Sometimes in life a simple question leads to an unexpected answer that in turn leads to you taking on a challenge that you had never considered possible and that (I think it’s fair to say) is what happened whilst we were on holiday in Provence last week.
As ever we were sitting round chatting about the day we had just spent pottering round the Luberon, when I asked what anyone fancied doing the next day. Now it must be said at this point that we had had a particularly slow supper with a rather lovely bottle of chilled Provence Rose, preceeded by a tall gin and tonic, so my slightly squiffy husband (Andy) immediately replied (with a grin on his face)
‘How about we cycle to the top of Mont Ventoux??’
Much to my shock, as I was still trying to take in what he had actually suggested, my 2 teenage boys (16 & 13) excitedly (and much to my surprise) shouted
‘Yeah’ with my youngest following up with ‘What can I have if I get to the top?’
Again before I had the chance to think through anything that was being suggested, Andy replied that he could have ‘Whatever he wanted’ adding that ‘a Ventoux shirt would be good!!’
So that was it, with no further discussion the decision was made we would cycle to the top of Mont Ventoux the following day.
Now perhaps I should explain why Ventoux was even suggested – like many we love watching the Tour de France & the climbs in particular, but last year Andy had gone prepared to do the climb with his treasured roadbike to celebrate his 50th birthday, with us acting as a support crew to cheer him up the mountain.
However much to his annoyance he (and about100 others) were stopped at Chalet-Reynard by security staff protecting the set for a Belgian Film Crew, filming on the road to the summit. He isn’t known for being a rebel but tried his best to break through the line, not easy on a steep hill from a standing start, but was caught and pushed back and had to accept his attempt was over for the day. Since then it has been playing on his mind and he has been spitting venom about a Belgian Film with a plot seemingly about a man wearing pyjamas, rollerskating behind a bus – so after a glass or 2 of wine the idea just fell out of his mouth.
Whereas the previous year he had gone prepared with his sleek roadbike, cycling shoes & all the other kit needed to make a serious attempt – that was not the case this year. This was a family holiday, which as ever included nice family cycle trips on our 3 old mountain bikes and a sit up & beg hybrid fitted with panniers. No lycra, no cycling shoes & certainly no training had taken place!!
So that was it, the following morning we drove to Sault, by this time wondering what we were doing and unloaded our bikes amongst others, who certainly looked a little surprised as we unloaded our kit and started cycling towards the Mountain. I could understand it as our clothing was almost as bizarre as our bikes, the boys in t-shirts and trainers and me in a vest top, a pair of shorts & my favourite strappy sandals – we weren’t planning on it being anything other than about 25 degrees
The start of the ride is beautiful, through lavender fields, which smelt incredible in the morning sun as we started climbing the 26km it takes to reach the summit.
The road then continually climbs through the wooded Southern slopes where the scent changes from Lavender to Pine and you catch glimpses of the road as it winds up above you with the sign saying that the ‘Col’ is ‘Ouvert’ – no chance of turning back then!!.
If we’re being honest we didn’t really think our youngest, who was riding the sit up & beg with the panniers would get more than a few miles up the slopes, but he is a very determined lad and before we really knew it we were able to tell him that he was already 25% up the climb so a few Haribo & water stops later we reached ‘Chalet-Reynard’ just under 6km from the top. Here we finally caught up with our eldest, who had arrived a good 45 minutes earlier, treating it as fitness training for the forthcoming Rugby Season.
By this time the temperature had plummeted and we were told that it was a very cold & windy 5 degrees at the top, so we took the opportunity drink hot-chocolate & to buy the promised ‘Ventoux Shirts’ and a lightweight jacket to try to prevent the onset of hypothermia as we went on. By this time we realised we were all in with a chance of actually reaching the top so set off again on the final stage, which was steeper, colder & windier than anything we had done to that point.
All I can say is a big thanks to the person who put the distance markers on the stones on the final ascent, being able to talk our youngest through the number of metres to go was great as was the encouragement from other cyclists shouting ‘Bon Courage’ & ‘Allez’ as they whizzed past us heading back downhill. So after a while and despite the cold, exhaustion & cramp he (and we) finally reached the top (again about 30 mins behind our eldest who had taken shelter from the cold in the shop at the top)
We grabbed a passing tourist & they kindly took a photo of us all at the top with the boys proudly wearing their shirts & me in my strappy sandals. We didn’t linger as to say it was cold was an understatement – who would have thought we would have to consider the possibility of hypothermia in July in Provence??
So after a few moments (which actually saw both Andy & I have moist eyes due to the sense of pride in what our boys had achieved) we turned round & began the descent , stopping as we went to pay our respects at the stone marking the tragic death of Tommy Simpson on the Tour de France back in 1967.
From there we headed straight back to the warmth of Chalet-Reynard and a much needed and well-earnedand fortifying lunch, before starting the wonderful long & sinuous descent back down the mountain on a road that is in better condition that our own main roads. I am not known for my speed and my cycling is more often than not described as ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, but even I swooshed my way down at what felt like break-neck speed, back to the warmth of the valley and the car at Sault.
I have to say that the sense of achievement was huge and we were incredibly proud of our boys, who rose to the challenge and exceeded all our expectations. No one can take away the fact that we have all cycled to the summit of Mont Ventoux and did it as a family & have that shared experience.
That evening we sat again with a very apt bottle of wine and I tentatively asked
‘What shall we do tomorrow?’
This time the reply again came without hesitation from all 3 …………………… ‘NOTHING!!!’