages. A team time trial along the Promenade des Anglais (Nice-Antibes-Nice), 20km on the flat, everyone’s favourite spectacle. According to the newspaper, more than 250 towns had asked to stage this particular event. Then stage 5 will be starting in Cagnes sur Mer, most probably from the Hippodrome. Meaning, of course, that Stage 6 would also be within easy reach. That’s the first 10 days of July 2013 sorted.

In addition, as there isn’t enough accommodation on Corsica, the Tour Village is going to be based in Nice for the first four days of the Tour where there will also be a huge screen to watch all the action. I don’t know how much the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has paid for the privilege but I for one can hear the cash tills ringing now.

As I read the newspaper reports, it became apparent that there’d been a presentation to the great and good in the cycling world, by none other than Christian Prudhomme, at the Opera House in Nice. However, no one I knew had been invited. Had it been a spur of the moment thing or planned weeks in advance? It’s not unknown for invitations from the Mayor to arrive just a couple of days before the event.  But I had checked the post box on both Tuesday and Wednesday. There were quotes from a few of the professional riders who live on the Cote d’Azur but I learned on Friday evening, when one of them came to dinner, that he hadn’t been at the presentation nor had the other local riders. The quote had been given over the phone. Indeed, the only riders of any note in attendance had been Brice Feillu (who lives in Frejus) and Charly Berard, Bernard Hinault’s faithful lieutenant. However, looking at the photographs of the event it would appear that it was mostly attended by the press and local dignatories.

In year’s gone by, Nice figured prominently in the Tour. It’s been used on 35 occasions, most notably during the period of 1906 – 1937. But, in 2009, it was just one of the towns the peloton rode through as Stage 2 departed from Monaco en-route to Brignoles. It hasn’t been one of the staging towns since 1981. That year it figured heavily. The morning’s stage finished in a sprint on the Promenade des Anglais, won by Freddy Maertens, ahead of Sean Kelly. The former went on to win the green jersey and subsequently, the World Championship. In the afternoon’s team time trial (Nice-Antibes-Nice), Raleigh led Cyrille Guimard’s Renault Elf team by 43 seconds. However, it was Renault’s Gerrie Knetemann who assumed the leader’s jersey. But he was just keeping it warm for his team leader, Bernard Hinault, who took it five days later and kept it until Paris, his third Tour win. That had been Charly Berard’s first Tour de France.

Tour style stakes

Sometimes weeks just don’t pan out the way you’d hoped or planned. This has been one such week. Obligations have circumvented my desire to dip into my recent delivery of books and watch the live presentations of next year’s Giro and Tour routes. Instead, I have found myself reading everyone else’s views. So there’s not much left for me to add as others  have pondered at length the suitability of the routes for various riders and highlighted key stages which might influence the outcome of both races. However, while reading the summaries, a comment caught my attention where references were made to “red carpets” and “stylish attire”. Were we talking award ceremonies and lycra clad lovelies or was this about the parcours of a race? Possibly both. I decided to check out the photographic evidence.

First up, the Giro and, yes, the Italians are pretty snappy dressers. I was going to criticize Michele Scarponi for his rather 50s style casual outfit until I realised that Damiano Cunego was similarly clad. Obviously a team mandated outfit with both riders wishing they were wearing anything but. Clearly Jakob Fuglsang and Mark Cavendish, who both look to be squirming in their seats, appear woefully underdressed. And they’re not the only ones. There were a number of jean and sweatshirt clad riders. Unlike Alberto Contador, who it has to be said looks every inch a winner.

In mitigation, the boys don’t work in offices and spend their days either in lycra or their team’s idea of casual sporting wear. They probably have little call for formal wear apart from award ceremonies, weddings and the odd formal invitation. I think this is what probably explains the plethora of shiny and dark outfits. They’ve been bought to be worn at weddings where typically in Europe everyone wears, for want of  better words, evening or cocktail attire.

IMHO  occasions such as these presentations warrant at least a suit, or jacket and trousers. I appreciate the fashion for wearing suits with dress shirts and no ties, but dress shirts are meant to be worn with ties, so button downs, t-shirts or more casual shirts look rather better if you’re going tieless.  No, that’s not a nod towards Dan Martin’s v-necked t-shirt and trendy too small jacket. With their very slim physiques, the boys also probably find it difficult to buy well fitting, off the peg, outfits. Looking at a few of them in shots where they were standing, I was itching to whip out my box of pins and take up a few of the overlong trouser legs. Me, a woman who has been known to take buttons to the repairers to be put back on to garments.

