La tortue de Ventoux
From Rich booking the wrong week off work to train strikes, a sick dog and a stomach bug, as Liz said (pre-bugs even), "Your holiday is doomed!"
But, thankfully not entirely!
I take it as fortunate now that our day to cycle Mont Ventoux coincided with a drop in temperature of 5 degrees and barely a summit breeze.
On fine advice and encouraging vibes, we set off earlyish at 7am and how thankful we were ascending in the shade of trees and partial cloud cover. The guys here seem to be able to set off at any time they fancy - I'd have melted into my Pinarello!
Despite the hill towering over every high col below like a looming pedestal, neither of us were fazed by the thought of the uphill (I guess the unknown can be a good thing!) so it was a pleasure to enjoy the ride over to Bédoin before beginning the creep up the slopes of the mountain.
And it really was a creep.
We heard yesterday that the whole of Belgium would be on the mountain today doing some kind of sportive event. And they weren't wrong! But, thankfully everyone was very spaced out and the camaraderie was brilliant with music in Malaucène as we pedalled in.
We were passed by a jovial group of mixed ability French cyclists early on and proceeded to pass them numerous times on the way up as they paused to re-group. I introduced myself on the third meeting as La tortue and by the time we passed them for the last time near the top, I was la copine (the girlfriend, I think!)
Slow and steady wins the race will always have to be my mantra. I really have no choice in the matter!
It was no walk in the park; just steeper than you would like and only the very odd occasion did it relent enough for me to change up a couple of gears. But on that pace, we kept on going for 22km, passing the memorial for Tom Simpson, almost touching distance from the summit.
It was just at the point I was starting to get a bit hot and tired and I do remember saying out loud, "I'm not bloody surprised he died." Not only are they racing but the Tour is in the heat of July and usually as the sun is overhead. Crackers! Then, if you've been on the amphetamine/alcohol blend on top of that, I guess you really are asking for trouble.
The zones that you cycle through are part of the incredible journey to the top; the lower Mediterranean farmland, the never ending temperate forest and the barren white spectacle of the high-mountain summit crest, closed often until May because of snow.
Man, and then there's the descent!
We met some bemused British tourists at the top that couldn't understand why the mountain was crawling with cyclists and people were getting cheered at the summit. We joked that it was probably harder driving up avoiding everyone. After chatting to them, we headed on down, donning multiple layers in the chilly air.
We were going to head all the way down to Malaucène for lunch but pulled on the brakes at a beautiful mountain restaurant after dropping only a few hundred metres; we just didn't want it to end!
21km of continuous downhill on the most spectacular stretch of tarmac I have ever wheeled on. Hit by the odd major beastie bug, I knew it was no route on which to sing but mentally, I was operatic!
We stripped off rapidly in Malaucène as the temperature ramped up and the Belgians were World Cup dancing, and took a casual cycle back to Faucon.
What. A. Ride!
The wonderful boulangerie restaurant served me up double rice for my efforts and I finally feel full to the brim with calories.