Monday, 18 July 2016

A Week in Provence

...well, five and a bit days in Provence, and one and a bit driving to and from it, but that wasn't as catchy as adapting the Peter Mayle book title.

Yup, me and Mendip Rouleur had a boys' cycling-cum-road trip down to the south of France. I'm not going to tell the tale of each day's riding, nor try to describe the views, the smells or the heat. We've posted enough pics on these Facebook albums (Idiots in Provence and Cingles du Ventoux) to start to do that.

What I am going to do however is make 10 observations about a photograph that isn't on either of those Facebook albums, because it was taken by a professional, and I paid for it. It's this one:

  1. It's me, last Friday, nearing the top of my first of three ascents that day of Le Mont Ventoux, known as the 'Giant of Provence', which rises out of the Provence plains to a height of 1911m, or 6210 feet. The three ascents in a day meant that we successfully attempt joined the Club des Cingles du Ventoux (the Club of Ventoux Fools)
  2. The pic was taken two days after the 49th anniversary of the British rider Tommy Simpson's death on Ventoux, and is geographically a couple of hundred metres after the point on the road he expired through a mixture of heat exhaustion and amphetamines
  3. Knowing this, I'd saved my Peugeot replica jersey - very similar to the one Simpson was wearing - to be worn for the first time up the climb
  4. Unfortunately, because it was so windy/cold up there, by this point in the climb I'd had to don a gilet over the top, so the effect is a bit spoiled...
  5. ....and the aesthetics are further ruined by having a rucksack on my back. I'd never ridden with a rucksack before, but knew I'd need several layers of clothing to survive 14 mile, 45-50mph descents, and plenty of food to get me through 138km and 4400 metres of climbing. It turned out to be a good move - everything, and more, was used, not least because when we started our final descent at 7.30pm, it was 6c at the top of Ventoux with wind gusts of 80kmh
  6. The photograph is not deceptive - it is that steep, and it feels it, especially when you burst out into the moonscape that is the the final 6km of the climb to the top...
  7. ...which is the bit the Tour de France riders didn't ride this year, as the organisers had deemed the wind too strong. The "Froome runs up mountain without bike" incident happened about 7km further down the hill than where I am here
  8. I'm riding a steel bike, made by Rourke's of Stoke. I like that. I'd also like to know if any other Rourke owners are among the 9000ish of us now in the Club of Ventoux Fools. There must be, surely
  9. My water bottles are empty. That was me taking a calculated gamble - I'd drunk plenty on the way up and didn't need any excess weight at this point, but things could have gone wrong if I'd punctured and had to stop
  10. The sky really was that colour - all day. There's not been any enhancement. It was just one of the many things that made it a totally amazing, awe-inspiring day on a bicycle. It's too soon after to be definitive, but possibly my favourite cycling day ever, and there have been a few to choose from. Time will tell
Oh, go on then, just one more that shows Ventoux for the unique place it is (and a roadsign that hints at the challenge of riding up it....)

Thursday, 7 July 2016

No politics, just riding

That's the theme of this post, for next week I shall be riding my bicycle in Provence. It's probably not the theme of next week however, as I'll be riding with someone who was so displeased with the outcome of the referendum he's since joined the Liberal Democrats. Still, with two 600 mile car journeys, and plenty of time on the bikes together, it's good to have some topics of conversation. I think.

It promises to be a good week, providing ferries, roads and cars behave themselves, and neither of us fall off on our final rides (mine probably today; a few hours spinning round a finally-summery Brittany). The weather is set fair, the Tour de France goes through the village we're lodging in on Bastille Day (en route to Mont Ventoux), and we're planning an ascent of Ventoux itself, plus plenty of other visits to picturesque Provence villages, where we will drink coffee in delightful cafes and try to talk French to each other if we hear other English voices, unless they're also on a bike or sound interesting. Childish of course, but isn't that the point of blokes being away together?

That's it really. The Di2 is charged, and the suncream is bought. Just need to do a bit of gardening and help pick the zillions of ripening blackcurrants before I go. Report in 10 days or so.
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