Cause for concern

This week is one of my “rest weeks”. Which means, of course, because the weather’s been so great all week, I’m longing to get out on the bike. I’m allowed a couple of recovery rides, a run or two and some gym sessions but nothing quite cuts it like the wind whistling through your helmet as you barrel down a hill or along the sea-front.

My first target of the season, after last week end’s sportif was cancelled, is an event run by my own cycling coach. It used to be held at the end of January but he’s moved it a couple of months, and added a timed portion. His events generally attract a fairly serious crowd so I could well be playing my usual role of lanterne rouge. I won’t be the oldest rider although it’s likely I’ll be the oldest female rider.  I might be last in the scratch but, unless Jeannie Longo puts in an appearance, I should be fastest in my age group. I may even collect a trophy for my ever expanding collection.

After the WTS Classic there’s the usual run of events in April, May and June;  weather and the authorities permitting. We’ve just had a knock back from those self-same authorities for our Gentleman on Sunday 18 March, an event that’s been happily run, incident-free, for many years. I’m holding back on the cake production until we get a positive response. It’ll be a great shame if it’s cancelled, as once events disappear from the calendar, they rarely reappear. Unlike some of the World Tour events in Spain our problem is not lack of funds, it’s an excess of traffic.

The event is held on a Sunday around an industrial estate. So where’s the traffic? The same town hosts a truly gi-normous market every Sunday. But it’s not one of those idyllic, traditional Provencal markets with stands bursting with colourful fruit and vegetables and lots of local produce. No, it’s full of stuff that no one else wants, largely clothing, toiletries, any old thing in fact. It attracts huge crowds of people from outside the region, all of whom drive through the industrial estate to reach the market. We may have to find another place for the event, maybe, the neighbouring industrial estate.

At least as far as the Kivilev is concerned, we’re getting positive feedback from the communes, although worryingly the final authorisation generally doesn’t turn up until the Friday before the event takes place. We’ve already submitted the application so we’ll just have to wait and see. A couple of unfortunate events have also occurred. A popular three-day Tour is taking place the same week-end as the Kivilev. It’s been moved from its regular slot in the calendar on account of the elections. This will severely restrict the number of local racers competing in our sportif.

The last couple of years, either the Conseil regional or the Olympic Committee have lent us their car podiums. This gives a certain gravity to the event and enables us to more easily make announcements and, of course, make the all important presentations. In addition, Alexandre Vinokourov will be riding in the Giro, so he won’t be able to attend. If available, the other Kazakhs will participate, but he’s our headline act.

On a good note, we paid a quick visit this week to the company which kindly lend us one of  their refrigerated vans. This made a huge difference to the storage, preparation and presentation of the all important food during and at the end of the event. The van is ours again for the duration. M Le President is now out hunting for sponsors. He’s been doing well but, as I always say, you would want to keep on the good side of the head honcho down at the fire station, wouldn’t you?

Lazy Sundays

When doing a sportif I haven’t done before I like to be as well prepared as possible. Ahead of todays’ L’Etape du Tour du Haut Var, my beloved and I visited Montauroux yesterday afternoon to pick up our numbers and check out some of the parcours. I’m reasonably familiar with the roads around there but I wanted to revisit the first few kilometres to check the gradient. If it was as steep as I remembered, I would need to warm up beforehand.

According to the event brochure, we could collect our numbers from the Salle des Fetes between 14:00 and 18:00. We arrived around 15:00 and our first problem was actually locating the afore-mentioned Salle des Fetes. It’s a bit off the beaten track, not in the centre of the village. I commented to my beloved that the organisers should have helpfully sign-posted the route. We do it for the Kivilev despite my club mates assertions that everyone knows the way.

Disturbingly, there seemed to be absolutely no preparations whatsoever underway for the following day’s race: nothing, nada. We finally located the Salle des Fetes. It was closed without so much as a notice on the door to indicate why it was not a veritable hive of activity. In the absence of anything to confirm our suspicions, we realized that something was not quite right. On reaching home, I checked the website and the race had been cancelled because  the organisers had not obtained the relevant approvals to effect necessary road closures!

All very tiresome  and while this may well have been known only at the last moment, you’d have thought the organisers would have emailed participants advising them of this sad state of affairs. I wonder how many turned up this morning to start the race?

