Postcard from Paris-Nice 2018

One of these years I will endeavour to follow the entire route of Paris-Nice, just not this year.  This time I joined the race for the start of stage 5 in Salon-de-Provence. We’ve visited the town a number of times as my beloved has a client here. But, last year, during the Tour de France, was our maiden venture into its small but beautifully formed Old Town.

My overnight stop was chosen deliberately because of its prized location, with a parking place, most of which in the town had been suspended because of the race. The B&B is the family home of a doctor, who runs his practice from the front two rooms, and his designer wife who runs their home, the B&B and her design practice from the rest of the building which includes a delightful, enclosed courtyard garden and pool.

I was buffeted by the wind on the drive down but didn’t mind as the sun was shining. Everything looks so much better in the sunshine, doesn’t it? Spring was definitely in the air. The mimosa might be on its last legs but the bright lime green of new leaves and shoots was everywhere, along with what I assume is cherry, or maybe apple, blossom.

As anticipated the drive took me just over two hours. I easily located my lodgings and joined my hostess for a reviving cup of green tea while her tiny dog Lilli gazed at me in adoration and gave my shoes a quick clean and polish. The owner looked a tad put out at this open transfer of affection. I didn’t bother to enlighten her about my enduring and inexplicable attraction to dogs.

The house was charming and had been strikingly decorated. It certainly wasn’t to my taste but it made a pleasant change from a beige hotel chain bedroom, plus my bedroom and bathroom were very generously proportioned. Space is always a bonus. I was also their only guest and barely made a dent in the copious breakfast the following morning.

I had arrived suitably laden with baked goodies for a number of the teams. I noted with interest that my race winning brownies served up at Strade  Bianche had  wrought their magic in the team time-trial at Tirreno Adriatico. Maybe, they’d have a similar effect at Paris-Nice, I certainly hoped so.

Brownies handed out and gratefully received, the peloton departed and I tarried over lunch in the sunshine before heading back to the motorway to get to the race finish in Sisteron. This is a much used location by ASO and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited. I’ve also ridden extensively around here, so it’s always a pleasure to revisit. I typically stay at the same hotel, the Ibis. Definitely beige but usually in the company of a couple of cycling teams. This time it was to be Lotto Soudal and Astana.

As I joined the motorway I had an epiphany. I cancelled my room in Sisteron and drove home. I just had this feeling that I should watch the stage finish, not the stage start. This was to prove a wise decision.

Friday afternoon, I drove up to Vence to watch the final kilometres of a stage which covered roads I know, ride regularly and love. As ever I get a real kick from seeing the professional peloton ride on my roads. My instincts proved correct, the stage was won by a friend, Rudy Molard. I was so happy for him. And, yes, he’d been one of the recipients of my race-winning brownies!

Sadly this year’s Race to the Sun was no such thing. The week-end was a wash-out. I woke on Saturday morning to the sound of pouring rain, rolled over and went back to sleep. I had no intention of getting soaked like the previous week-end in Siena. Instead I watched an enthralling stage on the television before heading to the airport to collect my beloved, where I discovered  – not for the first time – he’d misinformed me about his arrival time. I returned home, took his dinner out of the oven and returned once more much later.

Sunday morning we awoke to the sound of heavy rain and wind. We took an executive decision to watch the final stage of the race on the television. This too proved to be wise as, with the exception of the last few kilometres, it rained all day. It felt like a bit of a cop out not to watch both stages live but, to be honest, my flu symptoms had reared their ugly head again. Serves me right for kissing so many in the peloton who were subsequently DNF or DNS on account of the flu. However, when you get to my age, the opportunity to kiss so many fit young guys in lycra shouldn’t be ignored, despite the consequences.

In spite of the weather, or maybe because of it, this year’s Paris-Nice was a rip-roaring race which kept us on the edge of our seats throughout before a long-range, smash and grab by the Spaniards on the final stage causing a couple of wags to re-christen the Promenade des Anglais, Promenade des Espagnols!

We must stop meeting like this

I woke to brilliant sunshine and the promise of a great day’s riding. I dressed warmly, suspecting it might be chilly on Col de Vence. Yes, I decided today would be my first ascent of the year of the Col. The last two Saturday’s I have felt a bit fatigued, and today was no exception. As I wound my way up L’Ara to Vence I was feeling decidedly wobbly. It was also much colder, thanks to the Mistral-like wind, than I’d thought. Time for a change of plan.

Rather than turning straight up towards the Col, I turned right and headed for St Jeannet. On the way there I passed none other than Mr Boonen and assorted cycling buddies, chatting away and merrily proceeding in the opposite direction. Again, he wasn’t wearing a helmet or sunglasses. Tom, you’re setting a really bad example for impressionable youngsters. There’s no way I’m going to be seen riding with someone without a helmet – sorry!

Having foregone the climb up Col de Vence, I set off up towards the village of St Jeannet. I know, it’s only a couple of kms rather than 10km but that’s all I was capable of today. In addition, this is one of my favourite downhills. It’s steep, relatively straight and, traffic permitting, I can get down it without having to apply the brakes. I descended via La Gaude, passing several club mates huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and headed for my usual pit-stop for the newspapers and a coffee.

