The Day After

Today is all about a rest. And cleaning the bike. A lot of dirt on the cassette and chain, not to mention the sticky residue of energy drink spillage. After Ventoux yesterday perhaps an anti-climax but necessary. A small piece of domestic work after a ride that will stick in my mind. Mont Ventoux via Bedoin. In the footsteps (or tread marks) of greats. Not at their speed, of course, but the same route that the Tour de France often takes toward the top of the ‘Geant de Provence’.

The ride that I have spent eight months preparing for was completed in two hours and three minutes. Not amazingly fast but apparently above the average which someone said was two and a quarter hours. One short stop for a banana and a lot water on the road preceded by an ample breakfast saw me to the top. A lot of luck with the weather as well with a wind that was benign, perhaps a little cooling, and a pleasant dryness.

Of course it was hot but the research I had done meant there were few surprises. Not too fast at the start although I did occasionally find myself accelerating a small amount to get around some other cyclists. Nothing against anyone but, strangely, I find it tiring to cycle behind someone sometimes. Come to think of it I also find it tiring when someone is too close behind me; perhaps I am just antisocial when in the saddle? In any case, I started the slow climb from Bedoin at a pace that was controlled and relaxed.

After Saint Esteve came the forest and it’s true, this is the worst part of the climb. Until you get a tantalising glimpse of the summit when approaching Chalet Reynard you have absolutely no idea where you are and how much further there is to climb, just the odd sign saying it is so many kilometres to the summit and usually these are more than you thought!

Usually I like forests but in this context I soon found myself going mad of the green of trees and the grey of the road, silence apart from my own breathing and the odd voices of others. You are working too hard to be sleepy but your mind occasionally switches off or, rather, goes in to a form of automation as it just processes the road, the path ahead, the bend approaching, the cyclists ahead, whether the path ahead is clear for overtaking and what is going on behind, speed, pulse-rate, breathing.

Automation.

Occasional shouts of encouragement from those who were with me, others along the path and cyclists taking part in the same event descending were a welcome break to the silence. Less welcome were those descending who were shouting unnecessary warnings. One was shouting aggressively even though there was plenty of room and, through his aggression, seemed to confirm his own lack of control and security. Another descended blowing a whistle constantly. Stupid distraction and would someone in a car hear him? No. If you are so insecure, don’t descend. Simple.

Incidentally, I did not descend. Despite my plan to leave a bottle with Tom Simpson my right hand decided to be very weak at the end of the climb and no way would I take the risk to myself or other people. Travel down with a car and with no shame at aIMG_3798ll.

When Chalet Reynard appeared it was a complete, uplifting, joyous surprise. An ugly little building but something I was elated to see. A short stop for the boost of the banana and to empty my larger bottle of sticky energy drink and then onward.

The luck with the wind meant what could have been the worst part of the climb was actually, for me, the best. Ahead was the red and white tower at the summit and I could see it which meant I know how far I had to go. Only six kilometers. I found myself smiling. Inanely and insanely perhaps but, smiling. Taking in a wonderful view in relative peace and maintaining the automation – breath, pulse, drink – that had carried me that far whilst allowing me the room to start taking in what was around me.

Still, the arrival is sudden. The tower is there, you are figuring out which path you need to take. And you are there. Last automation – turn Garmin off, save the ride and turn GoPro off. Then hugs and the remoteness of disbelief that something that has been eight months in preparation is done. Something that you have been training for over eight months is done. A better time than expected and the only negative is that the right arm has had enough. Pose for some pictures and quench an insane desire for a cup of strong coffee because I did not have one for breakfast. Coffee and cake at the top of the mountain.

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Job done – two hours and three minutes! Perhaps the indoor training was worth the boredom…..

I am not competitive but, for once, I was pretty proud. The reason why? Let’s be honest, blunt. I was only overtaken twice myself and overtook a lot of others. Maybe they were doing two or three climbs, I don’t know. But, give me a moment of pride. A guy with Multiple Sclerosis who was riding without cleats was not the slowest of the day! Someone who has never done much climbing and was certainly not racing did get a little kick from that.

