Things awry

Today’s post was going to be all about our week-end in Siena watching Strade Bianche. The post’s written but I’m still awaiting the photographs. My beloved has downloaded them from his camera to his laptop but has yet to upload them to DropBox. We tend to do this overnight as it uses up most of our broadband width. He was going to do it on Monday night.

Monday dawned grey and overcast. My beloved was desperate to go for a ride having not ridden for a week because of a business trip to UK and our weekend in Siena. We set off in separate directions. I took one look at the menacing clouds and headed along the coast, he rode inland. Having returned from my ride, I was in the shower when I thought I heard my mobile phone. I ignored it and finished my shower. My beloved had rung me twice but not left a message.

I rather assumed he’d had a puncture/mechanical and was ringing me to go and pick him up. When I rang, his voice sounded thready and he explained he was en route to hospital having fallen off his bike. He feared he’d broken his hip! My beloved is a total hypochondriac and prone to exaggeration where his health’s concerned. A trait he has sadly inherited from the outlaw. I grabbed his carte vitale and mutuelle certificate (documents of entitlement to French healthcare) and headed to the local hospital.

My parking karma was working as I managed to find a parking place and found him looking both sheepish and sorry for himself on a bed in ER, about to be taken for an x-ray. He explained what happened in elaborate detail. He’d descended to a small roundabout, but wasn’t going fast, his front wheel had slipped and he’d landed heavily on his ride hip and elbow. Another two riders had kindly called the emergency services, who’d arrived within five minutes, and taken charge of his bike. His cycling kit wasn’t too torn, repairable. He’d got abrasions on his elbow and bum, could wiggle his right foot but couldn’t put any weight on the leg.

After a quick trip to x-ray, the diagnosis was in. Fracture of the radial head of the femur. He’d be admitted to the surgery ward where the orthopedic surgeon would talk him through the procedure. It was less than an hour since his accident. I took all his stuff and promised to return with his jimjams, toiletries, bathrobe, laptop etc He rattled off a list of people to contact and I left.

I returned two hours later after having dealt with all his most pressing matters. This time my parking karma wasn’t functioning so well. I parked in the nearby  supermarket car park. He’d been moved to a lovely bright, spotlessly clean, modern room with en-suite and was looking chipper – that would be on account of the painkillers. He’s a total wuss. I didn’t tarry long. I hate hospitals and tend to go as green as their walls but this hospital didn’t have green walls, nor did it have that hospital smell.

I popped in again the following morning, he’d slept well and had an enjoyable breakfast. Thumbs up for the cuisine. His operation was scheduled for later that afternoon. He’d met the surgeon and anaesthetist and they’d thoroughly explained the procedure and answered all his questions. The surgeon had said that if Richard were 70, he’d have recommended a hip replacement as well – still one of the possible outcomes. My heart sank. How many months was he going to be home underfoot and barking orders at me?

He rang me at 20:00 that evening, once he was out of recovery and back in his room. He sounded fine. The operation had gone well. He’d had an epidural rather than general – good news. He’d been conscious the whole time and the surgeon had explained to him the whole procedure as it was taking place – too much info. He’d had three screws inserted in his leg – a lifetime of setting off airport scanners – and would be walking tomorrow with the aid of a Zimmer frame. This I had to see.

Now I’ve not spent too much time in the hospital largely because I’ve had to cope with the fall-out of his misfortune. Friends arrive today to watch Paris-Nice and take part in the Paris-Nice Challenge. While all the work has taken place, the guest bedroom has been functioning as alternative storage. Last week the additional storage cupboards for the terrace and caves had been delivered. My beloved was supposed to put them together, and help me with the heavier stuff, taking it to the dump, or putting it  into the new storage in the caves and terrace, and clean the windows. Yep, I’ve had to do most of that on my own as well as dealing with his “urgent” list. Of course, this has left me no time to ride!

The photo above is pre-op while this one’s post op.

