Wintery blues

This week daytime temperatures have slipped below 20C, our Indian Summer has gone. There’s a dusting of snow on the hills behind Nice, largely from that cold snap in mid-October, and the leaves are starting to turn. With the clocks having gone back, it’s getting dark earlier. The days are drawing in. Towns are busy putting up their Xmas lights and shops are busying themselves with Festive window displays. Yes, winter is on its way.

It rained all day Saturday so I spent the time wisely by continuing the “Big Tidy Up”, an event long overdue but slowly progressing. Sometimes it feels as if I’m not making enough headway but I’ve only to open the cupboards and drawers, which are neat, tidy and organised beyond belief, to be reassured. Marie Kondo (of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) would be proud of me. I’ve even managed to get my beloved to clear out his dressing room and anything which no longer gives him joy has gone to the charity shop or skip.

After a dull start, the sun and I duly emerged on Sunday. I opted for a leisurely ride around Cap d’Antibes, one of my regular winter circuits. The market in Antibes was in full swing and crowds thronged the beach and pavements, the former for possibly the last time this year.

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There’s nothing better than a ride to clear one’s head and I finally feel I’m making some progress though I’m still a long way off my best. The helmet and glasses thankfully hid my latest eczema attack which is proving to be the worst to date, though I’ve no idea why.

It flared up after my last trip to London, kinda subsided while we were in Como and then came back with a vengeance after my return from Hamburg. The sunshine has allowed me to shelter behind my sunglasses. It’s so unsightly, frankly had I ventured out I wouldn’t have needed a costume to frighten folks at Halloween.

There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for the attacks, since it first appeared on my hands back in January 2015. Of course, on my more recent trips to the doctor, it’s obligingly disappeared days before my appointment. I may have to take a selfie and send it to her for a few words of wisdom.

Interestingly, after rummaging around on the internet, I’ve discovered that corticosteroids are one of the drugs used to contain it. Now I’m not keen on taking anything but, as an alternative to becoming a recluse, it’s become more appealing. Whether it will allow me to shed unwanted fat, improve my ascending and win the Tour de France are debatable but more and more I’m thinking it might be worth a go!

 

Fairwell summer

It’s official, our Indian Summer is over. After the diluvial rains of early October, we’ve been enjoying an unseasonally warm October and November. That’s now come to an end as day time temperatures dip below 20C.

 

Farewell.....................
Farewell…………………

I’m usually into my 3/4 bib-shorts and a long-sleeved jersey by mid-October but I’ve been wearing shorts until yesterday. My legs simply refuse to work, if they’re cold. But shorts, and an occasional gilet, have sufficed while I’ve recovered my form after my illness. I’ve had to go back to basics – little and often – sticking to the routes I know best. Enjoying once more the freedom of the road and the feel of the wind whistling through my helmet. There’s nothing quite like it and it was only once I resumed cycling, I realised quite how much I’d missed it.

Storm clouds gathering
Storm clouds gathering

Once I’m into winter wear, I usually swap bikes. But I’m not sure I can face the 53 x 39 bracket on the winter BMC. I’m going to carry on riding my racing BMC with the compact chain-set. Maybe, once I’m back from Australia in February, I’ll swap over bikes for a month or so.

It was only in early September that I finally felt I had enough energy to go for a ride. My beloved kindly rode with me on one of our favourite circuits around Cap d’Antibes. We plodded along at my painfully slow pace, it was as if I was starting all over again. The saddle felt like an instrument of torture. Thank heaven the sun was shining and the scenery provided a welcome distraction.

Perfect cycling weather
Perfect cycling weather

I only made it as far as Garoupe, the first climb. I suspect my overly enthusiastic ascent of the Antibes’ ramparts drained what little energy I had left. We tarried a while in the sunshine before returning to one of our watering holes for a fizzy water while I regained my strength, and used the facilities.

I’m ashamed to admit that I got off the bike at the base of the climb (average 7%) back to the flat. It was all I could do to push the bike back up the hill after my 25km ride. I realised then that it was going to take a couple of months to get back up to my typical Sunday ride of 80-100km. After a cool shower, I promptly fell asleep for two hours. I could probably have slept for longer but my beloved needed feeding.

I rested the following day, while on Tuesday I managed a recovery ride of sorts. I did however manage to overtake someone on one of those mobility scooters. You have to take your victories when you can. Particularly as I was overtaken by pretty much everyone else. I know I just have to keep plugging away and my form will return.