This meant we could ride with the club this morning to the pointage in Beausoleil, just above Monaco. It wasn’t “beau soleil” when we set off. It was humid and overcast but I had every confidence that the sun would burn through the layer of cloud. My confidence was not misplaced and by 11 o’clock it had turned into a gorgeously sunny day. I love riding this route in the winter months. The lack of leaves on the trees ensures uninterrupted views across the bays.

En route there was the usual meet and greet with riders from other clubs as they either overtook us or passed by us on the opposite side of the road. As they merrily greet me by name, my beloved always asks who they are. To be honest I know hardly any of them by name but they all know me, and my cakes. I think that makes me infamous, rather than famous.

After the pointage we decided to make our regular pilgrimage into Italy for a cup of coffee. However, the roads were closed in Menton on account of its Citrus Festival so, rather than navigate our way over the border on unfamiliar roads,  we settled for a coffee on the sea front before heading back home. We had another stop en route to refuel with a coke as I was rapidly running low on energy.

Once home, I quickly prepared lunch before settling back on the sofa (yes, in my jimjams) for a veritable smorgasbord of sporting action: football, cycling, rugby. What more could a girl ask for?

Monday Postascript: A letter arrived today in the post from the organiser of the cancelled sportif, returning our cheque. Insufficient participants was cited as the cause of the “postponement”. This rings much truer than lack of authorisation but whatever excuse they’re using, they should be consistent.

The French are hugely price sensitive as we learned to our cost last year at the Kivilev when we charged the same price as the earlier sportif, La Charly Berard. The main difference was that we were giving away a cheap T-shirt while the organisers of the Charly Berard had sufficient sponsorship for a cycling shirt! We’ve halved our price this year and done away with the t-shirt.

No ordinary cookie

The past few days I have been fighting  a rearguard action but I’ve caved. It’s official, I have a cold which I’m now feeding with my favourite remedy – hot toddies. I think it was made worse spending a couple of hours down a cold, damp clubhouse yesterday evening. We had a meeting of the management team to re-elect the key members – like there were any other takers! Indeed the one club member who had shown in interest in becoming M Le President next year has done an about face. I suspect he was keen on high office while he thought he had me on board to do all the donkey work – think again.

This is, of course, quite a serious issue. If we can’t find someone to take over at the end of our period of office, we’ll either be left holding the baby or the club might fold. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the President must live in the same town as the club’s based, and be newly retired. Sadly, not too many of our members fall into this category.

Fond though I am of my fellow clubmates, they are often quite frustrating to deal with, even though I know they have the club’s best intentions at heart. Sometimes it’s like herding sheep, which either makes me a shepherd or a sheep dog. Though I do like to think of myself as a goat, it is after all my star sign.

I have at long last managed to recruit someone to help me with marketing our big annual cycling event “La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev”. Taking a leaf out of the book of my fellow writers on Velovoices, I have recruited a youngster to liven up the Facebook page. However, he’s not familiar with Twitter (can’t have everything) so we’ll broach that at a later date.  I have high hopes. Having discussed our potential strategy with him yesterday evening, I have instructed him to go forth and multiply our friends.

The cold has meant I’ve had to turn down an opportunity to ride with my coach today, but I don’t want to give him a cold.  It’s going to be an excercise free day. This is slightly upsetting as adverse weather conditions are forecast for this week end. It had to happen at some point. Although I am jetting off to the sunshine with my beloved this week end: pleasure for me and business for him. It’ll be a week in Dubai’s sunshine which at this time of year is in the mid-to-low 20 degrees centigrade. Ideal for a spot of sunbathing or sightseeing.

Do these look good enough to eat?

Cold aside, I’ll still take my English class this evening, as I promised them a celebratory English afternoon tea in honour of the one who celebrated his 18th birthday at the week end. I’m preparing a traditional tea with some rather (if I say so myself) splendid chocolate chip cookies. They contain cornflake crunch, mini-marshmallows as well as the ubiquitous chocolate chips. I expect these to evaporate in seconds, rather than minutes.

Thursday postrscript: Did I say seconds? I should have said nanoseconds. They were a monster hit and more have been ordered!

