It is early morning. My dash clock reads 7:10 AM. On cruise control a familiar scenery zips by outside the car’s windshield. Tall Italian cypress pine trees (the thin obelisk shaped ones) stand rigid and alert at each side of the motorway. Like guardians of the road. Up and down the road rolls and on the far horizon a crease in the surface of the earth becomes visible. The ‘Geant de Provence’ announces its presence from far away (I’d read it is visible from 100 km on a clear day). A commanding sight inducing excitement and a slight sense of trepidation.
After exiting the small village of Malaucene at the foot of the Ventoux the road starts to ramp up. I’d decided to leave the car behind and cross the valley of Ventoux to Bedoin, a sleepy village from which I would attempt my first ascent. There’s a minor climb separating the two villages which I would need to scale. Nothing major in the grander scheme of things. Yet doubt creeps up as the steepness of the road I was on did not relent and I pass a roadsign announcing Col de Mt Ventoux: OUVERT. I had evidently missed a turn and was unintentionally heading straight up the mountain.
After a short descent back into Malaucene and hike through the valley I arrive in Bedoin. My bicycle computer springs alive to announce that in a few hundred meters the Strava (app for tracking rides) segment of Mt Ventoux kicks off. This is it.
Halfway up and the road does not relent one bit. Inspite of it still being early it’s searing hot in the forested first part of the climb. I’m participating in a colorful cacophony of cyclists of all ages, shapes and sizes struggling up the gradient. Traditional road bikes, mountainbikes, tandems, trekking and foldable bikes, hikers, cars and motorcycles are all attracted by this mountain and crawl their way to the top.
The trees give way to the barren crest of Ventoux around two third of the way up. It is from here that the steepness of the climb diminishes somewhat. But by this time I could already feel the effort and the start of altitude.
The unlucky will be welcomed by a stiff breeze once truly entered into this moonscape. Whipped by the famous Mistral winds that can wreak havoc on even the most determined and lends this mountain it’s name. For Ventoux comes from the latin Ventoso and means wind. But this day was not to challenge us additionally. Instead, the lack of breeze left me battling my way up in sweltering heat and decreasing oxygen.
Summoning enough mindspace to narrowly dodge the crazed lycra clad men and women who’d made it to the top prior, I dismount and lean my bike against the white washed walls of the building that supports the large red-white striped antenna at the summit. I stumble over to the nearest souvenir shop to grab an icecold coke from the fridge, sit down to gulp the nectarlike sugar down and take it all in.
The view is tremendous and I spend the first 10 minutes just staring at the vast valley beneath catching my breath and composure. All the while people keep popping up on either side of the mountain pushing their pedals to squeeze the last drop they have before succumbing on their handlebars in a flurry of mumbles and expletives. Tourists with offspring and canines who stumble unprepared on this scene are observing from a safe distance with a mix of curiosity, astonishment and bemusement written across their faces. It’s MAMIL (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) galore up here.
It’s an odd gathering with not nearly enough space for all and I decide to take a few pictures and then fairly soon after make my way down the mountain again.
93km/h is what I see flashing by on my display at times while I am tucked into an aerodynamic position. Not nearly the speed record I’ve read about on two wheel descents, but on skinny tires and only a helmet for protection feeling pretty damn supersonic nonetheless. The road surface is smooth and wide, with no real surprises in the long sweeping bends. Only a handful of times do I need to brake hard for a hairpin. Other than that I can just let rip and find myself in less than 15 minutes back down the other side in the village of Malaucene where I had started the day.
I scale this giant climb once more from this side. The weather has turned gloomy at the top and I don’t linger much. Ventoux is a moody mountain. One moment opening its arms and welcoming you with sunshine and vast expanse, then in a span of hours turning gloomy and recluse. Shrouded in cold wet cloud, a further barrier to overcome, like an insect repellent to the tiny fragile humans trying to gain access to it’s guarded treasures.
Ventoux marks a point in time. A circle completed from when I started this journey. It’s closure. Yet it doesn’t end here. There are new adventures, new journeys and opportunities in the near and distant future. On and off the bike. I am not hanging up my wheels, far from it. Yet this blog served as a support to a distinct chapter in my life: rekindling an age old passion and living it to the fullest, without holding back. It has taught me to enjoy, foster and communicate with passion about passion. Passion that taught me that to be human is to be full and present in whatever you do without escape and without compromise. It inspired a determination and conviction to move mountains.