Anyone who has ridden up the Mont Ventoux will tell you it’s perhaps the hardest 20 or so kilometres in cycling. It’s like a runway. Up. Bedouin is a small typically French town at the base of the climb and the crowds fill the cafes and bars that line the centre ville. It’s the sort of place that hasn’t changed much in 100 years of people racing past to climb the Giant of Provence. But the freindly charm of this place is lost a few hours later, where trees will not grow and cyclist grovel in pain towards the top.
I’d ridden up here before in 2000, on a terrible day of weather on the Etape. The weather was a fair bit better today and, after dying a thousand deaths back then, I decided to exorcise some ghosts and have another go. We parked at the top and rode down to Bedouin and rode back up. Well it sounded easy. Afterwards I wish I hadn’t. Ventoux is windy, desolate and unforgiving. The gradient isn’t really steep but unlike Alpine hills the road doesn’t switch back much and it’s windy. Very windy. There’s a clue in it’s name I guess.
Above the tree line the relentless slog continues, past Chalet Reynard and onto the weather station which still looks like it’s several miles away… Nothing grows here and Tommy Simpson died within a kilometre of the summit so it’s a sad desolate part of one of the most beautiful parts of France.
But enough of my ride we were here to watch the action and it was incredible.
The first few kilometres of the Ventoux were merciless and many of the team leaders were shed early, Klodden, Chavanel, Heras and yesterday’s winner Botero. Today Vinokourov was in flying form. He and Jose Gomez Marchante had caught Wim Van Huffel (great name) who had attacked the lead group at 10 to go. By 3 kilometres to go Vino had caught him and surged relentlessly. Armstrong was on the defensive today and he did look like he was trying. Yesterday in the time trial we zoomed in on his heart rate monitor and it was at 185 at the top of the hill so we know he’s here to race. With 1 km to go Armstrong was leading the chasing group of mainly Americans, Landis and Leipheimer still going strong.
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (TMO – KAZ) 4:07:23
2. Jose Gomez Marchante (SDV – ESP) @ 6 secs
3. Wim Van Huffel (DSC – USA) @ 16 secs
4. Lance Armstrong (DSC – USA) @ 37 secs
5. Floyd Landis (PHO – USA) @ 41 secs
1. Levi Leipheimer (GST – USA) 15:19:29
2. Lance Armstrong (DSC – USA) @ 21 secs
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (TMO – KAZ) @ 26 secs
4. Floyd Landis (PHO – USA) @ 47 secs
5. Andrey Kashechhkin (CA – KAZ) @ 2:00
More hills tomorrow and then we are off to the Alps for two days and should have some more pictures and stories for Monday. We’ll be away from the Exam room for a couple of days too. Sad as I was looking forward to another go at my French ‘O’ level paper.
On the racing front what seems clear from this race is Armstrong is keen to test his legs and the opposition seem keen, for once, to test him. Vino is amazing and looked totally relaxed on the climb. He’ll be attacking tomorrow I’m certain. Maybe Ullrich has sent his T-Mobile boys to work the Americans over? they all seem to be set for a very close and exciting Tour de France.
And if you’re ever in Provence, bring your bike and fit the lowest gears you can. Ventoux is an achievement for anyone and don’t be fooled by the way the pros make it look, it’s as tough and true a test as you’ll get… I just can’t believe how fast these guys race up it.
LOADS more pictures in the Gallery. It’s being updated daily so keep an eye on it.