Saturday, 3 September 2011

Le Mont Ventoux

Its steep near the summit!
The weather had scuppered the plans again! Rain forecast for the foreseeable future in the Lauterbrunnen area of Switzerland, so we changed our minds about going there first, and decided to head further south than originally planned- a lot further south! The weather in Provence was unsettled for a few days and then sunny. So Provence it would be. There was lots to explore, and I'd bought a French magazine about the Vaucluse, Vercors and Ardeche areas, giving loads of walks and places to see, and we'd passed Mont Ventoux a number of times and promised ourselves we'd give it an airing. After all the cycling we'd done this summer, now seemed as good a time as any!
After an overnight at Beaune just off the motorway, north of Lyons, in the Burgundy region, we made Bedouin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, late afternoon, and even had time to stretch our legs on a brief cycle along the first section of the route up the mountain. On the way, we met Roland Hurtecant, who said he too was climbing the mountain tomorrow. He was 72, and it would be the 156th ascent on the bike. He was one of the pioneers, who encouraged a return to the love of cycling up this mountain, after a lull of six years following the death of Tom Simpson, during the Tour de France, when people shied away from attempting the climb. In recognition of his enthusiastic efforts to revive interest, he explained that there is a monument to all those ordinary humans who cycle the mountain, and he and several others names are listed on the monument. It seems he is also known as Monsieur Mont Ventoux! An extremely nice Belgian man! We said our farewells and hoped to see him tomorrow.
Back to the van for a pasta fill, but a rubbish night's sleep, with French disco music blaring from the site snack bar until 1am, to be followed by the local mutts barking loudly and setting each other off!

Le Mont Ventoux
With thunderstorms and heavy rain forecast from about 2pm, an early start was required! By 8.30am I was on the bike and cycling up through vineyards and villages steadily climbing up through the pine forests which cover the bottom three quarters of the mountain. It's a lovely route with the smells of pines and warm tarmac! Our Dutch neighbours had warned us that there would be 500 or so of his nation joining us today from about 10am onwards, but with any luck we'd be up and down the other side, before the throng arrived. However there was also a walking event up the mountain, expecting to arrive at the summit at about the same time as the cyclists, and as I made my way up the first few miles, I passed big groups of walkers all dressed in the same cycling gear, which seemed a bit curious as they were walking. They were so friendly, cheering us all on! By now, Ian had passed me and was striking off with a good pace. I'd "picked up" a friendly French guy, who was going at the same speed as me, and I benefitted form all the support he was getting from his family members, who were following him up by car. After a pleasant start, the gradient builds up to 9% for a relentless 10k, and then there is a pit stop at Chalet Reynard, for those of a nervous disposition! My French companion was disappointed when I dropped off for a coke and a stretch at this point, cos he'd expected me to stay on his wheel to the top. It was tempting, but I thought I needed a break and had arranged to meet Ian at the Chalet. He'd been to the summit and come back down for me! I was glad of the break. Although the next few kilometres after the chalet aren't too steep, the last two are stinkers, but I was pleased with how I climbed, even managing to overtake a few in the final stages, partly thanks to an energy tablet handed to me by a lovely Dutch support member! The French guy in front of me was "too cool" to accept, but I was grateful!
The weather had been perfect so far, warm, cloudy, and still, with even a helpful wind near the top. Then the bad weather was on it's way, with cold mist swirling around the lunar landscape and weather station, emblematic of this mountain. Right near the top, a steep section right into a stiff wind, but then that was it- the summit, and it was brilliant. Just one stop at Chalet Reynard all the way up the 23k climb, and I'd felt great, finally starting to see what this cycling thing is all about! Ian ascended in an excellent 1hour47mins, with me nearly one hour later! Next time, no stopping at the Chalet! But that's for next year, Then a chilly cycle down to Malaucene on the far side of Ventoux, and a delightful climb through vineyards, peach orchards and almond groves, to the top of Col de Madeleine, and then all the way down to Bedouin. An absolutely stunning journey off, ending with a pizza and a couple of beers in a bar in the village. 36 miles, 6000ft ish ascent, 4hrs 25mins in the saddle, and a stiff back! But well worth it!
By mid afternoon, the weather had deteriorated to a full-blown thunderstorm and heavy rain, so time for a rest!

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