The short version – I joined a great group of guys on their annual cycle event. We are all 50 something (except Ian but you’d never believe it). I’ve known Paul, Warren and Mark for at least 25 years. Max and Ian are relatively new to me and I’ve been out cycling with Max a number of times. Mark Levy was meant to be with us but was laid up in hospital. We all wish you a speedy recovery Mark.
We stayed in the Cote du Rhone at Faucon in France with 2 excellent hosts, Craig and Vicky Entwistle (visit them at www.veloventoux.com). They had their friends Gerry and Vicki staying with them and 2 other guests, Tim and Sue from Middlesborough. We had a fantastic time and I would just love to take Lesley there one day. I’m hoping that Vicky will see if there are any local horse riding facilities. And now to wax lyrical………..
Day 1 The taxi picked us up from Paul’s at 4 am although I had to run back for my glasses, and so began 4 wonderful days. Mmmm France, so relaxing, so picturesque, so out of the World Cup (this blog started on the Thursday before the Sunday when we faced Germany).
I feel an obligation to dislike the French but I do find it difficult. The people in the countryside are just so relaxed and chilled and friendly and the food is so good. Why aren’t all French people fat?
One thing that is very different about the French is their tolerance and understanding of cyclists. If you are 2 abreast do they hoot – non, they’ll wait until it’s safe to pass. In fact, in French law there has to be a 1.5 metre gap between a car and a bike when overtaking – imagine that happening in London. If they are approaching from behind they might give you a gentle toot from afar but nothing like the UK where there seems to be a compulsion to give you a full blast. The French roads are generally good, certainly better than Hertfordshire’s especially considering the extremes of hot and cold they have to contend with and the mountainous terrain. They seem to use smooth tarmac rather than the course lumpy stuff that we seem to be using here.
We arrived in France nice and early. Craig picked us up from the airport and drove us back to his wonderful old house and we changed whilst he went and picked up the bikes. We all put on our pedals, filled our water bottles and set out.
We lunched on our first day in cafe in a village square in a remote mountainside village called Buis Les Baronnies. Unbelievably first class food. A delicious salad followed by a beautifully served cheese, ham and egg crepe and then fantastic ice cream mixed with frozen lumps of whatever flavour you chose and coffee, and all for 11 Euros.
The cycling was superb. Over hills and through valleys with stunning views and beautiful blue skies with wisps of cloud. Could it get any better?
Day 2 It got better. I had a quick practise ride before we went out as Craig had realigned my gears. Despite it only being 9.30 it was hot and the suntan oil started running down my head and into my eyes (see cycle tips). I ran up to my room to rinse it off and then off we went again for some stunning riding. We stopped for a coffee in Buis Les Baronnies. Warren was not enjoying his cycling so Max and Paul went back with him and Gerry from the house, Mark, Ian and I agreed to meet them for lunch at a cafe in a small village called Sederon. Once again we ate like kings and it was the best mussels and chips I’ve had.
Paul and Max arrived just after we left the cafe and eventually wended their own way home. After lunch we continued riding along roads straddling fields of lavender interspersed with vineyards. There was a cacophony of smells that constantly hit us with bushes of thyme and fields of coriander mingling with the lavender. Such serenity, such beauty, such aromas.
And then down the mountain. I hit 45 mph and was a little put out at having to slow for bends though I almost didn’t at one where the back wheel skidded and weaved behind me. Mussels is probably not the best lunch to have if you’re about to scare yourself to that extent!
I headed the pack for a while. I didn’t look back but after 30 mins there was a photo opportunity. I stopped to find I was on my own and 10 mins later I was still on my own. I rang Mark. They had bumped into Tim and Sue from the house together with Craig the owner. Craig had gone off with Gerry and Ian and Mark were catching me up which was just as well as I had no idea how to get back.
Another great thing about France was that all the villages seemed to have running water fountains which were just excellent for filling our water bottles with fresh cool water.
The mussels took their toll later that evening and I had to have a lie down before my entrecote steak. For me, that’s the one thing that lets French cuisine down. But a good dinner nevertheless albeit I had to excuse myself a couple of times and go outside to deplete the ozone layer. Still, better out than in.
