And so it came to pass, after many months of planning, Aussie Steve came to France and ‘sneaked up on Mt. Ventoux’ (his master plan). For the assault he was joined by yours truly and John, with Steve’s wife Julia and friend Glenn providing, what turned out to be, essential support.
John and I arrived at the parking lot early and wondered what those fast clouds moving across the peak of Mt. Ventoux might mean.
Soon enough, the rest arrived and Steve got himself set up with a rental bike. Then after a few customary comments on how good our legs all looked, a short spin to warm them up, it was time to flex them in front of the official start point of the mountain.
The False Flat – well, it’s not really, but it is the most pleasurable part of the Ventoux climb, I can tell you that. The first 6km out of the village of Bédoin does climb, but at reasonably light gradients, and the road winds through some really great scenery. All the while, however, Ventoux is on your left, chuckling at your silly sense of confidence. The three of us rode this section together for a while, but I was a little ambitious and may have jumped the gun a little, pulling up John and leaving Steve to enjoy the view at his own pace.
The Left Turn – by the time we hit the famous left-hand hairpin that tells you that you are about to enter a world of pain, Steve was a little ways back and John had started the afterburners. From here till Chalet Reynard, over 9km away, the climb is a relentless slog through a pretty forest on nonsensical gradients, maintaining around 9%-10% the entire way. I have climbed this way 3 times now and I am still amazed at how long the section is. The mind plays tricks on you to make you think it’ll be better than it is, I think, because I was sure there was a section near the top that flattened out a bit before Chalet Reynard. It never showed up.
Back to the climb. John and I stayed together for a while, but he was definitely on it this day and he just pulled away, ever so slowly, but definitely surely. I hung my head in shame and tried to find my rhythm, occasionally looking up to see how far ahead he was. After a while I needed a good, long straight to catch a glimpse of his butt.
Here is more of Steve, after a close call with a sheep dog catching some shade.
And somehow, he’s all smiles.
To The Moon – just before Chalet Reynard I was reminded of what was about to happen to us when a few strong gusts of wind slapped me in the face. On the lazy left turn in front of the chalet I had some sugar and raced after John, who had already disappeared around the next bend. Around that bend, by the way, hid our great nemesis of the day – Le Vent. It was, as usual, out of the north, and it was ferocious. The climb from Chalet Reynard to the top involves several long stretches of road that go straight north, then west, then north, etc., all the way up. The sections going towards the north nearly stopped us in our tracks the wind was so violent, or at least that’s how it felt. Thankfully the gradient is lower (6% to 7%) for most of them, but man, what a time getting up that mountain! Here’s Stevo again, turning into the badness.
The good part of that wind was that as soon as we turned to the west it was more or less at our backs and we could make up lost time and get a badly needed break. I felt pretty good on this part of the climb (I’m slow to warm up) and had a particularly good last two km (10% again), but by that time John was thawing his fingers in the gift shop up top. The last hurdle to get over was the final right-hander that takes you into the parking lot at the summit. Just before me a guy on a mountain bike hit a wall of wind as he turned and was knocked right off his bike. As he walked the rest of the way, I tucked deep and got the bike up the ramp somehow. Right here, if you’d like a visual.
And oh, it was cold. 1C at the summit, with a wind chill of -1000 I’d guess. I found John in the shop still shaking and holding his hands up to me helplessly. I think I heard him say ‘I can’t feel my fingers’, but can’t be sure because his lips weren’t moving all that well either.
As luck would have it, as we left the shop and stepped into the elements, Julia and Greg pulled up and we (rather aggressively, I’m embarrassed to say) jumped into the car to defrost. It took time. After a few minutes Steve arrived, victorious. He jumped in the front seat, relegating Greg to fend for himself outside, smiled/grimaced and shook for a while before letting rip a few choice expletives about the wind and cold, then, because he’s Steve, said something like ‘let’s do that again!’. One last photo of Steve driving up the home stretch.
The Damage Done – John – 1:32, Gerry – 1:35:58, Steve – 1:48
This was Steve’s first climb of Ventoux and it was a very respectable time, I’m sure. As for me, I am 20 minutes faster than this time last year and 6 minutes better than my best of 2011. John crushed us all, including his own personal best, too. He’s only got another 37 minutes to shave off to best Iban Mayo’s record time of 55:51. I’m not sure if the wind helped us out when it was at our backs, but this climb has become my Madone and to see the time drop down so significantly (I’m assured this will not go on forever) is very gratifying. It speaks volumes to the excellent preparation Coach Rob has been inflicting on us all season.
Then we had a great lunch back in the village, traded the obligatory war stories, and exchanged gifts from afar. Well, more correctly, I received two giant bottles of my favorite Australian beer, Coopers (Pale Ale on the right, which I just enjoyed, and Sparkling Ale, which I’m fighting the urge to finish off while I write this blog article), from Steve and Julia. I’ve learned something valuable from this climb: hinting does work, if you hint consistently and long enough. Thanks, you two!
Next up for us? There have been rumors of a Ventoux Triple, but I’ll believe it when I read about it here.