Taking on the ‘Giant of Provence’ – a case of ‘mind over mountain’

Relive this mythical stage 6 and the ascent of the infamous Mont Ventoux
29/08/2014

Stage 6: Digne-les-Bains – Mont Ventoux:

145km overall, 137km timed
3050m of ascent / 1800m of descent
2 climbs: Col Notre Dame des Abeilles 996m (3rd class), Mont Ventoux 1912m (1st class)
Stage difficulty: 4 out of 5

Amazing, amazing…simply amazing. Climbing Mont Ventoux was one of the best days I’ve ever had on two wheels. Epic… Sufferfest.” Chrissie Wellington, 4 x World Ironman Champion.

The penultimate 145km stage of the world’s toughest and highest cyclosportive took on it’s true meaning today as the 450-strong peloton took on Mont Ventoux, the ‘Giant of Provence’ at 1,912m high. Its isolated position in the south-west part of the Alps, Mont Ventoux dominates the entire region: “You can see it coming for such a long way and the closer you get, the bigger it looks!” said Andrew Kelly (732). It is one of the most mythical ascents of the cycling planet and is one of the main highlights of the 2014 Haute Route Alps course. “I’ve climbed Ventoux 100 times but I still have that weird feeling,” said P Halgand, French ex-pro rider, at the start.

©Manu Molle
©Manu Molle

Getting to Ventoux was a pretty big mission in itself, leaving Digne-les-Bains the peloton heading west on a 100km stretch before the ascent of Col Notre Dame des Abeilles at a mere 996m of altitude. Now in the heart of Ventoux country there was a short 20km descent before the real work began. Every metre of the 21km Ventoux climb tested the riders as the gradiant increased from 9% to 10-11% on the most physically demanding section of the week lasting an hour or more. Once above the treeline the scenery changed dramatically – a lunar landscape of limestone rock; a dry, hot atmosphere, lacking in oxygen making the final push to the summit of the legendary Mont Ventoux even harder. “Today was really hard,” said Paul Riddle (773). “Hard finish after 140km of fast flat. What a day, hey! It was so worth it when you look around and look at the view. During the stage, the only thing I’ve looked at was the back wheel of the person in front!” It was certainly a case of ‘mind over mountain’ – an apt term printed on the shirts of TeamHurtRoute, but as Carlos Perea (524) from Mexico said: “This is why we came, to do something we didn’t know we could do.”

©Manu Molle
©Manu Molle

Even four-time World Ironman Champion, Chrissie Wellington, called it ‘epic’ and a ‘sufferfest’! Chrissie is one of 32 women riding in the male-dominated peloton, however the girls can more than hold their own on these mountains and even help out the guys as Roger Noon (697) explained: “It always scares me on such an intimidating mountain and having 140km in the legs before you even start was really frightening. This is the hardest time I had here on this hill and I was coming out of the forest, going steady and a lady call ‘Foggy’ came by and she was a bit quicker than me. I thought ‘OK let’s hang on to her wheel and if I blow up, I blow up’. So she took me from 2km in the forest all the way to the top!

©Manu Molle
©Manu Molle

First to the top was Peter Pouly, Haute Route Alps Champion 2011, 2012 & 2013, in a time of 04:20:30 securing his sixth consecutive stage win. Tomorrow is the final Haute Route Alps stage to the finish line on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice: “It’s going be a relief, I’m really looking forward to Nice, one final day to get through,” said Doug Waights (808). “It’s going be amazing. The whole thing has been fantastic from start to finish.