Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday, July 21: TdF - Day 3

Today everybody woke up a little extra giddy than the past few days. The reason was simple – we were going to watch the Tour de France live and in person today! I thought that it was a little ironic that my first live experience of the TdF would occur in Italy as we were planning on watching the tour somewhere along the ascent of Col du Petit Saint Bernard. Today’s stage started in Switzerland in Martigny, cut through Italy, and ended back in France at Bourg Saint Maurice.

We left our hotel in Les Houches, drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel and arrived in Pre St. Didier, Italy. This allowed me to check off another new country off my list. My impression of Italy so far – it looks just like France.

Today’s ride started in Pre St. Didier, which was also the base of the Category 1 Col de Petite Saint Bernard.
Most riders in the group agreed that it was not the grade of the climb (average = 5.4%) that made it a category 1 but its length (23 km). The objective today was simple – just climb. The elevation profile of the ride clearly illustrates the daunting task ahead.

I started off by myself just spinning and getting into a rythym. Although most of the “good riders” agreed that the gradient of the climb was not steep , I found it plenty steep for me. (Perhaps I am the most out of shape rider in the group? Or perhaps I am the most honest?)
It was quite exciting to be climbing the very road that the best cyclists in the world would be riding just hours later. Near the base of the climb there were spots of people camped out and eagerly waiting the tour. These spots turned to thick throngs of campers, cars, tents and TdF enthusiasts near the summit. The practiced their cheering as I rode past, which made for a sweet experience.
There were many other cyclists on the mountain that were also looking for the same experience. I was surprised by how many cyclists there were – all searching for bragging rights to say they too rode the same climb that would be broadcast worldwide later that day.

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I just concentrated on grinding each mile after mile. I am quite sure that you learn a lot about what kind of person that you are on these types of adventure. Some people like to take their time, stop for pictures, and make the ride up as “relaxing” as possible. Others like to race up against others for bragging rights. Myself, I just wanted to ride from bottom to top without stopping. That was my challenge. I figured I could sight-see on the descent.
3D View of Col du Petit Saint Bernard. The Yellow line is the Italy-French border, which is at the summit.

84 minutes later I crossed under the polka dot banner signifying the top of the climb. I had done it! To make sure that the ride would be a proper challenge I packed up a bottle of champagne and some plastic stemware to have a champagne toast to celebrate. One of the Aussies in the group told me that was something that an Aussie would talk about doing but would be too lazy to actually do it. So he made me an honorary Aussie. He also mentioned that if this is what I would do for this climb he is scared to think about what I will do to celebrate Mt. Ventoux in a couple days.

It seems that most (all?) people think that my bike is really heavy and they think I am crazy for what I pack around in it (i.e. champagne). But none of them seem to mind the champagne toast. And after being one of the first people up the climb (7th in the group), their joking is definitely out of respect.

After the toast I pointed my bike in the opposite direction from which it had been pointed all day and finally let gravity start to work for me. The throngs of people, the fact that the road was still open, and the sure length of the descent did not make it as enjoyable as I had imagined it might have been. I did, however, stop twice for two great photo ops.

The first was with Dido – the ever famous guy that you see on TV every year dressed as the devil. He has the reputation for being overly stinky, but he must have showered recently because I was still able to get quite close without any sensory damage (or perhaps I have gotten used to hanging around stinky French people for the past year and a half?).

The second was with some fellow Canadians. That maple leaf always does my heart good.

Back down in Pre Saint Didier I met back up with Jennie. We positioned ourselves just off the base of the climb to watch the tour. Before the tour comes the caravan, which is really quite an experience in itself. The cars fly by with people just throwing freebies hard down on the road infront of you. It is like being involved in a drive-by shooting but instead of dodging bullets you are diving away from sugar candies, dried sausage, and key chains.

The men of the tour arrived about an hour later. I made the mistake of telling the people that I was with that I got shivers up my spine seeing them go by. They thought that it was funny that men in lycra gave me the shivers…
Team Astana leading the charge. Lance Armstrong is the fifth person back wearing the black helmet. Alberto Contador is in the yellow.
Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia) is in the center. The sprinters like to huddle together for support and security in the mountains. For them it is a matter of survival.
One of the team cars following the riders.

What a great experience – I cannot wait to do it again tomorrow!

People are now just starting to call me “Dangerous”. (I am sure my kid will read through this someday and think, “surely they are not talking about MY dad.”

