It is hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t like cycling. Actually it’s hard to explain to many who do like cycling. In fact, it is plain hard to explain! How can someone who lives in a flat country and who has a right leg that can be slightly questionable like climbing so much?
So, I live somewhere flat. Me and the guy who just came second in the Tour de France, a fair amount of which involves going up things.
Though, to be fair, he comes from Limburg, which is hilly…..
Anyway, he was born in the saddle whilst I started at the age of thirty-eight. Or was it thirty-nine…..? In a flat country. How was it possible to find out that climbing was something I enjoyed because, well, when would I do it?
The truth is it’s actually related to my condition – just had to get it in there! I was a beginner to cycling but had the idea to do something for charity. Ideally related to MS. Not long diagnosed after all. Raise money and awareness as I was starting to figure out that it was not going to end my life. But I I had been nervous about doing anything in a large group. Perhaps my slight twitchiness would cause problems?
That had been partially alleviated with the purchase of a new bike. A Cannondale Synapse, the stability of which had proven to be a major confidence booster. Of course, there were plenty of issues, There still are and there always will be. But this was a confidence booster. I had the feeling I could do something.
I stumbled across a Dutch event, Klimmen Tegen MS or Climb Against MS. A sponsored ride to climb Mont Ventoux. And raise funds for MS research. I had long had something about Mont Ventoux, from the first time I saw it during a short holiday in Provence. Looming on the horizon, watching over the land with a quiet menace in the setting Sun. It was stuck in my mind. A later holiday and we drove to the top. A midweek late in the season so there were a few cyclists around, toiling to the top. I didn’t ride at all then but it was so intriguing to see so many toiling their way to the top. I remember thinking that it must be quite a feeling……
So I went home and bought a bike on impulse and the rest is history.
Not long afterwards came the diagnosis. Irony.
A combination of events that meant it was a no-brainer than the climb of Ventoux would be the sponsored challenge. I wrote a lot about the preparation and the day itself a couple of years ago. What lingered, though, after all of that preparation and the day itself was just how it felt to climb. The legs felt it, so much. That was special. Sometimes I was so slow my Garmin assumed I had stopped. But I was still feeling it. The right leg was not as strong but still pushing the pedals hard.
Feeling where there wasn’t as much as there should have been, sometimes.
I’ll say it again. It felt good. Instead of nothing, there was tightness. Pain. Sometimes to the extent that I did not think I could make it.
But I did.
I have climbed Ventoux since via a second route, starting in Malaucene, and have a hankering to complete the third route, via Sault, which is easier. But via Gorges de Venasque, an extra bit of climbing surrounded by awe-inspiring beauty. I may even descend this time. Descending is hard work, especially when the roads are lined with trees. So much for my scrambled filters to take in quickly. Either that or wear my brakes out. But that gets better with practice.
Real climbing normally means special trip. Provence, Majorca and The Ardennes in Belgium have been destinations so far, the latter for Liege-Bastogne-Liege for the last two years and my first real sample of climbing in 2016. The main memory of that is accidentally pulling wheelie because the gradients were so steep. And being very slow. But a good learning experience.
(Funnily, just re-read that post – all of the issues are there – descending was a nightmare then, I suppose it’s getting better now).
My last blast of climbing was on holiday in Normandy. Like the Ardennes with lots of short, steep climbs although it must be said the roads were better quality and far quieter. And the occasional driver gave cyclists a lot of room and polite respect. After a slightly demoralising fall on Liege it was good to feel the strain again. One kilmoetre at an average of 9%, maxing out to 17% around a small chapel in the town of Mortain brought the confidence back. And that great feeling when you feel the grind on your legs suddenly soften as the road gently flattens it’s incline. The feeling of achievement.
And the strange, sadistic enjoyment that I get from that feeling of pain in my legs. Especially that slightly useless right leg that has the habit of occasionally crumpling under me whilst I am walking. To feel something. That is so worth it.
It has taken me to Col de Haussiere (that first in Belgium), Mont Ventoux, Cap Fermendor (my favourite), Coll de Femenia, Notre Dames des Abeilles (the most difficult, Category One in midday heat, meant to be a warm up for Ventoux but ended up being memorably difficulty in its own right)…. lots of names that mean nothing to most. But to me, each is an achievement, a small moment to defy gravity and briefly put two fingers up at that condition.
The target is to keep adding to that list, perhaps but not necessarily more well know names (although Ventoux is pretty well-known). Perhaps the name is not the point. It’s the feeling when the top is reached and your legs are wonderfully sore but then you look down behind you and you think to yourself….
I did that!
Then you realise you have to go back down….. Like I said, something to work on…..