I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. Here’s one from February 2014 and no it doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day!
Finding brochures with shoes and garments for the older woman in my letterbox troubled me last year but this year’s much worse. Indeed, it could hardly have gotten off to a worse start. I’ve been receiving spam most days with offers of cut price funerals, exhortations to pre-pay for mine and, which I think is even worse, a tempting funeral comparison website! A sort of permanent www.Hotelscompare.com. I’ve had so many of these emails that I’m beginning to wonder what it is they know that I don’t?
Okay, so the grim reaper can strike at any time. He’s no respecter of age but it’s got me wondering whether these sites have been surreptitiously following me on my recent rides? I only venture this explanation because I’ve recently had a couple of very close scrapes. Mostly perpetrated by motorists who blithely ignore the mantra of “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” and head straight to “Manoeuvre” bypassing the other two steps. To add insult to injury, one of my neighbours in the Domaine perpetrated one of these close encounters. And, yes, I have added their vehicle registration number to my Black List.
The weather has been partly to blame. It has washed lots of sand, stones and rubble into the cycle paths meaning that I occasionally have to venture onto that part of the road which many motorists think only they are entitled to use. Of course, they show me no such compunction when making use of the cycling lanes to overtake or park.
I haven’t ridden outside as much as I would have liked thanks to the rainstorms that seem to have swept most of Europe. Indeed, six weeks into the New Year and I have completed as many kilometres on the home trainer as I have on the road. An almost unheard of situation. My normally cheery disposition takes a bit of a dip without my daily dose of sunshine and cycling. It goes without saying, I am a fair-weather cyclist.
I find that if I have something to mull over you can’t beat a couple of hours on the bike. Inspiration – and not a vehicle – will likely strike and I return to the office fired up and even more ready for action. It starts when I first awake.
I look out the floor to ceiling windows to find out what the weather’s going to hold for me that day. If it looks miserable, I’m far more inclined to roll-over and go back to sleep. If the start looks promising, I leap out of bed, with a spring in my step, and work in the office until I adjudge it warm enough to venture forth.
After a few frustrating months, today I finally managed a very sweaty 45 minutes on the home trainer without so much as a twinge in my right knee/leg. I’ve been having problems with it since I slipped over in May. Initially I thought I’d tweaked my hamstring, as my foot slipped from underneath me on a gravel slope. But the pain, which came and went, finally settled in my knee for most of the holiday. Thalassotheraphy helped, walking didn’t. It was sooooooooooo painful, I almost rang my beloved’s physio for an appointment.
Just like my right arm, which I injured hauling too heavy shopping bags out of the car, a spot of R&R has mended – touch wood – the problem. To be honest, we’ve looked like a right pair of oldies hobbling all over the place. My beloved’s hip has been giving him gip but, after swimming and exercising daily for the past 10 days that too is much less painful.
I used to tease my Dad about the visible and not so visible signs of aging as he gradually slowed down. He always used to say: “Wait ’til you’re older!” To which I’d reply: “I hope I get to find out!” Generally, of course, I like to totally ignore my age and carry on as usual but recent health scares have provided a bit of a wake up call. “Seize the day” is now definitely my motto.
I hate not being able to ride regularly. It’s been particularly hard this summer as we holidayed without the bikes and drove over roads we’ve regularly ridden in the past. All being well, that’s now behind us as my beloved also rode for 45 minutes on the home trainer without any discomfort in his hip. He’s had some lifts put in his cycling shoes as the leg he broke is now a centimetre shorter and that’s certainly helped, along with further strengthening his leg in the pool. It’s amazing how quickly you lose muscle and how long it takes to regain it. “Use it or lose it!” is so true.
It’ll take us a while to get back into our stride and back up to speed but it’ll so be worth it. I’ve really missed going out on the bike for a ride. It gives me an opportunity to decompress, put the world to rights and just…………breathe. I’ve missed all my usual routes where I inevitably spend far too much time gazing at property porn, there’s stacks of it down here on the Cote d’Azur. Plus, just gazing out to sea from the various climbs which I find so calming and restful, plus it takes your mind off the grind of riding uphill. I’ve also missed swooping downhill. Just reward for hard work.
