Equipe Flamme Rouge  

Ventoux Master Series

Here we are, eight months after nervously placing my entry on line.

I'm number four on the start list, and the day, quite literally, of reckoning has now arrived.
Can I make the final transition from sprinter to climber? Only the next twenty four hours will tell...?

ventoux gladiatorI've trained, I've rested; I've dieted and I've carbo-loaded.

Today, the 11th July at 8:00 am is the culmination of a winter's worth of suffering, sacrifice, repetitive days on end of WILT Intervals and the start gun for an adventure I only intend to take once in my lifetime.

I'm down to 69 kilos, toned like a racing snake, as fragile as a butterfly and, according to my SRM filed and wVO2max tests, the strongest I've ever been.

To mis-quote Maximus Meridius, I was ready to have hell unleashed upon me. I wasn't wrong.

The Mountain
The problem with Mont Ventoux is that some people judge a mountain by it's height. It's the first question anyone asks about a climb; "How high is it then?" So at 1912 metres, Ventoux can't be too difficult can it? There are far higher ones to climb after all.

Well let me dispel a few misconceptions. Ventoux doesn't have its name preceded by the words "legendary, mythical, brutal, epic and fabled" for nothing. If ever the most overused word in the world was appropriate, it would be here. This mountain really is awesome.

ventouxThe Mistral blows for over 240 days a year. There can be a 30 degree temperature difference between the summit and the valley below. Which I actually experienced on the day of the event.

And if ever there was an archetypal mountain of two halves, this is surely it.

But first, some numbers courtesy of Antonie Venema. And as you know, numbers can't lie.

climbing %
Alpe d'Huez ~ 13k 1090m. 8.7
Col du Tourmalet (west) ~ 18k 1405 m. 7.4
Col du Tourmalet (east) ~ 17k 1258 m. 7.4
Cime de la Bonette ~ 24k 1589 m. 6.7
Col d'Izoard ~ 21.5k 1040 m. 4.8
Col du Galibier ~ 35.5k 1647 m. 4.6

Mont Ventoux ~ 21.5k - Bedoin

1612 m.

7.6

Just look at those stats! Starting at 300 metres and topping out at 1912, the Ventoux climbs 1612 metres and is only beaten in height gained by the Galibier (35 kilometres but "only" 4.6%) and the Bonette which is slightly longer but less steep.

Alpe d'Huez is steeper but it's all over in an hour (or 58 minutes for me on a good day).

Now I've ridden all of the above with the exception of the Bonette; I'm looking for a sportive that covers this climb for next year. And my legs always tell me which is the hardest climb.

So, I can confirm that my legs agree with the above numbers! If you ignore the warm up to St Esteve, the mountain is effectively 16 kilometres at 9%, which helps you better compare it to the Tourmalet and Alpe d'Huez.

Do not underestimate the ferocity of the Ventoux. If the gradient doesn't get you the heat will, and if you get past that then there's always the wind. In more ways than one.

The Menu
Two days before we left for Bedoin we get an email from the organiser explaining that for this year all climbs to the summit will be from the Bedoin side only.

Bit of a bugger, because I wanted to descend in to Malaucene to see if I could top the 100k barrier on the descent. I'd got close a couple of years back and new I could crack it! It's not to be.

This news also meant I wouldn't be able to ride the other sides of the mountain. I'd previously ridden Bedoin and was looking forward(!) to the challenges of the other (theoretically easier) escalations. Not an issue in itself, but a slight inconvenience and an opportunity missed. I might have to return after all.

The climb from Bedoin starts right outside the La Route du Ventoux cycle shop. You're at 300 metres in height and there's a line of marble bricks inset in to the tarmac that marks the start, although strangely, there's nothing to mark the finish at the top; you just know when you start going downhill that you've reached the summit.

