We must stop meeting like this

I woke to brilliant sunshine and the promise of a great day’s riding. I dressed warmly, suspecting it might be chilly on Col de Vence. Yes, I decided today would be my first ascent of the year of the Col. The last two Saturday’s I have felt a bit fatigued, and today was no exception. As I wound my way up L’Ara to Vence I was feeling decidedly wobbly. It was also much colder, thanks to the Mistral-like wind, than I’d thought. Time for a change of plan.

Rather than turning straight up towards the Col, I turned right and headed for St Jeannet. On the way there I passed none other than Mr Boonen and assorted cycling buddies, chatting away and merrily proceeding in the opposite direction. Again, he wasn’t wearing a helmet or sunglasses. Tom, you’re setting a really bad example for impressionable youngsters. There’s no way I’m going to be seen riding with someone without a helmet – sorry!

Having foregone the climb up Col de Vence, I set off up towards the village of St Jeannet. I know, it’s only a couple of kms rather than 10km but that’s all I was capable of today. In addition, this is one of my favourite downhills. It’s steep, relatively straight and, traffic permitting, I can get down it without having to apply the brakes. I descended via La Gaude, passing several club mates huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and headed for my usual pit-stop for the newspapers and a coffee.

A piece in L’Equipe caught my eye. Vino has the same dental problems as Cavendish and won’t be riding in today’s La Strade Bianchi. I must send him my email on how to treat this. No need to compromise his season, or lose a tooth if he and his dentist follow my advice.

I felt considerably better after lunch, making me wonder if I’ve been a little too severe in the calorie cutting. The flat is now spotless and I’m enjoying the last few hours of peace and quiet before the return of my beloved who’ll be working from the home office all next week. This means, of course, that I’ll be in for a busy week.

In addition, I’ve guests arriving Thursday evening for a few days. It’s my friend Susi, she of the world-class performances in three disciplines: speed skating, cycling and triathlon. She’s bringing her partner and they’ll be taking photographs at the last two stages of Paris-Nice.

Tomorrow’s pointage is on the seafront at Cagnes sur Mer so I’ll be able to have a bit of a lie in. I’m then going to ride over to Monaco to watch our “racers” and juniors compete in a crit in Monaco. Let’s hope the weather stays fine. In the afternoon, I’ll be slumped in front of the tv, in the fleecy track suit, watching the first stage of Paris-Nice where I’m pretty sure Bert will want to take top honours overall to erase the memory of last year’s unfortunate “bonk”.

Lots of firsts

I’m a girl who believes in lots of planning and preparation. If I’m doing a cyclosportif, I like to have cycled the route beforehand. This is so that a) I know I can do it and b) I know when to conserve, or conversely, expend energy en route. It also gives me an opportunity to scout possible locations for a pit-stop as these generally tend to be few and far between. I prefer to wear bib shorts or tights, so there’s no way I can discretely slip out of my kit behind a bush. It’s a full-scale strip job, so you can understand my concerns and preference for a toilet.

I am currently training for the Charly Bérard which largely takes place on the course of my first ever pointage. A year or so ago, one the girls at the club invited me to cycle with her on Sundays, promising that we could go at my pace. She cycles with two of the club’s very spritely octogenarians who are both glowing adverts for the long-term benefits of cycling. I can only hope to emulate them when I’m their age.

When I told my husband I was going to do that Sunday’s pointage he was somewhat dismissive of my ability to get up the climbs. This time however I will have to ascend a tad quicker for fear of falling behind the dreaded “broom wagon” and having my timing device unceremoniously removed.

Most of the club events I take part in are self-timed. You tell the person writing the certificate your time and they put it on your certificate. Whether you finish first or last, your club gets the same number of points. You just have to finish. There are usually two courses on offer: one 50% longer than the other with more points for the longer course. Trophies are awarded to the clubs whose riders garner the most points. There are no individual prizes save those for the youngest and oldest male and female entrants to complete the course.

In preparation, this week I did my first ascent this year of the Col de Vence (963m). This has to be my closest and favourite climb. I did it for the very first time in early April of last year. Buoyed with my feat of climbing Col d’Eze, via the more strenuous Grande Corniche, I decided I was ready to tackle the Col de Vence. I rode the slightly longer but less strenuous route up to Vence via La Gaude before turning onto the Col itself. The first few kilometres are the steepest but it soon levels out and there are simply splendid views down to the coast plus some pretty pricey real-estate to admire as you pedal your way up to the Chateau du Domaine St. Martin and beyond to the open pastures full of sheep.

I took comfort from the road markers telling me how many more kilometres I had to travel and the average gradient (7%). The top is a bit of an anti-climax but I couldn’t resist sending my husband a text to tell him I’d done it.

Today I cycled the quicker, slightly steeper route via La Colle sur Loup. Under darkening skies and into a strong headwind, I managed to ascend the hill for the first time without stopping at all: another first. Col de Vence is my favourite col not because of the ascent but because of the descent. You can easily see what little traffic there is coming up the hill so you can throw caution to the wind, keep your hands off the brakes and pretend you’re Samu Sanchez.  With that tailwind, it was my fastest descent ever.