The season starts now…………….

In my mind the cycling season starts with Paris-Nice. Now, I know the professional peloton has already been racing all over the globe: Australia, Argentina, Colombia, Oman, UAE, Spain, France  and Italy. I’ve even watched the last stage of the Tour de la Provence, a sprint won by John Degenkolb into Aix-en-Provence. But, for me, Paris-Nice remains the curtain-raiser!

Amael Moinrad wins: that’ll do nicely!

I’ve watched this race every year since relocating to France, largely of course because it finishes in my back garden. Some years I’ve watched the last three or even four stages but this year, like many, it’ll be the last two stages in and around Nice. I shall be praying for fine weather so that it is a “Race to the Sun” and hoping that I might see one of our local riders win a stage. I was fortunate to see Amael Moinard win the last stage in 2010 and Rudy Molard win the sixth stage to Vence last year.

Rudy triumphs in Vence

Like many French races, it has a rich history. It was created in 1933 by Parisian Albert Lejeune, in order to promote his Paris-based newspaper Le Petit Journal and Nice-based paper Le Petit Nice. Hence, the race linked the French capital with the fashionable Mediterranean coast. It was held in March, at the end of winter, one of the earliest French bike races on the calendar, immediately following the end of the track season.

The first Paris–Nice comprised six stages and was promoted as Les Six Jours de la Route. The first stage from Paris to Dijon was a whopping 312 km, and it remains the longest stage in the history of Paris–Nice. Because most mountain roads were still impassable, because of its early calendar date, the race’s route avoided the Alps and primarily followed the lower Rhône valley, its only significant climbs were on the last day on the outskirts of Nice.

The race was a success and other newspapers partnered with Lejeune’s titles to co-sponsor the race. In 1940, the race was cancelled for the duration of WWII. In 1946 Ce Soir again organised the first post-war race, but although the event was a commercial success, the newspaper dropped its sponsorship and the race was discontinued between 1947 and 1950.

In 1951 the race was revived as Paris-Côte d’Azur by Jean Medecin, the allegedly shady mayor of Nice, who wanted to promote tourism to his fast-growing city and the entire Côte d’Azur. The race’s name Paris–Nice was restored in 1954 and it grew in status in the 1950s from an early-season preparation and training race to an event in its own right, spawning such illustrious winners as Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil. In 1957 journalist Jean Leulliot, race director since 1951, bought the event with his company Monde Six and became Paris–Nice’s new organiser.

In 1959 the race was run as Paris–Nice–Rome, with a separate classification from Paris to Nice with a second one from Nice to Rome and a third title for the overall. The excessive length of the race – 1,955 kilometres (1,215 miles) in 11 days – was criticised, and the formula has not been repeated. In 1966 Paris–Nice was the scene of a rivalry between French cycling icons Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, whose legendary battles divided French cycling fans for over a decade.

Eze Village

In 1969, the final stage was moved from the seaside promenade in Nice to the top of Col d’Eze, overlooking the city. Eddy Merckx won the final individual time-trial and his first of three consecutive Paris–Nice races. In 1972 eternal second Poulidor ended the Cannibal’s streak by winning the final time-trial and narrowly finishing ahead of Merckx. The following year, he repeated this feat at the grand old age of 37.

In the 1980s Ireland’s polyvalent Sean Kelly won the race seven consecutive times; the winning record to date. The Race to the Sun produced several well-known winners in the 1990s, notably Spanish Grand Tour specialist Miguel Indurain. French all-rounder Laurent Jalabert won the race three consecutive times, the final time in 1997, and remains the race’s last French winner. In 2000, former Tour winner Laurent Fignon took over the organisation of the race from the Leulliot family but he sold out to ASO in 2002.

Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev
Roche, Iglinskiy and Mizurov in front of poster of Andrei Kivilev

The 2003 race was marred by the death of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev after a crash on the second stage. Kivilev did not wear a helmet and died that night as a result of brain trauma. The following day the peloton, led by Kivilev’s Cofidis team, neutralised the third stage. Racing resumed the next day and, on the fifth stage to Mont Faron, Kivilev’s friend and compatriot Alexander Vinokourov soloed across the line holding a picture of his late friend. My former cycling club holds a sportive each year in June in Kivilev’s memory.

