Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pateley Bridge, Yorkshire for New Year

Snowy Times!!

(UPDATE: More routes and maps on this later post or just scan for Nidderdale.)

I'm up north in the delights of James Herriot country (1970s TV series All Creatures Great and Small) for New Year with a load of good friends, their adult children, friends of theirs, and generally loads of good peeps. This is the east end of the Yorkshire Dales in a delightful little homely town of Pateley Bridge. It includes the oldest sweet shop in England in a typically beautiful sandstone high street running down to the chocolate brown river Nidd at the bottom.

Today is the joy of preparing for tonight. As with a lot of days recently, spending the day just preparing for the evening seems very hedonistic, but I'm happy with it! Actually, I'm not doing very much preparing really. Only popping down to the rather good but expensive wine merchant on the high street to ensure enough decent wine and quite a bit of indecent stuff as well. However, with the day promising much snowy delights and the roads easily passable, the bike is calling! Dropping through town to check the shops closing time, and finding the surface absolutely fine for doing 25mph downhill it seemed churlish to go back up the hill again: so I didn't. I did find some hardy Yorkshire sheep on the recreational grounds.


Setting off up the Low Wath Road that goes past the main town school was also easy going. Plenty of grip underneath and a delightful snowy scene all around. Lots of 4x4s passed, many with genuine signs of offroad use and dogs in the back. Not something I'm always used to, but something very much partof this landscape.

I stopped opposite the infamous Silver Hill. This is it, going from the houses in the middle, diagonally up the the left and back to the right underneath the trees at the top in the middle.

In warmer times I'd cycle up that, but now it would be silly!

After passing the Bridge Inn and meandering up the valley past the hamlet of Wath, the georgeous Gouthwaite Resevoir appeared. This is slightly famous as it appears in the opening credits to the longeterm UK TV soap Emmerdale, but in a slightly warmer view to here!


It's a good mile or so long and topped and tailed by ice in the not-so-wavey shallows. The edge of the ice is broken up and curved against the damn with birds taking advantage.


At the top of the resevoir lies the resty little village of Ramsgill. It's dominated in a rather bizarre way by The Yorke Arms, a Michelin one-star restaurant. This is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest big town is 45-55 minutes away on a quick day. But it's custom is good and clearly works on the business of being so good you will travel to it. And it's on the opening credits of Emmerdale as well. So, now you know which soap has a Michelin One-Star in it, and I bet you wouldn't have guessed if I hadn't told you! The food is exquisite, I will say, having been taken there just after my fortieth. And the wine cellar, ah, the wine cellar, sigh. Nuff said.

Past Ramsgill the valley begins to narrow sufficiently for the road to start to meander up and down the steeper sides and not far after is Lofthouse, the top end of my ride today. Just past Lofthouse is a rather delightful waterfall.


As you can see, it's already snowing up here. I did have to gingerly slide up a very icy, ungritted, and closed private road to get here. It's normally open to the public as it's got the beautiful Scar House resevoir at the top. But it's just too dangerous now, so lots of warning signs and I'm not going to attempt going any further.

The journey back down the valley was even more fun, as the roads generally went downhill. I did take a turn through Wath that got me to the bottom of the previously mentioned infamous Silver Hill. The view from here is spectacular. I did a composite image, which is not that good, but this does give some kind of idea about the beauty of this part of the world.


The route was simialr to my summer version but didn't include the east side of Gouthwaite or the top loop to Scar House resevoir. That would have been mad.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day Walk 2009

The Blewbury Boxing Day walk has been a tradition for around 40 years now. It started in the baby boom days of the late 1960s as a traditional walking race done in fancy dress. There were prizes for each individual stage in different categories for speed and costume. The stages were between the four village pubs with much beer consumed at each one.

As the years have gone by, two of the pubs have shut down and issues, arising from walking down the main (A) road, meant that this year a very different route was planned. A certain level of humour and some thought resulted. Who knows where this will go?

As one who traditionally gets up when they first pass our house, I never get to see the proper parade which starts the walk. This time even less so, as the previously mentioned route change meant we were missed altogether. It did feel very strange to not see it wandering passed, to only get to see the crowd outside the Red Lion pub. It didn't seem to make as much sense in a group like that.

Anyway, back to the walk this year. It seemed like fewer entries, as it always does. The idea is to have topical dress, so it becomes a celebration of the year in some senses. Also, it allows for a level of satirical humour that wafts round the village like a fast moving elephant on board a small piece of toast.


Limbo dancing as part of the circus performers. I didn't quite get the topical connection, but there again, I'm not that topical!


