24 Hour Mont Ventoux Masters 2009
Here we are, eight months after placing my entry, number
four on the start list, and the day, literally, of reckoning has
arrived. Can I make the final transition from sprinter to climber?
Only the next twenty four hours will tell...?
I've trained, I've rested;
I've dieted and I've carbo-loaded. Today, the 11th July 2009 at
8:00 am is the culmination of a winter's worth of suffering, sacrifice,
repetitive days on end of
WILT Intervals and
the start gun for an adventure I only intend to take once in my
down to 69 kilos, toned like a racing snake, as fragile as a butterfly
and the strongest, according to my SRM and wVO2max tests, I've ever
To mis-quote Maximus Meridius,
I was ready to have hell unleashed upon me. I wasn't wrong.
The problem with Mont Ventoux is that some people judge a mountain by
it's height. It's the first question anyone asks about a climb;
"How high is it then?" So at 1912 metres, Ventoux can't be too
difficult can it. There are far higher ones to climb after all.
Well let me dispel a few
misconceptions. Ventoux doesn't have its name preceded by the
words "legendary, mythical, brutal, epic and fabled" for nothing.
If ever the most overused word in the world was appropriate, it would be
here. This mountain really is awesome.
Mistral blows at 90 kph plus for over 240 days a year. There can
be a 30 degree temperature difference between the summit and the valley
below, which I experienced on the day of the event.
And if ever there was an
archetypal mountain of two halves, this is surely it.
But first, some numbers
courtesy of Antonie Venema. And as you know, numbers can't lie.
Col du Tourmalet (west) ~ 18k
Col du Tourmalet (east) ~ 17k
Cime de la Bonette
Col d'Izoard ~ 21.5k
Col du Galibier ~ 35.5k
Mont Ventoux ~ 21.5k
Just look at those stats!
Starting at 300 metres and topping out at 1912, the Ventoux climbs 1612
metres and is only beaten in height gained by the Galibier (35
kilometres but "only" 4.6%) and the Bonette which is slightly longer but
less steep. Alpe d'Huez is steeper but it's all over in an hour
(or 58 minutes for me on a good day).
Now I've ridden all of the
above with the exception of the Bonette; I'm looking for a sportive that
covers this climb for next year. And my legs always tell me which
is the hardest climb. So, I can confirm that my legs agree with
the above numbers! If you ignore the warm up to St Esteve, the
mountain is effectively 16 kilometres at 9%, which helps you better
compare it to the Tourmalet and Alpe d'Huez.
Do not underestimate the
ferocity of the Ventoux. If the gradient doesn't get you the heat
will, and if you get past that then there's always the wind. In
more ways than one.
Two days before we left for Bedoin we get an email from the organiser
explaining that for this year all climbs to the summit
will be from the Bedoin side only. Bit of a bugger, because I
wanted to descend in to Malaucene to see if I could top the 100k barrier
on the descent. I'd got close a couple of years back and new I
could crack it! It's not to be.
news also meant I wouldn't be able to ride the other sides of the
mountain. I'd previously ridden Bedoin and was looking forward(!)
to the challenges of the other (theoretically easier) escalations.
Not an issue in itself, but a slight inconvenience and an opportunity
missed. I might have to return after all.
The climb from Bedoin starts
right outside the La Route du Ventoux cycle shop. Your at 300
metres in height and there's a line of marble bricks inset in to the
tarmac that marks the start, although strangely, there's nothing to mark
the finish at the top; you just know when you start going downhill that
you've reached the summit.
8:00 am 11th July ~ Round 1
Most were. Much like
Mark Cavendish, I'm an arse. And like him, I know I am and
will readily admit it! I have the willpower of a fox in a chicken
coop; I know I'll get sucked in to a race if I set off at 8:00. So
I wait around the corner. for everyone to set off and at 8:10 I arrive
on the start line, compose myself and bring my heart rate right down to
48 bpm, then gently head out of Bedoin at my own, very un-gladiatorial
When we arrived on Friday to
sign on the Mistral was blowing like a good 'un. 60 kilometre
winds and very hot. Patrick Francoise, our host and organiser
assured me that "tomorrow will be fine, only 30kph, 40kph at the most!
Luckily, he was right. I leave the start line in a wind-assisted, very pleasant
The game plan was to set off
and hold 220-230 watts for as long as practicable for the first two runs. But I really
was climbing well and once I rounded the corner at St Esteve I was
already catching riders. I decided to press on and see what
through the forest the cooling effect of the wind left us. I was
now climbing in survivable heat as the sun was still relatively low and
the trees offered vital shade.
I began catching and passing
riders at a confidence building rate of knots and lost count when I
reached thirty-ish. You have to have something to take your mind
off the pain and I thought counting people I passed would be it; until I
realised I was in pain because I was passing people! Doh!!.
