You can’t ride in this region of Provence without Mt Ventoux looming in the background. It calls to all cyclists to give it a try. Nicole and I agreed that if she felt comfortable enough on the bike on our last day, she would give it a try. So on our last day before heading back to Nice for a few days, she decided to do the climb.
We met a nice young couple (Mark and Helen) at Chateau du Martinet who were originally from my parents home city of Edinburgh, Scotland and now live in Tokyo. They too were cycling throughout Provence and over a wonderful meal at the Chateau, we agreed to meet in Bedoin, which is the most popular starting point for the climb up the Ventoux and ride up together.
Nicole and I arrived a little early and as we sat in our vehicle waiting for our new friends, we watched dozens of riders zero their bike computers and set off up the 21km climb to the summit. Each rider had that look of determination and anxiety on their faces as they set off. Nicole is a runner, so I knew she has good stamina, but I’ve watched the Tour enough on TV to know this mountain should be respected and I hoped I wasn’t asking too much of her, given this was only her 5th ride ever.
Our friends arrived and after passing pleasantries we got down to serious business….taking more photos!!! Everyone looked happy for now; I hoped we all looked as happy at the top.
After the photos were taken we agreed to ride at our own paces and regroup at the top. So away we went. There are a couple easy kilometers when you leave the start sign to warm up as the incline isn’t too extreme, maybe 3%-5%. I guess I didn’t explain to my new Scottish friend Mark that Gerry had emailed the day before and said a time of 1h 30m was very respectable. I should have also told him I’m a little competitive. So I think we rode together for less than a kilometer and after that I was on my own riding a hard tempo pace, passing many of the people I saw leave while we were sitting in our vehicle. The toughest part of the ride was in the trees at the bottom where the hill rarely goes below 10% to 11% and on one switchback it kicks up over 15%. As I climbed this switchback my thoughts were with Nicole and wondering how she was handling this monster of a climb. My Bucket List said something about a trip she’ll remember the rest of her life; I was starting to think she may remember this for the wrong reason.
The pain of Alpe d’Huez was still fresh in my mind, so I held a little in reserve, because I’d never seen this climb except from the comfort of my sofa while watching it on TV. It’s amazing how the TV never makes a hill look as hard as it really is. Thanks to Gerry for putting out the challenge, I kept one eye on my heart rate monitor and the other on the time, as I had the 1h 30m set in my mind. When I got to the Chalet Reynard at 1440m I thought there was little chance I would hit the 1h 30m mark. But just as I rounded the left hand bend and rolled past the Chalet, the incline dropped from 10% and 12% to 7%-8% and I started to fly. I was making great time and I could see the summit.
If I could keep this pace, I would be close. As I past the 3km, then 2km and finally 1km mark I was motivated, but then you make the last left hand turn up the long final stretch to the summit and the road kicks back up to over 11%. With an all out effort I managed to do a 1h 34m time. What a ride!
Like all mountain summits, it’s cold and windy at the top and Mt Ventoux was no exception. After about 40 minutes waiting around at the top, I figured I’d go back down until I found someone I knew and ride back up to the top with them. About 4 km down the mountain I finally saw Mark and he was putting out a good effort, but it looked like the mountain was getting the better of him (kind of what I must have looked like on Alpe d’Huez). I offered encouragement and let him know what was up ahead so he could pace himself accordingly. It’s amazing how hot you get climbing, because a few minutes ago I was freezing and now I was quite comfortable. Once Mark made the summit and we took more photos, I suggested we go back down again and see how Nicole and Helen were doing. I really wanted to ride with Nicole at the finish, but unfortunately I flew past her down the hill. I was around 4km from the top heading down when I saw Helen riding by herself. I stopped and asked her where Nicole was and she said she was up the road. So I turned around again and rode at my maximum to catch her, but it was not meant to be, as she only had 1km to go when I was 3 km behind her.
A good friend of mine who was on the Canadian Olympic team and rode with me on my 2600km trip from Toronto to Miami Florida, used to say, “the Lower the Valley, the Higher the Peak”. Well, Nicole rode through a valley of pain up the Ventoux and now she was enjoying the Peak of success at the top.
She will remember this trip for the rest of her life for all the right reasons and I couldn’t have been more proud of her. Climbing Mt Ventoux after your 5th ride is pretty impressive. Seeing her personal pride; Priceless. What a great way to end our cycling trip together. So as I look back on my Bucket List, I was able to put a check mark beside each item, but most importantly, my daughter and I enjoyed a trip together that we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives.
So how does one top these Bucket list items? Well Gerry has found a 7 day stage called the Haute Route that advertizes to be the “Highest and Toughest Cyclosportif” in Europe. Well that’s definitively going on the list, especially if Gerry and I do it together.
Enjoy the Ride…..Rob