I turned 40 last year and decided to make the most of it. On this page I have recorded some of the best moments for posterity and my failing memory. There are all sorts of clichés about what men (and women?) are supposed to do when reaching these milestones of age, I guess I fulfilled some of them to a greater or lesser extent. Anyhow many thanks to my family for letting me indulge myself.
As you'll see further down, after several years away from the bike racing scene, I wanted to try my hand at some cycling events.
The weather was pretty variable last winter ranging from clear winter days, blizzard and warm sunshine. I took advantage of some light early snow to go ski touring with a couple of my friends from the CAF (Club Alpin Français) de Bagnères: Antoine and Jean-Marc -- both much fitter than I. We had great weather, even if the snow was a bit thin on the ground. I later went up with my sister and we had an freezing blizzard conditions with most of the lifts closed.
We also had two sets of visitors over from Australia, so it was great to catch up with news of our old home and friends after almost three years away.
Mountains in the mist, view towards Pic du Midi from Ceiutat
Clear skies at La Mongie
The changeable weather continued into February and with Sophie at school and Thomas in crèche we had a few mornings to ourselves.
Taking advantage of a kid-free-morning to do some walking. Cabannes de la Lit
Some of the best snow fell on the first day of spring. Fortunately we had some parents visiting at the time so Claire and I had our first day skiing together since a cold day in Scotland last century!
Following a nil-all draw on our bathroom race with Don, we also tried to make some progress on our bathroom.
Play and work?
With Claire and the kids in the UK with her mum, I had some time to devote to the house and getting fit. I attempted to remove and replace the ceilings of our bedroom and Thomas' room in about five days. It all took somewhat longer than expected (why is this unexpected?) so I didn’t get any cycling in. However, with the help of a few friends, I did manage to clear the rubble and at least get Thomas' ceiling back up before the family returned home.
The European Single Speed Championships were the held in Piolenc, within view of Mont Ventoux. This was my first cycling event of the year and a warm up to the World Championships in September. Due to the warm weather earlier in the year, I had managed to get out a few times on the bike but not really as much as I had hoped.
We drove over to the event en famille, and stayed on a campsite near the race course along with the other competitors. Ewen had come over from the UK too, so it was great to catch up with him and also make new friends, including Dan from Sweden (or was it Norway?) and Phatty (the primary beer-drinking component of the German single speed team). Ewen and I rode for Australia as the UK riders were getting a bad wrap for not turning up (and also to improve the "number of countries attending count"). Nobody seemed to mind that it was the European Championships!
The team photo was taken in the Roman theatre in Orange (it turned out that Phaty had been to the Cure concert there when he was a school kid on a French exchange -- how cools is that?)
Piolenc hosted a great event with plenty of non-race entertainment provided. Unfortunately many events were rather late (OK for French kids, but ours have not fully acclimatised and are still normally in bed by 19h30). Claire graciously looked after the kids while I pretended to be young again!
One of the non-racing highlights was an off-road descent of Mont Ventoux. Yes I know we should have ridden up too!
Singles speeders in Orange
Singles speeders on Ventoux
Ewen and Pat
Dan, Ewen and Pat and the descent of Ventoux
Despite some frustrations due to Provencal punctuality, SSEC-07 was a great event. I also felt I did reasonably well in the race: I was in about 6th place half way round the first of two laps when my group took a wrong turning and met the leaders coming the other way. We lost a few places retracing our tracks but in the end, after about 25km on the hot and dusty track, I finished about 20th (according to Claire's time-keeping).
Piolenc has some great trails, and places to visit. Somewhere we should return to some time...
By June I could sense my birthday approaching, but what should I get for a present? A red sports-car was out -- I hate cars anyhow, but a new bike? I had recently been tinkering with Claire's mountain bike and realised that it was pretty much as light as my road bike -- I needed a lighter one! With that in mind I did a bit of investigation and narrowed my search to a Planet-X carbon or a Van Nicholas titanium frame to be built up with various components to make a sub 9kg road bike. As luck would have it, a guy running a triathlon training holiday company in the next valley east from us was the French distributor of Planet-X road bikes. I contacted him and organised a test ride. I actually rode over there and spent an hour or so with him, then met up with the rest of the family at St Bertran de Comminges for lunch. The Planet-X was very tempting, even more so as it complemented my other bikes from On-One (Planet-X' sister company). But I decided to wait till I could have a test ride of a Van Nicholas in September.
