No show

According to Sunday’s edition of Nice Matin, 142 hardy souls braved the hail and rain to complete “Les Bosses du Soleil”. I wasn’t one of them. My sister’s flight having been delayed the night before, I got to bed at midnight, well past my preferred deadline. When I awoke at 05:20am, my husband was sleeping soundly (ie dead to the world) and the sky looked grey and stormy. So, I switched off the alarm, rolled over and went back to sleep for a couple of hours. My husband slept until 10:30am. We just went for a long, gentle cycle later that day.

We rose early on Sunday as M Le President had issued a 3-line whip for attendance at the official club photograph held, fittingly, on the steps of the Town Hall with our sponsors (Skoda and Credit Agricole) in attendance.

This is always a bit of a nerve wracking time for me as I try to stand between two people who weigh more than me. Unfortunately, two of the chaps who do were “no shows” but the end result was quite pleasing. You can actually see me this year, standing next to my beloved.

The photo-shoot completed we set off towards the pointage at St Jeannet. The boys had obviously breakfasted on rocket fuel and I was rapidly distanced, not on the climb to Gattieres, but on the small rise out of the industrial estate. I just let them go.

At the pointage in St Jeannet they traditionally serve an anchovy spread on bread. I made the mistake of having some last year and, though it’s delicious, discovered it’s not ideal bike fuel. I love the descent from the old village: no braking required.

I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon, watching the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé Prologue and reading Vélo magazine’s excellent review of the Tour de France. Le Grand Depart is only 4 weeks away – I can hardly wait.

Friends along the way

I took up cycling really on a challenge from my husband who said I either had to start playing tennis again, take up golf or cycle. He kind of snorted out the third alternative and I’m quite sure he never expected me to take up cycling. It wasn’t even a case of reverse psychology.

I had just gotten back from working as a volunteer at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg. One of the few occasions when the guys, the gals and the youngsters all take part and one gets to see six races in a few days. I had originally intended just to go and watch but when I went on the site to buy tickets, I noted that they were looking for volunteers, so I volunteered.

I had said that I was happy to do anything and, given my relative availability the organisers asked me to turn up a week before the racing started. I found myself a small, family-run,  B&B just outside of Salzburg and set off into the unknown on what turned out to be the first of many solo, cycling-related, road trips.

One packed lunch or two?

I spent my time in Salzburg largely looking after the volunteers. Firstly, I sorted and handed out the uniforms. These had been made in China and the sizing was all over the place. For example, I wore an XL t-shirt, a small jacket and medium trousers. Caps and bum-bags were thankfully all one-size. Thereafter, my new-found friend Valeria and I were in charge of distributing the packed lunches each day to the 2,000 volunteers. Yes, an army of volunteers does march on its stomach.

Home sweet home

Fortunately, our billet was round the back of the podium, next to all the TV wagons and their chow truck. Needless to say we were sitting pretty with refreshments on tap all day long.

We ensured that the packed lunches were distributed well before any racing started and then settled down in our ringside seats to enjoy the action.

During the podium ceremonies we were entrusted with the handbag of the Lady Governor of the province of Salzburg. This was our equivalent of a backstage pass and, as a consequence, got to meet and have our photos taken with some of the winners.

On the last day, after presenting the medals in the men’s road race, the presentation party left the podium via the back stairs. We were standing at the foot of the stairs, undertaking our bag guarding duties, and we duly shook hands and were thanked in turn by the afore-mentioned Governor, the Mayor of Salzburg and the President of Austria.

The best thing about this event wasn’t meeting the riders, or even seeing all the cycling up close and personal, it’s all the people that you meet along the way that make it such fun. Like this gentleman in the photo, Super Mario Cipolini.

Super Mario

He’d retired before my interest in cycling was borne and was therefore fairly ambivalent until I met him – what a charmer!

I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the people I met at Salzburg at this year’s Le Grand Depart in Monaco, where I’ll be a volunteer and they’ll be spectators.