Tag Archives: Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux

Small stone – big challenge


This is the actual third stone I brought down from the summit – no stunt doubles here. Not as big as it might look – about 2x1x1 cm!

Joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 was one of the best things I’ve ever done on a bike. I completed the three ascents (each non-stop) with a friend, didn’t suffer very much (apart from freezing on the first half of each descents) and fell in love with a very special mountain which even had the decency to be cloud-free at the summit for the third and final ascent.

One thing I remembered to do, when at the top for the last time, was to pick up three small stones. I had two particular friends who, I knew, would want to climb Ventoux themselves so on returning to England I sent them each a stone, with a request that they return it to the top of the mountain.

Philip returned his stone this summer and Dave has just told me that he and his wife are taking a road trip next year to include Provence (with his bike and stone in the car).

I don’t take any credit for their ascents but there is something good about others getting to experience the enjoyment I got from climbing such a great mountain.

The third stone?

That’s either for me on my next trip up Ventoux (or perhaps for Mrs Omil if I can ever persuade her to take on the climb from Sault).

What’s next on the sprocket list?

When your three main goals for the year fall in April and July, by August you are left wondering what to do next. I fear that the rest of this year is going to feel like an anticlimax so thoughts turn to the inevitable bucket list (or for me as it’s likely to be cycling-related, the sprocket list).

For 2017, the key goals were:
– White Horse Challenge in April: the target was sub 5 hours which I missed by 5 minutes although I did post a PB
– Everesting: a tick for that
– Farcycles Sportive: although I traded down to the 70 mile route, I was first home and, even though it’s not a race, I’m still pleased with that.

It looks like I’ve got to go for the WHC again, still chasing the elusive sub-5 hour time, but what else?

Over the last week I’ve been an avid follower of the Transcontinental Race. Massive respect to James Hayden for winning it and to everyone who is taking part (10 days in and only 2 of the 285 entrants have finished). That has to go on the list – even though it’s a universe of insanity beyond even the everesting. It feels like that might be a stretch too far for 2018 but it’s on the list.

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is to cycle out to the alps for my annual trip to Les Carroz. It’s about 700 miles door to door by car – I don’t know what avoiding main roads does to that but in my books it qualifies as a long way. It would be a good test to see if I could contemplate the Transcontinental Race.

LEJOG or JOGLE must be a possibility – unsupported and done as quickly as possible.

The bicinglette (two times each of the 3 roads up Ventoux, within a day) is the other possible target for 2018 – currently, there are only 205 people shown as completing the bicinglette. To do that and then add the extra 1200m to become a ‘high rouleur’ would be great.

It’s all subject to domestic negotiation and possible outbreaks of sanity – but it’s fun to plan and plot.

L’Eroica and the Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux


Ten reps of Dragon Hill Road today – into the same headwind that made Sunday tough.

I mentioned the Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux a while ago and said I’d come back to it later. Now is later.

For some time a friend (Philip) had been talking about doing L’Eroica in Tuscany – the ride for pre 1987 bikes. Late in 2014 we decided to apply for places in the ride in October 2015. Another friend (David) agreed to join us and we entered as a team of three and as individuals. Philip got a place as an individual and, although we didn’t get in as a team, shortly after failing in the first round of ballots there must have been a second one to fill places left by drop-outs, and our team got in.

I’d been thinking about trying to ride up Ventoux and decided to drive out to Tuscany to take in the Giant of Provence on the way back. Happily David agreed to join me – and we decided to go for broke by trying to qualify for the Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux which requires riding up it by each of the three ascents in a day. Utter madness for two men who would be over 60 by the time of the ride. Our wives then decided they would join us in L’Eroica – Philip’s wife deciding to come out with us, but not cycle.

Early on Wednesday 30 September David and I loaded 6 bikes into and onto the car and set off for a happily uneventful drive to the Alps.

Despite being an experienced cyclist, David had not previously found himself out in the mountains with a bike. On Thursday morning we unloaded the carbon and David ticked off his first Alpine climbs – Col de la Colombiere, Col de Romme and the Cote du Chatillon. Being a very good cyclist he took to it frighteningly well. Although I had only been cycling ‘properly’ for about 6 years, I had been lucky enough to get out in the Alps each of those summers, relying on bloody mindedness and a strange willingness to suffer pain to make up for a lack of talent.

