womens cycling

Rolling rolling rolling….

IMG_2018 Well everything has been all about cycling for me lately.

I have been so busy for the past month or so that I’ve hardly had time to post,  but I am now going to do my best to catch up.

The first change to my cycling habits came when, through a chance conversation with a Swedish man in our local bar one Friday night, I discovered there is a social group in our village who go out for an organised ride every week. Of course the following week I turned up on the designated morning and voila – I met a lot of lovely French people on bikes, as well as an English couple who live in our village and also cycle with this group.

The next change for me came in April, when I joined in a cycling challenge called 30 Days of Biking. This came about because I was trying to increase my cycling anyway (in an effort to decrease my expanding waistline) and I thought what better way than to have a commitment for a whole month where I had to get out on my bike every single day, no matter what.  And due to the cool spring weather, yes, that meant actually going out in the pouring rain a couple of days. Silly? Yes, but I am glad I actually did it.

This all meant that I cycled over 1000km during the month, saw much more of the countryside than before and became the bearer of a waistline trimmed down by 1.5kg that month- what a great result, and what great spring scenery I saw.

Here is a little photo summary of my past month on wheels…

Wet days by the beach

Wet days by the beach

Remains of a roman bridge

Remains of a roman bridge

Medieval mill on le Rive Herault

Medieval mill on le Rive Herault

Poppies everywhere

Wildflowers everywhere

Spring in the Languedoc is spectacular

Spring in the Languedoc is spectacular

A church outside Clermont L'Herault

A church outside Clermont L’Herault

Quick stop in a neighbouring village

Quick stop in a neighbouring village

Passing a local vineyard

Passing a local vineyard

Playgrounds on the beach

Playgrounds on the beach

Those popup restaurants are now open...

Those popup restaurants are now open…

... making a perfect spot for lunch after a long ride

… making a perfect spot for lunch after a long ride

Another new thing I got into during April was some regular “randonee” rides. This is where the local cycle clubs (and it seems there is an active club in every village, and I mean EVERY village) organise Sunday morning rides that are open to all riders, comprising a short route (usually around 70km) and a long route of 100km. For a small fee you get a map, markings on the roads to follow, a decent refreshment stop along the way – and being French this does include wine and chocolate – and another at the end.

Along with TC and some of our new cycling friends from our village, I entered into three of these randonees, and what a lot of fun they are! We usually head off at 7.30am when the roads are nice and quiet, and are home just in time to buy a fresh baguette for lunch. Some of these rides also included some fairly decent hills I might add, so I was certainly challenged at times. And for those wondering, I did do the long route on two of them.

With all this gorgeous scenery, of course I set out to take lots of photos. The other day I was so pleased with all the shots I got, especially since it was the second time we rode this particular route, the first time being with our social group. Now with a group, you can’t really be stopping every five minutes to take photographs, after all the object is to ride and enjoy the morning out. So TC and I went out on the same route  a few days later, when I took all the great shots… only to get home and discover there was no storage card in the camera. Yes, that’s a fail.

However, I did manage to get it right on one day out – this lovely, sunny Sunday we rode along the Canal du Midi into Beziers, and had a picnic lunch in the Plateau des Poetes, a beautiful park in the middle of town. So I’ll finish with some of the nice shots I got that day. Enjoy!  IMG_4007  IMG_4011  IMG_4001  IMG_3980  IMG_3979  IMG_4008  IMG_4014  IMG_4015  IMG_3986  IMG_4018  IMG_4023  IMG_4029  IMG_4031  IMG_4030

On ya bike!

Today was a perfect day for cycling. Clear blue skies and lovely lovely sunshine combined with just the gentlest of breeze. Another 10-15 degrees warmer would be great, but who’s complaining on a day like today!

TC and I were feeling energised to work off our winter padding, so off we set today for a decent ride. Our wheels took us to another area where there are lakes lying right alongside the Mediterranean. We were just east of Frontignan Plage, and not all that far from Montpellier. We stopped on a bridge over part of the lakes to enjoy these gorgeous views. Cycle 20th feb 1  Cycle 20th feb 2  Cycle 20th feb 3  Cycle 20th feb 4

We rode back from there via Sete, spying a fairly large flock of pink flamingos on the way. They are amazing to watch, but noisy. It was hard to imagine at that point that we weren’t so far from some pretty big towns. It was also amazing to be standing on such a narrow strip of land running between the beach and the lakes. The beaches at this point weren’t great for swimming though, unless you like walking across rocks to get to the water.  Cycle 20th feb 5  Cycle 20th feb 6

If only all cycle paths were this great! Cycle 20th feb 7 Cycle 20th feb 8

We stopped in Sete for a little rest and to buy fruit, then it was on to our favourite cafe at the western plages of Sete.  Cycle 20th feb 9  Cycle 20th feb 10  Cycle 20th feb 11  Cycle 20th feb 12 

It was such a good day that every man and his dog was out enjoying the seaside, so we didn’t get to have our usual chat with the cafe owner. It was a definite change from a week ago when the Sete Plage walkways were completely empty. Cycle 20th feb 13

The breeze had picked up a bit on our way home so it began to feel like a workout by then. Eventually we got home having clocked up a decent 75km; that should put a few dents in the winter fat. We are considering longer distance rides as our training regime from now on, to prepare for our next cycle tour in May – in the Bordeaux region. If only every day was as beautiful as today, wouldn’t that be fantastic.

