Girona — Ventoux
450km in a day (almost)
8:43pm, Sunday 26th September. My Wahoo reads 227 kilometres since I left Orange and pedalled into the French countryside earlier that day. Destination? I hadn’t yet decided. All I knew was I had a pizza in my stomach, a €20 head torch lighting the road, and the overwhelming urge to finish what I'd started three days earlier: to ride my bike from my doorstep in Girona to the top of Mont Ventoux and back, over 1000 kilometers, as fast as I could.
So where did this idea come from? The idea to ride to the top of cycling’s most iconic climb as quickly as possible. Embarrassingly I have to admit it was Instagram. Well, not Instagram specifically, but a poll I’d put up on Instagram when searching for a topic to make a vlog about. The poll asked “Would you rather see: A) a pro cyclist bike review, or B) an epic ride. To my surprise (and admittedly happiness), over 80% of people opted for the ‘epic ride’ option. And thus it was settled; I would go for a big bike ride. But what constitutes epic? I’ve ridden the Pyrenees, raced the Alps, everested Ventoux…
Wait. Mont Ventoux? That’s within 500 kilometres of Girona. 470 to be precise, give or take. Surely I could ride there. But what’s epic about that? People do long bike rides every day. But how about doing it in *one* day? A quick message to my mate Peter Gaskill, the Route Master General, a man who’s come up with some of the best bike rides in all of Europe, and asked him what he thought. Could he make me a route flat enough to complete in a day, yet long enough to be considered epic? He got back to me in a flash with a 450km bee-line that hugs the south-east coast of France before turning north to reach Malaucene, providing at least some chance of success.
"With 450km ahead of me and about 12 hours of daylight on the clock, it was going to be a race against time from the get-go."
Just a handful of days later and I was off. Rolling out of Girona just before sunrise, carrying little more than a single change of clothes, chargers for my phone and bike computer, and the single kit I would wear, I was already behind schedule before daylight broke thanks to a very average night’s sleep. With 450km ahead of me and about 12 hours of daylight on the clock, it was going to be a race against time from the get-go.
70km in and after mainly flat riding I reached the first and last categorised climb I’d see all day; the steady Coll de Banyuls. Topping out at a whopping 355m, it sits right on the French border, with only a row of boulders on the road demarcating the split between these two great European countries. It was 9:30am, I had 380km to go, and I was running late.
Down to the French coast and the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer, to begin what would be over 100 kilometres of French coast riding; traffic, traffic lights, towns and people. Not the scenery I had in mind, but that’s what Peter had assured me would be fastest, so I stuck with it. Stopping and starting, weaving my way along bike paths and across canals, stitching together town after town during the first third of my journey. Flat, flat, flat. Not my tyres thankfully, but the terrain. Peter had told me this ride would be pancake, but I didn’t realise he meant 30-meters-of-climbing-in-200km kind of pancake. The only notable rise in the road was a bridge crossing somewhere east of Perpignan. There was at least some interest at around 170km with a couple of rideable, thankfully mechanical free, gravel sectors. A small price to pay for taking the flattest option from Girona to Ventoux.
A stop for a Coke and some Haribo and a glance at the computer told me it was 6:46pm and I’d ridden 302 kilometers since Girona. Really? I was only 2/3rds of the way to my destination and I'd been on the bike for 10 hours and 40 minutes. I’ve done some pretty substantial bike rides over the past few years, but this was sure to push me to new heights. And depths. I pressed on, daylight dwindling. On any other ride, golden hour is my favourite time of day. But knowing I had potentially 4 hours of riding to do in the dark, it was less of a welcome sight. I set myself the task of reaching Nimes for dinner, only to realise shortly that the route didn’t take me through Nimes or any chance of a pizza restaurant. My dinner hopes were dashed.
As dark crept in I assessed my options: deviate and head for Arles or continue into the night and hope I'd come across a town with an open restaurant before I bonked. Hedging my bets, I ignored the beeps of my Wahoo telling me I was off course and headed for Arles. Then somewhere on the outskirts of Arles, on a motorway I could barely see for the darkness, with 13 hours and 360km in my legs and full faith in the powerful front light I had definitely charged to 100% before departing, the light went out.
