2011 Wrap-up

Friends, family, blog buddies, welcome to my 2011!

The last time we spoke, at the end of 2010, I was lamenting on how it had been a pretty good year, but things hadn’t really gone my way, like I am accustomed. Well, I’m happy to report that the universe has returned to normal, the stars have realigned, and I had a fantastic 2011. And here’s how it happened:

Occupying My Bike

Readership on the blog was getting a little stale by the end of 2010 and I needed some new material, bad. What better sport to take up for a middle-aged guy with a bum knee  who was more than a few pounds north of ‘athlete’, than bicycle racing!

So, along with old friend Karsten, I signed up to race in the Etape du Tour, a giant amateur race held every year that ‘allows’ riders like yours truly to experience an actual stage of the Tour de France. The organizers always choose a big stage in the Alps, Pyrenees or other mountains and 10,000 riders from all over the world descend on wherever it is to suffer like they’ve probably never suffered before. Am I making this sound attractive?

I have 100 or so blog articles that follow my progress throughout my season, which saw me happily go from finishing in the bottom 20% of my category in my first race in February to the top 30% in the Etape in July, with many wild variations in between. If you have tons of time and heaps of motivation you are welcome to check out my blog, but for those who have lives of their own to live, here are a few highlights of my racing season.

The Ritual Shave

It is the sure sign that you are taking this cycling business serious. Who else would go through this procedure for the benefit of having smooth, shiny legs? OK, I’m sure there are a few out there, but for me it was a turning point in my mental transformation from pretender to…pretender with shaved legs!

1st step before taking the razor to them.

Finishing Last

But not because we were the slowest. Actually, I think Karsten and I were doing pretty good before 1) we got lost and 2) Karsten ended up doing a  high-speed gravel skid on a particularly nasty turn. The result was an ugly and painful road rash, a pick-up from the dreaded broom wagon and a very slow ride to the end of my 2nd race of the season.

Gold Medal

I’m not sure how this happened, but both Karsten and I end up getting a certificate in our race in May over Mont Ventoux, stating that we had earned a ‘golden time’, i.e. the top category for the race. I think the organizers are overly generous, considering I had an awful meeting with the Man with the Hammer and lost many valuable minutes. Still, it put smiles on our faces.

The Race We’ve All Been Waiting For – Etape du Tour

Karsten and I at an ungodly hour of the morning, just outside Modene, the start town.

It’s the anticipation…

On mythic Galibier in the Alps, just before it gets painful.

Be impressed. This photo was taken at nearly 60 kph.

The only photo I could muster on the 21 hairpin turns of Alpe d’Huez, which was essentially a very long parade of pain and suffering, at least for mortals like me.

But it ended, and ended well, with a few glasses of champagne among friends.

TDF, Naturally

July in France means more than just the beginning of your minimum 5 weeks of paid holidays; it also means that the Tour de France will be rolling close to your house. This year, like all others, Shoko and I chose a stage or two to travel to and soak up the carnival atmosphere that is the TDF. For our first we chose the Plateau de Beille stage, a mountain-top finish near the Spanish border in the Pyrenees.

Contador seems popular…

You might think these rabid fans are cheering for their favorite rider. Sadly, you’d be wrong. They are trying to get the attention of the junk-throwing people who ride on the floats of the publicity caravan. The family in the foreground went berserk when the saussison guys rolled up.

After an hour or so of having crappy hats, fridge magnets and chewing gum thrown at us, the peloton finally arrived. Here is Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, just before one of them put in an ill-fated attack, I think.

Unconcerned about time, über-rouleur Tony Martin and the best cyclist of 2011, Philippe Gilbert roll up the mountain at a casual pace.

Fabian Cancellara is just behind them, lugging his massive thighs up the hill.

The following day we went to a small village to meet up with one of my blog readers, ‘Aussie Steve’ (because there is an ‘American Steve’, too), his wife, Julia, and The Mums.

Aussie For a Day
Steve, Julia and The Mums

For my last TDF sighting I took the train up to Paris to watch the last stage with Karsten and Sarah. This is the flamme rouge (marking the final km) next to the Louvre.

