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Oh no! What did we get ourselves into? I am having goosebumps as I write this post. It's official. The first ever relay team from the Philippines (and perhaps in Southeast Asia) will be doing Race Across America in 2017. Dubbed as the World's Toughest Bicycle Race, RAAM has been challenging ultracyclists from around the globe to push their physical and mental limits to the farthest reaches. Starting in Oceanside, under one of the longest piers in California, RAAM spans 3000 miles, climbs 175,000 feet, crosses 12 states and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland, the east coast sailing mecca. Let's hope to have the first Filipino finishers accomplish this momentous cycling event.

It's Official! Team David's Salon in RAAM!

long weekend with family and friends

Colin and I were supposed to spend the long weekend in Subic for my last heavy training weekend for Challenge Vietnam. It was a failure as we got rained out so badly. 2 of our friends crashed on the bike and the weather was just too grim. To top it all off, Colin and I saw the shark-infested movie USS Indianapolis at the Harbourpoint just before my supposedly open water swim training in the afternoon. The result? I couldn't wrap my head around swimming in the open water with zero visibility after watching a shark movie. All training plans were put to rest and I just accepted the fact that I won't get any decent training done in Subic. It wasn't all that bad though as I got to spend time with my husband and some training time with Cyril (who is training for Ironman Barcelona in October).

eating Jenny's yummy lemon squares

I didn't let the failed training weekend dampen my spirits though. I managed to still make the most of the weekend by doing some swim sessions with Jenny. She brought some freshly-baked lemon squares that I was just too happy to eat after a tough swim session. (I don't consider myself a good swimmer so all swim sessions I have are all considered "tough" in my book. Hehehe) :D

catching up with Nina and Joyette after their gym session

I also managed to squeeze in a short "chika" time with Nina and Joyette after their gym session last Sunday evening. It's always nice to catchup with friends even if some of the news shared are not that good. Just reconnecting and looking forward to things together are some of the things that excite me especially when done with friends. :)

swimming with the girls :)

Monday early morning was spent swimming with the girls, Luuk and Jenny's friends. We dominated the pool that morning which somehow looked like Jenny's swim squad. :) I was happy that Alan, one of Jenny's swimming friends from Alabang, was there to help me finish my pretty intense workout. Whew! Glad that's over! :)

last photo for one of our loyal sponsors, Rudy Project :)

All my training plans weren't executed well this weekend but I'm still happy to have some time training and catching up with the girls. I spent some quality time with the husband in Subic and got to train, even for awhile, with Cyril. I am now officially in panic-mode for my triathlon in 2 weeks' time. I don't know what I was thinking when I signed up for a half Ironman distance triathlon when I haven't even done a triathlon in more than 6 years! Worse, I haven't done any running and swimming in the past 6 years! Oh well... should be another adventure and I'm sure there will be lots of learnings in the process. :)
I don't know what went into my head when I signed up a few weeks ago to run in this morning's Sofitel 21km run. I've only started running 4 weeks ago. Prior to that, my last run was more than 5 years ago! It was a crazy endeavour but something I needed to do. I know it might seem premature but when my triathlon coach gave me the go-signal to sign up for it, I took that as an excuse to have a Sofitel staycation with Bella and Colin. Also, this would be a great activity as Nina and Andrea will be doing the run too. :)

Bella enjoying the playground :)

I had no idea how my body will take the 21km run. I've never ran that far in more than 6 years. The running is what made me quit triathlon a few years ago. I never seem to find the love for it. All I remember and dread are the chaffings, the blisters and the injuries that I got. I heeded Andrea's advise to apply petroleum jelly on my feet. I wore 2 pairs of socks. Since we're staying at the Sofitel, the hotel gave us bananas and water at the lobby before going to the race venue. I was with Arbie, Nina and Andrea at the starting line. It was all quite festive but I must admit that I was a bit nervous. A few seconds after the gun start, I dropped my gels 15 meters from the start and I had to go back for them. It was funny but quite scary as the sea of runners seemed like a stampede heading my way! Once I got my gels, I ran behind the 2:30 pacer to play it conservatively. I was having side stitches but I slowly overcame them as I remember Jenny teaching me to control my breathing just a few days ago. I stopped at each of the hydration aid stations fearing I may cramp as I forgot to bring my saltsticks. I ran a very conservative pace and felt strong after the 21km run. I reckon I could have tried running around a faster pacer but I'm still glad I played this one out conservatively. I had no blisters, no chaffing and no cramping. It was quite enjoyable especially when I saw Rio, Andrea and Arbie cheering me on just before the finish line. :)

21km Sofitel Run... done!

Doing the Sofitel Run was a great excuse to have a Sofitel staycation with family. I wanted to enjoy the hotel with my little one and my dear husband. Bella had a ball playing in the hotel's playground after we have checked in yesterday. We also spent most of the afternoon playing in the kiddie pool. Colin had a nice afternoon nap and had a leisurely time lounging by the pool bar. After my run, I still managed to have a nap before joining Colin and Bella for a sumptuous breakfast buffet at Spiral. It was a nice mini celebration for the morning's run. :)

bonding with these 2 is love :)

This weekend was awesome and hit 2 stones in 1. I got a good 21km workout and some quality bonding with the family. I am definitely looking forward to more weekends like this. :)

starting to have a feel of the water

For the past few weeks ever since I got back from Europe, I've been seeing my team mate and one of the country's best swimmers who has competed in the Sydney Olympics, Jenny Guerrero. We have been having 2 sessions per week so I can gain confidence swimming again. I know how to swim and I've done a couple of triathlons years ago but I wanted to be more efficient in the water. I wanted to swim properly. :)

Prior to swimming with Jenny, I struggle to even do 1 lap in our condo's pool. I am very thankful that Jenny took me in as a student and I can see the significant improvement of my strokes. I am still nowhere to be considered fast but I think I'm slowly getting more efficient with cleaner strokes. :)

Anyway, parking this video here for posterity. I am one big work in progress but definitely willing to learn and do better. :)

carissa's birthday lunch :)

Happiest birthday to one of my treasured friends, Carissa! :) I have very few friends from high school that I truly consider as great friends until now. We may not see everything eye-to-eye but I always respect her views. Aside from giving sound pieces of advice, I appreciate her brutally honest self and the thoughtfulness she puts in everything she says and does.

