There's 2 Ways to Climb Mont Ventoux:
On a Bike
(re: Tour de France, challenge,
Marco Pantani, etc.)
By Roller Blade!
(re: Bay Watch, challenge,
Warrell Harries, etc.)
Here's a story to inspire you all...
The next time that you are dreaming about riding in France on some mountain road with perfect weather and awesome vistas everywhere you look - STOP DREAMING AND MAKE IT HAPPEN! Read More...
That's exactly what i-team new recruits Warrell Harries and Mark Goodall did. Most people would consider taking a week off work to do a tour that included Mont Ventoux, 'The Giant of Provence' - just getting there takes a day. How about leaving work on the Friday - doing Ventoux on the Saturday and back home on the Sunday! That's what we call inspired! Imagine the smile on your face when some one asks you at work on Monday, 'Did you get out on your bike the weekend?'
...Well actually - I rode up Mont Ventoux!
A report by Mark & Warrell.
'Go on, it'll only be 175 quid all in'
... I'd said to my long suffering cycling buddy, Warrell. Of course, it was a lie! It was just that it had been such a good summer for me cycling wise and I wanted to do a big ride abroad before winter set in.In fact, the summer of 2003 has been one of the hottest and driest on record, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees. Warrell and I had spent April - September doing about 70 miles a week (- we thought this was a lot for us then!) All this riding about in shorts made us feel like Pro Bike Riders! I now needed something to top off a great year and put all that fitness to good use before my annual winter hibernation.
It was our mate Tim that started it all. He had also been out on a few rides with us this summer and had just bought a great value Graham Weigh bike with exotic Campagnolo gears for £475. Tim was the scholar amongst us and would read books about Alexander the Great conquering Troy which sounded great when he talked about it down the pub but then he told me it took him a year to read it - and it didn't even have Brad Pitt in it! Nonetheless, I was inspired and went into Waterstones to find something just as epic but a little easier on the timber. As soon as I walked in the shop I was confronted with a big display about the Centenary of the Tour de France. There was a great selection of chronologies and picture books but a smaller book caught my attention: "Put me back on my bike - in search of Tom Simpson". I didn't know a lot about cycling stars and I wanted to understand what makes a champion tick. I soon realized that this was indeed the stuff of legend. Tom Simpson was an Olympic Medallist, Champion Du Monde and the first Briton to wear the Maillot Jaune. He had an overwhelming desire to win at all costs and with the use of drugs being widespread, he became a victim of the system and his own bloody mindedness and famously died while climbing Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France. Died! - that really put our groveling in the South Downs into perspective. I read the book in about 4 days and leant it to Tim and Warrell.
Tim commented that it was a brief but none the less inspiring read and we were all indeed fired up and ready to do something epic on our bikes. It come to pass that Warrell and I decided that we would take on the 'Géant de Provence' itself , Mont Ventoux. It was an obvious choice that would entertain our need to enjoy the atmosphere of a pilgrimage but also we jumped at the chance of getting some duty frees in and sampling the Chambre Hote cuisine! Not being the superstitious sorts, we planned to fly out with our bikes on September 12th, do the climb on Saturday 13th and return Sunday evening - (Simpson had died on stage 13 on the 13th July in the '67 Tour)
Ryanair provided 2 return tickets to St.Etienne, at a grand cost of £210, including taxes and Bike carriage. Although the flights could be booked over the web, I still had to ring them to get the bike on, and it takes a long time to get through. Although the flight was quite expensive, it was offset by the cheap car hire at £70 for 3 days. St. Etienne was chosen because the flights to Nimes were twice the price and it was still an hour's drive away.
Now, everyone's heard about the German Autobahn's having no speed limit, but Warrell's desire to meet Rebecca at Les Aires du Temps left me in no doubt that the French Payage is just as good. Traveling just short of lightspeed, we arrived in Faucon in 2 hours after the short, but delayed flight, from Stanstead.
