Last Saturday I turned 50, which means nearly half a century of riding my bike. And just like I used to do in the early 70s when I started, I fell off.
I know some of you are more ‘vintage’ than me, so you’ll have your own private chuckle at this, I’m sure, but how it is that I’m 50 years old is really beyond me. It seems like the last time I woke up I was 35. People in the know tell me that time travels ever faster as the numbers increase. How can it be that everything is slowing down except time?
That was a rhetorical question, by the way.
Anyhow, back to my birthday weekend. Shoko and I made our annual trip to Nice to be in town for the last two stages of the first big stage race in France: Paris-Nice. However, this year I had my own ‘racing’ to do because I decided to register for the Paris-Nice Challenge, a sportive (of sorts) that recreates (more or less) the last Nice-Nice pro stage of Paris-Nice. Coincidentally, it landed on March 10th – surely a good sign.
Nice in March is always sunny and warm. It just is. Or in our case this year, ‘was’. The weather all over Europe has been pretty rude for the last month and the weekend on the Cote d’Azur was not showing conditions that made you want to jump on your bike and ride 110 km over 4 or 5 little cols. But hell, I wasn’t born Canadian for nothing. We can’t claim much history or culture, but we do know crap, cold weather. I was riding.
So I turned up at 7:20 am to pen #2 and waited for a few minutes till the (surprisingly chill) peloton left…in the dry, I might add. As we rolled down the early morning quiet of the Promenade des Anglais, I kept wondering when things would speed up. I wasn’t throwing up in my mouth with exertion, which was strange for a start of a French sportive.
It turned out, unbeknownst to me, that this sportive – the first I’ve ever done in France – is not timed from beginning to end. Instead there are two timed climbs. I didn’t realize this till a guy asked me if ‘this was the first timed climb coming up’, then we passed over the timing mat, all hell broke loose, and I dropped my chain. I wasn’t thinking clearly at this point, so after fixing my chain I took a leak, wasting valuable time I realized later on the climb.
All throughout this event I rode with small groups of riders wearing Mavic clothing. I chatted up one of them (now knowing I didn’t need to ride my guts out for the whole ‘race’), who ended up being the Director of North America. They were having some sort of conference up at HQ in Annecy and a bunch of them came down for this event. Included were Mike Cotty, of Col Collective fame, and Frank Schleck, who I actually CLIMBED behind for a millisecond or two. The ‘Director’ threw a few more names that I didn’t know, but I had the impression that there were some very strong riders involved. They were putzing around outside the timed climbs, but rode those two ascents with some intent.
Near the top of the first one, I heard the whoosh whoosh of some seriously fast carbon wheels coming up behind me, so I jumped on the pedals and grabbed onto this guy’s (Mavic) wheel for a km or two till we reached the timing mat at top. We were on a false flat and I felt as if I’d just jumped from a local train to a TGV. We flew by other riders like a BMW on an autobahn. It was probably the funnest minute I had that weekend and I most likely made up the pee-break time to boot.
No, that wasn’t the guy, and thank you Sportograf for the photo. I’ll buy some from you next time if I’m more photogenic.
The least fun moment of this event was just after the photo above was taken, I think. It had just started raining and we were on a very technical descent and my wheel came out from underneath me and I crashed my beautiful Colnago. Thankfully it was at slow speed and I only scratched up my elbow, pedal, saddle, bar tape…and pride. I got back on the bike and tried not to descend like a wuss because of what had happened.
After several small climbs we got to the last one – Col d’Eze, climbed from the village of Eze, i.e. not the normal way. Luckily it was short because it certainly was steep. Then again, having just done Strade Bianche I was secretly saying “throw in some mud and we’ll talk ‘tough'”. Eze done, it was mostly all the way downhill, on open Nice roads, to the finish line. I had the great good fortune of having a race motorcycle escort me all the down, waving cars aside, flashing his lights and tooting his horn the whole way. I felt like a Russian oligarch driving to his 2nd home from Nice Airport. It was a nice birthday present.
Shoko, not knowing when I’d be coming in, went to lunch with a friend. She did buy me a six-pack of local craft beer for my birthday (50 would have been more appropriate, but I guess she could only carry so much), so all was good in the end.
And after a hot bath and a good rest, we visited Cafe du Cycliste at the Vieux Port, had a fabulous couple of bières artisanales, then a nice plate of pasta for dinner. I can’t wait till I’m 60. It’s probably coming in a week or two.
Ah, results. It’s not easy to calculate, but if I did it correctly my combined times on the two ‘matted’ climbs put me around 150th out of 766 riders, or top 20%. I remain unconvinced I did so well, but till someone tells me different, I’m sticking with it.