It's a week since the "Debacle of the Dauphine" and we're
now ready to see how much I've paid for my mid-week excursion to Alpe d'Huez.
On Wednesday we arrive at Orange and book in to the Ibis.
It's 50 metres from the autoroute exit and 30 kilometres from Mont Ventoux.
Guess which looked closer! The hotel also had a pool and the best
restaurant a cyclist could ever wish. Luckily we picked up a room on
the ground floor right outside the pool. Job done.
I was going to go out for a "bit of a ride" but it was 36
degrees and the Mistral was in full force. It was like standing in
front of a giant hair-dryer. It's okay, I'll carbo-load with French
pastries and chocolate, read Cycling Weekly and try to blend my cycling
tan lines into the rest of my body. I can ride tomorrow.
Thursday dawns; 80 kilometre Mistral winds + 38 degrees heat =
pool. Picking the furniture up from around the pool for an hour was
becoming boring, so despite the raging furnace it's out on the bike.
Before you say, why didn't I wait for it to cool down; it's 10:30 in the
morning. It's only going to get hotter.
Spin the legs and feel the heat on your back, what better
way to start the day. I decide to ride to the foot of Ventoux.
The closer I get the more intimidating the mountain looks, then I remember
the immortal words of my mate Gozzee when we did the Marmotte; "Mountains
are like breasts, they always look bigger from underneath!". Except
he didn't say breasts.
In the heat, my power bars melt to mush and my gels become
water. And speaking of water I run out on the way back. Three
pints gone in 90 minutes, a stop at a garden centre gets me a full bottle
and a shot of Baby Bio. Trust me, it's the future.
Now it's official
Friday called for signing on. A short drive to Beaumes de
Venise and carry out the obligatory formalities. In the centre of
town there's a nice start village which is the Gendarmerie car park.
The police had two spaces reserved for themselves everything else
was given to the cyclists. Sign on, get a free bottle of plonk and
do some cycle shopping. It's like real shopping but you don't buy
A drive up
the mountain to "check it out" is called for. I drive up the side
we'd be descending to recce the dodgy corners. Looks good. On
the way up are four disguised cars towing each other. Being a sad
git I realize they're BMW's. I overtake them and see the boot, rear
and passenger seats are covered in telemetry and computer equipment.
They look and smell very hot. If anyone tries to sells you a low
mileage, black, 1 series bee-em; pass.
Thankfully the Mistral has stopped. You could drop a feather
and it would land at your feet, the temperature has even dropped. It's
only 32 degrees and feels fantastic. Dianne's not doing this one as
there is no "decouvert" ride so it's just me and a thousand others on the
start line which includes some Cycling Weekly staffers.
We set out from Beaumes for a 17 kilometre warm up to
Bedoin, already a full on race has started and I've decided not to take
part. After the Dauphine, and still unsure of my form over distance
at altitude, I decide to cruise to the Ventoux and ride tempo all of the
way. Others seem more committed but, for once, I stick to my plan.
The atmosphere seems remarkably relaxed. You meet a better
class of person mid-field. For most of the other events I've been at
the sharp end, and it's all hold a wheel or get bumped off. Some
people take their cycling far too seriously! But not today,
convivial it is. Then we reach Bedoin and in the words of the great
Murray Walker, I "stop my start watch".
Bedoin sits at 300 metres and 21.5 kilometres (believe me
those 500 metres make a difference) from the top of the 1912 metres high "montangne
tragique". We're just through Bedoin when the talking begins to die
down. Didi has left his devils trident marks all over the road but
he's nowhere to be seen. This raises a few remarks and giggles but it's more
nerves than anything else. The first few k are at a modest 3%, not a
As you look to your left you can see the summit and the red
and white tower. It's still very warm but the mountain next to Ventoux,
probably called Ven~one, is covered in cloud. It feels around 25
degrees but I'm glad I've brought my gilet! As we ride towards St Colombe the top disappears behind some trees and you can concentrate on the road ahead.
Which at this point climbs at a steady 5% until you get to St Esteve at 6
Silence of the Lambs
Okay, we're at 550 metres as we turn a hairpin left and the road
goes from up, to very up. It's another 10 k to Chalet Reynard, through the
Forest of Bedoin and it's a 10% average until we get there. Like
lambs to the slaughter we head up to the clouds.
