Thursday, July 2, 2020

Conquering Mont Ventoux

French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux by Brompton #KTTinyTourer

Two weeks ago, I achieved something epic, something that put me way out of my comfort zone and something that six years ago I would not even have considered attempting. I cycled up Mont Ventoux, the Beast of Provence; a barren, rocky mountain summit, almost 2000m above sea level where little grows. A cyclist’s dream ascent (or nightmare), home to many Tour de France winning highs, but also lows, notably the death of Tom Simpson, one kilometre from the top, in July 1967.

 

We had arrived in Montbrun-les-Bains on Wednesday afternoon, for the second part of our South of France, post-confinement getaway, and a quick check on the weather forecast told us that Thursday morning would be our best chance of kind weather to attempt Mont Ventoux.

 

This had been Adrian’s dream since early 2014, when the plan had been to spend some time in the area on our Mini Cooper road trip, with Adrian hiring a road bike from Sault and cycling to the top of the mountain. I would provide the back-up, food stops and water refills from the comfort of Gizmo, the Mini. It never even entered our heads to think of parking up Gizmo for the day, hiring two bikes and cycling up together. My fitness at that time would have made it impossible. Gizmo breaking down on day two of our road trip, meant it was impossible for Adrian that year too.

 

In 2017 he planned once more to give it a go. There is something about Mont Ventoux that when it takes hold, its grip is difficult to shake off. Once again, he never even made it to the start point, having crashed off his bike in the Ardeche, damaging his shoulder. There was a small part of my head that felt someone was trying to warn us away from this particular cycling challenge and the best thing to do would be to forget all about it. Then earlier this year I found myself thinking, what if we give it one more go, to celebrate his 50th birthday and this time do it together? Everything seemed to be in alignment this time. Cycling has become a regular part of our lives, winter and summer, meaning we are both much fitter now than either of us were six years ago. His Mum gave me her blessing, even agreeing to come over and dog sit while we were away and the cherry on the top was discovering that due to road works at the summit, the road would be closed to motor traffic all this year. Then Covid-19 burst into our lives and all plans were on hold.

 

Adrian celebrated his 50th during lockdown with a virtual ascent of Mont Ventoux on his turbo trainer in the garden, but it didn’t quite quench his thirst. A quick look on the map of France when planning our route to and from Lou Messugo on the Côte d’Azur, showed us that Mont Ventoux was once more a possibility. Something even more poignant was that our last conversation with our nephew Ben before he died, was about cycling up Mont Ventoux. This time it seemed the mountain was ready for us.


French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux from Montbrun-les-Bains
Mont Ventoux in the distance from Montbrun-les-Bains
 


The closer we got to Mont Ventoux on the drive in, the bigger and more intimidating the landscape looked, despite a pleasing, softening blush of lavender in its first days of flower all around us. The enormity of Mont Ventoux and our plans to attempt to climb it really hit home, right in the pit of my stomach. I could taste and feel my fear. A quick text to fellow blogger Julie, from Vauclause Dreamer, who has conquered Ventoux on her bike many times, helped to calm my nerves. Her advice was to take it slowly, don’t rush it, stop when I wanted to and enjoy the ride. I’m not sure I’d ever considered the possibility of enjoying it until I read her text, but it worked.

 

The climb from Sault is twenty-eight kilometres, but we were staying twelve kilometres from Sault and not wanting to use the car unnecessarily, at 8.30am I found myself cycling (uphill) towards a morning coffee stop in Sault where the top of Mont Ventoux looked a long way away. 

 

By the time we set off a steely determination had taken the place of the fear, especially as we were doing this For Ben, clocking up the kilometres on our virtual cycling challenge to get our teams the 7500kms from Loughborough to Istanbul and back. Our Mont Ventoux kilometres would be special ones as today would also be the day that the fundraiser hit its £30,000 target.


 

French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux Sault lavender
Lavender fields leaving Sault


I don’t remember every twist and turn in the road, but I do remember cycling through fields of lavender, the sun warming us as we slowly began the climb. The fields were then replaced with pine forest and steeper corners where cyclists who had already been up were sweeping down towards the sunnier planes. There were other cyclists with us, some who overtook us, some who we overtook. Some were friendly, some ignored us with our odd looking small wheeled bikes. Those who did speak, wanted confirmation that they were electric assist, which they are not – if only we had a euro for every time that was asked.


French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux Tom Simpson memorial
Tom Simpson memorial Mont Ventoux
 


At Chalet Reynard we feasted on coffee and snacks, the stark rocky mountain looking fierce from the bend in the road where the café is safely situated. The final six kilometres are the hardest, but I was ready. Slow and steady I plodded on, turning the pedals rhythmically and steadily. Some were out of their saddles, rocking from side to side with the effort, not me, I just sat and concentrated on safely getting to the top. I even managed to smile for some of the professional photographers who sit in wait to snap you at your lowest point, and although many overtook me, surprisingly there were some who I overtook too. We stopped, as is the custom, at the Tom Simpson memorial, my legs shaking with the effort to stand, the last kilometre looking to be the longest yet. The view is harsh here, with no contrast from left to right, just stark rock all around, and the only thing to do is keep looking forward and turning the pedals, each turn a little closer to the top.


French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux
Top of Mont Ventoux
 

Rounding the last bend and joining the throng of weary cyclists at the top was quite a strange feeling. I’d done it. I hadn’t had to get off and walk and my legs no longer felt like jelly as they had only a kilometre ago. My breathing wasn’t dry and ragged like I’d thought, I didn’t even need to sit down. I was smiling and elated as I stood proudly at the sign for my victory photo. Mont Ventoux was conquerable and we’d done it, in Adrian’s 50th year and #ForBen.



French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux
Together and smiling as we cycle up Mont Ventoux


9 comments:

  1. Félicitations!! I am so thrilled for you both! What an incredible journey!

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    1. Thank you. It was more fun than I expected, but quite a tough climb in places.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Catherine. We have some Pyrenean climbs to conquer next, but maybe the Alps will be next years challenge.

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  3. Fantastique! Thanks for sharing the journey with us. Ben would be proud!

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  4. Brilliant! Well done, both of you, especially on those bikes!

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    1. Thanks Steven, they might have small wheels but they handle well and I feel more comfortable on my Brommie than road bike, especially going downhill.

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  5. 'This time it seemed the mountain was ready for us.' It was, you were, a perfect moment. And a memory of a loved one to inspire. Bravissimo to you both! Tour de France next? ;-)

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