Category Archives: tour de france

Swim, swim, run, gym, turbo, birthday and eager anticipation

Hampton Court (either they built it on a slant or I’m a poor photographer)

For some time I’ve posted on Sundays prattling on about life, challenges and the week’s running, swimming, cycling and gym. Here is a deviation from that due to tomorrow’s ultra marathon.

I’m not sure if the change is because I may be incapable of posting tomorrow, or because there should be something to say about the ultra. Perhaps its just because it’s my 66th birthday today (10th July) and if I want to post on my birthday, I can.

Winding back to the start of the week, I swam on Monday evening. I’m still struggling with swimming for very good reasons – I don’t love it, I’m not good at it, I’m not improving very quickly, who wants to leave home at 20.40 to go and swim and it really aggravates my sinuses.

However, having said all that, I swam 1.65km – further than before – in 48 minutes and there were fleeting moments when it almost felt good (but still slow). On the other hand, I sneezed continuously from 5 to 8am on Tuesday morning. Sufficiently bad that I took an antihistamine – the first medicine of any sort that has passed my lips this year.

Tuesday saw another marvellous stage win in Le Tour for Mark Cavendish – can he get the record and/or the Green Jersey?

Back to the pool on Tuesday evening. It wasn’t that I particularly wanted to swim, but I’m trying to go twice a week and I thought that if the swim was going to cause any more sinus issues, it would be better to get them out of the way early. As it was, no sinus problems. My first time swimming on successive days and it was OK – another 1km. I’m no faster but there are moments when I think it is getting a little easier.

I ran with my wife on Wednesday morning, just the 5.5km as it’s too late to try to make up for lost training. I wore the kit I plan to use for the ultra on Sunday and took the equipment I intend to carry with me. As is traditional for any run close to an event, it felt really hard and everything hurt.

In the afternoon I watched Le Tour tackle Ventoux. I love that mountain – completing the ‘Cinglés du Mont Ventoux’ (climbing it three times) is one of the two best days I’ve ever had on a bike (my ‘Everest’ being the other). More good sport on the TV in the evening as England made it to the final of the Euro Football Championships.

I did a gentle session in the gym on Thursday morning before we drove to London to the Hampton Court Garden Festival (previously the Flower Show) – which was an enjoyable trip out but not so good for the ‘stay off your feet’ advice before long runs. I managed to blister my small toe, right foot and that’s really not good.

After Hampton Court it was supper with our older son and then up to the flat for the night. Back home on Friday in time for my bike shop session and a chance to watch glorious history being made as Mark Cavendish equalled Eddie Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stages. Magnificent.

An easy 30 minute spin on the turbo in the evening for 15.2km, dedicated to Cavendish and Merckx (but not at their speeds) just to keep the legs moving. I managed to fit in the start of an ear infection on Friday night too – how is it that I’m not ill for months and then fray at the edges at exactly the wrong time?

Which brings me back to today, my 66th birthday. A very quiet one – I managed to convince our younger son to go on the stag weekend he’d been invited to and that made it easier to dissuade our older son from coming back here. Lunch out at a local restaurant was lovely, modest on the alcohol, and early to bed.

As for the ultra tomorrow, who knows? After damaging a knee ligament 4 weeks into the training, I had a 4 week lay-off and never felt confident enough in it to resume a proper training programme. That leaves me badly undercooked but I have a very stubborn streak and no great ambitions as to the time it might take me. I live in hope.

Fantasy Football league: Still holding on to second place, with younger son now up into third. Just the final to go and it looks really tight – do I go all out for England, for Italy or do I hedge my bets? The problem is that team news is revealed only an hour before kick off and by then I may be in a befuddled state, incapable of making sensible decisions.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand

2. BBC News Website: Covid lockdown sees man break M&M record

The world record for the tallest stack of M&M’s has been broken by a British man who managed to balance five of the chocolate sweets on top of each other. The previous record of four was jointly held by men from Italy and Australia.

You could lose yourself in such a challenge although I guess my time would be better spent cleanin’ out my closet

3. BBC News Website: Parents of children called Alexa challenge Amazon

Parents of children called Alexa say their daughters are being bullied because of its use for Amazon’s virtual assistant. Some have even changed their child’s name because they say the barrage of Alexa jokes is “relentless”.

Amazon says it is “saddened” by these accounts, and that alternative wake words are available.

Alexa, print me off a deed poll

4. BBC News Website: Nude sunbathers fined for breaching Covid rules

The men were sunbathing on a beach south of Sydney and ran into bushland after they got spooked by a deer. They were found after they called for assistance but were fined for breaching a public health order banning those in greater Sydney from travelling outside the area.

“It’s difficult to legislate against idiots,” the NSW Police Commissioner said at a press conference on Monday when speaking about the incident.

