Ventoux: The Last Climb

The last side of Mount Ventoux has been climbed. The easy one, sort of, and the first of this year’s challenges. Still important to me.

First things first. I completed it in a time that was not a record but with which I am happy. The focus this year was on my heart rate and that stayed under 170 with an average of 152. I am happy with that. The climbs were not insanely fast but a reasonable tempo. The biggest fight was the temperature, especially on the final part of the climb. The climb was completed was a part of a seventy kilometre route via Gorges de la Nesque.

The sort of technical summary. And now my legs hurt.

The route via Sault is the easiest of the three climbs to the top and, for a good part of the ride, it felt that way. There is still plenty that is memorable about it though. The preamble via the Gorges de la Nesque was about as perfect an experience on a bike as can be had. Relatively easy gradients and a light, cooling wind. But stuff that, what a sight to behold. Pictures cannot do it justice and it made the necessary refreshment break something special.

Then to Sault and a long, steady climb through forest that is actually pleasantly cool, not suffocating like the route from Bedoin. Actually, apart from the scent of lavender and one well chosen viewpoint, another good excuse for a rest, it was pretty unmemorable.

Suddenly there is Chalet Reynard and the end is in sight. To get there means dealing with the hard sting of the psychotically steep gradients over the ‘bald’ section of The, hum, Bald Mountain.

This time the wind was not helping. It had the last time but this time it was still, hot and exposed. This meant I needed a stop on the last bend before the top, just to give my right arm a rest and cool down. Only 500 metres to go but 500 metres going up a wall in the Provencal summer heat is….. challenging.

Descent? No, not this time. The heat had combined ‘nicely’ with my MS to make sure my right arm was not feeling strong. I had the legs but not the arm. One of those moments when the right arm says ‘f*ck you, I am also on holiday!’ So we called it a day.

I always maintain that the cooling effect of wind is valuable to me whilst cycling. Standing nearly still with none in the increasing heat simply proved that. For me at least.

Still, 2,000 metres worth of climbing and 70 kilometres of ride was nothing to sniff at. And perhaps a large chunk of the ride was unmemorable but the moments that were memorable made up for it. The Gorges de la Nesque, finally reaching the summit again. Wonderful.

Then there were the faces of those around me. Most cyclists, whether overtaking or being overtaken, managed a ‘bonjour’, even though it was usually quite an effort. A very jolly portly lady on the climb up from Chalet Reynard, taking a breather with a big grin on her face. The not so happy face of another cyclist sat on the steps of the Tom Simpson memorial with a face that said ‘f*ck this’ in no uncertain terms.

Of course, there are not so happy sights. I passed one lady who was weaving uncomfortably and had not reached Chalet Reynard at that point. The worst was to come and she was struggling. She could speak coherently, though. I hope she made it.

There are also always idiots. A maniac in sports car who had watched too many Top Gear episodes was a reckless danger to cyclists and other cars. Another cyclist also caused me to brake (f*cking BRAKE) as he had decided to weave around the middle of the road to pick up his sunglasses. He got an earful in English from me on one side and in French from some guys descending in the other. Hope he is bilingual. He then drafted (Drafting! On a mountain! Without asking!) another rider further up before being told again where he could go. Not sure what the language was this time.

But it’s done. The last side of Mont Ventoux. The last big climb, apart from one mountain bike route which I am not going to go anywhere near!

It’s not like I will never come here again, the region is too beautiful. But this also feels like the closing of a personal chapter. Mont Ventoux has become a personal symbol for me of MS and my personal battle against it. It was the first mountain I ever climbed, something of which I am still so proud, initially to raise funds for MS research.

It’s come to mean more than that. It was the first of my personal challenges with the bike that have meant pushing myself harder, standing up at least in part to my illness. The illness can still bite and no-one can predict how it will proceed. But I will always have Mont Ventoux and what it has given me, a symbol for the fightback against what I have.

Is there anything left? Maybe I will try to go all the way around Ventoux? I certainly won’t try all three sides in one day, that is beyond me. I expect I will climb it again, maybe finally descend. But these three climbs, Bedoin, Malaucene and finally Sault, will never be lost to me. Places I had never heard of before I took up cycling. Now both they and the mountain they lead toare, and will remain, symbols of my personal reaction to MS.

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