The Club des Cingles du Mont-Ventoux was set up in in 1988 to recognise the “Madness” of climbing all of the three climbs to the summit of Mont Ventoux in a day. Whilst I had several clients who had done this, it was not something I had thought of, until suddenly in July, just a few days after riding La Marmotte I found myself staying near the foot of the Ventoux: So, having done the Cingles, solo….my thoughts…. The great thing is this is a no pressure ride, no racing, and all you need to think about is getting up the mountain! Is it tough….no not really, that is if you take your time, and really there is no race factor involved, so why not! As there is little to see and do in Bedoin we decided to move to Malaucene as the town was a little bigger (still nothing to do or see – especially for Seb who is only 18 months old!), and so I debated whether to start at Malaucene, or ride to Bedoin first. The route from Malaucene is ~12km, and involves the climb over Col de Madeleine (not the massive famous one) which is ~600m above sea level. So on the advice of Paul Outhwaite, I decided to start the route from Malaucene. I left the motorhome at 6:45, and officially started from the tourist office at 06:52
Quite still at the bottom, so decided shorts would be ok, wore base layer, short sleeved jersey and gilet and arm warmers, rain jacket in back pocket with cingles card that needed to be stamped, and a massive pocket full of gels, and two strong bottles of OTE energy drink. I should pretty much be self-sufficient for the day. Lovely winding road that is nice and wide, but climbs immediately. For the most part I had a light tail wind, and the views to the South of the mountain (my right) were stunning. A great climb indeed. On the way up to the ski station I was passed by only one car, and saw no other cyclists. The final couple of km’s from the ski station to the summit the wind was far more fierce, and blowing strongly from my left, but sitting on the right of the road it wasn’t a huge great problem. Finally with about 2km to go the observation tower at the top appeared through the mist and cloud. For once I actually stopped to take a photo….it was amazing….unfortunately the pic didn’t come out as I think there was sweat on the lens!
Two riders came down the mountain towards me, both in full winter gear – tights and rain jackets! Then the wind REALLY hit me! Maybe the forecast of 40-60 km/h winds at the summit was right!!! The final km or so was quite scary, being buffeted by the wind, and riding through what was fog like cloud, but I made it to the top! Nothing open and no-one about I took a quick photo, made a note of the time and started to ride down the mountain towards Chalet Reynard! Well this was almost impossible. At the first hairpin I was nearly blown right across the road. I thought I would try to decent with one foot out of the pedals to stop me falling over….but this was no better….almost a stress position in fact! I decided the only safe option was to get off and walk! I must have walked about 300-500m before the road straightened, and keeping to the very left (closest to the mountain) to shelter a little I tentatively made my descent. I rolled past the Tom Simpson memorial….I wanted to stop, but thought it could wait…I would rather be off the mountain safely. At this point, I thought it was too dangerous, and seriously considered getting to Bedoin and ditching the whole attempt….but slowing a few riders starting coming up the road.
Still on the wrong side of the road I started to increase the pace of my decent (still no cars about!), that was until about 2.5 k from the summit I was hit by a side gust that took me from the left gutter, almost to the right hand side off the road, and into the rock…..I just managed to stop and stay upright in time! A little more walking, and a few more riders coming up the mountain (probably about 6-8 by now), I was able to get back on. The rest of the descent to Chalet Reynard was ok, but I staying on the wrong side of the road in case. Then through the forest from Chalet Reynard was fantastic, 73 km/h top speed, not a breath of wind, and stacks of riders coming towards me….I was going to try the summit again! A quick stop at Bedoin to get my card stamped at the tourist office and I was off again! The first part of the climb from Bedoin is realatively easy, I passed a fair few people (mostly tourist types of riders) and had a nice rhythm. Then into the forest and the gradient increases noticeably! Still the going was good, my legs felt ok. I had a guy catch me and then drop back again. I made sure I kept drinking, eat a bar, and got some gels in. I really enjoyed this section, but I know I wasn’t fast (Nigel who did this climb as the first part of the Cingles was nearly 20 mins quicker than me from Bedoin to Ventoux). At Chalet Reynard (15km done, 6k to go), I stoped to put my arm warmers back on, but was riding again withing about 30 seconds! The guy who had previously caught me was now in front, and I gradually reeled him in as the k’s to the summit clicked down. The views again here were stunning (I didn’t have time to look on the decent as all my attention went to keep me upright!), but the wind was starting to gust. Sometime a tailwind would lift the speed for 30-40 seconds, but then the gradient would hit. That was until with about 3k to go I turned a corner into the full ferocity of the headwind! I had to get on the drops and get as low as possible just to keep the bike under control and still move….many others (well 3 or 4) were already off and walking…..but for me the challenge was to ride to the summit even if I had to walk off it! 200m into the headwind and round a corner to shelter…that was hard! The next 2k were the same. I passed the memorial of Simpson again. If I stopped on the wind in that climb, I wasn’t going to get going again. I kept pushing on. The worst section of the climb was with about 50 m to go, there is a hairpin to get you to the summit, the gradient increased significantly, just as the full force of the wind hit! But I had made it a second time! I quick pop to the gift shop to get my card stamped, and few photos, and the descent started again. This time I was fully aware of the conditions so I started by walking the first 100m. I then climbed on the bike, sitting on the top tube and rolled to the Simpson memorial. I climbed the steps and took a photo of my bike in front of it. A young French lad kindly offered to take my photo for me.
