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!

Monday, 25 September 2017

One day one photo - 25: Kentish Spin

I try and get out into the local lanes on my bike regularly, though trips away and other writing jobs means that I end up cycling elsewhere and not managing to get out enough in my local area.

Then typically, when I do so the forecast is for rain, and I find myself having to hurry to get back before the deluge arrives. Or if the weather is not rainy, the roads are damp, so it means when I have to ride over those infamously steep hills of the North Downs I have to ride the 20% gradients in the saddle, as the back-wheel spin from an out-of-the-saddle effort unnerves me a bit.

Today was one of those nice sunny days where there was wall-to-wall sunshine, and everyone in South London was out. I couldn't stop waving and saying hello to folks. A big group of guys from my club, Penge Cycling Club was out. I didn't join the ride as I couldn't quite make the start, and also I had a specific route that I wanted to do, and needed to be back in time to compete in the Southern Road Relays that afternoon. But I gave a hello to them, and hope to be out on a ride quite soon.

This route is one that I call my quick Kentish Spin. It's not long, but it is still a good work-out as it includes the long drag up Layhams Lane, a short, sharp, steep ramp up Saltbox Hill, and another short, sharp, steep ramp up Cudham Lane. Then you can breeze home via Downe (aka Nigel Farage's hangout) and Keston before returning home. Although this ride goes about 12 miles out of London, and is within the M25 London orbital motorway, it still feels very much like you are in the countryside.

I find it amusing how people from other parts of the UK often ask how I could possibly find anywhere to ride when living down in London. Surely, it must be nicer to live in Yorkshire or Cheshire than in London if I want to get in nice quiet country lanes? Well the answer is, not really! It's not that difficult to find country lanes, or even steep hills from where I live. They are all there, within half an hour of me leaving the house, and that's one of the great things about riding these roads - their proximity as well as their natural beauty. Of course, cycling in Cheshire and in Yorkshire is lovely too. But it's a bit of an ask to get a train all the way up there every Sunday morning!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

One day one photo - 24: Southern Road Relays

Years ago, when I took part in running races I was doing events where I would just run individually. The only relay race I recall doing were some cross country ones at a place called Horsenden Hill in Perivale, north-west London. They were traditionally the season opener.

Apart from those, the only other relays I did were sprint relays, i.e. 4 x 100 when I was at school, and then a few triathlon relays.

But it seems that relay races have become quite common now, and I find them fun. I have done the cross country one at Reigate Priory, and a road one in Wimbledon Park. There are relay races also at Nonsuch Park in Sutton, and at Beckenham, plus the Sparrows Den in West Wickham. My favourite ones though, are at Crystal Palace Park - and it's not just because it's round the corner from my home! Earlier in the summer I did the Dino Dash Relays, which is one where they raise money to restore the dinosaurs and the subway in Crystal Palace Park. That usually takes place at mid-summer, so it makes for a pleasant bright evening spent with a lot of local runners, and they keep the cafe open too.

Then today's race was the Southern Road Relays, held at Crystal Palace. That one involved running clubs from all over the south of England. At times like this I feel quite lucky to be able to just rock up at a race which is barely a 10-minute bike ride away, while others would have had to travel all morning to get here. Apparently this event is normally held at Aldershot, but it had to be relocated to Crystal Palace. Aldershot's loss is my gain, as I probably would not have travelled to Aldershot to do it! It was a lovely sunny day, and we ended up having quite a few people spectating and cheering us on - probably just by default of the fact that lots of people walk in the park at the weekends!

Anyway, it was a fun race, though I have no idea where my team finished as I was in the B-team. Our A team got a top 10 placing, which is good for the club spirit.

Note that my club for this event was Serpentine. That is my first claim club, so the default is to run for them, though I race for South London Harriers, my second claim club for the local cross country league races, and other local races where Serpentine don't have representation. It's nice to have that variety, though I do sometimes have a job trying to remember which running vest I should take to which event! Hopefully, I won't make the error of turning up at a Harriers event in my Serpie vest!