Hi guys, two mountain conquering Matt’s here!
As we haven’t put a blog out of the day before our assault on the fearsome Mont Ventoux yet, I’ll describe it here first.
We left Uzes and lazily made our way over the Rhône to a town called Orange. We found a Decathlon (great sport shop) where we could both replace Matt’s balding tyres, and buy a few warmer clothes for the coming months. The lady at the till happened to be British too so we had a quick chat before heading on our way.
The next 30km to Bédoin, the village at the base of the climb to Ventoux, was taken at a relaxed pace. As we eventually came into sight of the great mountain, we found it was shrouded in cloud. This only added to its mystique, we could both feel a kind of nervous excitement building.
Once again, we had problems finding a campsite! The first one we tried was up a devilishly steep climb, which we ground our way up only to find that the site was closed. They could easily have saved us the energy by placing a sign at the bottom of the path!
Eventually as the light was fading, we found a really nice site closer to the village. We set up camp, grabbed a bite to eat, set up a few things for the morning and went to bed. The next day would hopefully see us tackle arguably the most fearsome climb in the Tour de France.
We awoke. The weather had deteriorated overnight and we had a cold, overcast day with scattered showers to deal with. This only added to our excitement. To a degree, we’d be battling the elements, as well as the mountain, and each other! The atmosphere was crackling as we prepared ourselves and our bikes for the climb. It would be our first day with no pannier bags. Matt was coming off the back of his stunning ride into France and was keen to test how far his fitness had come since day 1. I was the experienced rider, expected to do well but worried about this new animal I’d had a hand in creating. It would be no easy race for either of us.
Our ground rules were that we’d try and notify the other person if one of us got a puncture or other bike problem and the person who reached the top first would attempt to time the difference on a stopwatch (if the gap between us would allow it). Eventually it was time to ride thought the village to kilometre 0.
The climb starts gently as the road weaves through some other villages before hitting the base of the mountain. We kept the pace slow too and allowed ourselves to take in the markings on the road still clear from this year’s Tour de France stage. A guy on a very light, very expensive road bike cruised past us. I was trying to spin my legs fast to warm them up without putting too much power down and wearing myself out. Before we knew it, the road turned left and into the Forest that covers much of the climb. The road ramped up to about 7% average incline and we knew that the easy part of the ride was over. This was where the games would begin.
I had decided to sit on the front of our duo and drive the pace at a tempo which I hoped would allow me to stay fresh while slowly seeping the energy from Matt’s legs. Over the past few weeks I’d learned that he loves to explosively jump off my wheel in an attempt to break up my rhythm and force me out of my comfort zone. After about 5km, he made his first move.
Matt leapt off my wheel and darted up the road. Quick as a flash, I jumped up a couple of gears, got out of the saddle and reeled him back in. My legs felt good. I didn’t know how Matt’s legs felt. The first skirmish had ended in a draw.
I settled back into my tempo and Matt fell back onto my wheel. Up the road we could see the roadie who’d cruised past us earlier on. We were matching his pace on significantly heavier bikes! Over the next few kilometres Matt tried a few dummy-attacks, to which I raised my cadence in an attempt to show my strength. We rode through kilometre after kilometre of incline that was never lower than 7% and had sections of up to 12%.
Matt began to say to me that he was not feeling good and wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to hold my wheel. I kept the pace the same, deciding to make a decision if he dropped off. Despite his worries, Matt remained glued to my wheel, even as we cruised past the roadie, who’s technique had fallen apart and looked to be starting to struggle. This told me that I should never write Matt off, no matter how defeated he may say he was.
As the treeline thinned, I upped the pace again very slightly. We were nearly at a key part of the climb and I wanted to be sure that Matt was working to stay with me. Together we rode out of the forest and onto the barren, rocky landscape that signalled the last 5km. This was where the fireworks would happen.
I was biding my time when Matt jumped off my wheel again and tried to power up the road. I quickly reeled him in and made what I hoped would be the decisive move in our race.
This is how the rest of the race panned out in my mind.
I sat in the saddle, opened my lungs and put as much power as I could through the pedals without burning out. Matt 1 shouted up the road that he was finished, but I was taking nothing for granted. I had engaged beast mode and was intent on building up as much of a lead as possible over the last few kilometres.
For me it was a mental battle with myself. Was I going too hard to maintain? Was I riding fast enough to stay in front? Would Matt 1 be able to bridge the gap and pull off a stunning victory? All I told myself was that I couldn’t ease up, I mustn’t slow down. My heart was pumping, my lungs were screaming, my legs kept spinning.