The crowd just mingles, full of the joy of beer.


Yet more beer consumed and participants mixing with onlookers.

video
We all know this song, so join in now "I'm a lumberjack..". The day is full of festive spirit, as well as beer.


A number of people can take costumes to the extreme.


Labelling is frequently used as a way to confirm the costume. Especially when otherwise it's just people out for a walk.


Ah, some hint of the walk route not being to all peoples favour.


Placards raised as the chant 'London Road' is aired high.


Zoe spots me taking pictures from across the crowd.


Final drinks before the next off.


Being dressed warmly does mean a slight amount of bagginess.


Or simply feel cold by looking. Brrr.


Simon Cowell looks quite a lot bigger than Cheryl Cole in real life as well, so I'm told.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

A stream of twitter post pictures, as the evening cooking happened! I thought I'd fill in a narrative of the evenings mayhem.

#frys And let the chaos begin! (at 15:17)

The meat and the vegetables that will go into the main meal. It seems like a smorgasbord of dead animal with a avalanche of murdered fruit an' stuff. The pork is rarebreed Tamworth pig from my local farm in Suffolk, which means less than a food mile for it. Sausages were killed 2 days before I got them and made whilst I waited. Now that's fresh!

Yes, the big vat at the back is the homemade wine. That was full at the beginning of the week.

#frys Non-trad pudding of Mango, Lychees, Kiwi Fruit, & Strawberries all in a gin/Madeira/orange jus (at 17:49)

Yes, I know, it seems like a long time just to get a fruit salad together! By now the vegetarian nutloaf has been made, the meat all prepped and all in the oven. This was a brief restbite before starting on the final push with the vegetables.

Anyway, the fruit salad is a very good way of not having the traditional Christmas pudding, something that always seems to heavy after a large roast meal. And to really push the boat out, put as many food miles on it as your can. It's Christmas after all! The idea is to get the colours to force one to wear sunglasses. I think it works.


#frys Dining table set! (at 17:56)

Whilst I've been slaving in the kitchen the others have made a fantastic dining space for a feast.

#frys Moody dining room! (at 17:58)

The flash photography never really gets the mood and certainly not the beauty of candlelight. This gives that if not the actual view.

#frys Duck a l'Orange, Pork with Fennel, Guinea Fowl with Madeira! (at 19:48)

And at last the main course comes out to play. I used the sausages to keep the meat succulent which worked a treat. The fennel really does make a great seasoning for pork, which was beautiful all the way through. The duckbreast was a dark red all the way through, and fowl moist and light. Even if I say so myself, georgeous!

#frys And for veggies, a white nutloaf! (at 19:54)

This worked as well. It was a lot of work but browned perfectly and fell out of the dish with amazing easy. It worked as a sustitute for meat in the meal, going with all the other veg just fine.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

RT @Glinner: This is very, very funny. http://bit.ly/6SUjC1 frys Hilarious!!
I'm now using ping.fm to post to Twitter, FB, MySpace, Flickr, & my blog at the same time.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Favourite Photos

This is Lake Baikal in the Province of Irkutsk in eastern Russia. It's the largest body of fresh water in the world, mainly due to it's depth of over 1000 metres. It's a fascinating place with a whole separate eco-system, thanks to hundreds of rivers flowing into it and only one flowing out.




This is a sunrise view from the Swisshotel in Beijing. The level of pollution around is clear to see and creates some fantastic lighting results.








This is the first entrance to the Forbidden City taken from the north end of Tiananmen Square. I just get reminded of all the Mayday parades where dignitaries would stand on the balcony watching tank after tank. Tiananmen Square is mind-bogglingly big. It is the largest public square in the world and is over a mile long.


This is on the climb of Ax-Bonascre in 2003. All the contenders for the Tour de France that year are in shot. Now looking at them, now many have had drugs scandals?


This is at Crewe Hall in Cheshire. It just fell together with the bands of colour allowing an incredible focus on the subject even if occupying only a tiny part of the photo.





This was taken in Saxtead in Suffolk, UK around New Year 2001-2. The tracery is fantastic!




And finally, the favourite all rounder! This is taken in Cambridge looking across the Coe Fen at a June dusk. It was around 9pm and I was just driving home and saw it. I had to stop and get it. Total luck that the grass ended up caught in the sun!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Hills Road Railway Bridge, Cambridge


UPDATE at bottom of post....

Hills Road is under considerable development as part of the renewal of the transport intrastructure in Cambridge, specifically the public transport hub at Cambridge railway station.

