This is my belated Mont Ventoux Blog  12-14 Sept 2017

You can probably trace my adventure to Ventoux back to that fateful day on July 13 1967 when my Hero Tommy Simpson died during the Tour De France.   At the time I had no idea whereabouts in France this mountain was, but as young, ambitious, but not very good schoolboy racing cyclists, my younger brother and I were distraught.  I remember my father buying and writing a card to Helen Simpson.

Years and years past.   My father, who had been active in days of the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) and as a former president of the British Cycling Federation often went in some form of official capacity to the Tour De France, died.  We found a large framed Black and White photo of Simpson  in his Peugeot rainbow jersey after he won the World Championships.  

I have no idea what happened to that photo, but I have seen many similar in print over the years.

By the time of my father’s death I was well into my Army career and had not cycled for a while.  It was not until 1990 that I purchased a bike to ride to work from my married quarter in Colerne to my office in Corsham. Between then and now my interest in cycling has grown and grown to the stage where my wife, Betsy, would say I am fanatical.

Between 2003 and 2009 I completed four multiday bike rides in Sinai, China, Peru and Nepal, as well as a couple of London to Brighton’s.  If there was a bug, I had it!

Two or three years ago whilst visiting friends in France to watch a stage of TdF, the idea of riding up Ventoux was born.  At roughly the same time I looked into and joined Swindon Road Club, riding sportives and started competing in 10 mile time trials.   I was re-living my days as a junior and cat 3 cyclist, but  was probably no better now than I had been originally.

As I got fitter, I realised that Ventoux was becoming possible.  I researched the routes and spoke to others who had done it and the more I looked at it, the more I wanted to make it happen.  I watched the 2016 Tour De France go up on TV (Froomey walked bits of it!!!) and noted that 2017 would be the 50th anniversary of Simpson’s death.  Now I had an even bigger reason to go.

New Year 16-17, My wife and I were cruising on the Queen Elizabeth and I found out that its gym has two exercise bikes with Ventoux simulators on.  Screen shots below

 

I think I “rode Ventoux” twice that trip and now I just to go and do it for real.

Plans were made to go in September.  Timing wasn’t perfect as the two weeks before my climbs I would be cruising the Med with my wife.  Due to bikeability commitments I could not go between April and July.

My trip was booked through the guys at  Love-Velo in London who helped me sort an itinerary, understood my needs and then arranged, accommodation, bike hire and transfers to and from Avignon.  I would be cycling for just three days, but if the weather held it was possible that I could ride up all three of the classic routes, though not all on the same day which is a challenge many do undertake and succeed.

A chat with Paul Ashton confirmed that before our cruise I had all bases covered.  This was important as there would be no time to sort problems after the cruise!

As training, I rode quite a few sportives, including getting gold standard on the Ridgeway Roleur, the Wales Velothon and a really good Ride London 100.  I also went out on as many hilly rides as I could.  But there was going to be two weeks of no cycling whilst on the cruise.  However Betsy had arranged with Cunard for us to take our bikes!  I planned a couple rides including riding up to the Olympic village in Barcelona and a 54 kms ride into the hills of Sardinia.  I also remembered that the Queen Elizabeth had the Ventoux simulator.   So every day I would do an hour’s really intensive training alternating between high intensity intervals of 2 to 3 mins one day and high resistance (to simulate the gradients of the mountain) the next.

We got home from the cruise on a Friday. My washing was done and bags were being packed by Saturday morning.  Checked paperwork, maps, GPX routes downloaded to my new Garmin Edge, purchased especially for the Ventoux rides.  Enough warm and cold weather cycling kit for three days, gels and hydration drinks, bottles, tubes, chargers and adapters.  

Saturday was quite a hard REAL ride out to Cleeve Hill with Swindon Road Club to Watch Tour of Brittain and a last opportunity to get advice from Ventoux veterans such as Chris Broad-Drake.

Sunday came and after final preps I caught the train to London, did a quick recce of St Pancras international and dinner in Premier Inn before early nite as my Eurostar was due to leave just after 7am.

