Saturday, 29 October 2016

Trip Report: Mont Ventoux x 3.8

I think it was probably back in August when I was chatting to Owen and he mentioned about a trip being organised with some guys from London Phoenix to ride Mont Ventoux 6 times. Yeah, 6 bloody times. Of course the first thing I did after this was book the flights, this sounded like a trip that I could't miss out on. There were however a few minor points, the first is that perhaps riding upto just below 2,000m in October might be quite cold, and secondly, there isn't that much daylight in October, Nevertheless it's meant to be hard isn't it?

The plan was for the 5 of us (John, Paul, Sean, Owen and myself) to fly out Friday morning, drive upto Malacene and tackle Ventoux on Saturday, "recovery ride" on Sunday and back home on Monday morning. We needed a plan, so we met at the Flask in Hampstead the Thursday before and came up with a few ideas. John & Paul were only up for doing 3, they had no interest in 6, Sean and Owen wanted to do 6, and I felt a had to do 6... Great.

So then, the route. We'd leave at 4:30am from Malaucene and tackle the first ascent at 21.2km and 7.5% average. Then down to Bedoin and back up at 21.1km at 7.5%, then back down to Bedoin and do it again, before doing the Malaucene ascent again. That would be the 4 hardest done, we'd have lunch in Malaucene before tackling the Sault ascent 2 times, which is 25.8km, but only averages 4.7%. All sounds quite easy doesn't it...

Kit wise I was wearing this:
 - dhb merino socks and oversocks
 - dhb merino LS 200 base layer
 - dhb regulate knee warmers
 - dhb Aeron bib shorts
 - dhb Aeron Full Protection Jacket
 - dhb ASV Thermal gilet
 - dhb Neoprene gloves
 - A buff
 - Rapha headband
 - Karrimor down gilet
 - dhb Tempo waterproof
 - Alpkit 13L drybag

The down gilet and waterproof jacket were for the descents and along with food, gels, another hat and some more gloves these were all stuffed in an Alpkit front bag, and I kept this on throughout the ride. Very light, and secure.

We (Sean, Owen & myself) left the cottage just after 5am. It was freezing, and this was at about 300m elevation. We were only a few km away from the start of the first climb out of Malaucene. Couple of KM in and Sean decided to drop back, and pace himself for the day, Owen and I carried on and racked up the KM. We had aimed to climb each ascent in around 2 hours, which included some time for general faff and kit changes and eating. Upto 10km it was all fairly easy, the gradient wasn't too steep. The next 4km however averages out at 9.5%, hard on a summer's day in lightweight kit and without a bag, with winter kit and a bag it just wasn't fun, and I was starting to hunt for a compact on the front... The following 7km were not much easier, and as we rode higher, the temperatures dropped. There was a heavy frost on the rode, and part of me wondered if we'd even be able to carry on! Last few Km and the sky was jet black, all but for a thin orange line on the horizon, the sun was coming up, but we'd still be descending in the dark. Finally at the summit and it was too cold, although I had been fine climbing temperature wise, and all the kit was working very well, as soon as I got off the bike at the summit I started to get cold. We got the obligatory selfie at the summit, put extra clothes on, and then headed off down to Bedoin. 

Owen shot off at quite a speed, I was being a bit more careful, the last thing I wanted was an off. This did however mean the descent was long, just over 25 minutes in total, with a few stops of the way down just to get my circulation going again. Got to the bottom, bloody freezing. I wasn't waiting around, so headed straight back up to the summit from Bedoin now. The first 5km were easy, nothing more than 5.5% which was good really, as the following 7km had nothing less than 9% and the entire climb nothing less than 7%. I was on my own at this point, just tapping out a steady rhythm. It was a stunning climb, the colours from the trees were amazing, and the sky, now clear blue provided some much needed beams of sunlight through the trees now and again. However, up until around 7km to go it was still in the trees, and as a result, pretty bloody cold. There was still frost on the ground, which certainly made me think i'd have probably ridden down even slower if I could have seen that... I got to Chalet Raynard and waited just up the road for Owen, where we rode the next 6km together, stopped for some photos, and also to comment on the frost...

