Fallen Star

US football. There’s a scene right at the very start of the movie, The Last Boy Scout, where the running back is rushing, he is about to be tackled, so he pulls out a gun and shoots his would-be tacklers. The point is that the stakes are so high, the guy has blurred the distinction between sport and real-life.

And so it was with the guy I want to talk about today.

When I got into cycling, I was more into doing than watching. I cycled in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, even in Spain. I took my bike with me, wherever I went. But I used to enjoy watching it, too. I watched several Tour of Britain stages, about a half-dozen stages of the world’s leading race, the Tour de France, and visited track cycling events in Belgium.

I was too old, by then, to have idols but one guy stood out above all the others, just for his charisma. You quite naturally wanted him to win.

And win he did! The only time I ever saw him race in the flesh coincided with my very first visit to Le Tour, to see Marco Pantani be crowned the overall race winner, in 1998. Known as Il Pirata, he had already won the Giro (Italy) and here he was, just two months later, winning in Paris too. It was also the first time I went away with Mrs Bump and we stood on the Champs Elysees and cheered. She had no clue about cycling, but was dragged along by the wonderful atmosphere. I had been following the three-week race avidly on TV.

In fact, it was on TV that I watched what I think was Pantani’s greatest win. In 2000, Pantani was forever surrounded in drugs controversy. He had been ejected from one race because of suspicious doping levels (science had not yet caught up with doping), and Pantani generally spent a large amount of time nowhere near his bike. He was considered to be washed-up, eclipsed by the new rising star, Lance Armstrong.

Mont Ventoux is weird. There’s nothing like it. Known just as “the giant”, it is an extinct volcano, down in Provence. It rises, pretty much from sea level, to just shy of 2,000m. Even the professionals, it takes the best part of an hour to climb it, at an average gradient of about 1:8. Very steep, especially considering the distance involved. It’s not the highest mountain, it’s just that it starts so low. It’s a favourite of the Tour. In 2000, ascending Ventoux had come down to a two-horse race, Armstrong versus Pantani. Pantani won, his last big victory. Armstrong, with his eye on the overall title, later said that he had allowed Pantani to win. Only Armstrong knows, but everybody who ever came second could say the same.

Sadly, this was Marco’s last hurrah, and although he raced sporadically until 2003, he never won again. The doping allegations took their toll, he was found guilty of doping by an Italian court – a conviction later quashed, for the simple reason that doping was not yet a crime! The pressure must have been immense, Pantani developed a cocaine habit, and at one point he was admitted to a hospital specialising in the treatment of addictions. In a downward spiral, he was subsequently found dead, from a cocaine overdose in Rimini, on 14 February 2004.

We can look back at Pantani and simply dismiss him as a “doping cheat”, and this was shown years later, in 2013, when the French senate retrospectively tested his samples as part of a larger inquiry into doping. Science, by that time, had caught up. But for me, that doesn’t really matter. All it says is that he was a cheat in an era of cheats. But Marco was the one with the big character, and that will always trump just winning a race. That he came to such a tragic end just adds to his story.

Marco Pantani, 1970-2004

Another Former Hobby

Traditionally, at New Year, I crack open some wine. I used to go over to France a lot and collected a lot of really good wines. I never drank them as quickly as I bought them, so I have several bottles of fine wine just sitting out in the garage.

Now, I’m even less likely to drink – almost every drink is just a really good way of putting sugar in your body. So wine only gets opened a few times per year.

I chose this one because I thought my wife might like it. She’s not a fan of reds, I find whites a little lightweight, so I picked a delicious 2002 rosé from the Chateau Grand Moulin in the Corbières region (Lézignan-Corbières). Over the years, we probably got to know France as well as the UK, but this area was always my favourite. It’s an area we kept going back to and we spent our honeymoon down there.

One of the reasons I like French wine in particular is that it holds so many memories of personal visits, and I picked this one up direct from the producer, in the very building shown in the photo.