In 2005 Paris–Nice was included in the inaugural UCI Pro Tour, but was at the centre of a dispute between UCI and ASO just before its 2008 edition. (This was where I made my one-woman stand against the exclusion of Astana from the 2008 Tour de France.) The issue was eventually resolved and since 2011 Paris–Nice has served as the European WorldTour opener.

My beloved enjoying Paris-Nice 2012 with friends

The 2012 edition was famously won by Bradley Wiggins on his way to becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France thereby giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Subsequently, it’s been won by key support riders for Tour contenders (incl: Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Marc Soler). I wonder who’ll win this year’s edition?

 

Postcard from Nice

Yeah, I know it’s just up the road but it occurred to me that I don’t bang the drum enough about my home region and, this year, the final two stages of Paris-NeigeNice were both around Nice and the Niçois hinterland, and it WAS a race to the sun.

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Every time I attend an ASO organised event I am reminded of what a superb job they and their staff do to make the race run seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly. However, if like me, you’ve been involved in arranging or managing any mass participation events, you’ll appreciate how much work goes into it. In addition, ASO are constantly innovating. This year there was a sizeable village with plenty of stands and activities for all the family.

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And that’s not all. Last year ASO organised Challenge #ExploreNice, a multi-stage sportive showcasing the area. This year the one-day Paris-Nice challenge saw amateur riders, including my beloved, tackle Sunday’s stage on Saturday. I dropped him off nice and early in Nice on Saturday morning, well before the sign on for that day’s stage, leaving me to hang around to collect him later. He calculated he would be back at 13:30, and he was.

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Meanwhile, I watched the start of the queen stage of Paris-Nice where anyone who harboured GC ambitions would have to make their move on a parcours which proved probably more difficult that many imagined: a summit finish, seven climbs and barely any flat, apart from the roll-out on the Promenade des Anglais. The stage didn’t disappoint with the leading protagonists enjoying a ding-dong battle royal up La Madone d’Utelle where, cruelly, the steepest section is in the last 500 metres. It’s a deceptively long and difficult climb and I’m speaking from experience.

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I had whipped up my race-winning brownies for a couple of my friends (and their teammates) who were taking part. I felt they deserved a treat given the cold and snowy conditions they’d had to ride through on Wednesday. You might wonder why I call them race winning brownies. Suffice to say those who have eaten them in the past have won the stage or gone on to win the overall race. This time the teammates of my friends won the overall and finished third on the podium. Ironically, I was rooting for runner-up Alberto Contador. I really must make him some of my brownies.

At most ASO events, while the race unfolds, someone will engage with the spectators and ask them questions about the race. If you answer the question correctly, you get a prize, typically a bidon. I love Cycling Quizzes. After an embarrassingly large haul of bidons, my beloved pulled me away before the quizmaster started saying: “Does anyone other than Sheree (yes, he knows me by name) know which of today’s participants has won the most stages?” Easy, peasy that’s Tom Boonen with six stages. Am I the only person who knows the correct answer? It would appear so…………….

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Sunday morning we were down bright and early to enjoy breakfast in the Cours Saleya in the Old Town, always worth a visit. There’s a flower, fruit and vegetable market every morning save Monday (antiques) and the better stands with local producers are to be found at the far end of the market.

Paris-Nice2016Kivi

Suitably fuelled, we headed back to the start area to catch up with friends and acquaintances all enjoying the warm spring sunshine and the prospect of another day’s great racing. Before the riders signed on, ASO and Astana held a touching presentation in memory of Andrei Kivilev who, while riding for Cofidis, crashed and died 13 years ago last Friday. It’s a nice touch and helps young Leonard Kivilev, who was born after his father’s death, and his mother keep his flame burning bright in their and our collective memories.

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While my beloved took photos of the sign-on, I looked around for riders to have a quick chat to for VeloVoices or team press officers to set up future longer interviews with certain riders.

