I woke up this morning coughing and sneezing green gunk from my nasal cavity and the skies looked ominously grey. Actually, make that black. Let's be honest - neither conditions ideal for riding. If I was at home, I would definitely not have gotten out of bed - but how often do you wake up at the foot of one of the world's most revered and respected climbs?
Yep. Not very often. Time to HTFU and worry about the consequences later.
Mt Ventoux in Provence, France, is magical. It is called the Giant of Provence because it stands alone as a mountain rather than part of a range as most mountains do. It has three roads up to the distinctive observatory tower on the top - from Bedoin, from Sault, and from Malausene.
KKB left at 3am on his quest to join Club Cingles. Joining this club is free - but eligibility is limited to those who have ridden up Mont Ventoux from all three directions in 24 hours. No easy feat.
I'd considered this option but decided against it, based partly on my lack of hill training and partly because of the timing with my upcoming ironman. I'd already ridden up the "popular" side from Bedoin so I decided to ride around to the Malausene climb. If I was feeling good, I'd descend to Sault and complete two sides.
I'd woken for the second time at 5am, just as it was starting to get light, to make my final preparations. I checked and rechecked my route waiting for the sky to lighten, but not much happened on that front. I finally set out at around 6.30 and began to pedal my way through gorgeous little country villages Modene and Caromb as it started spitting a little. It started getting heavier as I passed the impressive looking village of Le Barroux, perched delicately on a hill, and not long after, I I heard what sounded a little like thunder.
I'm not really accustomed to morning storms, so when I heard the first roll of thunder I didn't quite take it seriously. Even though it was accompanied soon after by a brief flash in the sky.
Hold on. Is that lightning?
It took a few to convince me that I was stuck in a thunderstorm at seven in the morning. What?
I pulled over as the rain started to increase to contemplate my options but there weren't very many good ones. Head home in the rain and probably watch it clear, or keep going and risk it not clearing. After the rain eased I decided that I'd keep going and when I got to Malausene, consider my options once again.
Of course, when I got to Malausene, the rain had cleared some more and I'd seen a few patches of lighter sky. (Not blue sky, just seemingly clearer). So I decided to continue up Mt Ventoux rather than turning straight home.
Sure, this rain thing isn't so fun. It's kind of cold and conducive to that green gunk I'd been harvesting, multiplying like crazy. That's not good 17 days or so from an ironman. But, in almost a repeat of my decision to start in the first place, I decided that it isn't very often you find yourself at the foot of Mt Ventoux with your bike. You only regret the things you don't do, and not the things you do. So what was I waiting for?
I watched the route markers tick away as I circled my legs over and over. Most of the popular French climbs have a distinctive route marker each kilometre to signify how far to the summit, current elevation, and the gradient of the next kilometre.
Today I saw all of the markers of the ascent. In fact, I'm absolutely certain that I saw two 14k markers. (But I didn't double back to check!)
There were a few sections with lower gradients, but there are also some long stretches of well over 10% gradient. With 4ks to go I ran in to a vicious head wind, and only then did I spot a glimpse of the very top of the observatory tower on the top of the hill through the trees. With just a couple of ks to go, I got my first good look.
All in all, the experience from this side was very different. From Bedoin, you can see the observatory for ages, and it perches there taunting you as you slog through kilometre after kilometre. On a clear day, the views you would get from the Malausene side would be worth another ride, and even some pictures, but today was not clear.
It was freezing at the top so after taking the obligatory shots with the 'Sommet' roadmarker I put on an extra layer and went into the little shop to warm up a little.
I decided I wouldn't descend to Sault and come back up. I was freezing and while there were patches of sun, there were still patches of rain. Time for home. But then, not far past the turnoff to Sault, I had a glimmer of wondering whether I should have gone for another. Maybe I should have...
Instead I headed for home to wait for KKB. I hadn't heard from him so didn't know how he was progressing with his triad of climbs. Just before 2pm, he arrived having achieved something quite unimaginable. With 10 hours 20 minutes of riding time, he said it was his hardest ten hours on a bike.
Mt Ventoux is an amazing place to ride. If you ever get the chance, do it... whether it be once, twice or three times.