Saturday 13th September 2003 - Judgment Day:
Rather than kick straight off about how tough the climb might be, I need to get things into perspective. The Tour de France pro's have less than 8% bodyfat, ride their bikes 8 hours a day and still don't look forward to climbing The Ventoux. We were lucky to get pass-outs to ride 8 hours in a Fortnight and as for our vital statistics:
Mark: Age 33,Weight 11½ stone after breakfast, Height 5'10".
Warrell Age 43: Weight held precariously in check by the Atkins diet and a lot of shouting by me on our bike rides ,Height 6'1".
Neither of us had even thought about shaving our legs - so you get the deal - both complete amateurs! And our adversary in this monumental tag-match was a big monster in the bottom, left-hand corner of France, near Marseilles - hey, I wonder if schoolkids will read about us one day....
Saturday morning dawned sunny and clear; the temperature was predicted to reach 29 degrees, we were lucky boys! It was the complete opposite of the day before, when it only reached only 6 degrees at the top of the mountain. I got up early and stripped the bike of its pipe insulation and assembled it. Meanwhile, the Directeur Sportif was paying the price of over indulgence on the red wine front! After a carbo-loaded French breakfast, we set off, driving towards Bédoin to start the classic Simpson route.
You may have noticed that I've only mentioned that we only had one bike. As usual, Warrell was pathological about costs (confirming Bob Hope's assertion that money was 'paper blood.') So to save on the extra charge for flying a bike over, he packed his roller blades instead - of course Warrell - great idea - now go and sit down and have a rest before you have another idea like that!
"Not sure, but I don't think the pedal cleats will fit these Warrell!"
What was the man thinking???
First, a practice run from nearby La Madeline, where I discovered the limits of my cycle-mechanics skills meant that I couldn't get a gear lower than 39 x 18. Before I could get my multi-tool out to do some fine adjustments, Warrell jumped out of the following car and bent the derailleur mount to fit and returned to the car without even looking at me. Er, cheers mate - got a hangover have we! I began the ascent from Bedoin at 10:30am on my lowest gear 39 x 25.
For what seemed a long time, I pedaled the 6 clicks or so to the sign below at a gradient of 3%. Not so bad, I thought, but it was a faux start. Once the forest began, the psychology kicked in. You can't see the bloody top! There aren't many hills you can say that about in Sussex! In fact, you can't see much beyond the dense tunnel of broad-leafed trees on this side of Ventoux. Worse still, there were already people descending back from the top, some on knobbly tyred mountain bikes with cliff-climbing low gears.
I got caught by a couple of other guys who climbed on, just ahead of me. Office-wallers like myself it turned out but each with a faithful Directeur Sportif in a following car. You could feel a certain comradeship but after the third time a diesel CRV gasses you, it feels like sabotage!
After a few miles, I realized that I wouldn't need my undervest or spare inner tube, because I was definitely not cold and if I got a puncture, I knew I wouldn't want to mend it - it would be just the excuse I needed to put an end to my toils. The only thing that I had ever done that came near to climbing Ventoux on a bike, was the day I once spent digging the foundations for the shed at the bottom of my garden. After a 1 hour, 9mph ascent to 1000m, I hit 'the wall.
Duncton, Bury, West Marden, I've never given up on hills like them but this was new territory. At each bend, I would fantasise for a flat section but it never came. The worst part was a sharp right, just before the Ski Chalets. I looked back, Warrell was grinning encouragingly (as in trying not to laugh at my struggle!) from the air conditioned comfort of the Scenic! Eventually, Chalet Reynard came into view, I was dead, I remember thinking, "Could I somehow get the ski lift to drag me to the top?"
Without warning Warrell ambushed me, blasting past on his rollerblades as onlookers gasped. He'd parked the car and like a Nimrod on a short runway, he went at full throttle and disappeared up the tarmac ahead of me. "Bravo!" the French holiday makers cried loudly after him, before turning to me and generously giving the slow hand clap.They must have thought he'd done it from the bottom - the $%*@!
