or maybe even Skating La Feclaz top ( That Thibaut Pinot gets aboot)
So last summer when the following rides started appearing on my feed, logged by three ‘real’ friends, albeit from different cycling circles, my interest was well and truly piqued.
No to mention it induced a huge spike in ride jealousy.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
The Giant of Provence
Although there is only one degree of friendship separation, all three riders(that became four) are unbeknown to each other, yet they are now inextricably linked by a huge common invisible bond. They all rode the cycling Everest that is Mount Ventoux. All within a few weeks of each other last summer
This lit a fire of curiosity and wonder in my mind. Question that I had to ask the next time our wheels rolled, glasses chinked or in this case, INBOX’s pinged.
We’ve all seen it on the telly, but what is it really like? is it really that tough? What tips could they give if we were to do it?
So via the mediums of email, Facebook and Whats App I posed all the riders the same questions, to illicit and tease out their response of information that will hopefully help the you’s and me’s ride this bald beauty one day.
They have delivered in spades with wildly differing approaches, yet all capturing the ride, the environment and the moment.
Introductions first. The 3 riders that became 4 are as follows:
Firstly before we go any further lets discover more about this mystical mountain with a plethora of nicknames that create a sense of imperious menace: ‘Beast of Provence, The Bald Mountain or the Giant of Provence’
What is Mount Ventoux
For the un-initiated Mount Ventoux sit’s proudly in the south of France. Instantly recognisable to all cycling fans for it’s lunar-esque and barren landscape. The last 16K average 9% gradient. A fearsome climb, even for the Pro’s.
It’s steeped in cycling history. Notoriously as the resting place for the iconic British Legend Tom Simpson who collapsed, asked to get put back on his bike by fans then died half a mile from the summit whilst racing the 1967 TDF. His death believed to be caused by a combination of factors. Heat exhaustion, Stomach upset, alcohol and amphetamines.
More recently Ventoux hit the headlines in 2016 as the theatre for Chris Froome’s motorcycle induced crash which prompted his comedic, sans bike run through the crowds, as he awaited the arrival of his spare bike.
The Bald Mountain can be tackled from three routes:
1) South from Bédoin, the ‘classic’ route and the one the Tour De france use (21.5km long with an ascent of 1610 metres. Last 16k 9% gradient.)
2) Northwest from Malaucène, the quieter route, but equally as challenging( 21km with an ascent of 1570 metres).
3) East from Sault, The longest climbing but least punishing due it’s 4.4 % average gradient(26km with an ascent of 1220 metres).
Then again climbing it once just isn’t punishing enough for some folks. If you are radio rental you can always climb all three routes in one day and join equal mentalists in the Club des Cinglés de Ventoux (literally the Maniacs of Ventoux Club!). Easy peasy japaneasy. Only 72 km of climbing with 4300 meters ascent!! (gulp)
How We Conquered Ventoux
BCR: Why did you ride Ventoux?
Graham: I was on holiday with the family nearby and didn’t want to miss the chance to do one of the legendary climbs, so while drinking one evening I went online and booked a hire bike from a nearby bike hire shop. (reading between the lines. Graham probably took his family to the campsite so they would be near Ventoux…aye that campsite looks awesome Les,lets go there)
Gordon: Because of its history and being such an iconic climb, instantly recognisable
Bobby: Since 1986 when I started cycling competitively I watched the TDF and longed to be just like those top riders. France has always been somewhere I wanted to ride a bike and we planned the ride to include some of the greatest climbs of the TDF. We did have to drive to Ventoux but we couldn’t not include it
Mark: We went to see Froome et al at last year’s Dauphinee. Stayed in the Alpe and did Sarenne the day before the pros. My handy position in the 2017 leader board wasn’t so good the next day!
BCR: What was your trip logistics
Graham: I was staying in a Eurocamp, had a hire car and drove there. I have since had two speeding fines through the door in French!( sacre bleau)
Gordon:We flew into Lyon and were based in Grenoble. It was a self-organised and self-supported trip. We were there for the tour, and getting some good rides in. We drove out to Bedoin and started our route from there.
Bobby:We had planned the trip for over 6 months and concentrated our training for the long steady rides that we would have to endure.
Mark: Stayed in the most amazing B&B that I already knew but its 25 miles from Malaucene. Small village east of Nyons near a well known but very reasonably priced restaurant called chartreuse bleue. Bastide vieux chene?
On the day I dropped the missus in vaison la romaine about 10 miles from malaucene. Loads of touristy stuff and shops and restaurants so she easily managed to pass the 4 hours I was away doing 1 lap. Would probably be a decent base.
Geneva only easy flight from Scotland but a big drive and Swiss car hire not cheap. Nice must be closer if only doing the giant.
BCR: Bike. Take your own or rental?
Graham: Was a Lampiere I hired and the granny ring wasn’t small enough.