Leaving well alone

It’s official winter’s here. I’m now wearing my winter riding jacket and, this morning, was wishing I’d worn full fingered gloves. The forecast next week shows midday temperatures dipping below 15C on the coast for the first time this year. Time to get out my woolly vest.

Since the commission decided a couple of months’ ago to reduce the length of the longer Kivilev course by 20km, I have been attempting to find a route which satisfies that requirement. I have looked at a number of alternatives, and ridden them to check them out, but the best I can do is a 10km reduction on the original length which involves more climbing, so we’re not saving much, if anything, in terms of time. There are ways of reducing the route but most involve using busy roads which frankly are best avoided. In addition, any route changes need to be approved by the local commune, it’s not unknown for them to refuse, particularly if it’s been used a few weeks before in another randonnee or sportive. Lots of the alternatives figure in earlier randonnees.

I drove the whole route yesterday to see if there were any unturned stones. There weren’t but it was an enjoyable drive. I broke my journey where I normally have a pit stop when riding the route. It’s the last toilet before heading into the Nicois hinterland. The route was frankly deserted and I was at times able to channel my inner Sebastian Loeb much to the amusement of the many onlookers: all sheep. In truth the existing route is well thought out and makes best use of the available roads and scenic countryside. Sometimes you meddle at your peril. It was one of those ideas which work well in theory, less so in practise. M le President has agreed that we won’t now change it.

This will of course also save me time as I can just update all the existing documentation, so much quicker.  I’ll be translating the brochure into English, Italian, Spanish and German before circulating it to magazines, websites, clubs and interested parties. It takes a while for a new event to build up a head of steam, but if we can grow it year on year we’ll be happy. I’ll also send an invitation to the Kazakh Embassy in Paris, maybe the Ambassador will again grace us with his presence. He certainly seemed to enjoy himself last year. We also invite the Kazakh Cycling Federation but as they largely compete on the Asian circuit it’s not been possible for anyone, other than racers from Team Astana, to attend.

Of course, we hope that next year’s event will again be supported by the professional riders who live locally. That’s a big draw for our participants. I’m also hoping to attract more exhibitors in the departure/arrival village to keep friends and relatives entertained during the race. At some point I’ll have to start planning my baking schedule. I now have a massive freezer chest at my disposal down at the club. Although I may just have to alarm the lid lest my cakes start disappearing.

Crumbs

I’ve not been feeling my usual perky self. In fact, I would go as far as saying that I’m feeling a bit “run down”. Generally, I’m a hugely energetic person, but I’ve been feeling positively sluggish and my riding is suffering too. Witness my recent laboured ascents of Col de Vence. My nutritionist has made a few suggestions which I’m happy to follow. I sense I need a day’s peace and quiet but I’m not going to get that anytime soon.

I was feeling so tired last week, thanks to my beloved’s snoring the night before that, after dropping him off at the airport, I went and sat on the beach, in the warm sunshine and enjoyed a quiet hour with the newspapers. This is the first time, since we moved here 6 year’s ago, that I’ve just gone and sat on the beach.  Of course, I could have gone home but as I was due down the club in an hour, it wasn’t worth considering.

This general fatigue has manifested as a continuing lack of form on the bike which I’m at a loss to explain. I’ve stuck rigidly to the training programme and the new regime. I’m long since over the cold, and my allergies have been nowhere near as bad as last year. My mileage this year is similar to last, however I haven’t climbed as much. This was partly due to the colder weather in March and April, and completing fewer brevets than at the same time last year. I missed La Charly Berard while we were in Roubaix. La Louis Caput was rained off and I didn’t finish La Lazarides.

My coach, initially worried that I’d overtrained (as if?), counselled building more base mileage and, with the warm sunny weather continuing over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been more than happy to oblige. I’ve stuck to my tried and tested routes, to better enable direct comparison. In addition to which I’ve completed a number of longer rides; specifically, Tuesday’s attempt at La Kivilev’s 175km ride which went well. In fact better than anticipated, so maybe my elusive form is slowly returning.

Saturday, I’ll be riding the 100km course of La Vencoise. Actually, I’ll be riding 130km as I intend to ride to and from the start. You see, I find it very difficult to head up an average 7% climb for nearly 11km with only a 1km warm up. I think I’ll do much better if I start by following my usual route. At least that’s the theory. Sunday’s pointage takes us to Menton and then up and over Col de la Madone. I’m sensing I’m going to enjoy the following week’s rest.

