One year of work, of training, losing weight, it all led up to today, the day we would climb Mont Ventoux, the day after the Tour rode up.
If yesterday was one of the most exicting and amazing days of my life, today would be even more amazing, but for different reasons.
It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride I’ve had the past 36 months. I count the months in that Becky and I essentially are told by a respected fertility doctor that, after having tried to have a child over the past 10 years, there’s no way that the two of us can have kids. My mother has a cancer scare that requires her kidney to be removed, and then Becky and I put in motion plans that relocate us to Northern Virgina, find a new job, buy a home, and settle into our “new life.” 2 days before Christmas of 2010, we learn that Becky is pregnant.
2 weeks after my daughter is born, my mother, having been complaining about the pain in her tail bone, eventually falls in the shower, her legs paralyzed. She is diagnosed with Adrenal Cortical cancer, and is given 3 months to live. Becky, my daughter, and I spend 3 of the next 5 months in Florida, letting mom spend time with her only granddaughter. Almost 6 months after her diagnosis, mom finally succombs to the cancer. 2 weeks later, my sister, unable to handle the death of our mother and dealing with her own medical problems, takes her own life. In March we interred my mother and sister together.
And in July… I buy a bike. My mother’s biggest regrets were of the things she didn’t do and didn’t see. The bike was going to be the vehicle for me to do the things and see the places I had always wanted to do and see.
3149 miles, 100 pounds, 366 days of bike ownership, putting the down payment on a trip to France, and it all was leading to today and Mont Ventoux.
Needless to say I was nervous on the bus ride to our starting point, a roundabout on the north side of Carpentras, about 15km from Bedoin, long enough to get your legs warmed up before hitting the bottom of the climb.
Walking through a crowd of bikers with a bike is one thing, walking through a crowd that was doing shopping (textiles, fresh vegetables, stinky cheese, bread, etc) with a bike is another. But slowly, we made it to the roundabout that starts the climb up to Mont Venotoux.
Off we went. Legs warmed up, the 3-5% grade up the first 5k was like being back home. I was a bit meloncoly for not having the crowds we rode through yesterday for excitement and energy, but just after the 15km to go mark, I realized it wouldn’t have made much of a difference, as that’s when Mont Ventoux really turns the screw on you.
See there, where it goes from blue to black? That’s where your body starts telling you that you need to stop. I knew I had to keep going. I had come too far to stop.
Up into the forest, the humidity really started to set in. My gloves quickly became soaked throughout, and my handlebar tape was soaked. My jersey and bibs completely wet, and sweat was dripping from the brow of my Cannondale cap. When the road tilted down ever so slightly, I took the opportunity to quickly take a drink out of my water bottles.
I noticed that if I was off on my own with no one in front of me, I would take off too fast, getting my heart rate too high, and starting to go too far in the red. Luckily I hung off the rear wheel of a pair of guys from Austria, who were going slow enough that I was able to keep my heart rate just below where I’d start cracking. It’s one thing to choose to go hard up a hill or a sprint, but when you’re in your biggest ring on your casette, and the smallest cog on your crank, you have to go hard enough to keep the pedals turning, and thats where I was at times; just enough to keep the pedals turning, but not too much where I’d crack and have to stop.
I did put a foot down to stop at a road side parking area because of traffic. An ambulance was there as well as a truck, to help some poor soul who did crack and was delirious from dehydration. I had the indignity of having to slowly pass a runner twice as he was almost as fast by foot as we were on bike.
Will gave me a tap on the shoulder at about 8 km to go, letting me know it would get easier in a couple of km. So I kept looking forward to that, all the while grinding up at 4 to 5 mph.
Back into the last 5km of the ride, and the first hill up from the Chalet, and you learn the meaning of when they call it a moonscape. The top of Mont Ventoux is covered in rocks that make it seem foreign to the planet. The benefit to this is that there isn’t any trees this far up, and the wind picks up, making it a cooler bit to ride in than the lower slopes.
At first, my mind jumped for joy; the end is in sight! And then it looked at the road that’s left to get there. The mind can play some evil tricks, that last 3 km almost looked like it’s really 10km.