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Once the boys had ridden off, I got to see my little cupcake race around the Promenade des Anglais in the Louis Nucera. He’s a little lacking in form having spent three months off the bike due to growing pains in his back. It was a tough event to debut his season thanks to the presence of a few ex-pros, now riding for amateur teams.

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Once the race was over, my beloved required feeding (again) so we headed to one of our favourites, the roof terrace at Le Meridien which affords a great view of the finish line, though we were back down in time to see the television coverage and the unfolding of an absorbing final stage. Despite his efforts, Alberto Contador couldn’t put enough time into Geraint Thomas to take the title for a third time and was noticeably disappointed on the podium.

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All in all it was a magnificent weekend and there’s more to come on 14-18 September 2016 when Nice/Monaco hosts the European Road Championships which will be organised by ASO.

 

 

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Drying out

We had our first downpour in ages yesterday afternoon and evening, but already it’s starting to dry out. By mid-day, I’ll be off out on the bike for a ride. The good weather is set to return for the finale of this week’s Paris-Nice. Last year, sadly, it was a race to the rain and we all felt miserable huddled in the VIP caravan watching the race unfold on the screen. Not as miserable as the riders, many of whom crashed on the rain slicked roads. Crashes which compromised their seasons. A significant number were also taken out with pulmonary infections robbing them of crucial racing and training kilometers.

In this year’s race, it started to rain towards the back end of Sunday’s short individual time trial. The conditions no doubt affected those riders and their results, but they didn’t suffer for too long. Yesterday, they were treated to a couple of deluges and they came home mud spattered, cold and wet. The washing machines in the team buses would have been working overtime yesterday evening. Today’s forecast shows low temperatures but probably no rain which will be a welcome relief after yesterday. The weather should improve as they travel further south.

When my beloved returns from Canada (four days of peace and quiet), we’re going to drive over to Sisteron on Friday, ride some of the parcours and watch the race finish. We’ve been to Sisteron a number of times and it’s lovely cycling around there. We’ll do the same on Saturday morning before bidding the peloton farewell. We’ll then drive back to watch the finish. I haven’t yet decided whether to watch on the Col de Vence or head to the finish on the Promenade, or attempt both. My beloved will miss Sunday’s time-trial up Col d’Eze as he’s heading to Bordeaux for a meeting the following morning. I’ve already warned him he’ll have to make alternative arrangements to get to the airport. Tom III and I will be otherwise engaged.

More cycling related good news: the GP Miguel Indurian, the Vuelta al  Pais Vasco and Clasica San Sebastian have all been saved, for now. I am of course delighted as my two holidays this year have been planned around these very races when I shall again be riding some of the parcours and watching the racing. Our first trip, over Easter, will give us an opportunity to explore the Basque country between Bilbao and San Sebastian. One of the advantages of watching the Tour of the Basque country is that it takes place in quite a small geographic area. There’s no need for the teams, or us, to change hotels and the finish is within easy reach of the start. This will enable us to see the sign-on, drive to the finish and the cycle some of the route before watching the riders arrive across the finish line.

We’ll need to do plenty of cycling to burn off the calories we’ll be consuming in the Basque restaurants. We won’t this time be going on a trawl of Michelin starred establishments, instead we’ll be seeking out “neighbourhood” restaurants. I shall still need to take care however so as not to set my regime back ahead of my forthcoming season of sportifs.

Race Programme

Subject to CAS’s decision in November, Alberto Contador has revealed his race programme for 2012 where, unsurprisingly, he’ll be targeting the Tour de France and, in his build up,  racing Torreno-Adriatico, rather than Paris-Nice. Funnily enough, no one has rung to enquire about my race programme for 2012. I know, it’s quite unbelievable, and you have to suspect that maybe L’Equipe has lost my mobile number – very careless of them.

