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Part Four: Mont Ventoux
The Pyrenees marks climbs with kilometre marker signs and gradients. Alpine cols have those plus engineered hairpins. Ventoux has none of this. It is a mystical beast that demands you climb it without distraction. Your computer will tell you where you are but it is best to ignore such triviality now and set about the biggest and most brutal of tasks.
A sharp left-hander at the famously documented Les Bruns marks the start of the ‘tough stuff'. With no sign posts from there to Chalet Reynard and no hairpins, the ascent is unforgiving. In the forest it is hot and humid, quiet. There is still no sign of the top and it’s infuriatingly steep.
"The road is spinning in the forest… a black snake winding upwards."
Once out of the forest you reach Chalet Reynard. At this point you know you'll make it, barring headwind or total collapse. There is still a long, hard grind to the top and, as you toil over the four buttresses of the mountain, the summit comes frustratingly in and out of view. The white rocks reflect the searing, desert-like heat here in the alien moonscape, it is very likely to be around 35 degrees. But remember, conditions could be anything so be prepared. As you look over your left shoulder you realize how high you now sit, a view that stretches out 50 miles across Southern France.
This mountain will make any cyclist suffer so take it at a steady pace.1hr and 45mins is a good time for a decent club racer and 2 hrs is very respectable. On July 20th it could easily take three hours. Whatever time it takes to reach the summit of this giant piece of Provencal landscape, it will be a sweet feeling once you arrive. The prize that has seemed to elude you and taunt you all day has finally been captured.
“ Then there is Ventoux, perhaps the devil himself sat here and was the reason that, in the end, the Pope and his followers fled back to Rome. If, like me, you enjoy life to the full, go to see the devil on a compact and don’t be embarrassed to have a 28 or 29 in your back pocket…”
Statistics Etape du Tour 2009
- Distance: 172km (107 miles)
- Cols: 4 (plus Ventoux)
- Start: Bedoin 280m
- Finish Altitude: 1912m
- Climb distance: 21.6km (13 miles)
- Average gradient: 7.8%