Trustee conquers Mont Ventoux for HCUK

Pretzels……..that's the answer. At least it was in New York in 2013. Ten days before the NYC marathon in my last quick run I pulled my right calf. Ice, rest, compression and a trans-Atlantic flight later I set off with the foolish intention of still trying to run the PB that I had trained for…….By the time I arrived in Central Park the PB was out of the window and I was into survival mode. No time to take in the beauty of my surroundings…..just get to the end, by any means possible, and collect the medal. The American lady with the Pretzels will never know how much she helped me. The cramp in both legs seemed to miraculously disappear and some how I made it…

Fast-forward to August 27th 2015. How I wished for the American lady with the Pretzels to be on Holiday in the South of France. Why wasn't she standing by the side of the road as I came out of the forest section on Mont Ventoux? Instead a fellow of the velo (as it happened riding exactly the same bike as me – Cannondale Synapse Ultegra 2015) recognised my desperation and gave me a couple of his dextrose tablets, "These always sort out cramp for me mate" he said in a midlands accent. He had been cycling through Europe for a month, preparing himself for arguably the most demanding climb in cycling.

Click here to see the Mont Ventoux video

I thought I was ready too. I had cycled all year, improved my power and fitness. I had made sure that I had done some climbing and I had spent the preceding week in the Lake District; Hardknott and Wrynose were hard, very hard. Perhaps I was a little tired? But my legs felt good and I had been out in the Cevennes with my good mate Paul Humphries (Dulwich Paragon CC, master of the Haute Route and Etape du Tour) and managed to keep up. So over a beer in the evening sun, looking out over endless vines heavy with the darkness of wine filled fruits, we planned our route to the summit of The Giant of Provence.

Starting in Malaucene we "warmed up" with a climb to Suzette (2.7km at 6% from the off) and a spin in the Dentelles de Montmirail. Stunning scenery with great roads and limitless views of The Bald Mountain, speaking to you from the summit, drawing ever nearer, it doesn't look that high, but you know it's 1912m tall and you will feel every metre. Have I saved enough for the climb?

A quick trip through Beaumes-de-Venise, which on any other day would be a degustation of the best dessert wines of the region, but today is merely a preamble to base camp. Before we know it the signs for Bedoin are upon us and the time has come. We are going up Mont Ventoux the way The Tour does it, the hard way, from Bedoin on the Southern approach. The bare facts are simple: 21.5km, 1612m of climb at an average of nearly 8%. Just find a gear, a Granny gear, and tap it out to the top.

And so it began, with an hour and forty in my legs and at just after noon the mad dogs and Englishman climbed in the midday sun. You don't feel the 9% in the beginning, but soon the heat builds and the heart rate rises. This was to become "a bad day at the office". The forest section is relentless, upwards of 10.5% and it never gives up. Straight bit, a turn, will it flatten? You soon know the answer is "No". There is no let-up, no mini-rest, just continuous unadulterated hell-hot, all-over body pain. Before long everything is screaming. STOP…….I have been here before. I have trained hard before. I can do endurance. I know that there is another 20% in reserve. I force myself onwards and ever-so-slowly upwards. Paul is helping, he stays with me, "we came here to climb this together". He later tells me that he has never seen someone suffer so much on a bike. Is this something to be proud of?

But eventually I have to stop. Against all my competitive instincts I have to give in to physiology. I am too hot (far too hot), my heart rate has been above 180 for over 40 minutes and my vision is starting to narrow. No amount of gels or energy bars will fix this. I am on (over?) the edge of my physical capabilities, but my determination and bloody mindedness will not let me stop for long. Back on, 11%, but I am going forward. Slower now to keep the heart rate down. There are to be more stops before the summit, but I will not give in. Exit the forest with its carrion-sensing flies and Chalet Reynard appears like an oasis in the desert. Paul runs in for a Mars Bar and full-fat Coke. It feels like it helps.

And now we are on the final assault, the moonscape to the top. A treeless wasteland that levels off to a pancake-like 8%. I didn't think having cramp in both quads and hamstrings at the same time was possible, but I discovered that it is……and it is really quite painful. There is no achievable position to absorb the pain. You have to wait until it passes, feeling like it never will.

I will never know if it was the man from the Midlands dextrose tablets or the realisation that I was nearly there that meant the cramp didn't come back. But it didn't.

It took forever, I thought about stopping (lots), I was passed by men and women, old and young, no rhinos or men in diving suits or mankinis, but there was a bloke on a Brompton………. "we came here to climb this together"………and we did.

Click here to see the Mont Ventoux Video


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