We have gone through quite a lot in the past 3 years but I'm happy to say that we have learned to accept and look forward to the brighter side of life. Here's to more friendship milestones! Thanks for the lunch treat! :)


On September 11, 2016, my uncle and 2 of my team mates from Team David's Salon will be racing Challenge Vietnam as a relay team. Tito Tony will be swimming 2km, Vany will be cycling 90km and Nina will be running 21km for the benefit of the Amithaba Hospice in Auckland, New Zealand.

Please visit the team's Givealittle Website for more information and details on how to make a donation. No amount is too little and I hope you can find it in your hearts to donate to this worthy cause. :)

running on a Sunday morning!

What to do on a very rainy Sunday morning? :) I am so tempted to just sleep in and have a lazy day BUT... This is what team mates are for... to make you get up and work your bum on the treadmill for 1.5 hours so you won't suffer much next month. :D

Thanks for the push, Kriska and Nina! I know I needed that. :)


JEUNESSE ANION has just signed up as one of the sponsors of Team David's Salon. We are definitely looking forward to represent Team David's Salon and Jeunesse Anion in the next 12 months. Jeunesse embodies the brands that we are more than happy to represent... hip, new and advocates an active lifestyle for women. :)

Some members of the team sat down with Jeunesse Anion owners, Mr. Jeric San Agustin, his wife, MJ Huang, and Jana (the marketing head) tonight to seal the deal. It was such a pleasant evening as we know more about their products and what sets them apart from their competitors. Likewise, we were more than happy to share with them what Team David's Salon is all about and the values we believe in. Thank you Jana, Mr. and Mrs. San Agustin for your time and trust. We are definitely looking forward to a great partnership. :)


highly recommended cycling videos

It's been raining a lot here in the Philippines. The rain has never really stopped me from getting on the bike. We have had countless Audax rides in the past where we cycled through torrential rain so I know that this monsoon season is not an excuse not to get fit on the bike. However, I also have those periods in a year that I prefer training indoors. I am not anal about power output and monitoring my heart rate and cadence but I know that they can help me in a huge way if I want to improve my power output on the bike. Riding indoors is the best set-up if I want to focus on the numbers for my improvement.

Note that as much as possible, I don't record my rides in Strava when I'm riding outdoors (unless truly necessary). I don't want to be consumed by the numbers and I want to focus on enjoying the ride and doing everything by feel when I ride outside. But when it comes to indoor training, I am after quality of the workout. But what do I do when my coach tells me to do 3 or 4 hours on the trainer? It would seem like such a big drag to get my ass on the bike but I've found ways to make it enjoyable. One of them is to do the indoor workouts in front of the TV watching amazing cycling movies or documentaries. :)

Documentary of Team Bandwidth.com in Race Across America 2010

This morning, while doing my 30-minute build-up warm-up, I started off with Team Bandwidth.com's Race Across America documentary where they won the race in 2010. As I did 3 sets of my "race pace" intensity workout or maintaining a power output of upper Z3/flirting with Z4 in 20-minute, 40-minute and 1-hour duration sets, I watched Rising from Ashes. Since Rising from Ashes is just a little over an hour, I followed the movie with another documentary of Team Shiv and Team Venge, the 2 teams fielded by CEF Team Australia in Race Across America in 2015.

Documentary of Team Shiv and Team Venge in Race Across America 2015

And boy was I looking forward to doing my indoor training when I have arranged the line-up! True enough, the minutes ticked by and next thing I know, I was done with my workout... energised and full of inspiration to ride my bike. I'll definitely be sharing this to my small audax community to encourage them to ride more even if the weather is not so cycling friendly. No excuses not to be fit on the bike! :)

makati lunch gang at Sultan

I discovered a new restaurant today in Makati. Thanks to Vany's recommendation, Redg, Vany and I had a nice Mediterranean lunch at Sultan. The last time we had our Makati lunch was in June and it's about time we had one again.

another nice Makati lunch with great friends :)

It's always nice to catch-up with my athlete-friends in a non-athletic atmosphere. It makes us feel "normal" and grounded talking about the daily grind like work and family. I feel very comfortable talking to them about my worries and my plans for the future. I always feel relieved, challenged and better after "unloading" things to them. Likewise, I enjoy hearing about what they've been up to... the races they have done, the events they are about to do, personal stories and career plans. It was nice listening to Vany's account of last weekend's Ironman 70.3 in Cebu where she shaved off more than an hour from her previous time. Good job, Vany! :)

Anyway, this lunch was definitely worth braving the Makati traffic on a busy weekday. I am definitely looking forward to more of these. It's like hitting three stones with one... bonding with friends, eating great food and keeping our sanity. :D


afternoon swim with this bunch :)

What a day! We rarely get-together as a team outside training and racing so I was pretty pleased that today's plans with the team pushed through. The intention was to have a team meeting over dinner but I wanted to make the most out of our Saturdays so I invited my Team David's Salon team mates and some other friends for a nice swim at The Grove in the afternoon followed by a gastro food fest and then a dinner and a team meeting after. :)

gastro food festival at The Grove

After a nice afternoon swim with the kids, we headed to The Grove's Gastro Food Festival being hosted by Food Magazine. We saw some familiar faces in the event and got to taste samples of food from each of the restaurants in the retail row. I am really glad that they do these events here at The Grove to foster the community's friendly-neighborhood atmosphere. :)