Such thoughts, though, are unbecoming of the spirit behind the event and melted in the Provencal Sun as the kind messages of congratulation came in. These acted as a reminder that this was not about speed or competition unless that competition was with myself and what I have been diagnosed; for one day at least I was it’s master, at least until the summit. Yesterday was about raising funds and perhaps awareness and it was the generous support and openness of so many around me that meant I got up the mountain.

I am not perfect, tough, and please forgive me, the human in got a little bored cleaning up after yesterday and the human in me is just reflecting on overtaking and the human in me is smiling about that, just a little….

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Trainings End

So the training has closed. Tomorrow we fly to Marseilles and then a short piece of logistics before the big climb. Right now slightly nervous, but also happy, looking forward. Perhaps a little over-concerned about the weather but looking forward…..

And back.

After all, it is eight months of training and preparation for this. Nearly five-thousand kilometres ridden since October last year, indoor and outdoor. I cannot help but reflect on this.

Oddly enough the first thing that comes to mind is indoor training, something of a necessary bore. It is difficult to ride when it is snowing, icy or within the limitations of the short winter day matched with work. The indoor trainer makes sure that training is still possible. But it is also, frankly, dull, not as much to see as when out on the road. Still, it did its job and gave me a taste of gradients ready for the real thing.

Indeed, riding so much can get a little boring if you take the wrong route. It doesn’t happen often and normally there are some saving sights or bursts of colour to keep you awake. But, occasionally, in the empty stretches of Flevoland, for example, when the horizon just seems to stretch forever you get a little bored, a little fed up. It never lasts forever but, with forty kilometres down and another seventy to go, it feels like it could.

Punctures are a risk, always. Only one but it was in the middle of nowhere and on a wet day and, when it stopped raining, all of the mosquitoes in Holland suddenly appeared and decided that my blood was pretty good that day. No fun!

It was windy as well that day. Holland does not have many slopes and those locally simply cannot be compared to what will be faced in France. No chance. But it is apparently good preparation to ride in to the wind. So I have done that a lot. Again, difficult to compare to something with the mystique of ‘Le Mistral’ (said in a breathy French accent)  but, stuff that, enough wind! My first ride after this is done will be undertaken with the wind very much behind me.


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On every one of these ‘wind’ rides I seemed to pass a lot of cyclists going the opposite direction. All I could think was ‘you lucky sh*ts’, although some have probably done more climbing than I ever will!  Still, a mixed bag, the racing bike community. Some cyclists on racers do not do the image of their fellows much good. Unnecessary aggression (‘Scary Monsters and Super Creeps’), slipstreaming without actually saying anything (I find that a bit creepy, to be honest, especially if they get too close), impoliteness toward just about everyone else on the path, large groups who do not seem to notice there is someone coming the opposite way. Moan, moan, moan. Important that the negative few do not outweigh positive majority. Plenty of positive folks on bikes out there. Those who are polite and respectful to others, the slipstreamer who then overtakes and gives you a break from the wind and those who are just plain friendly. Like every group, there are good and bad examples and the negatives should not steal the limelight.

Indeed, there is so much that has been great in the last eight months that make me realise why, if I am not on a bike for a week, I start to get a little restless.

It has been great to go and explore Holland, pushing out toward new areas through my once-a-week ‘century’ rides. those over one-hundred kilometres. A lot of pleasant surprises. A ride to Amerongen stands out, especially as there was something like a hill there so I even managed 500 metres of climbing in one ride! But also a lovely area to see. With these rides I revived a little tradition of just blundering off in one direction (with guidance from my Garmin navigation, thankfully) and seeing where I ended up. As I noted above it could sometimes be quite dull but, still, even those rides usually led to somewhere where I had to stop, look, and take it in. A lot of great things to see.

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As for my first real hit of climbing in Belgium? Well, a huge highlight because I could do it, albeit painfully slowly, and also because it was in such a stunning area. I will admit that at points I found myself swearing randomly at this stunning landscape as, with gradients of twenty-four percent and higher, it was difficult to appreciate! But eventually I could.

