Stage 11 – 242.5km from Givors to Mont Ventoux (2013, stage 15)
The only way I can describe todays stage is epic, not only has the stage been the longest of the Tour Challenge at 242.4km, but the last 20km involved a really difficult ascent up to the summit of Mont Ventoux (aka the Giant of Provence; The Beast of Provence and the The bald Mountain) – widely regarded as the toughest climb in the Tour de France. It is geologically part of the Alps, but is so far distant and so much bigger than anything else around it sticks out like a sore thumb in the landscape. Hence why I prefer my own nickname the Lonely Mountain – although there’s no dragons or gold here!
Today has been my been hardest ever day on a bike, the first 220km was up and down all day, whilst I was starting to think that events were conspiring against me. To begin with the van
wasn’t allowed down the road to the start point, meaning I had another 3km on top of the 242.5 to ride. I then got caught in rush hour traffic and got lost in 2 different towns adding another 3.5km to the day – that was just my fault. I also had to contend with a southerly breeze for 220km, you’d think with the shape of my nose it would offer some aerodynamic qualities, sort of like concorde, but unfortunately not!
But I didn’t lose my head, with Mont Ventoux to come I made sure I ate regularly and remained well hydrated, so I met with Andy on 5 separate occasions to refill bottles and stuff my pockets with food. I also tried to raise my spirits and a few things made me laugh on the way around. At one particular point I saw a couple of French guys cutting the grass verge on the d538 on the Drome / Isere Department border. They had literally cut bang up to the sign and had not gone an inch over, I reckon had I been there 10 minutes earlier they would have been out with a straight edge and a pair of scissors.
The route took me through the departments of Rhone, Isere, Drome and finally Vaucluse where I headed into the region of Provence. The route through Drome avoided many of the bigger towns such as Valence and Montelimar, which is pity as Montelimar was just 20km west of my route and it would have been nice to stop as it is widely regarded as the nougat capital of the world – I’ll try and pick some up from a local deli this evening ready for tomorrows stage.
Mont Ventoux had many tough elements, but it is spectacular. Having ridden 228km already I was tired, I was also way behind schedule and ended up arriving early evening. Therefore I was one of the last couple of cyclists on the mountain. I didn’t see another cyclist on the way up and only bumped into a couple of friendly French guys and a decent chap from Bristol (who’d spent the day summiting Ventoux from the 3 available routes) on the summit.
The route I took from Bedoin is by far the hardest, with some really severe gradients, so after getting the legs warmed up on the early slopes of the climb, it really ramped up with 9km of tough 9-10% gradients. It’s fair to say I felt pretty light headed to start with but after a 10 minutes of this I just switched off and kept turning the legs. What I’ve forgot to mention that the mountain was shrouded with mist, you could see 1km in front of you but no further and there were lightning flashes all around which really enhanced the experience.
This gradient and landscape changed at the 14km point, where the gradient relaxed slightly but the vegetation died out leaving a completely barren moonscape type environment; having looked into this tonight, this is due to the high winds with the summit of Ventoux being hit with 56mph winds on average 240 days per year. I did get a chance to take look at the Tom Simpson (the British cyclist who passed away on the mountain in the 1967 Tour) memorial , but there wasn’t any time to stop as the gradient was around 10% and I didn’t want to break my rhythm.
I can’t describe the elation I felt when I turn the final bend to the summit, this is one of the targets I set myself as a major milestone and during my training programme, I’ve visualised this moment hundreds of times – so I can forget about the Hardyes Monument mini Mont Ventoux – I’ve now done the real thing!
Here’s the stats:
- Distance: 249 km
- Time: 10 hours 42 minutes
- Average Moving Speed: 23.6 kmph
- Total Ascent: 4,095 metres
I’m now settled at the nicely named Blueberry Hotel in Malaucene, it seems like a really nice place, but I won’t be venturing out as it’s seriously chucking it down, I suppose I’m really lucky that this didn’t happen out on the ride as I would have been drenched. Anyway I’m absolutely exhausted, perhaps I should have scheduled a rest day for tomorrow, instead I’ve a 100km transfer and then a 177km ride into Montpellier to handle – oh well no-one said this was going to be easy, at least I’ll sleep well.