Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Another challenge for 2018 - Paris Marathon

I already mentioned how I have got a place in the Etape du Tour for next year. As if that's not enough of a challenge (along with all the preparation races I need to do) I have only signed myself up for the Paris marathon!
Another challenge for 2018

It's been ages since I last did a marathon - 12 years in fact, and it was the London marathon. London is the only marathon I've done, and I have done it twice - in 2005 and in 2002. I applied a few times to do the New York Marathon, and I finally got a place in 2006, but life got in the way and I ended up not doing it. Over the years injury and other commitments have meant that I just forgot about doing marathons again, but I guess that the whole "mid-life crisis" thing has got me signing up for different physical challenges.

You get to an age where you want to prove to yourself you've still got it! So here I am taking on the marathon challenge, along with other things (though I haven't bought a motorbike - yet!).

I had hoped to mark my marathon comeback by getting a place in the public ballot for next year's London marathon. But alas, when 380,000 people are applying for around 17,000 individual places the odds are slightly stacked against you!

Paris is a place where I have had a lot of good memories (I lived there for four years shortly after graduating from university.) and I always have a good time whenever I go there. I did my first ever half-marathon at the Semi-Marathon de Paris over 20 years ago. So it would only be logical to do their full marathon as well.

So within minutes of me receiving my rejection email from London Marathon, I had signed up for Paris!

Immediately afterwards you get that moment of euphoria when your place in the event that you'd been really wanting to do is confirmed. Then the feeling sinks in and you realise how much you're going to need to do between now and race day - the training, getting in loads of miles, sometimes running at silly hours of the day, or in really bad weather. But you've got to get it done if you are to hit the target and have a decent crack at the challenge on the day.

And after all that thought, you then say to yourself, "What have I done??"

Well, it's too late. I have triggered the equivalent of Article 50 for running the Paris marathon so I'd better get in, get on, and get out!

Training has been going okay so far, but I have to be really disciplined about getting the miles in. I also have to stay injury free and try not to get colds or the flu - something which is a challenge in itself when half your colleagues in the office are coughing and sneezing across the desk!

Anyway, I am going to do what I can to prepare for the marathon, and hopefully I will be able to make the start line at the Arc de Triomphe on April 8th next year. I'm going to love Paris in the springtime!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Etape du Tour goes to the Alps again! Great!

Etape du Tour profile
So we now know the route of the 2018 Tour de France, and looking at the format it looks like it'll be a cracker.

There'll be a cobbled section again with stage 9 (Arras to Roubaix) including sectors from the Paris-Roubaix classic, which could really shake-up the field - literally! And I'm guessing as a nod to the Strade Bianche classic in Italy there's a new Alpine climb up to Plateau des Glieres that goes over a section of unmade road on Stage 10.

On the subject of Stage 10, which goes from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand, this will also be the route for the Etape du Tour.

I am very pleased to know this, especially because I missed a trick by not doing the 2017 edition of L'Etape (Embrun to col d'Izoard - check), and had been resigned to the fact that in 2018 it would be in the Pyrenees, and I would have to wait until 2019 to ride L'Etape du Tour in the Alps.

But in a lucky twist of fate we are back in the Savoy area. The route looks a beauty. It will start in Annecy, known as the "Little Venice of France" go around the lovely lake, then up over the Col de la Croix Fry, through the Aravis and the Saisies region, up the Montee du Plateau du Glieres, over the Col du Romme, then to tackle the biggest climb of the stage, Col de la Colombiere, before a long descent to Le Grand Bornand. It'll be a total distance of 169km (105.5 miles) with around 4,000m of climbing, making it a tough challenge and only slightly "easier" than the other big cyclosportive that's on the same day, La Marmotte. A water feature plus mountains is my favourite combination in a route. It's going to be a great day's biking.

Lac d'Annecy
I haven't ridden that exact route of L'Etape du Tour before, but I have ridden a few of the climbs in that area. This casts my mind back to a couple of trips I did there.

About 20 years ago I went on a triathlon training camp with UCPA, a French sports and outdoor activity holiday company. We were based in a village called St Jorioz right on the edge of the Lac d'Annecy. All our swimming was done in the lake, and then we did a mini triathlon which consisted of going up (and down) one of the local cols. I'm not sure which one we went up - it may have been up to a village called St Eustache, though all I remember was how tough I found the cycling.