One aspect of this is to sort out the combination of vehicles going across Hills Road railway bridge. It is one of the busiest routes in Cambridge and is used by public and private transport, bicycles, and pedestrians in great numbers.

One of the issues is safety of cyclists. It has been a notoriously bad spot, with many cyclists opting to illegally use the footpaths on either side rather than stay on the road. The police have turned a blind eye to this mostly, as they are concerned about the safety of cyclists here. However, this does leave pedestrians badly off, especially with careless cyclists.

The amount of motor vehicle traffic on the bridge is also a big issue. It is one of only two routes out of Cambridge to the south. The bridge is butted at either end by junctions that require 2-lane access to keep traffic flowing.

A trial solution to these problems is running from September 2009 for a few months. The concept is to have the inside land dedicated to cyclists when travelling up the bridge, then mix the traffic at the apex into two lanes so that motor vehicles can flow through the junction at the end quickly.

Here is a cyclists-eye video travelling from the north (or from Central Cambridge out of town).
video

The space afforded ot the cyclists on their slower journey up the bridge is a blessing in comparison to the space offered before the bridge. It allows faster cyclists space to pass slower ones. And, car drivers, being stuck behind a slow cyclist is as infuriating as it is in a car! It gets the cyclists off the pavement. It allows motor vehicles to pass cyclists easily and safely. As a cyclist and a car driver, this really ticks the boxes.

The downslope allows traffic to mingle. If there is a lot of traffic it is usually slowing as the junction will be full of vehicles. This allows cyclists to mingle safely at slower speeds and doesn't hold up motor vehicles any more than they would be by the junction. If there is less traffic, there is lots of space for motor vehicles to get through the junction at higher speeds whilst not interfering with cyclists trying to take their choice of exits.


Here is a cyclists-eye video travelling from the south (or to Central Cambridge from out of town).
video

Again, the same benefits of being separated apply.

The approach is a little problematic though. I've no doubt that it's to clear up the road in front of the Sixth Form college near the junction.

My approach, as a faster cyclist (probably around 20mph here) is to merge with the motor traffic rather than stay on the cycle-path. You will see that I do this safely, by checking there are no nearby cars when doing this switch of lanes.

video

So, all in all, the bridge system is fantastic, but the approaches need some further consideration.


UPDATE:

The bridge has changed considerably over the past year or two. Plans were rapidly implemented in 2010/2011. This is the new experience going south.




And here is going north.



Much larger lanes are a reflection of just how many people cycle across this bridge (around 5,000 a day, near bottom of this).

The down-side of the bridge still has motor traffic crossing the cyclelanes, which does led to conflict. What to do?
  • Make most of the lane raised (but still crossable, just not attractive)?
  • Or move lanes back to sides?
Not sure what can be done, but I'm sure examples from northern Europe may show the way!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Addenbrookes Cycle Path, South Cambridge

The Addenbrookes Cycle Path was built to connect the south side of Cambridge to the nearest village of Shelford and connects on to other villages along the Granta valley. It also marks the ten thousandth mile of cycle path with Sustrans involvement. With the combination of sponsors, the path has been marked with just over 10,000 colour stripes, representing the genetic code for a very important human gene - BRCA2, which was sequenced at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in nearby Hinxton.

This video journey starts in Shelford and heads north into Cambridge. The first part is in Shelford itself and goes alongside the railway from the housing estate around Chaston Road up to the Granham Lane level crossing. The level crossing end is very poorly sighted due to limited space. The route itself goes completely across the road. If the barriers are down, it's very obvious and easy to proceed, but otherwise it involves losing all gained speed.
video


Unfortunately, I'm missing the first part of the next section, where there is a sculpture which makes the path special. There again, there also is rather a sharp drop which spoils this end.

For the mid section, it's flat, even, and wide enough for 2 cyclists. What a joy! The best bit is the central rubberised section which makes for an incredibly smooth surface and excellent for riding. Of course, everyone should take care of other path users and not just stick on this at all times.

video


The, the path starts to dip as it heads toward the Nine Wells stream crossing. Yet further flat surfaces and a steady slight incline make this a good speedy ride. The final sculpture, marking the end of the 10k-Miles Sustrans UK Cycle Paths, appears just before the bridge. This is a limited access wooden bridge that crosses the beginning of Hobson's Conduit going into Cambridge.
video