Monday, July 20: TdF - Day 2

Today’s final destination is Chamonix. Actually, the people who paid full price get to stay in Chamonix - the rest of us are bunking in Les Houches ("Les Hoochies" is what I prefer), just outside of Chamonix. To break up the day, we started by riding the first 50 miles from our hotel in Beaune to Cluny.
The Fonz has nothing on me...Haaaaaaaaaay. Getting Ready to depart.
In Cluny we had lunch, a red neck shower, which consists of squeezing the remaining water from my water bottle over my dirty bits for a little rinse. It is important to clearly distinguish the water bottle from the gatorade bottle BEFORE you start cleaning - you do not need your cheeks sticking to the bus seat for the remaining 4 hour bus ride Les Houches.
The ride is shown on the left in blue (point-to-point from North to South). We drove the remainder to Chamonix (bottom right).
After yesterday’s hammer-fest I decided to start the ride with the “slow group.” It was a beautiful, sunny day for a ride – riding through the French country side with the sun shining down on you is the most fun you can have with lycra on. As Ms. Beckistan would say, “you got to punish the lycra”.

As it turns out, the “fast group” took a wrong turn and had to repass us further down the road. They went from being called the “fast group” to the “development squad” or the "soft tops". When they caught back up I decided to jump on and join them since their new names that we had bestowed upon them were no longer intimidating to me. (Whereas before I had given them nicknames like White Goodman in Dodgeball..."and there riding up front is Blazer, sitting next to him is Lazer, followed by Tazer..."

It was all good until the first crash of the day, which occurred just two bikes ahead of me. We were approaching a climb and, as it appeared to me, when the riders got out of their saddles to start digging into the climb there was a little rubbing of tires. (Sometimes a little rubbing is a good thing, but not in this case...). Two people went down, some flesh was used to patch a few holes in the road and, thankfully, that was about it.

After this incident I figured I better ride with the “slow group”. Perhaps this more casual group would decrease my risk of going ass over tea kettle in the French countryside. Again, all was going smooth until the second crash of the day. I was near the back when suddenly the whole group infront of me slowed in the middle of the track. Everyone was touching their brakes or slowing for some reason. The ripple effect to the back of the group had disasterous consequences. I hit the bike in front of me (who happened to be ridden by the guy who started calling me Dangerous Dave) and got thrown from my bike.
Having been in this precarious situation before I instinctively unclipped my left foot, skied along the pavement with me cleat while unclipping my right foot as my bike hit the pavement and skidded between my legs. Miraculously I ended up on both feet with my bike lying beneath me. Unfortunately the lady behind me did not have quite the same performance on her dismount. When the peloton slows/stops without warning the back of the peloton is definitely put at risk. To avoid these situations tomorrow I think I will just go for the yellow jersey and let all the people behind me worry about the perils of the peloton. The tips of the ladies fingers got chewed up pretty bad...she is now known as "claw".

Was it coincidence that I was at the scene of both accidents in the two different groups? “Dangerous Dave” is really starting to catch on. (But seriously, by all accounts and witnesses, I was not at fault for either accidents…I swear).
It has also been suggested to me that I should have a little scoreboard on my “suitcase” on the back of my bike so people riding around me will be fully aware of the risk they are taking when riding next to me. Since the first accident occurred infront of me, the group on the bus has decided that my score is 1.5.
It is a rest day in the TdF so Astana can perhaps have a little team building after yesterday's "fireworks". Unfortunately for Lance, I think the fireworks came from the wrong person!
View from our hotel room.
Les Houches.
Jennie in Les Houches.
Me in Les Houches.

A+ from Les Houches.

Sunday, July 19: TdF - Day 1

Today my new friends and I left Paris en route to Beaune. Beaune is about a 3 hour bus ride away, which allowed plenty of opportunity to “bus-bond” with everyone.
Loading the bus in Paris.
While it seemed that the front half of the bus was enjoying the quiet tranquility of the French countryside, which lulled them to sleep, we were in the back half of the bus with the more rowdy crowd (led by big Geoff and his crazy toe slippers (shoes?)). I was hoping to catch a bit of a snooze myself but sitting in front of Geoff all but guaranteed that would not happen!

We were dropped off 27 miles from Beaune giving us all the opportunity to “stretch our legs” through the vineyards and country roads into town.
Dave had mentioned to me (later in the tour) that there is always one guy on these tours who rides a really old bike (mine was the oldest - or as I prefer to say, "the most classic") and has not bought new bike gear since the florescent phase. Hmmm...it looks like I am "that guy". Might as well ham it up a bit.
Yep, I am definitely "that guy".
I somehow managed to get caught up with the front guys where, starting with the first climb the hammer was dropped and remained that way all the way into town. The only reason why I was able to keep up was because the really phenomenal climbers who chewed up the first hill decided to descend and reclimb the hill so (in their words) they could “keep warm”.
The first climb seemed to take most people by surprise. - it was a little longer and steeper than "we" (?..or maybe it was just "me"). It was an abrupt reminder that my vacation has now begun...hmmm - something seems wrong with that statement. I am hoping that it awoke some of the deep muscles that have not been used in a long time in time for the alps in a few days!

