Wise words

A very dear and wise friend said we should celebrate we’ve reached the grand old age of 60 without suffering from any serious illnesses, ailments or injuries. Well, there’s no point in receiving words of wisdom if you don’t act on them. Her birthday was the month before mine and she rejoiced in style at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

Where did we want to spend January? My beloved and I were of one mind – Australia. Now, it’s a big place. You’d need a year to do it justice. We had five weeks, several of which we’d be spending watching cycle races. Now, come on, you didn’t seriously think we’d head Down Under without taking in the first race of the 2016 WorldTour season did you?

My beloved and I both enjoyed our trip to Australia in 2010 for the World Championships when we visited both Melbourne and Sydney. It would be unthinkable not to again include them on our itinerary, plus there’s the Sun Herald Tour and The Great Ocean Race to see. We’re taking our bikes so, even though internal flights in Australia are pretty cheap, we’ll be travelling by car and taking  in some of the coastal scenery and vineyards.

In no time at all, I’d sorted out our itinerary and booked everything. It was time pleasurably well spent. There’s nothing I love more than a spot of planning and preparation while my beloved is just happy to turn up.

We’re staying in a mix of hotels and self-catering apartments so that we won’t have to eat out all the time.  I also needed access to a washing machine to cut down on the amount of clothing for my beloved otherwise he’ll be counting the number of days we’re away and packing the same number of t-shirts, socks and underpants. He does NOT travel lightly.

We’re flying Emirates with an overnight stop in Dubai which should make the length of the flight a bit more bearable. Of course, I’ll spend a lot of the flight sleeping. I have my cashmere blanket, eye mask and headphones which I’ll plug into the music channel, pop on my Do Not Disturb sign, and get my head down. I’m pretty much the perfect frequent-flyer.

If bored, I may scroll through the entertainment options to see if there’s any cartoons I’ve not yet seen. I watched the latest Minions’ movie en route to New York in November – adorable. Surely, it’s time for Toy Story IV or Happy Feet III? Just a suggestion!

By my standards I’ve not organised too much while we’re away as we’ll be out on our bikes as much as possible. I have made a couple of restaurant bookings but some of the ones I wanted to visit have only tasting menus, and not a la carte, none of which meet my specific dietary requirements. However, this won’t be a problem given the vibrant dining scene in Australia.

If the trip is half as much fun as I’ve had planning it, it’ll be fantastic. Anything more will be a bonus.

Postscript: Thanks to iffy WiFi – surely the bane of all travellers – my posts are on delayed transmission.

Back in the groove

Meteo NiceThere’s storm clouds just back from the coast and, if we’re to believe the weather forecast, we’re in for a few more wet days. I’m not complaining as last week was incredibly mild and I rode every day. There’s nothing better than an hour or two riding in the fresh air to restore one’s equilibrium though I might just have to settle for the home-trainer the rest of this week.

I rode today with my beloved, who’s due to fly away tomorrow morning, and he said that finally I’d gotten back up to speed. He had complained about my laggardly progress all over the Christmas holidays but not so today. Mind you my progress was almost halted in its tracks when a large piece of machinery popped off a lorry and fell (fortunately) just in front of me at a roundabout in Antibes. By chance, the local police were close by and remarked upon my near miss. I retorted that it was the lorry driver who’d had the close shave, not me. Imagine how much his negligence might have cost him? A new BMC racing bike at the very least and, at worst, a sizeable compensatory lawsuit from my beloved. The policeman nodded sagely, he could see my point.

My training for 2014 has gotten off to a good start. Initially with the Rapha #Festive500, where I just managed to sneak over the limit. More importantly, since New Year, I have managed to  maintain both momentum and enthusiasm. Of course, it’s helped that daytime temperatures have not dropped below 10ºC rather it’s been a few degrees warmer. I find when temperatures fall I’ll still ride but two and half hours is my limit before I start to feel chilled to the bone.

In the winter months, all cyclists are largely confined to cycling up and down the coastal roads.  This means that one’s constantly crossing the paths of other cyclists. Of course, most are heading back home by the time I venture forth. Locally resident professional riders aside, most cyclists set off at 8:30, the time designated by the clubs for winter rides thereby ensuring that they’re back ready in plenty of time for lunch at 12:30. Everything and everyone stops for lunch at 12:30 in France. I prefer to avoid the early morning traffic and the early morning chill, rarely leaving the Domaine much before 10:30. Equally, I’m happy to have lunch whenever I get back, even if it’s after 12:30. Sacre bleu!