The next section is a trifle boring, although it does show some of the activities for the Addenbrookes Relief Road (detailed PDF). The path turns eastwards next ot a ditch before finally turning back towards the hospital itself. This second turn is over a limited access bridge which really does require losing a lot of speed to navigate. I can't help but think there might have been better designs, or is it simply to force everyone to slow down more than would be necessary to save the Health & Safety people.

video


The final section comes up to the hospital south side, alongside a ditch and wood. Again, less than exhilirating. The final approach to the road itself has previously been crowded by hospital employees smoking, as they had been banned from doing it on hospital land. Recently this has abated as the trust has seen fit to deal with the problem rather than sweep it out of their juristriction. The junction is very poorly sighted with traffic coming from a variety of angles. The road surface is also very bad, which is quite a shock after the past 1.6 miles!
video


Now, this is not the prettiest of paths. However, it is a very good example of taking a route well away from traffic and offering a quiet, smooth, very pleasant cycling experience. Bar a couple of poor spots mentioned above! However, all this pales into insignificance when you travel along it on a summer's late evening and you are guided by little fairy lights all the way in (still be properly lit!), totally awe-inspiring!


Lighting

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cycling Safety - Near Accident near Cambridge

This happened to me today on the Hardwick Road just north of Toft, Cambridgeshire. It's so close to an accident I didn't know what to do for a few minutes. Luckily, my legs do just have this habit of going round until my mind returns, so I found myself a bit further on.

However, that's not the nub of this blog. It's more a description and my analysis of what happened. It gives a pretty obvious reason why people don't want to cycle and some kind of ammunition to those calling for more resources to be put into making cycling safer.

So, first a couple of things to observe from the offset of this 20 second video. Note that my camera is mounted on the right hand side of my helmet (and at a slight angle!). It shows that I'm travelling along the edge of the road and in a consistent line. Also, there is clear sight of a lorry and 2 cars in the next 200 or so yards.

video

Now, listen to the skid that occurs at 4 seconds into the video. This is a car coming up behind me at speed looking to overtake me and finding, at the last moment, that they can't.

Quite what the driver was thinking I don't know. Perhaps they thought that there is enough space on the road for a bike and two passing cars? Looking at the space on the road, that clearly isn't the case. Perhaps they had only registered the lorry and was seeking to pull out after it passed only to discover the following cars? Again, these cars are fairly obvious. Possibly the driver simply wasn't concentrating on the road? Either way, I think most people would consider this driving to be appalling.

Now, the noise of this skid was considerable to say the least. And it was long enough for me to realise what it was, mentally calculate that it might not end before striking me, and take my heart to somewhere near my throat.

My state of mind directly after this was awash with concern. As previously said I went into auto-mode which includes continuing to pedal. However, my speed dropped, I kept trying to look round to see what the car behind was trying to do next. Somehow I was calm-ish, although still concerned that my life might end very soon.

As the car passed, you can see how far into the other lane the driver had to go to pass safely and avoid hitting me. I do remember seeing the driver with shoulder length blond-ish hair. You can't make that out on the video. You can make out the toy stuck to the glass in the back window indicating that the driver probably had a young child, not necessarily in the car. After the car passed it was clearly a small red hatchback (a Fiesta?) with numberplate Y246 WCB (or possible D last). I wish I could get a screenshot of the numberplate, it is quite clear on one frame, but my software isn't up to it.

Now, you may think that this is a one-off event, that cars rarely come so close to causing an accident. However, it's far from the truth. When cycling regularly, and I'm not cycling in the rush hour, it happens once or twice a week to me. Not necessarily the sharp breaking, mostly its missing my right hand by a few inches at 50-60mph. Roads like this one, Long Road north from Comberton, Coton Road north-west from Granchester, Hinton Way north-east from Great Shelford, and Lilm Kiln Road south from Cherry Hinton.

This can hardly be a conducive atmosphere for encouraging less short-range car journeys and more cycling. These are exactly the sort of roads from local Cambridge villages that need to be made safe.

Now, the other issue is should I report this? If someone had taken a pot shot at me with a small firearm most people wouldn't think twice. However, cyclists put up with this danger quite regularly without reporting it. Despite the scenario being any less dangerous and any less deliberate.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Cambridge Cycling - Trumpington Cycle Path Safety

I regularly cycle through my home town of Cambridge. In comparison to other places in Britain, it is a very good town for cycling. However, it falls well short of the experience I've had of cycling in Europe. Additionally, English road law, street design, and motorist mentality lacks some very basic concepts about cycling that make the whole experience very daunting to anyone considering getting on two wheels.