The countryside was phenomenal! Beaune, being the center of the burgundy wine country, meant that the whole ride rolled through the beautiful surrounding vineyards. A strong headwind motivated me to keep up with the fast guys infront (Brian and Dave) because, although I am used to generating a lot of hot air myself, the last thing that I wanted to do was to battle the wind solo.
A point-to-point ride gauranteed that the wind would always be against us.

I finished the day hoping that every ride will not be like this one! Sure it is great to throw down the hammer from time to time, but with the mountains looming ahead I was not so keen to do it on day one! Either way, it seemed that most people were just trying to figure out the group dynamics. From what I could tell you had two groups:
1. The Tazmanian Devils who were here for training
2. The rest of us.

Jennie stayed on the bus with her new found friends and barely beat us into town. Upon arrival the very next priority was to find a little pub where we could watch the Tour de France. We were all excited to see the stage since Lance promised “fireworks” on his Twitter page. (This information was brought to us by "Team Livestrong" (aka Jim and Angela) in the back of the bus. This was to be the first of many such instantaneous twitter updates.). There were fireworks alright – it looks like the tour has entered a new era – The Contador Era! Finally, the tour is getting exciting…or is it already over?

A few more beers in the beautiful Beaune town square with my new French buddy Francois (who was being overwhelmed by the Australian contingent of our group before I arrived), nice dinner in a cave restaurant, and I was knackered!
Jennie in beautiful Beaune.

Of note, my bike seems to be getting a lot of attention amongst the group. I am still getting a lot of flak for having my “suitcase” (i.e. my “small” saddle bag) tied to the back but they all love my “old school” bike. Glenn told me that I “make uncool cool”. I am pretty sure it was a compliment…but stay tuned!

I have also been given the title of “Dangerous Dave” from Paul. That’s right Ice man…I am dangerous!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 18: TdF Stage 0 - Prologue

Ok, ok, for those of you that follow the Tour de France (TdF) you are well aware that the tour is well beyond the original prologue stage, which occured in Monico nearly 2 weeks ago. However, today I joined a big group of strangers who have all traveled to Paris to follow the TdF through the Alps. We will catch up with the tour on Tuesday, but in the meantime we are just enjoying riding in France while we travel down to join the tour. Since today was the first "get to know each other" kind of ride and an opportunity for all the travellers to stretch out their kinks I will refer to it as our prologue.

I had a distinct advantage of living in Paris so I was able to ride to the hotel to meet the group. Already they think I am a little strange, whatever - after dealing with frenchies for the past year I am more than used to being the outsider!

I am really excited about the next week. It is really awesome to be around a group of like-minded people who are all totally into the TdF and keen to ride. Right now I am sitting in the hotel bar, watching the tour, hearing everybody discuss the tour and getting excited about it, and drinking a beer with my gal...vacation has indeed started!!

I rode 22 miles from my place to the hotel, which is beside the airport. Jennie joined me later with our bags.

As a group we rode an additional 25 miles around the countryside from the hotel.

Today's ride total: 47 miles
TdF total: 47 miles

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 16: 500 Euros a slide

So, I am sitting here in Lagos, Nigeria waiting for my driver to take me to the armed shuttle, which will take me to the airport to return back to Paris tonight. It seems as though I have just arrived in Lagos (last night) and here I am already leaving! The point is that I had to present a few slides to some people. In my downtime I calculated how much it cost the company to have me present these slides (see the title of the post) and it hardly seems worth it. And trust me, what I had to say was definitely not worth that at all! ...oh well, extra air miles I guess.

Speaking of airmiles, when I was returning from London on Monday the customs officer had to flip through my passport twice before he found an appropriate empty spot to stamp. Considering that my passport is still less than two years old and that I already have to get a new one because it is full tells me that I have been spending a little too much time on trains and planes these past few years!

Tomorrow I am back in the office until my vacay officially starts on Saturday. I will start my vacation by watching the Tour de France climb its way through the rugged Alps. If you are watching the tour on TV, just watch for a streaker running infront of the peloton. I will try to keep things updated as they happen, but no gaurantees.

