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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