I know two consecutive posts, whatever is the world coming to?

group-festiv500aI set myself a goal over the Christmas period: the Festive 500. Rapha, of which I am a long time client, issues a challenge to ride 500+ miles/kilometres or whatever from 24-31 December, write about it and, maybe, just maybe, win one of their fabulous prizes. This challenge has gained in popularity since its early days and it’s now pretty competitive with riders recording fairly impressive totals during the period. I’m a competitive soul, but I’ve long reached the age where I know my limits.

I’ve never risen to this particular challenge, not because I can’t, but because I felt that I have somewhat of an unfair advantage. One of the many blessings of living in what I consider to be the finest bit of God’s green earth is its weather. While my compatriots are facing cold, frost and an almost continual deluge, I whimper if the daytime temperature drops below 10C.

With my beloved home for a full two weeks – I know, however will I manage? – I thought I should take to two wheels every day. I’ve easily ridden in excess of 500km in a week but that’s usually in the summer months when I stray into Nice’s hinterland, not during the winter months when I tend to find two hours on the bike more than enough.

I should also add that my training plan had 31/2hrs of cycling, 1 1/2hrs of jogging, a spot of circuit training and swimming scheduled for the same period. While I do typically adhere to my coach’s plans pretty much to the letter, this past week I haven’t and frankly feel all the better for it. But don’t tell him!

Given the great weather, the roads have been pretty full of cyclists both amateur and professional alike and I did spot one of two well-known faces on my travels. Here’s the run-down of my #Festive 500:-

(image courtesy of Cofidis)
Aleksejs Saramotins (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Monday: I enjoyed a damp, overcast, almost foggy ride around Cap d’Antibes with my beloved and my friend’s son who left me trailing as they headed off together in a conspiratorial fashion. Between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes, I took shelter from the wind on the wheel of Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis —> IAM Cycling) who was I think somewhat surprised at my tenacity but shook me off on the approach to the ramparts in the old town of Antibes. I then did a spot of zig zagging around the piece of prime real estate that is Cap d’Antibes crossing paths with Andrey Mizurov (Amore & Vita) and my beloved  – going in the opposite direction – who failed to catch me in the run-in for home and a well earned lunch. On my way back I spotted  Nico Roche (Ag2R —> Saxo-Tinkoff) and  Rudy Molard (Cofidis). Total ridden – 42km

Tuesday: On Xmas Day, anticipating that the traffic would be less heavy than normal, we headed to Nice, climbed up the Corniche via Coco Beach  – a steeper ascent than from the port – and rode down to and around Villefranche sur Mer and Cap Ferret. Yes, we were sticking with prime real-estate. In fact, it’s pretty hard to avoid it unless you head into the hills and beyond. It was overcast when we started our ride but fittingly the sun came out in Villefranche. We rode up and around the old town stopping beside the sea for a reassuringly pricey cup of coffee before heading back home. Total ridden – 58km

Wednesday: Once more it started somewhat damp and overcast and not even a sighting of the World Champion resplendent in his rainbow jersey brightened our day. Our paths crossed once more with Andrey Mizurov and finally, just as we headed back home from a circumnavigation of Cap d’Antibes, the sun came out to play. Too late, I was already feeling chilled. Total ridden – 39km

Blue skies and sunshine; just what i ordered!
Blue skies and sunshine; just what I ordered!

Thursday: A little damp again to start off with but becoming brighter as we rode. We headed over to Golfe Juan, stopping for an inexpensive coffee at a favourite haunt of many local riders. We again saw the Mizurovs, all three of them, who, if they were doing the same challenge as me, would have already reached the 500km marker.  Total ridden – 57km

Friday: The sun shone, the mercury rose along with our spirits as we headed over to Cannes and another of my favourite coffee and comfort stops. Again the coffee is pretty pricey but the toilets are sumptuous. Once more we spotted the Mizurovs en famille. Total ridden  – 71km.

Saturday: My beloved elected to ride with his buddies rather than have me flailing along once more in his wake. I really didn’t mind and set off along the coast riding to Theole sur Mer and back in the warm sunshine. I even managed a spot of window shopping as I rode along the Croisette! Total ridden – 82km.