I nipped in this morning to discover I needed to bring him a towel and some soap. He’d been offered convalescence – great – but had declined! We might have to revisit that decision. Of course, it’s still too early to tell how this is going to progress. However, at risk are his attendance at the world’s largest and most important dental exhibition and our trip to Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Of course, I could go to the Basque country on my own, but not even I am that mean!

 

Postcard from Adelaide: Part I

We’ve spent two fabulous weeks in Adelaide, the latter half of which was devoted to watching the Santos Tour Down Under. This left us a week to potter about, enjoying our surroundings. We stayed in the same place as last year. What can I say? We’re creatures of habit and having found the perfect spot, needed to look no further.

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We arrived in Walkerville after a lovely relaxing lunch at the Serafino winery in McLaren Vale. The following days we settled into a rhythm of pre-breakfast exercise, followed by a quick swim in the pool (no shark sightings) and a late breakfast. We used our time wisely and enjoyed all that Adelaide and the surrounding area has to offer. Having already explored McLaren Vale, we popped into the Adelaide Hills to visit the Beerenberg Farm, a South Australian institution, which makes a fabulous range of preserves – I love them all! The company was set up in 1839 and it’s still run by the Paech family. We couldn’t resist stocking up with a few of their products for the rest of our trip and purchasing a few gifts for friends and family. Of course, it remains to be seen whether they’ll make in back to France in one piece.

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The Beerenberg Farm Shop is just outside of Hahndorf, founded by German Lutherans, it looks and feels like a corner of Bavaria. We’ve previously visited the town which, this time, was heaving with day trippers. After a quick wander around, we headed off for the quieter Mount Barker and a late lunch in an excellent bakery. Of course, I have to rely on feedback from my beloved whose palate – or so I like to think – has been honed by our years together. As we drove around, I did note plenty of spectacular property porn in the area, both historic and modern.

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In truth we spent plenty of time moseying around, either on foot or on the bike, in the beautiful Adelaide Hills enjoying the lush, verdant pastures choc full of fruit trees, vines or grazing animals. There are lots of small towns with a few historical buildings, I particularly love the ones with wrought iron wrap around gingerbread trims on the verandahs. Not, of course, forgetting the many open cellars where you can try the local wines, oils, beers and other beverages or enjoy a delightful lunch.

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No trip to Adelaide would be complete without a few meals at our local in Melbourne St. It’s not strictly our local, there’s one closer but it’s not in the same class. The pub also has a first class restaurant where I celebrated my birthday at just a small, intimate, party for two.

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Where we stayed is next to a large park which I’ve happily been running or more correctly plodding around. It’s nice and shady but I still work up quite a sweat before cooling off in the pool. Of course, we’ve also had to spend some time working. It’s inevitable on a two month break!

Prior to the start of the Tour we reconnected with our friends who’d had a wonderful time in Tasmania. Looking at their photos I was about to put it on my bucket list but then their youngest showed me his hand. You could clearly see his little bruised palm punctured by fang marks. He’d been bitten by one of the (thankfully) non venomous snakes but it had been a bit of a shock for all concerned. However, this didn’t stop him from handling the python in the Tour Down Under Village. He was a lot braver than many of the pro riders who much preferred the cuddly koalas and joeys – me too!

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A trip into Adelaide gave us an opportunity to look around the magnificent central market bursting with local produce. Given half a chance my beloved would have bought enough food for the next month. I really had to rein him in. The market adjoins Chinatown and we lunched at what turned out to be one of Adelaide’s finest. When faced with so many dining options I fall back on my default position, I pick the one restaurant with white linen tablecloths and napkins – top tip from my late father who trained me well. We later found out it was voted Best Chinese in Adelaide by a local newspaper. It was fabulous and we were fortunate to arrive early as tables filled up fast.

