2013 Tour de France Travel Log #4

July 14, 2013

Day 4. Stage 15. Ventoux.

Our group had an epic day planned for Mont Ventoux!  We packed our backpacks full of water, food, flip flops, and extra clothes as it can get very hot on the way up Ventoux but it may also suddenly get very cold if a front rolls in. The temperatures down below were expected to be in the 90s with very muggy air. We drove the van to Modène and found a place to park. After unloading the bikes and fixing a flat tire, we rode through Bédoin toward Malaucène to the starting road for Mont Ventoux. The Tour de France race has finished at the summit of Mont Ventoux nine times. The average gradient for the total climb has been estimated at 7.43%, and an ascent height of 1,617 metres with just over 21 km in distance (approximately 13 miles) to the top. It was going to be a tough, long, and hot climb.

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In addition to being challenging and hot as Hades this was also the most festive bike rides I have ever done! The roads were lined with many spectators and camper vans. Music was blaring at nearly every camp, BBQs were cooking, and the beer was free flowing. We rode up Ventoux with literally hundreds of other amateur riders/fans headed toward the summit in a long procession. It felt like we were all headed toward the cycling Mecca. The crowds on the road cheered us on as we passed. The road was so crowded with bikes and pedestrians that at times the pace slowed to a crawl.

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On two occasions during the ascent the police even made me get off my bike completely. Once I dismounted for crowd control and yet another time I had to get off so that the race organizers could inflate the 10 km to go banner over our heads.

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Ever so slowly I wended my way 20 km all the way up to the 1km to go sign in approximately 2 hours 15 minutes. At the 1 km to go banner it was about 2 pm when I arrived and the police abruptly closed the road for the race. I couldn’t go any further. Very disappointed. I was not going to see the summit of Ventoux. Police would not let me descend on my bike to meet my friends. Instead, the only way to download was to walk my bike carefully along the rocks behind the viewing barriers. The walk on the rocks in bike shoes was rather treacherous, but I was so excited to be there. I took several photos and videos during my walk down and I stopped to meet Didi and get my photo taken with him. By this time the official TDF caravan was ascending so it was getting more and more difficult to walk down, but I tried to get as far down as I could. Once the race was on there was no more descending.

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Realizing that I was not going to meet my group I settled in alongside the road with a group of British fans just above the switchback turn at Chalet Reynard. From there we had a terrific view of the VIP jumbo-tron so we could see the race on screen even before they approached Mont Ventoux. I didn’t know this at the time but Jennifer, Joni, and Chuck had been stopped on their way up Ventoux by police near the Chalet Reynard somewhere near 5-6km from the top so apparently my viewing spot was not that far up from where they were.

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The riders’ pace leading up to Ventoux looked furious from what we could see on the jumbo-tron. It was Bastille Day so it seemed natural that a French cyclist would take off to lead the charge up Ventoux. I could see on the big screen that it was a rider from team Europcar–perhaps Thomas Voeckler or Sylvain Chavanel–taking charge, but surely this would not last. Chris Froome was waiting to make his move. Just at this very moment the power went out on the jumbo-tron! It went completely dark and the crowd jeered for the next 5 minutes or so chanting all manner of things to urge the race organizers to fix it. They never did get it back on, so we just waited to see who would arrive at the bend at Chalet Reynard first. By the time the racers got to where we were it was indeed Froome in the lead. He was absolutely flying! From where I was viewing it his speed looked like he was on a flat road with no grade at all. It was incredible! He was ascending so fast that I couldn’t find him in the view finder of my smartphone video. The entire section of British fans erupted in a huge fury of cheers as he rode by. “FROOME, FROOME, FROOME!”  It was incredible. We were so close to the riders that we could touch them. After Froome past us the other riders came one by one and then eventually they came up in small packs. Finally many minutes later when the sprinters group arrived (long after Froome) there was a lead car beeping and announcing their arrival and calling out the famous riders by name: “Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, Marcel Kittel….” and so on.

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After the sprinters group passed us the race was essentially over and Froome had won, so I made my way down in the crowds to Chalet Reynard to see if I could meet up with my group. It wasn’t to be. I looked around for about 15 minutes to no avail. At this point there was a fury on the road. A frantically beeping car and two police motorcycles were ascending the mountain desperately trying to clear the crowds. There was one lone racer who had been stopped with mechanical problems earlier on the climb. He was all alone and way behind the last group so he was in a hurry up the mountain to avoid the cut off time. The thousands of spectators surrounding Chalet Reynard simultaneously erupted in vigorous cheers for him as if to will him to the summit of Ventoux.

After this last lone rider passed I began to download Ventoux with a hundreds of other cyclists and cars. It would be about 20 km or so to the bottom. Hands on brakes, screaming tight to avoid accidents. It was a long 45 minute descent in heavy traffic. At the bottom I met my group in Malaucène for a beer at a bar and then we drove back to the van and on to the hotel and out to dinner. What a day!

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Daily Ride data:

On Strava http://app.strava.com/activities/69110157

On Garmin Connect http://connect.garmin.com/activity/346841209

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