(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)
(image courtesy of Philippe Gilbert BMC)

Sunday: Flying solo once again, I opted for one of my favourite routes to Valbonne and back. It’s an undulating ride and bits of it have featured in the parcours of recent Tours of the Med and Paris-Nice. I espied the World Champion enjoying a coffee in the sunshine with team mate Amael Moinard,  an unidentified Lampre rider and friends. In training for the forthcoming Tour Down Under, he rode for rather longer  – and further than me as I later discovered. Total ridden – 84km

Monday: My beloved feeling the effects of his two long rides at the week-end at a rather energetic pace was content with a recovery ride today, once more in brilliant sunshine. So while I had planned a slightly longer jaunt I was happy to agree to his wishes and we rode to Juan-les-Pins and back, stopping to enjoy a quick coffee in the warm sunshine. Total ridden – 48km

Those of you who are both eagle eyed and adept at mental arithmetic will note that I didn’t actually ride 500km but that wasn’t the true purpose of the exercise. 500km was merely a possible destination; it was the journey that counted. I’m not going to win any prizes, but the rides were reward enough.

New Year’s Day Postscript: The winner was Geoff P from Melbourne, Australia who logged 1802.9km or maybe miles. That’s totally amazing  and to put it into perspective that distance would have taken me around 80hrs of riding. Yes, that’s 10 hours per day for the duration of the challenge, Clearly, Geoff’s a quicker rider and Melbourne is pretty fflat so it might only have take me 72 hours.

But IMHO even more amazing in second place was Paddy D from Wiltshire, England who rode 1605.9km in the cold and rain. There should be some sort of handicapping depending on where you’re based. Over 12,000 people took part and there’s probably many more who, like me, didn’t record their rides on Strava but who also rode along.

Corners of my mind

I had a bit of a trip down memory lane this week. I have an embarrassingly, extensive collection of scarves and shawls which occupies three very large trunks. Each item is individually  stored in plastic bags while the more expensive ones are also wrapped in special tissue paper. Lavender sachets are scattered throughout the boxes.

The collection dates back to my early teens. My father bought me my first  scarf, which I still have and wear, to go in the neck of a dusky pink shirt-waister which I wore to the Davis Cup semi-final at Edgbaston: GB v W Germany. The Germans won (they went on to lose 5-0 to USA in the final). I had the pleasure of meeting them before the match as we had dined in the same hotel.

The next addition to my collection was the scarf I’ve been wearing this week. It was one my father bought my mother when they were in Paris, on their honeymoon. It’s a denim-coloured, silk square lightly patterned with grey and black flowers. It goes beautifully with jeans. Initially, I just used to “borrow” it and then I took it away to university with me and it’s never been back.

You might wonder why I have such a large and extensive collection. It started largely thanks to my parents who, after trips overseas, would reappear bearing gifts of jewel coloured scarves in an array of shapes and sizes, just the thing for livening up any outfit, which I have added to in the intervening years.

The collection really took off once I started working. Scarves are a great way of adding colour to a sober work suit. If you like, they’re ties for women. When I was working in investment banking, it was not uncommon for the Japanese banks to hand them out at signing ceremonies – Hermes of course.

Scarves are also the perfect present to pick up in an airport. Many of my Hermes scarves were bought by my beloved.  I generally then went and changed them for something more to my taste at my nearest Hermes shop in Cornhill. He was none the wiser.

Lest you think they are all expensive, the collection comprises scarves in every price bracket though from time to time, as they have lost their lustre, the less expensive ones have been sent to the nearest charity shop. I can still remember where I bought each one and even recall the price. At times this gift  comes in handy.

About 10 years’ ago, my collection took a direct hit in a flood (burst water tank) and while only a few were damaged (thanks to the plastic bags) together they represented a rather substantial investment. Fortunately, the insurance company didn’t so much as bat an eyelid, probably due to the amount of detail I supplied relating to their acquisition, and I spent a very pleasurable day seeking replacements.

Inevitably, I have a number of favourites. Many of these were gifts from my dear American friend who lives in Asolo and who has exquisite taste. A large number were purchased either in Liberty’s department store in London (still a fertile hunting ground) or at the late-lamented Takashimaya in New York. I confess I’ve often bought scarves, intending to give them as presents, which I have then hung onto because I liked them so much.

Since moving to France, and spending most of my days in lycra, I’ve rather gotten out of the habit of wearing scarves. Now, thanks to Rapha, I have a collection of small, silk squares that I wear rather jauntily round my neck when cycling and this has prompted me to investigate once more the contents of those large boxes.

One box contains my Hermes scarf collection plus the more expensive silk scarves, including the one which was designed, made and embroidered with bike parts by a very dear and gifted friend.  Another, even larger box, houses silk shawls, pashminas and cashmere scarves. The third, and final box, shelters the  remainder. In total, I have around 750 and their collective worth equates to a studio apartment in an unfashionable part of Nice.

The collection has only minimally increased in the six years I have lived in France. But scarves are like shoes, you can never grow out of them. They fit you whatever your dress size. If they go out of fashion, put them away and at some point, they’ll come back into style and  you can just go shopping in your closet.

Winter fare

It seems to me that every time I venture outdoors, I’m wearing more and more layers. We could well be in for a similarly cold, or even colder, winter to last year. That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. However, I’ll probably have to stop saying that the day-time temperature here rarely falls below 10 degrees in the winter.

While yesterday’s weather threatened rain, the sunshine’s back today although I doubt the temperature will exceed or even equal 10 degrees. The snow has been falling not just on the mountains, but also in the hills close to the coast giving the wind a really wintery chill. The ski resorts are opening this week end and further snow falls are forecast. Now, where did I put my cross-country ski gear?  

I have good circulation, or so I’m told. My hands and feet are usually as warm as toast, and I only ever wear gloves when cycling, more to protect my hands should I kiss the tarmac than to ward off the cold. But, while I waited for my cycling coach yesterday, my hands felt as chilled as the rest of me. I love my new 3/4 Rapha bib-shorts but, on my return from New York, may be faced with the prospect of struggling into my full-length Assos tights which are loose everywhere but the calves.

I rode with my beloved on Tuesday, before he left for Paris. En route we met up with a small group of clubmates. I grabbed their wheels and clung on for dear life. Try as they might to dislodge me, I was having none of it. Winning, finally, their respect as we cycled together in a fast pace line along the coast road. I have noticed that I can much more easily close gaps in the peloton thanks to the interval sprint training I’ve done over the past 9 months or so.

I was feeling similarly strong when I rode yesterday. I managed to dissuade my coach from cycling up into the hills, as I now find the descents far too cold. Instead we rode around the Cap and indulged in one of my favourite pastimes (on the bike) – sprint training. Unfortunately, he’s promised (or was that a threat?) next month’s training together will involve assessing the progress I’ve made in improving my pedalling technique. Thank goodness he’s given me a heads up. 

I’m trying to sort out all of my paperwork before I leave tomorrow for New York. As a consequence, next week, I’ll miss club night. While most members have renewed their licences there’s still a few delinquents and each week brings us more new members. I have prepared a detailed file with complete instructions on the entire process, but you know that old saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink….”  So whenever I go away, there’s always a few problems to sort out on my return. It also means I’ll miss my English class next week, but the poor souls have been given work to complete in my absence. Slacking is not permitted in my classes.

On my return, the club is hosting the Telethon Cyclosportif which annually raises funds for good causes. The Telethon’s the French equivalent of  the BBC’s “Children in Need”. I have promised a few of my cakes to supplement the shop bought ones. I’ll make these today and then pop them in the freezer for my return. It’s a great way of using up left-overs in the fridge and fruit bowl. I’m going to make a couple of banana cakes, a carrot cake, a trio of savoury cakes and, of course, some of my (in)famous pain d’epices. That should keep the troops happy.

