Indian summer

Here on the Cote d’Azur, we’ve been enjoying the warmest October since 1943. October’s usually when I swap over to my winter training bike and into my 3/4 thermal bib shorts but, despite this being the first official week-end of winter, I’m still in shorts and short-sleeved jersey with a lightweight gilet. I like to think this is recompense for the wet winter or maybe the so, so summer. Either way, it’s glorious cycling weather and I have been at pains to profit from it.

With a number of projects (finally) put to bed and the professional cycling scene enjoying its off-season, I’m finally getting back into the groove and steadily logging the much-needed kilometres.  When you’re busy, it’s all too easy to procrastinate but boy do I miss being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair helmet and the sun on my face.

cagnes1

While temperatures are still delightfully mild, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing. No problem, as I prefer to head out after 10:30. With any luck, I’ll also be re-introducing my long mid-week ride on a Wednesday to compliment those on the week-end. Of course, everyone is out enjoying the fine weather, particularly the kids as half-term’s over and it’s back to school tomorrow. Large numbers are sunning themselves on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. One year, I was still swimming in the sea each day until well into November. If you swim each day, the drop in temperature is gradual and much less noticeable.

It’s the Nice to Cannes marathon next Sunday so we passed plenty of runners. Well, it would be too embarrassing to be passed by a runner wouldn’t it? We’re slow but not that slow. I like to think we were taking our time and savouring the weather. All the more so as rain is forecast for next week. No ride with my cycling buddy would be complete without a coffee stop. Again, we pick those restaurants with terraces in the sunshine and nice facilities.

cagnes3

Particularly on Sunday, I endeavour to leave Sunday lunch cooking or maybe gently reheating in the oven so that all I have to do on my return is lay the table. I usually get back just before my beloved who’s started riding each Sunday with his local bike shop team. The pace has dropped right off on the Sunday club rides as the average age of club members has soared and he’s been finding it way too slow.

cagnes2

After Sunday lunch we take a stroll along the seafront to better enjoy  the fine weather before returning home for The Big Match, my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. The boys haven’t scored in five matches and are sliding down the Premiership – not good. On a recent trip to London, I treated myself to some fleecy jimjams. They’re far too warm to sleep in but just perfect for post-ride lounging around the flat, which is what I’m now doing. Sunday’s don’t get any better than this.

 

Postscript: Actually, it would’ve been a lot better if Spurs hadn’t beaten AVFC 2-1

 

Lightweight

The weather’s been a bit of a curate’s egg this week as we slide inexorably towards winter.  Rain on the coast has translated into snow in the mountains where they may well be about to experience their third consecutive great winter. Many of the resorts are opening next week end. This has spurred me on to go cross-country skiing this winter – great cross-training for my cycling.

Despite the almost incessant rain, I have managed to fit in my training thanks largely to the sunshine on both Wednesday and Friday. I had feared for Sunday’s pointage, after torrential rain overnight, but it had stopped by the time we awoke. Indeed a stiff, chilly breeze rapidly dried the wet roads although the sky looked threatening all morning. As a consequence, only the die-hards turned up. Normally the roads are thronged with cyclists but it was play “spot the cyclist” this Sunday as large numbers chose to remain under the covers.

We returned home to a bowl of hearty vegetable soup and my beloved boys in claret and blue away at Ewood Park. Sadly, the roll-call of injuries is such that Houlier has had to decimate the ranks of the youth squad. While they proved to be a match for the Red Devils last week end, their efforts fell on stonier ground today.

Friedel, normally so reliable, had a poor game and was constantly under pressure from the set pieces which characterise all of Sam Allardyce’s well-organised squads. If my memory serves me correctly, didn’t Houlier sell Friedel to Blackburn when he was the Liverpool manager?

Man for man, my beloved boys in claret and blue, with few exceptions, were head and shoulders smaller (and hence lighter) than their Blackburn counterparts who effectively muzzled both Gabi Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, thereby snuffing out any potential Villa threat. Key to the result however, aside from Pedersen’s two goals, was Blackburn’s control of the midfield.

Robert Pires came on after the second goal to inject some much needed experience and Gallic flair but had no impact whatsoever on the game. It’s still early days, but I’m sure he’ll prove to be a valuable addition to the squad.

Villa are now 13th with 17 points, just one more than their blue-nosed neighbours who, incredibly, beat Chelsea at the week end. Equally amazing was Spurs win at the Emirates. However, the top of the table  is starting to look all too familiar. Chelsea lead with 28 points, the same number as Man U in 2nd place, while Arsenal are 3rd with 26. Man City, after beating Fulham today, are 4th with 25 points.