With only a couple of weeks to go until the day of the Kivilev, everyone involved in it’s organisation is pretty busy. The baking is going well, in fact I recently whipped up a trial batch of post-ride cookies. My English pupils love cookies and are willing to eat any of my experiments. I combined a couple of recipes to produce banana oaten cookies, containing both fresh and dried bananas. They were a huge hit and evaporated in minutes.  I made a second batch for everyone at the Kivilev Commission meeting. The older boys gave them the thumbs up too. A number of my available club mates keep asking me if I have any single girl friends who cook as well as I do. Of course not, anyone who cooks that well’s bound to be married I say. They shake their heads knowingly in agreement. So if any of my female readers can cook well, like cycling and are single, do drop me a line.

My LBS rang me up. The man from UPS had tried to deliver the Kivilev t-shirts to the club but there’s rarely anyone there during the day. He was round at my LBS making another delivery and asked the owner for advice on how to contact us as he only had the club’s phone number. The owner rang me. Now while Tom III is more spacious than you might imagine, there’s no way I can cram in eight large cartons, each containing 100 t-shirts. To be honest, I couldn’t even get one of those cartons into the car. My LBS took them in overnight and the Treasurer picked them up the next day. To thank my LBS owner and his trusty assistant, I dropped off a few of my cookies. They too gave them the thumbs up. The recipe is now a confirmed hit.

Guns for hire

Sadly, we had a couple of resignations this week. One of our racers who, with another of his clubmates, was leading a race last week end, felt somewhat aggrieved when a third clubmate led the peloton up to them thereby enabling someone else to nip off the front of the bunch and win the race. To complicate matters, the winner was a former teammate of our guy doing the leading.

I must confess, I can see his point of view. Instead of occupying top spot on the podium (the only place that counts) the club took the next four places. This is a situation I am never likely to have to deal with. If I were leading  a race, it would be safe to assume that the only other entrants had either punctured, had mechanicals or fallen off and given up. 

Unfortunately, there was no Directeur Sportif to articulate the race strategy. He was working, no one assumed his place, and clearly a free for all ensued. It’s also quite difficult to have a coherent team strategy when there are different levels racing together. Does one race for the scratch or individual categories? As a consequence, we have lost two racers who generally collect quite a few podium wins and, more importantly, column inches and photos in the local press. Manna from heaven for our sponsors.

The club experiences a surprising turnover of members although, in the past two years, we have gained a large number of new members. Often, these are the result of people just moving around the area. Sometimes it’s riders getting back into cycling after a layoff  or they join us because a number of their friends or family are members. Our reputation, has also attracted many  racers but it’s sometimes difficult to accommodate everyone, particularly the younger ones, even though they span a large number of race categories.

I have tried to ascertain why riders join us one year only to leave the next. For some it’s a case of what one might call “New Year Gym Syndrome” for others they’re looking for more sociable group rides. We don’t do coffee stops, nor do we wait for laggards, I should know.  Fortunately, we seem to attract more than we repel and so membership is growing. 

Our biggest current challenge is finding enough volunteers to staff the Kivilev. Adding the cyclosportif this year requires more road marshalls and members who might normally have volunteered want to ride. I’m suggesting that every club member who does ride has to provide at least one volunteer: wife, mother, father, brother. We don’t mind. They’ll get a goodie bag, a ticket for the tombola and invites to the pre and post-event  BBQs.

Lost but not lonely

Thanks to a  48 hour  bug, my week has been sent a bit off kilter. The first warning sign was late Tuesday afternoon, when I couldn’t get warm. My hands and feet, usually so toasty, were freezing cold. I left the boys making merry after the monthly cycling club meeting and returned home for an early night. I didn’t even bother with dinner. I wasn’t hungry: another worrying sign. I woke on Wednesday morning, still feeling weary, cold and rather nauseous. Several hours later, I felt even worse so cancelled my evening English class.

I wisely spent all day Wednesday and Thursday indoors venturing out only late last night to collect my beloved from the airport. While the hands and feet have recovered some of their previous warmth, and my appetite has returned, I felt I was still lacking a bit of power when I rode today. I’ll need to make up the lost hours of training this week end.