I was brand new to triathlon and club cycling at that time, but the guys were very supportive. Needless to say I came last in our race, which wasn't helped by the fact that I got lost on the bike course! As usual, I had hoped to return to St Jorioz the following year and do the camp again, but you always end up getting sucked into other activities....!

Then about 10 years ago I rode an improvised version of the Route des Grands Alpes - the classic itinerary from Thonon les Bains, near Geneva, to Menton on the French Riviera.

On my first day of the route I set off from Geneva on the most miseraable of days. It was pouring with rain, grey, and really not a day to be out. I recall going through the border crossing from Switzerland into France, and as the policeman waved me through I asked him if this was the right way to Cluses. He confirmed it was, but not without him giving me a bit of a lecture on how I should be careful out there, and this really wasn't a day for a young lady to be riding up into the mountains. I reassured him by saying I would be staying in the valley! There was no chance of that - I needed to get to Le Grand Bornand that night and that involved going over the Col de la Colombiere!

So I just pressed on through the rain on my road bike, which was laiden with panniers and went through places like Annemasse, Bonneville, Scionzier and other villages that looked pretty despite the autumnal weather. Just before Cluses I made the right hand turn to start the climb. And that's basically all I did for about the next four hours!

The visibility was so low I had no idea what the landscape around me was like. I just crawled up at about 4 miles per hour, through the mist and rain, just following the white line in front of me, and not being able to see more than about 5 metres ahead of me! After about an hour of climbing I had thought I was at the summit, but in fact I was only at a place called Le Reposoir. From there onwards the rain subsided, but it was still foggy.

Luckily there was hardly any traffic around - well who would have wanted to be out in this drich weather?? Finally, after what seemed like an age, the pedalling became easier, then I didn't have to pedal at all as I realised I had reached the summit (I hadn't seen any sign saying I was at the col de la Colombiere) and I was making my decent to Le Grand Bornand. Maybe this was the time to celebrate reaching the top, but by heck was it freezing on the descent! Everything about me was shivering and my teeth were chattering.

Warm welcome at Hotel La Croix St Maurice
After about three miles I reached a village which I thought was Le Grand Bornand, and so I stopped there to look for accommodation. Shock, horror! Everything was closed. The place was like a ghostown. On no, where would I find a bed for the night?? Then after a little bit of wandering I around, I realised I wasn't actually in Le Grand Bornand, but a place called Samance. My stopping point was still another 4 miles down the hill. Good news, but not so good that I was freezing and really couldn't face more descending.

So I rode uphill to get out of the village, and then rode back up the col de la Colombiere for another half-mile to try to work up some heat! I needed to find some warmth somehow! Then I was able to complete the descent and arrived in the main square which was full of life and buzzing. Very helpfully, there was a hotel right on the main square, the Hotel La Croix St Maurice, where they had one single room left and the hotel chef had just finished cooking the evening meal, so I bagged it! The hotel and the staff were very pleasant, but what was really great for me was the heated towel rail in the bathroom, which I put to very good use!

The next day was lovely and had wall to wall sunshine. I went past places like St Jean de Sixt, La Clusaz, and over the Col des Aravis, and Col de Saisies, and through other pretty little ski resort villages before pushing on further south towards Cormet de Roselend and Bourg St Maurice.

Let's do it!

It had been time well spent in the Savoy area, and I look forward to being there for L'Etape du Tour. There'll be a great atmosphere.

So I'm in! I've now just got to get on with it and train so that the broom wagon doesn't catch me on the day!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

One day one photo - 30: More of gorgeous Verdon

Mercantour mountains see from La Route des Crete
Yesterday was spent going around the outer road circumnavigating the Gorges du Verdon, also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Today was about doing the inner route, known as the Route des Cretes. Being based at La Palud-sur-Verdon meant that I could get onto this road quite easily. La Route des Cretes is basically a road that goes around a big rock formation within the middle of the canyon. You can only access that road from La Palud-sur-Verdon, and for about half of the route the road is one-way traffic only. That makes sense to me as the road is a bit narrow, there are numerous switchbacks where you really wouldn't want to make a mistake while going around the bends. And trying to get two vehicles, particularly campervans (of which there are many around here) to pass one another would be like playing Russian Roulette!