As well as watching the Big Bash League matches, we’ve also been watching the One Day Internationals: India v England and Australia v Pakistan. Whether this interest in cricket will persist on my return to France, who knows? But I’ll certainly be trying to watch the other Twenty20 series and any more ODIs. By far and away the highlight of these ODI games has been India’s captain Virat  Kohli, a man who scores runs seemingly at will. According to my beloved who’s had several recent business trips to India, Kohli’s hugely popular, more so than any other Indian sportsman but then cricket is akin to a religion in India, one which unites all faiths.

12 Days of Christmas – day 4

It was only as I was skimming through my beloved’s cycling photographs that I realised how many featured the lovely leggy podium girls who grace every event! This one is from the Giro d’Italia and features its “god-mother” holding the splendid winner’s trophy.

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God-mother of Giro d’Italia 2016, Georgia Palmas

Hailing from Sardinia, the start for next year’s centenary Giro,  Georgia Palmas, a former Miss Italy, runner-up in Miss World and star of a number of celebrity reality television shows, has graced the arms of a number of well-known Italian sporting stars, none of them cyclists. This photograph was taken in Palmanove, in northeastern Italy, where the old town was built in the shape of a star by the Venetians in the late 16th century.

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!

 

Postcard from Como

One of the many advantages of living on the Cote d’Azur is its proximity to Italy and La Dolce Vita. We watched Il Lombardia for the first time last year which afforded us an opportunity to make our maiden visit to Bergamo. This year, the course was reversed and the race started in Como and finished in Bergamo. The ideal opportunity for a quick trip to Como to see the last WorldTour race of the season and one of my favourite Monuments. We set off early on Friday morning, eating breakfast en route. Or I should  say that my beloved breakfasted while I watched enviously. Sadly, I’m still forbidden coffee and pastry cream filled croissants! The sun shone and the first part of the drive along the coast is glorious. As soon as we turned left before Genoa, the clouds put in an appearance. One reason to never live anywhere other than on the coast.

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We arrived in time for lunch on the lake. Sadly, it was a tad overcast but that didn’t lessen the pleasure of eating spaghetti vongole (clams). The afternoon I spent reacquainting myself with the old town. Many moons ago, I would visit Milan regularly on business and usually spend a week-end in Como, just 30 minutes away by train. However, this was a first for my beloved as we’d not really looked around much last year when the race concluded in Como. There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants, an eclectic mix of shops plus plenty of buildings of architectural interest.

My beloved always likes to check out the price of property in the local estate agencies. While, I like to lust over a spot of property porn where the price is rarely given. Of course, any view of the lake just multiplies the price by a significant factor.

We stayed in a small hotel, right in the centre of town. It was housed in an old building which had been sensitively renovated, pleasingly mixing the old with the new. The WiFi worked, the rooms were light and spacious and the bed comfortable. The polished concrete floors and slate staircase looked good but, as we were later to discover, magnified every sound. Sadly, soundproofing between the rooms had been omitted which meany even heavy sleepers like me were in for a rude awakening. That was the only blot on a lovely week-end.

Neither of us felt particularly hungry at dinner time so we cruised a few of the bars which all have small serve yourself buffet tables of olives, grilled vegetables, pasta salad, pizza, focaccia etc to accompany their drinks, meaning we had no real need for dinner.

The sign-on for Il Lombardia took place less than 100 metres from out hotel meaning we rolled out of bed, grabbed breakfast and pitched up for a ringside seat. For many this was their last or nearly last race of the season but they were in for a long day in the saddle as the course had been reworked to include over 4,000 metres of climbing, much of it in the latter part of the race. It had rained heavily overnight and while still overcast, it was drying out as the riders departed from in front of the cathedral for their parade around the town.

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As the crowds started to disperse, a handful of riders were racing to catch up.

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Obviously, they didn’t get the memo about the time of the race start or, if they did, they hadn’t read it. These included the eventual victor Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange). It’s thirsty work watching racing, so we retired to a nearby café for fortification.

Rather than drive over to Bergamo to watch the race’s conclusion, we had arranged to meet friends for lunch at a local seafood restaurant for oysters and lobster – allowed under my regime. Dessert was a vegan ice cream from the shop next door to our hotel. It’s rare I can indulge in any dessert, let alone ice cream and I feel I showed great restraint by only darkening the shop’s door just the one time. After a disturbed night’s sleep, we had a power nap before watching the race conclusion on the television.