Cycling with Claire
La Pyreneenne was my first Cyclo-sportive and I have to say I'm hooked. La Pyreneenne was born out of the union of Le Défi Pyrénéen and L'Ours -- two well established cyclo-sportives in the area. In its first year La Pyreneenne would start in Bagnères de Bigorre -- so I had to ride it. I took the medium-distance option at 120km and got a gold star, finishing about mid-way through the field (142/342 overall and 63/130 in my age group) in a little over 5 hours -- the winner of the 120km took just under 4 hours.
The following day, I joined a few riders who had opted to also try their hand at a timed climb from Bagnères to La Mongie. I completed the 24km (1200m vertical) climb 16/29 in 1h23m04.2s -- 17m23.2s off the pace. So plenty of room for improvement with the new bike ;-)
At the end of June I went to Australia for a couple of weeks for work. I had some spare time to catch up with friends and didnt waste any opportunity to get some cycling training in.
Innes and Sally tried to lead me astray by taking me out to see a band. Fortunately the band were older than us, though not many of the audience. Sally introduced us to Jager bombs = Jägermeister + Red Bull which just about kept us going, though resulted in me spraining me knee and hobbling from the dance floor -- I'm getting too old for this sort of thing!
Any opportunity to get out on the bike
Back in France and a last desperate bid to gain some level of form for the forthcoming Single Speed World Champs at the end of the month. It had been several years that I had contemplated riding down the Bareges side of the Tourmalet off road, but I had never got round to it because of the climb back up required to get home. Fortunately Claire's sister had recently bought a place in Bareges and a sisterly visit provided the perfect opportunity to try this ride as I had a lift back up to the top sorted out.
Unfortunately in my haste I forgot my water bottle. I managed to scrounge a can of Coke from some Spanish cyclists who were waiting for their compatriots to finish their climb to La Mongie. However I still had several hours to go before arriving at Sarah's in Bareges and it was a pretty hot day. After the Tourmalet, things got better as it was essentially down hill. I didn’t dare drink from the mountain streams and had to content myself with cooling my feet in them instead. Still there was some great riding to be had, but it was a good cup of tea that I had when I got to Bareges.
Last minute training
Actually some of this took place in late August. I had managed to persuade Jo and Ewen to join me in taking part (I wouldn’t say competing) in the Single speed World Championships in Aviemore. We had managed to get entries earlier in the year and had planned a MTB long-weekend trying out some of the Scottish trail centres on the way up to Aviemore for the race. Unfortunately Ewen couldn’t join us for the drive up so Jo and I headed up with a packed car, stopping en route for an Ikea breakfast and last minute camping equipment purchases at Decathlon. We also stopped at Planet-X for Jo to try a Stealth time-trial bike and for me to have another drool at a Planet-X carbon road bike; though by this time, after long discussions with Innes, I'd pretty much settled on a titanium Van Nicholas -- much more in keeping with the needs of the more elderly cyclist (i.e. comfortable)!
Although we didn’t take full advantage of the Scottish tourist offerings (we failed miserably and didn’t visit a single distillery). We made good use of the Scottish trail centres. With maps kindly provided by the son of one of Dad's old friends, we investigated Glentress and Wolftrax. We spent a whole day riding all the trials at Glentress and met up with fellow single speeders heading north for the competition. Within a few hundred yards of the car-park on the last loop, I took a fairly large digger destroying the rim on my front wheel (thats the first time Ive gone through a tyre side-wall with a pinch-flat). Fortunately only a little blood was shed, but we spent a frantic hour or so trying to find a replacement rim and then rebuilding the wheel in the campsite before heading off in search of a well-earned curry and an ale or two.