Gordon:Own bike, Cervelo S5, 36-30
Bobby: Own bike, Scott Addict R3, Sram red, 36×32
Mark: I picked up the bike night before. 30 mins before closing they gave me the bike. Think it cost a few quid more but they didn’t speak any English. Shop on the right as you arrive in the main square. 40euro for a quite old synapse with 5700 group. Compact with 12-34. Both French hire bikes were 34/34. Left hand drive of course which was a bit unnerving on the long fast descent back.
BCR: Which ascent did you do?
Graham: The wrong one. I turned up at the Bike shop which I thought was in Bedoin and asked the guy which way is the mountain? he sent me out and left and i was climbing within 200 meters. All the way up i was wondering if i was on the wrong mountain as I didn’t recognise it at all (i watch a lot of cycling on the telly and thought I would have recognised it). I climbed and I climbed and a pushed a bit and i sweated and i swore and I sat down for a bit and i climbed some more then i eventually got to the top. After sitting about for a while and getting some pictures at the top I saw the sign for Bedoin pointing down a different way so i assumed it must just go to the same place so I descended the famous route, stopped at the Tommy Simpson memorial, chuckled at the writing on the ground and really enjoyed the decent into Bedoin. Pretty quickly after arriving into Bedoin though i realised this was a different village to that where i had hired the bike. Turns out i hired the bike in Malaucene which was 15km away from where i was with another fucking 300 meters of climbing to get back.
Gordon& Bobby: Start at Bedoin – the famous side!
Mark: Malaucene to Bedoin is a great warm up so that’s where I would start. Tough late in the day if you were knackered to get back to bedoin. Then the classic route from Bedoin. False flat for a few km then turn left and it starts to kick off. After the village it’s pretty hard work all the way to chalet reynard. A lot of time in 1st gear I am not embarrassed to say. 10% or so for long stretches and some demotivatingly straight sections where you can’t hide from the task ahead. I stopped to steal some water 2km from the chalet and then used the taps at the chalet to refill 2nd bottle and grab a shower! 1st stop 60s 2nd stop a couple of minutes.
BCR: Tell me about the riding conditions on the day?
Graham: It was June and it was HOT HOT HOT and given i was hung over, didn’t have anything to eat and only had 1 small Evian and a can of coke wasn’t ideal. I felt dizzy and confused for a large part of the day. At one point I resorted to eating grapes off the vine pictured above with the bike. I then came across a winery tasting room who wouldn’t give me any water and insisted i buy something. The only non alcoholic thing they had was concentrated peach juice which i bought and then drank which lead to stomach cramps.
Gordon:Conditions on the way up were okay, a bit over-cast which meant it wasn’t boiling. Set out just after lunchtime. As we approached the top it was clear a storm was coming. 10 seconds after we reached the summit the heavens opened and there was proper thunder and lighting. Rather than take shelter we decided to out ride the storm, which took quite a while to do!
Bobby: Sitting in the Cafe in Bedoin it was hot…probably around 30 degrees. The weather on the climb was perfect as it was cooler and dry but when the thunder clouds rolled in we were literally at the top. I remember seeing a blob of water hit the ground in front of me and soon realised that it was going to chuck it down. I urged that we start descending as it might have been on all day. Not fun descending in a hail storm. Stopping periodically due to hands cramping up with gripping the bars and brakes so much. I remember a motorbike going past us like a bat out of hell.
Mark: 30deg or thereabouts even though it was early June. Modest headwind once out of the trees so that was good. Disorganised and checked out of B&B first so it was 1150 when the mad dog set off. Market day – Parking was hard to find.
BCR: What section or aspect of the ride did you find most challenging?
Graham: The last section. Pictured below. Was absolutely brutal.
Gordon:The ride through the trees takes longer than you think, all you want to see is that moonscape rock and the weather station at the top. Descending in heavy rain when the mountain debris is washing across the road was tough.
Bobby: Only the descent…the climb was fairly steady and felt good.
Mark: Recce the day before in the car. I think it looked even tougher in the car! Even after Alpe and pretty tough Sarenne 3 days before it looked pretty unrelenting and I knew it was going to be daft hot.
BCR: What did riding Ventoux mean to you?
Graham: Iconic climb, i love cycling and love doing the iconic climbs and routes of the famous races.
Gordon: Completing another iconic climb (a few were done on this trip!), seeing and feeling it up close after seeing it in pictures and on tv so many times.
Bobby: Growing up watching many icons of cycling on TV and loving the history of the tdf it was an overwhelming experience to be at the spot where Tommy collapsed of his bike only to shout ‘Put me back on my bloody bike’
Mark: As number 1 on the Tour list of ascents it is an obvious challenge. And it was daunting. Doing it 3 times in a day must be a bit mad. The fact that many like Cockayne( ex colleague of ours who has ridden the 3 ascents) have done detract’s a little from my sense of achievement especially as I was only 10 mins quicker than the big man but he was only warming up for his next 2 ascents!
BCR: If you could change one piece of cycling equipment/clothing to make it better what would it be?
Graham: I would have taken some with me.
Gordon: Disc brakes – the wet descent with all the debris was a nightmare. Had to ride feathering the brakes constantly.