Gladiators Ready?
8:00 am 11th July ~ Round 1
Most were. Much like Mark Cavendish, I'm an arse.  And like him, I know I am, will readily admit it to save everyone the bother of having to discuss it behind my back!  I can't help it, I just can't stand bad manners or ignorance. and will point out said infractions to infractors at every opportunity.

Also, I have the willpower of a fox in a chicken coop; I know I'll get sucked in to a race if I set off at 8:00. So I wait around the corner. for everyone to set off and at 8:10 I arrive on the start line, compose myself and bring my heart rate right down to 48 bpm, then gently head out of Bedoin at my own, very un-gladiatorial like, pace.

When we arrived on Friday to sign on, the Mistral was blowing like a good 'un. 60 kilometre winds and very hot. Patrick Francoise, our host and organiser assured me that "tomorrow will be fine, only 30kph, 40kph at the most! Luckily, he was right. I leave the start line in a wind-assisted, very pleasant 22 degrees.

Climbing through the forest the cooling effect of the wind left us. I was now climbing in survivable heat as the sun was still relatively low and the trees offered vital shade.

The game plan was to set off and hold 220-230 watts for as long as practicable for the first two runs.
But I really was climbing well and once I rounded the corner at St Esteve I was already catching riders.

I decided to press on and see what happened.

I began catching and passing riders at a confidence building rate of knots and lost count when I reached thirty-ish. You have to have something to take your mind off the pain and I thought counting people I passed would be it; until I realised I was in pain because I was passing people! Doh!!.

As I reached the sheds of the Enfants du Bedoin, I took a gel and rounded the corner for the relatively flat run in to Chalet Reynard at 1420 metres. I reached the ski station restaurant in 72 minutes and threw an empty bottle to Dianne. More for motivation than any weight saving priority.

The toughest bit behind me, I changed down to save the legs and began the final 6k push of the first ascent.

Thirty-six minutes later I'm at the top. Job done, one down, 1 hour 49 "steady" minutes, four to go.

Go and visit the man with the stamp to get my carnet signed. Then I grab a fresh bottle off Dianne, throw on my cape (it's 12 degrees at the top) and begin the descent looking for some big speed, a stretch of the back and much needed warmth in the muscles.

The Entree
11:00 am 11th July ~ Round 2
I obviously arrived at the bottom a good while before Dianne, so I took a comfort break and warmed myself up by sitting in the shade. I'd got rather cool on the descent but didn't want to sit in the now baking sun and start dehydrating. It's 29 degrees and it looks like it's going to get hotter. How hot was anyone's guess; I later guessed but got it wrong!

I'm three kilometres in and I need a wazz! Must be nerves.

A quick trip around the back of a Euro bin at St Colombe and it's a short shake, a careful tuck to protect from drips and we're back on the road.

Dianne arrives, makes a few new bottles, while I eat a power bar, drink a bottle and for dessert have a mini-tin of rice pudding. It's an old trick from the 80's.

It's carbs, it goes down easy, you don't have to chew it and it's gentle on the stomach. Bottles done; fed, watered and ablutioned, carnet signed it's off for round two.

Now knowing what to do, I settle in to a rhythm and just bang it out.

The objective is to get to Chalet Reynard using the least possible energy and go from there.
I've put a bit of thought in to this one. I'm now climbing with just one bottle and will drop the empty off and pick up a fresh one at the Chalet. Why didn't I think of that before instead of carrying a full bottle half-way up the mountain for nothing?

A routine climb, if climbing Ventoux can be called routine.

Not too windy, not too hot, legs loose from the first climb and a nice run in to the top, now with hundreds of riders of all shapes and sizes out for the day, tackling their worst nightmare.

Reached the top in 1 hour 56 minutes by dropping the revs slightly, straight lining all the corners were possible and generally playing the long game.

A was a very satisfying ascent.

Paperwork and officialdom sorted, it's back to the bottom for a regroup and a refuel. I'd toyed with the idea of knocking out a third run in succession but decided against it.

We're in to unchartered territory here so it's time to let the head rule the heart and play the percentages. We're on schedule so no need for any heroics.
It's 1:30 pm so lunch it is.