I reached the sheds of the Enfants du Bedoin, I took a gel and rounded
the corner for the relatively flat run in to Chalet Reynard at 1420
metres. I reached the ski station restaurant in 72 minutes and
threw an empty bottle to Dianne. More for motivation than any
weight saving priority.
The toughest bit behind me, I
changed down to save the legs and began the final 6k push of the first
Thirty-six minutes later I'm
at the top. Job done, one down, 1 hour 49 minutes,
four to go.
Go and visit the man with the
stamp to get my carnet signed. Then I grab a fresh bottle off
Dianne, throw on my cape (it's 12 degrees at the top) and begin the
descent looking for some big speed, a stretch of the back and much
needed warmth in the muscles.
11:00 am 11th July ~ Round 2
I, obviously, arrived at the bottom a good while before
Dianne, so I took a comfort break and warmed myself up by sitting in the
shade. I'd got rather cool on the descent but didn't want to sit
in the now baking sun and start dehydrating. It's 29 degrees and
it looks like it's going to get hotter. How hot was anyone's
guess; I later guessed but got it wrong!
Dianne arrives, makes a few
new bottles, while I eat a power bar, drink a bottle and for dessert have
a mini-tin of rice pudding. It's an old trick from the 80's. It's carbs, it goes down easy, you don't have to chew it
and it's gentle on the stomach. Bottles done; fed, watered and ablutioned, carnet signed it's off for round two.
three kilometres in and I need a wazz! Must be nerves. A
quick trip around the back of a Euro bin at St Colombe and it's a short
shake, a careful tuck to protect from drips and we're back on the road.
Now knowing what to do, I
settle in to a rhythm and just bang it out. The objective is to
get to Chalet Reynard using the least possible energy and go from there.
I've put a bit of thought in to this one. I'm now climbing with
just one bottle and will drop the empty off and pick up a fresh one at
the Chalet. Why didn't I think of that before instead of carrying
a full bottle half-way up the mountain for nothing?
routine climb, if climbing Ventoux can be called routine. Not too
windy, not too hot, legs loose from the first climb and a nice run in to
the top, now with hundreds of riders of all shapes and sizes out for the
day, tackling their worst nightmare.
Reached the top in 1
hour 56 minutes by dropping the revs slightly, straight lining
all the corners were possible and generally playing the long game.
It was a very satisfying ascent.
Paperwork and officialdom
sorted, it's back to the bottom for a regroup and a refuel. I'd
toyed with the idea of knocking out a third run in succession but
decided against it. We're in to unchartered territory here so it's
time to let the head rule the heart and play the percentages.
We're on schedule so no need for any heroics. It's 1:30 pm so
lunch it is. Pack the bike in the car, a quick wash of the "pits
and bits", spray on some smelly stuff and put some proper clothes on.
4:00 pm 11th July ~ Round 3
We're in the town square at Bedoin, the Tour's on the big
screens in the bar and I've just had, although eaten very slowly, a very
nice, generous bowl of pasta carbonara, a panache and a couple of litres
of water. We're keeping an eye on the temperature and at 2:30 it's
At 3:00 it's 35 degrees so we
take the decision to wait until 4:00 pm, when our guess was it would
have cooled down. We order another couple of bottles of water and
watch the world, and a couple of hundred cyclists coming back off the
mountain, go by. I may have drifted off for a power
nap. When I drifted back, it was time to go.
quick temperature check and it's a robust
42 degrees! We guessed wrong.
However, the clock is ticking
so we have to go. We've already lost an hour so it's important to
move on, whatever the heat, and get on with the job in hand.
The climb through the forest
was like riding in a sauna. The sweat was draining off me and
luckily I'd taken the two bottle option this time, one filled with water
to keep me cool. I needed to take a gel but was struggling with
the fatigue, heat, sweat and getting the bloody wrapper open! I
decided I'd lose less time if I stopped and did it properly.
I'm sitting on a rock next to
a big tree at the entrance to a lay-by when I hear a car arrive. A
vey athletic lady gets out and gives a cheery bonjour! I raise my
head slowly, smile and give a pathetic wave. "You are English?"
she asks. "Yes", I reply. "My husband is English" she says
"He reads your website." "Good, good," I smile. Bugger, now
I have to get going again. Can't be seen in this state, people who
don't know me think I'm good at this cycling lark!.
Motivation renewed, I say my
"au revoir's" and crack on. The gel kicks in and I plough on to
the Chalet. I stop at the wide open expanse of the hairpin bend
and take a drink and a second gel. The heat has been tremendous
and although I'm okay for this run, I don't want to jeopardise
subsequent runs through dehydration.
After a couple of minutes
we're back on the road again and heading for the Col de Tempetes.
The wind is picking up and this is where it hits you full in the face.