TDS team dinner and meeting at Alley

We capped off the evening with a nice dinner at Alley and a very productive team meeting. There are a lot of exciting things to look forward to for Team David's Salon as we discussed sponsorship and some exciting new races and events that we will be participating in here and out of this country. It was nice catching up with most of the team. I wish we have more bonding activities like this. Anyway, 2016 and 2017 will be good years for us. We're really happy to live up to the ideals of promoting a healthy and active lifestyle for women. Exciting things ahead! :)

morning swim with the girls :)

Morning swims have been more bearable with my Team David's Salon team mates around. I have been so happy knowing that Joyette now lives in the same condominium complex that I do and that Jenny is just a 10-minute bike ride away. They are definitely extra motivation to get me swimming in the mornings before going to work.

morning swim with the girls :)

It's been a great cross-training workout to my cycling and I really feel my lungs open up more. My core and upper body are also given a good workout. Anyway, thanks for keeping me company in the mornings! Thank you, Jenny, for the time in teaching me how to swim "properly" again. I know that this sport is so technical and I really appreciate your presence and patience in teaching an old dog like me some new tricks. *wink*

my 5th progressive bike fitting :)

Last Sunday, I had my 5th progressive bike fitting in the comforts of my own home (more specifically, in my "man-cave"). I was a skeptic of proper bike fitting before but I am now a true believer. Thank you Tritech Fitters (formerly known as Tri-Tech Lab) and Saul Sibayan for working with me on a Sunday! I really appreciate it especially knowing that Rudy Catindig came all the way from Sta. Cruz, Laguna and Saul usually spends Sundays with his family and girlfriend. Really guys... thank you!

pedal stroke analysis

I am so happy to be working with people who are so passionate with their craft just like how I am with long-distance cycling. I am definitely looking forward to more adventures and accomplishing cycling milestones even if I seem like a RAAM-bunctious kid! (talagang pinilit? :D)

getting fitted for a time trial set-up :)

pleasant encounter at Singapore's Changi airport... straight from my flight from London, I bumped into fellow Filipino randonneur who is en route to Davao for the audax :)

We had a total of 118 finishers out of the 138 registered participants for the 200km ride. We had a total of 33 finishers out of the 39 registered participants for the 300km ride. The audax is not a race and therefore all official finishers of this ride are all winners in our book. Completing the distance given the time constraints is already a great feat. To date, we have a total of 423 Audax Addicts or cyclists who have completed 2 or more official Audax rides and a total of 13 Super Randonneurs (Audax riders who have completed a 200, a 300, a 400 and a 600) for 2016. :)

randonneurs on the road in Davao :)

The new course record for the 200km Audax from Davao to Puntalinao and back was set by Lito Guardaquivil with an impressive time of 6 hours and 40 minutes. The new course record for the 300km Audax from Davao to Mati and back was set by Jose Eusevio Sevilla with a blazing time of 13 hours and 41 minutes. The Couples Who Audax portion has been updated and I'm happy to announce that we have 2 new couples added: Ariel and Rhea Jamisola of Sarangani Province who both did the 200km ride and the famous couple tandem bikers from South Cotabato, Lino Basilio and Maria Veronica Chiu Basilio who did the 300km ride. Special mention to the father-and-son cyclists who rode together. Rionel Saramosing rode the 200km audax with his son, Neil Saramosing while Julius Gotas rode with his 15-year old son, Kublai, and finished the 300km together! Audax Davao is sounding like a great family affair! Thank you for letting us be a part of your lives!

randonneurs on the road in Davao :)

So, why have an Audax in Davao? Aside from being the 2nd safest city in Southeast Asia (just after Singapore), I've always loved riding in Mindanao. In 2007, I rode my trusted mountain bike from Manila to Davao for Cancer Warriors Foundation for 2 weeks. Aside from riding for a great cause, this made me appreciate the beauty of what this country can offer. In 2010, I rode 290km from Cagayan De Oro to Davao via BuDa (Bukidnon-Davao Road) in 2 days and fell in love with Mindanao once again. So when I got a call from Mr. Albert Banaag of Microtel by Wyndham, I took that as a sign to hold a ride in Davao. As I did 3 ocular rides in preparation for Audax Davao, I got excited to share the experience to fellow long-distance cycling enthusiasts.

at the welcome sign of Davao Oriental

I knew from the very beginning that the Audax in Davao will not be perfect but such birth pains were somehow anticipated. The terrain was definitely challenging. The roads were bumpy and the tree cover is scarce. Everyone had to endure riding under the scorching heat of the sun and some got rained out at night going back. The rules and nature of the ride is very new and quite unconventional compared to most cycling events in the country. We don't pamper our riders and we plan to keep our rides low-key, non-commercial and non-profit. No matter how many times we have reminded participants to read through the audax.ph website to fully understand the nature of these rides, there are still some who registered without knowing what our rides are all about. Sadly, these very folks who don't know what the ride is about are the very people who complained and disrespected some of the marshals in the ride.