Like a bat…

Vegemite.

For the uninitiated, its a thick, black spread made from yeast extract, tastes extremely salty, and is what the average Australian kid has at least once (if not very regularly) on toast for breakfast when growing up. Well many adults do too for that matter.

Oh, what’s like a bat? Sorry not the vegemite. Well, we’ve been out cycling yesterday and today, about 40km each day. Yesterday nice & gentle, taking it easy after the Christmas foodfest. Today much harder because it was windy. Oh and lets face it, I was enjoying a direct tailwind for once.

I often think of that Tom Cruise line, “I feel the need, the need for speed!” Yes, I have to admit I like the feeling of speed. At my age, given I’ve only been cycling for 4 years, and only on a proper road bike for less than 2 years, most of the time I get to feel that glorious feeling of real speed is when I get the chance to scream downhill. On that rare occasion that you get the perfect combination of steep hill, smooth road surface, lack of gusting cross-winds and lack of cars zooming scarily close. It’s really exhilarating and if you haven’t tried it, I recommend it to everyone! I did experience that a few weeks ago on my ride with TC and the French “boys” in town, which was a high point of that ride.

However, today I got to experience the next best thing, riding on a flat, smooth surface with some beautifully shaped bends and curves, with a strong wind directly behind my back. And no pedestrians. This is bliss. After our two days of gastro-indulgence (I will post about that soon), I think TC was feeling a bit more lethargic than me. Yesterday, I have to admit, it was nice to really take it easy and cruise along for once. Yes, I am one of those people who is always so competitive with myself that I can’t help pushing myself, you know – really pushing myself, on most rides. So after not riding for a few days, then the lovely cruisey ride yesterday, I have to admit I was feeling energetic. So much so that when I felt that wind on my back, I just pedalled faster and faster, put my head down and got in the zone. Before I knew it I was checking over my shoulder every 5 minutes to see where TC had got to!  cycling along beach 2

When he finally caught up, it was only to comment “Where’s the race? You’re like a bat out of hell!”  Ha, yes I felt good. And it’s not that often that I genuinely outstrip him for a whole 20km.

And I have to say the weather this week has been just lovely for riding. If we’ve had rain, it seems to have only been at night. We’ve had either full sun or a little cloud during the day. Very very nice.  Cycling along beach 1

So… returning from a ride like that, a hungry girl needs one thing: vegemite. I’ve managed to combine the best of both worlds by spreading my vegemite, along with a healthy serving of butter, on the fresh baguette I ran around the corner to get.

Bliss!

What’s that thing you just have to eat when you return from a ride, hungry when you’ve had a good workout? Vegemite baguette

How did I end up wearing lycra?

Well actually, the real question is how did I ever come to be a road cyclist – aren’t I a bit old for that?

Clearly not as I own more lycra now than I ever thought I’d admit to.  So how did I get here, especially at my age? Inspired to write about this by this post over at Women.Cyclists, I’ll start at the beginning.

TC and I were feeling a little old, slow and heavy and decided we really needed to get healthier. Amongst other changes – mainly diet – the first step was to increase our regular exercise. I’ve suffered from arthritis in my ankles since I was a young adult, so running and even a lot of walking was out of the question for me. We both owned a bike – you know, the good old one you’ve had for years & it sits in the shed only being brought out on occasion? So we started there & off we went.

That first ride was an eye-opener. We didn’t even get 5km up the road before we were huffing & puffing and I was getting a bit worried about TC and the fact that his bike had this wierd suspension thing happening, so every time he pedalled hard, he simply bounced up & down and didn’t go much faster! Off to the bike shop the next day & we had our first “serious” bikes – Giant hybrids. Something like this, comfy saddle, suspension in the front forks, but heavy.trail_glide2_w_white_2000px

But, on the upside, we pushed ourselves further and further on these bikes until we had made huge inroads into our health & fitness campaign. We started enjoying our rides so much I even considered the occasional commute to work – a whole 8km away! Off we set on a trial ride to my work one Sunday. We made it, but as my work was located on the top of a big hill, we had three stops on the way. I had been riding less than a year.

After about a year we decided we needed faster wheels. We were the ones every road cyclist was passing on our rides. We were the ones turning to each other & commenting “show off!” each time and laughing – but secretly we wanted to be faster like that. So off we went again to the next bike shop. This shop offered free lifetime servicing as long as you owned the bike, so we were rapt with that. TC got himself a proper road bike straight up while I went for the more cautious option – a Giant CRX2, described as a “flat bar road bike”. However, my male cycling colleagues took great delight in telling me it wasn’t a “real” road bike! True, it did have slightly fatter tyres than “real” ones, and a slightly heavier frame, but it suited me and I liked it. Well I ended up upgrading both the gearing, and changed to narrower tyres anyway, after my first crash – during the first week of owning the new bike. The crash was bad enough to see me covered in bruises (I counted 13 separate ones, some very big and colourful) and to see my beautiful new bike broken with bits hanging off. Hence the new gearing and the opportunity to upgrade it slightly.Giant CRX 2

Well my little silver bike saw me riding much much more, including starting to regularly commute to work. By this time I had cut the trip time in half (from that initial trial on the hybrid) and with no stops up the big hill. I was powering! During this year we also did our first cycling tour – a week in the Loire Valley in France in the summer. Obviously that started another obsession, I’ll write about that another time. I also managed to clock up over 6000km in my one year with this little bike.  I had been riding for 2 years.

