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.

Down, but not out

Check out that gradient

After spending the best part of a week, three days of which in the Luberon, with three of my favourite boys, it’s good to be back home. The purpose of the trip was to ride up Mont Ventoux though my Swiss friends ascended all three ways, on successive days. Sadly, the day we chose to ride up via Bedoin, was both cold and humid.

My Swiss friends

At my request, we set off over very undulating countryside from Gordes, before stopping to fortify ourselves with a coffee close to Bedoin. I rode up the slope ahead of the boys who had decided to sample some baked goodies at the local bread shop. Maybe this is where I’m going wrong, I should eat more!

The lower slopes are just 2-4% and one can ride along at a reasonable pace. There weren’t too many other riders, just a handful of the obligatory Dutch and Belgians. As I rode through the woods, the incline turned up and the road became quite damp and slippery. It was at this point I wished I was wearing both leg and arm warmers. However, I persevered and was cheered on by clusters of onlookers from the side of the road enjoying  lunchtime picnics.

I found this section through the woods, which is an average 9% incline, to be particularly hard going. To distract myself, I read the names painted on the road from last year’s Tour and, probably, a more recent cyclosportif. As I neared the mid-way point, I was overtaken by a bunch of Germans who were sponsored by a bakery. As the last two cut in front of me, one of them slipped off the tarmac at the side of the road onto the verge, clipping my wheel as he fell. He didn’t knock me off my bike, but I was obliged to put a foot down on probably the steepest bit and thereafter struggled to get clipped back in.

Muttering evil thoughts about Germans with poor bike handling skills and large bottoms in white cycling shorts, I continued through an unchanging landscape. By now my favourite boys (including my beloved) had overtaken me and were probably nearing Chalet Reynaud. I overtook the bunch of Germans who seemed as one to be suffering. Clearly, too much time spent with their sponsor. 

The night before my beloved had gotten over-enthusiastic with the air- conditioning in the hotel bedroom. I had awoken that morning feeling chilled,  as if I had a head cold. Throughout the day this had necessitated frequent snot stops. My Swiss friends had demonstrated the correct procedure for on-bike blowing of the nose. But, sadly, this is yet another technical skill I have failed to grasp. As the road flattened slightly, I dismounted to blow my nose and my beloved appeared from above. His recent transatlantic travails meant he too was not feeling at his best. We took an executive decision to descend. Mont Ventoux will still be there for another day.

Nice views

My Swiss friends have documented their three ascents for me to put on the blog but our technology was incompatible so they’re going to send the videos and photos to me later this week.

Postscript: The photos and videos have arrived and while I have uploaded a few of the photos, sadly WordPress won’t accept the media used for the videos!

Feeding frenzy

So many compliments and three marriage proposals, it’s almost enough to turn a girl’s head.  Yesterday it felt as if we were feeding the five thousand, although it was only around 600 cyclists and volunteers. My (in)famous pain d’epice garnered much praise, including some from a maitre patissier. I am however still very reluctant to divulge my recipe.

As you know, my aim was not to run short of food and, me and my crack all-female team of volunteers, we just about squeaked it. We were down to our last couple of packets of biscuits when the feed station was closed at around noon. This was immediately followed by a generous apero for the presentation of the prizes for the Ronde where I happily reprised my favourite role as the world’s oldest podium girl. I got to kiss a lot of fit, young, Italians, not bad work for a Sunday morning.

Afterwards, I packed everything up, drove home and promptly fell asleep on the sofa. Feeling refreshed by my longish cap nap, I compiled the results of the Ronde and the pointage for onward transmission to our cycling federation. I then managed to catch the last few kilometers, of the last stage, of the Tour of Burgos. Both the stage and the overall was won by one of my favourite Spaniards, Samu Sanchez.

With my beloved having departed for the States yesterday morning, I have a few days of peace and quiet to restore order to the flat, catch up on my chores and sort out the guest room ready for the arrival of my Swiss cycling friends. They’re staying overnight and then we’re all travelling down to the Luberon for a concerted attacked on Mont Ventoux this week end.

More of the same

We’ve just gotten back from 4 days riding in the Vaucluse. We had thought about making another assault on Mont Ventoux, this time by way of Bedouin, but it was just too darn hot – late thirties. So we rose early, ate a quick breakfast, before setting off along the quiet country roads riding from one walled village to another before the mercury rose too far.

Gordes
Gordes

The terrain tends to be undulating with a number of false flats or steady climbs, puntuated by the odd short, steep climb.

The jungle drums must have been busy. In no time at all, the insect world had been informed of our arrival and were feasting on both of us. Yes, just as the last lot of horse fly bites were beginning to subside, I had a new batch. The Vauclusian ones were even bigger, but not as itchy.

Friends together again

The focus of my training this week has been on the forthcoming “Cimes du Mercantour” which is described as “trés exigent” ie very demanding. I have opted for the shorter course over three hills, the last kilometre of two of these has a 15% incline. That’s going to be leg sapping. I rode up one of these hills last year but failed to finish the course. I’m sorry to say that I gratefully climbed off my bike and into the broom wagon. And, having lent my front wheel to a rider from another club, who’d punctured twice already, there was thankfully no way I could resume.

I was not alone. One of my club mates had a very nasty spill which resulted in him spending the next couple of months on crutches. I was therefore providing him with a welcome distraction from the pain of his injuries.