Here's a short video of travelling down the Trumpington Cycle Path into town. It's a bright sunny day and for good parts of it gives an ideal cycling experience.

video

However, elemental issues with street design and poor driver choices show two examples of problems even here.

At 1:12, there is a side entrance from a private club. The footpath and cycle path veer to the left then back out to the right. The markings suggest that everyone, either, pedestrian, car, or bike should stop. And the awkward blind spot of the joining road would reflect this. The sharpness of the veer also has the effect of narrowing both paths, as it's awkward to retain taking the space road space up at the angle.

This shows that no-one involved in this junction design has ever ridden on a bike. It's a typical car driver that simply thinks stopping is an acceptable solution. If I were on the road just 1 metre away, either on a bike or in a car, I wouldn't need to stop, just consider the possibility that something could come out and make adjustments for it. (Funnily enough a lot of car drivers wouldn't even consider this here.) No, stopping on a bike is a serious issue. I'm not saying that bikes shouldn't ever need to stop or be prepared to stop, of course they do. It's just that when you invest effort and energy getting to a reasonable and safe speed, you really don't want to lose it for no reason.

Secondly, the whole concept of "everyone stops" is just confusing. No-one can work out who should go where and when. On many occasions I've seen cars simply assume (possibly not even think about it) that they take right of way. Luckily, I've not seen them crash into a bike travelling down the main route.

The solution, like in most of Europe, is the put the cycle path closer to the main route and clearly mark the car stop position before crossing the cycle path. That would give them a clear view of the main road and cycle path before crossing and joining other traffic. Otherwise, it simply makes sense for cyclists to join the main road before crossing this side junction and leave it afterwards, as long as it's safe to do so. This, of course, makes the cycle path a bit ridiculous.

At 1:24, a parked van looms up on the left hand side. This may seem innocuous, but really makes cycling past it awkward. The road itself has a double yellow line, so if the van had parked there it would have incurred a penalty. So, as happens quite regularly, the van driver chose to park blocking other road users. This isn't bad example of it, but from a cyclists point of view it's like having a block put in the path, for no reason. Pedestrians are forced into the cycle path, and anyone actually in the van could open a door at any point. I've been knocked off by people doing this without looking.

Strictly speaking, these are not bad infringements, but I put them up as a demonstration of even in the supposedly best of places, there are still problems in cycling safety in Britain.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Tour de France 2009 - Day 4 - Le Tour en Espana

As previously said, we were on our way to Catalan country. This is not quite true, we were coming from Catalan and going to Catalunya. One's in France the other is Spain. Now, a fair amount of French Catalans don't like speaking French, but an awful lot more Spanish Catalunyans passionately hate Spanish. So, my communication ability resorted to the old point and shout paucity.

After a couple of hours of Autoroute/Autopista we found our little turn up into the low mountains where a category 3 climb would proof an interesting watching point. A parking spot appeared 50m from the summit and we duely found our roadside place about 20m from the top.

Now came the defending. Standing or sitting on the exact roadside about 4 foot apart with bags between to discourage anyone from getting in front, behind, or above. It vaguely worked. We got to work writing "FSC" and "CAV" in big yellow letters in the Livestrong chalk we'd got given in Perpignan. Duely proud of our work, consideration made for where the cyclists would go to give us best coverage, we sat back to defend yet further.

The publicity caravan was as exciting as always, bar the amount of really pushy kids and even adults around. Ed used his height to beat the local Catalunyans and I was just a little more guileful than others, standing a bit further back were a lot more of the tat ended up. I should be able to cover a number of children's heads this summer camp. As always it's "pour les enfants", another guileful way.

Then, the wierdest thing of the day, getting interviewed. Yes, a TV crew came along, and suddenly started asking questions. I think the overhead our English and, being
American, thought that this would save on the translators afterwards. It was for an American documentary and as soon as Ed said he was now in Pittsburgh the camera shot to him. I was out of it. After a couple of attempts to jump in I left it. Back to me musings on my own. They kept on about drugs in cycling, so I was slightly relieved to not be really pushed. Ed was giving a very balanced response, which probably wasn't what they wanted.

Suddenly they turned back to me and started asking about Tommy Simpson. It was quite overbearing but I found a voice and gave over the "cycling is the hardest sport", "drugs were rife in the early days", and "it's getting better with every cheat they catch".

Interview over, they got us to sign "Talent waivers". Yes, we are officially "Talent". Of course, the chances of me ever seeing the documentary made is very unlikely, giving the joy of obscurity straight away. I feel slightly hollow, that moment of fame disappearing steadily with each passing moment. Of course, if any of you plebs ever want to talk to me again you'll have to go through my agent.

