The day the mountain won
The little car braked to a fast stop, the driver got out and started walking back toward me...
It was mid- morning; the road was good, narrowish with no verge, but the traffic was light and the drivers patient and considerate - they would wait and wait and wait behind until they could overtake by passing on the extreme far side of the road; no lane 'sharing' here. I really don't know what the story was, but two drivers had a bit of argy- bargy as they overtook me causing one of the drivers to swerve in front of me, sort of cutting me off
Being accustomed to the somewhat aggressive drivers in Oz the whole thing didn't cause me any concern at all but the car braked to a fast stop and the driver got out and started walking back toward me. My initial reaction was of the 'Oh dear, what now?' type - tho these weren't the words I actually used to myself - and I cruised to a stop, stood and took off my riding glasses so I could make eye contact - all the usual defensive riding stuff
My French language skills are best described as schoolboy and it took quite some time before I realised what was going on: the driver was apologising to me...
I stood like the proverbial village idiot, seemingly uncomprehending, as the driver, after introducing himself as François, apologised for poor road manners. It seemed an eternity before I could respond and tell him that I hadn't been in any danger and had had no cause for concern. As always, the trike was a real ice-breaker. A close inspection followed, complete with a few happy snaps with the mobile phone. Our language skills got a real workout trying to discuss the workings of the Speed Drive, but in truth, it's hard enough explaining the concept of a two-speed planetary gear system in English. Anyway, the invitation to visit needed no translation, but unfortunately my route lay in the opposite direction. As they say François; insh'allah I'll return and we can take that ride together some day
My destination had been looming on the eastern horizon ever since I'd arrived, overshadowing all - Mont Ventoux. While it's neither the highest or steepest climb in France, the Mont is something of a pilgrimage site for cylists; a successful ascent of Ventoux, although completed by literally hundreds of cyclists of all ages every day during summer, still confers bragging rights. In retrospect, probably not a good choice cos in the end, even with the amazing gearing on the trike, my legs just couldn't get me to the top.
Like had plenty of others I chose the climb that is most often used in the Tour de France, the southern road through Bedoín. Part of the challenge of Ventoux is the twenty something k's of climbing on gradients of around 10%. If you want to have a closer look at those grades, just click the image. A new window will open OK?
I had spent the night in Orange - well worth a look - and the ride was an easy start through a wine atlas (Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise) mostly on coarse chip roads of which many at least had well defined bicycle lanes and only light traffic. A mostly unhurried 40 km ride through beautiful scenery took me to Bedoín. Then again, perhaps those couple of short sharp climbs into the town should have told me something!
Bedoín was awash with tourists, about half on bikes and the others in cars. The gravelled town square made a great bike park and I was happy to park the trike and join the throng who were sitting on the terraces sipping beer or a late morning coffee. Cycling in France can be so very civilised
The road out of the town quickly starts to rise through a couple of small villages and just after Saint-Colombe, the climb was on in earnest. The road was well surfaced and the drivers obviously accustomed to cyclists and although I was already feeling the climb in my legs it was a case of so far so good. I can do this... I can do this... I can do this... but as each km up through the forest slowly added to the heaviness in my legs and as I sucked down more water than I had planned on, I began to have my first self-doubts. I don't like hills at the best of times and I'm not a good climber, so why did I elect to take this route, the most difficult ascent, up Ventoux? And perhaps a bit more training beforehand might have been a good idea?
Those kms climbing at 10% took their toll and watching those who had conquered the Mont and who were whizzing down past me decided the question. I knew from studying the route on the internet, that at the Chalet, the slope evened out to a relatively gentle 5% for awhile but by the time I hit the Chalet my mind had quite clearly told my body that we were going to go down not up from here
And so it was that I turned around and headed down and fairly quickly (and without turning a pedal for an eternity) pulled into a very pleasant hotel in Saint-Colombe which also turned out to be full of fellow cyclists. I'd worn myself out attempting Ventoux in the afternoon and it was only too easy to rationalise a slap–up meal that night and in the course of a very pleasant evening the sommelier told me about another mountain that had been included on the 2000 Tour de France which he thought I could tackle. Everyone in this neighbourhood was a cycling expert! A later check of my map showed that the category 2 Col de Murs was indeed on my route south to the 'perched' villages of Provence, places like Gordes and Roussillon
So, the next day found me winding up the Col de Murs. With a 16 km climb to 627m averaging a gradient of about 4%, it's not quite Ventoux standard, but I'm happy enough to have a Tour de France col under my belt as it were