Back in support

Early this year my beloved signed up via his club to take part in this year’s L’Etape du Tour scheduled to be held the weekend after the Tour de France 2020 start in Nice. While COVID has moved the Tour’s start forward two months, it’s had a similar effect on L’Etape and with under two months to go until the event, my beloved is ramping up his training and I’m back in my support role.

This year’s stage, its 30th running, covers 175km (110 miles) with an elevation gain of 3,600 m (12,000 ft) in the beautiful Niçois hinterland.

The course starts with a rising false flat  – don’t you just hate those? – most probably into a headwind, in the first 50 km (30 miles) which will help everyone warm up and spread out the peloton which will most probably number less than 5000 participants. It’s also likely that masks will have to be worn up and until the start.

The riders then tackle the first challenge of the day, the Col de la Colmiane. After going over the top, a 20 km ( 12 miles) descent will give the riders’ legs a break prior to climbing the major difficulty of the day, the Col de Turini (profile below).

Riders will however need to leave something in the tank to avoid mistakes on the extremely long descent that will take them back to Nice. It’ll also be chilly at the top so they’ll need to wear a light vest or jacket for the descent. The (in)famous Col d’Èze, set against the backdrop of the superb view from the Moyenne Corniche, is ideally positioned near the end of the course. This is where they should burn their final reserves before heading (gratefully) to the finish line where I shall be waiting for my beloved.

My beloved has been steadily building up his mileage and on Sunday decided to tackle the Col de Turini which he’s never ridden before. When you see the elevation and the photos you may understand why!

The scenery is breathtaking! My beloved, despite his pained expression, was grateful to reach the summit in relatively good shape and before the afternoon onset of rain.

He’s previously tackled both La Colmiane and Col d’Eze, he just has to string them all together now and hope that everything goes ahead as planned. If not, at least he’ll be in great shape!




40 years of Memorable Moments: my beloved takes up cycling

I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained how we both came to take up cycling. Here’s the short version of events.

We had moved permanently to the south of France in 2005 hoping for a slower pace of life as we wound down to retirement. My beloved had expressed a desire to improve his golf handicap and his tennis game. While I wanted to spend more time on my many interests.

In reality, it was difficult to find partners to play tennis with when my beloved had time available or book golf tee-off times that fitted in with his limited down time. Consequently, he bought himself a cheap racing bike from Decathlon and regularly rode around nearby Cap d’Antibes.

Our first Christmas in France I bought my beloved a subscription to Vélo magazine. When the first instalment arrived in the post it contained a flyer advertising participation in L’Etape du Tour (amateur participation in the Tour’s most difficult stage). Believing my beloved needed a challenge, I signed him up and promptly forgot about it.


A few months later my beloved received confirmation of his place in l’Etape, stage 15 of that year’s Tour de France, 187km (117 miles) from Gap to l’Alpe d’Huez. He was sceptical of his ability but I assured him that with the right planning and preparation, masterminded by yours truly, he’d have no trouble. It really was a case of « ignorance is bliss. »

I researched local cycle clubs and he joined one in a neighbouring town that was well-organised and had plenty of good local riders. I spent hours searching the internet for kit recommendations. At that time Assos was regarded as the gold standard – it probably still is. I put together a training plan, again something I’d found thanks to Mr Google, and bought him a more serious 9and more expensive) racing bike. He was all set.

My beloved mentioned to a long-standing business colleague what he was attempting and the latter suggested that he should undertake the ride for a dental charity. To support fund-raising efforts, the colleague would publish regular updates on my beloved’s progress in his leading UK dental magazine.

My beloved’s chief campaign manager (aka me) swung into action with the begging bowl. People were most generous – I’m a hard woman to say no to. We raised sponsorship of goods and services to the value of Euros 80,000 and I wrote a series of humorous, tongue-in-cheek articles for said magazine. Articles which later enabled me to acquire a UK press card.

My beloved’s training was going well, he was (finally) managing to keep up with some of the club’s riders. In early May I decided we should take a look at the route in some detail and cycle as much of it as conditions permitted. We based ourselves in Briançon at the foot of the Lauteret, the second and by far the easiest of the three ascents my beloved would be expected to conquer.