And those last 800km are pretty steep, 10-14% grade. But at 200m to go, my mind finally defeated my legs and dumped so much adrenaline I knew how Chris Froome felt yesterday as I all but sprinted up the last switchback up into the summit.
After then traversing through a lot of traffic at the top, I made it to the actual finish line. 1911m high.
I then took time to think back on what it took to get here. Not the 2hours and 15 minutes of climbing, but the 36 months of rollercoaster, and the 366 days of cycling, and at that point in time I started to cry. The tears started flowing. A grown man here at the top of Mont Ventoux, convulsing, I must have been a sight to those around me, though the thumbs up I got from Will meant more than he’ll ever know.
But I did it mom, I did it Liza, I beat Mont Ventoux today.
I did a bit of sight seeing from the summit:
I then spent the next 15 minutes in the store at the summit, buying my obligitory Jersey, Tshirt and other chochkies. Eventually it was time to get going back down the mountain.
Stopped at the van, put on my arm warmers and wind/rain vest, and started back down.
I did make one pit stop; the Memorial to Tom Simpson. Tom was a very famous British cyclist, who died on the side of Mont Ventoux from heat stroke complicated by dehydration and amphetamenes while racing in the Tour de France.
The descent down the last of the 18km of Mont Ventoux went by in a flash. Almost got Crazy Ivan’d by someone on a motorcycle, took a switchback just a little bit too hot, but for the most part, I was paranoid and was on the brakes most of the descent. There were a couple spots that I was able to let go of the brake levers and flex my hands to keep them from getting stiff and crampy, and I made sure to keep shifting my pedals around to try and keep my legs warm. There was very little pedaling until I got back to the 15km mark, where I spent much of yesterday watching the tour. At that point I knew the road and could anticipate my line a lot better, knowing where I would be safe, and where to look for cars.
I rode back through Bedoin to where our bus was waiting for us… But no one was there. I then rode back into town, back to the bus, back into town, back to the bus, and finally everyone caught up. We then went back into town again, to meet everyone at the restaraunt we were going to meet at if there were problems getting up to the top and the van was nowhere in sight.
Had a very cold and very enjoyable Coke.
Once the group was back and the non riding folk made it back to the restaraunt and everyone had something to eat or drink, it was back to the bus, change, and ride back into Orange.
The bus ride back today was much more subdued than yesterday, no excitement from the Tour, just 12 worn out riders, their spouses, and the equally tired staff. I might have dozed for 15 minutes from Carpentras to Orange, but Gilles awoke us from our stupor on the outskirts of town.
Back at the hotel, I was able to post some pictures up for folks to see, and again the magnitude of what I had just completed fell square on me. I had climed Mont Ventoux. I had done everything that I needed to do so. I changed my life, not in one day, but today for me was confirmation that it has changed. And I really miss my mom.
Mom would have done anything she could have to come on the trip with me, and it would have been like it was when we toured the UK in 1989 after my graduation. I know she was proud of me, and she told me she didn’t tell me that enough, and I hope she’s proud of me today.
After cleaning up and doing some packing, since we leave tomorrow for Gap and Alpe d’Huez, I went for a bit of a walkabout in Orange, looking for Powerade, Gatorade, or some sort of Brawndo-like Electrolyte drink. 2 tabacs, 2 small grocery stores, and a couple of boulangeries, and I was unable to find anything.
Eventually I made it to dinner, talking with folks as we waited, and tonights meal was good, an Eggplant/Zucchini/Olive/Tomato appetizer with basalmic vinagrette salad, Tuna seared with Sesame with rocket and a stuffed baked tomato something, and creme caramel for dessert, though I stopped and got a deux boulons glace au vanille avec pecan en cone. Walked back to the hotel eating an icecream with a happy smile on my face.
Tomorrow we ride ahead of the Tour and ride the last 44km of the course that will take us into Gap, though we won’t be riding the 2nd category climb that the tour climbs before coming back into Gap for the finish. I don’t think it will be a sprint finish, but I’m sure Team Cannondale will try their best to get Sagan to a stage win, so I’d expect Cannondale and Sky to be setting the pace tomorrow, but it’s also a good chance for a breakaway to stay away and take the stage too.
After watching the tour from 150m from the finish, we will then go by bus to our new hotel in Alpe d’Huez. Awesome!