If they had, I would have advised that it’s still very early days and no firm commitments have been made. Although, it is likely that I will be targeting similar events next year. That is similar to this year, rather than similar to Alberto. I’d love to take part in a pro-event but honestly there’s not a lot of fun turning up at the finish line to discover it, and everything else, has already been packed up and shipped off to the next destination and that none of the spectators have hung around. I’d also probably feel obligated to buy the guys driving the broom wagon dinner as they’ve been dawdling in my slipstream for the past number of hours.

Tomorrow I’ll be riding the Velocio, in which I usually place 2nd in my age category. My position will only change if one of the following events occurs:

  • The other lady in my age group doesn’t turn up
  • She turns up, but has a major mechanical or gets accidentally pushed off her bike  which prevents her from finishing
  • Someone, who’s not previously ridden the event and who’s in my age group, decides to take part and rides more quickly than me
  • Someone who was in the lower age group last year has now passed into my age category
  • Jeannie Longo turns up and rides
  • Some quite dreadful accident befalls all the other female riders, except me, preventing them from finishing

As you can see there’s a lot of “ifs” and “buts” and the outcome really isn’t as clear cut as it would appear. The key question however is will I ride faster than last time? Watch this space.

Bountiful

My beloved departed yesterday afternoon which is probably just as well given how busy the last couple of days have been. The weather’s not been ideal: grey, chilly and drizzly. Not great for Carnival but the lower temperatures and more snow have assured great skiing in the mountains close to Nice.

Monday I collected Tom III. Who would have thought that a few extra horses under the bonnet (or, in the case of a Smart, in the boot) would have made such a difference? Why didn’t I get a Brabus version before? I am so loving driving the new car and putting it through its paces. It’s got all the boys toys, some of which I’ll never use, but they’ll serve to amuse my beloved.

Monday, is also administration day and, as it was also a month end, cue invoices, expenses and salaries. Yesterday, after my weigh-in, I continued with the administration, this time for the club, specifically ensuring that everything is in good order for the Treasurer’s return.

Only the truly faithful made it down to the club yesterday evening in the pouring rain. These are, however, the ones who always volunteer and turn out for the club whatever and whenever. As none of them are getting any younger, we do need to start looking for replacements in the ranks of the more recently retired and about to retire.

One of the professional riders, who lives locally, popped in with his other half, to hand over his spare and old kit for our youngsters. In recent years he’s raced for Cofidis, Agritubel and now RadioShack who have changed their kit for this season – thanks. We’re looking forward to seeing him, and some of our other local riders, in next week’s Paris-Nice which I am hoping will be a race to the sun. The long-range forecasts look promising.

This donation is really generous of him and all this kit will be a great boon to the parents. While the youngsters do receive free kit from the club’s sponsors, it’s really for race days. Riding every day soon takes a toll on the kit which, when you add it all up, particularly with the stuff required for winter riding, is not cheap, even at cost.

Article in March's Velo Magazine

Talking about our youngsters, as you can see from above, there was a small piece on one of them in this month’s Velo magazine. Sadly, he wasn’t wearing club kit in the photo, and they got the club’s name wrong (I’ve  since dropped them a line with the corrections). Let’s hope this is just the first of many mentions for our riders.

I had completely forgotten that Nice were playing their Cup game away at division 2 Reims yesterday evening. They managed to win 3-2 in extra time and are now into the semi-finals. The draw for the next round will take place this week end. A trip to Paris for the final in May would be very welcome so I hope we don’t get Lille or PSG in the next round.. I also see there was some consolation for Arsenal yesterday, Chelsea beat Manchester United: a silver lining to Sunday’s cloud.

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.

Wrong place, wrong time

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues apace. The last two mornings we’ve been woken by the roar of saws. I think it’s fair to say that with the exception of our olive trees, which were pruned last year, everything on the Domaine is fair game. No bush or tree has emerged unscathed. Now, I have no doubt this was long overdue. Witness what happened to one of my neighbours just before Xmas: Buche de Noel indeed!

Park in the wrong spot at your peril

The temperature has dipped by at least 8 degrees and so I’m back to being muffled like Michelin man and am restricting my rides to the coast road. The outlook for the next ten days is similar but I can live with cold but dry and sunny. This weather is, of course, good news for skiers.

