In my earlier post Operation Mont Ventoux I recounted my ride of the classic Bedouin route up Mont Ventoux in April 2018. I got the job done but all didn’t unfold quite as I might have wished. I knew then that I would be returning at some point.
There are 3 road routes to choose from with the most famous being the ascent from Bedouin that I’d ridden in 2018 but one of the more extreme challenges on offer is to ride all 3 routes up in a single day. People who complete this get to call themselves “Les Cingles de Mont Ventoux” or roughly “Crazies of Mont Ventoux’.
You can join the club before the ride and buy a €20 card to confirm completion if you want. A browse of the club listings shows that many in their 70’s and 80’s have completed this challenge. The eldest being an inspiring 86 years of age. That’s really quite impressive and encouraging! I’m 60 now so it’s nice to consider that I’ve got so many more crazy years left.
To be the full double crazy, you can ride all 3 routes twice within 24hrs and become a “Bicingles”. (The eldest listed club graduate being 67…ummm 😉 )
Why though? Why put yourself through any of this?
It’s a question I often ask myself. Why is the idea of an ultra difficult or long ride feel more inspiring to me than something far more relaxed and casual? Do I actually enjoy suffering?
Well what is suffering? Enduring mental or physical pain and discomfort is a loose dictionary definition but this can extend to feeling wretched, racked or desperate. Ultra cycling has yet to give me feelings of wretchedness or despair.
Certainly I’ve experienced or suffered plenty of physical pain and discomfort on long rides but mentally and emotionally I’ve felt more charged and alive than during many far “easier” times.
There’s a popular saying “Nothing worth doing was ever easy” I think this can be misinterpreted.
Examples are offered of successful entrepreneurs working endless long hours or famous musicians or athletes practicing for 10,000+ hours. My point is that these people were inspired to spend these endless hours mastering their skill and attaining their goals; it wasn’t suffering or hard for them even though it may have exacted a toll on them and their families.
The drive necessary for their endeavours came naturally to them and they naturally refused to give up or stop; nobody forced them.
To me, suffering is being forced to do something against my will or better judgment.
Choosing to undertake a challenge, no matter how difficult, is a very different thing. It may require a lot of training and “work” but the essential thing is that you or I chose to and were inspired to do it.
As soon as you fully commit to a new challenge, however large or small, you can feel a shift, a change within. Nothing is ever quite the same again, life moves within you, focus and drive become enhanced.
Doing the easy, familiar or comfortable never summons life through you in quite the same way.
The only suffering I feel is from the mental anguish of second guessing myself about any of the above!
It was early June 2019 and I was deep in training and preparation for the Transcontinental Race No7 in late July, quite unaware that I wasn’t actually going to end up racing it.
This June weekend also jmarked the start of the Transatlantic Way ride in Ireland. An event I’ve ridden twice and ideally would have been riding again if time had permitted. Perfect excuse for my own solo companion adventure challenge then. Fine weather and light winds were forecasted for Ventoux so all was well for the weekend.
The challenge was this:
Ride from La Ciotat to near Ventoux on Friday night. Bivi somewhere, and then ride all 3 Ventoux road routes on my loaded bike before riding back to La Ciotat on Sunday.
There’s something special about setting off into the evening on a new adventure; riding into the night and the unknown. I feel a mix of anticipation with a hint of trepidation, the excitement of the new and the fear of the unknown. Start time was 19:25.
Knowing the stresses lying ahead for me I rode this approach very steadily, making a particular point of not burning my energy reserves by charging up any of the many hills or by riding too fast.
The night was warm with temps between 15 -22c and an average of 18c. Still 2 x 900ml bottles was water weren’t going to see me through the ride and keep fully hydrated. Thankfully I was able to re-stock at a Pizza van with a cold Coke and a free water top up. No pizza was required as I’d had a big feed before I set off.
The night wore on with the traffic steadily diminishing; all was peaceful and well.
I knew my approximate destination for the night, 127km in and shortly before a bakery at Pernes les Fontaines that opens bright an early for breakfast.
I rolled into a field a little way down a turning off the main road shortly after 02:00. After a quick wet wipe wash and snack I settled down in my bivi under the stars for a few hours kip. Perfect.
This was training not racing so no need for any serious lack of sleep, that would not help. Around 5 hours later I was awake and enjoying the morning view across the poly tunnels.
More feelings of trepidation. Am I really going to do this? Ah you mad, Chris? Yes, and quite possibly. I had no real doubt however.
Still the important matter of sustenance needed to be attended to before the physical stuff got serious.
I suspect that France may have more bakeries per capita then any other country. There are so many and most serve as an excellent stop for the travelling cyclist with easy access and the ability to keep a close eye on your trusty steed while you re-supply.
I’m particularly fond of the energy rich and protein packed quiches. On this occasion I had a pizza style baguette and a quiche. No concerns about race weight this weekend!