scenes at the 200km turnaround point

However, the positive energy still outweighed the negative ones. It takes a lot of maturity to understand and appreciate what an audax ride is about and most cyclists last Saturday got it. I saw a lot of participants at the finish who were still smiling and couldn't believe what they have just accomplished despite the mental and physical fatigue. Some only had a 50km ride as their longest ride prior to last Saturday. While audax riding is new in the region, a lot of locals showed us how an audax ride is done. There were a lot of people who made an effort to be present in Audax Davao. It was great to see a lot of Audax Veterans and Audax Addicts who have come all the way from Pampanga, Tarlac, Manila, GenSan, South Cotabato and even Singapore! Brompton Philippines surprised a lot of the locals with their strong finish on their Brompton folding bikes. A lot of groups were formed and friendships, old and new, were forged. ;)

views to Mati

Daghang Salamat, Davao! Thank you for letting us have our first Audax ride in Mindanao in your beautiful province. Thank you to Mr. David Charlton of David's Salon Inc. for the continued support since 2010. Thank you to Mr. Albert F. Banaag of Microtel by Wyndham for the inivitation to hold an audax ride in Davao and for extending discounts and late checkouts for the audax participants. Thank you to Mr. Paul Dumlao of ATDCI for providing the support vehicles used by our marshals. Thank you to Big 8 Hotel for allowing us to have the first and last checkpoint at your beautiful hotel in Tagum City. Thank you to Vitarich Corporation for providing the gatorade drinks at the controls and at the finish. Thank you to TADECO for the bananas at the controls. Thank you to Mr. Alexander D. Regaspi who have suggested the Davao to Mati route and has helped spread the word about what Audax is about. Thank you to Ms. Jola Gonzales for your leadership. Thank you to the tireless David's Salon Inc. marshals who have worked more than 24 hours last weekend. Thank you to the amazing Davao locals that we have met who are just oozing with good vibes and who have been very warm to their fellow cyclists. You will be the very reason why we will come back next year! :)

Audax Davao finishers :)

Before I end this post, I would like to borrow a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." Rest and recover well, my fellow randonneurs! Until the next Audax ride in Mindanao! :)

Audax Davao finishers :)

P.S. Photos from the cameras of Alex Regaspi, Allan Sy, Art Ang, Dindo Directo, Eric Loquero, Gilbert Narag, Guillermo Roca, Jeric San Agustin, Jola Gonzales, Jonnel Cruz, Jose Trini Evangelista, Kim Torres, Kriska Sto. Domingo, Ligaya Perez, May Santos, Carmela Pearson, Myk Espina, Neil Saramosing, Nepthalie Sipalay, Redg Plopinio, Reggie Reyes, Rhea Jamisola, Rionel Saramosing and Xander Chua.

More photos can be found HERE.

beautiful Marlow and the Cliveden Gardens

lovely lunch at Bill's with Kevin and Sue :)

Colin and I had a very productive day with the Birds today. Kevin and Sue Bird were so nice to host us in our last few days in the UK before we fly back to Manila. They took the day off just to be with us and we really appreciate the gesture. We started our day with a nice brunch at Bill's in the beautiful town of Marlow. The restaurant is in a historic old building that has a really nice garden at the back. Just like last year when we walked around Marlow with Bella, we were very lucky with the weather. We had a nice English brunch in the garden with lots of stories to share. :)

picturesque views while walking around Marlow :)

After a filling lunch, we walked around Marlow. I love these quaint English towns with its novelty shops and seeing people out and about taking advantage of a wonderful sunny day (which is highly unusual in the UK). After some discussion on where to go for dinner, we all decided it's best to just stay home and do an outdoor barbecue of steaks and sausages. Sue is such a big football fan and since Wales has a match tonight against Portugal, having a barbecue at their home means we can have a leisurely evening without having to rush home for the match. We then headed to the grocery in Marlow for our barby spread and bottles of beer. :)

the Italian mansion in Cliveden Gardens (photo credit: wikipedia)

After dropping off our groceries at the Birds' house, we went to Cliveden Gardens, a National Park and estate that has an Italian mansion (which is now converted to a 5-star hotel), themed gardens and woodland paths. We initially thought we would only be spending a maximum of 3 hours in the estate but we actually spent more than 5 hours and it wasn't even enough! The first garden we went to was The Long Garden and it was quite enchanting. It reminded me so much of the movie Edward Scissor Hands with its many quirky statues and topiary. We walked through The Rose Garden that has over 900 roses. We also managed to go through The Parterre. Its massive grounds showed the high-Victorian style of planting with the Thames River as a backdrop. It was very impressive and I felt like I was following the footsteps of the dukes, earls, kings and queen centuries ago. :)

enchanting Long Garden

We followed some woodland paths. You can see a lot of people having a ball hiking with miles of paths with panoramic views of the estate and the Thames river. I was glad I wore my rubber shoes as we did a lot of hiking this afternoon. I enjoyed the hike going down the river and I panted a lot going back up. We found nice nooks where we took lots of selfies. :D The hiking worked us up an appetite that made me look forward to a nice dinner even more. :D

views from our river boat ride

We saw a lot of small bum boats going up and down the river and decided to find a boat rental. Kevin used to sail a lot on his boat. He "drove" our small boat along the Thames river. The hour passed by unnoticed as we savoured the peaceful sights and sounds along this famous river. Next thing we know, it's time to go home to prepare for dinner. We didn't have enough time to go through the other gardens and explore other wood paths. We vowed to be back. Bella loves gardens and I know she'll have a fun time here. :)

Colin and Mela having a ball in Cliveden :)

To cap off our day, Kevin and Sue prepared a barbecue spread of steaks and sausages with salad. It was such a delicious and filling meal. It's a good thing it was relatively early which made us a bit less guilty. Sue and I went inside the house when the football match started. I've never sat through an entire football game before and this experience was quite exciting. Wales and Portugal are both strong teams. Since Sue is a die hard Welsh, we were rooting for Wales to win. But unfortunately, Portugal was a stronger force to reckon with and eventually won 2-0. It broke Sue's heart and we just had to drown ourselves with wine, chocolate and cheese to ease the pain. :D

barbecue dinner with Kevin and Sue :)

It's been a beautiful day. I can't help but miss my little one more today. :( I'll be home soon, sweetheart! My heartfelt gratitude to Kev and Sue for the time and effort to make our last day in the UK a wonderful one! See you again next year! :)


last day in Alsace, France

Today's plan was to cycle to the mountains in the morning and get back in-time for a barbecue lunch before flying back to the UK. I woke up feeling heavy and sluggish from yesterday's adventures. I was excusing myself from this morning's ride and was looking forward to sleeping in and perhaps catching up on some email in preparation for the Audax in Davao. I was exhausted. Everyone successfully changed my mind and even promised we won't be doing some long climbing today. Yikes!

