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The Elusive Prize
Riding With Giants
The 2009 edition of the Etape du Tour is the most hotly anticipated to date. The coup de grace of this year’s event will be the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux. Featured 14 times in the Tour’s history, ‘Le Geant’ is infamously tough and one of the most respected mountains in Europe. Eddy Merckx needed oxygen on the col’s summit after his winning climb in 1970 and Tom Simpson pushed beyond physical boundaries in his attempt to conquer this extinct volcano.
This epic ascent, however, will be a fitting climax to what will be a glorious and memorable day on the sunny roads of Provence. The route takes in exquisite Provencal scenery and whilst there will be suffering, it should be the ride of a lifetime.
We rode the course in mid May and found it to be as beautiful as it is challenging. To help all fellow etapistes, this is our annual account of the route. Our advice on tackling this year’s Etape can be summed up in three watchwords:
The nature of the route and the sheer size of Ventoux means this elusive prize can be seen from almost every vantage during the ride. On a clear day this grand stadium for the final assault will loom in the distance at every turn. It adds a psychological challenge to the obvious physical demands. Imagine the frustrated Joe Frazier trying to lay a glove on a dancing Mohammad Ali.
The mountain may seem to wear down even the toughest of riders, but it can be defeated. A patient and steady approach could help to make the difference between being a chump or a champ.
Mid July in Provence of course means summer heat. Expect 30 degrees plus at midday. Effective hydration is essential during the ride and leading up to it. The feed stations are well placed and so you should use these to your advantage.
Still, the heat will make things tough so be prepared to sweat, especially on the Col des Abeilles and the airless forest of the Ventoux before Chalet Reynard.
True Provencal sights and smells make for the most beautiful Etape route yet. From olive groves and orchards to lavender fields and vineyards, the course is a feast for all the senses. Unless you are set on competing don't race it and miss out on the surroundings.
We were accompanied on our reconnaissance by our friend Charlie Pearch. A cat. 3 racer and Rapha Condor club member Charlie, now in his early 50s, has a profound and, some may say, bizarre love of Ventoux. Taken to the region as a kid by his dad, he often travels there to ride and breath in its splendour and has ridden it dozens of times. This year he plans to ride the Etape and then return a few days later to climb Ventoux three times in one day. We have included some of his insights into riding this hallowed mountain and its surrounds in this account.