OGCN went down 0-1 at home to Montpelier. Once again, Ospina was our “man of the match”. Knowing that he’ll be lured away (sold for as much money as possible) at the end of the season, and with goalkeeper number 2 retiring, OGCN have already bought his replacement. The boys are lying in 15th place with 16 points, just one less than AVFC.

Way to go!

I’ve just finished watching a thrilling Liege-Bastogne-Liege. With so many favourites on form it was going to be hard to pick a winner from the galaxy of stars. Indeed, the big names remained pretty much in contention until a certain Alex Vinokourov launched a trademark attack 16km from the finish. He was rapidly joined by another man much on form, Alexandre Kolobnev. 

He just wanted it more

Gilbert, Valverde and Evans gave chase but the hard men prevailed. Gilbert gave a massive kick to try and get up to the two lead men but was ultimately caught and overhauled by Valverde. The two Alexs battled it out with the Kazakh getting the better of the Russian in the final couple of hundred meters. No one should have been surprised. He’s won in before and said that this race was one of his targets for this year.  He was clearly on top form, as shown by his GC win Friday in the Giro del Trentino. It probably suited him to have the press and the rest of the peloton focus on Contador – good bluff. Roll on the Giro, it’s going to be an exciting tour and I’m looking forward to following it and riding some of its parcours.

Prior to L-B-L, I watched my beloved boys in claret and blue win 1-0 in the local derby match against Birmingham City. An important win, as it keeps us in the chase for 4th place, after Spurs lost to the Red Devils and Arsenal drew with Man City. Closer to home,  OGCN won 2-1 and finally erased any lingering relegation fears.

This morning’s pointage was replaced by a three-line whip attendance at the official opening of the recently completed cycling lane between Cagnes sur Mer and St Laurent du Var. To be honest, our legs still bore the lingering effects of yesterday’s La Louis Caput, so a gentle stroll on the bike was much appreciated.

At yesterday’s La Louis Caput, the mass start of earlier years had been abandoned in favour of a policy of “start when you like”. We set off at 08:00am but saw so few other riders that we concluded either there had been a poor turn-out or, everyone else had started before us. My beloved kindly rode with me to the half-way point when, with rain threatening, I suggested he might like to ride on ahead.

At this point I was passed by a few riders doing the 150km loop but they were all going too fast for me to tag on the back. I slogged on alone into a head wind and a darkening sky. It wasn’t until I started the descent for home that I managed to ride with anyone else. I got onto the back of a group of 4 guys. I also overhauled a group of triathletes who had ridden most of the route just ahead of me. If only I could ascend as well as I descend! Still I bettered last year’s time by a considerable margin, so I must be getting faster – musn’t I?

The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.

Let off the leash

What do you call someone who takes the wrong turning on a pre-agreed route leaving behind the person with the house keys, money, mobile phone, spare inner tube and pump: careless, foolish, idiotic? I think we know the answer to this one. It did of course mean that by the time he reached home his lunch was ready and waiting for him!

Eighteen brave club mates ignored the Arctic conditions to cycle to Roquebrune Cap Martin last Sunday placing us 2nd at the pointage and  catapulting us into 3rd pace, above CC Cannes, in the season long Souvenir Cattanneo  – chapeau guys!

After yesterday’s damp conditions, the sunshine returned, though it was still very cold. Today’s ride was just a club run but I bet we had a very good turn out. I don’t know because my beloved let me sleep in until 09:00am after a night disturbed by my coughing and sneezing.The chest cold is in its death throes.

When we finally went out for our ride it seemed as if every man, woman, child and dog had taken to two wheels. Largely, I suspect because there’s only so much families and festivities one can stomach in the space of a few days.

My nose was streaming much more than usual and I had to keep stopping to blow it. Most cyclists just duck their heads closer to the road, block one nostril and blow. I’ve tried this, without success. I tend to end up with snot all over my face and jersey – not a good look. Maybe my mucus is the wrong viscosity for such a manoeuvre.

I’ve just watched my beloved boys in claret and blue being given a footballing lesson at the Emirates. Arsenal ran out the deserving winners 3-0. Villa were undone by 21 minutes of footballing brilliance from Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench an hour into the match to strike terror into the heart of the Premiership’s meanest defence. Abou Diaby, France’s new Patrick Vieira, added a third in the dying seconds. This means Arsenal are now 4 points behind Chelsea, with a game in hand, and Villa will have to try harder if they’re to win a place in football’s elite – the Champion’s League.