Australian police telling it like it is

5. BBC News website: Euro 2020: £36,000 raised for crying fan to go to charity

A Englishman who raised £36,000 for a young German football fan who was filmed crying as England knocked Germany out of Euro 2020, says the money will go to charity.

The girl’s family said they wanted the money to be donated to Unicef, saying “In the interests of our daughter and our family we would like to remain private, however we wish to thank everyone for your amazing support. Our daughter would like to request your generous donations go to Unicef, knowing that your kindness will do good.”

Ahhh

Swim, turbo, swim, gym, run – time for a taper?

Hello turbo my old friend … first session for a while

We were due a power cut on Monday from 9am, for essential maintenance work. Strangely, when the power was still on at 10.00 I felt rather cheated. How weird is that?

Eventually the power went and returned, so to celebrate I swam in the evening. The aim was to go a bit further and I managed 1.5km in 45 minutes. I’m now worried that it’s my feet/legs sinking in the water that are slowing me down … but then I’m also worried that if they aren’t sinking, what is slowing me down?

With all the swimming, running and gym, I haven’t done any cycling for a while. Tuesday afternoon I got on the turbo to start to address that. It was hot in the conservatory but I managed 30 minutes @ 32.1kph (20mph). That’s faster than normal so I’m encouraged.

Pool again on Wednesday evening for another 1km in just under the half hour. I tried breathing every two strokes instead of every three to get more oxygen in but it rather disrupted my rhythm (if I have a rhythm) and I found that I hadn’t always exhaled out fully by the time it was due to breathe in again. More practice needed – why is swimming so complicated?

Gym for an hour on Thursday morning but a day off exercise on Friday, feeling rather jaded but the morning in the bike shop was good fun.

First run of the week on Saturday morning – dull and overcast but reasonably warm. I don’t really know what running is sensible so close to the ultra but my son and I did 12.5km (a bit under 8 miles) which felt quite good at 6min/km.

In keeping with some sort of exercise taper, I took Sunday off but we drove into Oxford for lunch which was very civilised.

Coming up to decision time on the ultra. Which shoes, shirt, shorts, what to carry with me, whether to run for as long as possible or adopt walk/run from the start, etc. At least the weather looks OK – rain early in the week, drying by the weekend and a comfortable temperature for my 6am start – and not getting too hot until after I finish (I hope).

On the European Championship fantasy football league I’m clinging on in second place. I’m making great decisions in respect to my substitutions but the performance of some of the teams have, frankly, been letting me down (yes, France, Portugal, Netherlands, you know who you are). In respect of the real thing, ‘Come on England’.

Vive Le Tour de France – especially the performance of Mark Cavendish as he rolls back the years. Saturday saw a great first stage in the alps including the three category 1 climbs, all of which I’ve done over the years: Mont Saxonnex, the Col de Romme (not too long but steep with an average of 8.8%) and the Col de la Colombière (one of my favourites). Oh, how I am missing my annual cycle trip to the alps. That’s two trips missed now – roll on a virus-free 2022!

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: When a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well, but few will be ready to go down after it

2. BBC News website: South African government proposes to legalise polyandry

South Africa has one of the world’s most liberal constitutions, embracing same-sex marriages for all and polygamy for men – but the proposal to legalise polyandry (when a woman has more than one husband at the same time) has been met with objections.

Businessman and TV personality Musa Mseleku – who has four wives – is among those opposed to polyandry.

“This will destroy African culture. What about the children of those people? How will they know their identity? The woman cannot now take the role of the man. It’s unheard of. Will the woman now pay lobola [bride price] for the man. Will the man be expected to take her surname?”

None of my business and not a society I am familiar with, but sauce for the goose …?

3. BBC News website: Tour de France: Police seek spectator after crash

Police have launched a criminal investigation to trace a spectator in connection with a multi-rider pile-up during the first stage of the Tour de France on 26th June.

The spectator was leaning into the path of the speeding peloton, looking at the TV cameras and not the race, holding a sign with “Go granny and granddad” written in a mixture of French and German. Tony Martin (ironically, a German rider) brushed into the sign and fell, bringing down many others. Two riders had to pull out of the Tour completely and another eight were treated for injuries.

After appealing for witnesses, as of Wednesday, the individual was in police custody but the Tour organisers have withdrawn their threat of legal action 

4. BBC News website: Man arrested for posting weather rant

A man has been arrested in Kuwait after posting a video on social media complaining about the weather. The video showed him laughing and swearing about the intense heat and dust while driving through a sandstorm.

The Interior Ministry tweeted that the man behind the “offensive” video would be subject to legal action.