Another early start on the Friday morning saw us heading to Pisa where we picked up our wives from the airport before driving to Gaiole in Chianti, the home of L’Eroica.

Saturday was spent enjoying the village and its surrounding area. It’s quite a jamboree of cycling and we had a great day out in lovely early October sunshine. We kept the carbon bikes well hidden and, on Sunday, instead took out the four steel steeds (mine a 1946 Dayton frame that I’d built up for the purpose) that had merely been providing ballast in the car for over 1000 miles.

The Eroica ride itself was very tough on some ruined white roads, and conducted largely in very heavy rain. The two ladies did the 35 km route and the three men did the 135km and we all survived. It was a really hard ride but very enjoyable with some great scenery and food stops (red wine and Tuscan stew should be provided by all sportives). If I did it again, I think I’d be properly stupid and go for the longest route. I’d also study the route a bit better as the number of times we saw Sienna on signposts started to play a bit with my mind.

On the Monday, we had little time to reflect on our achievements as we were up early to take our wives back to Pisa to fly home. However, instead of heading back towards Calais, David and I took a more westerly course towards Provence.

You can’t really miss Ventoux standing 1912 meters high, dominating the surrounding area. The bare limestone at the top made it look like it was covered in snow. We’d checked before we left England and there had been no early snow but Ventoux is unpredictable all year round with heat, cold and wind all coming into play at different times so we were by no means out of the woods as far as meteorology was concerned.

We checked into the hotel in St Coulomb, just a few km out of Bedoin. We were very aware that we had only a two-day window to launch our assault on the mountain. We were hoping for decent weather but knew that we would have to try it, come what may.

What did come the following morning was not good. Our hosts advised against trying the ascents because the weather at the top was very poor. Instead, we had a very pleasant cycle tour around some of the villages at the foot of the mountain and, in the evening were treated to a spectacular electrical storm over Ventoux itself.

We were up early the following day, and took some pride in attaching our Club Des Cingles Du Mont Ventoux plates, hoping to have earned them over the course of the next few (or many) hours. We cycled down into Bedoin at about 8am for the start – we had decided to do the rides in the order Bedoin, Malaucene and then Sault. That would tick off the two harder ascents first, leaving, reputedly, the easiest to last. The climb from Sault is the longest and starts higher than the other two.

The first ascent from Bedoin is fairly easy until a left hand bend at St Esteve and then the road ramps up as you go through the forest – the remaining 16kms are at an average 8.9% gradient. That stretch is remorseless. We were very lucky – although David is a better cyclist than I am, we rode together very comfortably (or perhaps David was hanging back to keep pace with me).

It’s a hard climb but it went well despite a certain amount of debris on the road from the previous evening’s storm. Of course, getting to Chalet Reynard and then passing the Simpson Memorial are matters of real significance for someone who has taken such an interest in Le Tour, as was the obligatory gale blowing for the last few, steep, km.

We did the ascent without stopping but not very fast – I think it was about 2 hours 15 minutes. We were cycling well within ourselves what was still to come was such unknown territory.

At the top, we could see nothing as there was a thick low cloud. The top of Ventoux is something of an anti-climax – especially if you don’t have the view to look at. It was also really cold – and it got even colder for the first few miles of the descent – I’ve never shivered so much on a bike as on the first half of the descent into Malaucene, despite a long sleeve compression top, leg warmers, long fingered gloves and a wind-proof jacket.

After a bite to eat (and a hot drink) in the sun in Malaucene we did the second ascent – it was pretty much as hard as the first and the top was still deep in the cloud. There seems to be a split in opinions as to whether the climb from Bedoin or Malaucene is the harder. To me, it’s a bit like asking whether the 2014 or 2015 Miss World is more beautiful – it’s a matter of taste. Again, we did the climb without stopping, and were a little quicker than the first ascent.

