Monthly Archives: February 2011

Cardinal Bird says…..

When you look out of the window and all you see is bright blue and a sun that is high in the sky, you can almost convince yourself that it’s warm outside.  Then you look down to the ground and you still see the frozen wasteland that is built by Mother Nature after a period of unusual warmth followed by a flash freeze.  A landscape of bizarre ice sculptures that give one the impression the artist got bored half way through and simply walked away to leave his work unfinished.

Cardinal Bird looking for his flock. They are not braving the cold it would seem.

This is the time of year where winter is starting to feel really long.  Every day you get up and it’s still unbearably cold outside, and the ice and snow carpets the ground.  It has been almost three months since I’ve ridden outside (I know I’ve moaned about this already on here) but I can’t help but look through the window and ache to be out on the road again.  Still, it’s not possible right now, so I decided to make the most of the day and the beauty that is literally right outside my front door and take Alfie for a walk down to the lake.  It was on the way down to said lake that I met Cardinal Bird.  There he was, a flash of bright red against the awesomely pale blue backdrop that was the cold winter sky.  How a creature so small was not freezing sitting atop the bare tree is beyond my comprehension.  I was wrapped in multiple layers plus a wool hat and thick leather gloves, and still I could feel the icy wind penetrate my armour and bite my skin.  Anyway, there he was, keenly looking out across the neighbourhood and calling out to his parishioners every now and then.  His calls were falling on deaf ears.  He was the only one attending mass this morning.

King Charles, aka Alfie, surveys his kingdom

The lake is beautiful at any time of year, but it is particularly dramatic when it is frozen.  The vast expanse of ice stretches out in front of you and disappears into the horizon.  Where it ends or whether or not it ever becomes water again I do not know.  Nor was I about to venture out that far to find out, but I did determine that the ice was thick enough to take both myself and Alfie a short distance and so I stepped hesitantly onto the frozen water.  I was secure in the knowledge that should the ice give way I would probably only sink up to my knees, such is the shallow entry into the lake.  You can walk at least one hundred yards out in the summer and still be wading no higher than your waist, but I was nonetheless keenly listening out for the tell tale crack of ice as it strains under stress before suddenly giving way.  No crack was forthcoming.

The morning sun over Lac St. Louis's frozen surface

A lake is very open.  You don’t fully appreciate that fact until you’re out on it, be it in the summer being pushed along by a welcome breeze, or perhaps, as in my case, it is an alarmingly cold February morning and the howling gale (this is what it felt like) is making the usually bearable -10c feel like an Arctic -50c.  Whatever your reality, let me confirm to you that it was cruelly evident that my attire was not going to prevent frostbite for much longer.  This was further confirmed by the fact that even Alfie, wrapped from tip to tail in the most delightful fur coat you could ever wish for, was starting to look uncomfortable.  It was time to head home, but not before taking  a moment to be truly grateful for everything that I have.

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Stage 12, Carcassonne, 2006 TDF

I rode the final 48.8 kms into Carcassonne this morning, and it was hot and dry and exhausting.  It didn’t matter that as I looked out of my basement window forty minutes into the ordeal, all I could see was the sun reflecting off the snow.  Even a few rogue flakes were wafting their way in through the window, opened in an effort to create a breeze and somehow simulate the outdoor experience.  Even if it had been even slightly successful, the breeze that I would have been feeling on the real stage 12 would have felt considerably warmer than what was coming through the window.  I was grateful for the chilled air, though, as the temperature in the ‘cave’ was soaring.

The original stage 12 ran on July 14, Bastille Day, and was one of the longer stages of that year’s tour rounding out at 211.5 km.  Mainly flat, certainly for the final stretch that I ride anyway, you can be certain that the peloton was driving a brisk pace, undoubtedly spurred on by a couple of Frenchmen desperate for glory on the ‘day of days’ for the French nation.  In fact it was not to be a Frenchman that won the day, rather a Ukranian on the Discovery team known as Popo, (you all know him), with an average speed of 46.15 kph.  I mean that is fast!  It’s all the more incredible because Popo was part of the only breakaway to stick that began at kilometre 98.  He, and three others, never looked back.