I have to say that, although it may take a little longer, travelling Eurostar is much less taxing than flying.   As we got nearer to Avignon, I saw my first glimpse of Ventoux,

and at 2.20 local time Monday I was travelling down to my hotel 4kms outside Bedouin.  Checked in, and walked down to the bike hire shop in Bedouin, (France Bike Rentals)

Yes it’s 4 kms but it was downhill all the way.  I hired a great Trek Ultegra Di2 with just the right gearing,a few adjustments to saddle etc and I rodeback to the hotel.

It just so happens that this ride is the first 4kms of the climb to Ventoux that I will be doing tomorrow.

There are three ways up Ventoux

Day 1.  Bedouin to Ventoux 22 kms  Climb over 1600m average grad 8-9% with sections at 12-13%

I “borrowed” this chart from Love Velo who organised my trip

To 1910 metres.   This the classic route, used frequently on the TdF and according to research, the hardest.  There’s a breeze which getting stronger as I go higher.   I am using my new Garmin to count the kilometres and keep an eye on my heart rate to make sure I don’t burn out.  

As it’s cold, I wore two cycling shirts and a windproof on (the sort we call boil  in the bag).  

 

“This may have been a bad idea as i am sweating buckets.  At Chalet Reynard i take my windproof off and water pours out of the sleeves.  Time for a tea” .  I probably stopped too long because as  I re-started to knock off the final 6kms it felt really hard to push the pedals round and the wind was getting stronger. 

The kilometre markers seem further apart than they were previously, but I felt good as 5, then 4 then 3 come into sight.  I convert it to miles in my head and at this point I know that I will get to the top.   The Tommy Simpson memorial must be coming up soon, and indeed it does, but I will have to stop on the way down.  I am remembering about seeing the finish section on the simulator and realize that although I can’t see the finish as I go round the next bend to my right it will be there in front of me.  Emotion wells up inside, I am going to make it, turn right, it’s there just like on the sim.  I know exactly where to ride.  The small, almost insignificant, signpost says “Sommet  Du Ventoux 1909 metres”.

 

It was pretty cold at the top and the wind was certainly getting stronger so I gave the gift shop and safe just below the summit a miss and may my way back to Bdeouin.  Gosh that was quite a frightening journey.   The cross winds were really bad and I had my brakes on and 1 foot uncleated for the first 10 kms or so.   I know my time for ten miles DOWNHILL was SLOWER than i do a 10 mile TT on a summer evening in Latton.   I grabbed a coffe and a sandwich in Bedouin before riding out to recce the route to Malaucene from where my climbs will be starting on Day 2

Day 2  Malaucène to Ventoux   21kms  1570 ms of climb but a lote less trafiic (of all kinds)

Before I could start this ride I had to ride the 20Kms form the hotel to Malaucene which includes a wee climb over the Col de Madelin.  It was market day in town and I had a wander and a coffee before starting the climb.   

The weather was much improved and I was down to normal summer cycling kit and really enjoying the ride.  I think I noticed more changes in gradient as I went up.  I must have been on a roll as I didn’t stop to take any photos on the way up.   As I got about 6 kms away I began to see the road rise and bend on its way to the weather station at the top.   It looked pretty daunting but actually turned out to be quite a fast ride.  A big thanks to the photographers who make a living by taking great shots which are then available to purchase from their web sites.  I found the easiest place to stick their business cards, thrust into into your hand after they have taken the shots was to slip it up my shorts.

You might notice that In have earphones in.   The music is not so loud it doesn’t drown out any traffic noise but I am listening to some hi enregy dance tunes from days as a DJ.  you can find my playlist here. This was certainly the best day for cycling and I loved every minute of it, and I love this photo.

Just as I got to the top I am greeted by Andreas.  He is a German cyclist who is staying in the same hotel and with whom I was to have dinner each night.  He had ridden up from Sault (which I am planning to do on Day 3)

I should point out that Andreas was riding a 1980’s Peugeot with Shimano 600 (pre 105) gears with downtube shifters (I am not going to put this in layman’s terms)  I didn’t get a picture of his classic machine but I impressed him with my 19080’s wool Peugeot cycling jersey.  (just look at the view from here! It could not be seen on Day 1).

There was some form of vinatge sports car rally on the mountain this day.  It was great to see well kept, Mg’s, Elans, Porches, TR2s and TR4s and other other I could not recognize coming down as I went up.

NB the road up from Bedoiun and Malaucene is the same road the D 974

I decided to go down the mountain via Sault so I could recce, albeit backwards, tomorrows warm up route from Bedouin.

