We arrived in the Ecrin massif late in the afternoon and set up camp in Bourg D'Osions; a small town nestling at the base of Alpe D'Huez, one of the most iconic climbs of the region. The road followed a series of tight corners for 13km, the gradient averaging around 8%. Rather than warm up or recover from the long overnight journey we got straight on the bastard. I have to say it was easier than I expected. We maintained a super steady rhythm, making sure we spun the pedals smoothly rather than grinding our way up, sucking down the odd gel every now and again to keep energised. After the first couple of turns I knew we'd get up alright. Some time later we rolled into the ski-town that marks the end of the climb, and shot back down again super fast, overtaking cars all the way.
The Col du Galibier, the highest point of our trip
Over the next couple of days we cruised up some more classic ascents; the Col de Sarenne, and a combined assault of the Col du Lautaret and the epic 2645m Col du Galibier. I felt so good on the Galibier I pushed up from the granny gear and went flat out over the 8 or so km to the summit, despite the steep last section and a cheeky 12% ramp before the very top. All this in stunning alpine scenery, jagged peaks, deep blue skies. It was fucking awesome.
We then transitioned south, slotting in a quick blast through a wild-west style gorge, before heading down to the main objective of the trip; Mount Ventoux, the Giant of Provence.
Standing above many nearby lesser peaks, but completely isolated, Ventoux was the most daunting of the lot. A huge humpbacked crest, steep forested slopes, a summit plateau bare like a lunar crater, with an eerie weather station projecting from the very top; grey clouds clung to the spire despite the otherwise clear skies. It loomed over everything. The numbers were ominous too. 22km of ascent, averaging nearly 8%. However, this was skewed by the easy first section. The final 16km would average nearer 10%.
We rolled out of Bedoin and began climbing. I struggled to find a rhythm on the first bit, spinning too fast, capable of going much harder but not wanting to waste any energy. It was almost a relief when we turned a corner into the woods and the road kicked up sharply to 9%. From that moment it was a relentless 10km of suffering, nowhere to hide, nowhere to rest. My only aim was to get up the thing in one push without stopping. The route climbed interminably through the forest, round corners and along depressing straights that disappeared into the distance. I stayed in the saddle as much as possible, only standing up when my legs really needed a break. It took bloody ages.
Dad on the hard-won summit of Mount Ventoux
Eventually we emerged from the woods and onto the upper plateau. Here the gradient kicked back a notch, enabling me to switch to a higher gear and build up some speed. As I'd noticed on the previous rides, I got stronger and stronger as I went on, overtaking serious looking guys in replica kits who passed us ages ago. However, there was still several kms to go and it was hard going. The landscape became stark and lifeless. Twats in cars crawled past the cyclists, needlessly cluttering up the road. Idiotic pedestrians nearly caused an accident by crossing without looking just as some guys were descending.
In my opinion if you cannot cycle up Ventoux you do not deserve to be up there at all, particularly not in the middle of the day. There's nothing there anyway. The weather station, a few bits of shitty tourist tat. Go up early or late if you just want to see the view. Even worse, some pricks were adding to the congestion by driving up with mountain bikes on their cars so they could just blast down. Lazy fuckers.
Elitist rant over. Almost. The final bit got steeper again but I was too close to ease off. I rounded the final corner, elated to finally reach the summit, only to be stopped dead by a cluster of cars and morons on bikes who'd decided to stop and take in the view on this last ramp.
The weather station of Ventoux
As you may have guessed, I wasn't particularly happy on top, and when Dad joined me just a couple of minutes later we didn't hang around. A quick drink, a rushed photo at the summit sign, and we were speeding back down again; 22km of fantastic downhill racing, easily overtaking all the cars. We were back in Bedoin unbelievably soon. To celebrate we hit a local bar and drank a few beers while watching the day's Tour de France stage.
We did two more rides in the area, both extremely hilly, but by now we were both super fit and cruising up high passes like they were nothing. At one point we crossed the 1400 odd meter col of Ventoux from the other side, and got caught out in an epic hail and thunderstorm. The descent was horrific. You barely move when you go downhill, there's no way to generate heat, no respite; in minutes we were both borderline hypothermic in our t-shirts, tearing through the hairpins with numb fingers clutching at the brakes. Our narrow wheels barely gripped as we skidded round corners. Fortunately the weather cleared lower down and people on their way up stared at us as we shot by, all soaked and grimacing. Perhaps they wondered what the hell they were getting themselves into.
We vanished into the horizon, gunning it straight for the nearest bar, where we drank yet more beer and watched the Tour. Fucking good times.