Monday, June 20, 2011

Friends on Mont Ventoux

Sometimes, it’s okay to live vicariously through others.   I say this because three of my best friends just climbed the famous Mt Ventoux in France and I was with them in spirit on every pedal stroke.  I believe that living through others is okay as long as you don’t make a habit of it and also spend time living your own life.

Me on the summit in 2009. Actually, since I have climbed Mont Ventoux twice (2007 and 2009), it feels more like reminiscing.  I can imagine every thing they went through from their preparations to the actual climb and down a thrilling descent.  I’m sure they spent hours analyzing the profile and reading ride reports.  They worried about their conditioning and the wind.  (The French word for wind is vent so Mont Ventoux roughly translates into windy mountain.) 

I haven’t had the chance to really chat with them yet as they are still in France.  However, here is my version of how I think things went.

IMG_2707 It all starts in the town of Bédoin.  There are three routes to the top of Ventoux but the route from Bédoin is the one used in pro races such as the Tour de France.  They drove through town, found the bike shop, and got everything ready to go.  If they followed my plan, they then rode 9 kilometer round-trip to Crillon-le-Brave.  This is a perched village with a 1k climb that allows you to test the shifting on the way up and the brakes on the way down.  This village also has a hotel with a terrace bar that has the best view of Mont Ventoux period and is a great place to have drink once the ride is over.

It’s then back through town, stopping at the bike shop if they needed adjustments, and unto the task at hand.  They started on a very busy road but after 2k they made a left hand turn and started to climb.  And climb.  And climb some more.  Mont Ventoux is a 23k (13 mile) climb that doesn’t have any ultra-hard grades but it consistently stays in the 7 – 10% range and feels relentless.

During the first 19k you are in the forest and only get occasion glimpses of the summit.  In many cases, it doesn’t feel like it’s getting closer.  Finally, you pass Chalet Reynard, which consists of a café and cycling shop (it’s also the skiing HQ in winter).   In 2007, on my first climb, I was struggling due the wind and Sherry ran into the café and pass me an Orangina as I was riding.  I’m sure that’s what got me to the top.

Ventoux SummitNow, you only have 4k remaining.  Unfortunately, it consists of the highest average grade and now you are totally exposed to the wind.  The summit is now in constant view and it’s hard not to become fixated on the fact that still looks very far away.  Then it’s done.  You’re at the summit taking in drinks, laughing and talking about the climb, enjoying the views and planning for the descent, which you know is going to rock!

On the way down, they stopped on the cycling shop, which only has clothes and accessories, to buy a bunch of Mont Ventoux commemoratives to ride on the local group rides when you finally get home (at least, that’s what I did in 2009).  You then scream down the descent, passing cars and watching for sheep in the road.  In 2007, it took me nearly 2.5 hours to reach the summit and only 34 minutes to come down.

I did text them and ask how the climb went.  The only response I got back was “it was damn hard but we made it”.  And that’s all that counts.  My three good friends can now sit around in local coffee houses and while everyone else talks about the hard climbs in the local area, they can talk about the time they climb Mont Ventoux.


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