Of course, a couple of days not eating can only help my regime. Indeed, my nutritionist is so pleased with my progress, she said I could eat whatever I liked one day a week. Of  course, the unspoken phrase was “within reason”. I’ve now lost almost 8kgs over 4 months and, once I start regularly climbing the hills behind Nice, would hope to maintain that rate of loss until I reach my target weight. Sometime around the end of 2012 – no, only joking!

Inevitably, I have spent the last couple of days getting the club’s administration up to date, particularly anything and everything to do with the forthcoming La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev whose Facebook page has gone live today. I’ve sent invitations to everyone, and I mean everyone.

While I have been enjoying the tussle over the gold jersey in the Tour of Qatar, I was not unsurprised to see it go to one of the in-form Aussies whose season debuts early thanks to the timing of their national championships. It seemed only fitting that Mark Renshaw, generally loyally employed in the service of Mark Cavendish, should prove he can hold his own with the world’s best sprinters. It was also good to see Tom Boonen and Heinrich Haussler coming back into form for the early season Classics after both of their seasons were wreaked when they were taken out in a sprint finish in last year’s Tour of Switzerland.

While there’s been no television coverage, I have also been keeping a check on results in the races in Mallorca and, nearer to home, the Tour of the Mediterranean whose stage tomorrow  finishes just up the road from me. I’ll be there to capture the action and on Sunday on Mont Faron, after the morning’s pointage at Aspremont.

Time starved

When I used to work in the City, I was fond of saying that I was always looking for an extra 24 hours in the week. Preferably, 24 hours to which no one else had access. I searched in vain. My solution was to get into the office, well before everyone else, so that I could have a couple of hours to order my thoughts and plan my day.

Nowadays, the issue is rarely as pressing and I get up when I feel like it. The hour tends to be dictated by the seasons, rather than the alarm: later in the winter, earlier in the summer. I have a full agenda today so, borrowing from one of my old practices, I got up at 06:00 and spent 45 minutes on the home trainer, pedalling away on alternate legs. I’m now ploughing through the paperwork for this afternoon’s meetings at the club. Today we have the monthly meeting of the Kivilev Committee followed by the monthly club meeting.

Unfortunately, the Treasurer is experiencing a few medical problems, and has been hors combat, so I need to drop by her place to pick up the club’s books, reconcile them and prepare the accounts.  I haven’t done this for the last few months and we’re due an audit check shortly. Yes, the local Town Hall sends someone to make sure we haven’t been wasting their money on wine, women and song.

Yesterday, I popped into my LBS to have my new Shimano shoes fitted only to discover that the owner had had an accident that morning. He’d been out training on his time-trial bike, a Trek which closely resembles a stealth bomber, and had slipped under the radar of a car exiting the Citroen garage at speed. Result, a broken left collar-bone, the injury of choice for most cyclists. Fortunately, his trusty assistant was on hand to open the shop.

I went to my LBS en route to Nice to attend one of the Federation meetings for our Directeur Sportif, and collect the licences I’d most recently registered. After my abortive attempts to find a parking space close to the meeting venue last time I had attended, I decided to park in the centre and hop on the tram for the necessary couple of stops. While I rather enjoy investigating new areas of Nice, I prefer to do so when the shops are open. Not when they are frustratingly shuttered.

This morning I have the all important monthly meeting with my nutritionist. I’ve just gotten on the scales to check that my weight is still moving in the right direction: downwards. It is. I’m pretty pleased that I’m managing to survive what I first thought would be a fairly Draconian regime but I haven’t missed cheese, butter and cream as much as I believed I would.

Heavenly feeling

The weather the past few days has been gloriously sunny, albeit cold. I’ve been out every day, generally around lunchtime, diligently following the training plan. I’ll shortly  have been trained by my coach for twelve whole months. I’m going to continue as I feel it’s been money well spent. My technique has improved, I’m feeling more confident on the bike, I’m riding faster and further, climbing better and I’ve lost more weight. I’m definitely heading in the right direction.