Most evenings I’ve been catching up on the Santos Tour Down Under. While, I, and probably everyone else, had been expecting a Cav v Greipel sprint-fest, nothing could have been further from reality. The stages have by and large been owned by the young guns, and all bar one of these has been Australian. Good news then for the crowds of home supporters.

ASO has announced the teams for this year’s Paris-Nice and Tour de France. As anticipated, they have handed wild cards to the home teams.  I would anticipate that the organisers of the Giro and Vuelta will follow suit and also award wild cards to the home sides. Carlos Sastre has expressed his disappointment at not riding the Tour and is to focus on the Giro. Given that they may not receive an invite to the Vuelta,  one has to assume that too will be the focus of Denis Menchov. Tirreno-Adriatico will not feature in either of their training plans as Geox hasn’t received one of the two wild cards on offer.

Members of the UCI have ill-advisedly been opining on the case of Contador, a man who is still innocent until his home Federation comes to a decision. This is unlikely to be anytime before 15 February. Should the outcome be appealed, Contador will not be able to defend his Tour title (assuming he still holds it).

Will Contador’s absence make the outcome of this year’s Tour any less likely? Probably not as riders, in my opinion, tend to ride far too defensively and are unwilling to gamble a good placing on GC. However, the lack of individual time-trial kilometres should not unduly disadvantage the Schlecks and Basso by comparison with Evans and Vinokourov. Oh yes, I may not expect my favourite Kazakh to top the podium but I do anticipate he’ll be on one of the steps. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out early on and say the podium will be 1. Basso 2. Evans 3.Vinokourov.  What no Schlecks you cry. Indeed not, the other three are all made of far sterner stuff and, baring injury, will prevail.

Post Tour postscript: Better not give up the day job. So much for my Tour prognostications.

How was yours?

Christmas Eve

After our usual festive feast of oysters and lobster, swilled down with champagne, my beloved fell asleep on the sofa – early night.

Christmas Day

I woke my beloved at 08:30am with a cup of coffee and his presents. I prepared breakfast and we took an executive decision. While it was going to rain all day, evidently it wasn’t raining too hard. We decided to go for a longish ride. We passed a handful of other die-hards but otherwise it was just us and the joggers enjoying the drizzle.  

On the way back, my beloved, powering up the hill from Juan-les-Pins, snapped his chain and mangled his derailleur. He limped into Antibes where I  left him at a cafe and, churning away in my 53 x 13, raced back home  so that I could go back and pick him up in the car.

By the time we both reached home, it was well past lunch time, so we opted for a delicious pulled pork sandwich with salad, electing to save the fois gras for Boxing Day.  We should have spent the afternoon tackling the office, instead we decided to laze on the sofa and read.

Boxing Day

No pointage today and only the committed, hard-core turned out for the club ride. The boys, having been cooped up all week, were feeling frisky and set an impressive pace along the coast road. I dropped off the back and rode along at mine. I’m so enjoying riding the new BMC with its 53 x 39 gears, and new set up, rather than the compact 50 x 34. Of course, I won’t be saying that once I’m back up in the hills. But for now, along the coast, it’s great.

I got back home before my beloved and prepared lunch:  hot fois gras with grilled figs on brioche. Served, once again with my favourite beverage. We skipped dessert as the fois gras is so rich. I’ve made a terrine with the rest of the duck lobe to enjoy on toast later in the week.

It started to pour down with rain again so we decided to stay indoors. I slipped into my jimjams, slumped onto the sofa and enjoyed the Sunday newspapers. I was, of course, awaiting the start of the big match: my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. With the ever growing French connection (Houllier and Pires) the boys are earning themselves plenty of column inches in L’Equipe: not all of it favourable.

It was an entertaining match but my beloved, youthful team were humbled by Harry’s more seasoned players. It’s disappointing to lose to ten men but the boys never gave up trying. You cannot ask for more. This season will be one of transition and while I don’t expect a sparkling finish to the season nor do I expect us to be battling relegation. We have some promising youngsters on whom the future of the club depends. If that means we languish in the 2nd half of the table this year and maybe next, so be it.

