Again and again

Two days in the Hautes-Alpes and my allergies have flared up again with a vengeance. I’m not sure exactly what is causing me to wheeze like an asthmatic grandma but clearly there’s more of it in the hills than on the coast.

Despite the hacking cough, sore throat and watery, pink eyes, I had an enjoyable time tackling some of those legendary cols around Briançon, watching a couple of stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé and catching up with friends. I was staying in the same hotel as the team from Française des Jeux who must have been pleased at Christophe Le Mevel’s 10th place on GC and Sébastien Joly’s 3rd place on the final stage.

While this is not my first trip to Briançon, it was my first opportunity to tackle the Galibier and Izoard. Previous trips had been spent riding shotgun for my husband while he trained for L’Etape du Tour 2006 (Gap to L’Alpe d’Huez): successful completion of which netted Euros 80,000 in goods and cash for charity.

When we first moved to France in search of a different pace of life my beloved had hoped to improve his backhand slice and golf handicap. In reality, running a global business means being available 24/7. So when he did have the odd hour or two, he would hop on his bike and ride. Sensing he needed more of a challenge than a 35km round trip to Antibes and back, I applied, on his behalf, for a place at L’Etape du Tour. This is generally the most difficult stage from that year’s Tour de France, run on closed roads for 7,500 amateur cyclists. I confess at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of the challenge, and, more fortunately, neither did he.

Bearing in mind his travel and work commitments, I spent hours on the internet looking for the best kit, the most suitable bike and put together a training and nutrition plan, which I heavily policed. I masterminded his fund raising and wrote articles on his endeavours for the trade press. He joined a local bike club doing as many club rides and events as possible. His first trial run was scheduled for early May and we stayed in Briançon, in the same hotel we had booked for the L’Etape.

Another pit stop

Over the long week end Richard covered a significant part of the parcours, climbing both L’Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Lauteret. The Col d’Izoard was still impassable but he did cycle up it as far as possible. This gave him enormous confidence that with a further 10 weeks’ of training he would be able to complete the parcours within the allotted time.

I drove back from Briançon looking like a rabbit with myxomatosis and only after 48 hours at home my symptoms have subsided a little. Regrettably, I had to banish all thoughts of the Cimes du Mercantour and only now am I reflecting on a disappointing month of training. However, I do need to get rid of the congestion to get my training back on track and to that end I have been dosing myself on Vicks Vapour Rub, an old favourite, and some cough medicine from the Pharmacy which tastes no where near as good as Benylin. I could easily have become addicted to that stuff and used to swig it straight from the bottle, no spoon required.

My next goal is the club organised circuit race in early August. I took part last year and was lapped 3 times on the 9km circuit. The ladies, all three of us, raced with the Grand Sportifs (men over 55). Fellow club members advised me to stay in the bunch and in my big bracket. I would have been happy to comply but they raced away from me at the start, up the hill and that was the last I saw of them until they lapped me again and again and again.

Friends together again

The focus of my training this week has been on the forthcoming “Cimes du Mercantour” which is described as “trés exigent” ie very demanding. I have opted for the shorter course over three hills, the last kilometre of two of these has a 15% incline. That’s going to be leg sapping. I rode up one of these hills last year but failed to finish the course. I’m sorry to say that I gratefully climbed off my bike and into the broom wagon. And, having lent my front wheel to a rider from another club, who’d punctured twice already, there was thankfully no way I could resume.

I was not alone. One of my club mates had a very nasty spill which resulted in him spending the next couple of months on crutches. I was therefore providing him with a welcome distraction from the pain of his injuries.

I understand that I’ll be riding with a current Olympic champion, Julian Absalom: no slouch on a road bike. My friend, with whom I part-rode La Charly Bérard, is also taking part, so we may well find ourselves riding together again. My husband, who has an early afternoon appointment with a flight to the UK, will be leaving me to my own devices.

This afternoon, I watched the stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé which ended at the summit of Mont Ventoux. This bought back memories of my own ride up there last year with the club where I fell short of the last few painful kilometres past Chalet Reynard.

I had a “jour sans”. Wholly my own fault as I had failed to properly refuel after the previous day’s strenuous ride. While I’m fond of saying you never get a bad meal in France, I have found this not to be the case when accompanied by my bike. Maybe restauranters assume cyclists are so hungry that they’ll eat anything. If so, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion right here and now.

I’m off to Briançon tomorrow to watch the stage from, all being well, somewhere up the Izoard. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with my friend Susi, whom I first met when we were both volunteers at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg, and whose acquaintance I renewed the following year in Stuttgart.

My friend Susi with her friend Alejandro
My friend Susi with her friend Alejandro

She has her own site (www.cyclinginside.com) with some really fantastic pictures and humorous insights into the races she attends while working as a photo journalist: a poorly paid and precarious profession for all but the lucky few. I am quite, quite sure that my friend will succeed in her new profession. After all, she is a former champion in three disciplines: speed skating, road cycling and triathlon. And no, I’m not challenging her to a bike race anytime soon!