Fuelling Up For Mont Ventoux

A bottle of pastis is placed in front of me the night before I am due to attack one of the most fearsome of all the Tour de France climbs Mont Ventoux.

The alarm clock rings at some godforsaken hour and rising out of bed as slowly as the sun I made my way to the breakfast bar to fuel up for the days ride. Michel, the barman who provided me with plentiful pastis the previous evening, kindly prepared a packed lunch, however it was a 3-course dinner I was looking forward to after my gradual but gruelling ascent.

Starting at the town of Sault (694m) I followed a 26km zig-zag road to the white limestone peak (1912m) and if my name is to be in the record books I needed to beat 55 minutes 51 seconds set by Spaniard Ivan Mayo in 2004.

It all began swimmingly as I breezed into the valley past a wooden hut selling lavender, but my happiness was short-lived as I left the scent of purple flowers behind climbing deep into the barren forests. With the snowy-topped target in the distance, it felt like I was being passed from one mountain to another as the first 20km of cycling bent towards the pit stop at Chalet Renard.

Here I was mightily tempted by the sugar rush a can of coke would give me, however I decided to persevere as long as physically possible. Shortly after, I came into contact with other humans for the first time, as two coaches parked by the roadside. My freshly prepared sandwich was too tempted as I grew ever more jealous of their motorised mode of transport.

With renewed energy and spirit I prepared for the onslaught of a 3% increase in gradient whilst the landscape abruptly changed from forests to bare stony hillside. The combination of the sudden steepness and gale force winds sent me flying from my bike. I then understood where the giant got its name from as the French for windy is venteux. The lessons continued as I passed a group of hikers who pointed to the sky saying c'est tres mistral. I deduced they were referring to the strong winds associated with the mountain and offered words of encouragement for their climb - Bonne chance.

Leaving the French feet behind, I pushed my pedals towards the summit, passing the memorial to British cyclist Tommy Simpson who died from heart failure during the 1967 Tour de France. The yellow and black marker poles (used to gauge the depth of snow) provided a countdown to the peak, inspiring me until my legs can go on no longer, but fortunately my battle is over.

Soon after consuming the sugar of that elusive coca-cola I was standing on the top gazing at views stretching from Mount Viso to Mont Blanc.

Lance Armstrong once said it's the hardest climb in the Tour, bar none. I don't know what he's talking about, it only took me three hours!

A Buswell

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