Mont Ventoux–Le Géant de Provence, Part 2

Even for the casual observer of this blog, I think it is pretty clear that I am no fan of the repost. I am not sure why that is, but I think it stems from the fact that I prefer to write new material instead of rehashing previously published material (with the notable exception of Sundays Are For Sebastian). This week, however, I have decided to set aside that predilection. After roughly sixteen months of not leaving Houston, I have been on the road for a solid two weeks with another yet to come. First, I was out in Oregon, riding my bike, visiting some wineries, and then attending the Wine Media Conference in Eugene. This week (and next) I am driving up to Cleveland (and then back) to drop my son off at Case Western Reserve University for his first year of college. Yeah. As such, I have had very little time to write, thus the reposts.

This year, the Tour de France once again climbed Mont Ventoux, one of its more famous climbs (not once, but twice–in the same day!). Once upon a time, I climbed the mountain as well and I wrote the following about my experience. This is the second of three installments. The Part One can be found HERE.

I was alone, still in the wooded part of the climb. There were flies about the size of my son’s fist flying in my face, biting my arms, legs, and other portions of the body that I will not mention. It was next to impossible to shoo them away since a) I was not moving all that fast and b) if I took one of my hands off the handle bars for even a second, I risked losing control and crashing violently off the side of the mountain.

So I tried to reason with the flies.

I tried to reason with flies.

Yes, I might have already been delirious.

At least it was not that hot. I could not even begin to think about what it is like in July when it probably approaches 100 degrees. I then glance down at my heart rate monitor and realize that I am quickly approaching Mayo’s time of 54 minutes.

Too bad I still have about 8k to go.

I also know that the climb is as steep as cow doo-doo, since along the way there are what the French call “bornes” — sort of mile markers. Usually, they tell you how far you have gone from the last town or how far you have to go until the next town.

Not on the Ventoux.

Instead of giving you useful info like how many more kilometers of suffering you have left, it tells you the grade. That’s right, it tells you the friggin’ grade as in how incredibly steep the portion of road is that you are currently on.


They were assuming that I did not know that it was friggin’ steep?  The bornes would indicate “10.9% sur 1 km” which means “10.9% over the next 1 kilometer.”

Oh so useful.

At one point, it “leveled out” at 8% for 500 meters.  Phew.  I needed the rest.

With about 8k to go, I started seeing somebody behind me.  I soon realized that it was two more of the group I started with. I started to panic: “are they catching me? Or, is this just a straight section and therefore I can see them?”

My internal questioning continued:

  • “Am I actually moving?  Or am I just imagining it?”
  • “What is movement? If you barely move on the side of a mountain and no one else is there to see it, are you really moving at all?”
  • “If pain is weakness leaving the body, I must have been pretty darn weak since I have been in pain for quite a while.”
  • I figured since I was in France (I think),  I might as well question my existence too (a shout out to the Sartre lovers in the crowd). I was rather sure I existed, but without others to prove it, I was not quite sure.
  • While we’re at it, what does it mean to be “sure”? I was pretty “sure” that what I was doing was pretty stupid, did that make me stupid? I was pretty “sure” it did.

Well, the two behind me were catching me, and fast.  They caught me with 6k to go, right past Chalet Reynard (a small café) and right where the trees stop, the “lunar” landscape begins, and the grade hits 11 or 12%.

(I did not stop at the café since they would have seen me stop and my ego could not take that. I imagined the headline: “Incredibly stupid man dies trying to climb the Ventoux, ego still intact.”)

And there was now wind.

Wind might be a misnomer.

Perhaps typhoon is more appropriate. Without any trees (they were logged decades ago), there is nothing to stop the wind.

And the cold.

The temperature had already dropped about 15 degrees, Fahrenheit or maybe it was Celsius, who gives a crap, it was a lot colder.

As they passed, one of the two asked “Ok on water and food?”

I said “Yes”.

I am still not quite sure why I said that. I was starving.


And I was far from OK. I was starving.

Did I mention that I was rather hungry?

But when food was offered, I declined, of course. Why?

Because I am a moron.

Starving.  I think I was at the point of nearly passing out. But I said I was “OK” with food and water.

The bike I rode up the Ventoux. Check out the nice fenders and the luggage rack. Epitome of style.

The bike I rode up the Ventoux. Check out the nice fenders, the suicide brakes and the luggage racks. Epitome of style. If only it had a kickstand and a bell….

What a dope. I mean it, a total moron. I should return my Ph.D. based on my asinine response to that simple question. I was so hungry, at some point I saw a guy on the side of the road eating a granola bar. As I approached, I considered all of the ways I could get that speck of bird food away from him. Ask politely: “Excuse me sir, but I am a pathetically stupid excuse for a human being and I forgot to bring any food on this beast of a climb.  Could you take an extreme amount of pity on my sorry white carcass and give me that last scrap of food you are about to ingest?” Or I could steal it, after all, how tough could he be? But I figured he was French, in which case he would have thrown his arms in the air so fast to surrender, the granola would more than likely been thrown over the cliff. Given my recent bouts with stupidity, I likely would have dove after it.

I could have snatched it out of his hand as I rode by, but he would have had time to wipe his mouth, take a drink of water, stretch, yawn, pee, and take a brief nap before calmly walking after me, pushing me over and taking his food back.

Did I mention I was not moving very quickly?

So I simply looked longingly at the scrap of dried oats and whey glued together with a speck of honey as I pressed along.

On the verge of starvation (perhaps I was already there) and having resigned myself to finishing fourth out of the original six (if I was able to prevent myself from blacking out), I turned to math problems. Why? Why not? I calculated kilometers to miles, and back. I converted kilograms to pounds and back. I converted Celsius to Fahrenheit and back. I came up with the following figures:

It was 3 degrees, Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin;

I had traveled 57 kilometers of the original 22, leaving me another 48 kilometers to go; I weighed 128 kilograms (or 432 pounds) and my bike weighed 987 pounds (or 1267 kilos); the wind was blowing at about 345 k per hour, making it a category 12 hurricane.

5.5 kilometers to the top.

Read Mount Ventoux–Le Géant de Provence, Part One


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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