This is a copy of my latest blog from http://www.cyclosport.org/
The last two weeks have gone by pretty quickly when I think about my previous blog entry, but a lot has happened since then, with a last blast of big training miles on the odometer and a formal presentation of my team to those who are interested being the main things on the agenda. There was the added spice of spending a short time being stranded in a foreign country too, but now, for the first time since September last year, the next significant date on my cycling calendar is a race.
I left for Belgium on the 26th Jan, which felt unseasonably early. I was alone in the house for 5 days, which apart from a great deal of shivering, I spent sorting a few things out with the team, getting set up on my bike (Zannatta Shadow made up with Campag Chorus 11 group and Deda componentry), and getting myself generally sorted for the training camp, of which 13 of us departed Charleroi for on February 1st.
I met most of my team mates for the first time at the airport, including the only other English speaker and my obvious room-mate for the week, Alex McGregor, who had arrived from New Zealand the previous night, and was thus dealing with time and temperature changes of equal extremities.
We arrived at Pisa Aeroporto at midday, while the van had most kindly met us there, and we duly got changed into our chamois in the car park out front. As a group of girls also remarked upon seeing us; it was cold.
The ride to the hotel in Montecatini Terme was supposed to be a 60km easy ride, but a snow storm and some confusion in a pitch black mountain tunnel put paid to that, so after 1 broken wheel and 1 hour of standing around, we got on with a good deal of teeth chattering, map finger pointing, direction asking ordeal of a ride. We arrived at the hotel more or less in one piece (the DS taking a ‘HTFU’ approach and barely batting an eyelid), and sat down to dinner on arrival day already feeling like about ready for a recovery day.
The main bulk of the week ran pretty much as you would expect – get up, eat, go training, eat, sleep. The first day was spent getting our bearings of our corner of Tuscany, with a 4 hour steady ride. Day two, Friday, was another 4 hours, but taking in the full force of the Tuscan hills, with the added bonuses of minus temperatures, and doing about 10RPM with a severely over geared 25 sprocket. Saturday was only 3.5 hours, but with the middle hour being a broken up into intervals. The next day was when I started to feel the pinch, doing 4 hours with the team and an hour afterwards with Sean Vanderwaeter…your typical 80kg Belgian beast. Another 5 hours on the last day had me well and truly ‘in the box’, and ready to go home, as we rolled up to the hotel. If only that were the case.
Oh no, my time in Italy was yet to be fulfilled! The fact that we had to put our main bags in the team van to be driven back to Belgium, and keep hold of our hand luggage (inc.passport), was just too much for me to handle, apparently. By the time I realised, the van was too far away to turn around, and so I waved goodbye to the team at Pisa Airport on Tuesday afternoon, and continued on my way to Milano, obviously incredibly frustrated with myself, but also a small part silently revelling in the unknown that lay before me.
The Embassy was closed by the time I got to Milan at 6pm, so I didn’t hesitate to step straight out of the station and straight into the nearest Pizzaria. Delicimo. With the important stuff out of the way, I found an internet cafe, located the Milanese Youth Hostel, and made my way there for a 20 Euro night, with free wifi and breakfast included. The 6 other multicultural, multi-snoretonal room mates of mine seemed well within the realms of normality by this stage.
It would have been rude not to eat 6x my bodyweight at breakfast, so I did so with ever decreasing pleasure, and then pocketed provisions for the day as well. In the daylight I realised the hostel was neighbour to the San Siro stadium, home of both AC and Inter Milan, and I had missed the former’s Champions League game that night by a day! Nevermind; onwards to the British Consulate General, and a relatively smooth 2 hour transaction later I had an emergency passport. So with the whole day to kill until my flight, and with the BCG being southside and train station being northside, I walked there, trying to take in as many landmarks as possible in the 4 hour meander as I could.
Despite an email during the day saying my flight had been cancelled, I was told otherwise upon arrival, and checked in problem free. A suitably disappointing McDonald’s “salad” later and I was on the plane. The team manager picked me up from the airport and I eventually arrived back home late in the evening.
The temperatures were well below freezing for the following couple of days, and as I have a habit of getting bad chest colds at this time of year, I took no chances and did all my training either on the turbo or doing power tests at the gym.
Friday evening was the official team presentation, and followed suit to most team presentations! We were issued with some casual clothing, with just one rider being told to kit up in race gear for whatever reason, and were presented on stage in 3’s, each answering a few questions along the way. With the host’s English being limited, a fellow team mate was put on the spot to ask myself and Alex, the Kiwi a few pleasantries – expectations for the year, how my training has been and such like. The sound of my own voice on a PA system never ceases to take me by surprise.
After some photos and a bit of mingling with the sponsors, press and public, it was time to go home and get some sleep for the journey back to the UK. Cue disaster journey number 2!
After a 6am start, and destined for a 10am ferry from Dunkirk, my car drew it’s last breath on the outskirts of the port. Smoke started billowing from under the bonnet, so I stopped for ten minutes, and continued when it subsided. A few minutes later, after it had become more ferocious, and accompanied by some worrying rattling noises and a burning smell, I pulled into a lay-by. The engine stalled before I had stopped, and hasn’t started since.
Halfway through my phone call with the RAC I ran out of credit, so walked to the nearest town to get some credit. It became apparent topping up on a Belgian SIM was impossible, and with a capped contract on my English SIM, I sought help from the local “Discotheque”, which was open?! I managed to get a pick up arranged to take me to the port; arriving at Calais 10 minutes after my scheduled ferry arrived in Dover.
Right now I am half way across the channel, discreetly tucked away at a plug socket on the ferry, hoping to be greeted by an RAC truck on my arrival!
It has been a long two weeks, and quite frustrating, let alone a vastly diminishing one for coffee stop funds if the Post Office and RAC don’t come up trumps! Anyway, hopefully it isn’t an omen for the season ahead, and I can seek some positivity in the fact that ON the bike, I am actually feeling quite good, so roll on the weekend of the 25th.