I drove the support car either driving behind my beloved or ahead, then waiting until he caught up. I was part-way up the Lauteret, still on a relatively gentle incline, when my husband swung over and got off the bike muttering that this was a foolish idea. I agreed with him and said something to the effect:

Look, no one would be in the least surprised if you didn’t take part given your age.

This immediately galvanised my beloved, who was 50 at the time, and he never once complained again!

Over that weekend he successfully ascended the Lauteret, l’Alpe d’Huez and a large part of l’Izoard which was still impassable in early May. This early reconnaissance gave him the confidence that he would be able to complete the challenge.

On the day of l’Etape my two sisters also turned out in support on what was an exceedingly warm day and, although my beloved had a wobble at the base of l’Alpe d’Huez, he successfully completed l’Etape within the time allowed. Others were not so fortunate. I still remember their sad faces pressed against the window of the dreaded broom wagon.

He went on to take part in l’Etape the following year, held in the Pyrenees, which turned out to be much more difficult than the one the previous year in the Alps. He’s not ridden l’Etape since but, given that this year’s is on home turf, he’s risen once more to the challenge and I’m back in the support car.

While my beloved appreciated my support, after completing l’Etape he suggested I too might like to take up riding. I told him that if I could manage at least 60km on my old bike (Euros 50 from Decathlon) I would order myself a road bike. The rest, as they say, is history!

Back on the treadmill

My coach is finally back out on his bike after a six week break with a multiple fracture of the right collarbone. Since he’s supposed to be “taking it easy”, I’m the ideal riding companion. I rode over to his office from whence we set off to undertake today’s training exercises.  Actually, we did tomorrow’s, as I did today’s yesterday. I saved my least favourite: pedalling in a high cadence. I find these exercises tiring and they expose my pedalling weaknesses. I have been working on this and my coach felt that I was making some progress. My action is getting more supple and I don’t bob about as much as before. Possibly because there’s less of me to bobble.

I did wonder whether my coach would put on any weight during his enforced rest. Well if he has, I haven’t spotted where he’s put it. On his slender frame there’s nowhere to hide. Sensibly, once the wind sprang up, he allowed me to ride in front, while he took shelter. Interestingly, he didn’t indulge in too much “look no hands” riding today. Obviously not keen to get another busted collarbone anytime soon.

We discussed my goals for next year. They’re going to be pretty much the same as this year with the addition of a couple of competitive time trials, one of which will be up Col de Vence.  I would love to do the Haute Route (Geneva to Nice) and am confident I would have no problem completing the arduous parcours. But everyone else would get fed up waiting for me and I’d probably be consigned to the broom wagon. I have no desire to take part in any event which has more than 500 participants, in truth, even then there’s about 495 too many. So that pretty much eliminates events such as L’Etape du Tour, La Marmote, Bosses du 13 and so on.

As part of my training package, I get to ride once a month with my coach but due to his injury we’re now playing catch up. So we’re riding again together next week. This will give me a welcome break from my beloved with whom I’m going to be spending the next three weeks. I know, it’s going to be tricky, but hopefully we’ll muddle through. He’s over in the UK racking up some serious brownie points taking the outlaw out for dinner. His brother’s keeping him company so the outlaw will be in heaven: both her boys together.

The great weather’s continuing. I sat outside, read L’Equipe and had a coffee after my 3 1/2 ride before heading back home. This evening was my last English class for a month. Two week break for Xmas, the week after’s the club AGM and then I’m visiting the folks. Wanting to maintain momentum, my two youngsters are finally getting good grades in their English tests at school, I’ve given them a project for the holidays. They’ve got to report on a football match and give me potted stats and bios on five of the players. Knowing these two they’ll plump for a match involving Barcelona. The month’s break will also allow me to restock my supply of cakes and cookies, the cupboard is bare.

Cycling’s saviours

As I was scanning the news this week, an item caught my eye. Ben Spies, Moto GP Rookie of 2010, racing with his own Elbowz Racing Elite Cycling Team, had finished a very respectable 12th, and first in his category (Cat 2), in the 90 mile Copperas Cove Classic road race. Heath Blackgrove, a former New Zealand Road Race Champion, and leader of the team, finished atop the podium. 