at the border of switzerland and france :)

The cycling in the area was really nice. While the terrain wasn't hilly, it was definitely not flat. It was more rolling. My legs have taken a beating in Gran Fondo Marmotte and it was an effort just trying to stay with Colin and Pascal on the rolling bits of today's ride. Nonetheless, the ride was very scenic. The air was nice and fresh. We cycled across the border to Switzerland where we had a nice coffee stop in a cafe near a "miraculous" church. The cycling going back was quick and I particularly enjoyed going through the quaint villages and seeing the bright-coloured houses. Apparently, the locals started painting their houses bright after the second world war to uplift the mood in the area.

barbecue lunch before flying out :)

When we got back to Vany's house, we packed our bikes and clothing as Tita Malou grilled some steak and sausages in the backyard. We had a nice feast for lunch. Tita grilled some rib-eye steaks that were bigger than my entire hand. Colin and I both agree that we haven't seen rib-eyes that big! We had fresh mozzarella and juicy tomatoes for appetisers. We also had the leftover pizza from last night and stuffed mushrooms with cheese. The mushrooms were so good and tasty! As if that wasn't enough to fill us up, Lola brought out a pie made from the berries from the backyard. It was really nice and reminded me so much of how my grandmother back home loves to cook for us. :)

lovely lunch spread with amazing folks :)

Our short stay in France was definitely worth the trip. Vanessa's family made us feel so welcomed. They have been very helpful in planning the logistics around the Gran Fondo Marmotte and they took time to show us around their region. How I wish we had more days to explore the other villages and do more cycling in the area. The location was so interesting... in 30 minutes, you can cycle to Switzerland or Germany from France. There is even a point where you are standing in all 3 countries at the same time. They say that Christmas is the best time to be in this area as it can be very festive and they really celebrate the holidays as seen in the German Christmas Markets. I told Colin we should go back again during the Yuletide season when Bella is a bit older. :)

Thank you again to Pascal, Tita Malou, Vany, Dave and Lola! This vacation is definitely one for the books! :)

Egusheim and Ribeauville in Alsace, France

Today we explored 2 villages in Alsace, France. Alsace is a French region made famous for its white wine and lovely villages. 2 of its villages have always been in the top 10 most beautiful villages in France. Our first stop for today was a town called, Egusheim, ranked one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France since 2003 and is known to be the cradle of the Alsatian vineyard. Most houses in this village are at least 2 centuries old. It is a very charming village that has so much history, culture and art. I had the same feeling when I explored St. Paul De Vence back in 2011. It was like being in a fairytale. :)

beautiful Alsace!

First agenda was to have a nice Alsatian lunch. I normally don't drink any alcohol during the day but since we're in the white wine region of France, we might as well do what the locals do. We chose a nice restaurant in the village centre called Caveau Heuhaus and was introduced to Alsatian specialties like the flambées (thin-crusted savoury tarts that is similar to the pizza). We ordered flambées as our appetiser and paired it with Pinot Gris. I love the Pinot Gris with all its sweet goodness! I know I had to pair my steak with red wine but the Pinot Gris was so good that I didn't mind just having that again with my mains. Colin and I each ordered the Filet de boeuf (Beef fillet with cream & fresh mushroom sauce for me and beef fillet with parsley butter for Colin). It was really good and quite reasonably priced as well!

lovely lunch at Caveau Heuhaus

After a sumptuous lunch, we walked around and checked out the novelty shops. There was a shop that sold edible mushroom products and wonderful truffle oil. We also checked out a glass shop that showcased glassworks - both functional and for art. The owner even demonstrated how he etches on the glass which was pretty remarkable. The shops were a nice prelude to Emile Beyer - our first wine shop for the day.

at Domaine Emile Beyer

Domaine Emile Beyer looked very rustic from the outside. It had the barrels at the dark basement floor and a modern wine shop on its main floor. They have been making white wine since 1580 and has been regarded as one of the best in the world. So much so that it was involved in a charity where their bottles were sold at 10,000 euros each. There was even a story that someone broke these bottles as mockery. Anyway, I am no wine connoisseur but I had a ball tasting the white wine and identifying which ones I liked and which ones I didn't. We tried the Pinot Blanc Tradition, the Riesling Tradition, the Riesling Alsace Grand-Cru Pfersigberg, the Riesling Alsace Grand-Cru Eichberg. I realised that I like sweet dry white wines and my favourite is the Gewurtztraminer, more particularly the Gewurtztraminer Alsace Grand-Cru Pfersigberg. All these white wine would have been perfect if we had some foie gras and blue cheese to munch with! :) Anyway, I learned a thing or two about growing the grapes for white wine. The difference in elevation of where the grapes are grown and the space between each grape vine actually affect how nice the wine will be. The incline of the ground also plays a big role due to how much sun the grape vines actually get.

loving the sights and vibe of Egusheim!