27 December

Back to work today. Yes, while my beloved enjoyed the sunny, wintry weather on two wheels, I had a meeting to finalise the rules for next year’s Kivilev which is going to be both a brevet and a cyclosportive. The afternoon was spent tidying up the office which is now ready to receive its new, big screen. 

28 December

We set off early for our trip. The hotel is only a 40 minute car ride away. We parked the car and disappeared on our bikes into the glorious countryside with nary another car in sight. We’ve ridden around here a number of times as it forms part of the parcours of both the L’Antiboise and La Lazarides. Also, we know the area well as it frequently features in the routes for Paris-Nice, Tour de Haut Var and Tour de Mediterranee.

We rode along the main road to Draguignan and I had no problems powering up the undulating course. It had evidently been a little frosty first thing but the warm sunshine had dried the roads. As the sun started to dip in the sky, it began to feel chilly again and we rode back to the hotel to check in before heading off to the Spa to burn a few more calories. We worked out in the well equipped gym then retreated to the pool, specifically the outdoor, heated, hydrotherapy, pool. I stayed in there until my skin started to shrivel. Time to return to our villa. Yes, on checking in, we had been upgraded to a villa with two bathrooms. I had bagged the larger one.

Before dinner, I curled up on the sofa to watch some cyclo-cross on the television. The riders were competing on a snow lined course in Belgium. Lars Boom lead from the gun with a posse of Belgians in hot pursuit. This was my first cyclo-cross race and I now understand why it’s such a popular spectator sport. The riders slither and stumble around the course, barely averting disaster at every turn. It lasts a thrill packed 40 minutes and there’s plenty of food and warming beverages to hand. I look forward to watching more of this on the new TV in the office.

29 December

Sadly, the rain had returned in earnest. It was too slippy to ride. Having enjoyed a splendid breakfast, we once again visited the Spa before deciding to return home. It had been a pleasurable break and one  which we vowed to repeat in 2011.

30 December

It was still overcast, but dry. We ventured out along the coast greeting our team mates who were returning from their early morning ride. After ours, we went and ordered the main ingredients for tomorrow’s dishes for our Anglo-Franco-Russian New Year Feast. While our skiing trip might have been thwarted at the last minute, we had decided we would at least spend New Year’s Eve together. With my friends kindly providing the starters, the main side dish and dessert, there wasn’t too much for me to do. It would really be more of an assembly job.

New Year’s Eve

The menu was as follows:-

  • Canapes and nibbles including blinis with smoked salmon and caviar served with champagne, beer or coke
  • Russian herring salad with vodka
  • Oven baked whole salmon stuffed with fennel, herbs and confit lemon served with new potatoes and “Olivier” salad washed down with a local white wine
  • Cheese, including my beloved’s favourite brie with truffles
  • Tiramisu or apple crumble, or both
  • Coffee, tea and petit fours

We sat down for dinner at 21hr and rose, sated but not stuffed, and, more importantly, still sober at 01:30hr. A great time had been enjoyed by all. We vowed that next, rather, this year we would make our skiing arrangements way earlier, so as to avoid disappointment.

New Year’s Day and a Happy New Year

It dawned bright and sunny before clouding over. Keen to profit from the sunshine, we rode along the coast to blow away the cobwebs. The afternoon was spent catching up on those all too inevitable chores.

2 January

A ride with our club mates, lunch, the Sunday newspapers and a football match. The perfect Sunday, well, at least  in my book.  Having been beaten at home by Spurs and thrashed 4-0 away from home by Manchester City, I was hoping for at least a draw, to steady the ship. According to today’s L’Equipe, Houllier has 15 days to turn things around.

An old work colleague and fervent Chelsea fan sent me a message before the game. I had imagined he was skiing in the Pyrenees, but no, he was tucked up in bed with the flu and looking forward to watching the game. And what a game it was.