The photographers are fully wrapped up in ski jackets and the
temperature is beginning to drop significantly.
time we're well over two hours. But it was a case of damage
limitation, keeping fuel in the tank for the next two runs and ensuring
motivation was kept intact because from now on it would be a mind game
as much as a physical one.
So 2 hours 13 minutes
was a reasonable time under the circumstances I feel. It's
now heading for 7:30 pm so we need to recover, refuel (again!) and
crack on to get the planned fourth run in before midnight.
8:30 pm 11th July ~ Round 4
The objective of this run is to get to Chalet Reynard before
10 pm when it gets dark. So I eat some "proper food," a tin of
tuna and rice, while Dianne tucks in to a Jambon et Fromage baguette
from the ski station. I was going to have that myself, but it was
Brie cheese and it looked a bit runny. Need to protect the old
digestive and disposal system. So I played safe!
I fitted my rear light then
headed to the departure tent for the penultimate time. All carnet-ed
up it's time to go at 8:30 pm. Once again I get 3k up the road and
have to stop at my favourite Eur-ine bin. As I arrive another
rider, leaves. He'd be the last rider I see climbing until I get
to the summit. All the "day trippers" and I don't mean that
in a derogatory sense have, understandably, packed up for the day.
I shake and, due to a
combination of it going to get dark soon, extreme tiredness, and general
apathy, I don't even care about the drips so don't bother with the
I'm now in my van Hooydonk
three-quarters and racing jacket. Still no need for full gloves as
it's quite warm but I don't want to get too cold as the temperature will
drop quite quickly once the sun sets and I don't want to spoil my rhythm
by stopping to put on extra layers.
the cyclists go in the wildlife comes out. Hedgehogs and rabbits
appear as does a roe deer. It runs alongside me for 10 metres then
luckily cuts across the front of me with room to spare and disappears in
to the forest. It's a nice surprise but I have to get back on with
the task at hand. It's not dark in the forest but the burgeoning
twilight tells me I should put my rear light on. So I do.
(Who writes this stuff?)
At just before 10 pm I pull
in to the Ground Hog Day that is Chalet Reynard. Ian Williams has
lent me a set of lights as I haven't cycled in the dark since the days
of Wonder Lights in the 90's. They weigh about two kilos but I
lash them to my frame in about two minutes, take another tin of rice
pudding (not for this run, more for the next) and put on my fluorescent
It's now law in France that
cyclists have to wear fluorescent gilets after lighting up time.
Even though I'm on a mountain, with no Gendarmes and very few cars
heading to the top, I don't want to risk anyone messing my day up when
it's nearly four-fifths complete.
I arrived at the top in total
darkness to be greeted by Dianne and the man with a stamp who now has a
little gas light, a heater and one of those tents that has no poles and
erects itself (oo-er). There's always time for a
Frankie Howerd moment, even when you're knackered.
four, done and dusted in 2 hours 13 minutes and 25 seconds.
Five seconds quicker in the dark than in the heat of the day. And
normalised power was only one watt lower! Mr Consistency, that's
From the earlier runs,
wattage had fallen away considerably and I was now on average 45 seconds
a kilometre slower. But this climb really is death by a thousand
pedal revs. I wasn't unduly worried because we'd hit our target of
four climbs before mid-night.
Now the lights Ian had given
me were absolutely fantastic. They were like car headlights, I
couldn't believe the way they lit up the road. However, we're now
approaching 11 pm. I am, unsurprisingly, a little fatigued and the
thought of me screaming off a mountain in the dark (I am an arse
remember), even with such
fantastic lights, was probably a step too far. So we descended in
the car. It's okay, it's allowed.
3:00 am 12th July ~ Round 5
We got back to
Bedoin at just before midnight. So we parked up, unloaded the
Chrysler Voyager and put the mattress down one side. Dianne
"slept" in the front passenger seat and I stretched my back lying on the
floor. Between being too tired to sleep, a disco blaring out
somewhere, a screaming moped flying around the town and barking dogs we
finally drifted off at about 1:30 am.
We could tell by the church
bells ringing. When they struck two chimes at 2:00 am it was the
signal for a firework display of millennium proportions! What the
f is all that about? I rhetorically asked myself. We decided
to get up (in a minute), prepare ourselves once more and go for run
five. It's 3:00 am.
It's time to eat, never
thought I'd get fed up of eating, prepare the bike and repack the car.
I leave in a surprisingly mild temperature of 16 degrees. For this
run we decide to break it up in to chunks. The head is really in a
strange place at this time of the morning and every effort is triple
it's normal feeling. The normal effort, multiplied by fatigue and
multiplied again due to sleep depravation. You have to keep
telling yourself to do things.