Bobby: For me my choice of equipment etc was perfect.
Mark: You need a good granny ring which I had. Nobody can grind out a 25 up there for the hour or so of the hardest sections. Left hand braking slowed my descent a little.
BCR: Tell me one thing about Ventoux ride that you didn’t know before you went?
Graham: How hard it actually is and how hot!
Gordon: I didn’t realise how close to the summit the Tommy Simpson memorial was…unfortunately it made me realise how close he was to getting there.
Bobby: I also didn’t realise how close he was to the top at the top when he collapsed and died
Mark: I hadn’t studied the route. Easier section after the trees before the chalet otherwise there is no where to hide for 90 minutes. I have done several 2 hour climbs but they always have easier sections. Ventoux doesn’t really. From the chalet it’s only 6.5% so you have cracked it by then if the headwind is OK.
BCR: What is your stand out memory from the day?
Graham: Being dizzy and confused and getting the picture at the top!
Gordon: After 4.5 days of riding with no incidents, I came incredibly close to colliding with my riding partner in the town of Bedoin, 200m metres from the car…because I was distracted by a pretty local girl.
Bobby: For me it was the hail storm…the descent was one of the most uncomfortable experiences on a bike.
Mark: Standout memory was the blonde ‘angel’. Some young German girl was handing out water to supported riders. I had just run out of water when I saw her apparition and she obliged with a bottle of cold water. She congratulated me on the final ramp 8km later. By then I had overtaken a good dozen of her party. Passing Tom’s memorial also stands it apart from other big climbs I have done in Savoie
BCR: Is there anything else you would like to share about the ride, the experience that we have not spoken about?
Graham: Not drinking the night before, eating breakfast, having water bottles and proper cycling kit are all good ideas.
Gordon:Cant recommend enough that all cyclists should head out to this area of the world, surpassed all expectations.
Bobby: I think for me it was the entire day. Still on a high from the ride on the previous day and all it’s ups and downs…getting up in the morning and the anticipation all the way there in the car. Seeing the mountain in the distance with it’s recognisable peek looming over the countryside. Quite different from the previous days where the climbs were nestled in amongst the vast range of Alps, the Ventoux sits proud on it’s own claiming it’s place on the skyline.
Mark: The lunar landscape is eerie and special at the same time. The contrast after the trees is quite trippy the first time and still special once you have seen it.
BCR: Any other iconic climbs on the horizon?
Graham: Did my back in on a 17 hour bus journey back from the Hell of the North so off the bike at the moment and not looking like a very good year cycling wise.
Gordon:In August going to repeat some from last year (alpe d’huez, Glandon, croix de fer, Telegraphe, Galibier), and adding 1 new one – Col d’Izoard.
Bobby: The one Gordon is mentioning is booked and we have also planned the Stelvio Pass in 2019 for when I am 50 and Gordon is 40.
Mark: Dolomites this week. I have not singled anything out. Sella ronda closed road day on Saturday. I Dont think there are any HCs on it but the Cols are higher.
Galibier and Madeline are next targets but I don’t know when.
PS Simon Warren calls Great Dun Fell the Ventoux of the UK. Only 7.5km at 8.5% but it is full on for just 40 mins. A good tester a bit closer to home.
BCR: We like our caps in The Braes City Rouleurs, so for you is it skip up or skip down?
Graham: Back to Front
Gordon: Down for riding, up when walking around looking cool.
Bobby: No caps for me…stopped wearing them when helmets came in but I was always a cap up guy back in the day.
Mark: Skip up.
BCR: Finally One album, one book and one alcoholic beverage.
Graham: Bob Dylan – Desire, Things Fall Apart(Chinua Achebe). Red Red Wine
Gordon: Gold Against the Soul (Manic Street Preachers), The secret race by Tyler
Hamilton, Brockmans gin
Bobby: ELO – Out of the Blue, The Search for Robert Miller, Glass of Merlot
Huge thanks to Graham,Gordon, Bobby and Mark for sharing some great insights,
but what are the key take aways
Know your enemy: Graham not knowing what side he was going up and coming down. Still we bet it added to the sense of adventure and fatigue
Angels are real: Or maybe Mark was just having some hydration related hallucinations
Cramps: Expect teenage cramps in your hands from chugging the breaks on the descents especially if you a re on a rental with reversed breaks. Mental note: Take my own bike when i do it.
Get your Grannie freak on with a 32 cassette. Yes upgrades may be required to bike.
Stop and enjoy the view, or risk wiping out your ride partner Like Gordon when passing a salacious local beauty
Getting to Ventoux
A plane, a car then a bike, all under the ruse of a family holiday! We are not travel agents but thats probably how we would do it! I jest of course. Nearest Airports Béziers (3 hours)Grenoble (3 hours)Lyon Bron (3 hours)Marseille Provence (2 hours)Montpellier (2.5 hours) Avignon ( 1.5 )hours
By Train: From Paris, Marseille, Lyon, or Grenoble airport, take a train to one of two places: