When we started to organize this trip (or more correctly Mike did) I tried to convince a few of my new US friends that it would be “awesome” said with the proper expression to go to France and experience the Tour. Everyone was interested, but only Joe “Stig” Butler took me up on the offer.
We travelled separately to Marseille, everything arrived in one piece – (I nearly lost my bike to a guy who had exactly the same case – and didn’t look at the tag as it was coming off the baggage claim). He was about the same size as me – maybe he would have been the winner or maybe I would have been – who knows!
Originally Joe and I were going to catch the TGV to Orange and have the guys meet us there at about 5pm. Looking at the original FFT plan devised by the Captain – I thought that was pretty aggressive, they were planning to ride about 100km/60m with the vans following climb Ventoux and come and meet us…. We could have been sitting in some smoky French Café for hours.
Based on that and the thought of climbing one of the legendary mountains in France, I scouted the Internet and came up with Alain from http://www.ventoux-decouvertes.com/ who could give us a lift. Great, meet the boys in Bedouin at the base of the mountain and do Ventoux then push onto where we were staying that night. When you’re dealing with the worlds biggest sporting event – you have to be flexible, the roads are closed and they have 1000 police keeping the race moving and the traffic at a standstill. No problem if you are on a bike – but for the 2 campervans they weren’t moving (see the story here). Change of plans meet in Carpentras, we had stayed there in 2008 and we could ride from there…
The question was could I remember where the camping ground was, sure enough I found a road that looked familiar and there it was.
It was hot – as Robin Williams would say – “dam hot” pushing 100, we picked a spot in the shade and built our bikes while we waited for the boys. They arrived and we all got read to go by then it was getting close to 6pm – not to bad as it was starting to cool off… remembering that we were on Boston time it felt like lunchtime for us so we weren’t in a hurry.
As we rolled through Bedouin this beautifule town at the bottom of the mountain Mike and a few of the boys are coming down the hill the other way. They had gone up from the Sisteron side which was comparatively easy and Mike couldn’t let Danny go back to Australia saying how easy that French mountain was – he didn’t know what all the fuss was about…. Remember they have already ridden about 100k, just climbed up a 20k mountain and saying hey lets do it again – hard or crazy – you decide.
Its still warm as we start the climb, I was looking for water at the bottom, but didn’t see any and nobody wanted to stop.
As I started the climb I had memories of last time – similar circumstances, just off a plane a few hrs in a car and it was pretty much the hardest thing that I had ever done – I just wasn’t prepared… This year I was a little more prepared, better gearing on my bike – lost some weight but the memories of last time… the climb proper is 18k. One minute your riding along talking, next minute Mike says at this corner it gets hard – and it does – grades of 10% plus for about the next 11k.
There is only one piece of good news – you are in a forest, that means that you’re in the shade. The bad news is it never flattens out, never gets below 8% (which is steep enough). I had learnt my lesson from last time on these big climbs pick an easy gear and spin up, normally I work my way down through the gears as the climb goes on, fine for the pimples in Westborough, but do that on these mountains and soon your heart rate is at 180, you need to stop…. Um there is nowhere to stop it just keeps going up and up at 10% (that’s steep enough so you feel like you might not get going again).
Lesson learned, rhythm found, kept the heart rate at 170 and proceeded up the mountain. Lucky for me Mike and the boys had done 100+k before they met up with us, so I could keep them just in front as we moved upwards. By this time we were all over the mountain – Joe was back there somewhere, Spency, Hollywood, Mitch somewhere.
We got to Chateau Reynard and stopped to get some water. Now Gerard was just behind me and when I came out from the toilet I thought that I saw him taking off in the wrong direction down the mountain to Sisteron… couldn’t be surely they signs are pretty clear MT VENTOUX and an arrow pointing up, up up. Sure enough it was him, Mike and I thought that after realizing that he was going downhill he would have turned around – but that didn’t happen for about 6k – lucky him!
From there it’s a few km to the top, but the grades apart from one section are much shallower – about 6% so we tapped out a pretty good rhythm and got to the top… in much better shape than last time. Over the next 10 minutes or so everyone arrived at the top, a few photos but it was time to go – somehow it was 8.30 and the light was leaving for the day….. We screamed downhill (One of the boys topped out at about 88km 55mph) and then a slightly run downhill all the way to Carpentras,
We found the café that we had dinner at last time, sat down – water and coke for all then asked for the menu. By this time it was 10pm – kitchens closed damm provincial France! They managed to rustle up some salads, not too bad – by this time everyone was almost too tired to eat so we headed back to the vans in pitch black.
Mike at the Top of Ventoux