My Trip to France - Mont Ventoux

13 July 2013

Topbike Tour group at Mont VentouxMont Ventoux – just another hill climb until it delivered one amazing experience....

Recently I had the marvellous opportunity to join TOPBIKE Tour's Tour de France hills preview cycling holiday.

When I was younger sometime around 21 years ago, I promised myself I would do a 3 month cycling tour of Europe with Norm by the time I turned 40.
Well its 2013, in February I turned 40...Europe Cycling tour had not occurred and being busy with multiple businesses to look after was now the priority.

It wasn't until Dave Olle from TBT was in Forrest one sunny day in early Autumn, that the concept of going to France for this tour was delivered to me and I pretty much signed up the next day.
I juggled a few commitments and locked away a 12 day trip to France, and I was still 40 and sort of doing my Euro tour.

What does one conjour up in ones mind about the famous climbs of the Tour de France?

I figured that my lovely 4-5% climbs of Skenes Ck and Benwerrin were false flats in comparison to what I would ride. The Victoria Alps were the closest thing to “hard” that I had climbed on my road bike, and I have never rode Baw Baw, so perhaps that would be a bit of what I would get in France.
As I was using a fleet bike, a Giant TCR advanced SL, I was certain that I would be greeted with a compact crankset and a big fat extra easy gear at the rear cassette too and I was not disappointed. Thanks Dave!

Was I scared? Was I thinking about how much the climbs would hurt?
Well no...I was not racing! Thank GOODNESS too...the climbs were tough with a sweet delicious treat attached, I was in France, on holiday, with amazing epic views and a great bunch of people to share it with – oh and magic accommodation every single night with too much food even for a full day on the bike.

Fabio!Starting out on day 1, we did a bike test ride, ensuring we were set up nicely, getting the travel legs warmed up into cycling legs and managed a sweet ride into the hills and found what became affectionately known as “Fabio horses”. These horse were mostly seen in the Pyrenees and apparently are grown for meat. They are huge, muscly, glutes of steel, blonde flowing manes and sexy blonde boots. Each ride onwards I was always looking out for these sexy beasts.

The French Pyrenees, the towns, the climbs, the scenery was my favourite part of the trip.
The climbs were not as steep as the Alps however every descent needed to be treated with total respect. We didnt have the full road like they do on the tour and corners came up very very quick being rough and steep without warning.

By our 4th day on tour, it was time to visit Mont Ventoux, bye bye Pyrenees, hello Alps.
I really had no idea what to expect, and so I just rode. My memory of the climb?
I could see it in the distance, looking like a moonscape on the peak and my previous experience of climbing big hills told me that this would creep its way up rather than switchback up.
We started from the town of Bedoin with many tour buses and cyclists filling the sides of roads.
There were some cyclists letting us know that this was their 3rd repeat for the day. (excuse for us passing them!) You certainly can enter Ventoux by 3 routes and I got to experience one of them as a descent...more of that later.

selfie on ventouxThe climb we did was 20km long with an average gradient of 7.7% and an elevation gain of 1538mts.  See the Strava data: http://app.strava.com/activities/62403623
It just snaked its way up and the good and bad thing about all these epic climbs is that every 1km there is a signpost with how many kms you've done, how many meters elevation you are at and what the gradient is for the next 1km. Sometimes is would say 10%, well often it would in fact!
A new appreciation of 8% gradient – time for a breather, a false flat even!

In my head, I am doing the sums and realise that this climb could take up to 2hrs, so I made a deal with myself to not go below 10km per hour and do my best to bring the average up whenever I could muster up even a mild increase in speed.
...and then came the moonscape. At least 10km of the climb was in tree covered roads, no wind, quite warm conditions and dappled sunshine. Not that it was a hot day but as soon as the trees were gone it was cold, the wind was strong and I could only imagine how cold it would be at the top.
Now we started to get a few hairpin corners, and the moonscape was there at the side of the road.
Photographers taking photos of drool hanging out your mouth, popping a business card in your back pocket as you crawled by in the hope you will hop online and see how awesome you don't look.

the ventoux moonscapeThe final 1km marker post looked deceiving, how on earth could what lay ahead be only 1000mts? It looked at least like 3km, well I just thought these signs have been here for a while, I guess its true then and I hope it is!
The wind was blowing, there was no hiding from any of it, sometimes a massive head wind, sometimes a cross wind, sometimes a welcomed tail wind. Eventually reaching the top I found that all the stories of lollies for sale was true! Lollies! Ahhhh, my savoiur. I parked my bike and instantly bought 15 Euro worth and of course shared them. 15 Euro was a big bag of sweetness.

So what was my thoughts on the climb? Long!! Was it hard? Well not too bad, but then I wasn't racing and I could take in the views, do lots of selfies with my iphone and I played my 1.5hr ergo song list in my jersey pocket for most of the climb so I could chill out to the music and still hear cars and my breathing. Is it as amazing as perhaps I had been told it was?

lollies on ventouxIt really is too hard to say, what makes it EPIC is the distance of it, the barren moonscape and the achievement you get from getting to the top. But then I am just a mere person on a bike experiening a climb at my own pace for my own enjoyment. It would be something else to see a TDF athelete “tempo” up this climb at 20kmph or more, and then attack!

What was the most memorable part of today?
Nope not the climb...but the descent.

It was cold and we stopped at Chalet Reynard for lunch.
We then took a left hand turn and descened on very newly laid bitumen.
The road was smooth, predictable and fast.
We descended for over 20km on this into the town of Sault.
And then after we thought we had just experienced heaven on a road bike...there was more heaven to come.
A magical ride alongside of a gorge, a huge majestic and sweeping valley that gave another 20km descent into the town of Villes-sur-Auzon.

what a gorge-eous descentWhat an end to a day I will not forget.
I did not travel to France to say I climbed Mont Ventoux, I came to France to experience things I can't do at home and so far on day 4 I am nearly complete!
A 20km climb and my reward? Essentially a 40km descent. Does that add up? 
Nope but you don't question such a day - EVER!