During a family holiday to the south of France, my husband and I grabbed the opportunity to achieve a long held ambition to cycle up Mont Ventoux – the most feared climb in the Tour de France. We knew that this would be a huge challenge for us both; as the last time we had done anything like this was 20 years ago when we were both much younger, very active cyclists. In recent years neither of us had done much cycling so we were not quite sure what we would be letting ourselves in for; and we would be relying entirely upon our fitness gained from running to get us through the challenge.
We had booked some bikes to hire from Bedoin and planned that my husband would ride up Mont Ventoux first (with me following in the car for support with drinks and snacks), then the next day we would swap roles and it would be my turn to ride. My big day dawned on Wednesday 24th August. I woke up early having had a restless night and feeling a sense of dread at my impending cycle ride up Mont Ventoux. Having seen how tough it was the day before I wasn’t sure how I was going to fare. It was a sunny day and it was already a warm 24 degrees Celsius even though it was only 9am. As I arrived at the cycle hire shop in Bedoin and collected my bike for the day – a Trek Emonda S4 – I was feeling incredibly nervous. After a few adjustments and a short test ride I was ready to set off. I lined up by the starting sign and posed for a photo and then I was on my way.
The first few miles were relatively easy and I rode them gently in an attempt to save energy for the tougher, latter stages of the ride; although my pace was slower than I could run! At 2 miles I took my first stop and topped up my fluid and energy levels, and it was pointed out to me that I was already riding in my lowest gear and the steep climb was yet to come. I set off again and soon turned a sharp left hand bend and suddenly the climb became a lot steeper. I stopped again after another 2 miles and was feeling fine until I got off the bike. Going from riding with my heart rate in the low 170’s bpm to suddenly standing still made me feel somewhat giddy and a bit sick. I waited for my heart rate to recover and feeling better I hopped back on the bike and away I went. Throughout the steep wooded section I continued to stop every mile or so to allow myself a chance to recover whilst I topped myself up with fluids and jelly babies. I found with each 5 minute stop I felt a lot better and could resume my cycling feeling a bit recovered. Despite the gradient the wooded section was not as bad as I had feared. I found some parts easier than others and I tried to keep a rhythm going and just focused on completing one mile at a time. I was really pleased to reach the 6 mile mark feeling in good shape as I was a good way into the ride and was making solid progress. I had even started to enjoy it! All around me there were other cyclists on their own personal quest to conquer Ventoux, plus there were lots of cars following cyclists all providing support – it felt like our very own stage of the Tour de France!
I was amazed when I reached the Chalet Reynaud as I knew I was just 6 km from the summit – I couldn’t believe I had made it this far already and I was still feeling in good shape. I ate the last of my Chia Charge bar, then said goodbye to my family ready for the final push to the summit. I rode the next 2 km quite well as the gradient was a bit easier. I was now entering the bleak peak of Mont Ventoux with its lunar landscape. I took a quick short stop and then pressed on again. It was now getting much tougher as my legs were growing tired and the high altitude meant my body was having to work harder. The last 3 km seemed to go on forever. I found myself taking more frequent stops and all around me other cyclists were struggling too. With 3/4 of a kilometre to go I saw my family by the roadside and stopped again – I didn’t think the final kilometre would ever finish and to make matters worse the gradient was now 11%. I could see the 500m marker in the distance so I just focused on that. Next I set my sights on the next corner where the car park and sign for the restaurant came into view – I was so nearly there. I kept myself going and turned the last corner to the finish line (which was cruelly the steepest corner of all) and then I reached the finish line. I couldn’t believe I had made it and didn’t have to do anymore climbing. I had ridden uphill for 21.5 km to an altitude of 1912 m. I took at selfie and then waited to be reunited with my family. I then posed for more photos by the summit sign and sat down in the shade to ate my packed lunch.
After half an hours rest I bought myself a souvenir mini replica of a road-side marker showing the distance, altitude and gradient of the climb, and then I began my descent. The descent was amazing and I couldn’t believe how fast I descended – I thought I would go at a snail’s pace as I am not great on descents. I just used my brakes when I needed to scrub off a bit of speed and enjoyed the sound and sensation of the wind whooshing past my ears. After spending all morning getting up the mountain, it only took me 35 minutes to descend, and I was struck at the sudden rise in temperature as I returned to the valley below – it had now risen to 35 degrees Celsius. Before I knew it I was back in Bedoin where I returned my bike to the bike hire centre – my journey was over!
I felt really pleased with how I had ridden – it was tough, but I hadn’t really suffered or struggled too much and I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It had truly been a test of determination and I had to dig deep to find my inner strength, but I’m glad to say my mission was accomplished and I had ticked off one of the items on my bucket list.