I might know your secret

Russian pasta dish

I rode on my own yesterday and it was such an enjoyable ride it forcibly reminded me why I love being out on my bike: freedom. I rode one of my regular winter week end routes and was loathe to get back, but I knew my beloved would be expecting me to feed him. Lunch over, I dealt with a few club related matters and in no time at all it was time to leave for dinner.

We had been invited by friends to celebrate Russian Xmas with them and I was much looking forward to it largely because my friend’s such a fantastic cook. I had checked on the internet what Russians typically eat at Xmas and was somewhat dismayed at the unappetising list of courses. Nonetheless, I had every confidence that my friend would serve up a veritable feast.

We left home just after 17:30 giving us enough time to call into my favourite florist for flowers for our hostess. Shock, horror, the florist was exceptionally closed. Undeterred, we headed into Nice to collect the chocolates for the boys (remember, it’s Xmas) and drove along the same road to find a florist. My beloved was champing at the bit to put our destination address into the GPS. I told him not to touch it as the address was already in the GPS’s history. We eventually found a florist, but it’s offerings were very drab, so I had to wait while they made up something more to my taste.

I got back into the car and, as we were now running late, decided to ring my hostess. My hand closed on my mobile in my bag and I fished out my powder compact! I’d left my mobile at home and so had my beloved. No fear, we weren’t too far away. My beloved triumphantly announced that he’d put the address into the GPS and we drove off. Fifteen minutes later we were back where we started: the florist’s. He’d put in the wrong address and erased the correct one. Lucky I have an elephantine memory!

Once reprogrammed, we arrived ten minutes later, but over 45 minutes late. I was not a happy bunny. Luckily our hosts were unconcerned, it hadn’t interfered with their preparations for the feast and were amused by our tales of woe. We exchanged greetings and presents, and sat down to enjoy a glass of my favourite beverage, without which no celebration is complete.

I could tell we were not going to be disappointed, the table was literally groaning under the weight of the selection of appetizers or “zakushi”. It was a mixture of typical Russian dishes and some from Kazakhstan. The stories concerning each dish’s provenance merely added to my enjoyment. We ate Russian salad, beetroot and cabbage salad, herring, blinis with fish caviar, horse sausage and horse milk cheese, salad in aspic, cabbage and potato pirozhki. I tucked in with evident enjoyment and we toasted the feast with vodka.

Next up was borsch, more of a beef and vegetable broth than a purely beetroot soup. Again, it was delicious. The main course was Russian pasta “Pelmeni” served with sour cream and tomato sauce. More gelatinous than Italian pasta and therefore more akin to Chinese dim sum. The question now weighing heavily on everyone’s mind was whether we still had enough  room for “zaedkami” – dessert. After a brief respite, we were tempted by a dazzling array of goodies including Kazakh chocolate which I admit can more than hold its own with anything produced in Belgium or Switzerland. Finally, we all conceded defeat. It had been a truly delicious, and interesting, feast and, after the best part of five hours at the table, it was time to go home.

We woke late this morning and rode over to the pointage at the offices of Nice Matin. We’d missed the club and decided to go for a ride on our own. We were soon joined by a handful of riders from another club who normally leave me standing – but not today. I was in epic form and it got me thinking. Was this the result of my overindulgence the night before? Had I stumbled onto the secret of the strength of riders from Eastern Europe? Was this what set them apart from their Continental counterparts?

Desperately seeking sponsors

There was an article in yesterday’s Nice Matin talking about our junior cycling team. Sadly, they are no longer our team. Thanks to our youth team sponsor going out of business, the mayor not ponying up the promised funds and government funding available only for full-time, not part-time, trainers, we had to pull the plug on the project at the end of the season. It’s a real shame, but the good news is that all bar one have migrated to a club in Nice where we’ll be able to keep a close eye on their development. It’s much easier for a large town like Nice, and a club of which the Mayor of Nice is a member, to attract the necessary funding. The most promising junior was snapped up by VC La Pomme in Marseille and we would hope that he’ll eventually be promoted to their continental squad and beyond.

The local Town Hall, while supportive of our ambitions, was cash constrained plus we were in competition with the other local sports teams who have had greater success at a national level. While not all of the club’s members were supportive of our ambitions, many were in favour and share our disappointment at this turn of events. Most of our senior racers have been equally disappointed and have elected to change clubs. They’re a fairly mobile bunch and tend to gravitate to the clubs with the deepest pockets or those willing to cover most of their expenses. It’s not cheap racing every week end, particularly as there’s fewer and fewer races in Alpes Maritimes.

Our senior racers won plenty of podiums and hence garnered the club, and its sponsors, lots of publicity in the local newspapers. Our current arrangements with Skoda are up for renewal and I suspect that they’re not going to be happy at this recent turn of events. M le President is confident that they’ll sign on the dotted line for another 3 years of support, I’m not sure I share his optimism, particularly given the current economic state of affairs. Skoda are not going to pay to have a bunch of old duffers cycling up and down the coast in their colours. Of course, if Skoda don’t renew, there’ll still be plenty of us cycling around in their colours for quite some time to come as we won’t order new shirts until we find a replacement sponsor.