I’d like to say that I love all the UK’s weather: rain, snow, sun, fog, sleet, gales … and that’s just one morning

5. My apologies for these:

a) After the Sweden v Ukraine game in the Euro Championships, the scorer of the Ukraine winner dedicated the goal to his beloved girlfriend back home. He loves his Chick in Kiev.

b) BBC radio commentary on the England v India women’s cricket test match: Talking about how the women players benefit from playing in men’s cricket when not on international duty, the comment was made that Tammy Beaumont ‘had played in the men’s leagues where she had enjoyed a lot of sex …… oh, er … success‘.

c) On Saturday rumours were going around that England’s Euro Championships match against Ukraine was going to be called off because a Ukrainian player had Covid symptoms. It was their left back Tickli Chesticov.

Hope those (the second is completely true) are not considered offensive, racist or sexist – my apologies if they are

Gym, labouring, gym, run (across London), turbo, run, run and Le Tour dilemma

After a late night on Sunday (and a glass or two of wine) I feared the gym on Monday was going to be a disaster but I managed all the routine with the normal weights, if rather slowly.

There were just two others in the gym – clearly, people were not rushing to get their last sessions in before it shuts as part of the new lockdown on Thursday.

I spent Tuesday morning at the cycle park barrowing concrete as we set up the pretty hefty bases for some exercise machines at the side of the track. The idea is that they might induce parents to exercise when they bring their children to cycle training.

The park is looking very good – trees have been planted, we have a small dirt course for younger children and are developing a more demanding downhill course through the adjoining wood. The whole thing is quite a success – the charity we set up alongside the cycle club has won local recognition for its work and has been put forward for national awards, something to be really proud of.

It was a tough few hours and, coupled with bringing in a significant number of large pot plants from the garden in the afternoon (our first frost was forecast and duly arrived Tuesday night), I decided that it exempted me from the turbo trainer in the evening.

Working on the Joni Mitchell principle “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” I went to the gym again on Wednesday before we drove up to London for a meal that we had booked a few weeks ago. We took separate cars and I delivered one to our older son so he and his girlfriend could get to the house in Bournemouth before the lockdown started, rather than having to see it out in his flat.

I decided to run back across London from his flat to ours – from a South East postcode to West postcode. The road junctions and pedestrians (and the morning’s gym session) all took their toll but once I crossed Vauxhall Bridge and got onto the Chelsea Embankment alongside the Thames it was glorious – cool but sunny.

I think part of the extra enjoyment is something I discovered when I cycled out to the alps in 2018 – a ‘ride’ has the normal benefits of exercise and pleasure but a ‘journey’ has the added benefit of purpose. The same seems to be true of running. In all, it was a journey of 11.7 km (7.3 miles) at 5m 35 per km. A bit fast for me, like my last run in London – and my right Achilles is complaining about it.

The evening meal was excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed our last opportunity to eat out for a while. Back to Oxfordshire and we woke on Thursday to the country’s second lockdown. Our thoughts are with those who will suffer so much worse than we will. I got on the turbo Thursday evening for something a little more gentle than recent efforts – 45 minutes, for 22.77 km @30.36kph (14 miles @18.9mph).

No exercise on Friday but I ran with my wife on a chilly Saturday – 7km (4.3 miles) before accepting a couple of bikes to be fixed for the charitable pop-up cycle shop that is popping up again in the run up to Christmas (cycle shops are exempt from the lockdown closures).

Another run with my wife on Sunday – 6.53km (just over 4 miles) and then hedge trimming to look forward to – it’s a rock and roll lifestyle.

Tour de France 2021

The route for the 2021 Tour de France has been released and has the good news/bad news for me.

One stage goes up the Cote de Mont-Saxonnex, Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière (all climbs we have done from the apartment) and finishes in Le Grand-Bornand which we have cycled through a few times over the years. The following stage starts in Cluses which is even closer.

That looks like it is easy to decide when my annual cycling trip out to the alps should take place next year (Covid willing) but the bad news is that those two stages are on 3rd and 4th of July … and my ultra marathon is on the 11th. I’d anticipated that I’d be going out after the ultra.

I wonder how good cycling up mountains is as ultra marathon training?

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: ‘Put down the meat’ is an order the dog cannot obey

2. BBC News website: Lockdown: Andrex maker has ‘100 million toilet rolls standing by’

When the pandemic struck in March, shoppers reported difficulty in finding toilet paper after panic-buying emptied supermarket shelves. But this time, Kimberly-Clark said it was fully ready.

But that’s still only about 1.5 rolls per person and the virus is very scary

3. BBC News website: After the unhappy libel case heard in London where Johnny Depp sued one of our national newspapers, I was reminded of a (very) old defamation case where a claimant brought an action over an allegation that he was a highwayman. Evidence emerging at the trial proved that he was indeed a highwayman. The claimant was arrested and subsequently hanged.