The Corbières region is not known as one of the best regions, but this guy has won awards, and this wine was well worth the wait. If you’re ever looking for a good wine…

Fandango’s shdfjlgolggbkvbm (3 June 2020)

For my first time, I’m going to post a single response to two prompts today, both by Fandango. His One Word Challenge (FOWC) prompt is lance, and his Provocative Question prompt, which is:

What is the one thing in life that you are most excited about right now? Why?

My post is valid for FOWC, but it is a cop-out for FPQ. I can’t really think of much that is exciting. I’m sorry. I’m sure the obvious thing is the end of lockdown, but as I posted the other day, I haven’t really felt locked down. I feel my entry into and exit from lockdown has been planned, so exciting is not a word I would use.

I dunno, I tend not to get excited about things these days, because life is pretty same-same. We always used to take our family holidays at this time, before daughter got to secondary school, They were always nice, but the last time I went away anywhere (though fortunately without daughter) was in 2015.

The most excited I ever get these days is with food, and even then it is pretty small-time. I suppose that is because I have to watch what I eat, so tend to eat quite simple stuff. I normally don’t eat ready-meals because I prefer to know exactly what I’m eating, but I did enjoy my shop-bought vegetable tikka masala last night. If I cooked, I’d eat curry every night. But hardly exciting.

Aside from this, I have been thinking about Fandango’s question for fifteen minutes and haven’t come up with anything. So, I guess there’s my answer! If nothing immediately springs to mind, then by definition, it can’t really be exciting, can it?

So today I’ll just post a clip of something I used to find exciting, pre-stroke. I was heavily into my cycling and in fact when I walked away from IT, I became a bicycle mechanic. I would ride hundreds of miles per month, and even though I was way past it myself, I enjoyed watching cycle races. Of the pro cyclists, Marco Pantani was my favourite, and my first trip to see the Tour de France was to see him win on the Champs Élysées in 1998. I visited stages of the Tour maybe another half dozen times, but Pantani declined from that point. He was seemingly permanently embroiled in dope controversies and in fact OD’d, having pretty much walked away from the sport, in 2004. He was, and is, and will always be, my favourite. This clip is Marco’s last hurrah – beating Lance Armstrong on the mighty Mont Ventoux, down in Provence, in 2000.

Tart!

This is my first post since the New Year, so I’d like to start by wishing everybody a Happy New Year. I hope, if you did anything, that you had a good time.

I had a quiet time last night. I don’t go much past 9pm these days, I managed until about 10pm last night (thank you, Arnie, but I gave up and am watching the rest this morning!) but was sound asleep by midnight. Even some local fireworks (apparently) didn’t stir me. But last night, I also had a little help…

One thing I do like to do on New Year’s Eve is to crack open a nice bottle of wine. I’ve never drunk large quantities of wine, even less now, but it is something which always fascinated me. I used to love going over to France to visit the wine regions and maybe add something to the collection.

Probably our most successful trip was down to Burgundy in 2002. Not only did we all have a brilliant time, it was very warm, sunny weather and the gite had a pool, but I managed to bring back a few cases of superb wines, direct from the producers. My daughter, who was then about three, even enjoyed coming tasting with me (although her sips were limited, and I was driving)! And Burgundy is hallowed ground in wine terms. There is a road between Dijon and Beaune, the D974, and the villages and vineyards along the road read like a who’s who of world-class wines. Before God invented road numbering, it was simply known as the Route des Grands Crus, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

© Ecrivin.fr

But because I found learning about wine preferable to drinking it, once I returned from France, my collection would only decrease very slowly. So this was my treat last night (or, two glasses of it. The rest is there for today, to enjoy with my cheese sandwich):

Don’t let the grubbiness of the label fool you – it is grubby because I have let it sit, untouched, for twenty years. This is actually a bottle of grand cru wine, 1995 vintage. In (Burgundy) wine terms, a grand cru is the highest reputation vineyard. It refers to the vineyard rather than the particular wine or the year, although the vinyard gains its overall status, of course, based on the wines produced there over the years. A grand cru is about as safe a bet you can get for a good wine.