Here we have the Norwegian Corner, where fans make Nordic noise for Thor Hushovd (among others) every year.

The route this year passed right in front of Karsten and Sarah’s apartment, so we brought down some chairs to get an elevated view.

BMC leads the peloton into Paris, with overall winner Cadel Evans (in yellow) hiding at the end.

Various big shots bunched together. Cadel Evans, Fabian Cancellara, Andy Scheck and eventual stage winner, Mark Cavendish (in green).

Cycling Languedoc

Some of you may know that I started a website a couple years ago, which started out life as a site of cycling routes in Languedoc, France, where Shoko and I live. This site – cleverly named ‘Cycling Languedoc‘ – has morphed into a bit more than what it began as, and 2011 saw me getting into guided rides a little, as well as promoting cycling-friendly B&Bs and hotels in the region, and also ‘meating up’ the site with more practical info for the potential two-wheeled visitor to our region.

Here are a few folks that I had the pleasure of showing around the neighborhood this year.

Steve and Ann from New York
Peter, a fellow Canuck.
My Ventoux group – from far and wide.
Gary (with wife, Maureen) from Tasmania.

Press Trips

This year, thanks to the generosity of the Lyn from Freewheeling France, I had two actual press trips that allowed me to ride my bike then write about what I found. Who knew such things existed! My first trip was up to the far north of France and southern Belgium to ride with a new tour company who specialize in the cobbled roads that make the cold, wet spring up there so bearable (because Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and several others big races take place then).

This was an experience of a lifetime and I would definitely recommend Alex and William for your cobbled needs. You really haven’t lived till you’ve ridden over pavé at 30 kph.

Yes, you ride over these on a road bike.

Me looking smug just before our first section of pavé, the dastardly Arenburg Trench.

One of the all-time hardest men of cycling – Sean Kelly.

The cobbles make you hungry.

The velodrome that makes legends – Roubaix. For Canadians reading this, Steve Bauer finished a close 2nd here in 1990, nearly chucking him up to join the pantheon of cycling gods.

A steady stream of cyclists at the foot of the Koppenberg in Flanders, 22% of cobbled hell, but I have to admit it looks quite nice in the photo.

The last day of our tour, where we went out to watch the Paris-Roubaix race live. This is Johan Van-Sommeren on his way to a dusty victory. If you haven’t read enough today, here’s the article I wrote for Freewheeling France.

My next freebee was in the French Ardennes, a region that until recently was hiding itself from the world pretty effectively. It is breaking out of its shell now and doing its best to attract tourism. I was up there to ride the Trans-Ardennes Bike Path, an 85 km sealed cycling road that follows the gentle Meuse River from Charleville (below) to the border of Belgium.

Like most of its type, the path is built on top of the old tow path along the river/canal.

Like the rest of France, the Ardennes has plenty of nice villages to stop and admire.

France has an immense system of navigable rivers and canals. A guy I talked with that weekend told me he could take his boat all the way to Languedoc if he wanted, probably 1000 km away. Here’s the article I wrote for those in search of an easy ride.

Places

We did manage a few little trips between fartleks, sprints and intervals this year, but nothing like in the past. Still, I live in Europe, so I justify my lack of wanderlust recently to the fact that I’m actually living where I’d like to be travelling anyway.

Basel, Switzerland

This is the cafe at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, where Shoko dragged me to (not kicking and screaming…we did have our bicycles with us!) for an exhibition that she wanted to see.

Downtown Basel
Bratwurst – bad, but oh, so good!

Gaspé, Canada

My mom turned 80 in February, but wisely postposed her party till the summer, vastly improving her chances of a full house for the bash.

I flew for the first time since 2008, inflating my carbon footprint, but for a good cause at least. My old friend Scott picked me up in Montreal and we puttered in his VW 1000 km along the St. Lawrence River to my hometown of Gaspé, Quebec.

Scott, holding court at the dinner table.
Brothers Greg, Fred and (in-law) Scott.