4. BBC News website: ‘Angels released from Africa’ to help Trump win

US President Donald Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White-Cain says “angels have been released” from Africa and South America to help him win. “They’re coming here in the name of Jesus… angelic reinforcements,” she says.

Often (but I am prepared to make exceptions) I admire people who believe things that I can’t – but why have they been ‘released’ – has someone been holding them against their will? And aren’t there any angels in the USA? I’d have thought Africa and S America could find good work for their own angels to do at home.

5. BBC News website: Mugabe/Trump comparison riles many

Some people have taken umbrage against a tweet by a former US official comparing President Donald Trump to Zimbabwe’s late leader Robert Mugabe, over his comments alleging fraud, without evidence,

Q. Were the objections that the comparison:

  • portrayed election fraud as a uniquely African phenomenon
  • was unfair to President Trump
  • was unfair to Robert Mugabe

(this is just a – poor – attempt at a joke and I would have said the same if the story had been about Biden … this is a non-political blog!)

Gym, run, gym, run, run (and remembering the Col des Glières)

Rest day on Monday after 6 straight days of exercise (and 12 in 13 – too many) so I started painting – nothing creative or beautiful but the more mundane matter of windows and doors in the garage block.

I also did some more work on the new raised vegetable beds. When I am out in the garden I tend to let the chickens out of their run – they joined me in the digging (but ate more worms). Once they understand exactly where to dig, they will be more useful.

Gym session on Tuesday morning. Although I enjoy the gym, I’ve been a bit unsure about its value beyond adding a little variety to my exercise regime. I’ve decided that I should carry on with it while I enjoy it, but should concentrate on strengthening my legs and core and leave the specific cardio stuff to the running or cycling outside.

Gardening and then supper with friends Tuesday evening and a rest day on Wednesday that turned out to be one of those rest days that’s so much harder than training. The idea was to run late in the afternoon but by the time I’d cleared a few hundred apples from the lawn and moved about 3 cubic metres (over 100 cubic feet) of compost into the new raised beds, I didn’t even have the strength to get into my running kit.

We ran on Thursday morning – 7km (4.3m). While running I realised that the stiff breeze was coming from the East (a bit of a rarity) making it exactly right for a bonfire as it would take the smoke away from the village and across the fields. With all the recent gardening the bonfire was huge and accounted for the next several hours of constant attention as it went up like a good ‘un but needed feeding from numerous piles accumulated around the garden.

There was enough time to watch Le Tour riding in the area near our apartment. They rode some of the climbs I’ve done in recent years – particularly Aravis and Glières. The latter is an ‘Hors Categorie’ climb – and that’s exactly how I remember it, really hard with a testing gravel plateau at the top. As I recall, the sign at the bottom says it’s 5.8km at an average of 11.5%.

An hour at the gym on Friday morning which was good – after that I mowed and worked on the bottom bracket of a very old bike that was a latecomer to the pop-up charity cycle shop. Many of the ball bearings could have passed as square and the races were unrecognisable.

I borrowed a post driver from a friend and knocked in some large stakes to support the new raised beds and the revamped compost heap dividers. I shouldn’t have bothered going to the gym.

We ran on Saturday morning, back to the flatter road, going for a faster 5km (3.1m). My pacemaking still leaves a lot to be desired (a bit too fast this time after being a bit too slow last time) but we were significantly faster at 30:09. Although I stopped to wait for her for a few seconds a few times, that’s got to be about 6:10 per km for my wife which is excellent going – with a headwind on the way back.

The bonfire was rekindled by the addition of some more weeds – happily no change in the wind direction – and then I watched Le Tour’s individual time trial. What a spectacle and so unexpected. Bravo Pogacar (who takes the yellow, polka dot and white jerseys – bordering on greedy) but I really feel for Roglic who must have thought the yellow jersey was his.

That was followed by some apple picking – twelve bag-fulls currently disappearing from the front wall, taken by anyone who wants them, and another 4 bags delivered to friends.

A run on Sunday morning – I had no real plan in mind but thought I might go further in view of having only two previous runs this week. Along Puddleduck Lane and then on to farm roads and footpaths, it was breezy but lovely and I ran 16.5km (just over 10.2 miles) taken steadily in about 1h 40m.

The plan is to put my feet up for the rest of the day and watch the end of Le Tour. It’s been really enjoyable but it has just underlined how much I’ve missed my annual cycling trip to the Alps.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A man wearing tattered clothes should not leap over the fire.

2. BBC News website: German police have launched a homicide investigation after a woman died during a cyber-attack on a hospital. Hackers disabled computer systems at Düsseldorf University Hospital and the patient died while doctors attempted to transfer her to another hospital.