Day 3 – Mont Ventoux from Saulte. The “easy” route. A 1,100 meter climb in 26 kilometres. I managed to average 7.5 mph on the way up – without stopping. The suntan oil from yesterday was seeping from my bike helmet into my eyes which helped to take my mind off the rest of the pain I was in. Nose blowing proved difficult and all I could do was to constantly re confirm my cycle tip that says you need a good head of speed to blow your nose with no hankie. Still just over 2 hours and 2,300 calories later I was there!
Getting to the top was just fantastic with a 360 degree panoramic view from the tallest mountain around. You can see why it gets windy up there and we had to pass through barriers on the way up that they use to close the mountain when it gets too windy.
Coming down was a lot easier and I managed to average 27.5 mph for 14 miles. What a buzz.
Then a spag boll back in Saulte and a beautiful ride through Gorge de Nesque with breathtaking views. By late afternoon I was flagging leaving Max and Paul to go on ahead. We got home at 8 having done 75 miles. Just in time for a homemade meal of pasta and quiche followed by an apricot flan. We dined with Tim and Sue. Tim seemed a seasoned cyclist compared to us and was entering the Sportive the following day which included the infamous Bedoin run up Mont Ventoux.
Tim saw the stripes on the top of my head and suggested I got a bandanna. Apparently it would protect my head, keep me cool and most importantly, keep the sweat out my eyes. In fact he insisted I borrowed hi for the following day which was undoubtedly going to be my sweatiest. A 53 year old bloke in a bandanna – how pathetic but I thought I would give it a go.
Day 4 Sunday and it’s 5 am and I awake in pain. My legs are hurting and I am apprehensive about the day. We are revisiting Mont Ventoux but taking the hardest route from Bedoin and England are playing Germany.
I am pleased to say the cycling was more successful than the football. Yes it was a goal but hey, we were out classed. I suppose it was a little unfair as the Germans were running far too quickly for our boys.
The climb was a little shorter than the previous day but another 400 meters in altitude. Relentless is the only word to describe it. A steady climb for the first 5K and then a slow grind up a 10-12% incline. I’m sure that Craig our host told us that there was some sort of respite halfway through the first 12k stage and that’s what kept me going – but there was none. Round every bend there was hill and more hill.
Some people were walking their bikes up and even they were hard to catch. I passed a couple of very old Frenchmen and a couple of guys on mountain bikes, but then a few not so old Frenchmen passed men and a whole bunch of Germans.
I stopped twice on the way up and the first section took a little over 1.5hrs. I topped up with water and bought myself a cheese and ham baguette and iced tea and then Paul turned up and did the same. Max had gone on ahead and there was no phone reception so after waiting for us at the top he rode off to join the rest of our party at M.
Paul and I continued our climb. In places I could see my altimeter telling me I was going up a foot for every turn of the pedal in my highest gear. My average speed fell to 5.3 mph although I seemed to be struggling to maintain 4 mph for much of the climb. I was passed by a Frenchman on a mountain bike which peeved me but it turned out he’d driven 2/3rds up.
I bought a couple of tops as souvenirs – and a couple of bandanna’s – what a saddo!
And then the descent. 21 kilometres down to Malaucene. My average speed was 50 kmph (31 mph) for 13 miles with a top speed of 80 kmph (50.3 mph). Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!
We were late for lunch so we went straight to a stream on the way home for a quick dip. Beautiful but very slippery and needless to say I fell but luckily didn’t do too much damage.
Then back to Craig & Vicky for the most painful bit of the holiday – England v Germany. Pathetic or what! And now I suppose we will be mugged into paying Capello £12m. He is already making noises about the other opportunities he has missed out on – just sack him and let him sue for compensation. What idiot agreed the contract! Aaaarrrggghhh!
Day 5 – just a quick cycle, we said our goodbyes and Craig dropped us off at the airport. Ryan Air was as good as Ryan Air can be and all went well.
Home sweet home – a wonderful few days in an excellent spot with great hosts and good company. I have a sneaky feeling that Tim might even be suggesting to his mates in Middlesborough that they have some male bonding and go for a steam bath and get naked together, although he seemed to think he would need to book himself into A&E before he suggested it to them.