Our ace in the pack is M Le President. As a local business would you want to get on the wrong side of the head honcho down at the fire station? No, I don’t think so.  Unfortunately, neither of the local Skoda concessions are on his turf. As an alternative strategy, we could try and leverage commercial contacts via our membership. However, there are a couple of stumbling blocks. Generally the larger local companies have their own sports associations, including cycling teams. Most of our members work either for the local authorities or said larger companies. Typically, most clubs attract sponsorship from small local companies whose owners are club members. We’re no exception to the rule and have been faithfully sponsored by a number of our members who, as far as I can see, derive little or no economic benefit from the sponsorship, although it is tax deductible.

So, if you don’t have enough money to set up your own Pro-Tour team and fancy seeing your company’s logo paraded around the Cote d’Azur on a daily basis by a bunch of very fit geriatrics, you know who to contact.

Weight of expectation

There’s been a collective weeping, wailing and beating of breasts in France today after their football team lost 2-0 to Mexico. Most have them on the plane home already. I’ve no idea what L’Equipe made of it as there were no copies available today in the local newsagents. Maybe, they decided not to publish in protest. The Nice Matin called it “Honteux” (disgraceful) and most players, with the exceptions of Lloris and Malouda, who both scored 5, were awarded less than 4. I think the manager was a definite “nul” points.

Still, that’s not been the only surprise. I watched a bit of the Spain v Switzerland game. The Spanish were passing the ball around beautifully while the Swiss employed that time honoured tactic of the underdog: 11 men behind the ball. It worked. Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper, fell asleep from boredom  and let in a Swiss goal.

Germany, who started brightly by scoring 4 goals in their first match, lost Klose and went down 1-0 this afternoon to the Serbs.

England, meanwhile,  laboured against Algeria, a team you could buy with the sale proceeds of Emile Heskey and still have change over. We’ve maintained our unbeaten run, but I’m pretty sure this was not what Fabio Capello ordered as his birthday treat. At times there was more action from the bench than on the pitch as he agonised, grimaced and gesticulated over England’s performance.

While David James looked commanding in yellow, back in his rightful place between the goalposts, the same could not be said of many of his teammates. Rooney was rubbish, Lampard lacklustre and Gerrard, by his own admission, lacked courage. It’s still all to play for next Wednesday afternoon against Serbia, a team that has already beaten Algeria.

The pundits have worked out that if England draw 2-2 against Serbia, and USA draw 0-0 with Algeria, the winner will be decided by drawing lots. Given our luck with games of chance and penalties, we’ll be keeping France company on the plane back.

So, what would you like?

An impressive turn out by my club mates for this morning’s pointage at Nice Matin, despite near freezing conditions, which should cement our position in the Souvenir Cattaneo. I think we were all fed up of being cooped indoors and this bodes well for the defence of our regional title (10 consecutive) next week end. Unsurprisingly, we rode at a rather brisker pace than normal in order to keep warm and I tucked in just behind the leaders to avoid being tailed off the end. 

Once back home,I followed my usual winter post-ride Sunday routine, opting to wear the fleecy track suit to cook lunch and thereafter lounge around in. My beloved followed suit donning one of his (many) tracksuits. In honour of the rare (in both senses of the word) roast beef lunch, my beloved cracked open one of our more expensive bottles of red wine.

Afterwards, as we sat relaxing on the sofa reading the Sunday newspapers (him) and doing Sudoku (me), my beloved pondered on what he might buy me for my birthday. His pontificating fell way short of redeeming the horror of the desk diary Xmas present. To assist, I decided to use the example of a

A couple of cuties

friend of mine whose husband had treated her to a day as a zoo keeper for her birthday and followed this up with adoption of a couple of aardvarks for her Xmas present. 

My friend was over the moon with both her presents and, as a consequence, her husband is to be congratulated. Obviously, he had thought long and hard on what might be the perfect present for her.  He understands that it’s not about how much it costs, it’s about how much pleasure you’re going to give to the recipient.

To be fair during the many years we’ve been married, my beloved has bought me some wonderful gifts but I can count these occasions on the fingers of one hand. Sadly for him, he has a very hard act to follow – my Father – who is a consummate present giver of the very highest order. He also takes time to find wonderfully appropriate cards. You see my beloved has totally failed to appreciate that to be a great present giver takes both time and effort.