We got the news that David Millar was in a breakaway with a couple of other riders. So, with each passing helicopter and police bike we jacked our heartbeat and enthusiasm into the stratosphere. Next us sprung up a Scot with the cross of St Andrew who lived a matter of minutes away. Funny, never saw him or the flag before.

At last the front three came past. Shouting and screaming abounded and photos of legs and blurred frames. Of course everyone was all over the road, including over our lovely yellow chalk signs. Sigh. Artistic work is never appreciated when there's a Pro cyclist in spitting distance.

the joy of the first three was quickly followed by the joy of the peleton with Astana to the fore. That breakaway wasn't going to make it. Clearly yesterday was a reminder to everyone that they can't leave things to late when it comes to the final chase down.

It was the usual scrum trying to get out again. Cars were blocking everyone in, and the hunt for the flourescent Tour de France arrows crept into our thoughts. First ones were missing, but furher down the hill a "Stop! Arrow!" got Ed's attention. Arrow duely collected, we calmed down and settled back into our return journey. Until "Stop! Arrow!" came up again. We had one for Ed. And finally "Stop! Roundabout arrow!" and we had the full set.

Tomorrow is my last day in France. I may report about Cathar castles or not depending on the whim of the moment. Either way "bon chance"!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Tour de France 2009 - Day 3 - Le Tour, Cyclism!

So, I missed your vital update last night or this morning depending on how you take your nights. Here's the cycle-dominated run down of the day.

We got into Perpignan fine mainly as we were so early. We got into a car park that was round the corner from the finish. Not all were welcomed. There was a nice taped up home written sign suggesting that "Armstong go home, you're place is not in the peleton".

A bit of wondering around found all the usual people, kiosks, and vans. We found the main concession stand and just had to buy green the jersey. That way I can shout at our boy in green "I've bought it so you can win it".


We had lunch in a nice cafe then straight back to the race. We'd eyed up a place earlier that was in the shade and only 175m from the finish line. It's the place where the sprinters finally get going on their own. People were now there, but we muscled in easily enough. Small children and old ladies are quite easy to move.

We waited for hours, constantly being shifted and shifting the crowd that started gathering around. Numb feet, legs, and arms are all part of the scene. The news kept being broadcast on French radio, which actually wasn't to follow. Eventually it seemed that little Tommy Voerkler was going to make good an escape, something he usually messes up. The French love him. He's pretty much the only French guy that does anything, so good luck to him.


He cheekily appeared round the corner with 300m to go. The look of disbelieve on his face was palpable. He was going to make it. Then 2 others appeared, pedalling for all there life. And why became very apparent. A swarm of bikes filling the whole road, more like a giant wave about to break over the beach. The two out front looked very frightened and one got swallowed up as Cavendish won the sprint for the line after Voerkler and Ignatiev fell over the line from their breakaway.

I cannot emphasis the sheer scale and speed of the peleton during the final sprint. It was awesome. If anyone has seen any crashes of this bit you'll know the utter chaos that ensues.

After walking round the finish area in slight bewilderment and seemingly walking miles round to avoid blockages we found ourselves walking through the team buses.
Said "Hello" & "Well done" to David Millar who gave a slightly bemused look then found Eric Zabel chatting away outside the Colombia bus. No sign of the Manx Rocket of course (Mark Cavendish for the unintiated).


It was really late when the evening was done, hence the lack of update. Also, I was slightly overrun with all the fun of the day, and the sheer effort of standing around fighting the crowd to maintain one's spot.

Today's stage is in the heart of Catalan country. So, as I was trying to say yesterday night and in my best local dialect I'll say "bom nit".

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Tour de France 2009 - Day 2 - Le Tour, Without the Waiting

After a night in a bed, yes, a bed, the joy of getting up and wandering to the kitchen to get eggs, bacon, coffee, and orange juice, so so French, hmmm. Bacon was from a farm near Peterborough and bought at the farm outlet in Cambridge. Orange was bought in Barcelona, and so was everything else.

Ed and I got the bikes out from their downstairs storage and fiddled with them knowledgeably, yeah right. Mostly dealing flat tyres wouldn't seem bad until you find out that Ed's grandfather had a bike shop and the inner tubes were from it. The valves where unknown to modern science, possibly Victorian.

Ed rigged up something that seemed to work, but it require both of us involved in a series of body positions I last did whilst playing Twister. After that it was just a question of fiddling with gears, brakes, saddle heights, and the sheer level of dust on them. So, a couple of hours after starting we were tired, sweaty and about to start the ride.