The boys overcame the disappointment of a dodgy penalty decision and, through persistent play, also earned a penalty in the first half to leave things level at half-time. We scored early in the second half and then defended like mad, garnering yellow cards like confetti. It wasn’t to be, as Drogba, who’d been missing in action for most of the game, popped up 7 minutes from full-time to level the score. The boys were tiring but tried hard to resist the irresistible tide. John  Terry put the home side ahead and within a minute we’d levelled the tie again. Tellingly, Sky’s MOM was the Villa goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.

Villa finished the tie having broken their duck. It was the first game this season where, after having gone behind in the match, the boys had taken any points. The Villa owner, Randy Lerner, who was at the match, must surely have seen the promise in the mix of youth and experience. The boys had given their all and done him proud. You simple cannot ask or expect for more.

3 January

It’s not a bank holiday in France, so we were both back at work. I caught up on those financial year end chores, making sure I had invoiced all of our clients, while my beloved prepared for his forthcoming US trip. This didn’t prevent us from riding over the lunch period. Indeed, the clouds parted and a thin sun shone weakly along the coast. The on-shore cross wind kept the rain at bay and we weren’t the only ones out enjoying ourselves on two wheels.

4 January

I love spending time with my beloved, indeed there’s no one else I more enjoy spending time with, except perhaps myself. However, after more than two weeks together, I was equally glad to see him leave this morning. I can now revel in the undisturbed peace and quiet. My nights, and sleep, will not be disturbed by excessive decibel levels of snoring. Nor will I be required to produce snacks and meals at regular intervals. The flat will stay in a state of cleanliness and tidiness. He’ll be gone for 10 days – sheer, unadulterated bliss. He’s back on the morning of my birthday and, bearing in mind the Xmas present fiasco, have insisted that he doesn’t buy me any birthday presents, at all, not one.

My beloved was on the very early flight to Frankfurt.  At that hour in the morning, despite the 21 sets of traffic lights, a mere ten minute trip in the car. I was soon back home, tucked back up in bed and in the land of nod. The phone rang, I had totally forgotten that the wine fridge was being repaired this morning. It had thrown an irretrievable wobbly just before Xmas which had necessitated a whole new control panel. It was a quick but expensive job. Cue quick wash and change.

Next up one of my elderly neighbours rang the doorbell. She used to park (I use that word guardedly) in the space next but one to us but had only been renting the space as hers was in the second underground parking garage. This is understandably not popular with a lot of the very elderly residents as it’s two sets of stairs back up to the ground floor. She had previously enquired if she could rent my spare parking space as she’d been told by one of the other residents that it was available. It wasn’t. I allow a neighbour in the next block to use it in exchange for bottles of excellent champagne. I didn’t mention the last bit to her.

She had returned this morning because one of the ladies who cleans in the block had told her the person who uses the parking spaces, travels a lot. I confirmed that my husband did indeed travel frequently, and was rarely here, but that I still didn’t have a spare car parking space. I use one and the other is used by a friend who is now on vacation for a week or so in Morzine.  I wouldn’t wish to share a car parking space with her as I’m quite sure it would only be a matter of time before she rammed her car into mine. Her inability to park is legendary in the Domaine. 

I had no sooner sat back down again when the postman rang to “sell” me a calendar. No point in telling him that I’d got plenty, I just handed over my money, chose one featuring pictures of cute puppies and wished him all the best for 2011. He reciprocated.

Resolving not to answer any more calls, I returned to my paperwork. Rain is forecast for today. It’s overcast, but dry. I’m going out for a couple of hours, as per the programme, before our regular get together down at the cycling club this evening – more paperwork.

In short, my Festive period has been very enjoyable. Just what was ordered, apart from some of the football results. My beloved has had a much needed short break. A few chores have been cleared off the “to do” list, I’m up to date with my paperwork and looking forward to 2011. Only two weeks before the start of the Tour Down Under, bring it on.

And the winning tickets are………………

Ten days later than previously promised, Christian Prudhomme has opined. The 22 teams for the 2010 Tour de France are as expected: the sixteen teams covered by the September 2008 agreement, the four new Pro-Tour Teams (Katusha, Sky, Garmin, Radioshack), and the two most promising Continental Pro-Tour teams (Cervelo and BMC). So there’s no room at the Tour for Saur-Sojasun, Vacansoleil or Skil Shimano although they are on the substitutes bench.

