Thanks for the memories

In a way it’s inevitable that we’ve made comparisons between last Christmas in Australia and this one in Austria. Largely, I should add, prompted by Facebook constantly throwing up photographic memories of last year’s trip. I had said I wouldn’t do a “where were we this time last year?” and, to be fair, I’ve not overindulged. However, it’s hard to ignore the contrasts.

The biggest difference is, of course, the weather: summer v winter. This time last year we were sightseeing in Adelaide and the surrounding area, ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under, luxuriating in the heat (35-40C) and petting cuddly baby animals. This year we’ve been out either walking or skiing and enjoying the sunshine, though not the heat (-3 – +3C), visiting areas we love and know well. We’ve thought about “how long is it since we were last here?” This, of course, includes working out what’s changed since that last time.

In both instances, we stayed in self-catering accommodation. We like spacious flats where we can stretch out, which have separate bathrooms and many of the conveniences we’d find at home. I enjoy cooking with local ingredients and confess to missing the oysters and lobster tails of last year or, more specifically, the markets where we bought our produce. Aside from the local well-stocked supermarket, this year I’ve contented myself with Innsbruck’s food hall and one of my favourite shops in Munich, Dallmayr’s.

Markthalle, Innsbruck
Dallmayr’s, Munich

Of course, I don’t cook all the time. In Australia, it’s never hard to find a restaurant serving something I can eat. The only one’s which are “no go’s” are fine dining establishments with 6-8 course set menus. Austria’s rather different. There’s plenty on offer for vegetarians, so long as you eat cheese and dairy. I am restricted to pasta with tomato sauce, pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables, large mixed salads and the occasional fish dish. However, the better the restaurant, the more likely it is to have or be prepared to adapt something on its menu for me. Meanwhile, it’s a refined form of torture watching everyone, including my beloved, tuck into some of my formerly favourite dishes.

It’s not all holiday though as we still have to keep the business ticking over wherever we are but my beloved tries to stay off the grid between Christmas and New Year. Interestingly, 2018 has gotten off to a great start business wise, and long may it continue.

One of the oldest bits of Innsbruck

 

Marien Platz, Munich

This year, we’ve spent just over a month in the same place although we’ve had trips to the surrounding towns of Munich, Mittenwald and Innsbruck. We’ve not explored as much as we did last year. Partly, this is because we’ve had many winter and summer holidays in this area and we know what we like to see and do. It’s less virgin territory and more of a trip down memory lane.

My beloved outside one of the many painted buildings in Mittenwald

Both holidays were pretty active in terms of both participating in and watching sport, though Australia definitely wins hand down. Largely because of the more favourable weather conditions but also because last year my beloved wasn’t still recovering from a broken leg.

I’m delighted to report that he’s been sensible – and about time too. He’s been much more cautious than before, when the idea of taking it easy for the first few days while he recovered his snow legs was total anathema. We’ve also walked a lot more than before, partly because of the weather and partly because my beloved’s leg gets tired after three day’s of consecutive skiing. He’s also stuck to the classic rather than skating technique on account of his hips.

Home sweet home

So, what are we going to do next year? While I would happily jump on a plane to Australia, I recognise that the business won’t allow us to have an extended stay and while a winter holiday was fun, I’ve become more of a fan of the sun. This was the last building block of 2018 and we’ve decided to spend it at home with occasional forays into Italy for some la dolce vita.  

 

 

 

Postcard from Adelaide: Part II

Our second week in Adelaide kicked off with live cycling. Sunday’s criteria in Adelaide’s East End nicely capped off my birthday weekend. There’s nothing better than watching a spot of fast and furious sprinting while sitting in the shade, sipping a cooling drink! Cylance’s sprinter, Kirsten Wild, won the ladies’ event, the second stage of the Santos Women’s Tour. Home fires were stoked when Caleb Ewan, the national criterium champion, pipped everyone else to take back-to-back victories in the People’s Choice Classic. Much was made of his victory over Sagan, but the latter was leading out Sam Bennett who, even though he got blocked, finished runner up. Sagan was third and afterwards you could see him proffering words of wisdom to Sammy B who’ll undoubtedly benefit from Sagan’s mentorship.
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Monday we were back at the Adelaide Oval where I had fried in the sun last year. It was a make or break match for the Melbourne Renegades v Adelaide Strikers. My beloved assured me he’d purchased tickets in the shade. He hadn’t. Luckily, I’d bought my hat, shades and plenty of ice cold refreshments. I’ve made sure he’s noted the East stand  is NOT in the shade. The match was nip and tuck but the Renegades’ superior fielding skills saw them win. The Strikers are now bottom of the BBL.