Pack the bike in the car, a quick wash of the "pits and bits", spray on some smelly stuff and put some proper clothes on.

Plat du Jour
4:00 pm 11th July ~ Round 3
We're in the town square at Bedoin, the The Tour's on the big screens in the bar and I've just had, although eaten very slowly, a very nice, generous bowl of pasta carbonara, a panache and a couple of litres of water.

We're keeping an eye on the temperature and at 2:30 it's 33 degrees.

At 3:00 it's 35 degrees so we take the decision to wait until 4:00 pm, when our guess was it would have cooled down.

We order another couple of bottles of water and watch the world, and a couple of hundred cyclists coming back off the mountain, go by.

I may have drifted off for a short power nap. When I drifted back, it was time to go.

A quick temperature check and it's a robust 42 degrees! We guessed wrong.

However, the clock is ticking so we have to go. We've already lost an hour so it's important to move on, whatever the heat, and get on with the job in hand.

The climb through the forest was like riding in a sauna. The sweat was draining off me and luckily I'd taken the two bottle option this time, one filled with water to keep me cool.

I needed to take a gel but was struggling with the fatigue, heat, sweat and getting the bloody wrapper open! I decided I'd lose less time if I stopped and did it properly.

I'm sitting on a rock next to a big tree at the entrance to a lay-by when I hear a car arrive. A vey athletic lady gets out and gives a cheery bonjour! I raise my head slowly, smile and give a pathetic wave.

 "You are English?" she asks. "Yes", I reply. "My husband is English" she says "He reads your website." "Good, good," I smile. Bugger, now I have to get going again. Can't be seen in this state, people who don't know me think I'm good at this cycling lark!.

Motivation renewed, I say my "au revoir's" and crack on. The gel kicks in and I plough on to the Chalet. I stop at the wide open expanse of the hairpin bend and take a drink and a second gel. The heat has been tremendous and although I'm okay for this run, I don't want to jeopardise subsequent runs through dehydration.

After a couple of minutes we're back on the road again and heading for the Col de Tempetes. The wind is picking up and this is where it hits you full in the face.
The photographers are fully wrapped up in ski jackets and the temperature is beginning to drop significantly.

This time we're well over two hours.

But it was a case of damage limitation, keeping fuel in the tank for the next two runs and ensuring motivation was kept intact because from now on it would be a mind game as much as a physical one.

So 2 hours 13 minutes was a reasonable time under the circumstances I feel.

It's now heading for 7:30 pm so we need to recover, refuel (again!) and crack on to get the planned fourth run in before midnight.

La Grande Fromage
8:30 pm 11th July ~ Round 4
The objective of this run is to get to Chalet Reynard before 10 pm when it gets dark. So I eat some "proper food," a tin of tuna and rice, while Dianne tucks in to a Jambon et Fromage baguette from the ski station.

I was going to have that myself, but it was Brie cheese and it looked a bit runny. Need to protect the old digestive and disposal system. So I played safe!

I fitted my rear light then headed to the departure tent for the penultimate time. All carnet-ed up it's time to go at 8:30 pm.

Once again I get 3k up the road and have to stop at my favourite Eurine bin. As I arrive another rider, leaves. He'd be the last rider I see climbing until I get to the summit. All the "day trippers" and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense have, understandably, packed up for the day.

I shake and, due to a combination of it going to get dark soon, extreme tiredness, and general apathy, I don't even care about the drips so don't bother with the chamois tuck!

I'm now in my van Hooydonk three-quarters and racing jacket. Still no need for full gloves as it's quite warm but I don't want to get too cold as the temperature will drop quite quickly once the sun sets and I don't want to spoil my rhythm by stopping to put on extra layers.

As the cyclists go in the wildlife comes out. Hedgehogs and rabbits appear as does a roe deer.