I understand that I’ll be riding with a current Olympic champion, Julian Absalom: no slouch on a road bike. My friend, with whom I part-rode La Charly Bérard, is also taking part, so we may well find ourselves riding together again. My husband, who has an early afternoon appointment with a flight to the UK, will be leaving me to my own devices.

This afternoon, I watched the stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné liberé which ended at the summit of Mont Ventoux. This bought back memories of my own ride up there last year with the club where I fell short of the last few painful kilometres past Chalet Reynard.

I had a “jour sans”. Wholly my own fault as I had failed to properly refuel after the previous day’s strenuous ride. While I’m fond of saying you never get a bad meal in France, I have found this not to be the case when accompanied by my bike. Maybe restauranters assume cyclists are so hungry that they’ll eat anything. If so, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion right here and now.

I’m off to Briançon tomorrow to watch the stage from, all being well, somewhere up the Izoard. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with my friend Susi, whom I first met when we were both volunteers at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg, and whose acquaintance I renewed the following year in Stuttgart.

My friend Susi with her friend Alejandro
My friend Susi with her friend Alejandro

She has her own site (www.cyclinginside.com) with some really fantastic pictures and humorous insights into the races she attends while working as a photo journalist: a poorly paid and precarious profession for all but the lucky few. I am quite, quite sure that my friend will succeed in her new profession. After all, she is a former champion in three disciplines: speed skating, road cycling and triathlon. And no, I’m not challenging her to a bike race anytime soon!

Away days

I have just gotten back from the club’s annual cycling trip. It appears that we never venture too far from home. This time it was 140km up the coast to Alassio on the Ligurian Riviera.

This is my third club trip. My maiden one, a Tour of southern Corsica, was two years ago. It was the first time I had ever cycled on a road bike. I had ordered the bike back in February in the belief that it would arrive in six weeks, leaving me a further six weeks to be become fully acquainted with it, and all its functions, before the club’s cycling trip. In the end, it took three months for my Orbea Diva to be lovingly crafted by the Basques/imported from Taiwan and painted.

The bike arrived the day before we left for Corsica, too little time to become conversant with cleated pedals, so I rode in my training shoes. Wisely, my cycling was limited to downhill after lunch on the first two days, plus a trip along an undulating coastline, before lunch, on day three. Day four, I sat in the club car and enjoyed the scenery.

Day two was almost, but fortunately not quite, my last day on a bike. As I set off with my husband, ahead of the rest, to descend into Porto Vecchio, the bike “felt strange” and I was slightly nervous about the steep, switchback descent. Rightly so as it appeared the bike shop (not my current LBS) had not correctly tightened all of the screws and on taking an almost 360 degree turn, the wheels and I went one way (straight ahead) and the handlebars another.

Thank goodness I was wearing training shoes. I was quickly able to put my feet on the ground and prevent my imminent, and quite probably fatal, departure down a precipice. Needless to say, I was more than a bit shook up, so we sat on the parapet wall and waited for the others to catch us up.

On seeing us, the rest slowed and stopped. As they did so, M Le President’s front tyre blew out. He would probably have taken that corner at speed and so another serious accident had been averted. Our DS quickly tightened the offending screws on my bike and we continued on our way.

The following day, my husband and I set off up the coast well ahead of the others with me aiming to stay away as long as possible. Lunch was some 75km off and I had calculated that the boys would catch and pass me at around 45km. Thanks to a couple of punctures, they didn’t overtake me until around 70km. It was quite exhilarating being an escapee, though to be fair they don’t usually get a 30 minute head start in the pro-peloton.

The annual club trip is meticulously organised by a member of the committee and for a very modest price. In fact the only thing I buy on these trips is my daily copy of L’Equipe. Though, I didn’t even have to do that this time as the hotel supplied a copy of its Italian equivalent, La Gazzetta dello Sport.

The aim is generally to cycle around 450-500km over the four day trip, one of which will be the “Queen Stage”. Last year it was our ride up Mont Ventoux, this year it was a trip into the Italian hinterland and three cols. I bailed after the second one which had an average incline of 10%, though some bits bordered on 18%.

Although I had set off some 30 minutes ahead of the rest, they had all caught and passed me by the top of the first col. This meant I was rapidly distanced on the second one where I probably set some sort of record for the slowest ascent. At one point my average speed was 3.5km/hr and my cadence 31. Any slower and I would have fallen off. In fact I did walk for about 500m, at 4km/hr, as I was too tired to get my feet back into the pedals after I had gotten off to take a drink and a bite of my energy bar. Yes, when I’m tired, my limited bike handling skills totally desert me and I’ve found that it’s quicker, and safer, to dismount for refuelling.

One advantage, maybe the only one, of going at my average speed is that I have plenty of time to admire the scenery, the vistas and any buildings of architectural note. However, I leave it to those, who can both cycle and take photos at the same time, to record all this for posterity.

After a fulsome picnic lunch provided, as always, by the girls, I was advised that the return would be flattish. I was sceptical and rightly so, as the road turned upwards, I got in the “broom wagon”.

This was not my first trip to the Ligurian coast. Indeed, it was the setting of our first family holiday in Italy. I would have been eight when we stayed in a family-run hotel in Laigueglia. I still have plenty of memories of that trip: the hot jammy donuts on the beach, my first taste of pizza and pasta, pushing my kid sister out to sea in our red and white plastic kayak and the dodgy raffia sunhats we were forced to wear. Mine was pale green and my sister’s pink, white and brown. Incidentally, the hotel is still there but sadly the jammy donut seller is not.