Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 14 - Last rides at Mt. Ventoux

July 26 - As the Tour de France ended in Paris, we had our last day to get some rides in before packing up to leave. Some did various loops around the area including some beautiful towns in Provence and a gorge that everyone kept raving about but I didn't ride. Most of us went up Mt. Ventoux, following the route that the pros had done the day before. (There are three ways up Ventoux, and this, the Bedoin approach, is the hardest.)

The ride up was very hard, but those of us that had done it before agreed that it was easier than the last time, likely due to the cooler temperatures. It had been 100-105 degrees when we were here in 2006. I only burned 1600 calories to the top this time, taking a bit over two hours.

Mt. Ventoux is a legendary climb partly because of it's uniqueness and dramatic landscape. It is known as the Giant of Provence because it sticks up higher than anything else around there and is visible for 10's of miles around. The bottom 1/2 to 2/3 of the climb is in a forest (no pictures from there, it's just a steep road with lots of trees) and then it opens into what some compare to a moonscape with nothing but white rocks. The trees had been cut down many many years ago (some said for the French Navy ships) and the top never grew back. So you can see the distinctive white peak as you approach the mountain and forest, and then when you exit the forest you are completely exposed to the sun and wind at the top.

The climb averages about 9%, with the forest section varying between 8 and 12%. We had to breathe in the diesel fumes from the cars and trucks going up and the burning brake smells from the cars and campers coming down. One you get out of the forest you can see the rest of the climb looming before you, with the tower at the peak.

I had a big bowl of pasta at the top, with an incredible view of Provence below, and then made the fun descent back down the mountain and to the camp to watch the finish of the Tour on TV and have a last Magnum bar (ubiquitous ice cream in France) before we started packing.

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