We headed up valley along the back roads from our sleepy village. My legs were so excited about being got out for a little exercise they were jumping around like suitably wound-up puppies. This was hard for all to take as I seemed to disappear into the distance all the time. Judicious photo opportunities allowed me to save face.

We soon transferred to an old railway track that snaked along the valley with stupendous bridges. these were mostly metal based full of little holes where you could just make out a raging torrent 30 to 50 metres below. After a while we were off the old track, with the same level fo signage as we got to begin with, that is none.

A rather unedifying main road took us on to Amelie-les-Bains and across the river Tech again and back to Palalda.

Palalda was very pretty and full of single lane streets with 3 storey houses and 1 in 3 gradients. We found the "Sports" cafe down this dark street and ventured in for some refreshment. As soon as we passed the bar the panoramic view of the whole valley opened up through large windows at the other end. The 1 in 3 slop guarenteeing a lack fo any houses the other side of any road.

The cafe boasted a rather noncholant cat that just said "quoi?" with a look to all entreaties and advances we lovingly made. I swear that if it had struck up a Gauloise I really would not have been surprised.

The light refreshment consisted of Croc Monsieur and a glass of a new local beer called Cap d'Ona. It was rich, malty, and full of flavour, much like a good Broadside, but with a texture that was unmistakeably lager. This is where British lager gets it so wrong. It has no flavour, just fizzy pop with alcohol added. Alcopops are a least honest about their origins. Only later we discovered that the beer was fortified with a local wine called Banyuls, ahem.

Thus fortified, we were encouraged us to venture back along this side of the valley headed back out this time up to a good height of 340m. Then back down to 200m along a fast twisting, technical descent. I was in 7th heaven, going 25-40mph for 2miles. Sliding from one side of the bike to the other, judiciously applying brakes and pedalling madly to make the bottom. Nearly came off once but that just got the heart pumping. It always happens just after you've make the corner and trying to speed up without concentrating on the road. Suddenly you've drifted into the grass and gravel on the road edge and have to gently push yourself back onto the tarmac. A few hairaising moments where you visualize the trip down off the roadside into the tree branches around. It wouldn't be severe but would be very embarrassing.

At the bottom I waited. And waited. In that short distance I'd gained 4 minutes out of others. This is cycling parlance for being described as a demon descender. I'm sure there are plenty of good amateurs and all the pros that would completely wipe the floor with me, but I yet to find any that'll do it on a bike they don't know.

Erica had had enough of cycling by now but was happy for Ed and I to extend our rise with a short excursion further up the mountains. We said goodbye leaving her on a familiar road not too far from home, and scanned the hillside for the obvious track. Well, it was very obvious on the map but consisted of a overgrown field in reality. Oh, the reminders of west Wales. After going round, we found the other end of the overgrown field and concluded the road route really wasn't that bad even if it was 3 times as long.

our loop was only meant to take us to 250m up again, but by some bad mapreading and fairly unpenetreable "interdit" signs we ended up on a 410m loop. Just as I was about to break, Ed stopped and said "I'm pooped but you go on". I was able to drop pace but still push on. Ed caught back up after a while, only to "poop" again leaving me on my own to the summit as King of the Mountains.

The hamlet at the top wasn't stunning but could at least fit the French "jolie". We enjoyed being up in the middle of nowhere as much as it was a ride in itself, then plummeted back down to home. I took 2 minutes out of Ed on the descent. This time hairy road edge experiences, but some hilarious "Caaaar!" moments and showing I could get to the road edge if I wanted to.

At home the pool was very inviting, for about 2 minutes. Followed by a second lunch of gazpacho, bread, and cheese.

Now, some of you will have started to spot a small item lacking from the itenary so far. Wasn't I in this country to see something or other? Wasn't there a purpose to my travels and travails? Well, yes. So after lunch we all sat down in front of the TV and watched the Team Time Trial of the Tour de France. Now, again, I hear those quizical looks. Yep, I've travelled 1000 miles to do something I can do at home, and even there hear the darn thing in English! Well, at least I got to sit in a French bar for a little while, cycle on the right, see mountains covered in cork trees, and still see the race conclusion. This time a bit astounding, the yellow jersey separated by less than a second. For all of you who'll read about Lance not being to quite do it on his comeback in the British press, please understand that no-one really wants the yellow jersey just now. It's too long to defend it. Also, I really doubt he has the ability to get it. Unmistakeably he wants it, but there are at least 2 others with bigger talent right now. And that's just in his team.

