Monday, September 10, 2007

Mont Ventoux

Two weekends ago (1-Sep-07), Rodolfo and I went to neighboring Annecy France to look for old beater bikes at a thrift store. We both found vintage racers for €30 each (just over USD $40). I bough what appears to be a 1972 Liberia bicycle. It has 10 gears, half of the 20 gears I enjoy on my “real” bike. Though it is surprisingly not too much heavier than my 2004 Look KX Light which cost a few more dollars.

Last Thursday (6-Sep-07) was the Jeune Genevois; a local Geneva-only holiday (thought to be a holiday commemorating a public fast in the canton of Geneva, dating from the late 16th Century signifying solidarity with the Protestants being persecuted in nearby Lyon, France). Since I had the day off of work, I decided to do a local bike race, a team time trial (a team of 2 riders each going off in 1 minute intervals ride together against the clock, drafting off of each other) with Jessica. We met up with Monica (from the states and Geneva) and her husband Jean-Marc who also participated. We accomplished both of my goals: finish the 29km course in under 58 minutes (we did it in 52 minutes), and not finish in last place. Only afterwards did we find out that it was one race in a series put on by the Swiss police in which some super strong riders compete in 8 races throughout Switzerland, the Coupe Romande de Cyclisme Des Polices – I suppose that explains the guys with time trial bikes that looked like professionals – and why the winning team beat us by nearly 18 minutes.

This past weekend (8,9-Sep-07), I traveled with 7 guys and gals from Velo Club Lancy to the town of Carpentras in the south of France to ride in Les Routes du Ventoux; a 101km group ride about 30 minutes from the Côte D’Azur of a few hundred people (although it was technically “not a race,” I’m not sure anyone actually rode as if it were anything but). Once there on Saturday, we rode 34km round trip to pick up our dossards (numbers) for the race. It was windy. Ventoux means windy in French. The reason being Mont Ventoux is bombarded from top to bottom with the Mistral wind. (We did not experience the full strength of the Mistral, but on Sunday, during our descent of Mont Ventoux, if you were not holding on to your bike, you could easily get blown off). We had a great Italian dinner with local Provencal wine Saturday night in an old feeding barn. Saturday night was topped off by my roommate Steve and I shaving our (our own that is) legs in preparation for the ride the next day. (o.k., o.k., it makes you feel faster – which incidentally for me, counted for a lot it turns out) Sunday we were up before 7. At the race by 8 for the 8:30 start. At 8:30, the near 4 hours of suffering began. I started in the very back of the pack (so I would have some fellow English-speakers to talk to pre-race). Once the starting gun went off though, I decided to do my best to make my way to the front. Since I actually crossed the start line 3-5 minutes after the other starters, that meant riding with one pack at a time and bridging gaps to the next groups ahead. Most of the gaps I had to bridge on my own. I did find one strong guy I rode behind for about 5 minutes, but he was too fast, and even drafting behind him was too much for my legs. I did this for about the first 25km. Then the climb began. 22km up Mont Ventoux. Surprisingly, I was feeling good and was passing people and groups one-by-one up the mountain. I was feeling a little winded, and once or twice had to back off because I could feel my heartbeat spiking beyond max, but I kept a pretty good tempo. I traded off and on with Florida Gator man (some guy who was wearing orange and blue) on the way up. About half way up I ran into Steve – which I definitely did not expect. I rode with him for a minute, then kept climbing. I took a page out of Trevor’s book from the JFK 50 miler where everyone kept telling him “slow down,” “wall up ahead,” “you’re going to crash,” etc., and just went with it, I was feeling o.k., so just kept riding – even though I “knew” I should probably back off the pace a bit. Somewhere about 6km from the top I hit the feed zone, grabbed some cake, a banana, an apple, and some water, and headed back up. I filled my water bottle with Gatorade power as I rode (in retrospect it would have been worth the 10 seconds it would have taken to fill up and not spill all over my hands and handlebar) up to the summit. The last 2km were tough, where is the top I kept asking myself? The view made the pain bearable, you could see for miles, all of the valleys, the surrounding hills, it was truly spectacular. I could see the weather station, where is the crest? Finally, I hit the top. Then I saw what I came to France for, a monstrous descent with only a few switchbacks the first 2 or 3km – which would allow me to go really fast. Not as fast as I would have liked (after all, this was my first time on this hill), but I did reach 75kmph on the descent, and was passing people left and right. I was having a field day. I had a huge grin on my face. I was blowing the other riders away. No one even tried to hang on my wheel. I was flying. Like a train around the corners (I don’t think I took a corner at less than 50kmph). Then about 5km down, I took a wrong turn. I kind of suspected it, so didn’t get too far. But I was upset. I went from cruising 70+ kmph down the hill to climbing again. Talk about agony. Back on course, I began to pass the riders again whom I had passed on the way down before my wrong turn. I could hear a few of them commenting. I was really cruising. Over 20km of pure descending bliss. Then back on to a flat/mildly uphill section for about 5km. That was when it hit me. A cramp. Not a bad one, but then again, there is no such thing as a good one. A guy I caught on my way down saw that I was rubbing my leg and asked me if I had a cramp. I laughed and said yes, I think I laughed because I was partly delirious. He was good enough to let me coast on his wheel for the next km. Then he looked back. Crap, I thought, he wants me to get out front. I am too tired I thought. I may cramp, the last thing I need is to work really hard. But, there is not much arguing at this point, he let me draft, now it was my turn. I got out front for maybe 500m, the pace slowed a bit (we were still cruising and never dropped below 33kmph – about 20mph), and he decided it was time to get back out front and crank it up a bit. I’m not sure if he was trying to drop me, or was just racing, either way, he almost did drop me. Still after another km, I was obliged to take another turn. Finally we caught up with two other riders. Great, I thought, now we are four. Only one guy stayed on with us though. So we were three. Then we hit the next descent. Even though I was obviously more tired than either of these two (I barely held on for the 2km before the descent as they took turns out front; I was afraid they would think I was sandbagging only to fly by them later, and make me get out front, but I think between my intentionally heavy breaths, and saying Scheiße under my breath, they got the picture that I was in no shape to take a turn out front), I was a stronger descender than either of them. After finally catching my breath and settling my heart rate back down on the first couple kms of the descent, I took over. The strong guy I rode from the base of Mont Ventoux with and I eventually set too fast a tempo for the third guy and dropped him about 5km into the descent. We were cruising again. It was the opposite of the uphill/flat section, I took bigger turns out front. I was in near disbelief because I was so tired, but I had better lines and pushed the descent faster than the other guy. He took his fair share of turns, but whereas he took 2/3 of the uphill/flat work, I did 2/3 of the downhill work. We were cruising, passed a couple of other duos, and finally latched onto a group of four. So we were six going into the last 15km. Then we were five. Then four. We were not going slow, especially after riding 90+ kms. Then about 2km from the finish, the strong guy and another guy kicked up the tempo; myself and another guy rode in together. I came in at 3:56:36. Average speed of 26kmph. I was tired, but not too tired to head to the winery at which we had parked and do a little wine tasting. Ciao.