Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mont Ventoux - epic

The rest day for the Hannibal Tour had an optional climb up Mont Ventoux with only a couple choosing to do it.  Camilla and I were keen, as were a couple of others including my doppelganger Bernadette and Felix a journalist who, like Bernadette, is riding all the way to Rome. 

The night before the weather forecast looked terrible.  Mont Ventoux is about 50 kms from Avignon and looms in the distance but often covered in cloud.  The forecast was for rain, 50-60kph winds (a mistral) and 2-4 degrees.  We wavered and had pretty much decided not to do it.  I was still feeling unwell in any case. 

Morning had a different, more positive forecast and we stuffed around “yes, no, maybe” for several rounds.  Until, suddenly everyone decided to go.  I packed hurriedly and left everything for Ted to transfer to our hotel for the next two nights.  Thanks Ted!  He was heading off to check out Nimes for the day – after he had moved all our gear, that is.

Next thing we are in the van and heading to a small town about 10km from the base of Ventoux.  Got changed in the hotel where the Hannibal Tour people were staying.  A lovely old place that used to be the home of the Marquis de Sade.  Hmm, would like to have found out more.

I put on everything warm I owned and packed a rainjacket as well.  And Camilla, Bernadette and I set off with Alan (ex DHBC now SCC) who had turned up for the next leg of the tour. We stopped at Bedoin for a quick bite to eat, Alan headed off and then we 3 women.  Except we got lost somehow and wandered around the foothills for 10km we didn’t need before heading back to Bedoin for instructions only to be met by an incredulous Dylan who couldn’t believe we missed the turn … Yeah, well it was easier second time.  Add that to the list of stupid things I have done.  Apparently I was on the front when we missed the turn.  Apparently.

Bedoin is the climb most often used by in the Tour and reputedly the hardest.  I had a vague thought of doing all 3 climbs, but given we hadn’t started til 2pm, that wasn’t going to happen. Plus I was coughing.  A lot.

We decided to climb at our own pace and I left Bernadette and Camilla after a few kms and climbed solo.  It’s indeed a hard climb with long stretches of 10% and unrelenting.  No ups and downs so it was hard to take a drink.  I stopped twice to have a gel and a drink.  Every km there is a sign that says how far to the Sommet (for the benefit of Jo - that’s summit in French) some of which I missed. Don’t know how that happened. 

The road was wet from recent rain. Alan had got drenched in a downpour that fortunately missed us.  A benefit of getting lost I guess.

Eventually I got to the restaurant about 6km from the top and at the treeline.  We had arranged to meet here on the way down and all descend together.  And warm up as it was getting quite cold.  And I’d sweated so much on the way up I was properly wet through.

The last climb to the summit was exceptionally hard.  A few turns and I was up in the cloud which got progressively denser and wetter and colder.  And without the protection of the trees the wind got strong.  A tailwind up some of the windy bits was very welcome.

At one point, there were people in black by the side of the road murmuring things that didn’t sound like encouragement.  Don’t know what language.  A bit further on, there was another one.  They appeared out of the fog.  Very spooky and inexplicable.

Snow by the side of the road confirmed how cold it was.  Got to the top and corralled a random person to take a picture of my in front of the sign and took off back down the hill.  That was some climb and SO COLD. No inclination to look around and see if the shop really was a sweet shop

But the descent was horrible.  No visibility, wet possibly icy road and a tail wind that picked up my rain jacket and turned it into a sail.  At one point I stopped because I thought my head set was loose as the front wheel was shaking.  Bernadette told me later she had the exact same experience and also stopped to check the headset.

I got down to restaurant and overdosed on hot chocolate and a Nutella pancake and waited for Camilla and Bernadette to arrive.  They did looking and feeling the same as me – kind of shaky but really pleased to have made it.   They bought jerseys, which they both immediately donned for extra warmth.

We took the rest of the descent slowly.  It would have been great to scream down but not the conditions for it.  I’d noticed on the way up that my heart rate was about 10 bpm higher than it had been in the Pyrenees when climbing and while I might have been a bit faster with fresh legs,  I also think it was being sick.

Eventually back at the home of the Marquis de Sade and we treated ourselves to a glass each of Mont Ventoux’s finest wines – and headed back to Avignon exhausted but pleased with ourselves.

By now, completely over fine dining, we found a Vietnamese restaurant and ate rice.  They even had a vegetarian plate.  Happy days.  

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