Of all the risks associated with hospitals and operations …

3. Bodies pile up as island funeral director gets Covid.

The governor of San Andrés says bodies are piling up on the Caribbean island after its only funeral parlour was hit by coronavirus. The parlour’s owner has Covid-19 and has been flown to hospital on the Colombian mainland. Her son has also tested positive, leaving only one employee at work.

Very sad – but note, Ms Morissette, that’s ironic

4. BBC News website: Leicester in talks with Roma over Under

Leicester City Football Club are hoping to sign Cengiz Under from Roma FC.

Reminds me of the film Airplane – Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?
Tower Radio, clearance, over. That’s ‘Clarence Oveur’, over. Roger. Huh? Roger, over.

5. BBC New website: Woman falls from car on M25 filming Snapchat video

She was hanging out of the window of the car being driven on the M25 (London’s orbital motorway) but was – almost unbelievably – not seriously hurt. Sometimes words fail me.

Run, Bournemouth, mechanic, London, run, run

Ships that don’t pass in the night – cruise liners moored in Bournemouth bay

A morning run in the rain around Badbury Clump on Tuesday. Rarely do I find I’m not enjoying a run – this one came close to start with but turned out to be really good by the end. Nearly 7km – 4.3miles.

The inevitable work in the garden in the afternoon.

On Wednesday we went down to Bournemouth. While we have had our younger son with us for some weeks, our older son and his girlfriend have been spending a good deal of time at our place down there as an alternative to both working from the flat they share in London. It’s a great feeling to be able to help both sons in different, but appropriate, ways over the last few months.

It was really good to get down there – even with the mowing and various diy bits that needed doing. We walked along the seafront and were taken by surprise by the four large cruise ships moored in the bay, mothballed until the cruise market recovers (I suppose it will – but to the previous levels?).

Back home, younger son and I did a stint in the charitable pop-up cycle shop on Thursday morning and went down to the reopened snooker club in the nearest town to chase some balls around the baize in the afternoon. Our next house move (if there is one) should be a down-size but I wonder if that would permit a room set aside for a full-sized snooker table.

We drove our younger son back to London on Friday. Long and difficult journeys through torrential rains that threatened to submerge Oxford, and busy ‘Friday-before-bank-holiday’ traffic. We are pleased that he is getting back to normality (and work on Tuesday) but sorry to lose him after so many weeks of lockdown with us.

I ran on Saturday morning. Bravely I tried a new route thanks to one of the walks we did last weekend as part of ‘Bournemouth at home’. It is almost entirely on private farm roads (which are also footpaths) and I passed three cars and perhaps 4 walkers throughout.

I had no real idea of where I’d run to – or how far it might be – so it turned out to be one of those runs when you think ‘I’ll run to the next corner/farm building/oak tree’ … but end up carrying on just because it’s good to be out.

I ran into a stiff headwind on the way out which, of course, died down to give me little help on the return. In all 13.25km (8.2miles) at a comfortable 5:51 per km (about 9:23 a mile). Shame it was an out and back route but the circuit would have involved running across or round fields and through a wood – with the rain we’ve had in the last couple of days that didn’t feel like a good idea.

Lunch with friends later on Saturday and then Sunday morning saw another run but this time with my wife. Just over 7km (nearly 4.4 miles). it was her first run under 6:30 per km for some years so a very good way to finish the week.

A week rescued late on as far as exercise is concerned – but just the three runs and much labouring in the garden. Still 10 months until the postponed ultra marathon – in some ways I wish it were closer so I could to start some focused training.

Well done Lizzie Deignan for winning La Course, and bravo for the start of La Tour (I just hope the worsening Covid position in France doesn’t stop it getting to Paris safely).

Interesting stuff this week

1. Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian says he is facing trial for working with female singers and dancers. Rajabian says a judge told him his latest project “encouraged prostitution”.

What?

2. BBC news: ‘The penguin watching Pingu so he doesn’t get lonely’.

The penguin was found washed up on a beach in the south west of Australia. The keepers were worried he’d not get enough socialising while he gets healthy enough to return to the wild so they’re showing him the cartoon, along with live streams of other rockhoppers around the world.

3. African wise words: ‘It is pointless preaching to a hungry man’

4. BBC news: Mr Gay England: The trans man competing ‘against an idea of male beauty’.

I’m a bit of a liberal – but I find this confusing

TdF lives!

The big sporting news (for me at least) is the announcement that the Tour de France has been rescheduled to begin on 29 August, using the original route, as planned.

At one point there was talk of holding the race as scheduled, but ‘behind closed doors’ – now the aim is to fit it in after the French ban on large gatherings ends (in fact the ban will still be in force at the start of the race so there is a bit of an issue) but in time (they hope) to get decent weather for the race, which will end on 20 September.