Two-wheeled chic

After torrential rain at the beginning of the week, we’ve enjoyed perfect riding weather for the past few days and I have been eager to profit. On account of the trip to the web designers on Wednesday, I only had time for a quick run (that’s quick in terms of time, not my speed) along the sea front where I could survey the damage wrought by the storms.

Yesterday and today were entirely different matters. I had two wonderful long rides, again along the coast, where I enjoyed the sunshine, the fresh air and could witness autumn’s stamp on the foliage. This is one of my favourite times of year. Assuming the weather co-operates, I like to set off on my ride between 10:30 and 11:00am, to avoid both the early morning chill and traffic.  As far as possible I ride along the coast road, now bereft of tourist traffic but thronged with cyclists. The route is undulating and affords me plenty of opportunities for overtaking. I try not to keep count, but …..

I’ve been putting one of my recent purchases through it’s paces. Until recently, I was faithful to Assos. I loved the quality of their bib shorts, particularly the material but chafed (not literally) at the cut and design. This season, on account of acquiring them at mates rates, I have started wearing Santini bib shorts. The Lycra isn’t such good quality but the pad is more comfortable, as is the fit. However, Santini do not do women specific bib tights or 3/4 bib tights.  Enter Rapha who, after years of my entreaties, have started a women’s line. I was however bitterly disappointed as they only did shorts,  not bib shorts, for the summer range. Now, hurrah, they’ve introduced 3/4 bib shorts for the autumn/winter range.

To quote from their site www.rapah.cc: ” The Women’s ¾ Bib Shorts use a durable, fleece-backed fabric to ensure maximum comfort. The bibs are made from a luxury mesh material with a large cutaway section in the back to prevent overheating. There is also an elasticated pocket at the back of the bibs for small items.

The shorts use the same female-specific Cytech pad as the Women’s Shorts for total comfort. The shorts have a high-rise front chest panel for additional support that uses a softer fabric than the leg panels. The front zip has a soft Lycra guard for the lockdown puller.

The ¾ bibs have flatlock stitching throughout to prevent chafing and are finished with cream binding and soft gripper around the legs. Reflective tabs behind the knees provide added visibility.

A recent invention, ‘three quarters’ were the brainchild of Edwig Van Hooydonk and played a key role in the Belgian hardman’s successful bid to win the Tour of Flanders in 1989. Riding in cold, nasty conditions, he found that conventional shorts aggravated a recurring knee problem. His solution was a pair of cycling shorts that stretched below the knee and offered an elegant alternative to the wrapped bandages used at the time. The new look gained further international exposure when Van Hooydonk returned to Flanders to win again in 1991.”

So, how have they fared on my recent sorties? While I haven’t, like Mr Van Hooydonk, been riding in them over cobbles  I’ve found them to be an extremely comfortable fit. The sizing is similar to that of the Italian manufacturers, so I took a large rather than my usual medium.  They provide support in all the right places giving me a slim silhouette. The pad is well contoured and well-sized. The fleecy fabric has kept me as warm as toast. So warm I may not need to venture into full length tights, providing this winter is more clement than last. I know they’re not cheap but I would rather have one well-fitting, comfortable pair than lots of cheap pairs. Rapha tend to reduce the price of their stock at the end of each season, so I’ll hopefully pick up a pair for next season at a discount.

Of course, I didn’t restrict my spending spree to just the 3/4 bib shorts. I also treated myself to a couple of silk scarves which I like to wear around my neck for additional warmth and, of course, it goes without saying, a touch of style. If I can’t be fast, I can at least be chic! 


Cool kit

I have read various reports that Cervelo Test Team’s kit was the best-selling and most popular of the season. It’s hard for me to comment. Round here most wear their club kit, all the time. There’s very good reasons for this. Generally, one wears club kit when riding with one’s club. Also it’s the cheapest kit you can buy. It’s either sold at cost or at a subsidised price if, like us, you’re lucky to have plenty of sponsorship. For example, we pay only Euros 27,50 for a short sleeved cycling top with a full-length zip. Probably, the next most popular brand is Bwin, very reasonably priced kit made by Decathlon. Sightings of premium brands such as Assos or Rapha are rare.