The best thing about these eight months has, indeed, been seeing so many new things and realising that I am lucky that I can still pursue an active hobby and see so much of this small part of the world. I have mentioned my hunger to live in a previous post where I tried to summarise the reasons why I am taking part in the climb of Ventoux on June 11th and also how lucky I am. The main positive of this whole experience is realising just how much I have enjoyed it so far. Climbing the mountain will provide a perfect epilogue.

Or, rather, it marks the end of this chapter and the start of the next adventure, wherever that may lead

(cheeky note – sponsor me here – thanks!) 

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Stop

Last week it was slowdown and now it is a complete halt. The next time I will ride a bike will be in France. Not a major ride, just a quick familiarisation with the area around Ventoux. A warm-up ready for Saturday. Spot the route to the mountain….. Like I could miss the mountain…..

The final ride in Holland, for now, was accomplished on the reserve bike as the primary is already in France. A nice warm Saturday, medium distance at a relatively high-speed, helped by the fact that the wind was quite benign. Good to get used to warmth as it will probably be warm next week, certainly in the lower stages of the climb. All done in less than two hours. The bike was then put away and will not be coming out again for a short while. I flirted with the idea of a further short ride on Monday or Wednesday but actually what would that achieve? After over three-thousand kilometres this year, what difference will thirty really make?

Less than a week to go so there is no point in riding for the sake of it. I am as well prepared as I can be. No point in pushing it harder. Just some gentle strolls to keep the condition up and a wary eye on the diet to keep the weight off. It would be stupid in the extreme if, after all of this, I were  to arrive in France too worn down to make the climb. That could happen in any case but not due to over-preparation.

So a short moment of calm, a brief layover, a last countdown. Then time for the job at hand.

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Final Preparation

Now there is just over a week to go. Not much more to do in preparation. No point in over-exercising, tiring myself out or having a crash. The bike has arrived safely in France and is waiting for us there. Just some short rides to stay in shape on my second bike. But not so in shape that I am tired.

So it’s that phase where you get a little nervous, a little excited. In my case, I also read more about what it is I will be doing.

I am familiar with Ventoux, an imposing background to holidays in Provence. I have also climbed it. But that was in a car, not quite the same. Passed many cyclists on the way. Maybe thought they were a little mad. Cycling up a mountain? Crazy.

So now I am one of the crazy ones I am researching what it is I am about to do. There is the option to climb the mountain three times but I think, for me, once is enough. Call me cautious. As it will be but once, I will take the route that is the most famous, the hardest, from Bedoin via Chalet Reynard to the summit.

The lower stages of the climb from Saint Esteve to Chalet Reynard will be through forest that will protect from the wind but not the heat. Water, water and more water. The gradient at this stage is also the steepest of the climb, around nine kilometres at an average of nine percent. I have ridden on such gradients, even more than twenty percent in the Ardennes, but not for such a sustained period. Taking it easy will be the key, I guess. Expert climber that I am.

At Chalet Reynard the D974 marks a sharp turn and you start to climb toward the zone where the effects of deforestation are still apparent and the wind that you were protected from suddenly hits. Hopefully, please, pretty please, it will hit from behind and help push me up the mountain. But I don’t think it will, somehow. The gradients are kinder here but the exposure to the conditions may make things tougher.

A memorial to Tom Simpson apparently marks the last phase, steep again but nearly there. It marks where he died during an especially tough stage of the Tour de France undertaken on a hot day whilst using amphetamines and alcohol to help him through it; such an approach is not reflected in my preparation.

Then there is the summit. After all the preparation, the summit. 

But for all that preparation I cannot anticipate everything that may come to pass. I can only be as ready as possible, plenty of water, plenty of food. The advantage of undertaking such a ride as part of sponsored event is that there is plenty of support on hand and a couple of places to stop, take on supplies and rest up. A big help.

For all the preparation, I suspect I will need that help, especially as I don’t ride with cleats! Or clip-ins. Or whatever they are called. Apparently a great aid for climbing. But then I also remember seeing an older couple cycling toward the summit on ‘normal’ bikes the last time we were there. I mean, if they can do it….

But then their bikes were probably electric. Yes, that’s what it was. Wonder how I can get a motor in mine…..

The Summit of Ventoux
The Summit of Ventoux