From La Palud, the road climbed steadily and as I got higher and higher I could see the gite where I had been staying become more and more like a dot in the distance. I could also see the Mercantour mountains and a portion of the gorge as a teaser, which looked atmospheric at this time of the morning. The place looked deserted, apart from a few people who were driving up to do rock-climbing. La Route des Cretes closes from October to March, and I was going over that road on the final weekend of the summer season so it's not surprising the area was so quiet. It was amazing to have this spectacular road all to myself! Finally the road reached its high point, at just over 1300m above sea level, before steadily dropping down. It was a lovely descent, and as there was no traffic, and no worries about vehicles coming up the other way this was bliss! Also, I could see across the gorge to the road below me, where I had ridden the previous day.  I don't know if there exists anything as beautiful, exhilarating, and spectacular as this in Europe. Having the sun shining down on me was an added bonus. This, for me is what I would call a must-do ride.

Going around the Route des Cretes is only about 23km, but it involves quite a long climb - around 7km, so it took me about an hour and a half to ride the circuit. You do need the hour and a half though, if nothing else to really soak in the lovely scenery in this beautiful, wild part of Provence.

I was glad to have ridden this today, as it was the perfect antidote to the motorway drive back to the coast, that I had to do straight afterwards!

Friday, 29 September 2017

One day one photo - 29: Gorgeous Gorges du Verdon

Today was a big day for me. I finally arrived at the Gorges du Verdon. The drive up from Nice had not been easy, as I was a little tired after having woken up around 2.30am to get my flight, and then hanging around Nice to wait for my bike which had failed to arrive at the same time as me.

I had passed the time going for a run, and then I got in the car to drive for around two and a half hours cross country. It was plain sailing on the motorway, but once off it the roads were very twisty and undulating. For quite a while I'd been wondering if I should have planned to come all this way out of Nice as the scenery, although pleasant, didn't seem much different from what was on the Cote d'Azur. But then I arrived in the quaint village of Comps sur Artuby, and after that the landscape changed dramatically. From pretty green hills, the peaks turned rocky and wild. The road became even more twisty and irregularly rose up and down. It became increasingly difficult for me to take my eyes off the road even for one second, as I had to concentrate that bit more.

Eventually I saw a sign that said "Point Sublime", and it was at that point I realised I was at the famous Gorges du Verdon.

So today was a lovely day, as I managed to ride the full circuit of the Gorge. I hadn't known how far it would be. The proprietor of the gite where I was staying said it would be around 100km, and Google maps suggested it would take me around 7.5 hours. I was a little nervous about being able to complete the circuit before dark!

In fact it wasn't that long. My Garmin measured the distance as 88km, and I got back to La Palud at around 4.30pm (I was out for 6.5 h hours but my riding time was more like 5 hours.) The high points of my trip were the section after Trigance, on the area known as Corniche Sublime, Les Balcons de la Mescla,  then the descent to the Lac Sainte Croix via the town of Aiguines.

At the Pont du Galetas I took a photo of the opening of the Gorges, and it turned out this is an iconic picture of the Gorges du Verdon, as it appears in many guide books and magazines whenever they talk about this geographic feature. The final climb back towards La Palud-sur-Verdon was a real slog for me, and I began to feel quite tired. Most of the main road from the lake consisted of a 14-km climb to the col d'Ayen, though I was rewarded with a 3-km downhill into La Palud. I was glad to have made the trip out to Verdon, and was happy to have done the circuit.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

One day one photo - 28: Bikes on flights headache

Although I have cycled abroad in recent years I tend to take my bike onto a aeroplanes less and less. Taking your bike onto a flight has become increasingly expensive. My flight top Nice cost £80, and then I paid a further £80 to transport the bicycle! Furthermore, there's always the worry over whether or not the airline company will get your bike to your destination without any damage, plus there's also the headache of transporting the bike cross-country if your start point and your destination are far from the airport.
Sometimes there's a worry about whether the bike will arrive at your destination at all!

In recent years I have tried to mitigate against these annoyances by hiring a bike where possible. Sometimes it can work out cheaper than taking my own bike, and the bikes on hire can even be a higher spec than any of the bikes I have at home.

Last year I travelled to Alicante and Costa Blanca area of Spain, and hired from a shop in El Campello. When in the Milan/Lake Como area of Italy I have hired from a company based in Cernobbio, and of course that Mecca for cycling, Mallorca, has no end of places that will hire out road bikes.

Today I flew to Nice and took my bike on a flight. Although There were places hiring out bikes, I found it would work out expensive, and some of the shops are not open on Monday, the day I return to London. So I had to give in and pack my bike onto an Easyjet flight.

