Montpellier To Paris
Before The Ride
In contrast to the “Pair ‘O’ Knees” of 2002, the “Fondue” ride of 2003 was planned with meticulous attention to detail. The travel arrangements out were all sorted well in advance. The route and accommodation was pre-planned and booked well in advance. Support and Logistics in general was sorted well in advance. Surely then, this trip must be one of the smoothest trips on record. And you know, in a way, it was.
Getting to Montpellier required us to fly from Stanstead with Ryanair and apart from a short, almost inevitable delay, the trip went without a hitch. It was so good in fact that both Tracy ‘Stompy’ Stirzaker and Mark ‘Marko’ Ringwood managed to gain additional sponsorship from two of the passengers who were suitably impressed with our intended task.
Mont Ventoux shimmered ominously in the early morning sun as 12 cyclists huffed and puffed their way out of Carpentras and onto the main route leading to the start of the climb. The nearer you got the bigger this slab of partially forested rock grew.
We all knew it would be a long steep climb but no-one anticipated that the French sense of humour would remind us at every kilometre post just what the average incline was. 6.8% is OK but where did 10.1% come from ?
The climb to Chateau Renard is one long series of gradual, unforgiving hairpin bends through the pine forest. Until that day I had never, ever, cramped up on a bike yet I found myself with cramped hamstring and thigh muscles – at the same time. I switched on my mini-disk player and Chris Rea’s Road to Hell’ got me one kilometre further up this brutal mountain I was rapidly starting to dislike. ‘Further on up the Road’ by Eric Clapton got me another ‘k’ further, while Brave Combo’s ‘In Heaven There is no Beer’ made me determined to stock up at the next bar although whether I was heading for heaven or hell was a matter for dispute.
The outdoor bar at Chateau Renard was the perfect place to stop. Ahead lay the now visible summit of the Ventoux, and behind lay about 10 miles of steep incline down which cyclists of all nationalities were swooping down in ever increasing numbers.
Onwards to the top, mini-disk batteries went flat halfway through Tina Turner giving ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ laldy. Tommy Simpson’s memorial was a welcome pause for contemplation. Hell’s teeth Lance Armstrong climbs this mountain almost three times as fast as I’m going !
The top ! Wow ! New batteries in the MD player and appropriately listen to ‘I Can See for Miles’ which even at full volume fails to swamp the puffing curses of Podge whose every breath can be heard in the crystal clear air even though he was a tiny pimple on this huge tit of rock.
As we all cross the finishing line (?) Stompy is in 7th heaven - a humongous stall of sweets stretches as far as the eye can see. While she salivates Fred is desperately searching for the engagement ring and in a moment of glorious tear-jerking, and downright uncalled for romance, he collapses to the ground and asks Princess to marry him.
Much to everyone’s surprise and relief she actually says yes (for the time being) and the rest of us can get on with the serious things in life like raiding Tessa’s fabulous picnic.
I (Marko) didn’t push him – honest !
What goes up must go down so one by one we left the top at varying speeds. Tom Dyer used his weight to go first followed by me and then Dave Edmunds. I didn’t actually know it was Dave until he pulled alongside me as we exited the first serious hairpin bend on the wrong side of the road and started to talk to me. It was a short conversation. One moment he was there, the next he was flying downwards off the side of the mountain at a shade under 30mph. It was a moment I shall never forget, his vision shimmered in the strange light you often get as an accident approaches.
I walked back to where I’d last seen Dave and looked down, fully expecting to see a lifeless broken corpse. Twenty feet below the road-level Dave occupied the only blanket of clear ground for miles. Remarkably he was conscious and having quickly checked him over I told him to stay put while I went back up to the road and looked for help. Reg stopped and asked what was going on, in fact half of France seemed to stop in the next 10 minutes and no-one could believe Dave was still alive. He’d somehow missed a huge pile of boulders and pine trees with wicked-looking lopped off branches. Podge arrived and we got down to the serious business of working out if any part of Dave’s Colnago was salvageable and who would have it ! Tessa and Colin arrived in the support van and with Maggie’s help gave a better assessment of the injuries and subsequently drove him off to hospital. Meanwhile Bruce and Princess were having a nice chin-wag as they walked down the mountain oblivious to the excitement they’d missed.
Thankfully Dave was nicely patched up by the local hospital and with a few grazes, a couple of cracked ribs, and a drip in his arm, was able to rejoin us at our evening hotel in Bollene. Tom Dyer had bombed down the mountain at up to 57mph, and that night a relieved gang drank more than 28 pichons of wine…..