We decide to ride to Chalet
Reynard in 30 minute chunks then take a two minute break. My back
has now been officially classed as snapped. And at the end of the
first 30 minutes, I don't want to stop as I appear to be flying!
But we stick with the plan. I stretch, ease the pain and go again.
I stop once more before the
ski station for more of the same and it was at this point that I saw my
first ever Badger. Or Armadillo as Dianne called it! It was
dark, she's been up a very long time and she's blonde. What can I
Seeing it, took me back to my
childhood affinity with badgers as I read all the Bill Badger books when
I was younger. If you have children, get them one, they were truly
magical. Having said that, it's probably an X-box game now and all
ruined. Anyway... The mind wanders mercilessly when you've
been climbing for nearly a whole day. (When I got back I decided to
Google these books and they're going for up to £450 each on the internet.
I had the full set as a kid!!)
The final stop at the Chalet
saw us take the 2 kilo set of lights off, they really were invaluable,
the removal of the gilet and jacket and the putting on of a rain cape.
It wasn't raining, it's just I was getting hot but the wind was picking
up and I needed some protection from the elements.
A climb that started in moon
light was going to end in the glow of the rising sun. We were
going to the top in one hit. I downed a can of coke in one, let
out an almighty burp, then set off for the culmination of the final
As I passed Tom Simpson's
memorial for the final time I knew it was only 1500 metres to the top.
I picked up the pace and headed for the Col de Tempetes where I was met
full in the face by a rising mistral. It was blowing a hooley.
Still, nothing was stopping us now.
motivational screaming from the car and the roadside was driving me on
over the last hour that really was like getting blood from a stone.
I was soooooo tired. But as the telecoms mast came in to view for
the final time it drew me up like a huge magnet. I screamed the
last kilometre as I squeezed out everything I had left and put it in to
As I came up the ramp, a
rider passed me going down. We nodded that respectful, doff of the
cap, that you can only do because you can't let go of the bars.
Each acknowledging the others achievement.
passed the radar point for the last time and sought out the man who
would make my day by stamping my carnet. He shook my
hand and gave me back my card for presentation back at base. It
was a hugely satisfying moment.
I had the impression of
"business". I looked around and there
must be 30 walkers on the mountain; all came up on a bus. All
taking in the view of Mont Blanc to the east and Provence to the west.
It's 6:25 am, the sun
is rising, it's less than 10 degrees, blowing a gale and there is a truly
magical sight of this huge many squared kilometre shadow of the
mountain cast over Provence below. It was enough to make you stand open
mouthed. We were that mesmerised we forgot to take a photo.
five, 2 hours 14 minutes. Not bad I feel at the end
of a very, very long day. Almost a carbon copy of the previous run
We finished the ride at 6:25
am, so had an hour and a half to spare. I then began
to think, if we'd have gone at 3 pm the previous day, could I have
squeezed six in? Then I told myself not to be so stupid. We
came to do five and five we did.
Be happy, be satisfied and be
proud of ourselves. We did a good job. Let's go and get our
Cafe a la
The Stats & Results
official I am now a climbing master.
I have a certificate to prove it!
I couldn't believe, after my
early testosterone-led exertions, how consistent my climbs became.
I rarely looked at the power meter and used it merely as a recording
tool. Running on feel and rhythm I just cranked it out.
Obviously the wind direction affected power output for some runs but the
speeds remained close due to the gears and cadence remaining constant.
Doesn't prove anything other than how boring I am.
Five climbs; 8060 metres
of climbing, 10 hours 25 minutes
in the saddle, carried out by pushing 36,325
pedal revs, accompanied by
103.125 heart beats, at a
very sedate VAM of
774m/h to give a
TSS for the
day of 793 at an IF of 0.832.
With almost 3 hours spent going down hill, the rest of the total elapsed
time of 22 hours 25 minutes
was spent eating, recuperating or preparing to go again.
Thirty-eight riders took up the challenge of which
twenty-two completed five or
We left our hotel at 6:00 am
on the 11th and got to bed at 12 noon on the 12th. At 30 hours, it
was a very, very, very long, but highly satisfying and memorable day.
Observations & Acknowledgements
To all my training partners throughout the winter and all my
friends who offered encouragement up to and on the day (quite a few text
messages), I thank you all for your support and constant inspiration.
your drive, ambition and quest for improvement that keeps me getting on
my bike each weekend in the winter and studying to be a better coach in
the evenings. I thought of you all at some point or other on the
painfully long, long painful climbs. I didn't want to let any of
Special thanks to Captain
Williams, for the loan of his very expensive and spectacularly powerful
set of lights. The evening runs are especially dedicated to you!
And finally, at my side for
every second of the day and night was my gorgeous wife Dianne. I
couldn't have done it without her help, assistance and unique
motivational style! I thank her, and love her, with all my heart.
It's been emotional,
Until next time...