In July 2014 I stood astride my Ribble Gran Fondo at the sign saying “start” and headed off into the unknown up Le Mont Ventoux. 3 hours and 8 minutes of sheer hell later, after seven stops and a fall I arrived at the top, triumphant but ashamed it had taken me so long. It was totally my own fault though, I’d known for almost a year I was going to be doing it and had ridden my bike precisely zero times.
Fast forward to May 2015 and I find myself in the same place ready to do the same thing. This time though I’d trained a bit. Although where I live isn’t hilly, I’d really put the miles in on the lumpy Breton roads for a solid four months, often riding over 250 miles in a week. There is a short sharp hill not too far from me and I’d regularly go there and just ride up and down it until I couldn’t. Two advantages of this were: 1. Feeling fitter, riding faster and not feeling the hills so much. 2. I lost over a stone in weight.
And we’re off. I know the road, I’ve ridden it before and have driven it a few times, I know its going to hurt but I’m hoping for under 3 hours, I’ve told the Laydee of the House that I may sneak under 2.45 but have got a secret hope that I’ll sneak under 2.30. Its warm but pleasant at the start and I can see the weather station on top of The Beast of Provence, so I’m hoping for similar all the way up, although I know it’ll be chillier the higher up I go.
On my first trip, I was on the granny ring before I’d done a mile, this time I was feeling pretty good. I arrived at the St Esteve hairpin still on the big ring and still turning over at a decent speed. All savagely up hill from here until leaving the forest and arriving at Chalet Reynard. And yet, and yet, I felt ok. Its not easy, its not meant to be easy, but I wasn’t suffering like I did last time.
Past the place where I fell off last time, past many of the places where I stopped, still not quite powering up but still turning over at a good cadence.
Out of the saddle every so often to change position and alleviate pressure on my bum then back into the saddle with legs still feeling good.
I hear voices in the trees, kids playing on a swing as I turn my head to see where they are, this means I’m near the top of the trees. My Garmin is showing my MPH not the time lapsed, but as I climb out of the trees onto the relative ease of the road passing in front of Chalet Reynard I flick it quickly over.
I do a double take, my brain not quite able to take in what I’ve just seen. 1 hour 25 minutes. This isn’t possible surely? Last time I took an hour from Chalet Reynard to the top. Clearly I’m going better this year but even if I take an hour again I’m still there in under 2.30.
Massively spurred on I pedal hard, past the two smokers stood outside the rustic wooden building famed throughout the cycling world, I use the bends in the road to give me more speed around the hairpins, I’m feeling good. Pushing on I look up at a couple of the ski poles, the numbers ticking down quickly. One thing was definitely the same as last year though, that bloody weather station never seems to get closer.
I see a distance marker approaching, from the Chalet its 6kms to the summit. Hmm, my eyes are letting me down, I thought that said 2kms to summit. Surely that can’t be right?
The weather is now hideous, rain and sleet interspersed with fairly hefty gusts of wind into the face, but I’m still climbing and feeling good. Then, some cheeky rascal slips the invisible lead diving boots on.
Past Tom Simpson’s memorial, that means less than 1km to go. I refuse to look at the stopwatch. I’m slow now, properly pedalling squares, really having to force the gears to turn. The retaining wall appears on the right hand side, I’m almost there. Past the entry to the restaurant on the left. The last, final, brutal kick up at over 11% before I reach the flat and I know I’ve finished. I stop the clock and get off the bike, still not looking. A quick flick of the screen tells me I’ve finished in 2.08.39. It seems impossible, almost an hour quicker than last time?
This training business ….. seems to work doesn’t it?