Mont Ventoux from Bedoin

After a few days in the Alps I drove to Marseille Airport to pick up my wife and daughter before heading to our gite in Provence. The location of our gite is a bit ridiculous – not only in the foothills of Mont Ventoux, but you can actually see the observatory from the back garden. Fortunately Bedoin is a cute French town that happened to have its big weekly market today, much to the delight of my wife. Hey, if you can’t be good, be lucky!



“Mont Ventoux? – I never realised.”

After a morning at the market and lunch back at the gite, our daughter needed an afternoon nap and my wife was keen to join her. Which leaved me with a couple of hours to kill … couldn’t have planned it better – time to climb le Geant de Provence!

Drawing on my experience from the Alps my intention was to stick to a manageable heartrate of 160ish bpm and take the climb at a steady rate. However, the lower roads through the forest were beastly with constant periods of 12%+ being the norm. I was massively under-geared with a 39 on the front and my biggest cog a 25 on the back so slowly churned my way up in the hot sun with my heartrate pumping far higher than I’d hoped.


I passed a lot of riders on the way. Enough to naively make me think I was a half-decent cyclist. Then a couple of petits French riders flew up past me, both out of the saddle with tanned, stick-thin legs like a pair of fleeting sparrows. My slow, pedal-mashing, butter-churning technique was quickly brought back to reality. In the end I decided to let them go!


The first 8 or 9 miles are a steep slog through the cedar forest, with the odd tempting glimpse through the trees of the observatory to keep the spirits alive. It was also baking hot, so I hung my helmet over the handlebars and tied a buff around my head to keep the sweat from pouring into my eyes. Rocking the wild ginger look!


After 10 or so miles, the trees finally gave way to rough, scraggy rock. It quickly became a totally barren landscape with no respite from the sun. The only consolation was the mile markers counting down to the looming observatory.



In the end I completed the climb in 1 hour and 50 minutes. I pushed it as hard as I could for such a prolonged assault, but riding solo it was sometimes difficult to stay focussed. Certainly a different experience to the last time I rode dressed as a bear!


The descent was a different matter altogether. It took about 20 minutes flying by cars, motorbikes and cyclists on a satisfying rush back down to Bedoin for a well-earned dinner and beer. Overall it took less than two and a half hours to ride top to bottom – fairly non-intrusive for a family holiday so hopefully I’ll find time for another ascent or two this week …

Alps Day 3 – Alpe d’Huez & Les Deux-Alps

I woke late this morning feeling very tired. My lower back and quads ached, so after a breakfast of coffee, porridge, pastries and more coffee I spent a fair bit of time stretching and rolling in an effort to ease my pains. Finally I set off to climb Alpe d’Huez properly – after two previous days of shying away from the famous 21 hairpins, I’d left no other option than to tackle it on my third and final day.




It was another cold and wet start which made it difficult to dress appropriately for a long climb. In a futile attempt to keep my feet dry I stuck electrical tape over the air vents in my shoes.


For a little while I’ve been looking for a decent cycling gilet, so in the end I decided to ride up in the lightest possible clothing and buy a gilet at the top. I also left with one of my two water bottles empty, intending to fill it at the café at the top. However, my efforts to lighten the load were quickly countered by the persistent drizzle which soaked and clung to me.



I last rode Alpe d’Huez three years ago, completing the TT section in just under the hour. This time around I was a little bit older, a little bit more responsible an adult … and clearly a little bit better at making excuses for being slow. I had no real idea how I would compare this time around, but decided to just maintain a heart rate of 160bpm and try to forget all other distractions like average speed and counting down the corners.


The first four bends are notoriously difficult so I stuck to the plan and tried to ignore what laid ahead. The scenery was breath-taking, as was the climbing – evidenced by several burned out riders recovering on some of the lower corners. I’d ridden Alpe d’Huez twice before, both experiences being a prolonged endurance of the pain-cave where normality seemed to collapse inwards on my suffering. This time around, by staying somewhere between 155 – 165bpm I stayed on top of the climb and my gears all the way to the top. In hindsight, I could have pushed it a little harder, but after two previous days of climbing it was definitely sensible to play it a little safe.


In the end I completed the TT course just 6 minutes slower than my previous best, and then continued another kilometre to the official Tour de France finish in a total time of 1 hour and 12 minutes. I was very pleased with that.




After a coffee and croque-monsieur, I purchased my gilet – how continental am I?! I then embarked on the descent. Despite the added layer, the cold weather and my rain-soaked clothing combined to make it quite a challenging descent. I stopped regularly to take photos and to defrost.


At Bend 16 (5 from the bottom) I left the road and headed off along le Balcon d’Auris – the balcony; basically a shelf of a road that clung to the side of the mountain for several miles (another bit of fantastic local knowledge). It was impossible not to keep stopping to take photos and to spare a thought for the brave workmen that built the road. Incredible.