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Tuesday saw the start of the Santos Tour Down Under which steers a route through all the loveliest parts of Adelaide. I like to think they’ve taken a leaf out of the Tour de France. Stage one finished in Lyndoch but, having been at the start in the rather smart suburb of Unley, we thought we might watch the final four loops around the Barossa from Williamstown, southern gateway to the Valley. It allegedly boasts the oldest remaining pub in Australia, dating back to 1841, and several original farm homesteads, despite being rocked by a large earthquake in 1956. However, we finally decided to head for lunch in Lyndoch. It was pretty warm (typical British understatement) and we found a shady spot at a local restaurant where we could watch the peloton pass by. On account of the wind, and high temperatures, the race was wisely shortened by a circuit. It was win number two for Caleb Ewan.
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 Wednesday’s stage was pivotal in determining the overall. The riders rode out from Stirling, adjudged the prettiest town on the Tour’s route, completing a number of circuits before heading to the summit finish in Paracombe. Porte was on fire and no one could touch him, he finished so far ahead that, barring an accident, the laurels would finally be his. Thursday’s sprint stage was a trip down the coast from Glenelg to Victor Harbor. Our friends were staying in Glenelg and it was good to see the kids enjoying themselves so much. They’ve loved being in Australia and don’t want to go home. I can sympathise. Thursday and Friday’s sprint stages were hovered up by Caleb Ewan. It was looking more and more like an Australian clean sweep.
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Saturday dawned fair and we watched the riders set off from McLaren Vale where you couldn’t move for cyclists. We slipped away and headed via the back roads to watch the showdown on Willunga Hill, the second summit finish which confirmed the GC standings. Porte had achieved his heart’s desire and gotten his 2017 season off to a flying start. Caleb Ewan won the closing criterium around Adelaide to achieve an Aussie clean sweep. The fans were delighted but also been thrilled by the charm and accessability of world champion Peter Sagan, his second visit here, and Esteban Chaves, on his maiden visit.
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imageWith our days spent in the open air, we were quite happy to have a light dinner, relaxing and watching the cricket having profited by eating out at lunchtime in either the start or finish towns, enjoying the abundant local produce. But our time in Adelaide was now over. It was with some regret that we packed up the car and headed to our first overnight stop in Portland on our way back to Melbourne. We have unfinished business with Adelaide. We want to visit Kangaroo Island, the Yorke Peninsula, and Clare, plus spend more time in the lovely Fleurieu Peninsula. We will be back.

Postcard from Adelaide: Part I

We’ve spent two fabulous weeks in Adelaide, the latter half of which was devoted to watching the Santos Tour Down Under. This left us a week to potter about, enjoying our surroundings. We stayed in the same place as last year. What can I say? We’re creatures of habit and having found the perfect spot, needed to look no further.

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We arrived in Walkerville after a lovely relaxing lunch at the Serafino winery in McLaren Vale. The following days we settled into a rhythm of pre-breakfast exercise, followed by a quick swim in the pool (no shark sightings) and a late breakfast. We used our time wisely and enjoyed all that Adelaide and the surrounding area has to offer. Having already explored McLaren Vale, we popped into the Adelaide Hills to visit the Beerenberg Farm, a South Australian institution, which makes a fabulous range of preserves – I love them all! The company was set up in 1839 and it’s still run by the Paech family. We couldn’t resist stocking up with a few of their products for the rest of our trip and purchasing a few gifts for friends and family. Of course, it remains to be seen whether they’ll make in back to France in one piece.

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The Beerenberg Farm Shop is just outside of Hahndorf, founded by German Lutherans, it looks and feels like a corner of Bavaria. We’ve previously visited the town which, this time, was heaving with day trippers. After a quick wander around, we headed off for the quieter Mount Barker and a late lunch in an excellent bakery. Of course, I have to rely on feedback from my beloved whose palate – or so I like to think – has been honed by our years together. As we drove around, I did note plenty of spectacular property porn in the area, both historic and modern.