The first part of the descent to Sault was also very cold – and the little kick up into the village itself is most unwelcome … but the food and drink at the cafe was a delight. Again, we did the third ascent without stopping – it was much easier and quicker apart from the experience of turning a corner and coming out of the shelter from the wind and going from about 25kph to a virtual standstill in just a couple of metres. The wind was gusting over 125kph – by no means extreme for Ventoux.

As if to reward us for the effort, the top had cleared and we got the classic view of Provence – it is really breathtaking. That just left a roll back down to Bedoin to complete the challenge

A very hard day but it feels like a real achievement. I rode my Rose X Lite CRS3000 – a lightweight bike and I was very grateful for that. I had a compact chainset and an 11-32 cassette (but never had to use the 32, the 28 was fine). I remember the climbs being hard, but not ruinously hard – what I remember more vividly is the bitter cold on the descents!

In all, about 10 hours elapsed time, 6 and a half hours cycling uphill, 130km and 4500m of ascent. A beautiful mountain and 3 climbs that, in my opinion, should be on the to-do list for anyone who likes pointing the front wheel uphill.

Some background

I’m not entirely sure what this blog is for or about. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a record of my year, perhaps it will just turn out to be about cycling and the pleasure I get from that. I will just wait and see.

It was the Tour de France that got me into cycling – but it was a slow burner.

I had bikes as a boy (when they were my only means of transport) but moved on to motorbikes and cars once I was 17. For some reason my attention was caught by Le Tour somewhere in the 1980s – I remember Greg LeMond’s win in 1986 and I was astonished by a sport which could be so beautiful and brutal.

I still didn’t have a bike at the time so it was an interest only as a follower from afar but I was hooked. I bought a mountain bike in the late 90s (at the time I bought bikes for my sons) but cycling was pretty well limited to the badlands that are Longleat Centre Parcs.

My interest in Le Tour was reinforced by the phenomenon that was Lance Armstrong. His story caught my imagination like little before or since. It turns out not to be quite as he told it (!) and it is, of course, not possible to condone the lying, cheating and bullying – but as far as I remember, it was him pushing the pedals round and he deserves a special place in my memories for that alone.

My first trip out to the alps to watch Le Tour was in 2003 when Philip (local GP, friend and cycling guru) and I saw them start a stage in Sallanches and then again in Borg d’Oisans as they climbed Alpe d’Huez and up on the Col de la Ramaz. I was completely unable to ride my mountain bike up Ramaz and that led me to buying a road bike (with a Fort steel frame) which I still have even though it has since been joined by 20 other bikes of various sorts.

I went out with the local cycling group from about 1998, but still didn’t really click as a cyclist until 2010 after I bought a carbon framed Giant TCR2 (£477 from Ebay).

I expect this all makes me the perfect cliche MAMIL but I was wondering if I still qualified for the ‘MA’ bit having reached 60. I checked on the internet and although there were a few places that defined middle age as ending up to 64, the consensus seemed to be that middle age ran from 40 to 60. One way or the other, it was clear that I would not be a MAMIL for ever unless the upper limit for middle age kept pace with me growing older. So, I am happily an OMIL – an old man in lycra.

By way of a bit of further background, I am no sort of athlete and am more enthusiastic than talented. Perhaps that is one of the blog’s purposes – to celebrate what enthusiasm and effort can make up for in the talent department.

I seem to have been born with almost no fast twitch muscle fibres so cannot sprint but I do have endurance and – with effort – am able to keep my weight under reasonable control. If I were a horse, I would be a one-paced stayer. That is reflected in my cycling which tends to involve longer rides and pointing the front wheel uphill.

As far as my palmares highlights go, I did the Etape du Tour in 2013, the Wiggle Dragon Ride (Gran Fondo) in 2014 and the first Velothon Wales in 2015. As part of my 60th year celebrations I completed L’Eroica (the original one in Tuscany) and then, on the drive back, stopped over near Bédoin in Provence to take on the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux challenge which requires riding up the mountain by each of the three roads, in a single day. Perhaps I’ll talk about those at some later date.

I am now toying with new challenges for this year; favourite is a go at everesting, of which there will certainly be more later – a great opportunity to obsess about place, time, weight, training, nutrition …

Weight this morning  (a beastly) 66.6kg. Yesterday was 67.4kg.