Pipped at the post

Another sunny day which I kicked off with a ride. I hadn’t gone far when I met up with two club mates and so I rode with them. I hadn’t seen either of them for a while. One was just recovering from a nasty dose of man flu while the other has been kept busy by his 12 grand-children.

We passed a number of club mates, going in the opposite direction, who had been out on that morning’s earlier club ride. Like me these two see no reason to ride when it’s really cold, preferring to leave an hour or so later. They also like to stop for a coffee and a chat on the way back: much more companiable.

Mind you I’d no sooner gotten back home, showered, changed and had lunch than I was off down to the club for our monthly meeting on the forthcoming Brevet Kivilev. Who knew that there were so many small details that needed to be taken care of – not me. For example, as the routes criss-cross 16 communes that’s 16 letters that have to be written to 16 mayors advising them of our plans. We’re also short of around 20 volunteers and while we’ve not yet resorted to press-ganging members and their families, or even strong arming them, don’t put it past us.

Nor have we started to solicit donations for the all-important tombola, the key prize of which is usually a bike frame. I’m donating one of those string vests (wouldn’t be seen dead in it), a Mellow Johnny’s T-shirt and a couple of cycling books. We’re hoping to drum up a few pieces of kit from the locally resident pros and anything else we can lay our hands on. M le President has done an excellent job on the tombola for the last couple of years. After all, if you had a local business, you’d want to keep on the right side of the head honcho down at the fire station – wouldn’t you?

The meeting ran into the regular monthly club meeting for which there was a particularly good attendance. All the better to hear that we had retained our regional championship, 2nd division on account of the number of members. Not only that but we’d come 2nd overall, beating off two larger clubs from nearby Antibes. I think this gives M le President bragging rights at the next UFOLEP meeting.   

Got back home (again) just in time to watch the highlights of today’s first stage in Adelaide of the Tour down Under which was won by Andrei Greipel (HTC-Columbia) who narrowly beat Gert Steegmans (Radio Shack) whom we’ve not seen competitively on a bike for a while – welcome back Gert. I last saw him in the tribune watching the team presentation at last year’s Tour de France in Monaco, where he resides.

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.

Will she, won’t she

This week I’m preparing for Saturday’s Brevet Kivilev, an event held in memory of the late Andrei Kivilev, an honorary member of our club, who tragically died of head injuries on 12 March 2003 following a collision and fall in the 2nd stage of 2003 Paris-Nice.

Kivilev’s untimely death was the trigger for the UCI to implement compulsory wearing of helmets by riders in all endorsed races.

Commitments permitting, the Kazakhs turn out in support, which means that this week end I’ll get to ride with yet another Grand Tour winner. Though no doubt he too will be showing me a pair of clean heels!

I was, and still am, tempted to try to complete the 170km parcours. However, while I’m familiar with parts of the course, I haven’t cycled all of it. Nor have I cycled quite that far in one day. There’s also the vague concern that I’ll get back to the finish to discover that everyone’s packed up and gone home because I took far too long.

My training this week has been impaired by lungs congested by the very high levels of tree pollen, for which I have been slathering on the Vick’s Vapour rub, as permitted under WADA/UCI/FFC/UFOLEP regulations. Though, obviously, I have been monitoring my ingested level of eucalyptus, so as not to breach the limits.

Thursday Postscript: Just popped into my LBS to collect my secret weapon: “Stars’n’Bars” energy bars, made to a top secret recipe. They are totally delicious. Now I’ll have no excuse for not lasting the distance.

Sunday, lovely Sunday

My week’s training starts with the Sunday club run. Last Sunday morning (last stage of Paris-Nice) we were up and out early for the Super Cannes pointage (rendezvous for all the local clubs where points are awarded based on certain criteria). As usual, my husband had shot off up the hill leaving me to wend my way up with a small group from another club. We were all labouring under the misapprehension that one of us knew the location of the rendezvous point. It soon became apparent that none of us did but, after riding around in ever decreasing circles, a not uncommon occurrence, we finally chanced upon it.

Since I often get left behind by the club peloton on these pointages, I like to check out the route on a map beforehand, and, if I’ve not been there before, may even take a copy of the map with me. As a minimum, I always take along details of the route. Sometimes, though, the details are so sketchy, presumably on the basis that everyone but me knows where it is (so not true).

Sometimes  I wonder how many points are “lost” each Sunday because individuals cannot find the pointage. The clubs with the most points win trophies and individuals collect points in a season long club competition. I must say I fully approve of the concept that turning up on a more regular basis than your club mates could win you a trophy.

This week, however, I have had a very short-term goal: preparing to compete in a local “Gentleman (two person) contre-le-montre”. Classification is done according to the sum of your combined ages, apart from the ladies, who due to paucity of numbers, are all lumped into a “Scratch” category.

Last year my partner and I finished a very creditable second (out of five) behind a pairing who are young enough to be our daughters. One of whom is the current French UFOLEP amateur road race champion.  Suffice to say, we would have been first (and the only ones) in our age group.

This year, I’m riding in the mixed category with a fellow club mate. He’s made the usual jokes about how he’s just going to be sticking to my wheel but we both know who’s going to be doing the wheel sucking in this relationship. We’re up against very tough opposition notably a couple of French amateur UFOLEP contre-le-montre champions, who have recently joined our club. So they’ll be turning up on Sunday with all the gear: the tri-bars, skin suits, pointy helmets and carbon rear wheels. I may just wear my aerodynamic shoe covers to give us that all important edge.