I’m looking forward to the start of the professional cycling season which kicks off next week with the Tour of San Luis in Argentina and the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. It seems such a long time since Il Lombardia. I have dipped in and out of the cyclo-cross season, a discipline that’s quite rightly growing in popularity. It’s just under an hour of lung-busting racing in generally muddy conditions where you need to get out of the start gate quickly to put time into the chasing pack. Like all bike racing, you can be undone by spills and technical fails but it’s a great spectacle and particularly popular in Belgium where I hear  it goes down nicely with a pint or two of beer.

Boonen’s back

Today, having safely delivered my beloved to the airport, I raced back home to get on with Monday’s usual pile of administration for both our company and the cycling club. The day started off a little damp and humid but the sun soon burnt through the cloud. I was very tempted to go for a ride but today’s a rest day and the outlook is for more of the same.

At 13h, I was able to check out the action in the Tour of Qatar, and continue working, thanks to the big screen in the office. Lars Boom surprised everyone by winning yesterday’s 2km prologue, 4 seconds ahead of Cancellara. All those kilometers on the cyclo-cross tracks this winter bearing early fruit. However, he was indisposed with a tummy upset today,  finishing well down and out of the gold leader’s jersey.

Today’s 145km stage finished on the Al Khor Corniche and was contested by an 18-man break away group, containing a number of sprinters, who had worked well together on the windy, sandswept roads to maintain their advantage over a splintered peloton. Actually, that’s not strictly true, it was more of a one-man show. Quickstep’s Tom Boonen took a  flier into the headwind and powered across the finish line to record his 18th stage win in the event, catching everyone else by surprise. He also took over the leader’s jersey.

Over in Mallorca, the UCI’s attempts to ban race radios fell on deaf ears. Tyler Farrar won the stage but it won’t count as UCI officials had walked off the job. Also, this week end, Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) won the GP Costa degli Etruschi while Antony Ravard (AG2R-La Mondiale) wrapped up his first stage race win in the Etoile de Besseges. It’s worth noting that Johnny Hoogerland was 3rd, Jerome Coppel 5th and Arthur Vichot (2010’s viral star of the Tour Down Under) finished 9th. These boys will probably be riding the Tour of the Med, the final stages of which I’ll be watching this week end.

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.

Viral celebrity

A charming tale caught my eye in yesterday’s L’Equipe. Apparently, the Port Adelaide Cycling Club decided to pick a completely unknown European rider to support during the Tour Down Under. After some deliberation, they selected Arthur Vichot, a neo-pro with FDJ taking part in his first professional race and who, more importantly, was on Facebook. The club’s intention was to make a huge fuss of Vichot throughout the race with hordes of fans on the roadside calling out “Allez Arthur”, wearing “Allez Vichot” t-shirts, waving French flags and, of course, daubing his name on the road. Indeed, rumour has it he was better supported than one Lance Armstrong.

Allez Vichot

Prior to the start of the Tour, one of Arthur’s new found fans asked Lance if he’d ever heard of Vichot. When he said he hadn’t, she told him that he would do by the end of the Tour. Not only was all this support a tremendous boost to young Vichot, who finished a creditable 48th, just over 3minutes down on Greipel, but it also bought a smile to the lips of the more seasoned pros whenever they saw Vichot’s fans. In addition, the story has attracted the attention of the press worldwide.

Arthur’s Australian fan club has garnered more than a thousand members  and they’re eagerly going to follow his progress throughout the season. Some will even be coming over to Europe to watch him ride.

I thought this was such a lovely idea and The Port Adelaide Cycling Club are to be commended. Young Vichot will never forget his first professional race nor the kindness of the locals with whom, in time-honoured Aussi tradition, he shared a beer.

Manx missile or toothless terror

It rained yesterday: statement of fact, not a complaint. This allowed me to catch up with my admin and check out what had been happening in the cycling world while I’d been sequestered in Birmingham.

Andre Greipel, in imperious form, had won the Tour Down Under. The previous holder of the title, one Alan Davies, was cast asunder on Day 1 because his team had forgotten to bring the radios. I’m not sure who was to blame for this blunder, but I have a suggestion – checklists. Come on, you know it makes sense! 