A calendar from my dad’s store (now converted into a summer home) from the year before he died – 1975.

Molasses and bologna – the breakfast of champions.

Niece Maureen and new nephew John, leading us through a singalong.

Laughter – A common occurance when my family gets together.

Uncle Frankie and Fred
Mom and my sister Lois shakin’ their money makers.

Andalusia, Spain

Our luck really returned when we moved from Montpellier to Nîmes in 2009 and it’s largely due to our lovely landlady (who insists that I don’t use this word…she prefers ‘dear neighbor’), Marie-Hélène. She has really taken us under her wing and our world has opened up quite nicely since the move.

In addition to being a great party organizer, hostess and chef, she also happens to have a condo in the south of Spain that, again, she insisted we visit sometime. As you can imagine, not much arm twisting was necessary to get us down there.

Churros – The Spanish breakfast of champions.
Ojén, our pueblo blanca for the week.
Grenada
Alhambra
Alhambra
Alhambra
Alhambra
Malaga, I think.

While we were so far south I decided that we had to see Gibraltar, a tiny speck of what I thought would be just like the UK at the extreme south of Spain. What it turned out being (for me anyway) was one of the more bizarre places I’ve ever visited – and that’s saying something. I can’t put my finger on the reason, but maybe it had to do with my expectations. Anyway, it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area…once.

The Rock of Gibraltar
Looking back towards Spain

Shoko

Shoko started her year off right by riding a bike in Paris.

For most of the year though, she was locked in her atelier (our spare room) brewing up contemporary creations for her course at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Nîmes, where she is now a 2nd year student. Here are a few of her projects.

Contemporary art is difficult to grasp for the majority of us (except for the French, who insist they understand everything…) and this is what the school Shoko attends focuses on. There’s no reproducing the masters, color-mixing classes, or essays on the history of perspective. It’s entirely different from what she imagined it would be, I think, and she’s very pleased.

Apart from her artistic pursuits, she found time to make her yearly visit to Japan to visit her mom, plus a bunch of museums.

And, since it’s my blog, I’ll end her chapter with another bike, this time in Provence, near our place.

Faces

We’re new to France and still building up our base of friends. It’s a slow, steady process, but I’m very happy with the results so far.

I’ve already mentioned Karsten, a guy I briefly worked with in Vancouver 15 years ago. We were reunited in 2011 because of our common love of the bicycle. Attached to Herr Kaa in the photo below is his lovely wife Sarah, who also likes the bike. To make it even better, they live in France and speak our language! Could you ask for anything more…?

Suzuki-kun, an old friend from Japan, visited us in Nîmes on his annual pilgrimage to Europe.

I mentioned our amazing voisine, Marie-Hélène already. Here we are at our birthday party in Provence in March.

The guy with the eccentric hat is another new friend – Clément. He and I frequent the Irish pub and local pizzeria from time to time, talking books, politics and the Latin roots of words (OK, he does the talking on that one). Clément speaks great English, so when my brain starts to grind down after speaking French for a while, it’s a pleasure to be able to switch to something easier.

John, a guy I famously met on the internet a couple years back, has become a good friend in the past year, partially because we share a common interest (yes, tight shorts), but mostly because he is an all-round nice guy and great conversationalist (and a badass on the bike…and he likes beer. He’s got a lot going for him.).

This year I found a brother. I always knew he existed, I suppose, but weirdly I had never met my step-father’s son, Rob, in all the years my mom and him had been together – until 2011, that is.

Tom, my step-father, found out I was trying to get more serious about cycling and advised me to email Rob, a former Ironman and still an elite athlete at 55 yrs. old. That fateful email led to a steady stream of excellent advice on training, then him becoming my (virtual) coach for much of the season last year. It’s not an big exaggeration to say that the improvements I made in my results were largely thanks to Coach Rob.

He came over to France in the summer to ride some of the famous climbs of the Alps and Provence and, although I was in Canada for most of his trip, I managed to get myself over to Nice to finally meet him face to face on the final day of his vacation. I’m very glad I did.

