Peter’s Pedals: Mont Ventoux

We’re currently drifting down through France, along Loire and Rhone valleys, to the Med, and then probably towards Girona.  No definite route,  just seeing which way the wind blows and going where the weather suits our clothes.

We’re currently drifting down through France, along Loire and Rhone valleys, to the Med, and then probably towards Girona. No definite route, just seeing which way the wind blows and going where the weather suits our clothes.

The only definite target was Ventoux, to try to tick a box that’s sat unticked since health interrupted a planned ride in 2011. I’ve done the climb from Bedoin a couple of times, 2009 and 2013 with Carolyn both times (including the day of her 60th birthday), but the 2011 ride was with my brother and a mate of his, to try to achieve the triple, all 3 ascents and all 3 descents in one day – Ven-Toux-three! Geddit? I was only 64yo then so maybe no big deal? I’d had this current attempt planned for a while as I wanted to do something special to mark being 75yo and to maybe put a stop to any more big targets. I had even got a sort of a training plan, based around our holiday trips. But each of those training blocks seemed to go awry. The endurance building phase on the 15km climbs of 4/5% in the mountains of Andalucia in Feb/March were thwarted by untypical rain and then hit by the Sahara sand storm that you had the edge of in UK. The strength building phase on the steep hills (4 or 5 km of 10-15%) of Krk in Croatia in June was pretty much destroyed by an unexpected knee op a few days before we left home which meant I couldn’t ride at all for the first 4 weeks of the trip.

Does this sound like I’m making excuses?
Anyway, to the point.

I was undecided about bike choice – the road bike that I know I’m comfortable on for several hours but a lowest gear of 34 chainring/32 sprocket or, gravel bike with 30/34 but heavier and not so sure about handling on the descents. I turned to Darren (the designer of both bikes) and his advice was simple and direct – put some decent 28 or 30mm road tyres on the gravel bike and it will handle the same as the road bike, with the advantage of disks. Somehow or other I ended up taking the road bike.

We arrived in Bedoin in lovely weather, except the summit conditions were not inviting for several days, high winds (80mph gusts) and low temperatures (2°C). I had the luxury of no time limit so I waited. Eventually it sorted itself out and last Tuesday was ideal so I set off at first light (8am there) with Carolyn set to pop up here and there as support vehicle for food/water and add/ditch clothing. The plan was the Bedoin climb first, then descend from summit to Malaucene and meet Carolyn for 2nd breakfast, then ride back up to the summit and descend to Sault to meet Carolyn for mid- afternoon food stop, then back to the top before the final descent back to Bedoin. Easy?? After 7km of the first climb you reach 5km of 10%, which ‘eases’ to 4km of 8.5/9%. I soon found out that I’m no longer strong enough to do that on a 34/32 gear. Darren was right! My HR was way over LTHR and I had to have frequent short stops to let it settle back – but there was no escaping the fact that the mountain is bigger than me.

I was telling myself that I would recover on the descent to Malaucene but the length and steepness of it made me doubt that I would manage to get back up. There was always the nagging knowledge that the final climb would be ‘easy’, just 24 km of 4%, so all I had to do was drag myself up that 2nd ascent and it would be job-done. It was difficult to back out but I finally had to accept that there was no way I was going to complete that 2nd ascent! The consolation/cop-out to rescue the day (and my self respect) was to jump in to the camper and get driven up to the top and then park at Chalet Reynard, do the descent to Sault with C, ride back to the top together and then descend back to Bedoin (Carolyn driving down from Chalet Reynard).
That’s what we did and the ‘easy’ climb wasn’t, even though I hadn’t done the Malaucene ascent. It gave me the reassurance that I’d made the right decision, and Carolyn was able to ride away from me on the last few km to the top.

So, I failed to do the 3 out of 3 but I did achieve 2/3 (I’m claiming 5/6), just that one ascent missing. Ah well, maybe next time. But for the moment we’re relaxing on a beachside Mediterranean campsite near Sete for a week or so before drifting on towards Girona – and maybe Rocacorba, or even Mare del Deu.

See you when we get back in November, in winter clothes I guess.

Peter Weaver.

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