Squadra di Vecchi Tori

Ventou and Gorge de la Nesques – adventures with broken chains, punctures and other minor tribulations by kiwicyclist
July 19, 2011, 7:09 am
Filed under: Rides

As mentioned in yesterday’s post today we tackled the monster of Provence – Mt Ventou in a 95K circuit that took us down through a gorge just past the village of Sault called the Gorge de la Nesque and starting and finishing in the village of Bedoin – the same way up as featured in the Tour a few years ago.

As you can see from the pictures we encountered almost perfect conditions, blue skies and not too much wind.

We set off mid morning from Bedoin with a plan of meeting as a group at the small ski station 6 ks  below the summit once everyone had completed the climb to regroup for the rest of the circuit.  Our start was slightly marred by a fairly long walk in cleats through the main street of Bedoin which had been converted to an extensive Monday morning market crammed full of local townspeople going about their business. 

Despite this being a rest day for the Tour there were many bike riders tackling the climb.  My day almost ended in fairly dramatic fashion quite early into the climb at about the 5k (of 22) mark about 20mins out of Bedoin when the chain skipped, clunked and then snapped, unravelling through the derailleur and spilling onto the road.  Mark and I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to instal the wippermann connector link I carry with me which was a four handed job and something of a comedy of errors with 5 minutes wasted searching for one half of the link in the roadside debris after we dropped it on the first attempt.  Finally we got going again and thankfully the chain worked fine.

The climb in comparison to my ride up the Plateau de Beille was far more comfortable and I attributed this to having had a rest day but also a more consistent gradient and far more temperate conditions to climb in – in addition I did not look at the profile screen on my Garmin that shows the gradient and will not use it on any of the other climbs I do – it is too demoralising and a better strategy to ride by feel.

We made steady progress in 22 odd degrees with a cooling breeze keeping most of the sweat out of our eyes.  Again we climbed euro style with helmets slung over the bars, gloves tucked away and sunglasses perched on our caps.

We made up good time arriving at the turnoff village and emerging into the final 6 kilometres of the climb for which Ventou is rightly famous – others can describe the scene more eloquently than I can but it is a barren, bright pile of pale rock punctuated by a finger of the road marked with ski poles heading up to the observation tower.  The tower itself appears deceivingly and cruelly close despite the fact that it is 6 kilometers in the distance.

By now the gradient had increased and many riders were pedalling squares with a headwind around some corners and a tailw ind around others – the temperature was also considerably lower – 14 degrees according to my Garmin and by now both of us were wearing armwarmers to provide some protection from the wind.

My legs were feeling pretty good and with 3 ks to go I said to Mark I wanted to have a crack at it – big mistake – I had pushed my cadence up to around the mid 80s and realised about 400 meters on that my breathing did not feel right – the readings on the monitor suggested I had overcooked it considerably and I felt like I was hyperventilating in the thin air – not pleasant and not smart.

Mark caught me up soon after and we completed the climb together arriving up the final steep ramp to the observation tower side by side buzzing with a huge sense of achievement.  Ventou completed – 2 hrs 15mins which included a 20min stop for the chain mechanical – 22 ks and around 1970 metres of climbing.

The temperature at the top was pretty cold – cold enough that our breath fogged as it came out so we quickly put on warm kit, stopped for the photos and headed quickly back down to our meeting point. 

And this is when my next bit of drama occurred – as I was descending around one of the bends my front wheel got caught by a cross wind and the whole front end of bike was pushed sideways moving me across the road around what felt like a meter – we thought later the wind speed was around 70ks but it was certainly blowing and hard – I nearly shat myself.   Then around a kilometer further down the hill my front tire made a familiar hiss and quickly flatted while decending at speed – exactly the same scenario as 2 days ago although somewhat errierily I stopped directly opposite the Simpson Memorial featured in the shot above, taken just after I changed my tire with my only spare tube. 

My now tentative descent continued and I was on my own and running quite late to meet everyone when again the front tire flatted this time requiring the tire to be patched before I could continue.

So a day of drama.

Fortunately I managed to meet our group and we continued on to the village of Sault down a the roughest road we have encountered in the entire trip – by rough I mean a piece of road with a similar gradient to the Kinglake climb but with patches all over the place that could easily throw you off your line.

However it was worth it as we came across some lavender fields just above the village that were stunning and provided an excellent photo op. 

We finished the loop by going through the Gorge de la Nesques which is accessed after a relatively steady and easy climb for several Ks out of Sault.  As you can see from some of the pictures below the Gorge is dramatic in every way – the road continues high up through the cliffs with drop-offs of several hundred feet on one side at the highest part of the gorge – and the best part – most of it is downhill for at least 18ks and not too technical. 

I have Poz to thank for his excellent recommendation to do this extra part of the ride – it is stunning in every sense and the entire day was an incredible highlight to our trip so far.  A total contrast to days spent chasing the Tour worrying about completing climbs and getting back to the bus in time before the road closes.

As as for Ventou – in the words of a famous Kiwi who first climbed Everest –

“We knocked the bastard off”.



3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great tale! Sault is one of the most lovely towns in the world; I’ve once spent the night in one of those lavender fields. Long story.

1:55 minutes up. Chapeau. Even in Kiwi time, that’s fast.

And is that a pair of Velominati Jawbones in photo p1030799.jpg? If so, double Chapeau.

A painter I know lives in Bedoin, Julian. You’ll appreciate his daily paintings once you’ve been there. And maybe if you haven’t. (http://shiftinglight.com/)

Keep up the great work.

Comment by frank

Thanks Frank. It was a great day and the scenery around there and through the Gorge is incredible.
Yep Velominati jawbones – love them.
Today’s ride was more epic – particularly the Col de Sarenne which I’ll finish writing about in the morning. 2 phrases as a hint – “gravelled goatrack” and “at least 18 switchbacks”.

Comment by kiwicyclist

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