Sunday, November 22, 2009

A guest post from the slopes of Mt. Ventoux

I awoke this morning to a rather spectacular email from my dad which reminded me quite a bit of the Pez Top Rides features I enjoy so much. Well, it seems he's outdone me again here. While I've been yapping about how great the weather is in Boulder and that we've been getting tons of good riding in, it's nothing compared to this.

Enjoy, a dispatch from lovely Provence:
Spent the night in Malaucène, started early on the road to Bédoin, a road I'd never been on. Turned out to be an absolutely glorious ride. Sun low, temperature cold but warming, air still, only people out were a few hunters. Easy grades, narrow roadway, excellent pavement, a solid procession of bends and turns, a good percentage of which were generously decorated with tire tracks from cars sliding off the road at speed. Spectacular colors despite the late date.

Cruised Bédoin looking for the good bakery. Found it. Bought a loaf of bread filled with chunks of apricot and walnut. Headed out, or rather up, but gently. Into more fields of colors. The mountain this huge presence to the left. I didn't wonder if I could ride it but I sure did wonder how long doing so would take and how much it would cost.


At the rate I was stopping for pictures, a while.

Grade slowly increasing but gently. Into a village and that was that, the climb began. No shots taken for a good bit of time now. The road was too steep to stop. And always in a forest. Unrelenting grades. Kilometer after kilometer averaging 9%, 9,5%, 10%, on and on. Inside those averages were ramps lined with powerful vacuums that sucked energy out of the legs like a starving italian sucking down spaghetti. Climbed up through a narrow swale heading straight up the mountain with the road bending back and forth until exiting up through a hairpin that soared up into double digits. And onto a ever so slight relief with the first view of the summit since a long time. Time to knock down water and grab some shots. The pavement liberally painted with names and exhortations.

The respite lasted for maybe 10 meters then it was right back into leg-killing grades. Suddenly an easing, subtle but still there and deeply appreciated. What's this, shifting a cog! Amazing. Into a shallow bowl with ski lifts and a restaurant, Chalet Reynard, and the road from Sault arriving from the right. Hard curve to the left past the restaurant and there's a sign, Col du Mont Ventoux fermé. Surely only for cars.



The grades are easier, especially when the wind that is picking up strength is on the back. Around a curve and there's a bar blocking the road. Off the bike, pass underneath, onward I go. With every curve the wind changes direction, sometimes gratefully on my back then hammering from the side and battering me around like a feather on wheels. The views are spectacular. I'm here so rarely I can't pass them by. The view down towards Bédoin is huge.
Always the summit soaring overhead.


The higher I get, the stronger the wind. The grade is strengthening too. I'm way too hot inside my layers. I stop to take one off, plant a foot on it while I pull out my windbreaker and fight with the wind to get it over my head before it disappears over the mountain. I'm stopped, might as well shoot again. I stand the bike up and hear a sharp crack. Damn! A spoke broke. Just like that. Nothing touched it. It just snapped. Amazingly the wheel isn't far off true. No problem. Press on. No way I'm not getting to the summit.

The grade stiffens. How do those guys in the Tour go up this so fast! I arrive at the Col des Tempêtes. I've never heard of it and in truth it's not really a col, just a place where the wind howls over the mountain then plunges off to the north. I have to get a shot. Thankfully there's a wall or I think my bike could have been blown over the edge. Maybe me too.
Views looking north are sublime. A wild country laced with small roads. A paradise of cycling.

The vertical drop into the valley below is huge. There's a road there I'd like to do someday. From Malaucène to Sault to Bédoin and back to a Malaucène.

Back to the climb, the final section. Double-digit grades and pounded by the wind. I hug the inside edge, press on. At last, the final hairpin to the right to the summit. The wind brutally shoves me to the outside then once I'm around the corner, the wind is bouncing off the building and hammering me in the other direction. The summit is totally deserted. A year and three weeks ago I was here and couldn't even get my bike in front of the summit sign for a shot. I still can't but only because the wind is tearing over the wall so hard the bike wouldn't have a chance. But behind a small sign there's a calm spot. The bike stands untouched by the winds.



I find a corner against the building where I can stash my pack without it getting lifted and blown away and shoot some shots looking back where I came from. Beautiful.



Time to go, the wind too violent to make staying longer enjoyable. I want to fly back down but the weakened front wheel is ever so slightly worrisome. Thankfully there's little wobble. Should be good. It is. Definitely a bit slower than would otherwise be the case as I don't want to strain the front wheel. On the slopes just below the summit I hold on tight while the bike is buffeted left and right. Wild. Fabulous downhill. Maybe the best I've ever done. That section where the road bends back and forth through a shallow trough is as good as it gets. The acceleration is huge. Unreal ride. I was ready to take the road to Sault and then climb back up but not with the broken spoke so called it good with as fine a ride as I've done.

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