Not quite sure how it happened, but I’m writing short posts two rather than one day in arears. My only excuse is that I am on holiday. After two weeks of lotus eating, I’m now seriously chilled. That is, of course, the advantage of a long vacation. When I worked full-time in the City (of London) by the time I’d relaxed, it was time to go back to work. Mind you, most of the time, it still feels like I’m working full-time!
My beloved has kept on top of his work by spending a few hours each day answering emails and telephone calls but even he has managed to relax, aided by a spot of Thalassotherapy. After yesterday’s squall, the sunshine and crowds have returned, plus we have sporting action with the Tour de France.
It’s rare we go on vacation without the bikes but we’ve both been suffering of late; my beloved with the after effects of his broken leg and me with my tweaked hamstring. We’re now staying in a place where we’ve previously cycled a lot so we look longingly at anyone and everyone on two wheels – if only! To be honest, wherever we go, we assess the place in terms of whether or not it would be a great spot to ride around.
Yesterday the Tour de France came to us with a stage start in La Baule, albeit at an out of town shopping centre. We arrived early to bag a car parking spot and watched the caravan go by. Was it my imagination, or was it really bigger than last year? Sadly Haribo weren’t distributing any of my favourite gummy bears though I did score a couple of shoppers – always handy.
The crowds were again a challenge as I fought my way into the Village for some water before picking my spot to photograph a few of the riders on their way to sign on. I found a much better spot than on Saturday, standing opposite a small group of boys who were clearly trying to collect as many rider autographs as possible, loudly hailing each of them by name as they rode past.
Obviously, on home turf, the crowd favours French riders but their biggest cheers were reserved for a certain Peter Sagan (pictured above) looking resplendent in the green points’ jersey. He happily signed plenty of autographs, including for the kids opposite, and posed for lots of selfies. Certain sections of the crowd were still booing Chris Froome but he too happily signed autographs.
I caught up with a few friends, including Rudy Molard who’d been felled at 60km/hr by a stray water bottle and had consequently cornered the market in bandages. I restrained myself from embracing him as he told me it hurt pretty much all over. However he was still smiling. Cyclists are a tough bunch.
All too soon the peloton was streaming out of town under a burning sky and I walked back to the car. Several days of rest and recuperation and my leg is feeling so much better. Time to head to our next destination, Bordeaux.
Yes, I’m (unexpectedly) back on the home trainer. We enjoy around 300+ days of sunshine every year leaving around 65 when it’s not so great. Some of those 65 have occurred in the last two weeks. It was lovely the week after we returned from Dubai, but it’s been downhill ever since, culminating in snow. That’s right, SNOW! A pretty rare occurrence on the Cote d’Azur.
It never lasts long but chaos ensues every time. The morning snow was forecast, I was up at the ungodly hour of 05:00 am to run my beloved to the airport to catch a flight to Prague, by way of Lyon. We had thought it might be a difficult drive but the temperature was 4ºC and I dropped him off before returning to my bed. When I awoke a couple of hours later it was a whole different ball game. Snow was falling, and sticking!
We try to get out most days but have become perhaps overly cautious when it’s wet or damp, which covered most of the last ten days or so. We’re already recognising that it’ll be a cold week-end in Siena for the Strade Bianche race and will be packing plenty of cashmere and wet weather gear. On the bright side, we’ll only be watching, not taking part! Cakes will no doubt be gratefully received by those riders I know who are taking part in what’ll no doubt be a long, hard and cold race.
That race coincides with the start of Paris-Nice which may not be a race to the sun this year! The outlook is not favourable, we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed as this year’s route means I’ll be watching it live from Wednesday onwards, not just at the week-end.
In a way it’s inevitable that we’ve made comparisons between last Christmas in Australia and this one in Austria. Largely, I should add, prompted by Facebook constantly throwing up photographic memories of last year’s trip. I had said I wouldn’t do a “where were we this time last year?” and, to be fair, I’ve not overindulged. However, it’s hard to ignore the contrasts.