Riding in searing heat, temperatures were over 40c that day, the breakaway that included Popovych was the third of the day.  Both of the preceding attempts were reeled in when the next climb came along, but the peloton misjudged the third and ultimately successful breakaway that consisted of Oscar Freire, Alesandro Ballan, Christophe Le Mevel and of course Yaroslav.  After only 4 km they had a 30″ advantage, and after only another 4 km they were up to 1’50” and nothing seemed to be slowing them down.  At 140 km the lead had leapt to 4’10” and the peloton, led by Phonak, settled in to a rhythm that for the most part did not threaten the lead four.

With only 40 km to go, and now within the 48.8 km that I am familiar with, Milram began to help Phonak try and reel the pretenders in.  Popo and the other three were having none of it and with the remaining distance now down to only 25 km the gap had climbed even more to 4’40”.  The best-placed rider in the escape group was Popovych; he began the day 9’00” behind Landis. He attacked Freire, Ballan and Le Mevel 8 km before the finish. Le Mevel quickly dropped out of the lead group. Freire and Ballan tried their luck with escapes but Popovych was the most consistent in the lead group. He tried repeatedly and, three kilometres from the finish, he made the winning move. Popovych won the stage, 24” ahead of Ballan. It is the second Ukrainian stage victory of the 2006 Tour.

An American by the name of Floyd Landis was in yellow that day, and despite finishing almost five minutes behind Popo he kept the yellow jersey into stage 13.  History of course confirmed that Landis would become the final yellow jersey wearer, another American claiming the title that for the previous seven years had been won by one Lance Armstrong.  If the French, or any other non-Amercian for that matter, had been desperately hoping for a Yank-free podium, they were going to be denied that for another year.  The podium photos from that July day will always show Landis on the top step, but as we all know he had his title revoked a year later.  It was shocking that the champion had been stripped of his crown.  Never before had it happened, (well it did, but it was back in 1904 and the crime was taking the train to complete a stage ahead of his rivals), and one was sure that it would never happen again.

Until, that is, a young Spaniard with a penchant for playing cowboy as he crossed the line, ate a steak that was low on taste and high on clenbuterol.  Jury is still out on this one and it will probably be some time before it is completely settled, but let’s just say it is yet another high profile disappointment to hit the sport we love.

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The Man Cold

I don’t expect there to be a flurry of sympathetic wives rushing to my side on this one.  The Man Cold is a devastating affliction that only other men seem to be able to appreciate.  One of the particularly surprising side effects is a complete lack of any kind of empathy or sympathy from your partner during a Man Cold.  It’s as if one of the warnings that comes with it is “Side effects may include headache, runny nose, sore throat, sudden death, constipation, diarrhea and strange and unnecessary taunting from your supposed loved ones”.

It’s not all bad though.  The taunting merely conceals a very loving interior that wants nothing more than to pamper the afflicted one with back rubs, foot rubs, tea and toast in bed as well as a plethora of other luxuries that include, but are not limited to, a meal of your choice, the green light to watch all the war films you can cram into a 24hr period and licence to play Pink Floyd at full volume.  If you’re really lucky, they’ll even throw in the appearance that they actually like Pink Floyd.

As with regular “run-of-the-mill” colds, there is no cure for The Man Cold.  You simply have to ride it out, or as this device would have you believe, force it out.  I know what you’re all thinking: “What kind of base retail outlet were you in to even be exposed to such a ferocious looking device that is no doubt being marketed as something to deliver pleasure but merely inspires fear and trepidation to all who see it?”  I have to admit, a cold shudder went down my spine as I gazed upon the devilish device they were calling the “Zipfy Freestyle Mini Luge“.

I don't care what it is, it just looks wrong

Even the name did not clarify much.  Thankfully there was a picture of someone riding the gadget, fully clothed I might add, and they did not appear to be in any undue discomfort, which I attributed to the fact that they were grasping the “handle” with both hands as opposed to balancing on it whilst in a state of undress.  The fact that the individual in the picture also appeared to be hurtling headlong down a hill gave me some solace: may be this was not a den of inequity that I had haplessly walked into, quite innocently I might add.

I was further reassured that I had not sleep-walked into a seedy adult entertainment shop when I saw my friend Mick Jaffrey (name changed to protect the innocent) wander up to say hello to us.  Having moved on from the offending toboggan I was not able to question him as to the link between fine books and the decidedly phallic appearance of the luge, but needless to say I wonder what the employee in the back office was thinking when he, or perhaps she?, decided that this would be a suitable addition for the retail shelves of the biggest book store in Canada.  I don’t suppose that I shall ever know, but Mick, should you ever find out, you know how to get in touch with me.

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