Derek Gamble: Pyrenees & Mont Ventoux
It all started in September 2014 when I rode up Great Dun Fell in Cumbria with my son Richard. We were on holiday in the Lake District and decided to try climbing this little known hill with an ascent of 638 m in 7.4 km. Richard was riding a conventional road bike and I was riding my ICE Sprint3. It was a tough climb but the experience ignited an idea that perhaps we could attempt other hills & mountains.
In June 2015, we went to the French Pyrenees for two weeks and rode many climbs that regularly feature in the Tour de France (TdF), such as Aspin, Hautacam, Luz Ardiden, and finally Tourmalet, as well as other equally tough but less well known climbs. Tourmalet was the big prize with 1400 m of ascent in 20 km. The descent was fantastic.
In June 2016 we again went back to the Pyrenees, looking to renew acquaintances with the mountains and to try new climbs, whilst also looking to something new and a suitable “Big Challenge”. Over 10 days we rode Col de Aspin, Superbagneres, Cap de Lac de Long, Col de Lers and the Route des Corniches in France. We also went into Andorra to ride the Col de Arcalis, which features in the 2016 TdF.
As we had two wet days, we drove south into the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and tried two hilly routes known as Senor Banos and Puerto de Serrablo. In Spain the weather was hot & sunny, and the scenery quite different to the French side of the Pyrenees.
Looking at the 2016 TdF route which included Mont Ventoux, we decided to change our plans towards the end of week two and attempt to ride this mountain on the way back to UK. Accommodation was found and we arrived in Bedoin at the foot of the mountain on 23rd June 2016. The mountain can be seen from at least 25 miles away and looks very imposing. The weather forecast was hot, 35 C in the afternoon, but with little wind. We decided to start the ride at sunrise.
Next day we started from Bedoin at 6:15 am, with a temperature of about 17 C. We were expecting the mountain to be busy, but at that hour there were no other riders about. Richard’s plan was to attempt the triple ascent from Bedoin, Malaucene and Sault. My plan was a single ascent of the mountain from Bedoin using my ICE trike.
The climb is divided into three sections each of about 7 km in length. The first section is through farmland, vineyards and lavender fields on gentle slopes of 2% to 5%. The second section is through woodland where the gradient is mostly 9% to 10%, occasionally rising to 12% or 13% for short sections. The third section is in white limestone, with no trees or shade, and gradients of 8% to 11%. The ascent is 1600 m in 21.5 km, and it is a very tough climb.
At the summit there were only about 10 other riders, hence it was very quiet. The sense of achievement and the view from the summit were both fantastic. On the descent I stopped at Chalet Reynard for refreshment. Further down the mountain there were a large number of riders making the ascent.
At the start of the holiday we had been looking for something different and the “Big Challenge”. The riding in Spain was great and provided something different to the French Pyrenees. The “Big Challenge” was provided in spades by Mont Ventoux.
Incidentally, Richard completed the triple ascent of Mont Ventoux riding 141 km, 4170 m of ascent in 8 hours. Oh to be young!
Written by Derek Gamble