Les Cingles du Ventoux
Although I’ve been back for a few days and actually completed the Cingles on 9 August, it’s taken a while to digest this one. And pick up the proverbial pen and paper!
This, as last year, is a bit long, as I’d like to remember as much as possible, but, it was a near carbon copy of last year. For the uninitiated, the Cingl’s is this delightful club set up by Christian Peak. The idea being that you cycle up Ventoux on its three main roads, in one1 day and during daylight hours. For those who have greater designs, it can be done four times (that includes the off road, sheep track) or five, for the Masters.
The record is 11, apparently….all quite simple really…….
Jamie Wasley and I set off from our hotel – the delightful La Garance on the foothills of Ventoux, at around 7 am. The logic being an early start = an early finish, non? We’ll see…..
Fresh croissants in the square is always a good start to any ride. Most importantly the first stamp on our cards. We set off at a tidy pace. Talking nonsense and wondering what the day would bring. It wasn’t long before Jamie was pulling away. I quite enjoy this, as ‘acceleration’ is so slow, it’s almost inconsequential. You can keep a conversation going for quite some time, whilst your riding partner, ‘sprints ahead’. Jamie was much stronger than I. A winter of good training and a cheeky week or so in the Alps a couple of weeks ago, certainly showed. He was slowly inching away, but was still in view occasionally, when the road twisted and turned up. Interestingly, I was passing a few people. Mainly people on mountain bikes, with the occasional road bike, but hey, something to keep focussed on. I felt good and relatively confident. Or was that foolish, as I knew what was coming up?
The climb from Bédoin to the top of Ventoux is about 13.75 miles. It can (almost) be broken down into 4 bits – the bottom (!) which is ‘quite’ easy at around 4/5 %. The forest section, which is awkward, at around 8/9%. The section that wraps around Chalet Reynard – a little flatter at around 7%. And the dreadful bit from Chalet Reynard to the top. Which, I foolishly had researched (last year and not forgotten!) and it goes up and up with a nasty kick of 7/8/9 % in the last 2 miles. Lots to look forward to then….once I’d made it through the forest, I was dying for a ‘comfort break’. Crap timing, I suppose. I was convinced, it was slowing me down. Needs must! I also grabbed a cheeky espresso and sorted myself out. There is a comic element here, but I felt so much better, and cracked on with the final 3.75 miles. A definite spring in my legs. The most noticeable aspect of this section was the wind. Le Mistral is a nasty hooligan of a wind, that blows pretty much North to South, and doesn’t really let up, for most days, intermittently, throughout the year.
Leaving the shelter of the forest, was pretty grim. The road, cuts around the bends of the mountain, you go from a southerly direction, to a northerly direction, being bombarded with a headwind, then being pushed. Which was both good and bad! I had my picture taken by one of the snappers, for which I actually managed to look up and suck my stomach in, result! Soon, I was within reach of the Tom Simpson memorial. As with last year, I took a breath and metaphorically doffed my cap. Odd that I had the same emotions as last year. A sense of sadness at the memorial and Toms’ memory. It was mixed with a little self congratulation at being ‘up there’. There was a car, possibly Belgian or Dutch, I couldn’t quite remember, from the number plate, on the other side of the road. They were taking pictures of the memorial. I watched them stumble across the road, being buffeted by my new friend, Le Mistral. I did wonder what the hell I was doing and why I wasn’t sat in a nice warm car. The last three corners were extraordinary. It’s quite hard to describe, but they’re open and hang on to the side of the mountain. And the wind was howling. I ground up to the last corner, but had to walk the last few metres, as I simply couldn’t stay on! A quick stamp from the gift shop and was ready to go. I set up my phone on my bike mount to record the descent. It came out ok, but is just a huge windy noise and me moaning with my feet down. It’s incredibly steep on the back of Ventoux, heading down to
Malaucène. It wasn’t fun and I was, to use the vernacular, crapping myself. No rhythm, balance or relaxing descending. It took several miles to get to a place where it was warm. It took me about 33 minutes to get down the 13 miles or so. Very slow, in comparison to everyone! Jamie was there, still shivering. Although he’d been sitting in the sun, sipping coffee, for 40 minutes, he was still cold. I joined him, shivering away. Coffee and food and it was uphill again.
We stayed together but agreed to do our own things. No point in Jamie waiting for me, again! I felt good and kept Jamie in sight for quite some time. Last year, this was much the hardest route. This year, there was a tail wind. An uphill tail wind, on one of the worlds toughest ascents (just thought I’d dramatise things a little……) just imagine? Bliss. Almost. I just kept chugging away. I was passing the same vehicle with this family who were (I guess) following a family member. I saw them several times and made sure I waved. Anything to pass the time. I was in for a 2 hr ascent, I may as well try to amuse myself. I had been hoping to listen to some sounds, but had all but burned up the battery on my phone. What to do? I decided to work my way through the alphabet, naming bands and any of their tracks. I started with Abba and ‘Eagle’. Well…what other bands start with ‘A’…….? Anything to pass the time! The last part of the ascent from Malaucne passed quietly and, dare I say, easily. I rode with a chap called Guy, from Strasbourg. He was 58 years old and was ticking off as many peaks as he could ‘before I get to 60 and am too old’! Heartening to hear such things and something to aspire to. 58 is not too far away from my now aching 45 year old, 85kg’s worth of bones. The wooded area cleared and Le Mistral started kicking up, again. It was getting quite dull by now. By the time I’d arrived at the top, I was humming madly to ‘When you’re young’ by the Jam, even breaking out into song. I wasn’t confident of being able to hum and pedal and pay attention whilst descending…..so I put my thoughts on hold for a bit.