While you do see people sporting pro kit it’s either because they are pros, they live next door to a pro (and it’s a freebie) or they won the kit in one of the many club tombolas. No local sportif or randonée would be complete without either a goody bag or tombola. As a consequence, hands down, the most oft-sighted kit here is that of Astana. I suspect that this is what may have led Lance to conclude he was now more popular with the French when he was staying in Beaulieu-sur-Mer earlier this year.

Aesthetically, the Cervelo kit benefits from its paucity of sponsors and simple colour palette. My Swiss friend is a big fan of their kit. He has both versions, here he is in the black one. He’s not a member of a cycling club, rather he rides with a group of like-minded friends who also acquired both versions of the Cervelo kit. Coincidentally, he lives in the town where Assos is based but possesses not a single item of their range. This is a man with a seriously extensive cycling wardrobe.  I should know, I have seen it.

Old friends

Catching up with old friends is one of the more enjoyable aspects of attending the Championships. I first met the gentleman below in  Stuttgart (2007). He’s first and foremost a passionate and knowledgable supporter of cycling and has been to more world championships (road, track, masters juniors) than I’ve had hot dinners.

Bert and Me
Bert and Me

 I understand he was a keen cyclist in his youth and spent time in London after the war learing his trade before returning to New Zealand and taking up a number of key roles in NZ cycling. Nowadays, he’s NZ’s UCI representative and still does some media liaison work.

Bert is a real charmer, everybody knows and loves him.  Many years ago he danced with a young Princess Elizabeth. Maybe, he reminded her of this in 2007 when he received his NZ Order of Merit for services to cycling. Among his many other awards, he also received a special merit one from the UCI in 2005. 

We generally keep in touch via email and telephone but when we meet up I love listening to his tales of former riders. He’s seen just about everyone and I particularly enjoy hearing about Coppi and Bartali. As you can see below, he has an extensive archive on NZ cycling and a large library of cycling books.

Bert and his archives
Bert and his archives

It’s a challenge to know what to get him as a gift but so far have struck lucky with one of Rapha’s beautiful annual photo albums and, the most recent, a charming tale about Louison Bobet written by his brother and translated into English. I trust he had an uneventful trip back to NZ and I’ll be thinking of him on October 25 as he’s currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Here’s hoping and praying I get to see him in Melbourne.

Postcards from Mendrisio I

I arrived in Lugano on Tuesday evening after a 5 hour drive from Nice. No sooner had I arrived than we were out on our bikes enjoying the warm summer evening. We cycled around the lake and then headed towards Mendrisio to check out the parcours. It’s a tough course, particularly one of the hills which, while not long, reaches gradients of 12% and which is bound to be leg sapping in the road race. It was dark by the time we got back home, my first nightime ride.

Wednesday morning, I was up bright and early ready to head down to the finish area to watch the U23 and Elite Women’s TTs. I found an excellent spot to watch the races, just in front of the podium, to the right of the large TV screen and about 50 metres from the finish line.

The two Tribunes opposite, particularly the VIP one, were largely empty. In fact, the volunteers outnumbered guests 3:1. Gradually, folk trickled in but you could still count them on the fingers of one hand. The winners of both races were predictable but I enjoy watching emerging talent in the U23s and seeing the ladies race since both feature so infrequently on the TV.

My Swiss friend was helping out on the Santini stand where I indulged my husband with a pair of their latest shorts and a transparent windproof top – much cheaper than Assos. Their ladies line however was not at all to my taste, so it’s not about to wean me off my Rapha and Assos habit.

After a long day standing in the sunshine, I was looking forward to dinner and an early night. One of the problems with watching races on one’s own is that, having secured a good spot, one has to stay put for the duration. The trick is to drink enough to stay hydrated but not so much that you need a comfort break.

I caught up with one of the girls with whom I worked as a volunteer last year in Varese. She was working in the VIP stand but  was kinda bored as there were hardly any VIPs to look after. Ah yes, one of the perils of being a volunteer is periods of terminal boredom.

