A mountain like no other. Returning to Ventoux.

This week I rode back up to the mystical mountain in Provence: the Mont Ventoux. It was like riding it for the first time all over again. I’ve reposted a piece that was originally published on Rapha.cc last year, to relive the magic.

FRANCE – A NUMBERS GAME

The mountain stands alone above the landscape, two environments, three approaches, four seasons in one day: The Longest Day.

The Mont Ventoux takes no prisoners. Whichever way you approach it, whichever way you think about it, to get across it you must climb. One pedal stroke after the other. A mountain demands respect. Mont Ventoux is no exception; it is the rule. Geminiani has warned us. “Be careful Ferdi” he warned on the second Tour de France visit in 1955, “the Ventoux isn’t a climb like any other.” But there can be beauty found here for those with respect. And that we had.

Passing through Ventoux’s gates in the village of Malaucene a simple nod is given as we pass by its instructions.

 

Twenty-one kilometers. Up.

We climb steadily at first, weaving through the dense green forest as our lungs and legs settled into Ventoux rhythm. The fragrance of Provence overtakes the senses as the bike becomes one with the rider. Upward we pedal.

One two, one two, one two.

Just when we find our peace with the road it wakes us up again, forcing us out of our saddles and into the breathless grind. Roadside markers might as well be ignored. The 12 percent gradient that seems to go on on for longer than painted.

Eventually, the forest clears and the second personality of Ventoux emerges: the white, barren desert revealing the light after the darkness of the forest. The mountain is exposed and we are exposed with it. Time has passed yet we are content in the moment. Time is but a number, and we are at one in this moment with the hill.

The Ventoux relieves our tiring legs for a brief second as the gradient eases ever so slightly, and at this point, the prize comes into sight. The all seeing white and red weather station stands on the summit like a trophy — watching us watching it, jutting unapologetically into the Mistral whipped clouds above. The last few kilometers to the station play tricks with the mind, the summit so close but not quite in reach.

One two, one two, one two.

We arrive.

We allow ourselves a moment of glory as the wind wicks away the sweat. The windy mountain lives up to its name. The skin starts to chill as the adrenaline wears off and we look down the long descent to the valley floor. Wrapped up and mentally set, we allow the wheels to roll on the second half of the Longest Day.

This road is physically etched in history, its scars now painted with fresh lines of tar, creating the road map of Provence along its way. Crudely painted names flash underneath us. Pantani. Simpson. Merckx. We fly where they flew. The corners come, one after another after another as we crouch to cheat the wind, eyes straining under stiff caps to drink in the rapidly disappearing view.

The warm forest greets us and its twisty roads guide us on. The gradient eases and we ease with it, sitting up to share a smile, laughter and a stretch of our stiff backs. Rolling back onto the flat plains we spin past immaculate vineyards, enjoying that feeling of our pedals turning in perfect harmony, the station still watching us from its heights.

Together we have ridden, from sunrise, to sunset. Together we have shared moments that will never leave us on this, the Longest Day. Mont Ventoux has cast its spell.

We are bewitched.

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