It is good news as a boost to the morale of fans of the tour – but probably owes a great deal to economics as well, given the importance of Le Tour to UCI finances.

In the UK, we are allowed out for exercise each day but there has been a lot of debate over how long the exercise should last. There are no official rules on the point but while many suggest that long rides well away from home are irresponsible, others suggest that the absence of restrictions and the health benefits of cycling leave it to the individual.

I guess Messrs Froome, Bernal, Thomas et al will be in the latter camp.

Le Tour de France, sans spectateurs?

Yesterday I read that the authorities in France are thinking about allowing the Tour de France to take place as planned in June/July – without spectators. Hard to believe, but could it be possible?

With the Giro already postponed, it would be a great statement in the face of the Coronavirus.

Of course, the French would love it to happen. Although football might be the country’s favourite sport, I think the tour is its favourite event and is closer to the country’s heart than any other (despite their last winner being Hinault in 1985).

I’ve seen estimates of 12m people travelling to watch it and a tv audience of 3.5 billion worldwide.

I was lucky enough to ride the Etape in 2013 and I’ve watched the race live on many occasions (London, Yorkshire, Colombiere twice, Bourg d’Oisans, Ramaz twice, Le Bettex, Domancy, Araches, Sallanches twice, Annecy, etc).

I love it – but I’ve nearly always been in a big and enthusiastic crowd which adds to the excitement and atmosphere, would it be the same without that? Although the tour doesn’t go up Alpe D’Huez this year, imagine it with an empty Dutch Corner and without the tunnel of faces lining the big climbs.

More importantly, would it be practical for the race to be run without crowds? It must be a huge drain on police resources in a normal year (although I expect that any gendarme who can ride a motorbike would kill for the job) – could they ensure that about 3000km of open roads are clear of spectators?

I suppose that if there were a few scattered spectators for the early stages, it could be argued that it wasn’t a huge risk – but wouldn’t that mean there were going to be more spectators encouraged to try their luck as the race went on? Even if it could be policed, I rather think the police might have better things to do, even in June/July.

I suppose it all depends on the view taken as to the likely behaviour of the French public – would they follow or ignore any directives that the race was happening ‘behind closed doors’ (but without the doors).

The tour is a huge event, even without the spectators. About 200 riders, mechanics, chefs, medical and related staff, police, marshals, tv and press coverage, (perhaps not the caravan as that is more for the spectators) and an apparently ridiculous number of minor officials. How could it be safe for them? I’ve seen a report that says there are 4,500 people on the tour each day – without counting spectators.

I love the idea of a peloton riding with 2m social-distancing gaps.

The idea is at least free of one potential drawback – it won’t suffer from a lack of ticket sales (other than for a few viewing stands the start and finish, perhaps). It’s a wonderful circus but I guess it’s funded by sponsors, tv and host towns – not the spectators.

I was planning to get to some of the tour as part of my annual cycling trip out to the alps but I’m sure that isn’t going to happen.

It’s virtually impossible to imagine the tour going ahead on this basis and watching on tv wouldn’t be the same – but I’d do it, willingly.

Climbing the Joux Plane, bikes, walking in the alps and Golden Eagles.

Walking in the alps in the Haute Savoie. I can think of worse things to do

Normally, the White Horse Challenge, my club sportive and my week in the alps would be the year’s cycling highlights – but I’ve already had the Ride London as a bonus in 2019. Equally, the lake district in January would be the focus of the walking – but now another week in the alps and more of both!

For a few years some friends have, very kindly, invited us to their place in the Lake District in January for some walking. We’ve reciprocated by having them and another couple (who are mutual friends) to stay in Bournemouth. This year we decided to try something different and it was ‘Bournemouth in the alps’.

So it was that, at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, we left home in a well loaded car, heading for the channel tunnel and the Haute Savoie.

We had many things to take out, plus three bikes. The ladies (although all very competent cyclists) had decided that cycling back to a ski resort at 1150m each day might be a bit much so just the men decided to do some riding along with the walking that we would all do. We took all the bikes and some of our friends’ extra luggage so they could fly out with just hand baggage.

Our thinking was to get to the tunnel early in the hope that the almost inevitable delays might not have built up too badly by the early hours – and to give us a good chance of arriving in the light. It worked and the 710 miles (almost) flew past – and we were at the apartment (somewhat knackered) by late afternoon.

The first two days were hot and we prepared for the arrival of our friends, and relaxed, other than for a quick walk up the mountain to check which walking paths were open. Some are completely shut in the summer in favour of cyclists who have exclusive use of part of what is the ski area in the winter. VTT (vélo tout-terrain) is quite a big thing out there – but I am a little disappointed that so many are electric assist. To me, the hard-core appearance of riders with all the body armour should mean self-propulsion (although, personally, I’d want to take the telecabine up to the top, and I have to acknowledge that they are focused on the descent, not the climb).