Anyway, after the TV, we wandered into town to pick up supplies. We seemed to keep missing shops until we got into Perpignan. It was fairly uneventful apart from spotting so really good shed deals.

Our route home took us to the village of Vives where there is a great place for good Catalan food. This was very reminiscent of a place in Paris where you get meat on a board that was cooked on an open fire and a side order of fried diced potato. As before it tasted wonderful.

And that's where the day ends. I'm the last up, sat on the patio with Soulwax pumping out some georgeous dirty techno as I find a place to hide some beer. That is dirty in the sense that the techno beat is nicely grunged up and distorted to make Kylie sound acceptable.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Tour de France 2009 - Day 1 - Le Tour, Oh So Different

For those who don't know, Le Tour comes 2 me very different this year. For starters, it's a lot shorter (yes, breathe sigh of relief, after sharp intake of breathe on receiving said email). For seconds, it doesn't involve all that tedious camping around and dashing from place to place without any purpose than seeing that race. And third, it happens unlike last year's miserable failure (I know you were scanning your email during July thinking "it must start soon, surely, where's my out of the office option in Outlook").

Last year was without Lorna & too little planning to make it happen. I enjoyed watching it all in detail from the comfort of my flat. I cried a lot. I saw more than I would. My bones ached for the passible pleasure of no sleep whilst hanging to the rock face of some mountain waiting for the race, for the baking hot sun whilst sat in a car on an Autoroute going from market town A to market town B, for just the pure pleasure of using a campsites "facilities" after a couple of days finding a small bush with a trowel.

So, I am here. Well, where exactly? In a lounge with the gentle rush of a river down the hill, and the sound of a swimming pool being filtered just outside the door. This time no mad dash down the autoroutes, no 5am alarm for the ferry, no strange hotel in the middle. No, this time a plane from Stansted all the way to Perpignan. So no custom specified bike either. It's all quite sad, but also good. As said, oh so different.

Landing at Perpignan was fun. In a "above the town at 500 feet" kind of fun. In the "I can read the newspapers on the stands of the sprint finish in the middle of town section in 2 days time" kind of fun. Town, plane, plane, town ... I think you get it. Then landing at a deserted field with tumbleweed bouncing along to the empty petrol tanker sheds, walking to the terminal and having luggage pass through the same door we did. Can I get a "Deliverance" from anyone? Or possibly a "good, bad, and ugly".

Ed was on a conference call in the carpark. The cicadas were going full swing so he was completely stuck in the car. I wondered torn between a vague life from the one 1950s style terminal building and the tree and rock covered mountains to the south west.

Once we were off, the surrounds displayed that typical scenario at 5pm on a Monday, as in totally blocked. We opted for the "get out of town onto mountain roads even if it takes longer" strategy. It was beautiful but mad as cars drove at us a twisting turning roads and Ed wasn't used to gears after a few years without so sounded like Lewis (Hamilton not Bear). This is also where I suddenly had sympathy for Lorna in her task as map reader. Why oh why do the French seem to think it's perfectly acceptable to draw the roads in a pattern that I can only describe as "Laura Ashley" flowery rather then how they actually happen. Also just scribbling a doodle for towns is not clever or funny, yes, Monsieur Sarkozy, I am telling you!

Unfortunately, there was the awkward confusion of being in Catalan. The language is different. If you watch QI you will know that just over 100 years ago there was no language called French. This is only to clear when you end up in places a long way
from Paris. People don't have the same words for things or even use the letters the same. I'm dreading my visit to the local Catalan-speaking vegetable grocer. I mean, French is hard enough, who said they could vary it and still call it the same? It does give a whole new meaning to Euro-centric issues.

Anyway, arrival was nice and we're on the ranch. No kidding, it feels like it could be a ranch. We could fit the main camping field of Haddenham here. It is lovely.

the place is on the edge of a village and on the edge of the river Tech. And edge would be the right word given how much garden slipped into the Tech a few years ago.
There a mountains all around a valley with views all over. The house is full of life, paintings, books, bikes, rooms, where the garden has all kinds of local plants, lavender, peaches, olives, roses, and a swimming pool and a shaded boules area. Books include Michelin guide shelf for pretty much every year since 1900. The garden includes a rather shifty salamander. As soon as I switched an outside light on, it was off up to the top of the house. And I just wanted to say "hello".

I seemed to have ended up at the lower part of the house with a bedroom, bathroom,
sitting room, patio, and bar to myself. I'm sure it won't end up like that, but I'm living like a king right now.

I repeat, oh so different.