Tuesday postscript: With both Man City and Spurs recording wins yesterday, tonight’s match against Liverpool was a “6-pointer”. In truth neither team played well enough to win it and it looked as it was heading for a goalless draw when a Villa error in the dying seconds of extra time left Fernando Torres one on one with Brad Friedel. The result was inevitable. Martin O’Neil hung his head in sorrow. Six points lost and an even bigger dent in our ambitions.

Good news comes in threes

Yes, I’ve had three pieces of excellent news this weekend. First up, my cycling club has retained its departmental championship (2eme series). We were 3rd overall, just behind the two much larger local clubs. Seventy-three team mates turned out for the pointage, just over 75% of our cyclists.

Second, I have reduced my percentage  body fat with the 6-week challenge, despite the blow-out meals in Paris. I will, of course, be continuing with the works outs over the winter months. 

Man U 0 - 1 AVFC

Best of all, my beloved boys in claret and blue became the first team to win at the Theatre of Dreams this season. A header from Gabi in the 21 minute secured all three points. Both teams had chances and it was an exciting match right to the final whistle. The last time we beat Manchester United, Becks was a promising young player. We won 3-1 at home in 1995 at the start of 1995-96 season. Conversely, we haven’t won at Old Trafford since 1983.

It was a key match for both teams. With Chelsea drawing 3-3 at home to Everton, winning would allow Man U to draw level on points, albeit with an inferior goal difference. While, AVFC’s nearest rivals, Spurs lost at home 0-1 to Wolves, Villa’s neighbours – thanks boys! Villa  now go 3rd and will stay there if Liverpool beat Arsenal tomorrow.

I spoke to a friend’s husband before the match and he revealed himself to be a supporter of the Red Devils. Since he doesn’t hail from Manchester, I just had to call him a glory hunter, though he claims to have supported the team from boyhood. So he’ll remember when Villa beat Man U in the 1957 FA Cup Final, the very last time we won it.

Lights out

We woke yesterday morning at 07:00am to find that it had been raining in the early hours but was now, thanks to a stiff wind, starting to dry out. The sky was positively leaden and, while we doubted we would make it to the pointage, after 4 days off the bike, we were keen to get out. On the way to the club’s rendez vous point, we passed a few, but not many, other cyclists.

About a dozen hardy club mates had gathered and, as we set off, it started to rain again, albeit gently. The wind was still blowing hard so I tucked in behind our former Directeur Sportif, not a good choice of protection as he’s much smaller and lighter than me, but then aren’t they all? As he dropped back to chat to someone, I went to the front of the bunch and rode alongside M Le President. The rain had now started falling in earnest as we approached the Promenade des Anglais, M Le President muttered something about his waterproof and dropped back. I forged on, head down, only to be pulled back by my husband who advised that everyone else had turned tail and headed for home. We wisely did the same.

Predictably, we got drenched riding back and it took several minutes under a hot shower to warm us up. We went out to collect the newspapers and some shopping,  returning home resigned to spending the rest of the day indoors, in the warmth. We spent a lazy afternoon watching a veritable feast of derby matches: Everton v Liverpool, Arsenal v Chelsea, Barcelona v Real Madrid. The more fancied teams winning in all three games. My two teams had both played on Saturday. The boys in claret and blue had a hard fought home draw with Spurs while Nice, away at Sochaux, were undone by a goal which didn’t actually go over the line, according to the replay.

While enjoying the football, I pottered around in the kitchen preparing some meals as my beloved is home all week and will, no doubt, require feeding at regular intervals.

We were woken early this morning by loud claps of thunder and lightening overhead and when we got up found we had no electricity. I could see that the other apartment blocks in the Domaine had lights at a number of the windows; obviously the problem was restricted to our building. Actually, it was restricted to our block of the building, although the lift and the lights in the common parts were working, we just had to wait for the problem to be fixed.

At 11:00am, I decided to investigate what progress was being made to repair the problem and, in the lift, I bumped into my neighbour’s housekeeper who lives in one of the other buildings. She advised that the lightening had thrown out the circuit breaker. I said we’d tried that already, without success. We returned to the flat, she opened the door to the fuses and pressed a switch, in the bottom left-hand corner, which we didn’t know was there, and voila, normal service was resumed. Needless to say, we both felt, and looked, more than a little sheepish.