Down but not out

Clearly, I had bitten off more than I could chew! I blew out on Sunday in the l’Antiboise. I had set off at 07:30am feeling in fine form with my beloved for company. The weather was ideal, I’d had a good breakfast and plenty of food in my back pockets (didn’t want a repeat of the Ste Agnes bonk). I rode well, and within myself, to the first feed zone. There it became evident I was the only female attempting the longer course. This should have rung warning bells but, no, I blithely carried on.

At the feed zone, I’d been looking forward to a coke sugar rush. Sadly, the club organising the randonnee was providing only a cheap, own brand coke – this should be outlawed by UFOLEP. I shall be making representations to the Chairman. 

After refuelling we set off  under heavy skies in the direction of Lac St Cassien. I must be honest, I really don’t like cycling around here. In theory, it should be the perfect spot but, in practice, the road’s too narrow and there’s too much traffic, none of whom are willing to crawl along behind a bunch of cyclists.

The climb up to Montauroux was an unpleasant surprise – far steeper than I’d anticipated. The legs were beginning to ache. A novel experience as it’s usually the lungs which give out first. I gratefully refilled my bidon at the fountain in the square, had a quick breather and we set off again. We were evidently the lanterne rouges of the longer parcours but we knew there were  a few riders just up ahead. There followed a long descent (never good news as I knew we’d just have to climb back up again) on rather gravelly, twisting roads which did little to boost my average speed or my mood. On the climb back up to St Cezaire sur Siagne, I promised myself a cold coke if I got to the top. This promise kept  me going but unbelievably we took a sharp left just before the village and set off up the Col de la Leque towards St Vallier. Only 9km uphill  but it was the straw which finally broke the camel’s back. My legs stopped functioning after 109km.

My beloved rode the final couple of kilometers to the next feed zone to alert the broom wagon which kindly returned to pick me up. At the feed zone I gratefully gulped down several glasses of the dreaded cheap coke – better than nothing. I was truly spent, a somewhat discouraging experience. I proceeded to the finish in the broom wagon while my beloved rode back. Once home, we showered, changed and drove to Alassio stopping en route for a much needed, belated lunch.

We decided not to take the bikes with us. A wise decision, as we both have leaden bodies, never mind leaden legs. After a good night’s sleep, I feel more sanguine and more determined that next year I’ll achieve my objective. The weather’s fantastic here and I’ve enjoyed pottering around Alassio which is emerging from hibernation. The beach is a hive of activity with hoteliers erecting their beach huts and levelling the sand outside their hotels ready for the invading hordes. As expected, at this time of year, the clientele is largely retired and wrinkly.

I’ve sent an email to my cycling coach, admitting that he was correct and I should have attempted to do a better time on the shorter course. As a consequence, I may well opt for the shorter parcours on the next two randonnees. Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes.

Postscript: It appears that we were the only two from the club to attempt the longer parcours.

Ma cherie

The wind of recent days has sucked the humidity out of the air and lowered the temperature a couple of degrees: ideal cycling weather. In addition, the heat haze has gone leaving clear views of both the coastline and hinterland for miles around.

My husband and I set off just ahead of the club on Sunday morning. Riding up to Le Rouret over tarmac still  painted with the names of those who took part in this year’s Tour de France. At Pre du Lac we tagged onto a large group of riders who’d taken the opportunity to refill their bidons at the fountain. Halfway to Grasse, they suddenly all swerved right up a small tributary road. Who was I to argue with the collective, cumulative knowledge of the peloton. We followed and after a couple of short, steep ascents and descents found ourselves on the N85 Route Napoleon leading to St Vallier, by way of the Col du Pillon.

The hills were most definitively alive with the sound of cyclists. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on the road. But then the French holidays are over and everyone is back at work. My husband remarked that I seemed to know most of them, or rather most of them know my name.

You see, my christian name, pronounced correctly, sounds exactly like the french word for “darling” and engenders amusement and affection in equal measures. Not long after I started riding with the club on a regular basis, I passed a clubmate, going in the opposite direction, in a group of about 30 riders. He hailed me from the other side of the road “Salut Sheree”. This occasioned some ribbing as the rest of the peloton queried why he was being so familiar with a woman who was not his wife. I could hear him vainly explaining that “Sheree” was my christian name.

While a lot of woman cycle, not many cycle with clubs. On average, we make up only 5% of those taking part in local pointages, cyclosportifs, brevets and randonnees. We all know one another by sight, if not by name. I am one of the fortunate few able to cycle most days and am therefore a well known figure on my distinctive bike.

It’s the combination of these two factors that accounts for my being somewhat infamous. But it’s rather companionable when you’re cycling along to be hailed by your name by those passing in either direction.

In Napoleon’s footsteps

St Vallier de Thiey
St Vallier de Thiey

Tomorrow we’re off to St Vallier de Thiey, just above Grasse. This is also the date of the club’s annual picnic on the shores of Lac St Cassien. Two year’s ago, doubting my ability to cycle all the way to the Lac via St Vallier, I instead drove the car to the picnic and cycled around the lake. Last year, I went to watch a friend compete in the Monaco Ironman. This year I’m doing the pointage, but not the picnic.

St Vallier was the Archbishop of Antibes  martyred in the 17th century by the Visigoths. While Le Thiey is the mountain at 1552m overshadowing the village which has a pretty12th century church and ancient city gates. 

The route is a gentle incline all the way to Pre du Lac. Thereafter, it’s reasonably flat  to Grasse where you take a sharp right-hand turn up the Route Napoleon to St Vallier. So called because, this was the route Napoleon took  on his return from exile in Elba after having first landed in Golfe Juan. My return route will depend on the weather and how I’m feeling.  

My first trip to St Vallier was last October. Wanting to increase my kilometrage, I had been exhorted by a club mate to ride with an UFOLEP group on Tuesdays, who “rode along the coast”, his words. This was my first outing with them and I was somewhat apprehensive as to whether or not I could a) keep up and b) ride the distance.

I joined the group at St Laurent du Var and we rode along the coast at a pace I could just about sustain to Mandelieu where we took a right-hand turn and headed inland, in the direction of Grasse, over a succession of short steep climbs which saw me slide ignominiously out on the back of the peloton and halfway-down the hill. My club mate kindly kept me company and, from time to time, even gave me a helpful push. I honestly don’t remember the route we took but I do recall we stopped for a picnic lunch in St Vallier. Yes, French cafes are quite happy for you to eat a picnic lunch while seated at their tables, providing you buy something to drink. Ever the pragmatists, the owners understand that the revenue from 30-40 drinks is not to be sneezed at. Shame English cafe owners don’t embrace the same view.

I confess that I am not a real fan of picnics. Many years ago my husband, for reasons I have been unable to fathom, bought me a picnic set for Xmas. We have used it twice. Both times to have a picnic in the gardens of Cleveland Sq, where we used to live in London, with my goddaughter. Frankly, I prefer to stop at a cafe or restaurant, have something to eat and drink, and continue on my way.

I had fondly imagined that after lunch our return route would be downhill all the way. Not so, we were not done climbing. Again, I barely recall the route but we continued to climb before finally descending past the high security prison, built on high above Grasse. This was the first time I had ridden in excess of 100km. Furthermore, I had anticipated that it would be along the undulating coastal route, not in the hilly, arriere pays. While it had been enjoyable, I was truly, but pleasurably,worn out.