The route is surprisingly undulating, even alongside the lake, as the road frequently rises and falls around the surrounding hills. My beloved and I have frequently ridden around here but not this time. Having seen the forecast, we left the bikes at home. Luckily for the peloton, the rain only fell in the final kilometres of the race. Many had taken advantage of the short-cut back to Bergamo once their work for the day was done. Only a handful of riders finished the course which had been animated by two riders we know well – BMC’s Damiano Caruso and Cofidis’ Rudy Molard. We’d been enthusiastically cheering them on but sadly their early break didn’t succeed.

It was a later one which took the glory. It was a thrilling and fitting conclusion to the 2016 WorldTour season which saw Movistar finish top team for the fourth consecutive season and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) claim the UCI top rider spot. He’s had a fantastic season, dispelling the myth of the curse of the rainbow jersey which I’d love to see him retain next week in Doha.

Again, after that sumptuous lunch, it was drinks and nibbles with friends from the cycling world that evening where we enthusiastically discussed the many merits of the day’s race. A great way to pass an evening.

We were again woken up several times in the night by the other hotel guests returning to base. Consequently, we rose early and headed home where we knew warm sunshine awaited and we could go for a spin on our bikes. Lunch and dinner were courtesy of a superb delicatessen in Como. So we spent a relaxing day though opted for an early night to catch up on those lost hours of sleep.

 

Postcard from the Vuelta I: Galicia

After attending 10 consecutive World Championships, I decided to take a break this year, largely prompted by its location in Qatar. Initially, my beloved and I had decided to visit Montreal and Quebec, to watch their respective GP races, as part of a longer trip to New England. I had our whole itinerary mapped out, and then the Vuelta announced it would start in Galicia and spend a significant portion of its duration in northern Spain. Plans were quickly changed, we were off to Spain.

To spare my beloved a long drive there and back, we flew to Madrid with the bikes and hired a car. We spent the first night in an excellent and inexpensive airport hotel, before driving the five hours or so to Ourense, in Galicia. We initially drove to one of Ourense’s many spas, the site of the Vuelta’s brief press conference with the leading riders who had the good fortune to be staying in its hotel. This was a few hours ahead of the typically relaxed team presentation which gave us time to catch up with some of the riders we know. Clearly, they were disappointed to discover I hadn’t bought any cakes with me but I promised them all plenty on their return, including samples of my new Musette Bar.

IMG_6631G5I’d booked a hotel in the old town of Ourense to better enjoy the many local bars, restaurants and the famed cuisine of the area, where the humble octopus looms large. We were given what can only be described as a suite with a generous outdoor balcony, bedroom, sitting room and a ginormous bathroom. I’ve slept in bedrooms smaller than that bathroom.

It poured with rain on Friday but, undeterred, we donned our anoraks and ventured forth to explore the old medieval town which is full of squares, churches and even an old Roman spa, with bars and restaurants aplenty. The architecture is fascinating with buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries built from an iridescent, creamy stone and decorated with beautiful wrought iron railings,  gates, lights and balconies, spectacular stone carved detailing along the roofline, above the window, doors and even on the facades.

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It’s a delightful mishmash of styles: Romanesque, Gothic, neo-Classical and Baroque which blend seamlessly along the oft tree lined streets. Statues and civic monuments abound in the attractive squares and plazas. The whole place is a veritable delight.The surrounding area is also well worth a look around, aside from its Roman bridge spanning the river Mino, there’s some charming villages on the outskirts, plus the aforementioned thermal spas.  Sadly we never got to experience any of those healing waters!

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We decided to take photographs at the start of stage one’s team time-trial which set off from another spa town late on Saturday afternoon. The riders descended the ramp against a backdrop of cascading water and a large lake. It’s fascinating watching how the different teams prepare and, based on what we did see, we weren’t surprised that team Sky won.