I wanted to leave a bottle, as so many others do, but I knew I would need it for the rest of the day….maybe I would stop on the final climb? Knowing the conditions, I kept to the left of the road, the cyclists coming the other way seemed to know why, and the car drivers must have either thought mad Englishman or also known the reason as they all gave me a wide birth! As the wind conditions dropped, I moved to the right hand side of the road, took in more of the view and enjoyed the spin down to Chalet Reynard. This time at the café I took the left fork in the road to take me down to Sault. Again, I knew the final climb was going to be a long one, so I made sure I ate and had more gels, but was still rationing my energy drink. At Chalet Reynard, the road decent flattens, but is still distinctly downhill. The road surface was lovely and smooth (it has been resurfaced in the past 12 months) and apart from the sections where the headwind reappeared and I had to pedal, I enjoyed the decent. The views again were stunning, this time through the farms of lavender fields, and the wind seemed to have died (if only!). Also nice on the way down to get a shout from Wayne and Helena pedalling up in the other direction! As you approach Sault, there is a final sting in the tail….some bugger has included a slight climb…my legs were not ready for this! I arrived at Sault, nipped into the tourist office for my stamp, filled my now empty bidon from the water fountain outside the tourist office and nipped across the road for a quick photo, then onto the final 27km climb of the Ventoux.
The first 1-2k of this was nicely downhill, then back onto the climbing. This time the gradients were far more shallow, but the lack of wind on the decent, proved to mean I was climbing into a light headwind, making the experience just a little harder! Again, a totally different climb and some lovely vistas but the one thing I didn’t like, whereas the other two climbs had km markers, this had none, so without noting the mileage when I left Sault, I was totally guessing! I had decided that with less than half a bottle of energy drink I would stop (for the only time) at Chalet Reynard, grab a coke and some water to mix another bottle to see me home. It was a really nice surprise that when I arrived I was greeted by Wayne and Helena. I got a coke, downed it, and mixed a sachet of energy with some water, but wanted to be on my way…so off I shot after a quick 10 min break. I raced the first 50m of the climb, then the gradient hit, and around the next bend, the wind! I looked down for a drink, I had left my bidon on the table with Wayne, oh well, just 5k of climbing to go, and then a great decent (I had been told this decent was the best), I pushed on the final time, legs tired, but summit in view. The wind still strong, but dropping, this time I took my phone from my pocket and took a few photos as I climbed!
Finally, I made it! The wind was still dangerously strong round the final bend, and there were still loads of people walking to the summit, but I had ridden the whole of the three climbs to the summit. I was also surprised when I arrived how many people were putting bikes in cars to be driven down (sensible maybe, but not part of the challenge?). A few more photos from the summit, a note of the time, then on my way.
Oh shit….the wind for the first 2k was mad. I clung to the left hand side of the road, this time the drivers coming towards me, looked at me as thought I was mad, this time I had to stop! Again I felt the wind was treacherous, possibly not a bad or dangerous as the first decent towards Bedoin, but I certainly wanted to stay away from the right and the drop! As the wind dropped, I moved to the right and picked up speed, I went past the hairpins to the ski resort, and now the road opened up….I was going to enjoy this one! I started to pick up speed, that was until with 16k to the bottom, the wind took my front wheel, and I had to hang on with all my might to stay upright….again at 60+ kmh this was not fun! So I backed off, I wanted to get home in one piece! I finally made Malaucene 7hrs 50 mins after starting, I had completed the Cingles. (apparently Cingles means nuts, and in that weather, I must have been!) So, taking just two bottles, (only once topped for water in Sault) and a coke, two small SiS bars, and about 8 gels, I managed the ride self-sufficiently. I think I got (for the weather) the clothing right….I didn’t need anything other than shorts for the decent, and with arm warmers and gilet, I didn’t feel cold. That said, on a hot day, it would have been handy to have someone to pass additional bottles, and take kit rather than having jersey pockets stuffed full, but I think if there had been a car at Ventoux for the first summit, I would have climbed in an gone home! I also couldn’t have done the ride without the advice or encouragement from Paul Outhwaite or Wayne Girdlestone. Once is nuts….Paul, twice is seriously mental!!! G PS for those interested, here is my Strava file for the day.