The biggest difference is, of course, the weather: summer v winter. This time last year we were sightseeing in Adelaide and the surrounding area, ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under, luxuriating in the heat (35-40C) and petting cuddly baby animals. This year we’ve been out either walking or skiing and enjoying the sunshine, though not the heat (-3 – +3C), visiting areas we love and know well. We’ve thought about “how long is it since we were last here?” This, of course, includes working out what’s changed since that last time.
In both instances, we stayed in self-catering accommodation. We like spacious flats where we can stretch out, which have separate bathrooms and many of the conveniences we’d find at home. I enjoy cooking with local ingredients and confess to missing the oysters and lobster tails of last year or, more specifically, the markets where we bought our produce. Aside from the local well-stocked supermarket, this year I’ve contented myself with Innsbruck’s food hall and one of my favourite shops in Munich, Dallmayr’s.
Of course, I don’t cook all the time. In Australia, it’s never hard to find a restaurant serving something I can eat. The only one’s which are “no go’s” are fine dining establishments with 6-8 course set menus. Austria’s rather different. There’s plenty on offer for vegetarians, so long as you eat cheese and dairy. I am restricted to pasta with tomato sauce, pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables, large mixed salads and the occasional fish dish. However, the better the restaurant, the more likely it is to have or be prepared to adapt something on its menu for me. Meanwhile, it’s a refined form of torture watching everyone, including my beloved, tuck into some of my formerly favourite dishes.
It’s not all holiday though as we still have to keep the business ticking over wherever we are but my beloved tries to stay off the grid between Christmas and New Year. Interestingly, 2018 has gotten off to a great start business wise, and long may it continue.
This year, we’ve spent just over a month in the same place although we’ve had trips to the surrounding towns of Munich, Mittenwald and Innsbruck. We’ve not explored as much as we did last year. Partly, this is because we’ve had many winter and summer holidays in this area and we know what we like to see and do. It’s less virgin territory and more of a trip down memory lane.
Both holidays were pretty active in terms of both participating in and watching sport, though Australia definitely wins hand down. Largely because of the more favourable weather conditions but also because last year my beloved wasn’t still recovering from a broken leg.
I’m delighted to report that he’s been sensible – and about time too. He’s been much more cautious than before, when the idea of taking it easy for the first few days while he recovered his snow legs was total anathema. We’ve also walked a lot more than before, partly because of the weather and partly because my beloved’s leg gets tired after three day’s of consecutive skiing. He’s also stuck to the classic rather than skating technique on account of his hips.
So, what are we going to do next year? While I would happily jump on a plane to Australia, I recognise that the business won’t allow us to have an extended stay and while a winter holiday was fun, I’ve become more of a fan of the sun. This was the last building block of 2018 and we’ve decided to spend it at home with occasional forays into Italy for some la dolce vita.
This year’s Giro d’Italia, its 100th edition, started in Sardinia, a place we’d never managed to visit. We spent just over a week on the island driving from Alghero in the north-west down the eastern coast via Olbia – not far from the Costa Smerelda – and Tortona before flying back from Cagliari. It’s a beautiful island, not unlike Corsica, largely unspoilt and very reasonably priced, Costa Smerelda aside! After my beloved broke his leg, I feared we’d have to cancel the trip but fortunately (for him) it went ahead. This is a picture of the north-west coastline near where we stopped for a sea food lunch before attending one of the team press conferences.
My cycling has been more off than on of late. I felt I was getting back into my stride when my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. Consequently, I’ve waited on him hand and foot for the past four – five months. Nothing particularly new but way more time-consuming than I’d anticipated. Since he’s resumed travelling on his own I’d managed the odd ride or two but hadn’t established any regularity.
He’d been riding the aqua bike down at the hospital as part of his recovery programme, as well as his own road bike on the home trainer. A couple of weeks ago, he decided he was ready to ride on the road. However, he’d still not recovered full flexibility in his hips so it was easier to ride his mountain rather than his road bike. I decided we’d ride on part of the Cote d’Azur’s network of cycle routes, steering well clear of any traffic until he got his confidence back.
It was a long hot slog for both of us and we’ve persisted ever since. He’s now back on the road bike but still having problems getting his leg over, despite the hip flexor exercises. We’ve gone out early in the morning but the temperature’s not falling much overnight so it’s still a lot warmer than I’d like. Typically, at this time of year, we’d be off out, up and away into the Niçois hinterland but we’re still both refinding our climbing legs, so we’ve been pretty much restricted to a couple of flattish routes where we try to stay away from the holiday traffic.