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In truth we spent plenty of time moseying around, either on foot or on the bike, in the beautiful Adelaide Hills enjoying the lush, verdant pastures choc full of fruit trees, vines or grazing animals. There are lots of small towns with a few historical buildings, I particularly love the ones with wrought iron wrap around gingerbread trims on the verandahs. Not, of course, forgetting the many open cellars where you can try the local wines, oils, beers and other beverages or enjoy a delightful lunch.

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No trip to Adelaide would be complete without a few meals at our local in Melbourne St. It’s not strictly our local, there’s one closer but it’s not in the same class. The pub also has a first class restaurant where I celebrated my birthday at just a small, intimate, party for two.

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Where we stayed is next to a large park which I’ve happily been running or more correctly plodding around. It’s nice and shady but I still work up quite a sweat before cooling off in the pool. Of course, we’ve also had to spend some time working. It’s inevitable on a two month break!

Prior to the start of the Tour we reconnected with our friends who’d had a wonderful time in Tasmania. Looking at their photos I was about to put it on my bucket list but then their youngest showed me his hand. You could clearly see his little bruised palm punctured by fang marks. He’d been bitten by one of the (thankfully) non venomous snakes but it had been a bit of a shock for all concerned. However, this didn’t stop him from handling the python in the Tour Down Under Village. He was a lot braver than many of the pro riders who much preferred the cuddly koalas and joeys – me too!

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A trip into Adelaide gave us an opportunity to look around the magnificent central market bursting with local produce. Given half a chance my beloved would have bought enough food for the next month. I really had to rein him in. The market adjoins Chinatown and we lunched at what turned out to be one of Adelaide’s finest. When faced with so many dining options I fall back on my default position, I pick the one restaurant with white linen tablecloths and napkins – top tip from my late father who trained me well. We later found out it was voted Best Chinese in Adelaide by a local newspaper. It was fabulous and we were fortunate to arrive early as tables filled up fast.

As well as watching the Big Bash League matches, we’ve also been watching the One Day Internationals: India v England and Australia v Pakistan. Whether this interest in cricket will persist on my return to France, who knows? But I’ll certainly be trying to watch the other Twenty20 series and any more ODIs. By far and away the highlight of these ODI games has been India’s captain Virat  Kohli, a man who scores runs seemingly at will. According to my beloved who’s had several recent business trips to India, Kohli’s hugely popular, more so than any other Indian sportsman but then cricket is akin to a religion in India, one which unites all faiths.

Postcard from Adelaide

After a very pleasant 10-day stay in Adelaide, I totally understand why it ranks as such a desirable place to live. With a population of around 1.5m, it has leafy suburbs, plenty of open green spaces, beaches nearby, an abundance of excellent sporting facilities, architecture spanning the ages since the town’s inception – many built from honey coloured stone with gingerbread trimmed verandas – lively arts scene and plenty of excellent restaurants all serving vegan/vegetarian options.

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We organised our stay in Adelaide around the first race of the WorldTour season, the Santos Tour Down Under, whose organisation is based in Adelaide. The riders stay in the one hotel for the duration and the longest transfer from any stage finish is just 90 minutes, though the riders can and do ride to and from most of the stages.

Adelaide CBD
Adelaide CBD

The event showcases the region from the Barossa Valley, the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Way, to the Shiraz Trail and the coast. It’s held during the Aussie summer holidays and the organisers slot the racing into a magnificent Festival of Cycling for recreational cyclists and their families.

Glenelg
Glenelg

Participation and inclusion is the name of the game and anyone in Australia who’s a cycling fan heads here. At least 50% of the spectators ride to watch part of the stage. We did too once the temperatures had dropped below 40C! Fortunately the climate is dry rather than humid.

Victor Harbor
Victor Harbor

The countryside is spectacular with vineyards, olive and fruit trees covering acres of undulating yellow ochre terrain. There’s plenty of small towns with family bakeries and restaurants offering great local produce.

Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills
Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills

While places like Hahndorf have a decidedly Germanic feel, many of the others make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to UK of the 1960s, though not the restaurants. My beloved was delighted to revive childhood memories with a fragrant and delicate custard tart and a steak pie, with a mouth-watering rich filling encased in light pastry. I can’t say it was just like his mother used to make him as she’s always been a dreadful cook but it was probably closer to my mother’s or grandmother’s cooking – wholesome, regional and seasonal.

New World Hour Record holder, Dr Bridie O'Donnell
New World Hour Record holder, Dr Bridie O’Donnell

Aside from the road racing, we were also privileged to watch former professional cyclist, Dr Bridie O’Donnell break the Women’s UCI World Record. Remarkable given that it wasn’t undertaken at altitude and Bridie doesn’t have a background on the track. It was such a special moment to watch history being created.

