Even after the previous day’s substantial suffer-fest with John and Erik, and the quickly accumulating kilometers of my back-to-back 100s, I woke up Sunday with a bit of gumption and an adventurous spirit. So I decided to climb Ventoux.
The problem is I don’t have a car and Mont Ventoux is inconveniently located in the middle of the Vaucluse department, which has lots of pretty villages and chateaux and such, but a complete lack of railways. I did all I could do and hopped on the TER to Avignon. Below is a photo showing a sure sign of tourist season – bikes other than mine on the train.
They were travellers. The panniers and dusty clothes were the first clue, but these things left no doubt. Who else would ride with 2 liter bottles in their cages? Two of these bikes belonged to an older couple from Austria who had ridden all the way from home to Lourdes. That’s a good, long ride. The other guy, who was French, had just gotten back from a big trek of his own, cycling from his home in Le Sud all the way across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. A train full of pilgrims! Shoko and I have done the trip to Santiago, but on foot, if you’d care to read about it.
Avignon is also not very well situated, being nearly 50km from the bottom of Mont Ventoux. This means I get a very good warm-up. I’ve done this ride before and the ‘going’ is really nice because you get Ol’ Baldy in your sights much of the way.
Here is Bedoin, the famous starting point to the climb. I realized that I had never taken a photo of the place itself, so here it is. You can see Mont Ventoux starting to swoop up on the right of the photo.
Every cyclist’s dream in France – Eau Potable – an all-too-rare occurrence in these parts, very unfortunately. This one, for those climbing Ventoux, is at the first roundabout as you enter the village.
The Climb – I shall section this out in two: Pre Coke and Post Coke.
Pre Coke: I had a good ride up to the forest from the village and even had some company; a guy whose friend had broken his collarbone on the descent and whose bike he was going to rescue (ambulances don’t do bikes, even on Mont Ventoux). I left him near the beginning of the hard stuff and trucked on, feeling pretty OK, considering. But as I have said a number of times, the forest part of this climb NEVER ENDS, and today it didn’t end again! About two thirds of the way up I noticed my speed had inexplicably descended into single digits. My legs kept turning, but more out of habit than anything else. Around 2 km from Chalet Reynard I started wishing I was someplace else and near the Chalet I had definitely decided that I’d just turn around and go back down. Oh, it was hot, too. My Polar was registering mid 30s in the forest and the lack of wind (where is it when you want it!) put me deeper in the pain cave (thank you Bob Roll!) than I have been in a long time.
Post Coke: But I got to the Chalet and right ran into David, the owner of my local bike shop. He was on his way down with some friends and just finishing up a few drinks outside the restaurant. I was delirious and babbled quite impressively in French about absolutely nothing till I found out the shop inside sold Coke (David assured me they had tout ce que tu veux, which is not true because they don’t sell EPO or oxygen) and hobbled in to get me some caffeine.
A 5 minute rest and a can of Coke can work miracles for the morale, let me tell you. I now had new motivation and really the last 6km weren’t that hard. They were slow, but they weren’t that hard. I reached the line on the road at the observatory, pulled a U-y, and made the glorious 30 minute descent back to Bedoin without breaking a thing. The ride back to Avignon, although pancake flat most of the way, was not fun and the total for the day ended up being 135km with 2000 meters of climbing – a lot of unnecessary riding when I just wanted to do the climb (42km). So, when is that Benz coming? If it’s too much, I’ll make due with a VW even, as long as it’s a 5-door…and diesel. I’m waiting.
New Section! – Tips for Cycling in France
If you see a sign like the one below, this can usually be translated to ‘this road is closed, but if you are on a bicycle it’s your lucky day!’. Often, there is just a bit of work going on somewhere up ahead and they are simply taking up most of the road. Workers are used to seeing cyclists come through and don’t give you a hard time at all.
Here’s what I found. The above rule applies doubly on Sundays, when nobody will be working. I got through this little mess very tidily and had a wonderful, car-free view of Ventoux the whole way.