Friday, January 26, 2007

Journey to Mont Ventoux, France

This trip was organized by Eris Poli, who lives here in Verona, and won the Mont Ventoux stage in 1994. Here is a brief story of that day:

"Eros Poli is best remembered for his 1994 Tour de France stage 15 win of Mont Ventoux after a 106 mile solo escape. Eros, at 6 feet 4 inches and 187 pounds, was not a prospect to win one of the most difficult and famous climbs in the Tour de France. He escaped, however, from the peloton very early on and, under conditions of searing heat, arrived at the base of Mont Ventoux with a 22 minute lead. Steadily, the chase pack of climbers began taking back time. Arriving at the final 300 meters of the climb where the grade is 11% the lead had dwindled to 4 minutes. Eros survived Mont Ventoux and then hammered the descent to arrive in Carpentras to an incredible win by 3 minutes and 39 seconds ahead of Pantani and Virenque. His escape and victory earned him the nickname “Monsieur Ventoux”.

We departed from Verona on Friday, June 23rd, 2006. Nice, long distance, bus with an enclosed bike trailer being towed behind it. Along the way to Orange, France, which is where our hotel was, we watched a two hour video of the original TV broadcast when Eros Poli won the Mont Ventoux stage. It was very exciting to watch as the peleton kept creeping up on him all the way to the finish line. The TV announcer kept repeating that it was insane for Eros to attempt such a suicidal breakaway. It also gave us an idea what we were in for.

From our hotel, and my window, I could see Mont Ventoux and the observatory (which is really the TV-RADIO tower/facility). Now, I know why they call it THE GIANT OF just looms over everything. It looks white at the top, as if it were snow, but it's actually white rock. At the evening dinner Eros gave us each a specially designed jersey had had made for the trip which we were all to wear it on the climb.

Saturday morning we departed for Bedoin with our bikes still in tow. Bedoin is the nearest village to the start of the climb. We unloaded our bikes and some locals from a French cycling club rode to say hello to Eros and to take us on a warm up ride around Bedoin before getting on the road to that goes to Mont Ventoux.

We ride through Bedoin (pretty town) and get onto THE road. The first 6 km are fairly easy with a slight incline, pretty views of the countryside. After 6 KM the road turns left and then BANG, you start into a wooded section and the road goes to 10%. It stays at about 10%, with some sections down to 8%, for the next 15KM!!!! There are stone markers along the side of the rode indicating the % of steepness. Even though it was wooded it felt like there was no oxygen, and hot hot hot. Unlike in Italy, there are no switchbacks...the road is always right there in front of you...unrelenting...up up up.

Then you come out of the woods and you can see the observatory; the top of the mountain is completely barren, it looks like a moon-scape. Bare, bare, bare. Now there is no shade. Thankfully, there was a nice breeze (rather than the high winds which are so common) but the sun was really strong. It's 6 km of this and two switchbacks before you reach the top. Along the way you pass the memorial to Tom Simpson (who died here on July 13, 1967 from a combination of alcohol and heat exhaustion; he fell down, asked spectators to put him back on the bike which he rode to within a half mile of the summit before collapsing dead, still clipped into his pedals).

The top section of the climb is less steep than the wooded section, 6-8%, but there is that 11% pitch at the end. The lower section took its toll, and now with the sun and heat on the barren top section, lots of people are off their bikes and walking at this point. None from our group. I get to the top!! Rode the whole thing. 2 hours 15 minutes of continuous climbing. I could have gone a little faster but not knowing exactly how hard it would be I kept some energy in reserve. At the top there were some Frenchmen selling some sugar coated jellies and I bought several handfuls which I devoured. Took some photographs; the elevation is 1900 meters so the views were spectacular and we had a clear day.

We then rode down and just before you hit the wooded section there is a restaurant, the Chalet Reynard. We all had a celebratory beer and relaxed in the sunshine. Then we were back on our bikes. Eros warned us to be careful as you can really gain speed through the wooded section (remember: no switchbacks and now it's a 10% downhill) and your speed can reach 100km per hour! We all make it back to the starting point safely. Loaded the bikes and returned to the hotel where a poolside buffet awaited us. Everyone relaxed around the pool and talked about the day.
Sunday was the long trip back to Verona.

I really enjoyed this adventure!

Eros is organizing a long weekend for this summer to climb Alpe d Huez, Galibier and Telegraphe and another climb I can't recall at the moment. A good goal to get in form for.

1 comment:

  1. Great experience, Eros looks on nice shape, usually ex cyclinst get lot of pounds on their bodys.NICE PICTURE ALSO!