Riding up Mt Ventoux on my Brompton, not once, but three times in a day.
I have been lucky enough to have been riding a Brompton for about seven months now. I say lucky, because this bike really can do it all, as I hope that I have proved with my latest challenge which involved riding up all three roads to the summit of Mt Ventoux in southern France.
Some say that Mt Ventoux is one of the hardest climbs in France. Its brutal reputation was enhanced in 1967 when it claimed the life of the famous British cyclist Tommy Simpson, who collapsed and died just 500 metres away from the summit. Eddy Merckx, arguably the world’s greatest cyclist, required oxygen at the summit after his battle with the mountain in 1970. Roland Barthes, a French philosopher said, “Ventoux is the god of evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”
For me, the appeal of Mt Ventoux is that you actually ride to the summit. Most mountain stages on the three of the Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta d’Espana) ride over “Cols”, the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks, so you are rarely at the summit of a mountain. This is logical, as why would road builders and engineers build roads up to the top of mountains, when they don’t need to? Mt Ventoux is different, because the road goes right over the summit and when you are there you are on the roof of Provence, with no other mountains looming over you. I find this quite a special feature.
So on a wet Friday lunchtime I got on the Eurostar (a train that goes from London to Paris) with my Brompton packed into the Brompton B Bag. Once in Paris, I used the Metro to travel from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon where I got on the TGV (a French high speed train) to Avignon. From Avignon it was just a short journey to my start point in Bedoin. For me, having been a cyclist for many years now, one of the highlights of the Brompton is the ease with which you can take it anywhere; put it on a train, plane or bus, with minimal fuss and hassle, and have a bike with you at your destination. In fact, according to both Eurostar and the French Railway Authorities, bikes aren’t even allowed on their high speed trains without prior arrangement. No such issue when travelling with a Brompton. Nobody even questioned me, with my Brompton safely packed in its B Bag, which conveniently fits into the luggage racks like a suitcase. And once at your destination, it is a few seconds to unpack your bike and you are ready to ride – so simple.
On Saturday morning, I set out to ride all the three routes to the summit. My plan was simple:
- Bedoin to the summit
- Descend to Malaucene
- Eat something
- Malaucene to the summit
- Descend to Sault
- Eat something
- Sault to the summit
- Back to Bedoin.
- Eat, shower and sleep!
- Return home
Please excuse my lack of artistic talent, but this was my pictorial representation of what I was going to do. You will notice that the total ascent in metres was 4400 (14,400ft), which equals a tough mountain stage in the Tour de France.
And I have to say that it all went to plan. I only took one summit shot, as the weather conditions deteriorated throughout the day, going from light drizzle through to thunderstorms with some hail thrown in for good measure. But actually, the rain had quite a nice cooling effect on the way up and overheating and dehydration were not going to be an issue.
I also stopped to take a photo of the weather station, getting a good view from the ride up from Malaucene. I could not help thinking that it looks quite like a giant syringe, a touch ironic given cycling’s shady history with doping. And to reinforce the syringe image, I found this poster in Bedoin……..
I am constantly amazed at what this bike can do. Mountains, long distance, commuting, travelling, you name it. This bike can do it all. With a bit of modification to carry water bottles, I would happily ride this bike anywhere, any distance, any time. Yes, it might be slightly heavier than your average road bike, but it is twice as robust and can travel with you anywhere. Yes, you may get lots of people asking you about it, but that’s what happens when you are riding a fantastic piece of British innovation. Yes, you might get a few strange looks, but I say “bring it on” and now ask me how far I’m going? For me, this all adds to its appeal. I have loved bicycles all of my life. I have quite a few of them. And do you know what, knowing what a Brompton is capable of, I could probably sell them all and just ride a Brompton for the rest of my life.