The others arrived on Wednesday and the hot weather continued. On Thursday we walked from the apartment (at about 1150m), up to and along a ridge above the village at about 1700m – around 8.5km with 800m of ascent (5.2miles and 2620 feet). It never ceases to surprise me how ski runs that I know so well, look so different in the summer. It’s not just the colours but also the contours and the existence of roads that you’d never guess were there.

Friday was a cycling day. We decided to go for broke early on and we so rode over to Samoëns … and up the Joux Plane. It’s a tough (HC) climb – 11.6km, 989m of ascent at an average of 8.5% (7.2miles and 3250m) – it gave Lance Armstrong (by his own admission) his hardest day riding a bike as he nearly cracked in 2000 under a Jan Ulrich attack. It is also rather infamous as being part of the stage that resulted in Floyd Landis’ expulsion from the 2006 Tour. I believe that it’s been featured on the Tour 11 times.

I must admit that I like the climb which is picturesque and fairly quiet, even though it is very hard.

Our wives drove out to meet us for lunch at the top of the col. I have happy memories of this place as the only one where I have been mistaken for a proper cyclist … a few years ago the lady in charge of the restaurant offered me a newspaper to put under my shirt as I left for the descent in cold weather!

After lunch, we did the return trip with the inevitable climb back up to the apartment. In all, it was a 71km day with 1860m of ascent – a fine day on the bike.

Back to walking on Saturday – we drove about 5km to Les Moliets and walked a 10km loop with another 630m of climbing (6 miles and 2100 feet). Undoubtedly, the highlight was seeing two golden eagles circling low overhead as we sat at the Tête du Pré des Saix at 2100m (c 7000 feet).

We cycled 72km with 1260m of ascent to and back from the cirque at Sixt-fer-a-Cheval on Sunday – the ‘meet wives for lunch’ arrangement again – a beautiful setting I’ve visited many times and never grow tired of.

The main problem with the mountains is the unpredictability of the weather – for my cycling week I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and if the rain has come in, it’s come in late in the afternoon/early evening. We were chased back from the cirque by the rain – and got caught just minutes before we reached the apartment.

It was a bit wet and murky on Monday too – but we cycled up the Col du Pierre Carree (my everesting hill – how did I ever do that 12 times?), over the top and down into Flaine. It is a purpose built ski resort created in the 1960s with a great snow record but little in the way of summer season – and it was almost completely shut at the very beginning of September.

We did not find a single shop open but managed to track down the one restaurant serving food (almost exclusively to resort maintenance staff) and had a very good lunch. We had an abbreviated walk in the drizzle before riding back – a total ride of 32km with 1045m of climbing (20 miles and 3400 feet), with a 4.2km walk sandwiched in between.

Our friends left on Tuesday and we drove back to England on Wednesday.

A 1500 mile round trip in the car and about 175km of cycling with 4166m of ascent (110 miles and 13700 feet) and 22.6km of walking with 1550m of ascent (14 miles and 5100 feet). No running – but that would simply have been too much. As it was, I returned fitter (but heavier) than I went out.

A great trip in almost exclusively good weather, with good friends, good cycling and good walking. It takes a lot of beating.

Run, gym and (minor) bike mechanics

After the sportive it was London on Sunday to take our sons for lunch to celebrate the older boy’s birthday. On Monday morning I ran down the Thames Path, 7km (4.3 miles), surprisingly at sub 4 hour marathon pace.

It was a very good run in warm, but not stupidly hot, weather. The only down-sides are a slightly sore left knee and painful calf muscles. I guess that I’ve not been exercising them very much while I’ve been protecting the Achilles tendons. I’m sure it will all improve.

I am continuing my one-man attempt to bring to London the habit of saying ‘hello’ to other runners as you pass by. On this run I got a response from 5 out of the 13 runners I saw. Admittedly, a lot were wearing headphones or earpieces of one sort or another and might not have heard me, but I’ll keep at it.

Gym on Tuesday for a bit over an hour. It was very good apart from the chap who insisted on singing along (rather tunelessly) to the music on his headphones. I don’t mean to be a miserable old git but if I wanted karaoke …

As part of the gym exercises I did the planks routine and then decided to see if I could do a straight 5 minutes of plank as well. The good news is that I can, the bad news is that my lower back was sore for the rest of the day so I missed the evening’s planned turbo session. I suppose the other bit of good news is that my painful back took my mind off my painful calf muscles.