Well, there’s more I could say, but it’s January 1st and 17 degrees in Le Sud. Me and my lycra need to hit the road and start this year out right. Happy New Year to you all and I hope your 2012 satisfies the ‘three As’ I learned last night from our chère voisine: amitié, amour et argent!

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34 thoughts on “2011 Wrap-up

  1. Once again, you force me to my French dictionary! That was an excellent summation of a very full year. Although I have no doubt your conditioning program will bring you new successes this year, I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how that plays out for you. Please increase your carbon footprint and fly to DC. The Appalachians aren’t the Alps, but they’re still pretty hilly and I’m ready to take them on with you as a partner!

    • I’m impressed you looked them up! I’d love to come over for a ride or two in the Appalachians, but ‘sadly’ I’ll probably have to make due with the Alps and the Pyrenees this year. If I’m in your neck of the woods someday, I’d be honored to ride with you…as long as you make a blog article about it 😉

  2. Thanks Gerry, this is an great note again! You and Shoko made things right so that 2011 was terrific, and I can’t wait for next year! Oh… I’m being told that it’s already 2012! Keep the ball bouncing (or the wheel… spinning, is that OK?)

  3. I’m knackered just reading about your year. Great selection of photos. I must try and get out a bit more. I feel really pleased that Steve’s blog led me to yours as it has been a great pleasure to read. I hope 2012 is even better than 2011.

    • Tootlepedal, do me a favor and don’t get out any more than this year. My secret resolution is to beat your mileage this year! I’m equally indebted to Steve for my daily dose of the adventures of Tootlepedal. My wife has also taken a shine to your birds, so you’ve got another fan in the Patterson household. By the way, this is just between you, me and the internet, but I’m thinking about doing a trip in Scotland this summer. A few planets need to align, but it’s a distinct possibility. If it happens I won’t miss Langholm.

  4. Steve, you don’t know how hard I’m laughing (inside, I don’t want to startle my wife). That’s one of the swear words from my childhood, along with Colise! and Tabernac! (which looks to be the root of your chosen expletive). Thanks for that stroll down memory lane!

    • The French Canadian officer who works with me informs me Tabernac is the harsher form of the work, much like hell can be converted to heck. I certainly didn’t wish to cause offense in your blog space, so I tried to be more polite! 🙂

  5. Nice read! You had a great year, I am looking forward to reading 2012. Life improves when viewed from the saddle of a bicycle… And I am sure “My Ventoux group – from far and wide” was the highlight of your year 😉 …It was mine… thanks for adding to the highlight of my year!
    Grasp life by the handle bars my friend, ride a little, ride a lot, but ride!!!

    • Roger, I hate to admit it, but you’re right 😉 Life from the saddle is pretty nice. Your Ventoux climb gets into the top 10 for sure, but remember, I was ‘working’ (although so were you, I suppose..). It was really great to see you all get to the top with smiles on your faces. Have a great year and maybe see you for that Etape in ’13…?

  6. Nice wrap-up mate – yet another jealousy-inducing blog entry to curse you over, as 2012 begins!
    Great to see you’re embracing the bike so whole-heartedly though – very impressed with your racing exploits and efforts, and your colorful coverage. (The races, that is – not your riding shorts).

    All the best to Shoko and yourself for 2012 – ride hard, ride safe!

    • Hey Nige. Life from the blog always looks better than reality, but this year it was pretty close. Yeah, funny how things work out, eh? Just a few years ago you and I were talking about basically doing what I’m sorting of doing now (in my own half-arsed way) with the website.

      I expect a visit at some point, by the way. I think there are a few roads you didn’t get to on your journey 5 years ago (can you believe it!).