Sunday we decided to head for the finish in Baiona by way of Vigo, which my beloved had expressed a desire to visit. A desire stirred by Iberia’s in-flight magazine which he’d read on our recent trip to San Sebastian. It’s a fascinating place – well worth a visit – though I preferred the pretty seaside town of Baiona, which was buzzing in anticipation of the Vuelta’s arrival.

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imageMonday, a bit of a scorcher, we headed for the finish in Mirador de Ezaro, arriving well ahead of most of the spectators. We bagged a spot in front of the big screen, purchased plenty of liquid refreshment from the only vendor (who later ran out of supplies) and applied the sun screen. The finish afforded a spectacular view of the ascent and the coast below. It wasn’t long before I was wishing I could dangle my feet in those cool Atlantic waters below and being grateful for the freebie Vuelta straw Stetson.

Race over we headed to our next hotel in A Coruna which we shared with the day’s stage winner, Alexander Geniez and his FDJ team, along with that of Ag2r. Frankly, after muddling along for days in Spanish, it was a relief to chat to someone in French. I doubt however that any of the riders were enjoying as much space as my beloved and I who were upgraded to yet another suite. This time we had a bathroom each; I bagged the one with the spa bath.

Early Tuesday, we drove to Asturias where we planned to spend the next nine days, dipping in and out of the race. We’d much enjoyed Galicia but had recently spent time in Castilla y Leon, plus we wanted to ride too. I’d booked a sea view room in a small, family run hotel, within walking distance of the sea shore, just down the road from Gijon. I hoped it would live up to my beloved’s expectations after the two generously sized suites!

 

Postcard from the Giro d’Italia

My beloved and I consider ourselves fortunate to often combine work with pleasure. We spent the European mid-May Bank Holiday week-end in Tuscany watching the Giro d’Italia and cycling around the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Although typical wet Bank holiday weather was forecast, the weather was better than anticipated, with rain falling either overnight or just in the late afternoon.

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We stayed in a hotel we had first visited back in 2005 while spending time with one of my beloved’s German clients, who has a house in Chiantishire. Over several subsequent trips to the region we’ve spent time in a number of  Tuscan towns and have always been delighted with the food, wine and culture on offer plus the cycling, on undulating roads with little or no traffic, has been fantastic.

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On Saturday, after a quick ride, we headed over to Arezzo, the finish town for stage 8 of the  Giro d’Italia which included some of the (in)famous Strade Bianche. We made the mistake of steering clear of the motorway in preference to the country roads and found every which way was blocked by the race some 4km out of Arezzo.

Undaunted we elected to walk only to discover later that the finish line was actually 8km away. Now I usually love a brisk walk but found this tougher than anticipated in the warm late afternoon sunshine. We arrived at the finish the same time as the tail-end Charlies. More significantly, we arrived at the Accreditation Centre seconds after it was supposed to close to discover everyone had packed up early and moved on. Neither of us could face the hike back to the car so we took a taxi.

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By this point in the proceedings, and having missed lunch, my beloved and I were both famished. On the way back we stopped off in the town where we’d stayed during the 2013 World Championships. Our good humours were revived with an Aperol Spritz at a nearby bar followed by dinner at an Osteria, both of which we’d previously frequented. The owner of the Osteria, who runs front of house, remembered us and his wife duly whipped up a truly delicious meal. Sated, we could finally laugh about our afternoon of mishaps. I slept well that night.

After misfiring on Saturday, we had to collect our accreditation at the start of Sunday’s time-trial stage but this process wasn’t without its tribulations. I was fifth in the accreditation queue but those ahead of me hadn’t pre-registered. The convoluted process took over an hour, added to a further 30 minutes waiting for the accreditation staff to turn up. I managed to while away the time chatting to the other journos and former pro Paolo Longo Borghini, who’s now responsible for rider safety at the Giro, and part of RCS’s management team.

