Truly, great voyages (tgv)

There’s something rather restful about travelling by train, particularly when your companion is in another part of the train. Actually, my beloved is on another train which, until we reach Lille, is attached to mine, thereafter it speeds to Brussels. However, there’s no easy way of moving between the two. This situation has arisen because we initially didn’t anticipate travelling together and would have started our journeys in different places. However, changes to travel plans were made at the last moment and my carriage was allegedly full.

I’m not, you understand, complaining. I’m in the quiet carriage, no mobile phones, which would be impossible for my beloved who I’m quite sure has already annoyed the hell out of his fellow travellers by loudly chatting, in several different languages, on his mobile. I have my picnic lunch, I’m next to the buffet car for my regular infusions of strong coffee, I have a pile of newspapers and magazines, my really difficult Sudoku book and, of course, my notepad. Really, what else does a girl need?

The first part of the journey is largely along the coast and affords great views of some of my favourite places to cycle. The sun is shining, the sky is bright azure blue, the grass is lush and the foliage is every shade of green from citrus bright lime through to British racing green interrupted very so often by splodges of pale pink, almond white or puce blossom. Even when we head inland, and the surroundings are less salubrious, the clear bright Mediterranean light gilds everything be it industrial estates or graffiti strewn, railway sidings and derelict farmhouses. As we journey further north, away from the urban sprawl, there’s a few fluffy clouds in the sky, herds of sheep gambolling on the gently rolling countryside, and the crops are just starting to sprout.

Of course, I’m excited to be heading to Roubaix to see the Hell of the North. I’ve noted that a number of people have gotten on the train with cycling bags, no doubt planning to ride tomorrow’s cyclosportif. I did entertain brief thoughts about aping them until one of the pros I know told me what riding over the cobbles was really like. I have heeded his words of wisdom.

Hard as it may be to believe but I have already started planning my trips for next year. I have so enjoyed watching this week’s Tour of the Basque Country that I simply have to go and watch it in person next year. The stages are all based around a small geographic area, meaning you can easily stay in the same place all week and ride to and from the start and finish of each day’s stage. Additionally, it’s a race which features some of my favourite riders. Two have already won stages (Alexandre Vinokourov and Sammy Sanchez) and another (Amael Moinard) is gracing the spotted jersey. For succinct summaries of each day’s stages, go and read www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

According to my training programme, this is a rest week: just a couple of hours of gentle cycling, stretching and gym work. However, the weather’s been so fabulous that I’ve been out riding most days, mindful that during this 4-day trip I won’t be able to ride at all. I could tell from yesterday’s ride that my form is back to where it was before the cold. So, I’m now about a month behind in my preparation. The real tests will be my times in the forthcoming sportives. I’m going to be crushed if I don’t show an improvement on last year.

The journey takes a total of 7 hours with no change of trains. I used the train infrequently when I lived in the UK, really only out of necessity, and always first-class, for the trip to an occasional football match and work-related trips to Cheltenham. Travelling by train in Europe is enjoyable. It’s quick, timely, spotlessly clean, inexpensive, and comfortable, standing is not permitted and travelling first-class is a pleasure, not a necessity.

Home alone

Our guests and my beloved have departed leaving me to savour being on my own once more. I probably sound as if I’ve got a touch of the Howard Hughes but there’s something very liberating about not being at anyone’s beck and call. I can do what I want, when I want.

Having luxuriated in a day off the bike, I was eager to clamber back into lycra and profit from the continued warm weather. The silly tan lines are now clearly visible on the legs (sock line above ankle and shorts line across thighs). But,  because my legs don’t tan evenly, the backs of my legs and thighs tan well but sadly my shins don’t, the overall effect is somehow worse. I had already done in excess of today’s 3hr group ride on Monday, so I opted for yesterday’s ride, in a fasted state, followed by some core-strength exercises and stretching. 

This afternoon, having speedily cleaned up all traces of my beloved and guests, I treated myself to watching Circuit de la Sarthe, Scheldeprijs and Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. I know, cycling in triplicate! By the way, do check out my friend Susi’s excellent pictures from that last race on the cyclingnews website.

Lest you think I’ve spent the afternoon loafing around, I should add that, at the same time as watching the cycling, I demolished a category 3 mountain of my husband’s ironing. It was in severe danger of developing into something larger and less manageable and I’m keep to avoid any further vuelta type situations developing.

In Belgium, with about 37km to go, Tom Boonen became entangled with a couple of riders from Euskatel. Guess who fared worse from that encounter? Yes, if I were a 60kg skinny Spaniard he’d be the last person I’d want to collide with. The Euskis were DNFs but Tom got in the slipstream of his team car and following a very lengthy shoe swop was soon back into the peloton. He launched the sprint, leading out team mate Wouter Weylandt and Tyler Farrar, who won ahead of Rockin’ Robbie McEwan.

They start 'em young in the Basque country

In the Basque country, Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) beat Oscar Freire in another sprint finish, but the latter now assumes the yellow jersey ahead of tomorrow’s tough mountain stage. While in the Circuit de la Sarthe, Anthony Ravard (AG2R) won stage 2a and Tiago Machado, one of the few surviving Radioshackers,  won the 2b time-trial but Luis Leon Sanchez is still looking good in yellow. Actually, he looks pretty good in most things.