We arrived at the summit, not a cloud in the sky, a fair bit of wind, but we managed to find a sheltered section to change and eat. The plan was to now go back and do Bedoin again... We'd already seen Sean on the ascent and he was coming down, we stopped, and he said he was doing 3, no more, certainly not 6!

It was now 10:30am, we'd ridden 66km and climbed around 2,750m, and it had taken us just over 5 hours 30 minutes. I'm not really sure of we were on target time wise, but I know that it was harder than I was expecting, and we were certainly stopping more than I thought we would. But then you had to really with all the constant changing of kit. We set off in the direction of Bedoin, which thankfully is also the same direct as the 3rd climb, Sault. We saw John, Sean & Paul just near the summit, so decided to all head to Sault, so at the point, slightly off plan, but Owen and I had resigned ourselves to the fact that we'll probably not be doing 6 today, we'll save the for the summer.

Sault is stunning, positioned on a small hill overlooking a valley and the mountains, really quite French. We sat in a bar on the village square, drank and coffee and hot chocolate and formulated a revised plan. John and Paul were one down on us, so they needed to do the Malaucene climb, Sean just the Sault climb. We all set off knowing this was the easier climb of the 3 at just 4.5% but 28km long, and fueled on coffee and hot chocolate, and with renewed knowledge that this might be my last ascent I set off, this was a brilliant climb, you could really get into a good rhythm and speed, and the road the empty and smooth, with just the sound of the occasional gear change to break things up. We regrouped again at Chelt Raynard (toilet stop obvs) and although it was a pleasant 17 degrees down at Sault, it was not that warm here, Garmin suggested around 5 degrees... The next 6km we had done before when climbing Bedoin, so I knew what was in store, it was perhaps even more annoying that I then bonked at about 3km to go. Stomach felt empty, I knew I hadn't eaten enough. Arrived at the summit, put the warm clothes on again and ate a pack of wine gums. We'd done it. 3 ascents on Ventoux.

So just after 2pm. the Weather was coming in, and the summit was now in cloud every now and again. Time to get off the mountain. Waoh, what a descent, this was awesome, sweeping corners, straight fast sections, this had it all. Of course the last time we were here it was pitch black... We all arrived in Malaucene smiling, and also quite hungry. We settled down for a lunch of omelette, chips and coke, the dream. In hindsight, maybe a 1 hours 15 minute lunch was longer than was needed, but at the time it felt required.

The next stage, well, Sean was done at 3, John and Paul still had 1 more ascent to do, and Owen and I felt it would be rude not to do at least 1 more, so Paul, Owen, John and myself set off up to the summit again at around 4pm. It kind of dawned on us that we'd be descending in the dark, and furthermore that weather we saw earlier had well and truly arrived, the temperature had dropped some more and there was no sun. A clear indication that we would not be doing 6. I was on my own again and hit that 4km section of 9.5% average, sections were 14%, which after 148km and 5,000m climbed was not enjoyable. This section just dragged and dragged and was very pleased to finally, after what seemed like a lifetime reach Mont Serein, where it was almost flat for 300m, a much needed rest. I pushed on, not really sure if the others were following or not, I kind of assumed they were. The rain and mist started to fall even more now and the roads were wet. I could feel myself wanting to turn around, but I kept going. With about 5km to go I was cold, I had taken my gloves off and undone my jacket and gilet, but I was getting rained on. I even put my down gilet and waterproof on for the climb, knowing that if we do summit again I'm not going to be hanging around at the top at all. Down the hill I could see a light, it was Owen. He pulled up, we had a quick chat, and thankfully he was also fairly keen to get off the mountain.

So that was that. We headed down having done 3.8 ascents of Ventoux, arriving back at the cottage pretty bloody pleased. Maybe we could have pushed on and done 4, but we were not going to manage 6, and we'd done the 3, so really, we may as well finish... Not a bad day in the saddle, great fun and great company.

What would I do differently? Well for starters I wouldn't go in bloody October. My body just spends to much time trying to keep warm, and although the kit I had was awesome, and worked flawlessly (Thanks dhb) nobody could deny it was too cold for such a challenge. I'll come back and do it again, and this time i'll do it in the summer when the days are longer and the temperatures a little warmer.

Thanks for reading!

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