This is it, lined up for the inaugural Haute Route Ventoux.
After a 1km neutral zone it was full gas as the 400 riders thinned
out along the roads, and the first 15km was a flat out chase to get
in touch with the lead group, since we had started near the back, a
rookie error if you have any desire to rub shoulders with the fast
boys and girls. After pedalling furiously and making up lost
ground, the pace settled as we hit the first climb of the day and
the event, the Col des Trois Termes. A lovely climb, it curled up
the mountain flanked by big rocks and trees, and the day's first
feed-station at the summit.
From the summit of Col des Trois Termes the strong winds would
play a significant factor in how the rest of the stage panned out
for all the riders. We had learned at the start of the stage that
there were gusts in excess of 150kph at the top of Mont Ventoux,
and it was also fiercely windy in the valleys and on the plains.
People clustered together in small groups to seek shelter and work
together - find yourself caught in no man's land and it was a
solitary struggle where huge chunks of time could be lost.
The less said about the second climb the better. A gruelling
ascent to Col de la Liguière, 6% for 10km, after tackling the winds
for a couple of hours made this a real battle for most people. It
was a tricky climb too, with little visual indication of where the
summit was, steep gradients, draggy road surface and strong winds
blowing in your face combing to create extremely challenging
conditions. People duly piled into the feed-station at the summit
to top up depleted energy stores, gorging on bananas, energy bars
and copious amounts of cola. And vast reserves of energy would be
needed for the final ascent of the day, the fearsome Mont
Fortunately, the ascent to the famous Chalet Reynard from Sault
was deemed to be the easiest approach, but the wind, still blowing
hard as we approached midday, meant it was still a tough challenge.
The wind was incredibly strong in places, but a few hairpin bends
and thick forest provided much-needed shelter. In a few places, we
even had the wind behind us and were able to shift out of the
Unfortunately, due to wind speeds in excess of 150kph at the
summit of Mont Ventoux, the organisers had decided to bring the
finish line down to the famous Chalet Reynard, some 5km short of
the top of the mountain. If you need to know one thing about Mont
Ventoux, it's that the Mistral can frequently and unpredictably
make its presence felt. The highest speeds recorded by the weather
station at the 1910m summit are 200mph!
And the Mistral was blowing hard today. There was really no
option for the organisers, on safety grounds shortening the stage
was unavoidable. But it was still a great shame. Still, we had
another two days to ride it.