I’m always amazed at the range of emotions I go through when I’m riding my bike. This was amply demonstrated last week when I got an opportunity to cycle on Mont Ventoux – Le Géant de Provence. At an altitude of 1909 metres this mountain towers above everything else around it.
It has always been a peak that I have wanted to cycle to the summit. As a young boy, it was one of those names that captured my imagination. It’s one of those mountains spoken about with reverence and the legend of Tommy Simpson, the British cyclist who died on its slopes, still looms heavy over its slopes.
When I found out I was going to get a chance to ride up it I was filled with a mixture of excitement and a healthy dash of fear.
There are three ways to reach the summit of Mont Ventoux and each one requires over 20km of climbing – the longest ascent is from Sault and is 26km. There is a challenge called the Club des Cinglés du Ventoux that requires a rider to complete all three ascents in a single day. I wasn’t going to have enough time between work commitments to do all three ascents, but two were just about going to be possible.
I was to do the ride with several work colleagues, all cycling guides from across Europe, and the night before the ride everyone started to talk about what was going to happen on the mountain the following day. The chat over dinner and a glass of wine was the usual mix of bravado and fear as everyone got their excuses in early and told the others of knee injuries, a lack of training, or some other such reason that was going to affect their performance the next day.
And so the morning arrived, bright and sunny. I set off at 8am and pedalled from Maulacène, over the Col de Madeleine then dropping down to Bedion at the foot of the first ascent.
My initial fear was quickly diminished as my legs started turning the pedals and I had a big grin on my face. I was cycling in France in 25C at 8.30am and I was loving it. There were sections of that first ascent that were tough, but I was happy and I made it to the top without too many difficulties.
I stopped long enough for a quick photo, then dropped quickly back down to Chalet Reynard where I met some other guides still on their way up. I had a quick chat and took a left turn to drop down to Sault.
It suddenly became apparent that the descent was very long – 26km to be precise and I was going to be pushing the time limit. At the bottom, I turned and quickly set off uphill again and instantly the folly of my plan to do two ascents rather than one came to light. My legs felt empty, I hadn’t eaten enough and I was almost out of water. I had 26km of ascent back up to the summit again and 90 minutes to do it.
In the end, it took me just short of two hours to get back to the top again and meet my friends. The journey was painful and ecstatic at the same time as I went through hating cycling with a vengeance, to the sheer joy of being out on two wheels in such beautiful countryside. The descent back down to Maulacène was fantastic and I joined my colleagues in the garden of our hotel, beer in hand, to extol how wonderful riding a bike is.
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