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.