The bike arrived intact, thank goodness. It's a shame it arrived five hours after I did! I should have known there'd be a problem when the guy in security at Gatwick Airport said to his colleague "who are we gonna get to move this to the plane?" Why I was in security is another story. The guy on the oversized baggage belt didn't want to lift my bike because he said that it wasn't a regular shape and reckoned it would get stuck in the scanning machine. Despite my point that this is something that I had done in the past without any problem, he wasn't prepared to believe me, and insisted that a porter take my bike up to a special security area where it would be taken manually to the plane.

So, lo and behold, when I arrived at Nice Airport at 9am, I experienced that heartsink moment when my bike was nowhere to be seen on the carousel. But thanks to the efforts by Wendy at baggage services I managed to get the bike later in the afternoon.

It didn't spoil my day too much. I spent the time going for a run on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice while waiting. However, it did make for a long day because by the time my bike arrived and I had gone through all the formalities etc. it was after 4pm when I set off to drive to Provence. When I arrived at my gite it was getting dark, and I was just ready to eat and go straight to bed.

Thanks to Wendy at Avia Baggage Services in Nice Airport, but Boo to Easyjet for not being on it at Gatwick.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

One day one photo - 27: Another cycling fatality

Grosvenor Road/Chelsea Bridge - a dodgy junction for cyclists
Yet another cyclist has been killed on our London streets today. The 36-year-old woman, who has not been named, was hit early this morning by a truck that was turning left, at the junction of Grosvenor Road and Chelsea Bridge. She went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to King's College Hospital.

But despite the efforts by medical staff, the lady sadly passed away.
The exact circumstances of the accident have yet to be established, but once again we have another instance of a cyclist losing their life while commuting around London.

I get the impression that the transport authorities do take into account cyclist safety when planning road layouts more now than they did in years gone by. However, the problem is that safety can only be assured to a limited extent if they don't invest enough money. In the UK that investment is less barely £1 per head, but British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman believes that £10 per person is needed in order to have a decent infrastructure for cyclists. Compare this with places like the Netherlands and Denmark, where investment is around double this figure.

I rode along that section of road earlier in the month, while on my way to an orienteering event in Fulham after work. It was at rush hour and there were so many cyclists. It is definitely a favoured route when commuting, particularly as parts of it have a cycle lane.

That section near Chelsea Bridge though, is a pinch point, and as a cyclist I had to weave around cars as there was no space for me to ride in a straight line. I guess that was an accident waiting to happen, particularly as some cyclists weave up on the inside of vehicles.

I hope that the local authorities will take this junction, and other dicey junctions into account when reviewing road policy.

My thoughts go to the family of the young lady who was killed.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

One day one photo - 26: I'm doing a cyclosportive!

There was a time when I used to do loads of cyclosportives - all the well-known ones in the UK such as the Dragon Ride, Fred Whitton, Etape du Dales etc, and I travelled abroad to do quite a few as well - L'Etape du Tour, La Marmotte, La Quebrantahuesos. I even didn't mind just jumping on a plane and going to do one in some local village where there would be no other British people there, and it was a sportive hardly known outside of that country.

I remember that being the case when I took part in an event called La Vencoise about 10 years ago, in the hills just outside Nice. There were probably around 400 entrants, all from the local area, congregated in the village sportshall.

The organiser was very pleased to see someone who had travelled from so far away, and when I was signing in they were really impressed to see a UK cycle racing licence. As I didn't have a car I got there by catching a train from Nice to St Laurent du Var, and then cycling the remaining 8 miles uphill to a place near Tourettes sur Loup. It was funny because when I was riding back from the event to get the train to Nice, a lot of the competitors that passed me in their cars beeped and waved at me as they overtook, or even leaned out to say bonjour. I think I was about the 10th fastest woman in my race, but he still gave me some flowers and a bottle of wine. It seemed to be one of those days that the organisers would recall as "the day a young lady from London turned up to do our race!"

Happy days! I have wanted to return there and do the event again, but have not managed to. I hope to do so again though. There's always a nice feeling at these cycle events, and they are much more personable than the large-scale, big budget, high profile events.

In the meantime I have entered a cyclosportive in the same general region, called La Mercantour. This is more towards Menton, and goes over the col de Madone and the col de Braus, which are biggies on that side of the mountains. It's again a small local event, with a couple of hundred people.

These days I do fewer cyclosportives than in previous years (so many cycling disciplines so little time!). I did the Etape Loch Ness last year, after I was invited there, and I have ridden the Ride London 100 for the last couple of years. Hopefully I will be able to get through this race, and the long climbs of the Alpes Maritimes won't have me spat out of the back of the pack too early!