They say that people perform better if the ‘package’ feels good – decent kit, nicely maintained and presented equipment. I don’t know if it’s true but I washed and oiled the bike and put new bar tape on it on Wednesday. The old tape was the original from when I bought the bike 4 years ago and was tatty beyond words. More workman-like than expert, I replaced it like-for-like with black tape. I’m sure it will make the bike go faster (though not as fast as if it had red tape, of course).

I’m going to need all the help I can get on the Ride London sportive, surely the new tape will help?

My heartfelt congratulations to:

  • Egan Bernal for his Tour win (the first of many, all being well),
  • Geraint Thomas for his immensely graceful acceptance of second place
  • Juilan Alaphilippe for lighting up the whole race
  • the Irish cricket team for giving England plenty to worry about in the early stages of their recent test match
  • Fiona Kolbinger, the first woman ever to be in the lead of the Transcontinental Race. 4 days 7 hours in, she is in front by 35km having stopped for less than 20 hours in total.

Targets – on and off the bike, and no-Sky thinking

Blue Sky No Sky thinking

Well, no Sky sponsorship for the all-conquering cycle team after next year. Perhaps not a huge surprise after Sky was taken over and recent questions raised over the team’s integrity – but all that seemed to have calmed down in recent months, with the overall image being boosted by Geraint Thomas’ Tour win, a man who appears to be really popular both in and outside the peloton.

In the current economic climate it’s hard to see anyone wanting to dig quite so deep into their pockets as Sky did so it will be interesting to see how the team cuts its cloth in rather less affluent times.

It looks like the British domination is more under threat now than it has been for years – I just hope that road cycling has gained a sufficiently strong support base here in the UK to withstand a possible period of lower success in the pro ranks. Surely we are not that shallow?

No doubt, Sky will be rushing to pass on the saving to subscribers (an academic point for me as we only have ‘proper’ television).

My own cycling for next year looks to be built around the White Horse Challenge on 28 April, and my usual week’s cycling out in the alps in July.

White Horse Challenge

I’ve entered the WHC again but with some apprehension as it’s only three weeks after the Rotterdam Marathon. I have no idea whether that’s enough time to recover from the run and then get back on the bike properly, but I guess I’ll find out. The WHC is about 90 miles with anywhere between 1400 and 1750m of climbing, depending whose Garmin you use. 

This will be my 8th attempt and I’m still wanting to break the 5 hour mark – pb so far 5:05. I guess 2019 will not be the year to go under 5 hours, unless marathon training has some miraculous benefit to my cycling.

Haute Savoie, 2019

The alps trip is nearly finalised with all 6 of us being present and accounted for in 2019. I have no plans to ride out there like I did this year so I’m hoping I might perform better on the mountains than was the case with knackered legs this summer.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been out there – it’s becoming a challenge for the routemeister, although I doubt I’ll ever get tired of the Col de la Colombière, the Plaine Joux, the Joux Plane and the Col de la Pierre Carrée (‘my’ Col having being the first, and still only, person to ‘everest’ it!).

Rotterdam Marathon

Although it’s early in the training I was thinking about target setting for April’s marathon in Rotterdam.

Initially, my main aim was to break 4 hours, as I did (just) when I ran my two previous marathons in 1998 and 1999. However, the first four weeks of training are making me reassess that. 

The current London Marathon ‘good for age’ for a 44 year old male is 3:05. I don’t suppose that’s changed much since I ran in 1999 as a 44 year old, but I was probably 50 minutes outside it then. Although I’ve kept reasonably fit through cycling over the last 8 years, what on earth makes me think that I might now be within 15 minutes of the ‘good for age’ time for me as a 63 year old?

I’ve never been particularly hung up on the age thing – but that doesn’t feel like a sound basis for ignoring it completely. I seem to have been assuming that I will run the same time as if the intervening 20 years just haven’t happened!

They might change but, for now, the targets are:

  • Minimum target is to run all the way and finish without injury or undue trauma
  • Beyond that, sub 4:15 is a realistic(?) target
  • After that, sub 4:00 would be great
  • Next, it would be setting a personal best – but that’s a tricky one because I cannot remember what time I did in my second marathon in 1999. My official finish time was 3:56:42 but I can’t remember whether that was an individual time or whether that was from the gun. In 1998 I got an individual finish time, but not start time, and I know that it had taken me nearly 9 minutes to get over the start line – but I can’t remember if that changed for 1999. Let’s say 3:56 will be a pb as I have no evidence for anything better than 3:56:42.
  • The extreme wishful thinking would be 3:45 – my London Marathon ‘good for age’ time (though to me it feels way beyond just ‘good’).

The biggest factor will be staying fit, healthy and injury free (including the Achilles tendons) – but, even with all that working in my favour, 4:00 looks like much more of a stretch target than I’d assumed.

Damn.