Spies, nicknamed “Elbowz” because he rides his motor bike with his elbows sticking out,  set the team up this year which, while aiding development of local talent, will also support Spies’s pet charities. The team, a mixture of emerging talent and seasoned riders, will compete largely on the US Criterium circuit, as well as the odd UCI race, select US NRC and regional races. It’s a 2-tiered squad with a roster of  eight full-time elite riders and six locally based ones.

Of course, Spies is not the only speedster who enjoys taking to two non-motorised wheels. Alan Prost competes (and places well) in a number of cyclosportives, including L’Etape du Tour. Last year I had the not inconsiderable pleasure of riding from London to Paris in the company of Nigel Mansel who, you’ll be reassured to learn, is nothing like he’s portrayed in the advertisement for a comparison website. Seven times Rally World Champ Seb Loeb, I understand, is frequently found astride a cross country bike. Moreover, a year or so ago, I recall former F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso expressed a desire to set up his own ProTour Cycling Team.

Maybe, this is what cycling needs. A real shot in the arm. The boys on two and four motorised wheels earn enough to set up and run their own cycling teams. Plus, they could presumably tap into their existing network of sponsors. This would allow them to compete against one another all season, on and off the track, whatever the discipline. Loeb’s team pitted against Alonso’s, Spies’s and Rossi’s. Now that would be worth seeing. Move over Pat and make room for Bernie!

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.

Again and again

Two days in the Hautes-Alpes and my allergies have flared up again with a vengeance. I’m not sure exactly what is causing me to wheeze like an asthmatic grandma but clearly there’s more of it in the hills than on the coast.

Despite the hacking cough, sore throat and watery, pink eyes, I had an enjoyable time tackling some of those legendary cols around Briançon, watching a couple of stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé and catching up with friends. I was staying in the same hotel as the team from Française des Jeux who must have been pleased at Christophe Le Mevel’s 10th place on GC and Sébastien Joly’s 3rd place on the final stage.

While this is not my first trip to Briançon, it was my first opportunity to tackle the Galibier and Izoard. Previous trips had been spent riding shotgun for my husband while he trained for L’Etape du Tour 2006 (Gap to L’Alpe d’Huez): successful completion of which netted Euros 80,000 in goods and cash for charity.

When we first moved to France in search of a different pace of life my beloved had hoped to improve his backhand slice and golf handicap. In reality, running a global business means being available 24/7. So when he did have the odd hour or two, he would hop on his bike and ride. Sensing he needed more of a challenge than a 35km round trip to Antibes and back, I applied, on his behalf, for a place at L’Etape du Tour. This is generally the most difficult stage from that year’s Tour de France, run on closed roads for 7,500 amateur cyclists. I confess at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of the challenge, and, more fortunately, neither did he.

Bearing in mind his travel and work commitments, I spent hours on the internet looking for the best kit, the most suitable bike and put together a training and nutrition plan, which I heavily policed. I masterminded his fund raising and wrote articles on his endeavours for the trade press. He joined a local bike club doing as many club rides and events as possible. His first trial run was scheduled for early May and we stayed in Briançon, in the same hotel we had booked for the L’Etape.

Another pit stop

Over the long week end Richard covered a significant part of the parcours, climbing both L’Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Lauteret. The Col d’Izoard was still impassable but he did cycle up it as far as possible. This gave him enormous confidence that with a further 10 weeks’ of training he would be able to complete the parcours within the allotted time.

I drove back from Briançon looking like a rabbit with myxomatosis and only after 48 hours at home my symptoms have subsided a little. Regrettably, I had to banish all thoughts of the Cimes du Mercantour and only now am I reflecting on a disappointing month of training. However, I do need to get rid of the congestion to get my training back on track and to that end I have been dosing myself on Vicks Vapour Rub, an old favourite, and some cough medicine from the Pharmacy which tastes no where near as good as Benylin. I could easily have become addicted to that stuff and used to swig it straight from the bottle, no spoon required.

My next goal is the club organised circuit race in early August. I took part last year and was lapped 3 times on the 9km circuit. The ladies, all three of us, raced with the Grand Sportifs (men over 55). Fellow club members advised me to stay in the bunch and in my big bracket. I would have been happy to comply but they raced away from me at the start, up the hill and that was the last I saw of them until they lapped me again and again and again.