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Next up, and more importantly, I had to deliver my cakes to the respective teams before we headed to the finish in nearby Greve in Chianti with our wet weather gear. Yes, the sun was shining but we’d seen the weather forecast. Most of the peloton would be getting a soaking.

Monday’s rest day involved a recovery ride around the glorious Tuscan hills. We were fortunately back before the afternoon downpour and ate a superb meal in a nearby bar packed with locals. It was so filling we only needed an ice cream from the gelateria for dinner, where I was delighted to discover they did two flavours of vegan ice cream (coffee and raspberry) which, in the interests of research, I just had to try.

The Mighty Boz
The Mighty Boz

At the start of Tuesday’s stage in a suburb of Florence, we caught up with staff we know at Bardiani-CSF and evaluated their riders’ chances of a stage win. My parting comment was “I’ll keep my fingers crossed, who knows, today could be the one!” Prophetic or what? One of their promising neo-pros, Giulio Ciccone, won the stage.

Impressed by my cakes, one of the Sky boys challenged me to come up with a bar for their musettes. They gave me one prepared by the wife of one of soigneurs. It was okay but rather dry and tasteless. I shall be working on it this week and will return to the final few stages with a much improved product, along with some of my brownies.

Go, Joe, go!
The King of Utah, Joe Dombrowski
Cannondale's chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!
Cannondale’s chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!

After watching the peloton depart, we headed to a town we’d never before visited. Yes, this was our maiden trip to Bologna, a town about which I had little or no expectations but it blew me away. We stayed in a delightful, modern, three-roomed bed and breakfast in the old town, just a short stroll from the main attractions. Before checking in, we had lunch in a restaurant nearby which had been in situ since 1957. If it’s lasted that long it’s got to be good – right? Absolutely! We enjoyed yet another magnificent meal in a family run neighbourhood institution. The owner had passed away in 2007 but his widow still helps out while the three children now run the restaurant.

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Much to my delight, the restaurant featured an old childhood favourite, the sweet trolley. I couldn’t indulge but my beloved had the house speciality Zuppa Inglesi. He proclaimed it “nice” but a pale imitation of my and my late mother’s rum soaked trifles. Then it was time to walk off those calories around the magnificent old town whose monuments are built almost exclusively of brick, many dating from the 14th century. Some of them are very tall, underlining how wealthy the city was in former times.  The shops are under attractive stone porticoes which have beautiful frescoed ceilings and wrought iron lights, clocks and shop signs. This is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Italy and deserves to feature more prominently on tourists’ itineraries. I shall return particularly now I know how close it is to Mugello, home to last week-end’s Italian MotoGP.

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The following day we headed directly to the Giro stage finish in Asolo, the Pearl of Veneto, where one of my dearest friends lives. A fabulous cook, she whipped up a delicious feast for lunch which we enjoyed before watching the peloton stream through Asolo’s beautiful old town in dribs and drabs. Dinner at a local restaurant followed, before we headed to our hotel for the next few days in Pordenone.

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From time to time my beloved works with a company based here. We know the town well but haven’t visited for a while so it was good to renew our acquaintance with our favourite restaurants and watering holes. Thursday’s stage hugged the Venetian coastline though Wednesday’s warm sunshine had retreated behind clouds and heavy rain. We went to the stage start but when it’s pouring down with rain, it’s difficult to do much more than wave at the riders one knows. Understandably, no one wants to spend a moment longer than necessary in the inclement conditions.

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Friday’s stage started close to Udine in a medieval border town and fared better weather wise, though the boys were looking nervous as the stage heralded a triptych in the mountains before another difficult week ahead of the finish in Turin. I promised to return in the Southern Alps with more baked goods to see them through the penultimate day of climbing.

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Saturday we headed to Trieste to meet with potential Slovenian clients. We’d briefly visited the city when the Giro d’Italia finished there in 2014 but hadn’t been able to have a good look around as we needed to get back for Cannondale’s farewell Giro party. It was good to get another opportunity to visit this fascinating town which still bears the influence of its former occupiers, the Austrians, on its buildings and cuisine. Sadly, I couldn’t find a cake shop doing vegan equivalents of any of the delicious Austrian treats.