We know that it’s going to take some time to recover our former bike fitness but are prepared to soldier on, come what may, knowing we’ll get there in the end. I’m looking forward to less heat and less traffic as we tip into September. It’s helped that my beloved has been at home for much of August allowing us to ride together. Inevitably we start out together and then I let him go off at his own pace once we hit the cycle paths. Typically, I’ll take the more undulating route back and do a few intervals. I can now ride all the way back up the 7% average incline to the apartment without getting off and walking – result!
The incline dips down once I reach the apartment block and I always like to sprint up the last bit of the incline, preferably in the big ring, before screaming to a halt in front of the door. Last week I managed the sprint, although not in the big ring, and almost ran over one of the boys I’d raced against some years ago. He said he was impressed that I was still riding but wouldn’t be racing me again any time soon. Which frankly, is just as well! I consider it fortunate that he didn’t see me riding up the rest of the hill in what felt like, and probably looked like, slow-motion.
We spent last week on our maiden trip to Sardinia ostensibly to watch the first three stages of the 100th Giro d’Italia but also to see something of the island. We toyed with going by ferry but in the end plumped for direct flights from Milan and a hire car – quicker and cheaper.
I drove to Malpensa on Sunday evening where we stayed overnight in a delightful B&B with a magnificent garden and red-hot WiFi. We dined in the local town in a restaurant that greatly exceeded expectations. Luckily we were the first to arrive as it was packed with locals – a ringing endorsement – by the time we left. This got our holiday off to a real swing.
The following morning it was pouring down as I drove to Malpensa and our EasyJet flight to Alghero, on the north-west coast, which was hosting “The Big Depart”. Even before we’d left the airport to collect our chubby Fiat 500L, it was obvious the Giro was in town. We drove straight to our hotel on the outskirts of Alghero, nestling in the verdant countryside, dropped off the luggage and drove back into town for lunch. An octopus salad later – you know how I love my cephalopods – and we were ready for a walk around the charming old town.
By now the sun was out and it was starting to heat up but we were still huddled in our gilets on account of the brisk sea breeze. I was on the lookout for potential dining spots as we were staying here for four nights before heading with the peloton to Olbia on the other side of the island. There were plenty to choose from, all sporting my default white (or pink) linen tablecloths and napkins.
I spotted two old boys shooting the breeze speaking a language I didn’t quite understand but it sounded most like Spanish, and then the red and yellow Catalan flag was flying prominently from a number of buildings. Turns out, a part of its population is of Catalan descent. Back in the Middle Ages Sardinia was part of Aragon.
The town was already bedecked in pink: pink flowers, pink bikes, pink bunting and balloons, pink cycling-related displays in shop windows. You knew the Giro was coming to town. Of course, the party atmosphere was largely due to it being 1 May and a bank holiday pretty much everywhere in Europe.
After unpacking and exploring our hotel, we opted for a light snack and a couple of Aperol Spritzes for dinner – shades of our recent stay in Alassio. Breakfast the following morning was copious. I particularly enjoyed all the vegan options. I should add that at many Italian motorway service stations it’s now possible to get vegan croissants! I’m not allowed them as they’re made with soy but even so…mille grazie.
We spent the morning working before heading into town for lunch – more squid – and picking up our accreditations, a relatively speedy affair this year. It helps to be first in the queue. The afternoon was spent working around the pool with my beloved undertaking some of his exercises in the water. We opted for another light dinner, this time courtesy of the local Lidl before watching an action movie in Italian with me providing my beloved with a running commentary in English.
Wednesday we woke to birdsong, sunshine and clear blue skies. With almost all the teams billeted out of town we decided to forgo the inevitable round of pre-race press conferences in favour of a morning working, followed by lunch in a nearby town en route to the Trek-Segafredo presser. Well, I’ve got to show up at least one of them!
We had a seafood lunch in Porto Torres, where the ginormous ferries from Genoa and Toulon dock, before driving back into Sassari, the closest major town, to buy a memory card so my beloved could take some photographs. One of these days he’ll actually check he has everything he needs before we leave for a trip!