The grower, the Louis Latour company, owns plots in several vineyards in the region, and the Chateau Corton Grancey ranks high among them. I always liked the French appellation system because just these few labels narrow the origin to a specific couple of fields – in the world – not just for wines but all sorts of other foods too. Plus Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status guarantees a certain standard. If we think there is any merit in identifying regional foods, we should be using that system too. In the UK, it exists for very few things but is not widespread – we’ve usually no idea where our food has come from.

Ahhh… nothing better than remembering a decent holiday over a delicious glass of wine! Delicious? I’ve got to say more than just delicious. How about sublime? Burgundy is my personal favourite region in any case – surpassing even Bordeaux – and something like champagne is vinegar in comparison. When I taste a Burgundy, I expect to be transported back, and fortunately this wine did not disappoint. So, let’s say that by bedtime, 2019 was looking better, and New Year’s Day, at least, doesn’t look bad either! I’m sure it’ll start going downhill tomorrow!

Lastly, my featured image. Orange tart. Wine was not all my daughter managed to try out!

And relax…

Had a bit of a learning experience this evening. We’d had a bottle of wine on the side for months. I must have brought it in for some occasion, but we didn’t get around to drinking it.

For one, I used to be a wine buff, although I don’t drink much now. For two, we went on our honeymoon to the Corbières region of southern France (if you know your French geography, the Carcasonne area). On our honeymoon, we drank wine from the Chateau Grand Moulin (a moulin is a mill). Okay, in the grand scheme of things, there are more prestigious wines than from the Corbières region, but this wine was delicious. It was a red which my wife actually liked – she didn’t normally drink reds.

We enjoyed the area immensely, and a couple of year later we holidayed again in the region, for a full two weeks. I made a point of seeking out the chateau, met the patron, and we bought a case to bring home. Mixed – reds, whites, rosés. Over the years, we have chipped away at this wine, we’ve holidayed in other areas such as Bourgogne and Bordeaux, so have collected many wines, directly from the producers, over the years. But I must’ve brought a bottle of a 2002 rosé from the Grand Moulin into the house at some point to drink. Which never happened.

I finally got tired of looking at this bottle, so started chilling it a few days ago, and determined to start it, at least, with my evening meal this evening.

I’d never given it any thought before, but how the **** does someone open a bottle of wine, one-handed?

I dug out an old corkscrew:

but no, I could screw it in, but didn’t have a hope of pulling it out again. So, how was I going to have my glass of wine, since currently I am home alone?

After a bit of head scratching, I decided to root through another drawer, and after an exhaustive search, found a different type of corkscrew:

I still can’t operate it one-handed, but a hand and a chin does the job nicely.

Ah…delicious. But, the hoops I must jump through. Still, must be time for another glass…

StrokeSurvivor’s Saturday Flashback

No, it doesn’t quite have the same effect when you lose some of the alliteration, but I suppose it will get by.

But I wanted to post a special flashback today. Not of a post, rather something I used to enjoy. In late November each year, I used to trundle over to Belgium to watch the Six Days track cycling event in Gent (the local Flemish, or Ghent, if you prefer the French name) . That’s Zesdaagse, if you’re in the know! (I know at least one reader will be following me here. Just don’t ask me to say it 🙂).

There used to be tracks all over Europe, and these events were common. Even beyond Europe, there used to be tracks in both Melbourne and Sydney, and there is a cycling event called the Madison, a special form of race, and guess where that was invented? You got it, Madison Square Garden!

