“Riding very slowly, I eventually made it out of the forest and started to climb the bare part of the Ventoux. The air was cold but I was hotter than ever from the effort.”

THE CHALLENGE

Every morning, we’d wake up at sunrise to ride in the brisk morning air, enjoying the early light gleaming on the landscapes. It was always so quiet. All we could hear was the sound of the carbon Zipp wheels gliding on the asphalt. At every turn, every corner we rode, we would distinguish new bewitching views: a gorge stuck between two mountains, a cliff overhanging a sinuous road, a tunnel dug into the rock…all landscapes we weren’t accustomed to experiencing.

Riding every day along the hills and crests, once in a while we’d catch sight of a barren peak in the distance. Even from far away, Mont Ventoux is easily recognizable. I was still recovering from an Achilles tendinitis and wasn’t sure my heel could handle climbing the Giant of Provence. But as the days went by, it became clear to me that I wouldn’t leave this enchanting region without at least giving it a try.

As we drove closer to the famed mountain, I started to feel a pang in my stomach: not only was I very excited, I was also genuinely nervous. We reached Bédouin just after sunrise and my heart was racing like never before: Ventoux had been my goal ever since I had started cycling, and here I was, at its foot, ready to take on the mythical challenge. We parked the car, took out the bikes and quietly savored the atmosphere while putting on our winter clothing—a chill was lingering in the valley.

The first few miles were already slightly uphill. With no time to warm up on flat roads, my legs started aching from the very beginning. Because I get hot very quickly when I’m exercising, I had to take off my jacket and leg warmers before the road got steeper. I was disappointed, because I felt like I didn’t have good legs. At that point, climbing for another 20 kilometers, with even higher elevations and steeper percentages, seemed utterly impossible.

This feeling eventually wore off as my thigh muscles warmed up and I realized that, even if the climb was becoming impressive, my legs were still spinning. And so I climbed, first with Romain by my side, then on my own after my riding mate increased his speed and I could no longer keep up with him. The scenery was magical. The forest was so peaceful and all I could hear was the sound of my wheels in tune with my heavy breathing. My legs were aching as never before but my tendon was all right and so I had no excuse to give up. As hard as it was, I just couldn’t back down—I had come all the way to take on this summit, and that’s what I was going to do.

The forest section felt like hell. My legs were numb from the pain and looking down at my speed was not very encouraging. Riding very slowly, I eventually made it out of the trees and started to climb the bare part of Mont Ventoux. The air was cold but I was hotter than ever from the effort. I was pleased to realize that my Assos kit was as comfortable as it looked and that my sweat dried off before it could bother me. On this barren part of the mighty Ventoux, the view was simply stunning.

Arriving at Chalet Reynard, I was glad to see the road seemed a little less steep. I kept on going, and reaching the top didn’t seem impossible anymore. The summit was now in sight, which helped me find the strength to continue even when my whole body ached. I just had to keep those legs spinning. I had a couple of kilometers left to climb when I saw Romain riding back down. He stopped, turned around and we ascended the rest together.

After the final hairpin, the climb became extremely hard again. It helped having a companion alongside—even though it felt unfair that the climb didn’t seem as hard for him as it was for me. The last 30 meters were excruciating. I pushed on the pedals with all the strength left in me. I was panting so heavily that when I did reach the famous “Sommet du Mont Ventoux” sign, the other cyclists were all staring at me. It was worth the effort though. There are no words to express what I felt like at the top. I had completed the goal that had been driving my cycling adventures for close to a year. I had done it! I had climbed Ventoux! Challenge complete!

Images: Marshall Kappel

Words: Marion

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