It runs alongside me for 10 metres then luckily cuts across the front of me with room to spare and disappears in to the forest. It's a nice surprise but I have to get back on with the task at hand.

It's not dark in the forest but the burgeoning twilight tells me I should put my rear light on. So I do. (Who writes this stuff?)

At just before 10 pm I pull in to the Ground Hog Day that is Chalet Reynard. Ian Williams has lent me a set of lights as I haven't cycled in the dark since the days of Wonder Lights in the 90's.

They weigh about two kilos but I lash them to my frame in about two minutes, take another tin of rice pudding (not for this run, more for the next) and put on my fluorescent gilet.

It's now law in France that cyclists have to wear fluorescent gilets after lighting up time. Even though I'm on a mountain, with no Gendarmes and very few cars heading to the top, I don't want to risk anyone messing my day up when it's nearly four-fifths complete.

I arrived at the top in total darkness to be greeted by Dianne and the man with a stamp who now has a little gas light, a heater and one of those tents that has no poles and erects itself (oo-er). There's always time for a Frankie Howerd moment, even when you're knackered.

Run four, done and dusted in 2 hours 13 minutes and 25 seconds. Five seconds quicker in the dark than in the heat of the day. And normalised power was only one watt lower! Mr Consistency, that's me.

From the earlier runs, wattage had fallen away considerably and I was now on average 45 seconds a kilometre slower. But this climb really is death by a thousand pedal revs.

I wasn't unduly worried because we'd hit our target of four climbs before mid-night.

Now the lights Ian had given me were absolutely fantastic. They were like car headlights, I couldn't believe the way they lit up the road.

However, we're now approaching 11 pm. I am, unsurprisingly, a little fatigued and the thought of me screaming off a mountain in the dark (I am an arse remember), even with such fantastic lights, was probably a step too far. So we descended in the car. It's okay, it's allowed.

Dessert
3:00 am 12th July ~ Round 5
We got back to Bedoin at just before midnight. So we parked up, unloaded the Chrysler Voyager and put the mattress down one side.

Dianne "slept" in the front passenger seat and I stretched my back lying on the floor. Between being too tired to sleep, a disco blaring out somewhere, a screaming moped flying around the town and barking dogs we finally drifted off at about 1:30 am.

We could tell by the church bells ringing. When they struck two chimes at 2:00 am it was the signal for a firework display of millennium proportions! What the f is all that about? I rhetorically asked myself.

We decided to get up (in a minute), prepare ourselves once more and go for run five. It's 3:00 am.

It's time to eat, never thought I'd get fed up of eating, prepare the bike and repack the car.
I leave in a surprisingly mild temperature of 16 degrees. For this run we decide to break it up in to chunks.

The head is really in a strange place at this time of the morning and every effort is triple it's normal feeling. The normal effort, multiplied by fatigue and multiplied again due to sleep depravation. You have to keep telling yourself to do things.

We decide to ride to Chalet Reynard in 30 minute chunks then take a two minute break. My back has now been officially classed as snapped. And at the end of the first 30 minutes, I don't want to stop as I appear to be flying! But we stick with the plan. I stretch, ease the pain and go again.

I stop once more before the ski station for more of the same and it was at this point that I saw my first ever Badger. Or Armadillo as Dianne called it! It was dark, she's been up a very long time and she's blonde. What can I say!

Seeing it, took me back to my childhood affinity with badgers as I read all the Bill Badger books when I was younger. If you have children, get them one (the book not the animal!), they were truly magical. Having said that, it's probably an X-box game now and all ruined.

Anyway... The mind wanders mercilessly when you've been climbing for nearly a whole day. (When I got back I decided to Google these books and they're going for up to £450 each on the internet.
I had the full set as a kid!!)

The final stop at the Chalet saw us take the 2 kilo set of lights off, they really were invaluable, the removal of the gilet and jacket and the putting on of a rain cape.

It wasn't raining, it's just I was getting hot, but the wind was picking up and I needed some protection from the elements.