Adelaide Oval
Adelaide Oval

We also went to watch the semi-final Big Bash between Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Thunder. I love live sport and while I would never claim to be a cricket fan, 20/20 is dynamic, fast paced and exciting. The tickets are inexpensive and everything is done to encourage families to visit. The victors, Sydney Thunder, went on to win the final which we watched in our local.

We were staying in an area with plenty of great restaurants but one really stood out. A massive pub with a music venue, gaming room and upscale restaurant attached. It was justifiably a veritable goldmine which perfectly catered for the local population’s demographics – empty nesters and young professionals. While we were on target in the restaurant, we definitely upped the average age in the bar.

While Adelaide has a multi-racial population, there’s many Brits who’ve relocated there for a better lifestyle and I can now understand why. It might have been my maiden visit to Adelaide but I’ve a feeling it won’t be my last.

 

Out of sight, out of my mind (not)

Visits to my family in the UK are such rare occurrences that I never take my laptop with me. Not, of course, that my parents have access to the internet. But, even if they did, I would feel guilty spending even half an hour of the few precious hours I spend with them checking out what’s happening in the two-wheeled world. I’m not completely out of touch, I do have my Blackberry but emails and tweets tend to give me tantalising glimpses of what I’m missing. But I can be patient, every now and then.

My last UK trip was in October. This visit was arranged because of its proximity to my birthday, Xmas and ahead of next week’s start of the 2012 cycling season.  So for just a few days, while I’m seeing my family, and catching up with a few friends, I feel bereft of my usual daily anchors. The Times is a poor substitute for L’Equipe. But it’s better than nothing, and this week it did feature an interview with Sky’s World Champion, Mark Cavendish (seen right), and the planning and preparation that’s going into (possibly) making him Olympic Champion. A far harder task than securing the rainbow jersey he’ll be gracing all season long. My family sadly don’t share my love of all things two-wheeled, nor do some of my friends, though they all kindly show some interest which I repay by not talking too much or overlong (I hope) about my velo passions.

On my return home to the sunshine this morning, there were two items high on my agenda: a bike ride and a quick catch up on what I’d missed during the past four days (was it only four?). So much seems to have happened. A bit of a dust up over who’s on who’s side in the Contador v UCI/WADA decision and the fear that it might be delayed, once again. The wild cards for the Giro have been announced with German Team NetApp springing a bit of a surprise while Acqua & Sapone’s hopes and dreams went down the plughole. OPQS’s Tom Boonen deciding to up sticks and head back to Belgium, passing up on an opportunity to ride with me this winter. He must have had a savage pay cut so the team could pay for Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin.

The route of this year’s Vuelta was unveiled on Wednesday. I’ve planned to be there at the start, shortly after the Clasica San Sebastian but, with the entire race taking part in northern Spain, I am now being tempted to linger longer. I’ve looked at the parcours and winced. This is most definitely a route for Spanish mountain goats, particularly those that weigh less than me. You know who you are!

Sylvain plots Fabian's downfall

There’s also been numerous team presentations, broadcast over the net, where riders have been forced to wear outfits they’d rather not and assume daft poses for publicity shots they’d rather not. It’s a tough life, even without the hours spent in the saddle.

We’re all (aren’t we?) poised in the starting blocks for next weeks’ season opener, the Santos Tour Down Under. The Australian viewing public have chosen their man to follow Vacansoleil’s and 2010 Tour of Qatar winner, “Wouter Mol”, and we’re all chomping at the bit for the action to commence. Fortunately my beloved is going to be heading to the UK on Monday leaving me ample opportunity to view proceedings. The speculation has already started as to who might win but the beauty of cycling is that none of us really has any idea. But it won’t be me.

Early bird

The alarm went off at 07:30 and I really didn’t want to know. I’d not slept well thanks to my beloved’s snoring. He’s now on a yellow card, one more and it’ll be the spare room for him. I’d left my kit handily placed so that not too much effort was required to get me ready to head down to the club’s rendezvous point. Usually I don’t bother, but there were a couple of licences I wanted to distribute so  we could register maximum points at today’s regional concentration.