Thursday morning, I took the train into Mendrisio with my friend’s mother, herself a keen cyclist and extremely spritely for her age. I stood in the same spot as the day before. The Men’s Elite TT comprised 3 laps of the circuit and, with Cancellara in the line-up, the stands soon filled up. The organizers had shipped in a load of schoolchildren who obligingly raised the roof everytime a cyclist passed adding an encouraging cacophony of sound.

Fabulous Fabian
Fabulous Fabian

What can I say that hasn’t already been said by those more eloquent and articulate than me about Fabian Cancellara’s performance? It was truly out of this world. I kept checking his bike on the big screen to spot the jet propulsion engine, but it was just his heart, lungs and legs. He was always going to win on home soil but it was the manner of his victory. He quickly overhauled Larsson, his minute man. Next up was  Bradley Wiggins, who was subsequently undone by a mechanical and a missing in action support vehicle. Cancellara then overtook Sebastien Rosseler who shook his head in disbelief, checking his speed on his monitor and ultimately finishing well down the pack.

The roar from the spectators was amazing as they watched Fabian on the big screen. It’s the first time I have ever seen someone celebrate a TT win 100 metres from the line, but he had time to spare. Larsson, who also overtook Wiggins, was 2nd and Tony Martin 3rd. Martin was later pictured slumped on the ground totally exhausted by his efforts. My man Vino finished a hugely creditable 8th, beating the gold and silver medallists from last year, in a very strong field.

The World Championships gives those emerging cycling nations an opportunity to compete with the best. There were two competitors from St Kitts & Nevis and, while they finished well down on the rest of the field, this will have been a huge learning experience for them. I feel I should also mention the performance of one Edvard Novak, from Romania, who beat his two-legged team mate. That’s right, Edvald is a below the knee amputee – chapeau!

Fashion victim

When my beloved first started riding, I diligently researched which would be the best kit for him. The answer is the one with the most lycra. One of my pet hates is seeing riders wearing bib shorts where the lycra has long since departed. I appreciate that it may have a comfortable chamois, or have sentimental memories, but guys when those bib shorts start to sag, please, please buy yourselves a new pair. Likewise, can I caution against the wearing of white bib shorts. Before you buy, check in the mirror, even the smallest butts look bigger in white plus they get grubby really quickly and see-through when wet – nough said.

You can tell that I’m a firm believer in “dressing the part”. Ok, so it’s not going to make me go faster but I need all the help I can get to look good on my bike. Stylish, comfortable kit helps [me].

My bib shorts of choice are Assos. Yes, I know they’re expensive but they are IMHO the most supportive, hard wearing and seemingly road rash resistant, come in my favourite colour (black) and in a variety of lengths and thicknesses. I will concede that the overall fit could be better. I do find that the ladies sizing tends to be narrow in the leg and large in the beam. The most comfortable fit and chamois, but not the best lycra, is to be found in my Rock & Racing bib shorts.

However, my passion for Assos doesn’t extend to their tops. No that I reserve for Rapha (www.rapha.cc). I just love their smart, retro styling, choice of colours and keen attention to detail. Unfortunately, they don’t do a range for us ladies so the jackets (yes, I love those too) and jerseys tend to be a little long in both the body and arms. Again, the best fitting jersey is my Rock & Racing one. Normally I wouldn’t wear a pro-team jersey (I am so not worthy) but few in France have heard of the Rock & Racing team.

I also love the cycling tops from Twin Six (www.twinsix.com), suppliers of the Fat Cyclist jerseys and incredibly generous guys. Their tops are very reasonably priced and fun. Not a bad fit, I wear a men’s medium as I find the ladies jerseys are too short in the body. The only downside is that the material does pull easily but frankly, at their prices, who cares.

On all club rides and any sporting events, I proudly wear our club colours, though only on my top half. Unfortunately, I find the pads in the bib shorts to be a painful anatomical fit which no amount of chamois cream can soothe.

Postscript: Hurrah, Rapha now have a ladies line and I love their 3/4 bib shorts for the cooler months. Sadly, they don’t yet do bib shorts for the rest of the year, just shorts!