Yesterday, I had another puncture. My second in four days but only my fourth in four year’s of cycling.  You may recall I had both the tyre and inner tube replaced on Saturday. I hit a pothole (unfortunately) while riding (fortunately) with some clubmates. I hit the hole heavily with my front tyre, but it was the rear one which rapidly deflated. Quick as a flash my team mates dismounted and within a couple of minutes, they had rectified the problem. Thanks boys!

I spent last week putting the final touches to the brochure for our annual cycling event, La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev, this week I’m translating it into a number of other languages, ready to disseminate far and wide. I’m also finalising plans for my 2011 Cycling Trips.

I may well be making an appearance at all three Grand Tours this year, although the trip to the Giro, because of its timing, just before the Kivilev, is always the one most likely to be cancelled. I booked our trip to watch the Tour in the Alps the same day ASO announced the route, but the others have been coming together more slowly.

For instance, as soon as I learned, a week or so ago, that the Vuelta would be visiting Bilbao, I immediately located and booked a  bijou hotel. Getting to Bilbao by plane involves a change in Barcelona, so I may well go either by car or train which will make taking the bike much easier.  It’ll also mean I can bring back plenty of Basque goodies: edibles, not riders clad in orange jerseys. There’s a thought. How many Euskatel riders could you cram into a Smart?

It was only when I received, somewhat belatedly, my Xmas card from Bert that I realised, if he could get to the next World Championships in Copenhagen from Auckland, I really needed to be there too. At his age, he’s unlikely to be around for too many more. He’s currently two short of seventy-five. I’m sure he’ll make it. Hotel and flight have now been booked. I have finally arranged the much-vaunted trip to go and watch Paris-Roubaix. I can easily get to Lille on the train and have found a delightful, quirky hotel in Roubaix. Not wishing to risk either of my beloved BMCs on the cobbles, I may travel “sans velo”.

There’s less urgency over planning and booking trips to watch either the Dauphine or the Tour of Switzerland. I’ve never had any problem sourcing last-minute accommodation for either of them. Of course, I’ll also be watching those races close to home such as Tour of the Med and Paris-Nice. Sadly, events beyond my control have interfered with me viewing the Tour of Haut Var (younger sister’s wedding) and Milan-San Remo (club sponsor’s daytime 60th birthday party). I’m also planning  to support our club’s junior and espoir teams when they start racing at the end of next month.

I shall of course be making my annual pilgrimage to Mont Ventoux, this time in early June. I plan to cycle around the Italian lakes in early April when attending the Grand Opening of my Swiss friend’s new bike shop. I foresee heavily discounted  bike bling heading my way.

They’ve got my number

This week I received a call from a gentleman purporting to be from the Kazakhstan Embassy in France. I say “purporting” because, at first, I didn’t know whether or not this was a genuine call. Many of my clubmates have wicked senses of humour and this could just be a wind up. On the other hand, it might just be genuine and, in such cases, I find it’s best to err on the side of caution.

He started talking about La Laurentine Kivilev and asked me if I was up to date with its state of affairs. I reassured him that not only was I the club secretary but I was also on the committee responsible for organising the Kivilev. He went on to say how delighted he was to hear that we were honouring Andrei in this way who is still (quite rightly) regarded as a big hero back in Kazakhstan.

He then threw me a bit of a curve ball by asking if we’d invited anyone from the Kazakh Cycling Federation to the event. I said that, as far as I was aware, we had not, but Andrei’s widow and son had been invited along with all the Kazakh cyclists living locally. He was pleased to hear this but still felt that our event warranted representation from the Federation. At which point I advised that we would be happy to issue an invite and that I would speak to M Le President that very afternoon.

Apparently, we did issue an open invite to the Kazakh Cycling Federation for the inaugural event back in 2006 but no one replied, let alone turned up. However, we’re happy to oblige and so yesterday evening I sent invitations to both the Federation and the Embassy. I’m not holding my breath.

Afterwards, I started wondering how the Embassy had gotten hold of my mobile phone number. Yes, it’s on the French version of the flyer, and on the club website, but so’s the mobile number of M Le President and, if that was the case, I’m guessing the Embassy would have followed protocol and rung him. So, there’s really only one other possibility. My favourite Kazakh must have given the embassy my number. Now, if you’re wondering why and how he’s got my mobile number I’m sorry, but I’m not going to enlighten you.  After all, a girl’s got to have a few secrets, hasn’t she?