After my leisurely start and breakfast it was close to 09:00 as I rode the final approach to Bedouin. An increasing number of cyclist rode past or were seen to be preparing by their cars and vans. This was it…
I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I’d made the previous year and end up overheating so I duly removed leg and arm warmers and I should have removed my base layer as well but at this point it was still quite cool.
I knew what was ahead and what sort of power I was likely to be able to manage all day, basically around 200w, however, the Bedouin route has some steeper sections that make keeping my output this low impossible. I needed 250w+ to keep moving on some sections. Still, the ride up went far better than on my previous attempt even with temps in the high 20’s.
This main route is quite a circus with an endless stream on cyclists, runners, motor cyclists and cars of all shapes and sizes. I saw one guy on an old rusty and truly antique single speed bike making very respectable progress. Then there were the large men on e-mountain bikes riding triumphantly past me. No matter, I wasn’t racing and was on a very different agenda. It’s a relentless climb with no flat recovery stretches and then, once the end comes into sight, it is still actually far further away than it looks. Hence it’s fame and allure.
The heat was now getting quite intense for me with sweat pouring off and my water supplies running low but all was ok, it was just a tough climb and I duly made the summit at 12:50. Well past midday, one climb completed, non stop, but slowly at about 2hr 45min, a far cry from Chris Froome’s 55mins!
My slow start was going to make for a long afternoon and evening but it was a wonderful day with a great atmosphere so no rush.
Now to top up with seriously overpriced Coke and water before heading down to Malaucene for lunch before climb number 2.
This was a joyous descent and soon I was in town grabbing some supermarket convenience food. I was seriously hungry and a little chilled from the descent in spite of the high temps.
Sandwiches, protein rich salad and fresh berries. Convenience fuel with a hint of healthiness.
The climb from Malaucene was my favourite, its still tough but prettier and much quieter than the famed Bedouin route. By now however the sun was high with temps well into the 30c’s. Roasting.
I couldn’t comprehend some of the riders passing me with just a single water bottle. How acclimatised must they be?
I remember one guy passing me less than half way up, in a heavy sweat, and with his single bottle only half full. I passed him later as he sheltered from the sun under a tree. I never saw him again.
Some riders paused to chat to me and looked suitably quizzical when I explained what I was up to. Cingle…
My second climb was completed at about 17:30 and with the summit now much cooler and quieter. Just in time to purchase more overpriced Coke fuel from the little shop on top before it closed.
One more to go then. I was a bit tired for sure but not suffering in any way. My power meter suggested that my pacing strategy was working well and had me steadily outputting around 200w on the climbs. All was fine and much to my relief temps were dropping.
Down to Sault then for more food and the final, easiest climb. This last climb felt quite fast though it still took around 2hr 20min. My power data shows that I managed a normalised power of 203w and an average heart rate of 127bpm which was greatly helped by the lower temps averaging at 17c as opposed to the 29c average of the previous climb with a 130bpm average heart rate and lower 196w normalised power.
I barely saw anyone riding up here.
I reached the summit at 21:45 and with no option for more Coke fuel and rapidly dropping temps it was time to skedaddle back to Bedouin sharpish and find some nosh.
It was 7c now and breezy, I was rapidly getting chilled. Leg warmers, arm warmers, quilted gilet, wind jacket, gloves on. Descend
Another exciting descent in the rapidly darkening but moonlit night. I just had to pause to take the photo above.
The descent wasn’t drama free. First I got hit by a bat squarely in the head, which made me jump but caused no other damage. Shortly after several deer ran across the road and scared the bejesus out of me and I them. I rode on very cautiously, relying heavily on my brakes!
Finally, back in Bedouin, I found a closing Pizza restaurant that kindly made me 2 pizzas. One probably would’ve been enough but I still devoured all but a couple of slices of the two. My mistake, however, was in ordering one with pepperoni. This stayed with me through the night and again the next day as I ate the remaining slices for first breakfast.
I was feeling good and a tad triumphant about the completion of my mission. I, briefly, seriously considered continuing back to La Ciotat though the night but I was cold and with the next 30 or so km predominantly down hill warming up again seemed far too much like hard work. No need for heroics anyway.
I rode out of town and found another field for the night.
Dawn announced it’s presence with some loud, unexpected rain drops and moody clouds.
It was a fine relaxed ride home though, not withstanding a few rain showers. A pleasant average temp of 27c meant made for few issues with getting wet and I was back by the beach in La Ciotat at 15:23 ready for a shower, more food and a well earned drink or two in town later.
Yes, it would have been far easier not to have ridden this but riding it wasn’t suffering by any stretch and I’m surely richer for the experience.
Surprisingly, in the days that followed I felt physically better than ever. A grumbling ITB issue vanished, my often aching neck felt way better. It seemed I’d had some kind of physical purge.
I felt happier and more contented as well. Perhaps the saying should be
“Why settle for easy when you could thrive on difficult?”