One can only imagine the long faces over at Vacansoleil HQ. The Tour starts in their home town, they’re guaranteed to animate any race, they sponsored Paris-Nice and they bought the brothers Feillu. They’ve also been shut out of the Giro and a number of other ASO races.

Pat McQuaid had been openly critical of  the length of time ASO was taking to make a decision. However, three months before the start of the Tour is not unreasonable, nor is taking two months to assess the strengths of the contenders’ teams. It’s not been an easy decision. Teams are bound to be disappointed and sponsors may well question the benefits of sponsorship if they don’t get the global exposure afforded by the Tour.

However, those teams who were disappointed this year need to be patient. There is no agreement in place as to who is guaranteed a spot next year. There are a number of sponsors withdrawing from the sport (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne) and some considering withdrawing (Bbox Bouygues Telecom). Teams, like last year, may be relegated from or promoted to the Pro-Tour ranks. And, assuredly,  there will be new sponsors. This changing landscape is what makes the sport so interesting for the fans but a wee bit nerve-racking for the riders.

Postscript: Prudhomme today defended his decision in L’Equipe. However, he might as well have said that it was a no-brainer.  The two Continental Pro Tour teams selected have a former Tour Winner (Sastre) and a former green jersey wearer (Hushovd) and the current World Champion, who’s twice been second (Evans). These outweigh any French riders on Dutch teams or, indeed, French riders on French teams.

We must stop meeting like this

I woke to brilliant sunshine and the promise of a great day’s riding. I dressed warmly, suspecting it might be chilly on Col de Vence. Yes, I decided today would be my first ascent of the year of the Col. The last two Saturday’s I have felt a bit fatigued, and today was no exception. As I wound my way up L’Ara to Vence I was feeling decidedly wobbly. It was also much colder, thanks to the Mistral-like wind, than I’d thought. Time for a change of plan.

Rather than turning straight up towards the Col, I turned right and headed for St Jeannet. On the way there I passed none other than Mr Boonen and assorted cycling buddies, chatting away and merrily proceeding in the opposite direction. Again, he wasn’t wearing a helmet or sunglasses. Tom, you’re setting a really bad example for impressionable youngsters. There’s no way I’m going to be seen riding with someone without a helmet – sorry!

Having foregone the climb up Col de Vence, I set off up towards the village of St Jeannet. I know, it’s only a couple of kms rather than 10km but that’s all I was capable of today. In addition, this is one of my favourite downhills. It’s steep, relatively straight and, traffic permitting, I can get down it without having to apply the brakes. I descended via La Gaude, passing several club mates huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and headed for my usual pit-stop for the newspapers and a coffee.

A piece in L’Equipe caught my eye. Vino has the same dental problems as Cavendish and won’t be riding in today’s La Strade Bianchi. I must send him my email on how to treat this. No need to compromise his season, or lose a tooth if he and his dentist follow my advice.

I felt considerably better after lunch, making me wonder if I’ve been a little too severe in the calorie cutting. The flat is now spotless and I’m enjoying the last few hours of peace and quiet before the return of my beloved who’ll be working from the home office all next week. This means, of course, that I’ll be in for a busy week.

In addition, I’ve guests arriving Thursday evening for a few days. It’s my friend Susi, she of the world-class performances in three disciplines: speed skating, cycling and triathlon. She’s bringing her partner and they’ll be taking photographs at the last two stages of Paris-Nice.

Tomorrow’s pointage is on the seafront at Cagnes sur Mer so I’ll be able to have a bit of a lie in. I’m then going to ride over to Monaco to watch our “racers” and juniors compete in a crit in Monaco. Let’s hope the weather stays fine. In the afternoon, I’ll be slumped in front of the tv, in the fleecy track suit, watching the first stage of Paris-Nice where I’m pretty sure Bert will want to take top honours overall to erase the memory of last year’s unfortunate “bonk”.