  7. I enjoyed your round-up of 2011, but then I always enjoy your blog with its wit, wisdom and wonderful photos. Looking forward to keeping up with what you get up to in 2012 (not literally of course, you’d leave me for dust on the road!) and hoping your knee doesn’t slow you and your ambtions down. Best New Year’s wishes to you and Shoko

    • Steph, thanks for calling me wise, even if you added it because you needed a ‘W’ word! I’ve also enjoyed keeping up with the Daggs of Creuse. I am amazed at what you get done each day. If I did a daily blog article it would read something like, ‘sat at my computer and worked, sat down for lunch, sat on the bike and pedaled, then sat at my computer and stared blankly, etc). All the best in 2012 and hopefully I’ll find my way up your way for a visit.

  8. Well done Gerry and thanks for the inspiring insight into your life in France.
    its been great reading and makes us envious (sleet and rain driving against the window as i write)
    of the lifestyle you have created for yourselves.
    wishing you a
    Happy new year and bon courage with more tailwind than headwind for the whole of 2012
    Keep a little sunshine for us

    • Thanks, Roan. Like I said above someplace, life on the blog always trumps reality. Just don’t include any rainy photos and it all looks great! That being said, as you know, it really doesn’t rain much here, so yeah, I feel lucky.

      Hope we can catch up this year and get a ride in. All the best in 2012!

  9. Gerry, that’s quite a year. Much enjoyed reading and viewing your review of it. The scenery is a highlight in the blog.

    Please tell Shoko that I appreciated your showing her work and tell her Jan also loves Tom’s birds up in Scotland. The best to you two in 2012!

    • Thanks, Ron. I think we’ll need to start a ‘Steve Appreciation Circle’ or something because I’m pretty sure it’s because of him I found your blog, too (along with Tootlepedal). I’ve enjoyed your work as well and I now can add the Ozarks to my list of must-cycle places in the world.

      And yeah, they really have some great birds in Scotland! All the best this year and good luck with your many resolutions (I must get started on mine…)!

  10. Gerry – that’s a great annual summary. Reading you blog, exchanging non-stop emails throughout the year and our new found friendship became the highlight of my entire year. I look more of the same for 2012 and hopefully one day to ride over a few Cols in the French Alps, or enjoying beautiful Provence.

    Tous les meilleurs en 2012. Profitez de la balade…..Rob (hope Google translate works)

    • Thanks, Rob. I’m glad I’m not writing in vain! The blog has been a transformative experience, to say the least. It has opened up all sorts of doors I never knew existed and introduced me to a whole host of great, new people, you being right there at the top.

      Nice French. Google did a decent job, if a tad formal. All the best to you, too.

  11. Gerry, thanks for sharing. Cycle Tibet – add it to your bucket list – the Dutch guys we met making the ride from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp, said it is easier then France and Spain!

    Let us know if you get back to Singapore anytime. Jonathon & CIndy

    • I saw your great photos from base camp. Must have been the trip of a lifetime. I’ve been to the Himalaya several times, but never on two wheels. It’s on the bucket list, after I’m done with Europe! Would love to see you two again sometime, whether it’s Singapore or southern France. Best to Cindy.

  12. Hey Gerry! That’s the best year-end update I’ve ever see. I guess that’s because you actually get out and live. All the best to you and Shoko for 2012!

    Cheers,

    Ken Tully

  13. Hi Gerry,
    Now I remember Vancouver 15 years ago . . . And it seems that you are still up to you wonderfully inspiring trips. It is always great to read about your adventures – especially with the lovely landscapes in the background. Keep up the blogging. Happy New Year to you and Shoko.
    Best,
    Melinda Jette

  14. Coucou dear Gerry! So nice to read through your year again! and … still miss you around here in Montpellier so please let’s make our new year resolution come true and see each other a little more than last year … Montpellier – Nîmes is not that far, isn’t it?!
    All the best for 2012 too and keep going on your bike … you sound so happy about it all!! great to read and good to find out about so much I had never heard of before knowing you!
    Bisous!!

    • Hey, you’re Dutch. You should know everything about bicycles!

      I hope we can see each other more than last year, for sure. I’m sure I’ll need a few long rides in when the weather gets nice, so Parc Le Duc will be on my radar!

      All the best with l’institut this year. You deserve great success. A bientot!

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