I used to love track cycling. It was once very popular up to the middle of last century, but gradually fell out of favour, although a few tracks still survive today. Some new tracks have even sprung up, mainly due to the sport’s exposure in events like the Olympics. Gent is one of the old tracks, and has been staging the 6-day event since 1922. So please enjoy the carnival atmosphere at the Lotto Zesdaagse Vlaanderen in Gent, on this day five years ago.

Maillot Jaune

I wish to pay homage to cycling. At 40, I had a bit of a paunch and decided that I wasn’t getting any younger, so decided not to use the tube, in favour of cycling my two-stops-each-way instead. It took me a few years, but actually that short distance really helped with weight loss. So much that I rapidly dropped clothes sizes.

I reached the point, on a Friday afternoon, when I would miss not riding the bike at weekends. So, I bought a bike to use at home – a road bike, which is constrained to proper roads, but is good for speed and distance. This led to even longer rides still. It was not unusual for me to cover 300km/month – 200 miles? – on my bike. Mostly this was probably no more than a 50km/30mi radius from home, although I also took the bike on the ferry over to France for short breaks, and used to regularly put the bike on the rack when we went on holiday. In that manner, I cycled not just in France but also Luxembourg, Germany, Holland and Belgium. As you might imagine, starting at 40, I was never particularly a brilliant cyclist, but my enthusiasm was there.

I’d always quite liked professional cycle racing, but as somebody who was now a cyclist myself, I took a greater interest. I took days off from work to watch a few Tours of Britain, and even headed over to France a few times to watch Le Tour – I remember one year I flew the whole family out there for a few days so we could see a stage in the Pyrenees (the last time I flew). I loved track racing – passed all the training levels at my local track, Calshot, although they seemed only to want to train people for competition, which never really interested me – but I also went to meetings over in Flanders in Belgium – hallowed turf, the home of the sport. There was definitely something special about standing watching a race from the middle of a cycle track, with thousands of other peoplea a beer in one hand and a sausage in the other. And the professionals get up such a speed – in the region of 50 mph in some races – that each lap of the track is only 25s or so.

It turns out that stroke is a lot like cycling. When climbing a hill, for example, you’ve given your all, you’re running on empty, but there is no alternative other than to keep going. Stopping isn’t really an option, because you know you’ll never get going again. Even over time, you’ll get faster on a climb but you’ll never stop giving 100%. You develop an attitude to keep going – in a large part, it really is a state of mind rather than anything physical. There is no “can’t”, there is only sweat and effort as you “do”.

To a large extent stroke is similar. It can be, anyway. You can say “can’t”, you can spend all day every day in bed, but really, what is the point in doing that? You might as well just say your goodbyes and trot off. Especially somebody like me – the meds I take would do the job nicely, if I took enough of them. But, of course, I keep going. I climb that hill every day, just because that’s my nature. And I do my charity stuff. I’m not sure how much I’m appreciated by stroke survivors – I know I’d have appreciated speaking to someone like me, but equally I know I’m not typical of survivors – but I know my clients at Age UK appreciate my calls.

Plus, of course, in more specific things. You have to walk a half mile to the end of the road. You try and walk it taking eight breaks instead of twelve, say. You try and make each break last one minute instead of five. And all the while, the lactic acid is building and you calves are screaming for you to stop. When I first started walking (and had recovered enough to even get to the road in the first place) it really was getting from one wooden bench to the next, where I could sit and rest. But, you keep going. And you improve, but like any sportsman, you can’t ever get too satisfied, because there is always further to go.

Webcams

One of the things that came out of my last post, the blaze at Notre Dame, was that I wanted to see the cathedral for myself, so went hunting for webcams in France. In my healthy yeays, I used to go over to France a lot, I speak ok french and found a wonderful site with webcams from many places that I’ve known – https://www.viewsurf.com/. One such place was Les Sables d’Olonne, on the Vendée (west) coast of France.

I’m generally quite realistic about my disability these days I but look at those two guys on the bikes and hope they realise just how lucky they are – a few years ago, that would’ve been me (only maybe in July)!