Dave Brooks Etape - Mont Ventoux Bike Charity Ride

We had a 4am alarm call, breakfast at 4:45 then the coach ride to the bike store. Into the 'start pens' for 06:30.

Squeezed in with 9,500 riders it was a sea of bikes, with plenty of nervous anticipation sweeping through the crowd.

The start was very well organised, with all 9,500 riders getting away on time at 7am.

 

The four of us got going without any crashes, punctures or mechanical failures.

It was a beautiful warm sunny day (more on that later!) with crowds lining the streets cheering 'allez allez'.

My personal plan was to ride conservatively, stay out of trouble and manage my pulse rate, saving some energy for Ventoux.

There were plenty of crashes - I saw one guy who'd not spotted a central reservation, and then hit it doing 30km/h and gone flying.  That was game over for him. 

The drinks stops were the next unexpected risk - total pandemonium, rather like Harrods sale on day 1 with people fighting to get to the bottles of water. Back on the ride the scenery was beautiful, going through vineyards, gorges and classic tree lined french roads. There's many other stories to tell you, but the headline is Ventoux of course.

I arrived at the base of the mountain after about 6hrs of riding, not feeling too bad.

 

The route up Ventoux is in three parts, the easy section from Bedoin village, then the long forest section of 12km where the gradient jacks up, then finally the infamous bare rock moonscape up to the summit.

The summit section is renowned for the fearsome heat from the sun, reflecting off the white rocks and with no tree cover.

 

However, on our day on the mountain, Ventoux surprised everyone, with instead the forest becoming unbearably hot.

That nice sunny day had been heating the forest, so without a breath of wind it had become baking hot, the temperature climbing to 38 degrees.

With the relentless gradient, riders started dropping like flies. There were people being sick, toppling over with heat exhaustion, crying even, it was total carnage. I saw one guy get back on his bike and pedal for about 20 metres, going slower and slower, until he fell over and just stayed where he fell on the tarmac. 

In the end over 2,000 riders dropped out!

 

I remember being struck by the silence in the forest, the crowds had stopped cheering and were kind of looking on in horror.

My speed dropped to around 5mph. I was in my lowest gear, grinding away trying to keep it above stall speed.

Two or three times I tried to change down a gear, vainly hoping I'd forgotten one but of course no.

The hill just keeps coming at you, there are no flat sections to give your legs a rest, just up up up.

 

When I got to Chalet Reynard at the end of the forest, I was in pieces - feeling really spaced out and shaking quite badly.

Sitting down for 10 minutes I started to feel better, and tipped some water over myself to cool down.

I then took the last of my energy gels and got back on the bike for the final push to the summit.

 

Ironically it was cooler out of the forest, with a fresh wind to bring the temperature down.

I felt quite good at this stage, being able to see the red and white finish tower at the summit.

I speeded up a bit (to a whopping 7mph), started overtaking, counting down the final kms to the finish.

 

You go past the memorial to Tom Simpson near the summit (a famous UK cyclist from the 60's who died on Ventoux)

After that there's a few more switchbacks, then at long last the final steep bend and then under the finish arch.

Wonderful feeling to have finished, stumble off the bike and collapse in a heap for a while, gasping for air.

 

My finish time was 8hrs 10mins, which puts me into mid table mediocrity - around position 3,300 out of 7,500 finishers.

Full results and a few photos here:-

http://org-results-letape.letour.fr/index.php?content=detail&id=3559&lang=EN&event=L&ageclass=

http://www.justgiving.com/etapers2009/

So thanks to all those who've donated, I think we've earned it!

 

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