I set off with the superfast group and soon realised the error of my ways but I wanted to get to the pointage relatively early so that if anyone had forgotten their licence, I could lend them one. Yes, I know it’s cheating but, trust me, this is a common practice. All’s fair in love, war and pointages. Unbelievably a couple of new members had forgotten their licences so I “lent” them ones from members who were missing from today’s ride.

Despite the brisk pace to Antibes, I was feeling chilled to the bone and, job done, decided to head for the relative warmth of one of my favourite watering holes to prevent hypothermia and/or the onset of frostbite in my feet. Nonetheless, I rode back along the coast road enjoying the clarity of the light, the pewter stillness of the sea and the thickly snow-dusted mountains on the horizon. It was one of those days where you could see for miles, or even kilometers. The temperature was rising slowly but it was still far too cold for me.

I grabbed the Sunday newspapers and a coffee before heading home to prepare lunch. Instead of collapsing on the sofa, we went for a long walk along the seafront and basked in the sun’s rays. The place was heaving with families, all with the same thought as us: enjoy it while you can.

Back home and I retreated to the sofa to watch the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under, a 91km circuit race around Adelaide. I had deliberately not read anything which might give me a clue as today’s winner. Would Garmin-Cervelo manage to preserve Cam Meyer’s grip on the ochre jersey or would it be ripped from his grasp by the sprinters Matt Goss and Michael Matthews? Let battle commence.

Garmin’s strategy was obviously one of attrition and they largely succeeded, although both Goss and Matthews picked up bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint, but not the second one. It went down to the wire with Goss and Matthews vying to win the sprint finish. In the event their respective parties were spoiled by Sky who set Ben Swift up for the stage win. The relentless pace since the off had probably taken the sting out of the legs of both HTC-High Road and Rabobank. Next up is the GP Marseillaise (30 January) and the Etoille de Besseges (2-7  February).

My sporting fun was not yet over, I still had the cup match, OGCN v OL, to watch.  It was a tightly contested game  with the goalkeepers, both of whom are Nicois, playing at the top of their games. Fittingly, OL were undone in extra time by the “curse of the returning player”. Shortly, thereafter, OL were reduced to 10-men and it was game over. I’m off to bed a happy bunny.

Close run thing

I finally got around to taking my beloved BMC I down to my LBS (Local Bike Shop) to have the set up changed to that of my beloved BMC II. I also splashed out on a new saddle, as the old one was looking kinda sad after close on 30,000km. I had suffered a puncture while out riding this morning thanks to a tack which had left a large hole in my rear tyre and deflated the inner tube.

The hole was so big that there was absolutely no point in replacing the inner tube without first replacing the tyre. I would only have been setting myself up for multiple punctures.  Of course, I cannot possibly have mismatched tyres. So both back and front tyres had to be changed. However, nothing will go to waste. All the rejected bits and bobs went straight into the Burkina Faso box.

We rode back home and, after a shower, I slipped into my favourite lounge wear,the Qatari Airways freebie jimjams, and settled down to watch Stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under, 131km to Willunga. We only caught the last 5 kilometers which ended with a sprint finish among the small leading pack , won by Movistar’s Francisco Ventoso ahead of in-form Michael Matthews and Matt Goss. Cameron Meyer, a world champion on the track and Australian time-trial champion, remains in the leader’s ochre jersey and is poised to take his first stage race in Gamin-Cervelo’s colours.

Euskatel’s Gorka Izagirre, whom we’d last seen winning  in the Basque country, took a bit of a flier but was reeled in just before the line. He’s animated a number of stages and races in Australia and I’ll be keeping a look out for him this year.

Meanwhile my beloved football team were hosting Man “Money’s no Object” City at Villa Park. I was praying that we would not suffer the fickle finger of fate from the returning players (Gareth Barry and James Milner). Furthermore, I was hoping for some sign that £18m spent on Darren Bent had been a wise investment on the part of Houllier.

We won 1-0, after Bent had scored on his debut in the 18th minute. A spirited display, particularly by the back four and the first clean sheet for months. Let’s hope that this is a turning point in our season.

After last week’s 2-0 home defeat by Lille, OGCN are  hosting Olympique Lyonnais tomorrow evening in the French League Cup where, frankly, anything could happen.

We’ll be watching the match on the television after (I hope) having successfully defended our Regional Championship. Like the Departmental Championship, which we narrowly lost this season, competition will be fiercest from two clubs which, unlike us, are chock full of veterans (maximum point scorers). M Le President has rallied the troops and I’ll be there to chivy everyone as, unfortunately, he’ll be working.

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.