From here I descended down to the foot of Les Deux-Alps for my final big climb of these three days. Having pushed myself quite hard on Alpe d’Huez I decided to take it easy up this one – a twisting climb of 2000ft to a deserted ski resort at the top.


After a quick circuit around town I raced halfway down the hairpinned climb before shooting off along another hair-raising balcony that weaved its way back down to the B&B. Today’s ride was a modest 45 miles, but without a single flat section and encompassing almost 8000ft of climbing it was enough to call it a day. After cleaning and dismantling the bike, I showered and decided to head into Bourg d’Oisans for a well earned beer with a sense of satisfaction for having properly trained and enjoyed some of the best climbs in this area.




Before heading off to meet my wife and daughter for a more conventional, relaxing-type holiday in Provence, I’d like to thank Shawn and Martin at Le Velo Jaune in Bourg d’Oisans, for not only providing fantastic breakfasts and local knowledge … but also going well beyond the call of duty for a chambre d’hotes and laying on three course French-cuisine dinners specifically aimed at recharging hungry cyclists. Last nights tartiflette was probably the sole reason I made it up these climbs today. When I come back to the Alps I know where I’ll be trying to stay …


Alps Day 2 – Col de la Morte & Col d’Ornan

After yesterday’s ride I woke with quite stiff legs but pleased to see the sun shining. Rather than an out-and-back I fancied doing a loop which took in a couple of cols. At least that way, once you’ve committed there’s normally no chickening out!

I tapped up my host for a suitable ride. He described a favourite and over the course of breakfast decided that he actually quite fancied coming along. I was glad of the company. And as it turned out, a road was closed on the other side of the first col so a bit of local knowledge was gratefully appreciated.


The start of the ride was a long and easy 20 mile descent through the valley towards Grenoble. We then turned off at Sechilienne and stripped off layers in preparation for the first climb, the Col de la Morte (ominously translating as the Pass of the Dead!)

This first ‘Hors Catégorie’ climb was 8 miles at a 7% average gradient, starting way down in the warm and wet Alpine forest and climbing over 3000ft to a deserted ski resort at the top.


From the top of the Col we headed down into the quiet valley of Lavaldens before a road closure sign sent us on a diversion that added 10 miles to our journey as well as the Category 3 climb up the Col de Malissol.


Somewhere around 40 miles we decided to stop in the town of La Mure for lunch. Steak and chips, the French classic. And when you ask for rare you get rare. Or to be more exact “saignant” which roughly translates as bloody! It tasted great.




The temperature had dropped during lunch and as we got ready to leave it started to rain. Despite the fact that the next 10 miles were descent I found this to be the toughest part of the ride due to the cold and with chattering teeth I was looking forward to the long climb up the Col d’Ornan.


At Entraigues we stopped and removed outer layers of clothing before starting the climb. I was still fairly cold so this seemed counterintuitive until you looked at the road ahead which quickly rose up into the mountains.


The Col d’Ornan was an unusual climb, basically long straight stretches of road which appeared to me to be flat, as if the dominating mountain peaks created an optical illusion and incorrectly raised the horizon. It was a 9 mile Category 2 climb, the first half of which was all below 5% with the final few miles ramping up to 8 or 9%. Not the toughest climb, but after 60 miles or riding it presented enough of a challenge.


After stopping at the top to chat to a few amiable Belgians we embarked on the exhilarating and technical descent down to Bourg d’Oisans. The road was wet with lots of twists and turns, so it was helpful to be following a knowledgeable wheel. From the foot of the climb we made our way back along the valley floor to base. In total we covered 73 miles and 7000ft of climbing.

Alps Day 1 – Col du Glandon & Alpe d’Huez

I’m currently down in the French Alps having a few days solo cycling before my wife and daughter fly in for a family holiday in Provence. I’ve got 3 days to explore the Alps from my base in Bourg d’Oisans with a few new climbs on my wish-list.


Unfortunately the weather forecast for the 3 days isn’t particularly conducive to cycling. The heavens opened at breakfast time, and despite heading out in full rain gear with a clip-on mudguard kindly lent by my hosts at Le Velo Jaune, I still got soaked. The ski season only ended last week so bad weather was always likely.



First on the list was the Col du Glandon. The roads up from the valley all warned that the road was closed, but a little local knowledge from the guys at the B&B advised that at worst it would only be closed right at the top. And that all the road closed signs would provide me with a relatively car-free experience.


This proved to be the case, and over the course of two hours I worked my way up the mountain, passing avalanche debris being cleared by snow plows and road sweepers. The road up from Bourg d’Oisans included several sections of descent which provided some welcome relief from the long periods of +10% incline.


The sun broke out of the clouds at the top of the mountain, however the road also finally disappeared beneath the increasing snow. So I shouldered the bike and crunched my way across the last few metres of snow for a photo.



The temperature had really dropped so I didn’t hang around for too long. I took a few photos and prepared for the descent. At one point I spotted a couple of marmottes running and screeching across the road.