I haven’t yet resumed riding with friends as I don’t want them to have to wait for me. I enjoy riding on my own. I can ride when and where I want, and for as long as I want. In truth that’s not for too long or too far but I’m hoping that over Xmas, weather permitting, I’ll be back up to a century with ease.

Spa Break

The title might conjure up images of a swanky country-house hotel where I’m being pampered. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m at home, enjoying the peace, quiet and, more importantly solitude.  My day isn’t dictated or driven by my beloved’s timetable and demands for three square meals a day.

I’ve been working away on Greig Leach’s and my next book: The Art of Cycling: UCI Road World Championships, Richmond2015, and various other tasks I need to get out of the way before year-end. I’ve been out riding most days, slowly re-building my kilometrage and strength. On my return, with no one clamouring to be fed, I’ve been able to relax in my spa bath.

View from my balcony
View from my balcony

After the deluge in early October, we’ve enjoyed an Indian summer with mild temperatures and hardly any rain. Typically, in mid-October, I make the move into 3/4 bib shorts, a long-sleeved jersey and my winter training bike. But here I am, in mid-November, in short-sleeved cycling shirt and shorts. I’m also still on my racing bike, largely because I don’t yet feel strong enough for the 53 x 39 chain ring on my winter bike.

Perfect cycling weather
Perfect cycling weather

I always enjoy a bit of me time, with no need to talk or interact with anyone else. It’s a detox of sorts. I have however acquired an uninvited house guest. Arthur, the lizard who normally resides on my fifth floor balcony, has taken refuge in the kitchen. On sunny days, he often pokes his head over the kitchen threshold but has never before, as far as I know, ventured inside. I found him the other evening, clinging to the kitchen wall, forced to become a clotted-cream colour to match the kitchen decor. It’s a colour which ill becomes him and makes his bulbous eyes look red.

Normally hued Arthur
Normally hued Arthur

I’m assuming Arthur’s taken refuge from the garrulous workmen currently, and noisily, repairing the building’s façade and re-painting it. They’ve spent most of this week on the scaffolding outside my flat from where they have serenaded me with songs in Arabic. Not one of the languages I understand so I’ve no way of knowing whether I should be pleased or offended. Though, it’s more probably the former, as I’ve assured the quality of their workmanship with a steady supply of my baked goods.

The extra freedom has allowed me to experiment with recipes that meet my regimen’s dictates and I now have a fridge full of vegetable-based dishes for the next week. I’ve also been able to finish planning and booking most of next year’s trips. I’ve ticked off numerous items on my vast “to do” list which has included ordering Christmas cards compiled from our vast array of photographs from this year’s trips.

I’ve been “threatening” to do this for years but never quite seem to have gotten round to it, largely because it’s so hard to pick six photographs which sum up our year. I have also ordered all of our Christmas presents, not that I buy very many, but it’s another chore off the list. I’ve also started on some tasks that have been on the list for so long that they’re looking to draw a pension.

Indeed, I have a number of pension-related tasks on my list, specifically forms to complete as I have decided to start drawing one of my many pensions in January. The provider gave me the option of an upfront lump sum and a smaller pension. The all-important question was whether I thought I would live beyond 78 years of age. My answer was an emphatic “YES”. I also qualify for a small French pension and the authorities have demanded a French translation of my birth certificate. No problem! I easily translated it and sent it off. But no, it needs to be translated by an “approved” translator. So I paid someone Euros 60,00 to do it. Word for word, it exactly matched mine, which gave me no end of satisfaction. Well worth the money.

My beloved returns briefly tomorrow afternoon before heading off to China as part of a British Trade Mission for ten deliciously long days, so I’ll be able to prolong my spa break!

 

Not enough points

After a few days back in the UK, I was literally chomping at the bit to get back on my bike. Not long after I’d landed on Saturday morning, I rode for a couple of hours with my beloved. It felt so joyous to be riding along in the fresh air and sunshine. I was glad to be home.

Having gotten up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, I needed a lie in on Sunday morning. My beloved departed to ride with the club and I left home an hour later. It was chillier than I’d anticipated so revised my plans. The pointage was being held in my home town so, after marking my points for the club, and wishing a happy new year to numerous riders, I set off along the coast road.

