"High Mountains - A sporting perspective
Some of the Tour de France’s most legendary pages—glorious or tragic—have been written on the slopes of “Mount Baldy”, but it has never been on the route just 24 hours from the final finish. Whatever the lead of the rider wearing the Yellow Jersey, he will have to face the Tour’s toughest climb with fear and humility."
Stage 20: Motelimar to Mont Ventoux
Did you see the Tour de France this year?
More specifically, did you see stage 20, Montélimar to
Mont Ventoux, a 167 km
, (about 102 miles) finishing on the highest mountain in Provence, Mont Ventoux at 1912km and called Mount Baldy by whoever wrote the above quote.
They tried to break Bradley Wiggins and Lance Armstrong on the way up this gruelling climb and nearly succeeded on Saturday 25th July, but how did our guys Daniel Talbot-Ponsenby and Nicholas Roberts, more affectionately known as Dan and Nik, (Nik and Dan) fair on exactly the same route, 5 days before?
If you ever go drinking with Dan, at some point he will start talking about the L’Etape du Tour, a popular event that allows amateurs to tackle a mountain stage of the Tour du France before the professionals ride through a few days later. Dan can talk passionately about anything which unfortunately has the effect that the more susceptible want to have a go, so that’s why Nik agreed to do it with him.
They trained through the winter and cycled outside(?), did sportives with real cyclists over stupid distances and took on rides with the word ‘Dragon’ in the title. They basically sought out the toughest climbs available to get them ready for the challenge they’d signed up for.
So the morning of the 20th July arrived and they started at 7.30am in Montelimar, capital of Nougat, (Newgar, Nugget, the pronunciation was contested for most of the trip), "positioned at the crossroads of the Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon regions".
When their support team, (Sophie, (Mrs Nik), Rachel, (Mrs Dan), Graham and Denise), spotted them the first time on the route, at Nyon around about 9.00am they were cheery and fine, the next sighting was at 2pm, in the town of Bedoin at the foot of Ventoux, where Dan was in his element and couldn’t contain his excitement and Nik was quiet, (Nik is never quiet!).
They only had 20k to go at this point, (about 12 miles), which in theory, around the Oxfordshire countryside would normally take these chaps about an 35-40 minutes, but such is the intensity of the climb, that they were hoping to do it between 2-3 hours.
The support team with Graham as team bus driver, made their way to the other side of the mountain and encountered the population of France along a narrow mountain pass with no means of turning round until you got to the top, mad cyclists hurtling down the mountain towards you and French drivers doing what is best for them...nerves were frayed by the time we got to park the bus alongside the road about half way down again.
The Union Jack was hung on the back doors and we waited for news ... and then it came. Nik had stopped at about 800m up and didn’t think he could go any further. (incidentally, he also updated everyone on Facebook as well). Next news flash, Nik had started again and felt a bit better, his Facebook following were relieved, as were we. Next contact, Dan had reached the top and had finished. We waited for Nik’s next update, he’d got some water and was moving, but was now panicking about the sweeper truck, (everyone had to finish at 5.30pm otherwise you were thrown into a truck and driven to the top), he had about 4k to go.
Dan then came hurtling towards us, jumped off his bike and talked non-stop about what an amazing experience it had all been. He didn’t actually take a breath for about 20 minutes...and did comment on the "piddly" medal...it was quite small considering the effort required to achieve it.
Meanwhile Nik was still making progress, he’d updated us again, about 1k to go and it was 5.10pm. Dan confidentally predicted he would be fine and get to finish...and he did at about 5.23pm with no sign of the feared sweeper with his lorry. A relieved Sophie, support crew and Facebook following all looked slightly less anxious but not completely happy until he arrived at the bus.
The trip down the mountain took an age, (about 2 hours) due to the amount of traffic, so top tip, don't go up the mountain to pick up your cyclist, let them come all the way down to you. They don't have to pedal and they love shooting down the slopes passed all the cars. Thankfully, after a very long day, our hotel in Provence was really nice and we drunk quite a few bottles of Mont Ventoux red that evening and the following day.
So how did they compare with the professionals? The winner of this stage in the Tour de France did it in 04:39:21 and they took about an hour to climb Ventoux.
Dan completed the stage in 08:50:58 and took 02:09:44 to get to the top of Ventoux.
Nik completed the stage in 09:43:19 and took 03:02:04 to get to the top of Ventoux.
Chris Boardman MBE, (Olympic Champion, winner of a few Tour stages and a former wearer of the Yellow jersey), completed the stage in 08:09:46 and took 02:43:38 to get to the top of Ventoux...so Dan was quicker up the mountain, than an Olympic champion. (Don't tell him, we won't hear the end of it)
Congratulations to them both for a fantastic effort and no, I don’t want to do it next year.
Facebookers can see photo's here:
Nik's First L'Etape Album
Nik's Second L'Etape Album
Rachel's L'Etape Album