About halfway down I stopped in a small village for lunch. Inside the small restaurant were plenty of locals enjoying the day’s special so I ordered the same. Pork cheek with pasta, followed by lemon, coconut and pineapple tart. Perfect cycling fuel.



Feeling suitably nourished I decided to tackle another col. This time Alpe d’Huez, which I’ve previously ridden a couple of times. However I attacked it from a different angle on this occasion  – via the Pas de la Confession. I was hoping for a slightly easier climb of the famous big mountain, with this smaller road feeding into the main Huez climb about 6 switchbacks from the top. Unfortunately it seemed equally as punishing as the main route but at least I didn’t have the monkey on my back of trying to beat my PB up the mountain set in my fitter days.



It was tough-going to start with, but using my heart-rate monitor I found a manageable pace and got into a nice rhythm. Last time I came here I was riding a compact chainring, this time I was on a 52-39 with a fairly tight rear cassette so was a bit under-geared for the mountains. In addition I was over-dressed in wet and heavy rain clothing, so it was all a bit of a sweat-fest, churning struggle to the top.


The weather was glorious at the top so I stopped for a drink in the sun. However it was simply one of those days with the heavens opening just as I got ready for the descent. I tentatively rode down the Alp in the pouring rain, with steam rising off the tarmac and feeling like Bambi on ice as I slowly twitched my way around each switchback.


From the bottom I raced back through the valley to the B&B. In total I rode 63 miles with just over 9000ft of climbing. It was 5 hours riding time, which gives a fairly unremarkable average speed. However average speed is generally a pretty meaningless statistic in the mountains, even more so in the rain. Fingers crossed for sunshine (and good legs) tomorrow …


Ride hard and rest

There’s nothing quite like an early season time-trial to recalibrate your skewed cycling self-confidence. After putting in the miles this Winter I was starting to feel like the elusive ‘form’ might be on the near horizon. Unfortunately, as it turns out, not only am I slower than I’ve been for the last couple of years, I’m also slower than two-thirds of the club! Hey ho, it’s not easy getting older and being a parent.

Last weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty 70 mile sportive. In fine sunny weather and with just one ascent to the top of Exmoor it was a relatively light dose of the usually brutal moors. My personal highlight was Ridge Road, a long and relatively car-free descent from Simonsbath to Dulverton with great views. A new one to me and definitely a route to include the next time I visit Exmoor.

Sunny Exmoor

Sunny Exmoor


I’ve been averaging 100 miles a week this year taking advantage of both the mild weather and a regular job in Bristol where I can commute by bike a couple of days a week.

Riding the steely in full pannier-juggernaut mode is one thing, but carrying Little Miss BikeVCar in the Toddler Chariot is becoming ever more of a challenge.

I’ll be off to France soon for a week in the Alps before my family then join me for a holiday in Provence. With this in mind I’ve been trying to increase my cycling for the inevitable back-to-back-to-back days on the bike. Immediately after the Exmoor sportive I commuted to Bristol 3 days in a row and then capped this off with my first time trial of the year.


The time trial went ok. Over a lightly undulating 8 miles around Chew Valley Lake I managed to average 21.5mph. Not my fastest but I gave it 100% and is a good marker. The other day someone gave me some advice: “Ride hard and rest”. Personally I’d add “… and eat”. So after riding 200 miles in the last 4 days, now it’s time to take a short break to recover … and eat.

6 hours on Exmoor

I was in Exmoor on Tuesday with a full day to fill with cycling. My life these days is less BikeVCar and more BikeVEverythingElse. Fortunately I’d managed to delegate, dodge, postpone or ignore all my other life-related duties and so I absconded to the moors for a whole responsibility-free day on the bike.


A beautiful day on the moors

The original plan was to ride 100 miles. It wasn’t until I’d stopped for lunch that I worked out that at my average speed there weren’t enough day-light hours at this time of year to fulfil this ambition. Certainly not when dressed to combat the sub-zero temperatures, climbing the never-ending hills of Exmoor on a steel bike and carrying the excess baggage of an enjoyable Christmas period.

I re-calibrated my ambition.


The long, steep ride up from Lynmouth

Despite the mileage reduction it was a glorious day. Clear blue skies, sun and very little wind. However, due to the temperatures it was still icy well into the afternoon. I stuck to the main roads which had been gritted.


Beautiful ice patterns (beautiful from up here, not so beautiful when seen from the floor!)


… more moors

In the end I rode 72 miles. At an average speed of 13ish mph. Despite the 2000-odd metres of climbing, the hardest part of the day was descending down from the moors to the coast at Porlock. Dropping 400 vertical metres in about 3 miles – I had to stop several times and try to shake some life back into my fingers and was desperately looking forward to the next climb to warm me back up. It was a great day – Exmoor, I’ll be back …


Wild horses couldn’t drag me away