Plenty of miles left on the clock

Things don’t necessarily improve when they retire. Here’s  some blasts from the past with Hushovd and Ballan. To be fair, on the few occasions I’ve encountered Super Mario, he’s been impeccably turned out but here he looks to be wearing a jacket from his foray into the Italian version of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Still he and Gianni Bugno are both wearing ties while Paolo Bettini, at clearly a little over his fighting weight, is wearing an incredibly shiny suit.

Next, our attention turns to the Tour Presentation where Yannick Noah, former darling of the French clay courts, was roped in to assist because, I asssume, of his connection to Le Coq Sportif who henceforth will be providing the yellow jersey. Yannick looking suitably laid back next to an (what else) impeccably attired Badger.

Most of the boys seemed to sharpen their act for the Tour, although Cav remained resolutely casually dressed. A number of the boys had problems knotting their ties but, as they were probably travelling without their wives (and wardrobe moderators) this can be overlooked. Current and former Tour champions easily won the best turned out competition with the Olympic champion running them close.

Tour Presentation 2012

One of my girlfriends wisely advises “dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got!” She’s a Harvard alumni who lectures widely on leadership and has a high profile career in property development. As I looked at this photo, her phrase sprang to mind. What do those boys want to do next?

Get on your bike

Guess what’s the one thing that forcibly strikes me on my infrequent trips back to the UK: cyclists. Yes, they’re everywhere, where once there were none or very few. Bike hire schemes, cycle networks, large scale cycling events, bike shops on every corner etc etc. Britain’s gone bike mad. My view has been reinforced by a recent study called the “The British Cycling Economy”commissioned by Sky and British Cycling, and carried out by no less an august body than the London School of Economics. Actually, it’s a good read. A very well thought out and reasoned report which estimates that cycling’s contribution to the UK economy in 2010 amounted to GBP2.9bn. While some of its recommendations shouldn’t come as a surprise, it does make some interesting observations about the long term sustainability of cycling and its potential overall contribution to UK Plc.

When I lived in the UK, I had a bike. Not to ride for pleasure, you understand. It was Plan B in the event of a transport strike. When I acquired it I lived in Chiswick, 10 miles from where I worked in the City. On the few occasions I was obliged to ride to work, I did so with my heart in my mouth. Particularly once I exited Hyde Park and headed down The Mall towards Embankment and the City. When I moved to Bayswater, only 5 miles from my office, I opted to walk on strike days: so much safer. I was what the report identifies as a “hesitant cyclist”. I had the means and wherewithal to cycle, female, aged between 35-44 but fearful for my safety: too damn right.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I firmly believe if more people cycle, the roads become safer. This is because most cyclists are also motorists and cycling gives them a greater understanding of the dangers faced by cyclists in all environments. Too many other road users lack the necessary patience to wait the 30-odd seconds it takes for a cyclist to pass by safely. They’d rather risk killing or maiming us than wait.  The report identifies traffic calming measures as rendering the roads safer whereas anyone who cycles will tell you the complete opposite, as motorists become desperate to pass you lest they get trapped behind you as the road width is narrowed by said traffic calming. It’s no coincidence that the country with the greatest amount of traffic furniture has separate cycle tracks for cyclists: Holland.

When people ask me why I cycle, I trot out any number of reasons, depending on who asks. But primarily I started cycling to regain my former fitness. Yes, cycling helps you to get fit.  Bit of a no-brainer that one. According to the report, “the UK leads Europe in the number of sick days taken each year”. The report speculates, based on the results of a similar study in Holland, that if more people cycled regularly the average would fall, giving rise to a saving of GBP1-1.6 bn. over the next 10 years. The key word here is “regular”, defined in the report as someone who cycles at least once a month.

I’m a regular cyclist, I cycle most days and around 15,000km a year. Someone who cycles once a month is an “occasional” cyclist.  You are not going to get fit cycling once a month. Exercise needs to be undertaken regularly, at least 3 times a week. But it’s a move in the right direction. The powers that be are targeting initiatives at women and children, since 70% of all cycle trips are currently made by men. For this group the paramount concern is safety. But get these segments cycling and you’ll have whole families taking to two wheels which is surely the end game.

The cycling demographics in UK, and USA for that matter, are different to those in S. Europe. I say this based on my recent experiences of riding Livestrong in 2009 and London-Paris in 2010. In both these countries, cycling is a white collar sport practiced by the young, professional classes with plenty of money to indulge their passion. In southern Europe, while pretty much everyone has a bike of some sort and cycles, it’s still an unashamedly blue-collar sport.