You can hear a pin drop! The only noises are from
gears, heavy breathing and the birds. Everyone, and I mean everyone,
has stopped talking. It's one of the most surreal sights you will
ever see, or to be pedantic, sounds you won't hear. A thousand people
climbing in total silence. Until it's broken by a scouser! At
about the 10k mark I was passed by Robin Garbutt and Phil O'Connor from
Cycling Weekly. I shouted encouragement as they seemed to be flying.
Appearances however, can prove deceptive!
Altitude Alters Ability
As you leave the steepness of the forest, Chalet Reynard appears as
an oasis on the horizon. I never, ever, ever stop on climbs.
But, (you knew that was coming didn't you?) it's 6k to the top and my
bottle's are empty. It's still very hot and no real cooling breeze
to speak of. So I decide, for the sake of survival, that rule one is
abandoned in favour of rule two; never leave a feed without water. A quick pit stop to fill my water bottle then away; 30
As a delightful young French maiden filled my bidon I see
the Cycling Weekly boys heading for the cafe. I could also hear an
accent behind me that was only too familiar. A vet Mank (an older
person of a Manchester persuasion) was doing his best Liam Gallagher
impersonation, spinning a tale to his mates about how he couldn't catch
his breath and climb in his usual fluid, gazelle-like manner. He
said "it's like I've caught asthma".
He thought he had his mates convinced when I, unable to
keep my gob shut, said "it's age and altitude, mate". Recognising
that his cover had been blown, and by a scouser at that, he gave me his best Mank
Paddington Bear Stare, hoping to intimidate me into silence. I
stared back back, smiled and said, "or it could be your just crap".
He fumed, his mates smirked and I rode off into the distance; all fluid
Suffering & Death
The distance I rode off into had become very lunar like and typical
of the classic Ventoux photo-opportunity. We're now at 1475 metres
and the wind is beginning to pick up. Anyone who saw Jean-Francoise
Bernard's Tour de France time-trial victory in 1987 will remember the
pain, anguish, agony and suffering on his face. Well that's me that
is. Except about 10 kilometres an hour slower. I've got the
vid if you want to watch it!
My head is dropping towards my stem as I crank out the
final kilometres and I enter that "zone" where you internalize the pain
hoping it will go away. I almost miss Tom Simpson's memorial, which
is closer to the top than I realized; He almost made it. It's
remarkable but it does inspire you to push on, the suffering I'm taking is
nothing compared to his.
The last two kilometres are at 9% and the last corner is a
beast. But I make it to the 1912 metre summit in a respectable one
hour forty-five minutes. I only remember about six people passing me
on the climb and as a reward I think of buying some sweets from the
stall-holder at the top. Instead I stop and put my gilet on.
The wind is howling in at God knows what speed and the
temperature has dropped to around 10 degrees. With the first few
corners of the descent being tight, steep, in quick succession and with
massive drop offs, I'd rather lose time stopping to put my gilet on than
try my usual stunt of dressing while descending.
Dive Dive Dive
If the climb is the climb from hell the descent really is heaven
sent. After the first few switchbacks you enter a really long,
smooth and more importantly, visible, descent. If only six overtook
me climbing I pull back easily a hundred places descending. Some
stay with me for a corner or so but once I hit 50 mph, all drop back.
People seem to impose set limits on themselves. Why 50 mph?
For minute after minute I stay at over 50 then it creeps up
and up to around 54-55. At which point I decide it's better to look
where the road goes. When I get back and click through the computer
I find we maxed out at 57.2 mph. With some fast bends and some tight
hairpins it's probably one of the fastest descents around. Although
not as technical as Alpe d'Huez it's just as satisfying.
Once we're back on level ground it's time to pick up a
group and head for the next feed and the next col. On a rolling road
that seems more up than down we head for the Col de Veaux. Not the
biggest mountain in the region but one that makes the legs sting.
After that it's a straight run to the finish.
We hit a
small, long climb and I'm with about twenty riders. I recognise
where we are and how technical it's about to get. So I go to the
front and push hard over the last 500 metres as I know there are three
roundabouts and some twisty descents on the run in to Beaumes.
At the crest a group of six of us break clear with me
sweeping through the roundabouts and the bends on the front. I go to
the front because it's the safest place to be. I'm not comfortable behind
riders I don't know; sometimes I'm even less comfortable behind riders I
do! As the road opens up I wait for someone to come through to help
drive us to the finish.