A climb that started in moon light was going to end in the glow of the rising sun. We were going to the top in one hit. I downed a can of coke in one, let out an almighty burp, then set off for the culmination of the final ascent.

As I passed Tom Simpson's memorial for the final time I knew it was only 1500 metres to the top.
I picked up the pace and headed for the Col de Tempetes where I was met full in the face by a rising mistral. It was blowing an absolute hooley.
Still, nothing was stopping us now.

Dianne's "unique" motivational screaming from the car and the roadside was driving me on over the last hour that really was like getting blood from a stone.
I was soooooo tired.

But as the telecoms mast came in to view for the final time it drew me up like a huge magnet. I screamed the last kilometre as I squeezed out everything I had left and put it in to the pedals.

As I came up the ramp, a rider passed me going down. We nodded that respectful, doff of the cap, that you can only do because you can't let go of the bars. Each acknowledging the others achievement.

I passed the radar point for the last time and sought out the man who would make my day by stamping my carnet. He shook my hand and gave me back my card for presentation back at base. It was a hugely satisfying moment.

I had the impression of "busy-ness". I looked around and there must be 30 walkers on the mountain; all came up on a bus. All taking in the view of Mont Blanc to the east and Provence to the west.

It's 6:25 am, the sun is rising, it's less than 10 degrees, blowing a gale and there is a truly magical sight of this huge many squared kilometre shadow of the mountain cast over Provence below. It was enough to make you stand open mouthed. We were that mesmerised we forgot to take a photo.

Climb five, 2 hours 14 minutes. Not bad I feel at the end of a very, very long day. Almost a carbon copy of the previous run before midnight.

We finished the ride at 6:25 am, so had an hour and a half to spare. I then began to think, if we'd have gone at 3 pm the previous day, could I have squeezed six in? Then I told myself not to be so stupid. We came to do five and five we did.

We should be happy, be satisfied and be proud of ourselves. We did a good job. Let's go and get our certificate...

Cafe a la Crème
The Stats & Results

Climb 1 1:49:20
Climb 21:56:35
Climb 3 2:13:30
Climb 4 2:13:25
Climb 5 2:14:00

It's official I am now a climbing master.
I have a certificate to prove it!

I couldn't believe, after my early testosterone-led exertions, how consistent my climbs became. I rarely looked at the power meter during the ascents and used it merely as a recording tool. Running on feel and rhythm I just cranked it out.

Obviously the wind direction affected power output for some runs but the speeds remained close due to the gears and cadence remaining constant.
Doesn't prove anything other than how boring I am.

Five climbs; 8060 metres of climbing, 10 hours 25 minutes in the saddle, carried out by pushing 36,325 pedal revs, accompanied by 103,125 heart beats, a very sedate VAM of 774m/h to give a TSS for the day of 793 at an IF of 0.832.

With almost 3 hours spent going down hill, the rest of the total elapsed time of 22 hours 25 minutes was spent eating, recuperating or preparing to go again.

Thirty-eight riders took up the challenge of which twenty-two completed five or more ascensions.

We left our hotel at 6:00 am on the 11th and got to bed at 12 noon on the 12th.
At 30 hours, it was a very, very, very long, but highly satisfying and memorable day.

Observations & Acknowledgements
To all my training partners throughout the winter and all my friends who offered encouragement up to and on the day (quite a few text messages), I thank you all for your support and constant inspiration.

It's your drive, ambition and quest for improvement that keeps me getting on my bike each weekend in the winter and studying to be a better coach during the day.
I thought of you all at some point or other on the painfully long, long painful climbs. I didn't want to let any of you down.

Special thanks to Captain Williams, for the loan of his very expensive and spectacularly powerful set of lights. The evening runs are especially dedicated to you!

And finally, at my side for every second of the day and night was my gorgeous wife Dianne. I couldn't have done it without her help, assistance and unique motivational style! I thank her, and love her, with all my heart.

It's been emotional, Until next time...



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