If one of the qualities of intelligent life is the ability to learn from past experiences, then the Grandfondo Mont Ventoux would call into question any claims I have to be considered as such. Why was I back again, toiling up the 21 brutal kilometres of asphalt leading to the iconic weather station on the summit of that mountain? For those that don’t know it, Mont Ventoux is one of the mythical climbs of cycling. There are dozens of stories that epitomise the best and worst of the sport, perhaps one of the most apt being Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong duelling up the mountain in the 2000 Tour de France. For Brits, the most famous is the tragic tale of Tom Simpson who died in the 1967 Tour de France less than a kilometre from the summit after taking a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol, which, believe it or not, was considered performance enhancing at the time. It was to mark the 50th anniversary of his death that the London Dynamos chose the Granfondo Mont Ventoux as their 2017 club sportive.
This year’s GFMV started in Beaumes de Venise and featured a couple of insignificant looking bumps before tackling Mont Ventoux from Malaucène, which climbs some 1600 vertical metres over the 21km climb.
The route was 132km long but the summit of Ventoux was reached after 44km. So the race tactic seemed simple… try to get up the mountain as quickly as possible and then hope that one did not self-destruct in the 90km to the finish.
Race day (3rd June) dawned with some clouds on the summit of the mountain but generally warm conditions. Gilets were left behind and with the race starting with 8km of uphill it was obvious we were going to get warm very quickly.
As expected, the pace was fast from the off. I hung on to the bunch for the first climb but when we all got strung out on the first descent and I started the next climb about 10m behind fellow Dynamo Ray it started to get hard for me. 5 minutes at max power snapped the elastic and I watched the 50 or so riders in the front group ride away from me. Another Dynamo, Alex, punched by me but I passed him 5 minutes later looking somewhat spent.
So it was that I reached the bottom of the mountain after 50 minutes in the second group along with an strong lady rider who I later found out was my friend Tor’s arch rival, Magdalena de Saint-Jean.
I stuck with the group for about 4km but then had to throttle back and ride at my own pace. Thereafter followed 45 minutes of going backwards through the field. I felt dreadful and looking at my power meter confirmed what my legs were telling. I had over-cooked it in the first hour of the ride. My 2016 Haute Route team mate, Andy Metherell, went flying by me (he did the climb in an impressive 1 hour 19 minutes) as did Dan, another Dynamo.
Luckily I felt a bit better towards the top however and topped out just behind Dan.
The ‘long downhill’ started with one of my favourite descents which is the road down to Sault. However, as soon as I started pedalling or brought my knee up to lean into a bend, cramps flashed up my inner thighs. Luckily I was able to draft behind a fast group of five riders, including Dan, and we managed the 25km at an average speed of nearly 50kph. Drinking some water on the descent helped get the cramps under control and our little group, which had swelled to about ten, stuck together all the way to the last drink stop at St Leger 94km into the ride. Dan and I even got an efficient chain-gang going for the last 15km of this. It’s really hard to get people to work together in these events (with people of lots of different nationalities) so we were really chuffed; some payback all those Saturday morning chain-gangs that we do in the Dynamos.
Sadly I had stop to get some more water so I bid farewell to Dan and resigned myself to spending the rest of the race riding solo. Just at that moment I heard a rider come past me and saw it was Tor, who must have only been a minute or two behind on Mont Ventoux and had ridden really strongly to catch up. I was surprised to see her – we have some friendly rivalry going ever since she beat me in the Taiwan KOM – but it was nice to have some company.
We weren’t too far behind Dan’s group so I went into domestique mode and we eventually caught up. The two ‘insignificant’ lumps before the final climb proved quite testing but didn’t split up the group. However, I nearly lost it when I dropped my phone trying to take a picture of Dan and Tor… unfortunately shattering the screen and putting paid to any further photo action.
On the final climb everyone went as hard as they could and I was surprised to crest the col some way ahead of the 20 or so riders that now formed our group. I put my head down to solo the last 10km, most of which was downhill, but the cramps returned and in the final couple of kilometres Tor and two guys caught me. It was another fine chasing effort from Tor and I crossed the finish just behind her. She was the second woman and nearly caught Magda, who finished only three minutes ahead. Our time was 4.50 which was an average speed of 27.5kph for the 132km (total ascent 3200m). The winner took 4.07(!) and Ray was the fastest Dynamo with 4.28 closely followed by Zav, who rode Mt Ventoux and the rest of the race with Ray. Dan finished 5th just over a minute behind Tor and I.
The following morning, Ray, Tor and I rode the Grimpée du Ventoux from Bédoin. It’s a similar climb to the one from Malaucène (21km and 1600m) but is generally regarded as the toughest way up the mountain. We felt terrible riding to the start (bad sensations from the legs etc.) but I actually had a good ride and suffered less than in the Granfondo. A slower start really paid off high up and I managed to maintain good power up the whole climb which I finished just under an hour and a half. Ray was a few minutes ahead of me – in spite of a terrible hangover – and Tor a few minutes behind me. This time however Tor was the fastest lady beating a well-known Belgian who holds the women’s record for riding Mont Ventoux the most times in 24 hours (… which is 8 times!). It was much colder and windier on the summit than the previous day so we took shelter in the café below the summit. As we rode down the road was filled with lunatic triathletes finishing the bike leg of Ventouxman. Is that what normal people think of us cyclists too? Talking of lunatics, Alex and our sportive secretary, Tim, did the Grimpée but continued riding to complete the three times in a day ‘Cinglés de Ventoux’ challenge.
Ray, Tor and I however, were glad to ride down the mountain and enjoy a leisurely lunch. A good way to end this year’s adventures on Giant of Provence.