We tasted so many wines at this first stop that I got a little tipsy. Pascal said that we need to pace ourselves as we are just starting! Yikes! We walked around Egusheim some more and appreciated the quaint architecture of the houses. I love the cobblestone roads. They reminded me of Paris-Roubaix. :) We walked into a bike shop, had some food-tasting in a sausage shop (and fell in love with the munster cheese sausages), said a small prayer inside the St. Leon IX chapel (Pope Leon IX, the only French Pope, was born and raised in Egusheim). Truly, this small village has so much history! :)

St. Leon IX Chapel

The second wine place that we went to was Wolfberger. Wolfberger today cultivates all the Alsation varietals. Unique in France, the wines in the region owe their names to the 7 varietals: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and the Gewurtztraminer. The Alsatian vineyards are among those in France that get the least amount of rainfall. Colmar, after Nice in the south of France, is the French city with the lowest annual rainfall. We again tasted some white wines and I've been consistent in choosing the Gewurtztraminer as my favourite even without knowing what I was initially tasting. We didn't have to purchase a lot of bottles in this shop as we later learned that they sell them in Singapore. :)

at Wolfberger

Next stop was another quaint village in Alsace called Ribeauville. We immediately went to the famous Distillerie Metté known for its Eaux De Vie or Schnaps. Distillerie Metté prides itself for not being commercially available in shops. One can get their spirits from Michelin-star and high-profile restaurants. The owners, Philippe Traber and his lovely wife, were nice enough to show us how the spirits were made. They showed us their small factory and how their products are produced through fermentation and double distillation. They have more than 100 products (70+ Eaux De Vie flavours and 20+ Liqeuers). You can see that the owners themselves are very passionate about their products. Philippe says he uses all his senses in the production. In this boutique, we taste-tested more than 20 spirits! My husband loved it especially when he can guess what fruit or plant the spirit comes from. He loved it so much that we had to buy more than 6 bottles even if our luggage allowance will not allow it! Uh-oh! :P

at Distillerie Metté

To end such a productive cultural day in Alsace, we had an Alsatian dinner at O'Goutchi. We loved the flambées at lunch that we ordered them again as our appetiser alongside the escargot. Colin and I had some steak again. We loved the food. I have a feeling I gained weight in this supposedly cycling vacation! :D The Hanses were such great hosts and we never had a dull moment with them. They were so easy and fun to be around with. Thank you Pascal, Tita Malou, Vany and Dave for showing us around! :)

dinner at O'Goutchi

I don't know how many times I told Vany that she is such a lucky girl to have grown up and lived in Alsace, France. Sometimes, I still can't understand why she prefers to live in the Philippines! It's so pretty here that I told Colin I can retire here. Hahaha! :)

More photos can be found HERE.
I woke up this morning very hungry. I just realised that I haven't taken anything solid, except for a small sandwich no bigger than the palm of my hand, the entire time I was racing yesterday. I did have 3 slices of pizza after the race, but that wasn't enough. With a grumbling stomach, the hotel's breakfast spread was a feast as I devoured chocolate croissants and hard-boiled eggs.

the morning after Gran Fondo Marmotte at Les 2 Alpes

After a pleasant breakfast with the Hanses recalling what transpired yesterday, we walked around our ski village. It's a shame we couldn't stay longer as it would have been nice to stay here for a couple of days more to cycle, enjoy the food in the restaurants, people-watch, or just laze around with a great view of the mountains. However, we were still able to sneak into an interesting local cheese shop. We just had to buy the beaufort cheese (made from the milk of the cows that live in the alps), some red tomato cheese (mixture of cheeses from Holland, Italy and France that is supposed to be great for pasta), some cheese with truffle and bottles of risotto pasta with truffle sauce. Yum!

inside the cheese shop in Les 2 Alpes

From Les 2 Alpes, we drove for 3 hours to Lausanne, Switzerland, known for the Olympics Headquarters. After a heavy Swiss lunch in a restaurant facing Lake Geneva, we walked towards the Olympic Museum grounds. We walked through the parks and I love the vibe. It reminded me of the parks in Lake Como in Italy or the parks by Lake Zurich. Everyone seems to be out and about in the parks and in the waters. One can take a boat from Lausanne to Evian (where the famous bottled water company with the same name is based) just across the lake. It was beautiful. Bella would have loved to run around and chase the birds. She will definitely enjoy this more than Disneyland. :P

beautiful Lausanne :)

Anyway, the moment we entered the Olympic grounds, it felt like I was walking into a sacred place. I had a "goosebumps" moment when I saw the Olympic flame still burning in front of the museum. We didn't have enough time to go through the entire place but I see that as a good reason to come back in the future... perhaps with the little one in tow. Stopping at Lausanne on our way back to France was definitely a great recommendation! :)

at the Olympic Museum grounds

We then took another 3-hour drive back to Vany's house. Interestingly, we were getting honked by cars as we were approaching Vany's village. We thought people didn't like the way we were driving but apparently, they were just very happy and celebrating every goal that France is making in the UEFA Euro 2016 against Iceland. By the time we got to our destination, France won 5-2. Wow! The Europeans really love sports and Vany's dad made a mental note to bring out the French flag and put it outside the house first thing tomorrow morning. Vive La France! :)

Gran Fondo Marmotte

Colin and I woke up at 5am to have ample time for our 7:50am gun start. It was drizzling and I was dreading a cold and wet start. Being Asian who grew up in the tropics, I'm not good with the cold. We have signed up for this race the moment registration opened last November. I have been wanting to do the Gran Fondo Marmotte ever since I got an invitation from Niels Have in 2011. Back then, I had to forego the La Marmotte and do a multi-day cycling trip in the Italian Alps instead. I was preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris 2011 then and a multi-day training ride in the Italian Alps seemed more attractive than just a one-day race in the French Alps.

yesterday's festive race kit collection on top of Alpe D'Huez

So why join the Gran Fondo Marmotte? La Marmotte is one of the most famous Gran Fondo events in the Alps for amateur cyclists like me. There are 7,500 participants making it one of the most coveted Gran Fondos in the region. It covers 175km of unforgiving terrain covering 4 big mountains (Col du Glandon, Telegraphe, Col du Galbier and all the 21 glorious switchbacks of the Alpe D'Huez) that have always been prominently featured in the Tour de France. I chose this race as my 2016 cycling challenge because I don't consider myself a fast cyclist. I am not a good climber. I am a terrible descender. And I hate cycling in cold weather. These are enough reasons for me to sign up and push my limits a little more. On top of these, I also have this great appreciation for the sport and its history. Just to be here is always a humbling moment as I remember how much I suffered in these mountains when I cycled from Geneva, Switzerland to the South of France back in 2012 covering 16 big mountains.