I wasn’t the only rider with the same thought, there was plenty of two-wheeled traffic in both directions. I rode to Cannes and back by way of Cap d’Antibes, wanting to get home early in order to prepare lunch for my beloved. On the way back I tagged onto a couple of groups but, having spied a lady rider in difficulty, I stopped to assist. She’d lost her chain and I had it back in place in no time. She complained that none of the male riders had stopped to help. I think this was largely because she’d halted behind a car and wasn’t all that visible.

As I remounted I became absorbed into  a bunch of riders from my local club which gave me an opportunity to enquire about their President who’d recently had a rather serious mishap with a circular saw. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to pick up his severed fingers before heading to the hospital. They’ve sewn them back on and he’ll have to wait and see, but he’s going to be off his bike for a few months.

The results of the pointage came through that evening. My club had held previously both the departmental and regional championships for ten consecutive years, but we’d lost both titles last year to my home town club. It’s no coincidence that the clubs winning the titles have the largest number of veterans, and ladies over 50, in their membership ranks. They score the most points. We just can’t compete.

In total, over 670 riders turned up and nearly 10% of those were ladies. Over 65% of those taking part were over 50 and just THREE were juniors. That’s a really sad number. The club was 5th overall with just 50% of our membership turning out. No trophies for us.

This time of year the various associations, of which the club’s a member, hand out trophies and gongs. One of our members regularly features as having ridden the most kilometres in certain events. Having already made a clean sweep of our club awards, he’s set to do the same locally. I too have been honoured, I’m being awarded a diploma. I’m not sure what it’s for but no doubt all will be explained in due course. It might just be for the best catering at a pointage or for my undoubted organisational skills at our club events or, and more worryingly, the association is hoping to curry favour and persuade me to accept a position on it’s management board. Well guys, it’ll take more than a piece of paper to win me over. I’m not that easy.

Wooden spoons at the ready

I’m really enjoying the training programme. At the end of last week, I was feeling a bit fatigued but this week I seem to have had a second wind. On Mondays, I ride for an hour on the flat in a fasted state. That’s essentially Cap d’Antibes and back. Thereafter, I do sets of exercises to build core strength and finish with some stretching. 

Because rain was forecast for Wednesday, I swapped around Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s exercises. I rode down to Theoule sur Mer and back on Tuesday at a good pace largely thanks to my traffic-light karma which must have been in overdrive. I barely had to stop, with each light miraculously turning green as I approached. I don’t know exactly how many traffic lights there are between Cagnes sur Mer and Theoule but I would hazard a guess at around 35, not counting the 6-7 temporary ones on account of all the on-going roadworks. Too many red lights can have a serious impact on one’s average speed!

It poured down most of Wednesday, so I spent just over an hour on the home trainer doing interval training. This really works up a sweat and is quite leg sapping. For the past two weeks, I have had the distraction of the Winter Olympics. This time, I decided to cycle along to some music which seemed to better help pass the time.

Today was another session on the home trainer: intervals with alternate legs to eliminate the dead spot. I confess I find this the most difficult exercise of all but, while I may be hopelessly deluding myself, I do feel that at long last I may be getting the hang of this. Only time will tell.

Thursday afternoons, I have my English language class at the cycling club. By and large, my “pupils” have been making good progress but sadly a couple have been shelled out the back of the peloton. A situation, I’m all to familiar with and so I’m splitting the group into two. Everyone’s welcome to come to both sessions, but part one will concentrate on talking in English while in part two we’ll revisit the basics.

I have a bit of a treat for them today. We’re going to talk cycling and they’ll be delighted to learn that the vocabulary of cycling borrows much from the French. I’ve also made them a delicious (if I say so myself) lemon cake. In future weeks, I’m going to be practising my repertoire of chocolate goodies.

Choc heaven

After the success of last month’s pancake evening at the monthly club meeting, we’re going to hold a chocolate evening next month in honour of Easter. After all, who doesn’t love chocolate? Exactly, I’m thinking brownies, chocolate chip cookies, marble cake, chocolate bark, florentines, rocky road, chocolate fondant, chocolate cheesecake, chocolate cup cakes and, as the meeting will be the day after M le President’s birthday, I’m thinking an over-the-top chocolate birthday cake. I however will be banned (self-imposed) from partaking of this chocoholic extravaganza. I simply cannot afford to sabotage my current weight loss plan. I am aiming (at long last) to get rid of that spare tyre around my middle which is constricting my lungs, and hence my aerobic capacity, before my great escapade: London to Paris.