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It was a great trip. The Giro is a beautiful race and I love the way the Italians embrace it by decking themselves, their children, pets and shops in pink. It’s much more an individual and not a community effort and, as you might expect, it’s generally done with great style and panache and much reverence for the Giro’s history. I consider myself fortunate to live only 45 minutes from the Italian border.

Top fuel

I haven’t written much about my own cycling recently – not that there’s been much to write about! I first got back on the bike at the end of August and what a shock it was. It was like going back to when I first learned to ride my old mountain bike in early 2007. At first, it was a struggle riding my Cap d’Antibes loop and I couldn’t even manage the climb back up the Domaine. Very humbling!

Since then it’s been a bit stop-start, largely due to travel, the weather and any other excuse I could summon up. But I’ve gone back to basics – little and often. I’m still a long way off my best but I’m enjoying riding (on my own) again and I can now easily ride all the way back up to the apartment. And, as this month heralds much warmer weather, although I’m still wearing my 3/4 bib-shorts and long-sleeved jersey, I’m hoping to lay down a solid base that’ll allow me to rediscover all my favourite routes and climbs this summer.

Of course, before I head out for a ride I need to ensure I’ve properly topped up the tank. Initially on my new regime, which frankly is fast becoming my new permanent way of eating, I struggled most with breakfast. That was until I discovered avocado on toast in Australia. I can’t eat any animal fats and therefore have to make sure I get an adequate daily serving of vegetable and fish oils. I’ve always enjoyed avocado in salad, or with prawns, but never realised how delish it was on toast. More so for me since I can’t have butter or margarine and I’m not overly fond of nut butters, jam or honey. I find the first too claggy and the other two, too sweet.

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The trick is to use a perfectly ripe avocado, not as easy as it might seem. Pick one which still has its stem intact. If the avocado is ripe, you will be able to pull the stem out very easily. If the stem is already missing, hold the avocado in your hand and gently squeeze it. An unripe avocado will feel like a stone. An over-ripe avocado will feel loose under the skin. A ripe avocado will feel the same as if you were to squeeze the palms of your hands.

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I like to mash my avocado with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of ground coriander, a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon (or lime) juice, a pinch of pepper and half a teaspoon of salt before piling it onto toasted spelt or sourdough bread. I might even top it with a few radishes, cherry tomatoes or freshly chopped coriander.

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If I don’t have any ripe avocados, I’ll pile chia jam onto my toast. Gently warm 500 grams (1lb) of chopped fresh fruit, in this case strawberries, juice of a small orange or lemon and a tablespoon of maple syrup either in a saucepan on the hob or in the microwave, just to help breakdown the fruit and extract its juices. When the fruit mixture is cool, I add two tablespoons of chia seeds, mix, pop it into a jar and place in the fridge overnight to set. I make it only in small quantities though it’ll happily keep for a week or so in the fridge.

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I’ll wash my toast down with a smoothie. Looks like a latte doesn’t it? But it isn’t, it’s a smoothie made with a glass of unsweetened almond milk, a teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a small frozen banana all whizzed up in the liquidiser. Then I’m good to go.

I love riding on my lonesome

Cycling Weekly had an article this week entitled “Eight reasons why riding alone is better than riding in a group.” This resonated with me because, I much prefer riding alone. I agreed with their reasoning but have put my own spin on it.

I can go when I want

The clubs here all have set-in-stone times throughout the year for the start of club rides which pay little heed to the weather or traffic. For most of the year I like to head out around 10:30, when the mercury has risen and the traffic has calmed down. The exception is high summer when I leave at around 07:00 to avoid the heat of the day. There’s no hanging about as I don’t have to wait for anyone, or meet anyone en route. Nor is there any problem if I leave earlier or later for my ride.

