Thank you, Iceland volcano and British Airways! There is nothing better than a “three hour tour” business trip to Europe (and packed for same) turning into a month in Spain, France, and Italy.
On a wild and irrational impulse I bought bought equipment off the shelf, rented a bike in Girona, Spain, and had good luck with the Spanish mountains. Encouraged by Spain and “stuck” in Provence, I gave the legendary Ventoux a try from the classic start in Bédoin.
I’ve now ridden in Spain , France, and Italy and, by far, this was the most challenging and beautiful ride. Vineyards and the wonderful smell of apricot trees in bloom fill the air while climbing through Sainte Colombe and Les Bruns. After the famous hairpin turn at St Estève up into the forest, I was absolutely at the limit (of my blood pressure, brain oxygenation, and probably common sense) nearly the entire climb. My time was nothing Lance or Alberto will lose sleep over, but it was satisfying to see some cyclists who passed me on the final ascent end up having to walk in their bikes over the final hairpin turn at the summit. Being an old rugby player (and a husky tight-head prop at that) I probably put out enough watts to light Paris for a week.
I am very proud of Brenda. She pushed herself to drive steep sections in the car and had baguettes avec tomate et fromage waiting at the midpoint. Communications on the mountain are spotty and float in and out and she made all the right decisions. Her handing me a hot crepe sucre at 16.0 km (made at Chalet Renard) was just the trick to help me to the top. Well… that and finally finding the lowest gear set on my rented (but absolutely grand and featherweight) Trek bike.
It’s not the altitude — in fact we lived at a higher altitude than the summit when we lived in Colorado. It’s the grinding grade of the climb. More about the “Beast of Provence” can be found at http://www.climbbybike.com/climb.asp?Col=Mont-Ventoux&qryMountainID=4 and a good history in English can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Ventoux and in French at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Ventoux.
The highlight of the trip was the French family who interrupted their picnic to walk over to the side of the road to clap and yell, Allez! Cyclists on the road, no matter what their speed or professional status, shout Allez! Courage! Fortitude! Well, the riders going uphill yell that. The riders flying downhill at 60 kph are too frozen, focused, and petrified to yell or respond to anything. I give on the fact that it has to be more brutal in the heat, but wind and cold (and lack of conditioning or equipment for same) also presents challenges. Mont Ventoux earns its name and fame.
Thank goodness for my new euro clips; after a day of trouble they also helped force me to the summit. I had trouble with the unfamiliar clips the entire day and had to do several steep sections with my left foot unclipped. There was one very steep section near the summit past Fontaine de la Grave where my legs were screaming and I thought I might need to rest or risk a bonk that might take me over the cliff. Although I tried, I could not unclip, and so I was forced to keep going up the narrow uphill section.
After the Ventoux takes it out of your legs, the final 4 km are just brutal, but at the same time magnificent and wonderful. You move into yourself and it’s a Zen-like, one-pedal-after-another climb into the cycling heavens.
More when I can move something other than my fingers…some pics below…