Mont Ventoux Cycling Challenge 2005
WAYNE KENNEDY AND
THE GIANT OF PROVENCE
In 1958 Dutchman Charlie Gall wins on Mont Ventoux and goes back to the hotel in an ambulance. Folklore established in 1967 Englishman Tommy Simpson dies of exhaustion on the Ventoux. Even The King himself Eddie Mercx wins the Ventoux in 1970 and then goes off in an oxygen tent. If this happens to some of the greatest names in sport what chance has an amateur fun rider ?
Last year on the 3rd and final day of the 3 mountains charity cycling challenge I was robbed just as glory beckoned, when a wrong turn took me away from the summit. Determined to tame this beast I arrive in the beautiful picturesque Provence town of Bedouin and set off on a 21.k (approx 14 miles) climb of 1909 metres up into the sky. Temperatures are forecast to hit 83 which is hot but nowhere near lasts years brutal 104. There are essentially 3 parts to the climb with the 1st an easy 6k to St Estere. It is at this little village where the mountain really kicks up with a wooded area of steep climbing for the next 10k. I am in buoyant mood as the first part has only taken 25 minutes, however now its time to get on the bottom chain ring and dig in. Zut alors ! - it will not change down so I have to dismount and do it manually. As I attempt to remount quickly the wheel spins due to being in a low gear and bang, I hit the road with my left elbow and knee. An air ambulance is scrambled as I lie in the road with blood everywhere, girls weep and fans are distraught (slight exaggeration). Despite the horror the show must go on and I remount and prepare for the imminent torture of the steep woodland section.
As we start what seems an endless procession of trees then sunlight alternating every minute or so, I hear bonjour as young Frenchman flies by me smiling, I acknowledge him as he impressively disappears. Not to be deterred I am pleased to be reigning in a trio of riders up a head. Just as I get within a few yards of the guy in a green coloured Credit Agricol outfit, he gets off his bike and disappears into the trees. Presumably he is distraught at having to stop well under halfway and not wishing to cause the poor fellow further embarrassment I pretend not to see him leaning against the tree. He should feel no shame because at least he has the guts to make the attempt. The young whiz kid who has just made it look easy is decades younger and more importantly around 60 pounds lighter. He wouldn't be so quick with a sack of spuds on his back would he ?. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that, big men are not built for cycling up huge mountains and they really have to dig deep just to survive. Maybe this is life's way of evening out some of the other benefits of size.
Pressing on I am not having an inspired day and have to grind it out in low gear. More problems arise as numbness of the groin area forces me to get out of the saddle regularly when I prefer to sit which wastes both time and energy. This is due almost certainly to the seat back on a little too high and having to stretch. As the sun rises further to limit the amount of shade, I am sweating profusely and it's very tough. After an hour of climbing I decide to take breakfast in the form of a strawberry power gel. It's almost sickly and sweet and strong but does give a little boost.As 8 miles come up on the computer I know its not far now to Chalet Reynard and the end of the relentless wooded section. As I approach the scene of last year's disastrous wrong turn, one hour forty five minutes have elapsed so far.
Proceeding into the final phase of this "windy mountain" it is almost totally barren like a lunar landscape for the last 6k up to the summit. Feeling a little rejuvenated I push on and gear up a little and pass the 5k to go marker. However soon after the mountain kicks up again and tiredness is beginning to take its toll. Round another sharp bend and amazingly a vision of loveliness confronts me. A fine mademoiselle in a skimpy pink top has stopped to rest. She turns, smiles and greets me with "bonjour" - taken by surprise, I'm not sure if I'm hallucinating or not and wobble towards the edge of the drop.
Back on the case again I continue to dig in and grind out the remainder of the climb. Usual pecking order applies I pass some riders and the quicker ones pass me. With only 2k to go the end is in sight but I am struggling badly,so much so that I miss the Simpson memorial. With 2 hours 15 minutes on the clock I enter unchartered territory for constant climbing. Gearing down I try and hang in there gradually try to reel in the finish line. With only 100 metres or so left I look at my watch and it reads 2.28. No way am I going over 2 and a half hours - so with the last roll of the dice I'm out of the saddle like Petacchi and sprinting (I thought) for the line and manage to finish in 2 hours 29 minutes and 41 seconds. Unfortunately the last show of bravado has caused oxygen deficit and I dismount into an Elvis impersonation wobbling uncontrollably and just manage to stagger to the wall to stop my fall. Even so - that's it mission accomplished "The Giant Of Provence" has been tamed - albeit only just.Wayne tops Mont Ventoux in France 2005.
Another Englishman approaches me an proudly declares he is from Harworth on the North Notts and South Yorkshire border, the home of legendary cyclist Tommy Simpson. Where are you from ? I tell him that I'm from a little town called Ilkeston. He then says "do you mean Ilson" this immediately brings a smile back to my face and I start to feel better. Did you see the goddess in pink he enquires ? That makes feel better again knowing that I was not hallucinating and then almost as on cue, she arrives round the final bend and we cheer her home.
After more chatting and recuperation it's time to zip up and get back down. As I soon hit 30 mph it's very cold so high up and I decide to cut the speed and just to cruise down and enjoy the view. With about 3k gone, surprisingly I see the Credit Agricol man again and once more he is stopped and suffering on the side of the road. He will be lucky to break 4 hours, but what guts, despite being in agony he is still refusing to abandon - I hope he made it. This relentless beast makes Alpe D'Huez look relatively easy. Many times people ask why would anyone in their right mind inflict so much pain on themselves ?, answer is - that it's the thrill of genuine achievement that only endurance sports competitors understand.
Two days later Lance Armstrong did the Ventoux and rumour has it - he just beat my time !
Copyright Wayne Kennedy 2004.