And with that, the real TTR champion is on his way back to Paris!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 9: Pin Cushion

For the last couple months I have gone from a nearly empty vaccination booklet to one that consists of two booklets stapled together. All of this to get prepared to go and live in Nigeria. Today I had my last dosage of vaccinations in conjunction with my "exit medical exam" to leave France. Lately I have been a pin cushion for my local neighborhood doctor. This has become my standard look:

One of the things that they do in the medical exam is to xray your chest and check your lungs. After consistently breathing second hand smoke (and sometimes what I am quite convinced is first-hand smoke from the guy sitting at the table beside me while insisting on holding his cigarette infront of my face) for this past year and a half I was sure that the doctor was going to diagnose me with the black lung. Or, at the very least, warn me about the dangers of working in a coal mine or something...but fortunately this was not the case!
Tomorrow I am off to England for what looks to be a very wet and soggy weekend. I guess that just means more beer, Tour de France, and boardgames inside...let it rain!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 7: TdF update...

...so Lance is 'fractions of a second' behind the yellow jersey! I have to admit - I did not expect that! That being said, I certainly made my day to see team Astana do so well today in the team time trial! There is only one thing left to do to make this day complete...


Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4: Havin' a Bud...

...to toast all of my American friends out there celebrating Independance Day today! Oh yeah, and also to toast the return of Lance Armstrong to the Tour de France, which started today.

Currently he is sitting 3rd (with some of the real contenders left to depart) after the first 15km time trial in Monoco. This tour is looking like it will be one of the best in a long time...I am also super excited since Jennie and I will be watching the tour live once it hits the Alps.

While watching the tour I have been "deboxing" all of our dvds. To cut down on storage and shipping space, I am throwing all of our DVD cases and putting the DVD's in a CD booklet. Here is my pile...moving sucks!

I ran 8 miles today, making 30 so far on the week with one day left...it feels good!

Happy Independance Day!

Friday, July 3, 2009

July 3: Eaves dropping on the metro

Today on my way home from work I was sandwiched between two english speaking people who deemed it necessary to continue their conversation over my book, around the other two people standing between them, and during the times when the brakes of the metro were squealing, which just meant that they should started talking louder. No longer able to concentrate on my book I decided to have a little listen...

Her: Can you believe it? I had a 61 euro dinner last night on the Champs Elysees and all I had was an entree, a plat, and a glass of wine.

Him: Wow! That is expensive! The Champs Elysees is a big street you know, perhaps you can find some place cheaper tonight?

Her: Yeah. I should also try to find a wine store. I think some people would want me to bring home some French wine.

Him: That sounds like a good idea. My wife wanted me to bring her home some French face cream but I cannot believe how expensive it is!

Her: Really?!

Him: Yes. Everything I can find is 200 or 300 euros. For that price, I would rather send her to South America for some black market plastic surgey instead...

This is where David looks up to see if he is actually serious...he did not look like he was joking. If I only knew French better, I am sure I would hear these gems of conversations all the time on the metro! Good stuff!


Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 2: Steak & Potatoes...

...do not make for a good pre-run meal! It has been so sticky and hot that I have been running these past few nights between 9-10pm when it is a little cooler, which means that I head out after dinner. I was actually quite thankful for the side cramps and the beef-burps I had during the run because, unlike Jennie, my dinner was still in my stomach!

The poor girl has seen nothing but porcelain and toilet water these past few months. If anybody has any advice as to what the correct thing for the husband to do during these episodes please let me know. It is a pretty helpless feeling - you really want to help, but the best thing to do is just to leave her alone. The one thing that I can do, which is a preventative gag reflex measure, is to use the toilet brush to clean up after each time I use it for the "big" jobs...I am sure that she appreciates that the only streak in the house is her running to the bathroom!

So far this week I have run ~ 22 miles and easy running is actually starting to feel, well, easy again!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 1: Happy Canada Day!

Today we celebrated Canada Day by going to the Canadian Embassy in Paris to have a few beers. Unfortunately, the beer that they poured was nearly all foam and I had to wait until the beer was nice and warm before all the foam magically turned back into beer. I guess the cargo ship that the beer was on hit some big waves and was well shaken up while crossing the Atlantic.

Jennie and I infront of the Canadian Embassy in Paris. Seeing that Maple Leaf, especially in other countries, always does my heart good.

At the Canadian Embassy we met one of Jennie's classmates and her friend from Alliance Francais (french lessons) and we joined them at The Moose for some more Canadian beer and cheeseburgers. (Jennie, of course, has not had anything to drink in the last 4 months, whereas I need to get it out of my system so I can be a good influence!)

Having a Moosehead at The Moose.

Have a great Canada Day, eh!!