Caffeine Peter Colijn

June 17, 2015 (link)
Ride report: Everesting Mount Ventoux

It all started a few weeks before Christine and I left for vacation in Provence: she was checking out the June climbing challenge on Strava, and noticed that there was a special reward for people who complete the challenge by "Everesting" a climb: a titanium medal. Christine mentioned this to me and jokingly suggested that I could Everest Ventoux to get the medal. At this point, she should really know better than to joke with me about stuff like that.

It so happened that during our trip, there was a day where the rest of the group would be riding mountain bikes. I'm not really much of an MTBer so that day seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The night before I checked the maps with our local expert, Youenn, and the routing seemed straightforward enough. I also calculated the elevation: I would need to do at least 5 climbs to get an Everest's worth of elevation, and maybe 6. I'm not sure how the "rules" on Everesting work, but I was just trying to get that much elevation during the entire ride, including going there and back. I guess by a more "pure" definition of Everesting, you should only include the elevation gained on the climb itself.

Knowing I was in for a long day, I didn't have any booze the night before and tried to go to bed early. Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep well. I was nervous and kept thinking about the ride, tossing and turning. Eventually I did get a few hours of sleep, and woke abruptly to the alarm after a disappointingly short slumber.

I loaded up on granola, yoghurt and coffee and rolled out just before 7. I was estimating an hour of transit each way, and 2 hours for each ascent/descent, so 12 hours total. In retrospect, this was WAY too optimistic, but more on that later.

I made my way over to Sault, which is the base village for the "easy" way up. I took it easy and racked up 500 meters of climbing just getting there. Off to a good start!

The way the roads work up to the summit, there are two approaches that join at a chalet called Chalet Reynard. Sault is one of these, and is the less challenging of the two, starting from a higher elevation and having a more gentle gradient. The other approach that meets Chalet Reynard starts from Bédoin, and is the most famous approach. To the chalet, its gradient averages 9-10% over 14km. Then there is a third approach, completely distinct from the other two, on the "back" (i.e. northern) side of the mountain, from Malaucène. This approach seems to be less commonly-ridden, and while it is similar in length to the Bédoin approach, its gradient is more varied, ranging from 4% to 14%.

A photo posted by Peter Colijn (@sirjoltalot) on

My first ascent from Sault went well, and I was able to enjoy the relative cool of the morning air. The 6km stretch from Chalet Reynard to the summit was windy, and I would become intimately familiar with it during the course of the day. This was also my first encounter with the freelance cyclist photographers. Apparently Ventoux is a popular enough destination for cyclists that photographers can make a decent living just going up there and taking photos of cyclists as they pass by, then running behind them to shove a business card in a jersey pocket. I was pretty surprised the first time this happened, but got used to it quickly. The card has a website URL and time range written on it, so you can go find your photo later and pay a fairly large sum of money for it if you want (though I will note that hanging out near the summit of Ventoux all day is probably not terribly pleasant, and all in all it's way more useful and less annoying than many other tourist traps, so...)

First ascent under my belt, I hit up the little shop at the top to refill my water, ate half a Cliff bar, and rode down to Bédoin. The descent to Bédoin was fun, though on the way down I noticed that it seemed a bit steep and of course I knew what was coming next :) I also saw a guy hauling his kid up the mountain in a trailer, and wondered if one day maybe I could be that much of a badass.

In Bédoin I quickly found the local boulangerie mobbed by cyclists, and figured that would be a good pit stop. I inhaled a slice of pizza and made my way back out of town. It was already warming up and I went through most of my bottle on the way to the chalet, leaving very little water for the last 6km. There's a fountain at about 5km from the top, where I could have stopped, but I didn't know if it was potable (it is) and figured I was close enough to just go for it.

This was by far the most crowded it would be all day; a HUGE group of Dutch tourists was making their way up. It was a strange group, in that they had incredible support (medical vans, feed stations, mechanical support -- I saw one guy given a spare bike when he had a flat) but were clearly very inexperienced riders. Many of these folks were very wobbly, some of them had collapsed on the side of the road, etc. Anyway, despite being half Dutch I found these folks pretty annoying. Their riding and their support vehicles' driving was quite unsafe. Fortunately, they weren't descending; they got bussed down from the top (I guess I'll at least give them kudos for riding up and bussing down, instead of the other way around like they do at Haleakala). As if to offset the suckiness of the Dutch tourists, a super strong Dutch woman (at least I'm assuming she was Dutch because her jersey had all Dutch stuff on it) came flying past me on the last 6km of this ascent, crushing me and (I hope) everyone else on the mountain [1].

