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June 9, 2008

On Saturday I rode “La Ventoux, Beaumes de Venise” which involved riding 170km with more than 3000m of climbing. Now why would you want to do this? Here is why:

This is the second and shorter of the two “big” descents of the day, dropping from Chalet Raynard down to Bedoin. By the time I was descending this I was most certainly in a “saving energy” mode but on the upside this descent did not start in the clouds.

Before the ride there was much talk of how hard climbing Ventoux was going to be. Ventoux has a formidable reputation not least because Tom Simpson died climbing it in the 1967 Tour. It is a strange climb for at least two reasons.

  1. The road was built not for horse and cart but for motor vehicles. So the roads are wide extremely good quality but steep. You can see the quality of the road from the video. Most of that descent was over 40mph and the top speed of 48mph somewhere. All this on a bike with 100psi tyres yet unlike some of the videos in England the film is not vibrating to much.

  2. It goes to the top of the mountain. Most cols go to a pass which is the lowest point in a mountain range.

Then the area is renowned for it’s strong winds. We were buffeted the whole day by a strong wind from a North East.

Every bike we saw, of which we saw plenty, had a triple chain set and those with only double chain sets mostly had “compact” chain sets. The small rings had 34 to 36 teeth and there were plenty of 27 tooth rear sprockets in evidence. I therefore got increasingly worried that my 39 tooth small ring and 25 tooth big sprocket were not going to give a low enough bottom gear. Needless to say the riders I was with spotted my concern and played on it (cyclists are like that, it’s not personal).

On the day after an initial panic with one of the riders I was with having a split tyre just before the start we were off at about 8:40 and we rode to the base of the main climb at Bedoin. I was still with one of my friends at the bottom of the climb but only briefly as I clicked into my bottom gear and I assume he clicked into his which was lower. As so often happens to me after the first 1km I thought as long as it did not get much steeper I could keep doing this for quite a while. Getting to Chalet Raynard and above the trees the wind started to play it’s part which initially allowed me to slip up a few cogs as I was blown up the hill. However on the next bend it was first gear again for the hill and the headwind and the added fun of going into the clouds which completely obscured the view of everything.

We had driven up here on the Thursday when it had been equally cloudy to amongst other things pay our respects at the Memorial to Tom Simpson, so I had some idea that when I reached the Memorial was about 1km to go. Since Cafe Raynard I had been contemplating whether to stop to put on my waterproof jacket for the decent or whether to just tough it out. Going over the top I decided to do the sensible thing and put on the jacket After all I had dragged it all the way up why not use it. This turned out to be a very wise decision.

The start of the descent was quite horrible. The lack of visibility, the damp road, the wind, the cold and the other riders streaming past all made for an unpleasant and quite scary ride. After a while however I was below the cloud and started to feel happier streaming down the wide smooth tarmac. The pangs of hunger though were beginning but the idea of eating while doing 40+mph being buffeted by crosswinds down a road that had tight bends and that I did not know did not seem wise.

On reaching the bottom I could feel that the food situation was more desperate and so ate the banana that I had had stuffed down the front of my jersey almost immediately after eating that I came to a food stop where I got some cake and more drink.

The next section of the ride was according to the profile, flat. However the profile was dominated by ventoux so failed to show that in fact there were a number of short climbs and descents that were sapping my remaining strength. All the while my GPS was forming a double torture by telling me I was less than half way round and the elevation meant I had over 1000m of up hill before I got to back to Cafe Raynard.

Just as I thought it could not get worse the rider who I had last seen at the bottom of the climb called out my name. Now this is not a race but it is competitive. I felt sure that if he had the legs to catch me then he would fly past me and then be able to spin his lower gear up the next climb while I struggled to try and stay in contact. We ended up in a group of six or so riders cycling up the river valley with sitting in second place wondering when the inevitable would happen and I would be spat out the back. When my friend went to the front the pace increased, the other riders all rode past me and I was spat out the back. Then the gap stopped growing with me about 50 yards back.

I decided I may as well make one final effort to bridge the gap as then at least I would get some shelter and to my surprise I managed that quite easily. As the road turned upwards more severely I found myself passing the other riders until as the climb for real started I was off the front and feeling good.

The second climb of Ventoux was very very much easier than the first. The road was much less steep and so when the wind was in my face I was doing 10mph and when it was behind I was doing 18mph. There were some other British Riders with “Elite Cycling” shirts on so in the last 2km I used one as a target to catch which while taking the long view was the wrong thing to do did have a certain pleasure when I got onto the big ring and hit 28mph uphill in the last km of the climb (yes I had a tail wind, but I can dream I’m a cycling god).

Then that descent.

The final section was into the wind and again the profile showed as flat but in fact contained three significant (ie bigger than anything we get in Surrey) climbs which resulted in me crawling up them with the constant fear I was going to be caught again.

The final five km however were both downhill and with the wind behind me so I was able to fly down the road at over 30mph waved through the junctions by the marshals as at all the other junctions.

I managed to finish with a time of 8 hours 4 minutes 13 seconds for the 170km earning me a Silver certificate.

My GPS disagrees about the distance as does MapMy ride. The GPS claimed 105 miles, MapMyRide claims 99.67miles but it also shows that some of the corners were cut. Cutting those corners for real would involve a significant fall!

Find more Bike Rides in Beaumes-de-Venise, France

Brilliant ride well organised.


From → Cycling

  1. Well done Chris – it sounds like you had a good day out there. I’m not sure I believe the bit about reaching 28mph uphill though 😉
    I make 170km = 105miles – near enough, so your GPS seems accurate to me.

  2. Congratulations on completing Chris glad you enjoyed it:) I had to cycle back from the station last night – a great disappointment after the tarmac in France – im not looking forward to my next ride on it 😦

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