It became torture. I kept glancing over my shoulder. I had convinced myself that Matt would be turning himself inside out too and would be closing the gap I had pushed myself to open. A split second of relief would surge through me when I saw him further down the road. I was maintaining the gap but I still couldn’t let off.
As I crossed the final two kilometres I felt bad. My stomach felt ill (probably from the slight cold I have) and the weather was beginning to chill me. My pace dropped ever so slightly as I passed Tom Simpson’s memorial. Some riders never made it to the top of this mountain. Despite the whirlwind of pain that I was in, I had to think about his tragedy.
I looked down to the road. 1km to go. Pro cyclist, Jens Voigt’s catchphrase “shut up legs” spurred me on. The road ramped up viciously once more and I stole one last glance behind me. Matt 1 wasn’t there. I was so relieved. As I crossed the line which marks the top, some French tourists cheered me on!
I looked down the mountain for Matt. I could see that he’d slashed the gaping gap that I had once had. I started the stopwatch as I caught my breath and resisted the urge to be sick. 1…2…3…4………. roughly a minute passed and I screamed “ALLEZ ALLEZZ ALLLEEEZZ MATT! CHAPEAUUUUU!” as he crossed the line. We’d both done it done it!
(If you’ll rewind in your mind to the “decisive” moment, Matt 1 is now going to talk you through the last km’s of his ride)
So I had just made my big move, knowing after a series of dummy attacks that Matt 2 would attempt to get straight back on my wheel. After leaping away from him a week or so ago I saw this as one of my only tactics. This was the first time on the ride I felt pain, my plan here had failed. Knowing this I let Matt 2 get away, pleased with what I had achieved…. Then it hit me, you are not letting him get away that easy! I chased him down hard, even getting on his wheel again at one point just after the 4km to go sign. This yet again hurt, I just could not keep a tempo to match and so was dropped again.
It now became a compensation game, I could see Matt 2 in the distance and found myself willing him on. I had managed to get back into a good rhythm. Matt 2 had the gap, but that did not mean I could not really push on myself and try for a good time. In the last 2km I really upped the anti, spurred on by helicopter images of Chris Froome riding strongly on this exact same section in my head. I knew I could not catch him but was severely lowering the gap. At the beginning of the day I told myself I would be happy to finish 5 minutes behind Matt 2, so when it transpired that It was only 50 seconds or so that separated us when I finally came over the line , I was delighted.
I think the ending could have been different if I had not wasted my energy on attacking when I did…. Ha what a powerful friend Captain Hindsight is. Matt 2 fully deserved the win and I am proud we made it up together.
(Back to Matt 2 now!)
It was so amazing to see us both on top of this mountain. We’d both made it up with no mechanical issues and were able to push ourselves both mentally and physically to the limit in the process. We snapped some photos, then as the cold became more and more biting, we headed in to the cafe to grab a hot drink. In the midst of our euphoria, we’d cheered another road cyclist who we passed on the way up as he competed the final stretch. Timo joined us in the cafe (his girlfriend later drove up and joined us) and we chatted about everything from the climb, to his job and our tour so far.
Eventually though we had to brave the cold again and head down the mountain. On our way down we took time to pay our respects properly to the Tom Simpson memorial. It is customary for passing riders to leave an item at the memorial, so we decided to leave the remaining links of Matt 1’s original bike chain. Tom’s tragic story is one that should never be forgotten by cycling, and he memorial stands as a grim reminder to all sports that illegal performance enhancing drugs should never be allowed to be abused.
Shivering now, we descended carefully off the mountain. As we re-entered the forest and the weather warmed slightly , we were able to have a little more fun on the twisting corners. We both flew back into Bédoin on a massive high. We had just had the most amazing day.
After looking at the data on strava, my official time was 1:57:17 (meaning matts was around 1:58. To put this into context, strava’s number one time of 1:00:55 was set by pro-rider Lauren’s ten-Dam. My time was ranked 2,639th out of 5,608. For riding up on a heavy steel touring bike with small wheels and fat tyres, we are both very proud of our times!
The next day has been spent reminiscing our epic ride, eating vast amounts of food and lazing around! Matt has bought the official Mont Ventoux jersey from the village, so keep your eyes peeled for future pictures of him!
That’ all for now guys, thanks for reading!
The 2 Matt’s