In early September 2018, Ross and I joined a group of cyclists, organised by Colconquerors, to cycle from Valloire to Mont Ventoux. The persuasive headline of 750km with 17,000m of climbing reeled us in, and the opportunity of joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux on the final day sealed the deal.
Day 1 – Valloire to Barcelonnette
Leaving Valloire, green and keen, we began the trip by climbing up the majestic Col du Galibier in the early morning sunshine, eager to get moving after several days of ‘tapering’ yet conscious of the fact that there were still two other climbs on day 1, not to mention the Col de la Bonette on day 2 .
A quick photo stop at the top and we dropped down the other side and onto our second climb of the day, the Col d’Izoard (and lunch). Recharged by a tasty spaghetti carbonara we moved onto climbing the Col de Vars, which in the mid-afternoon, was both hot with an unwelcome headwind. Our legs were no longer fresh and the café at the summit was a sight for both sore legs and lungs. We then coasted down into Barcelonette in time to collapse on our beds, put our legs in the air and contemplate a shower before dinner.
Day 2 – Barcelonnette to Beuil
Fuelling up with as many pain au chocolat, croissants, pain aux raisin as could be politely managed (it was still only day 2) we headed off to climb the Col de la Bonette, claimed as the second highest road in Europe at 2802m. For most of the ride, it felt as we were in the Lake District (minus the sheep) that was until the final steep ramp just before the summit. Ross then led the decent to our waiting lunch stop in Isola. After a huge pizza, we made our way through a gorge with a ‘Jurassic Park’ type vibe and onto the top of the Col de la Couillole. A drop into Beuil ended the day with ‘rollering’ for Ross and indigestion for me (the pizza for lunch did not enhance my performance).
Day 3 – Beuil to Moustiers Ste Marie
After several quiet mountain roads, we joined other tourist traffic to take in the Gorges du Verdon, Europe’s deepest and a geologists paradise. More importantly, the associated descent that went with it was fantastic! Although what goes down… led to 3 climbs in the afternoon! – the Col de Felines, the Col du Buis and the Col d’Ayen. This ‘triplet’ of climbs had some really steep sections and we were glad of making a new addition to our bikes, an 11-32 cassette before we left for the trip. At this point, I had now realised that when our tour guide, Rob, said that when an upcoming climb was ‘punchy’, what he really meant was to prepare for a tortuously long leg wrenching experience of tear-inducing/hearing loss proportions!
Day 4 – Moustiers Ste Marie to Bedoin
Billed as a ‘transition’ day and after 3 days of climbing, we assumed this to translate as more of a meander, taking in the views of the lavender fields and enjoying the ‘gentle’ rolling countryside whilst approaching Mont Ventoux in the distance. In reality it was a full morning of chain gang work, battling winds and dodging bees. Lunch after about 100km looked like it would never arrive, I still think the 81km mark lasted for over 3km! Having ridden the bulk of the days mileage in the morning, the afternoon was more relaxed and we ended it by arriving in Bedoin, the prospect of a triple climb of Mont Ventoux in two days’ time now very much real, and not looking quite so comfortable as it did from a website on a laptop in London!
Day 5 – Rest day/ recce day
I breakfasted like a king (again) then decided to have day 5 as a complete rest day. Ross, however, went off on a recce to look at the small town of Malaucene which tomorrow would be the start of our second climb up Mont Ventoux. We took lunch in Bedoin, and a massage from a former soigneur in the afternoon. We were ready for the big day tomorrow.
Day 6 Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux attempt – Bedoin, Malaucene, Sault
The tour leader, Rob, had mentioned that a time of 7 hours for the triple ascent was considered quick and that he thought it was possible for Ross and myself to bag. However, we also wanted to enjoy the day so the night before we agreed to carry Bluetooth speakers for the ride so that we could recreate an ‘Athlete Lab’ type experience in the fresh air. We also contacted Alper to provide a playlist for the experience.
And so we started our first climb (21.4 km) up Mont Ventoux from Bedoin with ‘sounds’ coming from Ross. We were sensible and limited our power to no higher than 80% FTP during the climb (for the most part). After a very brief refueling stop at Chalet Reynard to load up with fuel for the second climb from Malaucene, we continued towards the summit of Mont Ventoux for the first time. Above the tree line, it was noticeably windier but I think we were lucky from hearing about what it could have been like. We reached the summit (after a nod to the Tom Simpson memorial) and joined the tradition of having a photo under the summit sign.
Then we were quickly down to Malaucene, a fantastic descent, to fill up our water bottles and turn around for climb #2 (21.2 km). Again, powered by music and lots of Super Strength Endurance sessions in our legs, we took it sensibly up the second climb. It was clear on this ascent that there were lots of Dutch riders riding for a charity event with very good roadside support. The final 2 km was perhaps not so sensible but it felt good attacking up to the summit, with Ross timing the music so that we summited together with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing loudly, much to the bewildered looks from the Dutch charity support team.
Again, another photo under the summit sign of Mont Ventoux, and then a quick drop down to Chalet Reynard to stash more fuel into our jersey pockets for the third climb. Then it was the descent into Sault, the kindest gradient of the three climbs, which consequently meant that a bit of work was needed to reach Sault at a steady pace.
After another round of water bottle filling in Sault, we headed back up towards Chalet Reynard and the final climb of Mont Ventoux (25.7 km). This time, thanks in part to our previous ‘sensible’ pacing, a gentler gradient and ever-present tunes from the same Bluetooth speaker which Ross had strapped to his saddlebag, we were able to push hard and ascend quickly up to Chalet Reynard for the last time. Here we quickly restocked and carried on with the final climb, the taste of completion in our dry mouths! However, the section from Chalet Reynard to the top of Mont Ventoux deserves respect and we had to knock it back a bit so that we didn’t cook before getting to the top. Ross’s trusty speaker which had lasted all day, sadly gave up the ghost with 0.5km to go to the top, but not before cheering up several Dutch charity in the final steep climb.
We finished strong and bagged a final photo under the summit sign. Now with only the descent back to Bedoin to complete, we were in the ‘zone’. Which number ‘zone’ is not important, but I am certain one of us said the day had been ‘horrific fun’ at the top.
The descent into Bedoin is quite technical in places after Chalet Reynard and added to the fact that we were hardly ‘fresh as daisies’ made concentration trickier than usual. Crashes avoided we powered along the 5km flat section into Bedoin and stopped the clock on our sweat and tear covered Garmin’s. We had managed a ‘moving’ time of 6h 31mins and were thus pleased to have made it under the 7-hour marker. We took a last photo by a road sign with our bikes and then coasted our way back to the hotel, for the end of a fine day of climbing and a great six days of cycling. Until next year!
Kudos must go to the stamina of Ross’s Bluetooth speaker, Glen for his cycle coaching, Alper for his musical guidance and Stefanie for her bike fitting skills!
David Palmer & Ross Beattie