I’ve taken pity on him and suggested he pay for a cycling coach for me for the next six months. He’s agreed, so I’m going to get it sorted first thing on Monday before he changes his mind.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

According to yesterday’s copy of L’Equipe, and possibly much to no one’s surprise, Wiggo is joining Sky. Jonathan Vaughters has evidently realised the futility in trying to hang on to a rider who wants to be somewhere else. No doubt Garmin will be amply compensated for losing a rider, still under contract, who finished 4th in this year’s Tour. Also, assuming that the 5 delinquent Pro-Tour teams managed to get all their paperwork in order and submitted to the UCI by the deadline, there’s probably going to be no more “big surprises” in 2009.

Regrettably, the weather today was both overcast and humid. However, nothing could dampen the boys’ (and girls’) spirits as we set off this morning for the pointage. I managed to cling onto the back of the peloton as we rode up the route de Grasse. The club hosting the pointage had thoughtfully signposted the way thus preventing most, but not all, from getting lost. A number of clubs arrived at the same time swamping the refreshments table and picking it cleaner than a horde of locusts.

On the way back from this morning’s ride, I picked up the newspapers (L’Equipe, Nice Matin and The Sunday Times) to enjoy over a coffee. There was an interview in The Sunday Times Sports section with David Brailsford which I started to read, anticipating gleaning some interesting titbits about Team Sky or indeed confirmation that Bradley Wiggins was Sky-bound. The interview almost immediately took a strange turn, backtracking to 2004 when David Millar was apprehended by the French police, in the company of Brailsford. At once, I realised it was a Paul Kimmage interview where no doubt there was going to be some pointed homily about doping in the peloton and it was highly improbable that I would learn anything of either use or interest about Sky, or indeed anything related to cycling. In the hope, rather than expectation, that I might be proved wrong. I read the entire interview. I wasn’t.

Instead of going to watch OGCN play Toulouse this evening, we’ve elected to stay at home and finish up a few necessary household chores (no, not the ironing) ahead of our trip to Paris next week. I’ve bought another bookcase which needed assembling. This will house my growing collection of cycling books in the entrance hall thereby alleviating the overcrowding in the main bookcase just outside of the kitchen which is home to my substantial collection of cookery books.

Most women will say that they can never have enough shoes. While I don’t necessarily disagree, given the choice between books and shoes, I will almost always opt for the former, unless you’re offering me a pair of Christian Laboutin’s. If you don’t believe me you are most welcome to come and check my respective collections of both.

My beloved also needed to tend to his collection of citrus trees which are exhibiting a distinct lack of TLC as evidenced by the absence of both fruit and leaves. I am many things, but green fingered I am not. He leaves them in my care during the week at his (and their) peril.

Postscript: 10/12/09 Wiggo’s transfer to Sky confirmed at a press conference this morning over 2 week’s after the L’Equipe story.

Ageing gracefully

It’s rare for a day to pass without mention in the local newspaper, the Nice Matin, of someone celebrating in excess of their centenary years. Yes, longevity appears to be the norm, but why? Is it the celebrated Mediterranean diet, the weather, attitude, genes or a combination of all of the above?

Surrounded as I am by lots of very spritely neighbours in their eighties and older, I have tried to determine the key to their “joie de vivre”. Diet is very definitely important. The French obsess about their food and wine, but always in moderation. They eat plenty of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables, three meals a day and don’t snack between meals. They take regular exercise and have enviably active social lives; always out and about with family and friends. They’re always happy to stop and pass the time of day on any and every subject; they’re all very well read. They never, ever complain about aches and pains and very rarely discuss their health, or lack of it. They all look much younger than their years. Obviously, it’s their attitude and state of mind which is important.

Most mornings I see my neighbours (female) going out shopping in their heels, immaculately made up, beautifully coiffured and undeniably chic. They are an inspiration to me and I can only hope (and pray) that I look half as good when I attain their ages. In case you’re interested, I have yet some way to go.

Soup, glorious soup

This week it’s looking increasingly as if I will have to resort to the home trainer to meet my training requirements. The weather has truly turned. Last week I was wearing tongs, linen shorts and t-shirt, this week I’m in trousers, trainers and a warm fleecy top. With the onset of torrential rain, the temperature has fallen ten degrees. The Col de la Bonette has been closed to all traffic,  thanks to the 20cms of snow covering the summit! The outlook is for more of the same.

Deluge on the Cote d'Azur

Deluge on the Cote d’Azur

Now, I don’t mind riding in the rain once the first downpour has removed the greasy diesel slicks from the road. I rode in the rain along the coast last winter and spring. Plus, I rode in the Pyrenees and Austrian Alps in the pouring rain. It’s only water after. The trick is to wrap up warmly and not stay out too long. Once your hands and feet are cold and sodden, it’s time to get back home for a hot shower and a mug of soup.

I love soup while my husband regards it as merely a starter, a promise of better things to come. I can and do happily dine off a pot of soup all week. At the moment I’m brewing up separate pots of bortsch and spicy butternut squash. Just think, only last week I was still enjoying watermelon gazpacho and chilled cucumber and mint.


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.