Baking is a fairly recent passion of mine. There’s something very soothing about making cakes, cookies, bread and pastries. I also like experimenting with recipes though, of course, one has to be much more precise with baking than, say, with casseroles and also have a good understanding of how one’s oven functions. 

My first attempt at baking was not a success and it would be many  a year before I wielded a wooden spoon again. I would have been about 6 at the time, and my younger sister 3, when we decided to surprise my mother with a home-baked cake. We had carefully observed her making one the week before and decided, given that it had been so delicious, to make something a little bit bigger. 

Awaking early on Saturday morning, we tip-toed down to the kitchen to start our career as master bakers. We took my mother’s largest bowl into which we tipped a whole bag of flour, one of sugar, six eggs, a pint of milk and a block of margarine. We then tried to combine all these ingredients with a wooden spoon. At which point some of them fled the bowl, landing on the work surface, tiles, floor, kitchen chairs, us. I think you get the picture. With big blobs of margarine still bobbing around the wallpaper paste-like dough, we added a few raisins for good measure, put the bowl in the oven and switched it on. Wasn’t Mummy going to be surprised?

Half an hour or so later, my Mother came  downstairs to discover us and her previously spotless kitchen covered in the detritus of our little surprise and an ominous smell coming from the oven. The “cake” had risen magnificently covering most of the interior of the oven with a sticky gloop which was rapidly become a burnt-on crust.  To say she wasn’t too pleased with me would be  masterly English understatement.

Guess who?

Yesterday, after dropping my beloved off at the airport, I rode, as prescribed, for 3hrs around Cap d’Antibes. As I was descending Garoupe for the first time, who should be coming in the other direction? It was unmistakedly Tom Boonen, sans helmet and sunglasses, at the head of a bunch of riders. You might have expected him to be checking out the parcours for this week end’s races. But no, his team mates did that for him. Tom’s obviously benefitting from training in the less inclement (than Belgium) weather down here. I do recall reading in the Belgian press that he’d said he wanted to buy a property somewhere between Nice and St Tropez so that he could train here in the winter months. Tom, if you and Lore need some assistance  with househunting, I’ll be more than happy to help out.

As our paths crossed, briefly, two things occurred to me. First, we were likely to be travelling at not dissimilar speeds, albeit in opposite directions. Secondly, we were both in our big brackets. Sadly, that’s where the similarities ended.

Tom’s been quoted as saying that he’s 5kg lighter than he was at this time last year. However, he looked reassuringly solid in his Belgian Champion’s jersey and obviously still weighing more than me. I couldn’t tell you who else was in the bunch  with him as Tom obliterated them from my view.

You may be wondering why I didn’t simply cross the road and tag onto the group. Again, two things: I was half-way down the hill, so it’s unlikely I would be able to catch them up. Secondly, and far more importantly, the instructions for today’s training ride are that I should either ride alone or with those of a similar speed to me. Tom’s just going to have to wait a little longer for the pleasure of my company on the road.

Postscript: According to L’Equipe, Tom’s moved back to Monaco.

Ennui

Given that most of the northern hemisphere is snowed in, it hardly seems fair to mention that it was wet and damp on Monday and Tuesday, confining me indoors to get on with a myriad of chores. Today it’s been cold again but gloriously sunny with a clear, bright blue sky. Near lunchtime, my beloved and I escaped from our workload to ride several times around Cap d’Antibes. The cough has almost, but not quite, disappeared and I made far fewer snot stops than last week.

We’re now in dangerous territory. We’re entering the third week of my beloved being at home, albeit he has now returned to working in the home office. I can sense that I’m getting fed up with the routine of cooking/preparing three square meals a day. Indeed, yesterday my beloved went for a lunch time swim and on his return found me still glued to my office chair. Sensing that enquiring what was for lunch would be unlikely to find favour, he foraged in the fridge for sustenance.

Wisely, he’s hired a car and is going to visit a French client near Aix tomorrow. So we’ll have a day apart. He’s just advised me that on account of the severe weather conditions, he’s cancelled his trip to Germany next week. This means he’ll be home for yet another week. The week after that we’re going to the UK together by which time I’m hoping the snow will have disappeared and we’ll still be talking to one another.