So after a quick tea and a bite at the cafe Vendran, about 200m from the sommett

To get to Sault you use the same road down as you would for Bedouin, but at Chalet Reynard there is a fork off to the left for the D164.  What a difference the descent was from Day 1.  Very little wind, the road a tad wider and off the brakes almost the whole way.   The aroma of Lavender became stronger even though by now, most of the lavender had been harvested.  As I approached Sault I stopped at a roadside kiosk to buy a bag of the stuff for our bedroom.

Despite having the route in my Garmin, I had to look hard to find the D942/D1 out of Sault and headed for Flassans.  There was quite a climb for 8kms or so along this road as I approached  the Col N.D de Abeilles  (does anyone know what N.D means? Jimmy Barratt-Thorne suggests ND = Notre Dame ) 

Obviously I would have to climb here again tomorrow on my to the start at Sault (it’s a warm up afterall).  I was going about 35 Mph down the hill looking out for the D127 to Flassans.  My Garmin counted down the metres and I had no problem this time. Then on to Les Vendrans (same name as the cafe, actually its Le Vendran, singular) and to St Colombe for the hotel and a very quick swim in their pool (afetr a shower).

The weather forecast(s) for day 3 were unclear about the possibility of rain and the time it may (or may not) arrive, so I decide to get up early, have a light breakfast and head off for Sault.  I have allocated two hours and intend to take it easy, grab a coffee and make a decision on whether to proceed when I can see what the weather really looks like.   Actually it turns out OK, not too warm.  It also appears that the French Army are out in force with sentries on almost every corner in and out of Sault.  I learn later that there is a French Army Cycle race on.  I know this because I see the race official cars but none of the racers.

People say that the Sault ride is the easiest of the three and I would agree (once you get to Sault!!!, no wonder many people drive there) .  Sault is at an altitude of about 750 metres so there is only 1250 metres of climb and as the distance is a bit further, about 26kms, the gradient is not so steep, averaging at just under 4%.  But don’t be fooled there is a quite steep section at about 10 – 12 kms.

Each evening I have been updating my facebook page and twitter.   Some British Cycling  Ride Leaders have asked why I didn’t the ride on the “Ride Social” web Site  www.letsride.co.uk.   May be next year !   As I get to Chalet Renard it gets a bit chillier so I put on a British Cycling provided ride leader jersey from my Skyride days (this is a ride into the Sky after all).  Those great photographers had better be there cos, I want a photo of this on the final 6kms push.  Indeed they are.

This trip is becoming more enjoyable by the minute.  There are no doubts in my mind that I will get to the top again, and its a bit sad to see a few people having to walk these last few kms after all the effort they must have put in to get this far.  A bit miffed by being overtaken by some one on an E-bike!!!!

I wonder if this is the first time a British Cycling Ride Social cycling jersey has been ridden up Mont Ventoux.   Given the hundreds of people that do it every day It is a bit of a social thing

If I liked champagne I would have had one at the top (I noticed several rider supporters have driven up and broken open some bottles for a team of guys in matching jerseys who are are doing it for a charity back home), but I decide to go for a coffee, buy a few mementos and post cards and then really whiz back down as the bike has to be taken back to the rental shop before they close.

That’s the end.  I hand the bike back in.  Walk into Bedouin, visit some of the shops and a cafe.   Enjoy the walk back to the hotel, pack up my kit and ponder when the next adventure will be.

If I had any advice to offer anyone contemplating do this ride here it is

  1. if you want to do it… just Do it.  It is do-able

2. Train on as many long hills as you can but don’t try to ride fast

3. Consider gears   Bottom gear of 34 Chain ring and 30 big cog on cassette should see you through; stronger folk may get up on a 28

4. Take clothing for all types of weather; if its sunny take a wind/rain proof in you back pocket

5.  Use Energy Drinks, you probably don’t need gels but take one if you feel you must

6.  Cash for visiting the two cafes

7.  The bestest tyres you can afford. this is the last place you want to get a puncture

8.  And some advice from someone I met at Chalet Reynard   “Don’t save your gears, save your legs”  meaning don’t keep that lowest gear for what might come just keep your cadence up

Thanks for reading  please feel free to email me