Meanwhile, over on another continent, Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom won La Tropicale Amissa Bongo. Our local boy, Amael Moinard was 7th. Over on another continent, lime-green clad Vicenzo Nibali won the Tour of San Luis. Next up, the Tours of Qatar and Oman. Don’t forget your buckets and spades.

I had been looking forward to seeing a sprint fest between Boonen, who has laid claim to the sand dunes these past few years, and Cavendish, the fastest man on two (non-motorised) wheels.  Sadly, due to an infected tooth or teeth, Cavendish won’t be putting in an appearance before Ruta del Sol. It’s all yours Tom.

Toothless Tom

Tom will probably sympathise. I seem to recall he’s lost a few teeth for similar reasons. Indeed, at one time, I was wondering whether he might become “Toothless Tom”. Given that these problems are preventable with a rigorous dental regime, I decided to write to HTC-Columbia and give them the benefit of my encyclopaedic dental knowledge. You know what they say about a little knowledge being dangerous. Well, it’s totally true. It will be interesting to see if I get a response.

It’s back!

The alarm went off at 07:00am and neither of us wanted to get up, but duty calls. When we arrived at the rendezvous point there were only three other club mates. Fortunately, by the time it was 08:30am, most had turned up. In fact, considering the climatic conditions (cold, damp and very overcast), it was a good turn out. Almost immediately after we set off, the peloton broke up into half a dozen groups, I was in the lead group and didn’t get distanced until the climb out of the Port of Nice.

Eventually, I was overtaken by all of the groups, but didn’t lose sight of the last of them until the climb up to Cap d’Ail. Something of a record. The sky looked distinctly heavy and threatening rain as I rode through Monaco. I arrived at the Town Hall in Beausoleil, just as my  club mates were setting off on the return leg. While it was hard to tell, judging by the entries on the register, I feel we may well have retained our regional championship.

By the time we got back home, we both felt really chilled. Lucky then that I had put a casserole in the oven before we left that morning. After a quick shower and change (into my fleecy tracksuit), I was ready for lunch. We then settled down to watch my beloved boys in claret and blue who were home to West Ham. Sadly, despite a number of opportunities, the boys failed to get onto the score sheet. It was a rather boring draw.

Fortunately, help was at hand to put some sporting zing into my afternoon in the shape of a 51km criterium around Adelaide, ahead of next week’s Tour down Under, won by Sky. Evidently starting as they mean to go on. They managed to disrupt the HTC-Columbia train to deny Andre Greipel, snatching a win for Greg Henderson and 2nd place for Chris Sutton – chapeau boys!

Killed off

Yesterday morning I killed the perpetrator of some unspeakable acts of gluttony. He’d spent the previous night gorging himself on my right shoulder, as the raised red welts bore witness. He’d also dined off my right hand and fingers. Death was the only reasonable response.

The weather has been both cold and chilly this week end, with rain yesterday afternoon and evening. This has not prevented us from riding though it has restricted us to the coastal roads. Our disappointment with the weather was much ameliorated by yesterday’s football scores. After a unsatisfactory loss in the dying minutes to West Ham last Wednesday, the Villa boys bounced back to thump Bolton 5-1. This was particularly gratifying as the number of ex-Villa players at Bolton is legion. Not to be outdone, OGC Nice registered their third win on the trot, treating PSG to their first home loss of the season.

 My beloved’s gout was bothering him again this morning, so I left him in bed and cycled to the club’s rendezvous. A heated discussion ensued on how best to avoid the routes closed to traffic and cyclists alike thanks to the marathon. A solution was rapidly found and off we cycled, shortly to be joined by those from a neighbouring club. Clearly a popular solution which afforded us glimpses of the runners heading in the opposite direction. In Nice, we profited from a closed Promenade des Anglais, cycling merrily across all four of the lanes – what a treat.

 We had somehow misplaced one of our groups and I found myself cycling with the better ie faster riders who dropped me as soon as we climbed out of Nice. I didn’t see most of them again until the pointage although I did pass a few who’d punctured.  The club was continuing on to Menton and returning by way of the same route as last week end. But, given the weather, I decided to cycle straight back. That way I’d have plenty of time to prepare and enjoy lunch before settling down to watch the Chelsea v Manchester United match.

 After yesterday’s frolic in the sun, the Amstel Curacao race won by one

Bert and companion
Bert and companion in Curacao

Alberto Contador, there’s no real racing until the Tour Down Under so it’s during this period that my interest turns to football and cross-country skiing. Yes, yet another sport where the participants wear lycra!