Editor’s note: this post is something of a delayed telecast, since it was written while I was still in France. The sentiments have not dated, however…
Oh fuuuuck I’m going over the side…unclip, unclip!
It took until 30 metres from the finish line, but at last the folly of using 50mm deep section wheels for a climb of Mont Ventoux had been ruthlessly exposed.
Wonderful for making progress on the flat, my newly-acquired Pro-Lite Gavias were never designed to withstand such raging crosswinds as those I found when I rounded the final hairpin to the famous old observatory.
At those speeds the wind takes on a physical presence, forcing me leftwards across the road as if it were some burly bouncer giving me the heave-ho (denoted with an arrow I’ve skilfully added to the photo on the left). Just as well there was no-one coming down the slope in their car. In fact, after I’d climbed off and walked the final few paces to the very top I realised there was no-one there at all.
As revealed in the little movie I posted on here the other day, my previous climb of Ventoux culminated in something approximating a Moroccan bazaar, with teeming hordes of street vendors, camper van driving continentals, cyclists and sightseers all vying for space in the cramped confines of the summit.
Today? Nothing. Not a soul. Not even that bloke selling those teeth-rotting candy canes the French seem to go in for. And for good reason: it was horrible up there. Cold, impossibly windy and under damp, darkening skies… clearly anybody with a modicum of sense had hastily taken their obligatory snap under the summit sign and legged it out of there pronto.
I did the same, or at least I managed to co-opt the only motorist who pulled up – a very nice chap called J.P. Tos – to do it for me. The attached photos were emailed to me by him after my phone camera refused to co-operate and he stepped in with his own device to remedy the situation before we both died of frostbite.
It seemed scant reward for what had been an extremely taxing hour and forty-eight minutes of my life. Two years ago my obsession with climbing Ventoux meant I trained hard (and specifically), rested well and even swore off the booze for the whole month preceding the trip. This time it was literally an afterthought, tacked on to a road trip to the South of France to deliver our car to the family in readiness for our summer hols.
I started to appreciate my single-minded approach to my Ventoux debut as I ground to a virtual standstill in the climb’s horrid forest section, feeling every one of the 550 solo miles I’d clocked up in the car during the previous 48 hours, not to mention the truly wretched burger and chips from Buffalo Grill that had been my eve of battle meal.
There’s no-one here – why not just turn back… go and have a beer in Bédoin, no-one will know…
And so the Devil voice inside my head started his pleading. How easy it would have been to listen to him. But somehow I knew it wouldn’t make for an easy night’s sleep, so I gathered up what little remained of my desire and pressed on, shoulders rocking, bike weaving sickeningly from side to side, mouth agape, sweat running in rivulets down and off my nose.
So slowly was I travelling by then that a squadron of flies decided to accompany me for what seemed like several miles. I was reduced to pathetic attempts to swat them away, dementedly swinging my arms around like a bad impression of Ian Curtis’ dancing.
Sitting here now in my hotel room, belly full of good red wine and Entrecôte steak, I’m struggling to summon up the feelings of utter wretchedness that accompanied those painful kilometres. How I didn’t stop for even a few moments of respite I will never know. But the wheels kept turning; I rallied again and reached the relative sanctuary of Chalet Reynard after an unbroken hour-plus of pedalling.
After that it was relatively plain sailing. I knew I shouldn’t stop at Tom Simpson’s memorial on the way up and also that I was descending the ‘other way’, to Malaucène, so making the sign of a cross as I rode by had to suffice.
The last incline before the final hairpin would have been murder had it not been for an extremely kind couple who drove their car between the now hurricane-like cross/headwind and me for the length of the straight (random acts of generosity that I believe are not uncommon on Ventoux). I don’t know who you are, but you’ll get your reward in Heaven I’m sure.
However they had been chased off by an impatient local in a beat-up Citroën by the time I reached the fateful corner where this blog entry began…
As you already know, though, I made it. And here’s an interesting thing. The climb took me 12 minutes less in 2011 than it did in 2009. There’s progress for ya!
The descent off the properly windy side of the mountain was a waking nightmare that I have no desire to commit to words… needless to say that with my wheels auditioning for a role on an America’s Cup yacht and my rear tyre (guess who forgot to pack his track pump) now so badly deflated that it had all the torsional rigidity of a roll of Cumberland sausage, it was a thrill-packed 45 minutes. Though not in a good way.