No one does then I realise why. We pass under the 25
K banner. I'd forgot the last climb.
We've been climbing so much that I'd lost count and had no idea how much
distance we'd covered. We take a sharp right and head up the 472
metre Col de la Chaine. My five buddies drift past me but I latch on
and hold my position at the back. Then others begin to join us.
The group's a little too big now so I ease my way forward and within a
kilometre or so I find myself on my own off the front. Once more my
bottles are empty, but it's okay there's a feed at the summit.
I enter the feed just as the two Cycling Weekly boys are leaving.
We pass pleasantries about the descent and they're away. I fill one
of my bottles as I'm thirsty and take a comfort break because my bladder's
exploding! So how does that work? You'd think your body would
compensate and suck the fluids back up!
As I leave the feed I begin to wonder how the Cycling
Weekly boys managed to beat me there? The last time I saw them they
were entering Chalet Reynard. Again another fantastic, technical at
the top and sweeping in the middle, descent is on us. I catch a slip
of a lad in a polka-dot jersey. He stays with me for a few corners
then drifts back as my superior bulk and gravity take over. Nothing
to do with skill or technique you'll notice.
After ten minutes or so descending I see the Cycling Weekly
boys in the distance and press on taking probably too many risks on too
many corners. At the 10k to go banner I reach them and we begin a
through and off. At 6k to go my polka-dot friend joins us.
Bloody good effort I reckon as we weren't hanging around. I give him
a nod to acknowledge his skill, technique and superior ability then we
settle down for a finish.
Through and Through
As we get nearer the finish the work ratio seems to be drifting
into a less is more type-scenario. They're doing less and I'm doing
more! At the flamme rouge it's me on the front and no one is coming
through. Now, I've done my homework and I know the finish.
With 150 metres to go it becomes a left-right-left, downhill (off-camber)
left, sharp right, finish.
As we enter the town with 300 metres to go, and the crowds
build, someone tries to go through. I think not. I just ease
my speed up which means they'll have to go the long way round. The
marshals are blowing whistles and waving like mad trying to slow us down.
It's like the last lap of a crit but for once I'm on the
front and no one is coming past. I may not be the fastest but I've
got the line and I'm keeping it. Everyone falls in line astern as I
back them up then jump out of the off camber section. As we come out
of the last tight right, a sprint develops behind me. I ease out of the
saddle give a final 50 metre kick and I'm first to the funnel that takes
you to the line and the electronic mat. The CW photographer is on my
shoulder and ain't coming through.
The polka-dot kid is all smiles, Robin Garbutt the CW
editor is stoic about the sprint and Phil O'Conner the photographer looks
seriously upset and rides off in a huff. But seeing as he hasn't
said a word all ride ~ good. Then Dianne came along and upset
Garbutt twice. Once when she said only four women beat us in and
again when she asked him if he was Tony Bell! He said he didn't know
what to be more upset about.
Cheese and Cake?
What a fantastic day. At the end you return
your chip and get your time and position. I was well pleased with
83rd place. Hardly anyone overtook me going up hill, which is a
stark contrast to the previous week. And not only did I get my gold
position for a vet I beat the gold medal time for scratch by 10 minutes.
How good is that? I was so pleased I had steak and chips for tea and
destroyed a cheesecake at the dessert buffet. As I said, you need to
Dianne, although not having an official ride, rode to the
bottom of the mountain and back to get some training in for the Ardechoise.
The 50k she rode entitled her to help me with the cheesecake.
One thing that did perplex me was being overtaken on Ventoux by (in
my opinion) a very strange person. Remember it was over 30 degrees
at the start. This bloke was about 13 stone. He was on a Giant
ONCE lo-pro, no bottle cages, wearing a full ONCE skin suit (no pockets),
full leg and arm warmers and with more hair than Jerry Hall. He
passed me, climbing, in the tri bar position on the big ring! This
was in the forest at about 10%. His legs were going VERY SLOWLY. I
saw him again sitting under a tree just before Chalet Reynard. What
the hell was he thinking?
All I need to do now is hold my form for my next two
events. The Ardechoise and the Luc Alphand. The Dauphine was
to be the first week of peaking which was to be built upon at Ventoux.
It seems I was out by a few days! I feel great now and need to
develop and maintain it for the Ardechoise and Alphand. Should be an
interesting few weeks!