TC was well ahead of me though. His road bike was sleek & fast – compared to mine anyway – and his commute to work was double the distance to mine, so he was clocking up huge kms. To the point where all his bits & pieces were starting to wear out.

So how did I end up on the “real” road bike? Well it happened like this… one day our foot pump broke, so off we went to the bike shop to get another. When we got there we saw this big sign proclaiming “Liquidation Sale – everything must go -40% off all bikes”.

Wow!

Well I saw and tried out this most gorgeous white, Avanti womens, all-carbon road bike and I couldn’t resist. TC also liked an equivalent red number for himself – so we asked the shop to hold them for us til the end of the day while we went home & madly worked out our finances. Of course we went back for them, credit card in hand – who wouldn’t really with those discounts? Even the colours matched my favourite football team (white with royal purple). I was a happy girl! Avanti Questa 2

I got my little baby in Feb 2011 and I love her. Why? She is light, fast, seems to fit me perfectly, and I just feel incredible when I’m riding – I never want to stop. Even the saddle is comfortable, so much so I have no saddle issues on longer rides of 100km or more.  She made commuting a joy and by that stage I had moved so that my commute was 20km each way – and I did that up to 3 times a week. I have been riding for 3 years. I have come a long way!

Unfortunately I couldn’t bring her to France with me – shipping is way too expensive when you go halfway around the world – so after only riding her for 8 months, she is in storage waiting for me. I am currently riding a “Serious” road bike which, while OK, is nothing like my lovely Avanti. When I eventually get back, at least I know I have my little pride & joy waiting for me.  Now I have one more stage to get to though – yes, the good old clip in shoes. The last road riding fear I have to conquer. Not bad for my age!                       Avanti Questa and me

Is it winter yet?

YES! The frozen water says so!

I have tried to find information on any ‘official’ start date to winter but haven’t had much luck. So, taking matters into my own hands, I have decided that the line is drawn loosely by the temperature, and more specifically by when I see random frozen water on my travels.

Well that is today!

Went for a 40km ride, again enjoying the environs of the Etang de Thau and our path took us across the first bridge of the Canal du Midi. The first if you count the canal as starting at this end and ending at the other end. Anyway, as the path takes us under the bridge before going up & over, there is a puddle of water that has been there in the shadow of the bridge since the last rain a few day ago. Today it was covered with a thin layer of ice. I even got off my bike & poked it with a stick to check that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Yep, ice on the surface. Despite the sunshine. I thought it felt cold in the house last night.

Welcome to winter!

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Etang de Thau with a chilly breeze

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View of the entrance to the Canal du Midi from the first bridge – Marseillan Plage

Ps, I will return to some cooking posts soon, I have decided in the meantime that I have enough winter ‘padding’ for now so am laying off the sweet things. More to come though.

Why would I try to keep up with the boys?

Well today I kind of wish I hadn’t. Ok, only kind of.

I think I’m out of condition. Correction, right now I know it! Welllllll, that will teach me for having the brainwave I had after going to the market this morning. “Hey,” I said to TC…”there’s a cycling group that usually takes off on a ride from the square over there right after market – we’re going for a ride anyway, lets join in and meet new people!!” Yay for me, smart idea. Until now that every underused muscle in my poor wasted body is screaming at me.

Problem: I was the only girl.

Solution: I’d better work my arse off to keep up.

Well yay again, despite several hills (one of which was 4km long thankyou) I actually did. Although, 3 times they stopped to let me catch up (only after the big hills so I’m still calling it keeping up) they’d take off again not long after I got there, so not a lot of breathers for me. And in further news, I actually hit a few PBs today too – over the 71km ride my average speed was well above this year’s annual average… my downhill speed record is now 57.4kmh, and today I cracked 3000km YTD.  No wonder I’m stuffed, what was I thinking?! Tomorrow’s plan = relaxing bath + doing nothing at all!

Aside from that, we enjoyed this morning’s market, had a nice cafe while we stocked up on veges & fresh farm eggs and enjoyed the entertainment. Did you know that some French villages and towns provide entertainment on market days? Today’s treat was a “dixie stomp band”, complete with their bright christmas suits. Nice!!

Here’s the band – sorry I was a little too busy keeping up with the boys to take any pics on our ride…. BUT check out the Google streetview from near the top of that loooooooong hill 🙂

Oh and PS. The boys said I did well… “pour la femme”  

And just for fun… the TDF in July 2007 going up the SAME HILL!