The team, along with many others, were staying in a hotel in Stintino, near to a national park on one of Sardinia’s most northerly points. There were surprisingly few journalists and I got my pick of the team. I plumped for neo-pro Mads Petersen, the almost benjamin of the Giro. He has a surprisingly mature head on very young shoulders. I’ve a feeling he’ll go far.
We drove back cross-country, marvelling at the open spaces and beautiful countryside dotted with sheep, goats and cattle, plus plenty of olive trees and vines amid bright bursts of yellow broom. As we passed through La Corte we noticed many of the roads were named after former Italian champions: Coppi, Bartali, Binda, Giradenga. In Alghero there’s a church and road named Valverde, remnants of its Catalan past rather than in deference to Alejandro Valverde, a Murcian pro cyclist with Movistar.
With the sun now firmly over Sardinia, Thursday followed a similar vein. We worked in the morning, headed into town for a late lunch and a spot of shopping. Alghero is famous for its coral and I’ve long wanted a coral necklace to match a beautiful coral ring my parents bought me over 30 years ago in Capri. I had treated myself to matching earrings in Como but I’ve never gotten around to completing the set until now. At my time of life, it’s definitely now or never!
The team presentation was well attended and paid homage to the Giro’s illustrious past and present. We watched from a distance. A press scrum is no place for a man on crutches.
On Friday, the town was pumping. Folks had obviously come from far and wide, many decked out in pink, particularly the kids who all seemed to have pink whistles. Great for the atmosphere but no doubt parents would be cursing them later in the day.
The race set off amid much fanfare, Astana at the head of proceedings in memory of the recently departed, much admired Michele Scarponi. Having said a quick hello to those riders we know, it was back to the car and off to the other side of the island to watch the finish in Olbia, a town close to the world-famous, ritzy resort of Costa Smeralda.
Yesterday was Tom Boonen‘s last professional cycling race. For me, it’s the end of an era. Tom won the first race I ever watched and I’m going to have to come clean that my first thought was “Now there’s a guy that looks good in lycra!” My beloved blames him for my obsession with cycling but it’s not entirely Tom’s fault as, even though he’s now retired, the obsession continues.
So let’s have a dawdle down memory lane and look at some of the many highlights of his career, starting with a video including that win on stage 6 in 2004’s Tour de France.
The following year, 2005 was Tom’s annus mirabilis, when he won Flemish hearts and minds with victories in the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the UCI Road World Championships in Madrid, among others. Tom had arrived, he was the biggest thing in cycling and most certainly the biggest star in Belgium.
After this magical season, many in Belgium worried that Tom would go the way of former Belgian cycling colossi such as Freddie Maertens or Frank Vandenbroucke. Tom did have career lows on and off the road, but let’s not dwell on those. They’re well-documented and safely in the past. Instead lets focus on the affection he engendered among the fans, the press, the peloton and especially his team-mates. He’s been a one-team rider his entire career, after an early, ill-fated flirtation with Lance Armstrong’s United Postal Service, where he’s been cannily managed by General Manager Patrick Lefevere who here talks about Tom’s career.
Now we turn to those who have had the pleasure of riding with Tom, as current and former team-mates talk fondly about him in these series of videos.
One of the riders who probably knows Tom best is Kevin Hulsmans. They rode together for over 10 years. Here’s what Kevin had to say.
But Tom doesn’t just inspire respect among his team-mates, he’s also held in high regard by his peers. As reported by Velonews, less than 48 hours before the start of the “Hell of the North,” there was universal agreement in the peloton. If they couldn’t win Roubaix, they wouldn’t mind seeing Boonen take the history-making fifth cobble. Two-time world champion Peter Sagan told Het Niewwsblad he would like to see Boonen win his final race if he’s not in winning position himself because:
Boonen was my role model and idol. When I first raced Roubaix, I had no idea how to race the pave. I watched him and learned. If I cannot win, I will be very happy if he could. It would be a great end to his career.
Specialized made Tom a special bike with a fitting tribute for his final race, but sadly he didn’t get his fairytale ending. Someone else won.