Sunday, 26 July 2009

Mont Ventoux

After a long long long weekend of carnage at benicassim (hurricanes, sunburn, occasional tunage) myself and james made it to the pyranees on wednesday. From avignon the mont ventoux looked impressive but not too daunting, as you approach the foothills of the climb however things change considerably.

Our first foray up the mountain was meant to be a recce only, but it became all too apparent that camping spots were getting tight already so this was the last time we'd be off the mountain until saturday night. The climb itself just seems endless, even in a car every corner brings another laugh of incredulity as the road dissappears ahead of you. The overbearing smell across the entire mountain was of acrid burning clutch. Roughly halfway up we passed the dutch mafia who were busy unloading scaffolding and PA systems, reknown for their annexing of the seventh corner of alp d'huez the 'bocht 7' crew had the most impressive campsite setup i've ever seen (kegs, flatscreen satellite tv, fridges), they also had some pretty serious fancy dress kit including wooden clogs and chicken costumes.

Up out of the trees and we pass the tommy simpson memorial, nothing special really but pretty haunting to any cyclist who knows the story, then the final pull up to the weather station at the summit. Throughout the three days there is a steady stream of cyclists churning up the hill and screamig back down again. Plenty of carbon bling on display but far more interesting are the guys in full team kit bouncing reebok full-suspension heaps up the 12% sections. Anyone in any british team kit gets a cheer, no halifax imperial wheelers but I did give a lone rollapaloozer a "do a skid."

The night before the stage we ventured down to the dutch corner with a box of "vin de ventoux". What confronted us was easily the wildest street party I have ever witnessed, hundreds of people completely blocking the road in a sea of orange, horrendoeus dutch happy hardcore blasting out across the mountain, any passing cyclists getting a massive cheer and shoved up the mountain, beer in hand. Any thoughts we had of borrowing bikes to ride the mountain went straight out of the window when we woke up on the morning of the stage with a stinking red wine hangover.

From about 8am there was a steady stream of folk walking/riding up the hill. We packed up and set of up to chateau reynard to watch the start of the stage on the big screen. There were reports of 1 million people turning out to watch the stage on the mountain and it certainly felt like it. Typically french roadblocks meant that cyclists were still getting to ride up to the summit with just hours to go until the tour rode through. Information filtered through from camper van tv screens that there was a break followed by a severeley stetched peleton. As the helicopters slowly worked their way up the mountain our section of road fell silent in expectation. The break of two () came through with a wild ragged look in their eyes. Minutes later the chasing group came through at a blistering pace. I managed to get a look at the blank, soulless faces of lance and contador contrasting starkly with the grimace of wiggins who followed senconds later. The main body of the peloton seemed to have adopted a more cavalier attitude sipping beers and cokes taken from the crowd, glad just to have survived the tour unscathed. Minutes later a cheer came up from the dutch contigent, happy that a rabobank rider had got the stage win.

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