After navigating the wobbly Dutch tourists, I chugged a Coke at the top, ate the other half of my Cliff bar, and headed down the "back" side of the mountain to Malaucène.

In Malaucène I found another boulangerie but the cyclist ahead of me in line bought their last slice of pizza, which was the last savory thing in the whole place, so I had to resort to a pain au chocolat. Rough times. Water bottle filled back up, I made my out of town for the third ascent. This one was by far the hardest of the day, probably because it was quite hot and I really had to ration my water. I had already gone through half of it at about 7km of 21km, so I really had to pay attention and take small sips from then on. The last 10km of that approach are also the steepest, so this was really poor planning on my part.

Mixing things up, I chugged an orange juice at the top this time, refilled water again, and blasted down to Bédoin for the fourth ascent. It was late afternoon at this point, and I was starting to get worried about time. My water planning fail fresh in my mind, I filled up my bottle and got a second to shove in my jersey pocket. At this point in the day, my shoes were giving me horrible hotspots [2], and this was the first ascent of the day that I didn't complete non-stop. At around 10km from the summit I stopped to swap water and give my feet a break. Feeling a bit 'broken' by this experience, I soldiered on and made my customary visit to the shop at the summit. Concerned about time, I asked the shopkeeper when they closed. "Vous remontez?!?" [3], she said, with a look of combined disbelief and concern on her face. "Oui" was my response in a tone of voice that I can only imagine conveyed intense sorrow. "Désolée, mais nous serons fermés la prochaine fois."

Having no time to waste, I made my way back down to Bédoin again. The complete idiot that I am, I had forgotten my lights when rolling out in the morning. There's a bike shop in Bédoin, but they were closing up for the day and very rudely refused to let me pop in quickly to buy a light. The boulangerie was also closed, so I had to resort to junk food from a "tabac" (aka quik-e-mart type place). I bought 3 Cokes, chugged one, filled my bottle with the other two, scarfed my last Cliff bar and threw another bottle of water and a couple chocolate bars in the jersey pockets for ye olde bonk protection.

The last climb was pretty unremarkable; I again had to stop to give my feet a rest and refill my bottle, but at least this time I made it to the Chalet Reynard (now all closed up) to do so. The last 6km in the open slate environment were chilly, and I was not looking forward to the descent. Dusk had arrived, and while the summit was beautiful with Karl obscuring the setting sun, I had no time to spare and didn't even stop rolling at the top. There was one other lone cyclist up there, who also seemed to be pondering his life choices, much as I was.

I found @karlthefog at Ventoux!

A photo posted by Peter Colijn (@sirjoltalot) on

Despite the cold I wanted to descend quickly and get it over with. My plan to get back to our guest house was to go back through Sault, which is a longer descent than to Bédoin. Light was becoming increasingly scarce on the way down, and a few deer and a fox on the road made sure I was paying attention.

When I finally made it down, I was extremely grateful for the little ramp into the center of Sault that allowed me to warm up slightly. I cruised through, and there were a few people about, but it was otherwise quiet.

Only about 30km left from Sault to the guest house, but it was now pitch black so as soon as I saw any headlights I had to pull off the road completely, as cars would be completely unable to see me. I chose the steeper and shorter of two routes back, and the descent into Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt was definitely 'challenging' in the dark.

I rolled in to the guest house at about 2320, completely shelled, and having worried Christine sick by leaving my phone in airplane mode to save battery and thus not getting or responding to any of her texts (another idiot move on my part, sigh). Though this was nowhere near my longest ride, it was the most climbing I'd ever done in a single ride, even more than the Devil Mountain Triple. Fortunately for me, Christine's happiness at my being alive seemed to mostly overcome her anger at my idiocy. Strava uploading, showerbeer, food and sleep were all quickly forthcoming, and deeply enjoyed.

[1] Note to any male riders who might be reading this: when the super strong badass Dutch cyclist crushed me, I did not instantly accelerate and try to catch her in a vain attempt to demonstrate some non-existent athletic superiority over her. I simply grinned, comtemplated her badassery (yes that's totally a word) and hoped that she would crush everyone else on the mountain as well.

[2] Before you go all "well it's your own damn fault for wearing those ridiculous shoes", this was a new set of shoes (Chrome) that I'm trying out because my old ones are worn out and they don't make them any more. The old Keen Austin shoes that I had never gave me hotspots, even on much longer rides.

[3] Almost more remarkable about this exchange was that the shopkeeper had decided that I was worthy of vouvoiement, addressing me with the polite "vous", even when I must have looked a complete and utter wreck.

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