To finish, here’s a synopsis of our successful trip. (Hux please add / edit as required.)
Up at the crack and meet Hux on the first train of the day to Ashford. We then check in, grab a coffee and pick up the Saturday papers. And settle in to an exceptionally relaxing Eurostar journey down to Avignon. Even the appearance of a child’s head rising above the seat in front doesn’t cause alarm, as he promptly disappears to another carriage for the majority of the journey.
We arrive at the Avignon TGV station and catch sight of the mountain before transferring to the central station. Our hotel is just one block away, and once we’ve sorted tomorrow’s train to get us close to the base, we tick off Avignon’s highlights in a matter of minutes; an unfinished bridge and a square. Our main conversation involves either the wind / weather – or artisan ice cream flavours; lavender anyone? We doze through the rest of the afternoon, catch the Giro on TV and finish off the papers before heading out to carb load. The pasta at the restaurant was fantastic. The service, let’s just say; “French surly”. Back at the hotel, the bar is showing the French version of Soccer Saturday, after a nerve settling nightcap, we head off for an early night.
Up at seven – and an initial check of the weather is very, very, positive; sunny and no apparent wind. Unfortunately my breakfast pasta turns out to be seafood. The last thing I want is a crab flavoured belch half way up the mountain – so I give that a miss and opt for plenty of coffee, and three banana pancakes. On the route up the mountain there are markers highlighting how many kilometres remain to the summit. Before setting off I write “8 – 14” on my arm in permanent marker, to remind me this section contains the steepest kilometres, and help me judge what I’ve got left in the tank. We head out to the station and get the 8am train to Carpentras. Upon arrival there’s a solitary cab in the rank – everything is going perfectly. Until the cab driver informs us we haven’t hired our bikes from Bedoin, our start point at the base of the mountain, but from Malaucene a village a further 12km away… Let’s hope we benefit from this enforced uphill warm up.
It turns out Malaucene is lovely. At the bike shop Hux picks up a De Rosa and I get a LaPierre (without the requested granny ring – but I’m assured the 32 cog on the back will be adequate.) We fill our water bottles from the town spring, and gently head off to Bedoin in the warm morning sunshine, figuring out our electronic gears on the way.
The route 21km (13 mile) route from Bedoin to the summit of Mont Ventoux starts at an underwhelming mini-roundabout. Even though the first few kilometres are mild, we follow all the advice we’ve been given and go slowly. After about 6km we go round a hairpin and the road gets steeper. It doesn’t rear up, but I glance down and have only a couple of cogs left in reserve. Now we’re in the forest we just get on with relentlessly turning the crank, we can still hold a conversation and sing the first few bars of S Express. At one point I stand on the pedals, not to accelerate or due to the gradient, but to let out some expresso generated gas. I didn’t realise that there was a girl right on my rear wheel at the time – this was all the encouragement she needed to dig deep and overtake. Frustratingly we’re also regularly overtaken by people on battery powered mountain bikes. Initially I curse them under my breath, but the further up the mountain we go – I ensure every one of them knows they are cheats!
As we approach the end of forest over to a right a family in a layby gives us a cheer, however this encouragement just lasts seconds, as over to the left catch we catch a glimpse of how far away we still are from the weather station at the summit. I didn’t realise that Hux’s vocabulary extended to those depths. In this thin air, surely he should be conserving his energy.
Once we’re over the steepest section, the 10% gradient reduces to a mere 8%, and there are just 7km to go. Still feeling good I check in with Hux and he’s ok for me to up the pace on my own. I’m soon in the desolate moonscape and fortunately there isn’t much wind. It’s great to get some relief (and momentum) from the bends in the road, but I’m now pretty much on the lowest gear. This is the fun part of climbing, the Zen like state where all you can hear is your own breathing and your focus is solely on is the road immediately ahead of the front wheel. It’s tough. I’ve oft used the cycling phase “turning yourself inside out” and here’s where I genuinely got to feel that. Due to the effort in the last few kilometres I wasn’t sure if I was going to be sick, lose more than expresso gas out of the back, or do both at the same time. Fortunately for me, Hux, the cab driver, the hotel laundry and everyone else on the mountain, I do neither. Approaching the summit there are a few photographers at the side of the road. Initially I found these chaps just as annoying as the battery powered mountain bikers. The last thing I wanted to do was take a hands off the bars to put one of their cards in my pocket – but I’m glad I did.
The final hairpin is as steep as it looks (on the blog’s banner above), and once round it I was there. After a minute or two to catch my breath I looked down the mountain and saw Hux in his orange top, so cycled down to join him and we rode back up to the top together.
Soaked in sweat and with the temperature just 6 degrees, it wasn’t the weather to hang around and admire the view for too long.
So we popped down to the Tom Simpson memorial and then went back up to take the direct road down to the bike shop at Malaucene. Reaching over 45 mph at some points, the decent was just as challenging as the climb.
We returned our bikes and got a cab and then the train back to Avignon where we celebrated with a croque monsieur and a pint before soaking in the ice cold swimming pool. We agreed that the climb wasn’t easy or comfortable, yet never so gruelling that we considered stopping, so perhaps best summed up by “demanding, but never in doubt”. I’ve been more tempted to push up Yorks Hill than Mont Ventoux. That evening we found another great restaurant, took some protein on board with a burger washed down with some house red from the slopes of Mont Ventoux. Absolutely exhausted it was another early night.
With a day to waste until our 4pm Eurostar home we woke up frustratingly early. After breakfast and a midday check out we mooched around every medieval cobble, noting how windy it was, until getting to the station for our connection to the TGV station.
We should have had 30 minutes to spare, but when the Gitane smoking guard announced the connecting train was cancelled we were in trouble. Hux got in the cab queue whilst I found that the information counter was shut – it was a public holiday after all. With about 10 minutes before the TGVs scheduled departure a cab arrived. Although we were in a rush, the driver insisted on getting out and loading our luggage – his Gallic shrug suggested we had no chance of making it. Fortunately most of the lights were green. Whilst I paid the driver and got the luggage Hux ran into the station to hold the train doors. We made it with a minute to spare. As I was showing my ticket to the guard at the door it blew from my hand, fluttered, landed, and unbelievably stuck on one of the train’s wheels – so I was able to reach across and pick it up. If we had missed the train – then next one was three days later!
We celebrated with a couple of 1664s in the buffet car, although the journey home wasn’t as pleasant as the outbound one due to a 75 minute stop in Lille to go through security, we were just delighted to be on board.
Once home I immediately uploaded the numbers to Strava (and then woke Suz).
The assent took me 2 hours 7 minutes. Although I’m delighted to have made it without stopping – my initial goal – those seven minutes are playing on my mind. I now want to do it in less than two hours, 1.59.59 would be fine. So if anyone fancies it and the weather forecast is good – let me know – I’m in…
Carlos’ pasta salad was a DNF. Instead he goes for pancakes, maple syrup and a banana, and 2 double espressos to ‘get things moving’. I go for grapefruit segments, brown bread, a banana and earl grey, milk 2 sugars. Standard.