I am certain you’ve heard me mention this mythic mountain more than once. It lives just 30 kilometres from me, and it dominates the horizon from many vantage points in Provence. It’s also one of the big historic Tour de France climbs, and I have a very long history with it.
In 2006 we were in Provence with friends and decided to ride to the top of Ventoux to watch a pro-bike race, Le Critérium du Dauphiné (a precursor to the Tour de France). We climbed from Bédoin, the classic route. It was a beautiful day, full of promise and excitement. We watched the race then descended amongst hordes of cars, cyclists, tourists, dogs and dawdlers. It was chaos. However, in those days, fear was not part of my psyche, so I went downhill like a bat out of hell. I remember really enjoying myself until…
Well that I can’t remember. All I know is I woke up in the hospital in Carpentras, six hours later, having suffered a concussion, and serious memory loss. Apparently I never lost consciousness, but was repeating the same eight sentences over and over. I believe this was fairly disconcerting to my loved ones at the time. In the end, after excellent medical treatment, I was sent away with a nasty banged up face, a huge hematoma on my thigh and bill of clean health. To this day, this was my one and only crash on a bike, and considering how many miles I’ve put on, it’s rather amazing.
After that, things between Ventoux and me were never the same. Every time I saw the mountain looming in the distance, I started to hyperventilate. I can’t even remember what happened, but somehow my subconscious did. I went back time and time again to try and face my nemesis with partial success. Finally, four years later with the urging of my best friend at my side, I finally made it to the top—and back down. And that was it—I was back. I no longer feared the “Giant of Provence”. And since then, I’ve truly enjoyed the climb and have been able to regain my exceptional descending skills at high speed.
So, should I do it again? I see it every day, and now think how beautiful it is. While most might consider cycling a solitary sport (which it can be), it’s actually so much more fun with friends. Cycling with people that have the same passion, and hopefully skill level, is like nothing else. It’s pure magic to be drafting behind someone so perfectly, pedal stroke for pedal stroke, it’s almost meditative. So to climb the Ventoux alone isn’t nearly as wonderful—no one to share stories with when it’s over. Will I go back before I leave? Hard to say. But if I do, it will be from Sault. If I have to go it alone, at least from Sault there are stunning vistas to keep me company. If I don’t, I am pretty sure this fabulous mountain isn’t going anywhere.