There are often discussions in the office which European climbs are toughest. The question is though, how do you quantify what tough is. Is the climb mentally draining, physically exhausting or is it just technically difficult so as to maximise your concentration levels? One climb which we are pretty sure ticks all these boxes is Ventoux. So we sent Kevin, the only member of our team not to have climbed Ventoux, out to Provence to experience the Geant.
Here is his story.
I have been lucky enough to have cycled all round the world with many unforgettable days in the saddle. I have conquered/hauled myself up some iconic climbs, discovered miles of perfect open roads but there was always something missing. My bucket list challenge. Mont Ventoux.
So just a couple of weeks ago, there I was, standing underneath the Geant de Provence. I had seen it coming in as it’s domineering peak can be seen for miles but now that I was standing underneath it, my adrenaline was pumping. Half a bottle of local red later, I was chatting to some of the locals, one in particular Jacques, who regaled me with tales about the mountain. There is something mystical that is difficult to put your finger on and everyone seems to have a story. it’s as if the mountain is a living, breathing being, not a land mass to climb.
Maybe it was the red wine, maybe the whisky nightcap with Jacques my NBF but I slept like a log. The next morning I downloaded one of Love Velo’s GPX routes and went riding around the lavender fields and vineyards trying to build up the nerve to start my epic climb.
Despite blue skies everywhere, the summit and weather station that had been winking at me since I arrived, were now covered in cloud. I pedalled through Bedoin and on to the Geant hoping that Ventoux’s famous winds would clear the clouds as I made my way up.
The first 5.5km out of Bedoin through the vineyards to Saint Esteve is really just a nice warm up chatting with other riders. Soon though, you enter the forest with no air. Trees are your new vista. Nothing but forest as you climb higher and higher. Riding over the fading chalk markings made by the fanatical fans from this year’s Tour provided some superb motivation and it got me thinking how lucky we are as cyclists, to be able to follow in the footsteps (or wheels) of our heroes so easily.
The climb became tougher by the km as I headed towards Chalet Reynard. My mind wandered toward the now epic stage 12 of this year’s Tour. Chris Froome ran up the mountain quicker than I was cycling! The theatre of drama of that day, the fans on top of the riders had of course dissipated, but soon I was at Chalet Reynard. I looked up, hoping for a break in the clouds, but no. The lunar barren landscape for which Ventoux is famous, was being battered by wind. You can be lucky when you ride Mont Ventoux and receive a lovely tail wind along the top as many a friend has told me before. Today though, the wind was coming straight over the top and the head wind grew stronger as I climbed.
The world I was inhabiting now, up in the clouds being battered by winds, was a world away from the blue skies and lavender fields I experienced down on the plains. Still I pedalled on, put my head down and tried too stay upright. I approached the memorial for Tom Simpson, stopped, left an inner tube out of respect (how often is that phrase uttered?) and pedalled on. A few more short but brutal turns of the pedals and then I was at the final right hander up to the weather station. I had summited Ventoux.
The sense of achievement from everyone at the summit was palpable with people hugging and shaking hands with people they had never met. For me it was have a quick picture under the famous sign and then find my way out of the wind. A ride down to Chalet Reynard, a hot chocolate, another hot chocolate, and then an absolutely awesome descent back to Bedoin spent with a smug grin on my face.
My evening was spent swapping stories at the hotel bar, my bucket list challenge ticked off. Now. Where next?