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Ventoux Wrongs Don't Make A Right.


We have history.

July 2000, and my first ever Etape Du Tour. At 155kms not quite the longest ride I'd ever done, but certainly the lumpiest with a couple of cols to breach before reaching the infamous Giant Of Provence.

After pedalling through several comfort zones I'm finally and nervously on the steep slopes of the Ventoux and slowly yet belligerently winching my way to the top, surviving one grinding pedal stroke at a time. Almost at the summit, just past the Simpson Memorial, and the glorious summer's day changes as if someone's flipped a switch and freezing hail comes in, sideways, fast and hard, straight through lycra. I can't remember when things went from mildly humourous and surreal to really rather frightening but I do remember thinking that the recent kidney-selling expense of my Assos waterproof jacket was now worth every single one of the many many pennies it had cost me.

Conditions were so bad that several miles back down the hill organisers were forced to stop the event, prevent riders from progressing into the climatic horror further up the mountain and send them back down to the safety of the valley.

But I'm on the other side of the mountain, somehow I made it over the top and am inching down towards the finish at Malaucène. Icy spray from the rain drenched roads paralyses my calves, hands are gingerly fingering the brake levers as I squint through the cloud and sleet, I remember thinking that I was glad I had carbon brake-levers as my hands would have probably frozen stuck to metal ones.

Some people think it's too dangerous to ride so are walking down, for some reason preferring the tottering grip of a pedal-cleat to tyre-rubber. Riders squeeze past an ambulance attending an accident a kilometre or so into the descent, where too many are huddled in the sheltered gap between the vehicle and the hill, wrapped in survival blankets. I look at a discarded surgical glove on the road and consider its thermal value.

It really has gone horribly horribly wrong.

If I can just get off the Ventoux to the warmth of the valley floor I know things will be okay, and I drop out of the cloud into the sunshine with what feels like a permanent speed wobble but is in fact my whole body shivering uncontrollably and vibrating the bike. By the time I get to the Etape village at the finish it's a glorious sunny day again, I am warm, I am dry and the whole nightmare of only 20 minutes ago feels exactly that, a bad dream.
It still does.

A year later and another Etape blighted by crap weather, this time overnight downpours, soaking roads at the start and rain on the top of both the Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. The group decision is to escape the depressing weather of the Pyrenees and hot-foot it across France to a hopefully more pleasing Provence and have another bash at the Ventoux, but with a more sunny and casual disposition than our previous visit.

We manage a couple of lovely blue-sky climbs of the mountain, but on a descent to Bedoin I'm getting far too excited and going far too fast when my exuberance gets sucker-punched by my ability and I freeze halfway through a corner, shoot across the road and head into the forest.

It really has gone horribly horribly wrong. Again.

I somehow manage to hold on as I career through someone's picnic (sorry!) and as I'm slowing down I remember thinking that I might just get away with it and ride it out and then suddenly I'm over the bars to several holes in me that will need the grit scrubbing out of, and a dent in the top-tube of my beloved Bianchi.

On the mantle piece sits a piece of rock from the moonscape peak of Ventoux that a friend brought back for me from an Etape recce earlier this year with the express order that it needs to be taken back up to the top, by my own pedal power.

I shall return it one day, the day I make my peace with the mountain.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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