I can go where I want

I generally ride with a route in mind but, depending on how I feel – and the weather – I can extend or foreshorten it. I typically like to warm up on the flat before heading for any climbs. I also have routes that I only ride at certain times of the year. In winter the chill keeps me off the climbs and I hug the coast.

I confess that there are certain routes I’ll only do at the week-end when I know there will be other cyclists around, just in case I have a problem. These are areas where the mobile phone coverage is non-existent, the roads are very quiet during the week and there’s little or no habitation.

It’s easier to stick to my training plan

I like to ride to a training plan, even though I’m not training for anything in particular. It’s unlikely I’ll find anyone, should I even be so inclined, who’s following a similar plan. It’s hard to do interval or climbing training with anyone else, although it is handy to have someone else look at the stopwatch and shout encouragement. That’s where a trainer comes in handy but not a riding companion.

I can ride for as long (or as little) as I want

The length of my rides tend to be determined by the training plan but occasionally I’ll want to ride further and sometimes I’ll want to ride less. I can just head for home wherever and whenever I want.

I can ride at my pace

I found when I rode with the club, I wanted to ride faster on the flat and downhill but was slower than most going uphill. I tended to ping off the front and drop off the back of the group. I wasn’t really riding with anyone and once I had to keep stopping for them to catch up, well………. Of course, it also means I can’t get dropped and others don’t have to wait for me.

I don’t have to keep stopping

When your riding companions are largely elderly (male) retirees, you have to stop a lot for comfort breaks. And, if it’s a particularly long ride, lunch. I don’t like to stop at all on long rides, particularly not for any length of time because it makes me feel far less inclined to get back on. I find it all a bit of a waste of time. I don’t mind stopping for a quick drink, or to fill up my bidons, or to use the facilities but that’s about it. I’m not one to hang about.

Though I can stop as many times as I want

Conversely, when I’m on my own I can stop to take pictures, answer my phone, or blow my nose without anyone minding. Sadly, I’ve never mastered the art of blowing my snot into the wind; it usually ends up on my face and jersey – not a good look! Nor can I do anything, such as answering my mobile, while riding hands free.

It gives me time to think

This is by far and away the best reason to ride on my own. I can enjoy the peace and quiet, clear my head and drink in my spectacular surroundings. I don’t have to make polite conversation or listen to inane chatter. If I’ve got a bit of a challenge, I can chew over the options for resolving it while I’m riding. I also find the kilometres seem to go by much faster. I know it’s an illusion, but it’s a good one.

I can fix my own punctures

Touch wood, it’s rare for me to get a puncture. But, if I do, I know how to change my inner tube. I should add that I’ve never once had to do so myself on the road. Usually, before I’ve even stopped, some gallant Frenchman (or men) will come to my rescue and within a matter of minutes, I’m back pedaling once more.

I should add that on the off-chance I lose my chain – rookie error – I keep a pair of disposable plastic gloves in my teeny, tiny saddle bag to put it back on without getting oily hands.

I’m never really alone on the road

Cyclists are a friendly bunch and I’m constantly waiving at riders I know, and don’t know, on the other side of the road and exchanging quick pleasantries with those I overtake or who overtake me. The latter group is much larger than the former. I know many of the local riders and they love shouting “Salut Cherie.” You’d have thought by now that the novelty would have worn off!

I can see the road ahead

In a bunch, you’re reliant on others to identify hazards. Some are better at doing this than others. I like to see the road ahead so I either ride at the head of the bunch or on my tod.

No one is sucking my wheel

Okay, so I’m not sheltered from the wind either but frankly you need to know how to ride in a cross or head wind and I’m pretty nifty in both.

No one is going to cross my front wheel

Hands up, how many times have you been taken out by a club-mate who hasn’t maintained his line and crossed your front wheel? Yeah, everyone! Not a problem if you’re riding on your own.

No one is training on my mountain

With so many professional riders and great amateurs training around here, the chances of getting a QOM are practically zilch. However, I have my own mountain, I’m training to be its Queen and no one else knows about it.

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.