Enjoying Scotish trials
The Single Speed World Champs was quite an eye opener, people form all over the world had turned up. A huge variety of facial hairstyles and bikes with one gear was on display. The competition to choose the location of the 2008 SSWC was pretty entertaining though I don’t think Ill be making the trip to Napa California in 2008. Ewen flew in to Inverness so Jo and I drove up to collect him a day or so before the race.
As is the custom, the entire field rode out to the race track. This was a pretty pleasant, approx 11-15mile ride, quite flat in some lovely scenery.
Single speed world champs, Aviemore
Watch the video!
Ride to the start
The organisers, Marty, Jon & Chris, a.k.a. Tele Savalas Players Club, did a good job of organising everything and getting everything started more or less on time. The course was five laps of a tough, approx 5mile loop, with three nasty climbs and some technical descents. I got lapped just before the end of my second lap while fixing a puncture -- the top four or five riders, all on pro teams (with three Team-Giant riders over from Fort William where the UCI World Champs were to be held the following week) were really flying. I think Jo must have passed me at this point as I caught up with him just before the end of our fourth lap. I crawled round on my fifth, but wasn’t the last home; and many other riders had been seduced by beer and other beverages and had stopped one or two laps early. I finished pretty shattered but more or less intact, having ridden pretty much all the course, though not necessarily on each lap -- there were some killer climbs and some pretty slick sections in the woods with nasty exposed roots for added interest. The rocky step down got me on the last lap, though only my pride was dented. Fortunately the ride back to town was mostly downhill.
Winners and grinners at the single speed world champs
Ewen, Pat and Jo at the SSWC-07
We deserve a beer after that!
For the record, the results were as follows:
Kelli Emmet (USA)
Jenn Hopkins (UK)
Sinead Fitzgibbon (USA)
Tiffany Allmandinger (USA)
Rebecca Tomaszewski (USA)
Adam Craig (USA)
Carl Decker (USA)
Travis Brown (USA)
Gareth Montgomery (Scotland)
Sveinung Bjørekøy (Norway)
Everyone else Did Very Well, apparently!
On the way down south, we paid a visit to Cyclesense. I had a quick test ride and then decided to buy a Van Nicholas Euros road bike frame and forks.
I got back to France in time for Claire to have an overnight walk in the mountains before the mountain refuges closed for the winter.
Claire out with the girls
Some of the best riding conditions in the Hautes Pyrenees are to be found in late summer and early autumn; snow-sprinkled mountain tops, clear blue skies, orange beach trees and magnificent vistas. I had the chance to do another route that I had looked at on the map for a while. This route departed from the Col du Tourmalet (yes we cheated and did a car shuffle rather than riding the 2hrs+ to the Col from Bagnères), then towards the Pic du Midi. Down past lac d'Oncet, over the cols of Bonida and Aoube and then down past Lac Bleu to Chiroulet and back to Beaudean. It turned out to be surprisingly rideable with some spectacular scenery.
You can never have too many bikes
I had also accumulated enough parts from Ebay to build up my new road bike, including a rather swish pair of Chris King / Mavic wheels. So far its only made it up two hills but I’m hoping to do more in 2008.
My new bike
The glorious weather held out into November, just as well as we had a more or less continuous stream of parents visiting. Anna and Mum were here over my birthday and Claire's present to me was a night out together while Mum and Anna looked after the kids. We spent the night in a very quiet St Jean de Luz, found a great restaurant with about two other patrons in it and generally enjoyed being together without kids for a night -- the first time for over five years!
Sun in November
First night alone for five years!
It was nice, though, to be back home to celebrate the actual day with the kids!
Kids on bikes
Claire had also planned a "posh" dinner with some of our close friends. It had to be postponed once due to illness but it was worth the wait -- dusting off DJs and posh frocks accordingly, we had a magnificent evening.
Long-awaited "posh" dinner
Mild weather in December
Thomas finished crèche at the end of December and his last event was the Christmas party, complete with fake Santa Claus, whom Thomas wasn’t completely sure about.
Thomas' Christmas party
Some good snow around Christmas
Finally enough snow fell to make it worth dusting off the skis! A fun packed year to remember -- thank you Claire, Sophie and Thomas.