Friday, July 22, 2011

21 hairpins to the top

L'Alpe d'Huez is a ski resort at 1,860 metres - a mountain pasture in the Central French Alps, and is one of the main mountains in the Tour de France. It has been a stage finish almost every year since 1976, although absent from the route in both 2009 and 2010, the first time since 1976 that it has missed two consecutive years. It is a favourite on all Tour de France anniversary years. The first was in 1952, won by Fausto Coppi.

The climb is 13.8 km at an average 7.9 per cent, with 21 hairpins named after the winners of stages there. There were too many when the race made the 22nd climb in 2001 so naming restarted at the bottom with Lance Armstrong's name added to Coppi's.

In 2001, English author Tim Moore wrote:
As a variant on a sporting theme, Alpe d'Huez annoys the purists but enthrals the broader public, like 20/20 cricket or nude volleyball. Last year, a full-blown tent-stamping riot had required heavy police intervention. During this year's clean-up operation, down in a ravine with the bottle shards and dented emulsion tins, a body turned up. He'd fallen off the mountain and no one had noticed.* When the Tour goes up Alpe d'Huez, it's a squalid, manic and sometimes lethal shambles, and that's just the way they like it. It's the Glastonbury Festival for cycling fans.

*after watching the Tour on TV for a few years, I’m surprised that doesn’t happen on EVERY mountain stage.

So now it is time to carb load and buckle into the most comfortable chair you can find, switch on the live broadcast and settle back for the ride to the top.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

St Basil's is 450 years old today

That's the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat to you who don't know him personally.

I first met Basil in 1971. He was the only real bit of colour in Red Square at that stage, even though looking as if a good scrub wouldn't go amiss. But as he was only just coming out of winter and it was still quite chilly, I forgave him immediately.

I had just travelled half way across the (then) USSR hard class on the Trans Siberian Railway. Tourists didn't do that very often in those days. Soft class wasn't a lot better, but maybe it cost less in bribes to get the carriage conductor to light the fire under the water heater! The water gets quite cold in the middle of Siberia at the end of winter. Not frozen, but almost. That is one reason I understood the hesitance of Basil to have a bath so early in the season!

The USSR was a grey place in those days. Tourism was only starting and then only by the brave and slightly stupid. Travel was STRICTLY according to your visa and NO changes were tolerated.

We introduced a young adventurous couple we met individually on a ship between Yokohama and Nakhodka; he a young recently graduated laywer from the big city of Melbourne and she a young lady travelling with her father (who was on his first return trip to his homeland after many years). They fell for each other and hopped and skipped accross the country by train losing each other and meeting up again as their travel plans crossed. They met up again once out of the USSR, and eventually married, back in Australia.

I visited again in 1974 with our first child in tow; but I am not sure that she would remember the event, even though there are photos to prove it.

Isn't it strange how a little Google doodle brings back memories?

Oh! Happy Birthday Basil!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

There is a light at the end of the tunnel ...

…and it isn’t a train coming through!

We have been watching Le Tour, and there has been a lot of talk about the HTC train. To those of you not watching the TV from 10pm until 1.30 in the morning – Australian time (it even made the back page of the Financial Review during the week – tired executives dragging themselves to the office and surviving on caffeine, hanging out for the rest day), “the train” is the group of riders in the HTC Highroad Team who lead out the Manx Missile at the end of each flat stage of the Tour de France.


Anyway, about that tunnel …
Some of you may remember my hip replacement 18 months ago, when I posted about the humorous side of the surgery and recovery.

Well the current update is that I (and 9999 others in Australia alone) are looking at having the prosthesis replaced. I won’t go into a lot of detail right now, suffice it to say it has to be done, and reasonably soon.

One of the tests I needed to have was a MRI. Easy you say, just go and have it done. That is what I thought too. First hurdle – the MRI machine here had been broken and when fixed, the queue was rather large … So, as I was going to Adelaide to a birthday party, why not have it done while I was down there?

Great idea; so the plans were made.

I turned up rather enthusiastically at the medical centre and eventually get taken into the room for the MRI. They got me on the table and strapped me in, put on earmuffs to dull the sound (I didn’t know about that – innocent ignorance) and then they started to roll me into the tunnel. My nose wass about 4 cm from the tunnel above me. Wait a minute, it didn’t look like it would be that close when you put me on the table. Oh, you raised it about 50cm after I was on it? And you want me to stay in that tiny tunnel for 40 minutes? And I can’t even see a light at the end of the tunnel? Oh, did I tell you that I am slightly (well I though slightly until then) claustrophobic?


Thank goodness they had given me an exit button! I was removed very quickly. Have you ever been close to anyone who is claustrophobic and put under pressure? mmmmmmm … not a pretty picture.

We all survived. Even the MRI machine.

I didn’t have the MRI. This is not good.

I had an XRay and and ultrasound; but they are not really conclusive and they need a MRI.

There are options. I won’t go into them here, but they seem a bit of overkill to those who aren’t claustrophobic. I am.

Further investigation was required.

After being told the machine here is different, today I was able to visit it and have a “test ride.”

They were correct. It is different and thank goodness, I was able to have my MRI.

Above me there was a tiny light. I just listened to the provided music – stuff I would usually only listen to when I was doing a pretty heavy workout at the gym – watched that light to make sure it wasn’t a train coming through the tunnel to get me (the poor damsel strapped to the track), breathed in and out at regular intervals and survived the experience.

Thank you very much – you know who you are.

Hard week at the grindstone