Thursday, August 8, 2013

Three times up Mont Ventoux makes for no easy day...

11 July 2013
Karen & I were "stuck" at our condo joint in Nice.  I had it in my head that in addition to viewing some of the Tour, I would rent a bike and ride all three roads up Ventoux in one day.

The bike shop in Malaucéne opens at 8, and I needed time to make coffee, grab my to-go breakfast plus drive three hours.  My alarm was set for 4:30am, but I was wide awake at 4.

The views along the way down A8 to A7 seemed like those of a travel book:  Aqua ducts, castle-looking silos at little farmsteads…

I had intended to make it "official" by coughing up 20 Euros to these guys, but I didn't realize I goofed up the PayPal transfer until too late.  Undaunted, I had a goal in mind.  Their version has you ride from Malaucéne to Bédoin as a warm up and then do the hardest climb (from Bédoin) first.

I was under a time crunch (I would get zapped another day's rent on the bike if I didn't make it back to the bike shop by 6:30pm with the added bonus of sleeping in the car for my trouble) so I hit the climb from Malaucéne straight away.

There was no shortage of breath-taking views. 
Riders screaming back down the climb would often call out "Allez moussier!" and if that weren't surreal enough, two French air force jet fighters roared by at eye level.  It all combined to an erie assurance that this would be no ordinary day in the saddle.
...and no shortage of lung-busting ramps on the climb, too.
There was a nice cool breeze that felt great after clearing the trees.  Just when I thought it was starting to be a little too cool, the wind blew hard enough to really make us earn the last two or three kilometers.
One down, two to go.

It was such a relief to make it to the top - but I didn't like the looks of some of the clouds that were forming.

The descent to Bédoin was fast.  Really fast.  All along the road there were campers and camp sites of those staking their turf for the Tour stage, still three days away!

After re-filling my water bottles and admiring the cherry & olive groves just outside town, Bédoin faded away.  Another corner turned and this greeted me.  It didn't seem like it the ride down covered THAT much ground.

The climb up from Bédoin (that tour riders use) was nothing short of brutal.  Each kilometer of the climbs are marked with a little marker telling you the road you're on, how far to the summit and what the average gradient is for the next km.

Through too many sections of the forest it was a relief when the climb "leveled off" to a paltry 8%.

More great views, this from the summit.  Remember those clouds?
They're a little thicker now and making me a little nervous.
I dove back off the top the second time, weaving through some traffic and an ever-increasing amount of campers.  The roads from Sault and Bédoin share the final 6km to the summit.  Where they meet is a nice little chalet where you can refill water bottles, have a, er, um, beverage and get a bite to eat if you're so inclined.  I arrived at this chalet the third time frozen cold, and HUNGRY.

My "tired" turned to "dejected" when huge raindrops began hitting the canopy covering a dozen or so tables on an outdoor patio near the base of a ski lift.  I had decided against bringing rain gear or any kind of jacket or anything because my jersey was already full of what I thought would be enough gels and bars.

I was devouring a ham sandwich and a life-giving Coke when I found a packet of info for the Tour stage up Ventoux and the stage finishing in Gap.  Karen and I planned to be in Gap for that day, so I quickly snapped some pictures of the maps - road closures and traffic re-routes, projected arrival times, everything - so if the rain didn't stop and the maps got ruined, I could at least be able to see the info from my pictures.

I then sat back and started to do a little math.  It was about 4pm.  If I packed it in at this point, I could suffer the last brutal 6k to the top, dive over the top and coast the 23 or so k back to Malaucéne in plenty of time to make closing time at the bike shop.  It's raining, I've been up since 4am...

I then figured I had another 20k or so to descend into Sault, then 26k or so to climb and 23k or so all downhill to the bike shop.  The way I had been riding it would likely be 20 minutes down to Sault, 90 or so minutes back up and another 30 or so from the summit home.  Hmm.  If I give up, I'll hate myself forever.  When will I be this close to getting this done ever again?  Am I really worried about my body giving out?  No.  What's more uncomfortable - explaining to Karen a few bucks in "wasted" bike rent and a stiff neck from sleeping in a car or GIVING UP?

I stuffed the maps down the front of my jersey and dove down the road into Sault.

The clouds parted, the sun came out...  And you can almost see the little medieval village of Sault way down there.
What greeted me was one of the best road surfaces I have ever ridden on.  Brand new asphalt that wasn't slippery - it had heated up enough earlier in the day that the road dried really quickly.  I had snapped out of my funk and felt great.  I was making great time, too.  I was going to make it!

I'm really glad I don't have to mow or bale this hay field.  Theses guys are nuts!
After turning around to go back up the road, I passed a young couple riding up the mountain.  Mom on her bike and dad (with a two year old in a child seat on the back) on his bike - wearing flip flops.  It boosted my morale that I could still just power right around them...   I was really making good time, even on the way up - the 4-5% grade felt like NOTHING!

I was almost started by the sudden sound of what I thought were cowbells just off the road in one of the more wooded sections.  Then I realized what it was:

The final push to the summit.  The final time.
Stay away, rain clouds!

Another friendly biker took another picture for me
at the Tom Simpson memorial.

As if on cue, I crested the summit for the final time of the day and was rewarded with a rainbow.
The carbon-fiber-rattling clap of thunder that immediately followed me
taking this picture snapped me right back to reality.
 The time was 5:50pm.  I was at the top, downed the last of my water, and the stingingly cold rain that started urged me on to begin the final descent.  The rain thankfully stopped about 4km down the hill and the road was reasonably dry.  58.8mph was the top speed, but on a wettish road riding a rented bike during the close of a 68-ish mile ride (with a little over 15,000 vertical feet of climb), I'll take it.

I made it to the bike shop before they closed, and the head mechanic grabbed my bike (with its bare-bones computer) and calculated my average speed.  "10.6mph average.  Perhaps next time you train a little more," he told me as he gestured in a conciliatory way.  I laughed and told him to give me a break since I was from flat farm country in the USA and wasn't even sure I could get up all three roads in one day or not.  He snapped right around and said "All three?!  I thought you just the one.  You rode all three roads?  Well, that's a respectable time.  That's not a bad average."

All that just to end up at a biker bar.
I was able to clean up, put on the street clothes and then take a relaxed and wonderful meal.  I didn't have to sleep in the car nor pay an extra day's rent on the bike (Scott Team OCR carbon, Dura Ace wheels, and full 105, I forgot to mention).  I took a little cat nap along the drive back, but MAN it really felt good to get back to the condo in Nice.  At 2am the next day.


  1. WOW - What an adventure/challenge/accomplishment. Now that is a mountain. Thanks for sharing. Were there other rides during your visit to France? And how about the race? The big one.

  2. Awesome post - riding - pictures. Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to hear about more of your trip! Kat

  3. Sounds like something to put on my bucket list. What fun!