Did you want to lick the spoon?

If I can’t cycle, I might as well cook. Frankly, the fridge and freezer were looking a little bare and, with my beloved at home for yet another week (4th consecutive!), I felt the need to prepare myself for the onslaught.

I was expecting guests this weekend: my Swiss friend and one of his cycling friends whom I met when I stayed in Lugano in September. So that would have been three boys to look after, instead of just the one. However, with rain and snow forecast, they wisely took a rain check. Leaving me with some additional time on my hands.

I’m now feeling tired but satisfied. Planning and preparation is the key to successful cooking. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? I like to read through my recipes until something catches my fancy, I usually have a pile of cookery books on the bedside table, along with a couple of cycling books. Maybe I’ll have a hunt in the store cupboard for inspiration. Having decided what I’m going to make, I’ll then list out everything I’ll need and check that I’ve got enough ingredients. If not, I may make a substitution. For example, the other day I didn’t have any all purpose flour, so I made muffins with chestnut flour and cinnamon – delicious. Failing which, it’ll be a quick trip to the shops.

I will then faithfully prepare, chop, weigh all the ingredients I need for the recipe. By and large I will follow the recipe, but it depends on the author of the cookery book. Some I follow slavishly, others I use as a guide. I’m always happy to experiment.

Of course, cookery’s a dangerous business. If you don’t concentrate, or don’t have the right tools, it’s easy to cut or burn yourself. Today, I was hit by a flying lid! I was prising off the lid of a tin of treacle (for the gingerbread cakes) when it shot off, just like a champagne cork, hitting me on the neck and covering my hair with treacle. I now have a very strange mark on my neck, my beloved says it looks like a love bite from the Incredible Hulk.

I find that once you get up a head of steam in the kitchen, it’s just as easy to bake three (or four or five) cakes, casseroles, pasta dishes etc as it is to do one. As you know, I like to be prepared for anything, including the odd unanticipated guest. This allows me to whip up something delicious at a moment’s notice. My motto is “never knowingly undercatered”. 

I’ve also prepared the chocolate frangipane for the galettes des rois that I’m making for Tuesday evening and made some Rocky Road for the kids. I have significantly pre-prepared tomorrow’s roast lunch which I can just pop in the oven when we get back from the pointage. Yes, my beloved is in for a treat: rare roast beef, potatoes dauphinoise, carrots and broccoli followed by one of his all-time favourites, bread & butter pudding. 

The bread & butter pudding requires a large number of egg yolks in order to have a tremblingly light egg custard pillowing the brioche bread. I’ve made one of my favourites with the left over egg whites: coconut financiers. These are very accommodating. I’ll freeze a batch and de-frost as required.

Come what may, I am going out on my bike tomorrow, even if I have to use the mountain bike. There’s only so much time I can take indoors on the home trainer, plus the freezer and fridge are now full, full, full.

Postscript: It stopped raining 3 hours ago and the roads are starting to dry out. It’s looking positive for cycling tomorrow morning.

Observations from Mendrisio

I think three world championships and one Tour de France allows me to label myself a serial volunteer. The attraction for me is not the proximity to yards of Lycra, more my fascination with the organization of major events. Naturally enough, I’m most interested in what works really well, what doesn’t and why. Here’s my take on a few things.

This year, in order to gain access to the start/finish area, spectators had to purchase a pin. This also entitled you to free travel on the local trains and buses. An inspired decision as it sped up the mass movement of spectators. Unfortunately, having encouraged the use of public transport, they then failed to lay on any additional trains and buses – much less good.

The catering facilities in the start/finish and exhibition area could only be described as woeful and an encouragement to bring your own. This may have been why many nationalities chose to hang out at bars in the town. The Dutch, for example, took over a bar on the Acqua Fresca climb while many of the French, Belgians and Italians set up camp around their mobile homes. Missed opportunities, I feel, for local businesses.

Shipping in a load of schoolchildren to fill the stands and provide a wall of sound was a great idea but why so few and why only on Thursday? It would have been much better to fill the tribunes, particularly on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday with OAPs and schoolchildren, rather than leave them empty. Indeed, Swiss TV (RSI) had real problems avoiding shooting the empty tribunes, where there were even seats going spare on Sunday. I was faced with a similar dilemma in Salzburg where I was on guard duty barring entry (to all bar VIPs) to the VIP Tribune for the Men’s TT. Realising this was not going to look good on the big screen, I surreptitiously shipped in a bus load of elderly tourists who were thrilled to have a grandstand seat. They obligingly made plenty of noise each time a competitor came past. 

The Swiss army had been heavily deployed but, since most were not local, had no real idea of where things were situated and many spoke only Swiss-German. It might have been an idea to provide them with detailed maps, a more thorough briefing and put the more linguistically gifted in key areas.

Many of the shop windows in Lugano and Mendrisio had a cycling theme, but not all. This was much better executed last year in Varese where the town totally embraced the championships. But then the Italians are more passionate than the Swiss about most things.

Everything was spread over too wide an area. Accreditation was based at a hotel in Mendrisio well away from the race circuit. The UCI were billeted in Lugano and used the University there for their Congress and other meetings. The start/finish and exhibition area, just outside of Mendrisio, was open air,  set up on agricultural land with no nearby facilities and a good 20 minute (my pace)  walk from the train station. There was no sign of the promised shuttle buses although I did see one or two VIPS clambering inelegantly in and out of army jeeps.

I learned that the Organising Committee had decided not to accept volunteers from outside the region on ecological grounds. Indeed, roles were allocated to volunteers based on where they lived: not on prior experience, linguistic ability or any other rational reason. Many of the volunteers (both Swiss and Italian) had worked at Varese 2008 and they concluded that last year’s Championships had been both better organised and more enjoyable.

Lake Tessin, Ticino
Lake Tessin, Ticino

The cinematography of the race was very disappointing. Far too many overhead shots from afar so no one, including the broadcasters, had any idea what was happening at key points in the race. RSI had plenty of time to prepare for this event. Could they not have learnt from the masters of this, the French? Ticino is a beautiful area with lakes, mountains and charming small towns and villages but all the viewers saw was the roads and industrial estate around Mendrisio. Do you not want to boost tourism in the area? Obviously, not.

Postcards from Mendrisio II

I rode into Mendrisio this morning ostensibly to meet my friend Ute for a coffee. She’s working as a part-time volunteer in the Press Centre. Of course, the real reason was to ride on the same course, at the same time  as the Elite and U23 riders who were just out spinning their legs and checking  the parcours. While the roads weren’t closed, there were police at every junction waving us through.

Who did I see? Who didn’t I see might be an easier question. Undoubtedly the highlight was riding behind Fabulous Fabian for the last 5km of the course. I saw Vino and the rest of the Kazakhs and, while I would have liked to say hello, I had no spare breath as I was scaling the bottom half of Monte Generoso; short and sharp.  I appeared to be the only non-elite, female rider on the course and therefore on the receiving end of plenty of support from the roadside spectators. This is always tremendously encouraging.

On the way back to Lugano, I was passed by the Spanish squad who had evidently decided that it was way too dangerous to lodge, as previously planned, in Como. As we were going downhill I was able to smile at Messrs Valverde and Sanchez, congratulate them on their performances in the Vuelta and wish them well for Sunday.

The course reminds me of an Ardennes Classic. So we should be looking to riders who have previously performed well in those and who showed form in the Vuelta: Cunego, Valverde, Sanchez, Evans, Vinokourov. Nor would I discount Cancellara, after last year’s performance on a more difficult course in Beijing. Of course, given the strength and depth of the Spanish and Italian squads, it’s hard to bet against them.