Assault on Mont Ventoux
We’d decided to assault the Ventoux as a culmination of our weeks cycling. Staying in Carpentras we found a great little hotel, good food, decent rooms; not a bad price, but not cheap. We settled on the place after driving through the less salubrious areas of Carpentras.
For some reason it appeared to be having a fiesta for Moroccan proctologists. This didn’t inspire us with confidence about the safety of our land rover, or our “kit”. Preferring to keep that intact we opted for the out-of-town solution, and it was a very good choice.
A team of BMW engineers were also camped there. Their secret BMW prototypes masked in a “camouflage” of small white swirls to disguise their contours and panels; they looked like advertising cars in a tour caravan rather than top secret development projects.
Mt. Ventoux loomed at us from the hotel, its barren white limestone slopes looking like a snow line above the pine trees. To be honest, from here, it didn’t look too bad.
We set off for Bedoin in a bright, warm, mid-morning sun. The ride out was relaxed and chatty. The vineyards of Provence lush and vibrant, their leaves blowing in the strong katabatic winds of the tramontane, blowing fiercely from the west. We entered Bedoin on market day, it seemed a great little French town, delightful. Full of fresh market garden produce, artisan items, and the aromas of herb and spice stalls. I would have loved to have spent more time here. As it was, Harby stopped for some cigs and then we were on our way.
Harbs set off at his usual pace, leaving me behind, the taunts of the kids ringing in my ears. “He’s leaving you behind!”. Well, by now I had his measure, he sets off like a sprinter, then decays into “shop-mobility” mode. I knew he wasn’t going anywhere for long.
The road to the summit takes you through Pine forests that seem to never end, twisting and turning, steep, then steeper still. The shaded glades at the side of the road filled with picnickers and playing kids. Only a few cyclists seemed to be out today, and we passed most of those. The climb was certainly tough. It was hot, the thermal winds blowing through the trees and only the closed perspective of the rising tarmac in front of you. I had no idea when it would end, I just kept peddling. The roads was littered with painted words of inspiration for cycling legends, at one point a huge British flag was daubed in tribute, I assume to Tom Simpson, but it wasn’t near his official memorial.
At Chalet-Reynard the road breaks through the trees on to a wide open area and a chance to catch your breath. But from here, the infamous “moonscape” starts and the way gets even steeper. The climb is pretty brutal. For some reason I couldn’t fathom out, the left-handed bends seemed to level out and give a slight remission from the incessant gradient; the right-handed always seemed steeper and more violent. From here the small clutter of buildings at the summit can be seen, dominated by the square communications mast. Two riders in the distance became my prey, something to keep pushing and my mind off the perpetual strain. The winds blew strong and the glaring whiteness of the sun reflected off the limestone only exacerbated the squinting grimace on my face. I closed in on the riders, feeling stronger and a little less overwhelmed by the Ventoux’s reputation as I neared the summit. One of the riders pulled away from his mate and slipped onto my wheel, a gesture I thought was a bit hard on his mate. They’d been riding together for at least the last 20 minutes or so that I’d been chasing them, and to leave his mate so close to the summit seemed a tad harsh. I carried on regardless, ignoring the flighty foreigner and just got my head down for the steep last section. As I rounded the last corner on to the car park in front of the gift shop at the top, the cheeky bastard whipped around my outside and sprinted for the last 50 metres to “beat me” to the top. I suppose he gained some satisfaction from it, I just thought he was a twat.
Harbs sauntered in about half an hour later, I think he’d stopped for a cig and some amphetamines at Tommy Simpsons.
So that was the Ventoux and the end of our Marmotte adventure. The Ventoux was an amazing climb, a real tough SOB. Personally, I think climbing the Galibier and the descent through Col du Lauteret to Bourg d’Oisans was the highlight of the trip. But it was all pretty damned amazing. Highly recommended to anyone who’s contemplating the Marmotte and stumbled across this diary. Take the time to get there early and reccy the route, prepare for long steep climbs, high temperatures, and 8 or 9 hours in the saddle. Prepare well and there’s nothing to be bothered about. Go to the Marmotte without preparation and brace yourself for the kicking you’ll take.