I was truly devastated by the onslaught from a trusted friend and it totally justified a short rest at Simpson's Memorial to allow me to digested what I had just experienced. What a view though! (and I'm not talking about Warrell's after-burners!)
Talking to a Dutch guy later at the summit, rollerblading was not unheard of on the Ventoux - there is even a record for it. More stupid than that, the record for the number of ascents by bike in 24 hours is 7 times. And even more stupid - 3 times in succession on a Unicycle! So Warrell was in good company...
As each cyclist skidded up the embankment in their cycle shoes to have the obligatory picture taken next to Tom's memorial, Warrell was ensuring his own immortal status as every man and his dog stopped to take a picture of the"sans frontières" climber! I needed some comfort and munched on some licorice allsorts before my final effort to the top.
The time was now 1:30pm when I reached the summit, which was starting to become shrouded in cloud.
With the Ventoux weather being so changeable, I pulled Warrell away from his paparazzi and we descended back to pick up the Scenic. Warrell headed off to get lunch at Bédion. Now all cyclists love to race tractors but it's so much better on a 60mph descent of the mountain. Even the GTi's were moving over for me! The octane was further upped as the road surface got patchy and the gusting wind started to bustle me sideways - "We are Gods! - Yippee!"
I was lucky to get anything for lunch as Warrell had already been refueling - working his way through the menu for a good hour. He gave me some recommendations though - what a good friend he really is. A couple of Vin Rouge Maisons later, it was 3pm and we'd fully fueled up, including Warrell's long range drop-tanks. After a heated debate about the meaning of true friendship and whether cycling was harder than roller-blading, it was decided that Warrell would borrow my bike and see how far he could get before he had to climb off. Lake sandals equipped ( he's a standard bearer for the sports sandal concept) and an i-team jersey, he set off.
I now realised the extreme luxury of being in an air conditioned car. It was so tempting to pull over and sleep for a couple of hours and then go and get Warrell at the top. It was just as well because after an hour or so in temperatures of 29 degrees, Warrell too decided to take advantage of the Scenic's Air-Con. As my sweat leaden buddy climbed into the car, my bubble of luxury was over - we both needed a bath badly!
On our return to the hotel, we skipped the bath as I decided the best thing a newly promoted Directeur Sportif can do is to retire to a beckoning terrace bar and watch the finish of that days Tour stage on the telly. So, 1664's in hand, we duly crashed out in the sunshine at Chalet Reynard, as a fanatical Virenque supporter in the road opposite (picture on the side of his mobile home!) - cranked up the radio that bit more. I turned to my wing man, "I couldn't feel more like a bike rider if I tried" - this bikie was heaven!
We had a laugh about the days events and how Wozza Warrell made such a spectacle!
The next picture reminds me of the humorous commentator, Phil Ligget, as he gasped when Stephen Roach came through the mountain mist on his way to a TDF victory. "It's Warrell Harries, it can't be, it's Warrell Harries!".
It had indeed been a day to remember. Wozza had set a unique Biathlon record for the Ventoux and we hadn't died.
Exhausted, and out of daylight at 6:45pm, we descended via the new road to Malaucène. This was a brand new road surface and very steep in places, but by now, we were both too exhausted to take pictures. Suffice to say, the cliffs and the backdrop were incredible. By 7:30pm we were back in Faucon and eating heartily again.
I could go on to mention our night out with the Vendange as they began the grape harvest but that such tales of debauchery are more suited to a family readership!
In summary of our weekend, the accommodation and food was superb, but, the £90 each for the 2 nights had put us about £50 over budget. Personally, I'm blaming Warrell for that luxury, but it's fair to say you need it after a top day of the Windy Mountain - The Ventoux, I meann.
The Deadly Duo:
Mark Goodall and Warrell Harries
Graham and Tony Childs
Dave for his loan of a superb bike bag
Michael Berry and Rebecca at the Alastair Sawday recommended "Les Airs du Temps" for allowing us to bore the other guests, while providing great food and wine.