A quick stamp in the gift shop and a descent into Sault. It was (still) blowing alarmingly and the descent from the summit to Sault was a right nightmare. Only 1 foot clipped in for about 2 miles is very, very dull.
I saw Jamies’ wife Sam on the way up, quite rightly pushing her bike up. Riding in that wind was daft. Very impressively Sam managed a whole ascent and descent of Ventoux, which on approximately 10 weeks of riding is a great feat. The rest of the descent into Sault was a doddle. I saw Jamie briefly and he was comfortably rocking along. Later, in the hotel, when we were discussing our rides, Jamie admitted that he had been sick, not long after he’d seen me. I don’t believe that I was a cause, just too many of those horrendous gels and bars, and heat, and bodily rejection, I suspect. Like a medal, I collected yet another stamp in the tourist office of Malaucène, and was off again.
The ascent from Sault is pretty easy…..2, 3, 4% is comfortable and the wind was low. The heat was up a little so a pleasant hour or so was coming up, or so I thought. After about 30 minutes, I started feeling grim. I thought I’d eaten enough and drank enough. I remember last year having drunk 11 bottles throughout the day. It’s funny how when riding for hours, you think of things to pass the time. Counting, singing, analysing the aches and pains in various joins are all my faves. Checking out the scenery, however gorgeous, just doesn’t cut it. Paying attention to my calorific and fluid intake was something that I’d seemingly failed to clock. Up until that point, I was on seven bottles. Two or three bottles below what I probably needed. My legs were just about useless, very quickly. Even out of the wind, on the relative flat, I was struggling to get to 6-7 mph.
I was racking my brain trying to remember if there was a fountain (or preferably a shop!) on the back side of this bloody mountain. Nah. Plodding was the order of the day. I thought of asking someone for help, but who? No one appeared to be going up and I couldn’t quite bring myself to ask someone who was descending to stop…..the last hour and a half or so was pretty tortuous. After each corner, I was hoping to see Chalet Reynard. This ascent was 16.25 miles. I still had oooh, about 11.25 to go. I was down to my last few swigs of liquid. Do I sip it or just gun it and get on and try and get to Chalet Reynard as fast as possible. Head down. Wahey! I reckon that ascent was probably 2.5 hrs. Not so much fun!
I saw my missus, Donna, at Chalet Reynard. Great excuse for a metaphorical fag break. She’d managed to get to Chalet Reynard and ‘1.4 miles after’ and back down again. Wisely deciding that the wind was too much. Which I guess, goes to show, what a foolhardy thing cycling up Ventoux, is and was. I must add that my missus has possibly the worst knees of anyone I know. Many miles of marathon running and much (too much?) vigorous exercise, has culminated in various ops over the last few years. Sheer grim determination, and quads that now work, is what it took to get up to Chalet Reynard. She happily told me that she descended to our hotel and back up to Chalet Reynard again, in a few hours, very tidy indeed. Around 2100 metres of climbing, thank you very much. A great accomplishment. Sam was also there, so we hung out for a bit. I stuffed loads of food and liquid in and tried to get my head in place for the ‘last big push’. All sounds quite dramatic, I suppose. I was quite tired and could feel the wind picking up.
The bowl that Chalet Reynard sits in, is quite sheltered and lulls you into a sense of false security. The road leading up, is quite visible and full of cyclists. All seemingly going at the same speed. The wind pushing those ascending and buffeting those descending. It was heading towards 5pm now, time to get on. Jamie appeared and proudly abused me stating that ‘at least 1 of us is a 2 x member of the ‘Cinglés’. Oh, if only I fed off negative mind games! Would that it were…..I set off, feeling quite full of trepidation, knowing I had, I don’t know, another hour or so of riding to knock out. The usual format ensued, blown up around 1 side, headwind the other, for 3.75 miles. Crawling at 3.5 – 4 mph. Purgatory. The last 10 minutes were sheer (insert rude word here). Blasting gusts coming from all sides. I crawled around the last corner determined to ride up. It’s a 15/16% rise, I’d guess. I pulled an involuntary wheelie and just about fell off and fell up the hill. Stumbling into the shop for a final stamp was bliss. I chatted with these two Dutch chaps who were getting their stamps. I had an everso slightly smug smile when I said ‘2’. They thought that I was on my second ascent. I did feel somewhat obliged to clear things up and it would seem that they were most impressed. I was too.
The descent was the usual load of nonsense of being buffeted, wobbling and feet in and out of clips until Chalet Reynard. It did ease a little but I was riding the brakes for all too much of the descent. I really savoured it all though. The temperature goes up, the descent shallows a little and the smell of that first pint pervades your nostrils. The last corner appeared and the wonderful view of St. Colombe was in front of me. There was just 1 last trick from young Master Ventoux, in the shape of a sizeable gust from my right, just to remind me who was boss. Ok, ok, I get it. It’s interesting to note that some (not all!) of the signs directing you to the ‘Geant de Provence’ say Le Mont Ventoux. So, that’s The Mont Ventoux, is it? There’s another?
Jamie had recorded an output of about 5000 calories with 4400 + metres of climbing. Total ride of 84.70-ish miles. I suppose that means 42 and a bit miles uphill at an average gradient of around 7%. It is certainly worth mentioning that the ‘club’ currently has 4167 members. Of which about 100 have done it twice or more. Included are James Beaumont and Glenn Chamberlain, both members of the Kingston Wheelers, and both obviously far too modest to blab on about it! Tidy.
As with last years shenanigans, it was just a case of keeping going. I’m still just your average club cyclist, just a bit tenacious and I knew what was coming. In one sense, perhaps I should have left those sleeping dogs alone. It’s a brilliant day out with some cracking views. Just be prepared to suffer, a bit. Third time next year?