the race course profile

Anyway, the start of the ride was cold and wet for my taste. I've never seen so many cyclists convene in one venue and to be released in one go. Col du Glandon was a bit of a shock to my system and I remember struggling in the first 5km of the climb. My legs felt so heavy with no decent cycling ride for the past 2 weeks. Despite that, I was happy to carry on. I've never seen so many people climb on the mountain and I was glad to always find a peloton to ride with. I also noticed the mature handling skills of most people in this ride. Walang malikot! :P I carried on steadily until Vany and Pascal overtook me and Colin. They looked really good climbing and I told Vany to just go ahead as my legs feel very heavy at that point.

fantastic view of the mountains from our hotel

I was happy to carry on at my own pace. Upon reaching the top of Col du Glandon, everyone literally had to stop because of the people traffic. There were so many stations giving out food and drinks that cyclists would stop and block the entire road. Colin and I decided to refill our water bottles and just head down straight to the foot of Telegraphe. The descent wasn't as dreadful as I remember it back in 2012 and I took this as a good sign for the rest of the ride. I managed to find a good peloton to ride with on the undulating terrain until we hit the start of the Telegraphe. :)

at the start... 7,500 cyclists gathered at Bourg D'Oisan

I love the Telegraphe. I love all 11.5 km of this climb. I remember how much I enjoyed climbing this back in 2012. With better spirits, I managed to overtake some cyclists which gave my morale a boost. I finally found my climbing rhythm. When we reached the top of Telegraphe, we had to stop again and wear our windbreakers as the descent can be chilly. I dread these long descents but I just had to mentally get myself to do it. Surprisingly, I found the descent quite enjoyable. I guess my handling skills have greatly improved since 2012.

going up Col du Glandon (22km climb w/ a 5.5% average gradient at 1,918m ASL)

2 kilometres into climbing Galibier, we decided to have coffee, refuel and have my first toilet break. It was a much-needed 20-minute stop. I had my only solid food in the entire ride here as I was handed a small ham sandwich. Even in the middle of the race, I figured a short stop wouldn't hurt as I'm not in contention in the rankings anyway. Some of the professional women cyclists in the group finish the entire ride in sub-7 hours and I am definitely not on that kind of level in cycling. However, when Colin started taking a call while during our stop, I had to remind him that we're in the middle of a cycling race and that this isn't the right time to be taking on business calls from Bahrain!

going up Telegraphe (11.5km climb w/ a 7.3% average gradient at 1,570m ASL)

The 18km climb up Galibier was the hardest part of this race. The climbing would have been fine but when it started raining hard, the ride was just grim and painful. One of the things I've learned from riding in the cold (especially in Paris-Brest-Paris) is to avoid stopping to keep your body warm and to avoid the body temperature from dropping. There was a strong headwind in the last 8km of the climb. The roads were getting very slippery. I was freezing and wet. It was very daunting to see the long climbs up ahead. It felt like it was taking me forever to finish climbing this mountain. The air also seems thinner which made my breathing a little bit difficult. So many people have stopped in the middle of this climb and some have started pushing their bikes. The ambulances were giving out emergency blankets and you can see cyclists huddle on the side of the roads trying to keep warm. I made a mental note to just keep on going. I started thinking of happy thoughts and how blessed I am to be able to do this ride. The views were fantastic near the top with chunks of ice and snow on the sides of the roads. It was beautiful. It helped that my husband was with me. His presence was motivation enough to keep me going.

at a cafe at the foot of Galibier; mela to colin: "honey, we're in the middle of a race. this isn't the right time to be taking a business call from Bahrain!"

When I finally reached the tunnel on top of Col du Galibier, I told myself not to stop and just descend through the cold. I was so cold that I wanted the suffering to end. I reckon I'll freeze more if I stop. At this point, Colin was complaining about his feet. He says they feel like blocks of ice and that if the weather won't improve by the time we start climbing Alpe D'Huez, he will abandon the ride. I was freezing on the downhill but I stayed focused on the descents keeping my line and using more of my body weight instead of my brakes. I loved it and managed to overtake more than 40 cyclists on the downhill until I hit the foot of Alpe D'Huez.

wet and cold climb up Galibier (18km climb w/ a 7% average gradient at 2,642m ASL)

Just like any official Gran Fondos, there is a cut-off time. For Gran Fondo Marmotte, the cut-off time is measured at the foot of Alpe D'Huez. Everyone who wants to be considered an official finisher should be at the foot of Alpe D' Huez after 10 hours and 15 minutes from release time. By the time we reached the bottom of this climb, we still had plenty of time. At this point, I was tired, hungry and my stomach started to act up. I was in desperate need of a toilet! We stopped at a pitstop in Bourg D'Oisan but the toilets were locked up. I told Colin that we should just push on and try to find a restaurant or boulangerie where I can finally do my business.

the tunnel on top of Galibier, a great sign that the climbing has ended! the 2 guys in front of me were giving each other a high five. :)

My Garmin's battery went flat after the 144th kilometre. I had no idea of the distance we are covering. As we were climbing up Alpe D'Huez, I knew that the distance didn't matter anymore. All I had to do was keep track of the 21 hairpin bends or the 21 famous switchbacks. With more than 162km of climbing on the legs, the first few kilometres of the climb was discouraging as they were also quite steep. After the 3rd switchback, I finally saw a portable toilet and called on Colin that I will be stopping here to do my business. After a HUGE feeling of relief, I told Colin that we just have to move forward and finish this ride! I kept counting the switchbacks. I had to think of happy thoughts.

climbing up Alpe D'Huez (13km climb w/ an 8% average gradient at 1,880m ASL)

I thought about my little one and how I miss her so much. I thought about my fitness level that has enabled me to finish and enjoy this ride. I thought about my family back home, who willingly agreed to take care of Bella while we're away. I thought about my work and how blessed I am to have a very hardworking staff in VantageOne Financing Corp. I thought how I had to turn down a potential job offer to be VP for Finance for a multinational company simply because I don't want to compromise the quality of time I spend with my family. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I'm making the right decision. Next thing I knew, I was on the last switchback and I am just 1 kilometre away from the finish! I suddenly had an adrenaline rush and new-found strength. Crossing the finish line was an amazing feeling. Having my dear husband beside me was the best part of it! :)

Pascal Hans, proudly posing with his Gold medal and certificate, finished Gran Fondo Marmotte in 7 hours and 48 minutes!