A piece in L’Equipe caught my eye. Vino has the same dental problems as Cavendish and won’t be riding in today’s La Strade Bianchi. I must send him my email on how to treat this. No need to compromise his season, or lose a tooth if he and his dentist follow my advice.

I felt considerably better after lunch, making me wonder if I’ve been a little too severe in the calorie cutting. The flat is now spotless and I’m enjoying the last few hours of peace and quiet before the return of my beloved who’ll be working from the home office all next week. This means, of course, that I’ll be in for a busy week.

In addition, I’ve guests arriving Thursday evening for a few days. It’s my friend Susi, she of the world-class performances in three disciplines: speed skating, cycling and triathlon. She’s bringing her partner and they’ll be taking photographs at the last two stages of Paris-Nice.

Tomorrow’s pointage is on the seafront at Cagnes sur Mer so I’ll be able to have a bit of a lie in. I’m then going to ride over to Monaco to watch our “racers” and juniors compete in a crit in Monaco. Let’s hope the weather stays fine. In the afternoon, I’ll be slumped in front of the tv, in the fleecy track suit, watching the first stage of Paris-Nice where I’m pretty sure Bert will want to take top honours overall to erase the memory of last year’s unfortunate “bonk”.

Bring me sunshine

As I woke up this morning I could see the clear blue skies and feel the heat of the sun coming through windows. There wasn’t a moment to waste after two whole days stuck indoors. I was up, washed, dressed and out on the bike all within 20 minutes. The roads were just starting to dry out from the deluge of the past few days.

One consequence of the heavy rain tends to be rather more dirt, debris and stones on that bit of the road normally used by cyclists. Fortunately, it was early and the traffic light. I decided to choose a route which would give me a dry descent in the sunshine. Another hazard to avoid on the roads at this time of year are figs. They fall onto the road and make a sticky, squishy mess rendered more dangerous by the rain. Explaining that your road rash was caused by skidding on a fig is more likely to raise mirth than sympathy.

Gourdon
Gourdon

I was feeling wonderful this morning, riding at a good pace with a high cadence. There were not too many other riders out on the roads. At Pont Sur Loup, I  opted to ride up to Gourdon, via Pre du Lac, before descending  the Gorges du Loup, back down to Pont sur Loup. I then rode up to Tourrettes sur Loup before descending back home via Vence and La Colle sur Loup. Unfortunately, the forecast is for more rain tomorrow.

Lots of firsts

I’m a girl who believes in lots of planning and preparation. If I’m doing a cyclosportif, I like to have cycled the route beforehand. This is so that a) I know I can do it and b) I know when to conserve, or conversely, expend energy en route. It also gives me an opportunity to scout possible locations for a pit-stop as these generally tend to be few and far between. I prefer to wear bib shorts or tights, so there’s no way I can discretely slip out of my kit behind a bush. It’s a full-scale strip job, so you can understand my concerns and preference for a toilet.

I am currently training for the Charly Bérard which largely takes place on the course of my first ever pointage. A year or so ago, one the girls at the club invited me to cycle with her on Sundays, promising that we could go at my pace. She cycles with two of the club’s very spritely octogenarians who are both glowing adverts for the long-term benefits of cycling. I can only hope to emulate them when I’m their age.

When I told my husband I was going to do that Sunday’s pointage he was somewhat dismissive of my ability to get up the climbs. This time however I will have to ascend a tad quicker for fear of falling behind the dreaded “broom wagon” and having my timing device unceremoniously removed.

Most of the club events I take part in are self-timed. You tell the person writing the certificate your time and they put it on your certificate. Whether you finish first or last, your club gets the same number of points. You just have to finish. There are usually two courses on offer: one 50% longer than the other with more points on offer for the longer course. Trophies are awarded to the clubs whose riders garner the most points. There are no individual prizes save those for the youngest and oldest male and female entrants to complete the course.

In preparation, this week I did my first ascent this year of the Col de Vence (963m). This has to be my closest and favourite climb. I did it for the very first time in early April of last year. Buoyed with my feat of climbing Col d’Eze, via the more strenuous Grande Corniche, I decided I was ready to tackle the Col de Vence. I rode the slightly longer but less strenuous route up to Vence via La Gaude before turning onto the Col itself. The first few kilometres are the steepest but it soon levels out and there are simply splendid views down to the coast plus some pretty pricey real-estate to admire as you pedal your way up to the Chateau du Domaine St. Martin and beyond to the open pastures full of sheep.

I took comfort from the road markers telling me how many more kilometres I had to travel and the average gradient (7%). The top is a bit of an anti-climax but I couldn’t resist sending my husband a text to tell him I’d done it.

The Top
The Top

Today I cycled the quicker, slightly steeper route via La Colle sur Loup. Under darkening skies and into a strong headwind, I managed to ascend the hill for the first time without stopping at all: another first. Col de Vence is my favourite col not because of the ascent but because of the descent. You can easily see what little traffic there is coming up the hill so you can throw caution to the wind, keep your hands off the brakes and pretend you’re Samu Sanchez.  With that tailwind, it was my fastest descent ever.