I was left in complete darkness.
Thankfully I had brought a small head lamp for the off chance I was to sleep rough. It was bright enough to see the ground in front of me, but not much more. I slowly made my way the final few kilometres into town, dodging broken glass on the highway, looking like someone who’d just ridden most of 400 kilometres since dawn, finally resting myself on a seat outside the pizza restaurant I’d been dreaming of for hours. I was more broken than I realised.
There comes a time in every cyclists’ life when they realise it’s probably time to swallow their pride and call it in early. Whether that be due to weather, fatigue, mechanical failure, or in my case, darkness. With over 90 kilometres left to ride I had at least 3 hours of riding ahead of me, on roads I didn’t know, with nothing but a head torch to guide me. I was also just really, really tired. I sat and thought, and chewed. And eventually decided: I'd get a cheap hotel in Arles, roll out early, and bang out the last leg to Malaucene. The original plan was dashed, but trying not to dwell on it, I would make it to Ventoux regardless.
Day two dawned and damn was I tired. I’m no ultra-distance cyclist and the way I felt that morning assured me of that. The day before hadn’t been that hot, it hadn’t been that hilly, but the sheer number of hours on the bike had taken their toll. I got up, put my kit on, and rolled out. And surprisingly the fatigue began to subside. Sometimes - I’ve learned - it takes the first day of a journey to settle you into a rhythm, and it’s actually on the second day that you feel best.
I zig-zagged my way north, past farms and fields, through Avignon and beyond, and eventually got my first sighting of the Giant of Provence. The reason I began this journey in the first place; the mighty Mont Ventoux. The only hill on the horizon. Distance covered: 80 kilometres. Vertical elevation ridden: 145 meters. Distance to Malaucene: 22 kilometres. Vertical elevation to Malaucene: 750 meters. I hadn’t thought much about it, but the original route was calculated as 450 kilometres with 2,200 meters of climbing. What I hadn’t considered was that I only completed 1,300 meters of climbing the day before, and the remainder of the climbing lay ahead of me, in just 22 kilometres. And that was only to Malaucene, not even the top of Ventoux. Great.
I dragged my body and bike up the first slopes of the Col de Suzette, rapidly forgetting how good I’d felt a couple of hours earlier, and eventually crested the climb. What on earth was Ventoux going to feel like if this little 3 kilometre climb put me under that much stress? I had little option but to press on, eventually making my way into the town I'd set out for 36 hours earlier. Malaucene. A sight for sore eyes (and a sore butt). For the second time in two days, I was a broken man. And the real test hadn’t even begun…
After a crepe, a coffee, I began the long ride uphill. The side of Ventoux I was to climb from Malaucene isn’t as famous as the steeper Bedoin side, but after 467 kilometres since the previous morning, the 21 kilometres at average 8% felt like riding up a wall. I like to climb, but this was testing me in ways I hadn’t imagined a climb could. I made my way up, up, up, past the kilometre signs telling me the next kilometre would be steeper than the last, and eventually rounded the corner where I should’ve been able to see the top. Instead, all I saw was clouds.
Still, having come this far and suffered this much, I wasn’t about to let a little fog ruin my day. So I pressed on; each pedal revolution slower than the previous one, and each kilometre taking longer than the last. It’s a funny thing, being this fatigued while climbing. You can’t stop or you’ll fall, and you can’t make yourself go any quicker even if you want to, so the only option is to submit to the slow. And be confident that you’ll eventually get there.
And then I did. I got to the top of Mont Ventoux. I was standing at that little spot on the map that 38 hours prior I’d left my apartment in search of.
I may not have made it in a day like I’d intended. I may not have felt as legendary as I thought I would. And I couldn’t soak in the view of my achievement thanks to the thick fog that surrounded me. But it didn’t matter. In that moment, all I needed to be was there. And then I needed to ride home again…
The Bibs that rode 900km:
Tristan rode our famous All Day Bib Shorts for his 900km epic. These bibs are crafted for long days, with a supple but supportive fabric. They feature a unique contoured, double density chamois (rated to over 200kg) with an antimicrobial and friction free finish ensuring hot spot prevention for ultimate comfort.
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