Good intentions

The weather over the festive period has been very mixed albeit largely cold and damp. This has not prevented us from cycling most days though we have tended to limit our exposure to a couple of hours max, generally circumnavigating Cap d’Antibes from both directions.

The additional hours at home have enabled us to make inroads into the “To Do” list. For example: the Vuelta ironing mountain is now a molehill, all of my paintings have been hung or re-hung, the cakes have been adorned with marzipan and icing and the bookcases have been re-organised. In addition, we have finalised our vacations for 2010, determined which races we’re going watch live and, more importantly, booked the hotels. 

As befits someone who’s not overly fond of Xmas, I’m not a big fan of New Year. My beloved and I generally prefer to celebrate together, over dinner, at a restaurant, not too far from home, which is renowned for its fine cuisine. Of course, there’s plenty of candidates around here. Yesterday evening we ate at one of our favourite local restaurants which affords us a splendid view of both the coast and St Paul de Vence. We had a delicious, well-balanced meal washed down with my favourite beverage and then watched the numerous firework displays before heading home.

This morning we discovered that rough seas had overnight deposited most of the beach onto the coastal roads so our daily cycle was cancelled. However, the clean up operation has already begun, it’s remained dry all day and the outlook for tomorrow is sunny.

Companionship

I habitually ride on my own. Even when I ride with my beloved, or my club mates, I inevitably end up riding on my own. You might conclude that this was because no one can hold my wheel but, sadly, it’s the other way around.  However, from time to time it’s nice to ride along, shoulder to shoulder, chatting with someone who rides at the same pace.

I got back last night from dinner in Nice to find a message from my friend, she wanted to ride with me today. When I left the Domaine this morning it had just finished raining and the sky was not looking promising. However, my traffic light karma was in overdrive. There are twelve sets of traffic lights between us, over a distance of 5kms, and each one turned green as I approached. I covered the distance to the meeting point in record time and, on account of the dark clouds, we opted for a number of circuits of Cap d’Antibes – quicker to get back home, should rain fall.

As we navigated our first circuit of the Cap, the sun started to break through the clouds and began dancing on the waves. We didn’t need to say anything to one another, we just smiled. It’s just one of the many reasons we both chose to live in this beautiful part of the world and why neither of us likes leaving it for too long.

 There weren’t too many other cyclists on the road but we bumped into one we both knew and who rode with us for a while – the owner of our LBS. He’s recovering from a recent accident (contretemps with a bus) and man flu, so we promised to be gentle with him and ride at his pace! He has a new toy, a power tap. Every time we ascended, he kept telling us his wattage and, since we kept pace, ours too.  

We were making plans for the forthcoming season: which sportifs we were going to take part in, which live races we were going to watch and how many kilos we were going to shed. We had a coffee together before I headed back home. She’s coming round tomorrow evening to raid my extensive library of cycling books for something to keep her company over the Xmas period.

I shall be adding to this collection in the coming weeks as I’ve received a number of Amazon vouchers as Xmas presents. Some think vouchers are a cop-out, but I love them. It means I can justify buying some expensive tomes that I’ve been lusting over.  Remember, I’ve got another big book case to fill.

Everything to play for

Sunset, just as the sun starts to slip from the sky, is my favourite time of day here. Today I can see clearly from Cap Ferrat to Cap d’Antibes. Nice’s terracotta glow is dimming while the sky is every bejewelled shade of the rainbow: crimson, apricot, gold, aquamarine, mauve and finally an inky indigo blue. This is surely one of the many wonderful reasons for living here.

Another is the weather which this week has been cold (15 degrees) but sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. But I have not been able to ride.  I am literally champing at the bit to be let out. I’m like an addict who’s been denied her fix and is now starting to experience withdrawal symptoms.

I do love this time of year. Every town is tastefully lit up, the shops are full of goodies for the forthcoming festivities, there’s a thick cover of snow on the distant mountains, Xmas trees are everywhere and I’ve lost count of the number of Santas I’ve seen attempting to scale a balcony. Indeed, we even have our own competition in the Domaine for the best decorated balcony. Needless to say, some are very tasteful while others are not. But they all add to the sense of fun and occasion that is Xmas.

I shall be venturing forth tomorrow, whatever the weather. There’s only so much a girl can take. But I’ll be back in the afternoon to listen to how those boys of mine in claret and blue fare against the Red Devils. An upset may be on the cards.