One rather extravagant claim made by British Cycling made me smile. The director of recreation and partnerships, based on Britain’s success on the track, said ” We’ve become the best cycling nation on the planet”. I’m sure there’s some countries who would beg to differ, but let’s not go there. Frankly, the UK, which should be lauded for its efforts, is playing catch up and is following a successful model established some years ago by a number of northern European countries who wanted to ape the countries in cycling’s traditional heartlands: France, Spain and Italy.

That’s not to say everything is rosy in France, far from it. Although pretty much everyone cycles, and the many Federations responsible for cycling are reporting increasing numbers taking up licences, it’s proving more and more difficult to recruit at the younger end of the cycling spectrum. For example, we’re struggling to find funding for our part-time Directeur Sportif who has coached our junior team with great success this season. We don’t need a full-time DS but government funds are only available for full-time positions. Equally, we have no volunteers next season for the cycling school for which frankly we had too few participants this year. Our efforts to significantly lower the average age of our membership, are floundering amidst indifference. Great Britain may well find its first Tour de France winner before France provides its first since Bernard Hinault.

No response

As predicted, young Alan Gilbert made his second podium appearance yesterday afternoon in front of an adoring home crowd. Looking a bit blase, bored even, he tried to enliven proceedings by eating the RTBF microphone. Maybe he was feeling peckish, teething or just at that stage where everything goes in his mouth. With those cute chubby cheeks, he looks like a baby who enjoys his food. His Dad, to whom he bears a striking resemblance, had just completed the Ardennes treble. Strictly speaking, it was the Ardennes quadruple and no one else has ever done this, not even the mighty Eddy. This was the one race PhilGil really wanted to win as it finishes in his back garden.  This brings his total of Classics wins to 8, the same number as the Badger, Bernard Hinault. No doubt Phil’ll be back later in the year to hoover up more wins in the autumn Classics and overtake the Badger.

L’Equipe published some advice on how one might beat Gilbert in this race, but obviously no one read it, certainly not the Schlecks. The pair  went clear with Phil Gil in the final few kilometres of the race on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons. The showdown that everyone wanted to see. However, it was more of a damp squib, as the Schlecks obligingly carried Phil to the line. They seemed powerless to resist. You might have expected a flurry of attacks to try and tire out PhilGil but, no, they meekly submitted: all hail to the Classics King.

Here endeth the Spring Classics season. It’s enjoyed unprecedented weather and some spectacular racing. The first half was graced by a load of unanticipated wins while the second half was dominated by Alan’s Dad, who will now surely be spending a couple of well earned weeks off the bike. He’ll probably need a couple of days to recover from yesterday’s celebrations with his fan club who had erected an enormous tent for the proceedings. Large though it was, I doubt that it could even begin to house all of PhilGil’s fans as he’s been equally, and deservedly, embraced by the Walloons and Flandrians.  One of the few things to truly unite Belgium.

Despite the forecast, the weather was fine here too. We set off just ahead of the club for the pointage in Biot where my beloved elected to wait for his team mates  while I decided to continue in anticipation of shortly being overtaken. Surprisingly, I managed to stay ahead of the club, riding instead with a number of other groups, before returning home via Valbonne and Sophia Antipolis. This gave me an opportunity to finish lunch and have a leisurely shower before my beloved returned. He had ridden his new bike and was enthusiastically describing the experience to me. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say he’s very, very pleased with it.

Whole lotta winners

 I love it when someone unexpected wins. Today it was the turn of Brice Feillu, a neo-pro with Agritubel, whose older brother Romain wore yellow for a day in last year’s Tour. He was part of today’s break away and seized his chance – chapeau.

It was lovely to see the brothers united after the podium ceremony. Brice, the taller of the two, in the polka dotted jersey (yes, he won that as well) embracing his sibling who was unashamedly overcome with joy at his kid brother’s success.

 Cancellara has graced the yellow jersey all week but he knew his time was up. Most reckoned that Astana would seize yellow. Not so, another rider taking part in his first Tour captured the prized jersey. Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R, one more from the break away artists, became the first Italian in yellow for nine years. Christophe Riblon, also from AG2R, won the “most combative”. It was another good day for the French, and the French teams.

Contador wisely followed the advice of Bernard Hinault and attacked with under 2km to go. I met “The Badger” at the week end, a charming, slightly built, gentleman with a steely glint in his eye. I suspect you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Alberto shifted into a higher gear and soared away, as only he can, putting 21seconds into Lance. It’s far too early to say game over but Bert has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Lance on Monday.