Today's race reminded me so much of Paris-Brest-Paris. The environment was so festive. There were a lot of wonderful volunteers all throughout the race course. A lot of the locals have come out and opened their homes to give free food and drinks. While most rode road bikes, there were also different cycling machines such as recumbent bikes, elliptigos, folding bikes, mini velos, mountain bikes with slick tires, etc. There were so many people cheering especially on the way up Alpe D' Huez. You have to hand it to the French to make you feel special as a cyclist! :)

Gran Fondo Marmotte... done in 10 hours and 48 minutes!

This is the toughest cyclosportif that I've ever done to date. It was the most painful 175km of my cycling life. My strava data only recorded the first 144km before it died down but looking at the stats, I am still a big work in progress as a cyclist. I am so overwhelmed with happiness to have finished this with Colin. Thank you for tolerating all the crazy cycling adventures that I want to do. Thank you for supporting me wholeheartedly. Thank you to the Hans family who was present to support and make this all happen. Congratulations to Pascal for finishing the race in an amazing time of 7 hours and 48 minutes! Thank you to Vany for being such a great team mate who reminded me to just enjoy the experience! Thank you to Tita Malou, Lola and Dave for the cheers and logistical support! You were all awesome!

Until the next cycling adventure! 2017 will be a great year for endurance cycling and I can't wait to share the experience, good or bad, to everyone especially my audax family. :)

Photos are from the cameras of Malou Bandoy Hans and Carmela Pearson.

the day before Gran Fondo Marmotte

packing up and about to leave for the alps! :)

Colin and I flew in to Basel Euroairport last night. I didn't realise how complicated flying into Basel can be. This is the only airport I've flown in that has 3 airport codes (BSL, EAP, MLH). Booking the tickets were a bit confusing especially when an airline would have different prices given the different airport codes but apparently, it's just the same airport. Vany's tips came in very handy as well as to which exit to take. The airport is a bi-national airport that has 2 exits - a Swiss exit and a French exit. I'm supposed to meet Vany's family at the French exit but since I booked a car in the Swiss side, I needed to go out through the Swiss exit, get my car and drive to the French side. Plus, I had to double check if I had the right visa for Switzerland as they are not part of the EU but apparently part of the Schengen. Whew!

Assos goodies :)

First agenda for today was to pass by the Assos Pro Shop in Basel, Switzerland on our way to the French Alps. I've always been a fan of Assos. It has saved my bum so many times in my long-distance cycling events. I don't think I would have been able to enjoy all these crazy cycling rides if not for the quality of their apparel and their super dependable Assos Cream. I always get my Assos stuff from Singapore or from Chain Reaction Cycles so when Vany's dad, Pascal, told me that there is no place on earth where Assos will be cheaper than in Basel, a trip is a must! :)

last-minute shopping at the Assos shop in Basel, Switzerland

Colin and I had a ball in the Assos shop. Martin, the shop owner, was kind enough to explain to us the latest technology behind the clothing. I am in desperate need of a spring jacket and some full-fingered gloves for the race tomorrow. Their full-fingered gloves were very well-thought of and has an e-tip that enables one to navigate through his/her smartphone without a problem. Colin had been wanting to buy some of their top-quality cycling shorts and some cold weather gear as well. Needless to say, we ended up buying more than what we came for but we're not complaining. Thanks to Pascal Hans, we enjoyed a significant discount! :)

festive atmosphere at the top of Alpe D'Huez

From the Assos shop, we had to part ways with the Hans family as they need to pick up Vany from the Geneva airport before heading to the alps. Colin and I volunteered to get all of our race packets on top of Alpe D'Huez so they don't have to rush and we can just meet for dinner near our hotel in Les 2 Alpes. It took us a good 6-hour drive from Basel to Alpe D'Huez but we didn't mind the drive at all. It was pleasant, very scenic and on fast roads too! I'm sure Colin wished he was driving his sports car than our 1.6 liter Ford Focus rental. :P

Colin was a happy camper :)

It was very festive on top of Alpe D'Huez. The race organisers behind Gran Fondo Marmotte did a great job making us feel like professional cyclists. Getting our race packets was a breeze so we had more time to look at each of the tents in the expo. After getting our Etixx goodies (that will prove to be very useful to our race), we checked out the Mavic booth. Colin has been trying to look for the spokes for his limited edition Mavic Rsys SLR (the anniversary edition that had the yellow and black spokes). They broke when we did the Audax Davao ocular last week. We have been calling bike shops in Manila and Singapore but no one seem to have them. The Mavic guys were so nice entertaining all of my husband's questions. They had the spokes that we were looking for and was happy to give them to us for free!

our home at Les 2 Alpes... such a quaint and beautiful ski village

Upon arrival to Les 2 Alpes, a quaint French ski village, we checked in to our nice hotel and walked around the village. With a recommendation from the hotel, we walked to a small Italian restaurant to enjoy some pizza and pasta. They were so good! We were later joined by Vany's family. We discussed about our logistics tomorrow. After some quick shopping for our breakfast, Colin and I turned in. It's going to be another epic ride tomorrow. :)


wala lang

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