We rode standard S6L Brompton’s, with -12% lowered gearing (the standard swap to the 44 tooth front chainring).
Both bikes had SPD’s and front carrier blocks fitted.
I split my kit between an S-bag (for the heavy stuff) and a Carradice Longflap Camper bag, which held my sleeping bag and bed roll. This was attached to the seat post via a Carradice SQR block. As a luggage system it worked extremely well, being stable and also easy to attach and detach.
Alastair used two C bag’s, with one fitted to the saddle loops via the method described in the seven league boots blog. This worked ok although to be perfect it could have done with more spacing between the bag and the seatpost, in order to stop the bag hitting one’s legs.
For traveling on the trains, I used an Ikea Dimpa bag and Alastair used a specific Carradice folding bike bag. Both folded up small, enabling them to be transported with us on the bikes.
We took an old Eurohike tent, which was ok, but a specific backpacking tent would have been better since the poles were too long for any of our bags. Sleeping bags, sleeping mats, etc were standard hiking items.
We didn’t take cooking gear, and only a minimum of food, since we weren’t going too far from civilisation. Clothes were mostly merino wool to avoid the need for regular washing 🙂
I got some great, adhoc, shots at the top which I wouldn’t have even thought about taking with a conventional camera. These were great after the event; reminding us of people we met and conversations that we had. The battery lasted for most of the day as well.
Most of the routes were planned using Google maps and then copied into Strava routes. These could then be used either on our smartphones, or downloaded to my Garmin Edge 200. This was used for most navigation.
We traveled by Eurostar to/ from Paris and from Paris to/from Avignon via TGV. The trains were very comfortable and on time. It’s worth noting that in the summer it is possible to get a Eurostar direct from London to Avignon but it only runs on Saturdays.
After the previous day’s exertions, we weren’t in too much of a hurry to leave. But we remembered the near perfect cycling weather from the morning before, coupled with the very hot conditions when we rode from Avignon. So it was another early start.
We quickly packed down the tent, loaded up the bikes and rode out of Villes Sur Auzon. Our stay had been brief but successful. With Mont Ventoux behind us, both figuratively and literally, we cycled towards Avignon.
The ride to Avignon passed without incident. It was gently downhill and we made excellent time, getting into Avignon before 10am. We even managed to avoid riding on the ring road, which made for a far more pleasant experience. Soon we were in the historic centre, taking in the sights of the famous bridge and town walls.
Purely by change the Avignon performing arts festival was also happening. It is like a French equivalent of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and the streets were full of people, enjoying street performances and queuing for tickets for shows. Co-incidentally, when we rode the Coast and Castles route last year, we finished in Edinburgh when the festival was on. Again , purely by chance.
While sitting in a cafe we met another English cycle tourist, Louise, who was cycling from the UK to Morocco. She’d had a hard time through Northern France, with bad weather, and was enjoying both the summer sun and the festival. It was great to catch-up with someone also on a tour, albeit somewhat longer than ours.
After wandering around for a while we chanced upon a great park up above the castle. The views were fantastic, including views of Mont Ventoux. It seemed strange to think that, only yesterday, we cycled to the top of the mountain we could see.
Unfortunately, due to the festival, we had a hotel a fair way out of the centre. The, proudly 1 star, hotelf1 was functional. It had beds. That was about it, the toilets and showers being shared on each floor made for a different, part camping, part hotel, experience. We dumped our stuff quickly and went back into town.
In the evening we had an excellent time, watching street performances and enjoying some great food and drink. The town was heaving with people and the atmosphere was excellent.
The following morning it was time to go home. We caught the 8:57am train from Avignon to Paris, cycled across Paris again, then caught the Eurostar home to London, arriving at 15:30. Getting from the south of France to home in six and a half hours isn’t bad 🙂
Reflecting on the trip, it was a pretty manic few days. We cycled a total of about 100 miles, cycled up a 1912m mountain, went 45mph on a Brompton, and all in 4 days. Excellent fun.
The Provence-ial sun woke us early. I’m sure we would have woken early anyway. It was time to get out there and climb a mountain. After a lengthy French breakfast of coffee and croissants a hastily scoffed breakfast of half a banana malt loaf and some water, we clipped our bottles on, filled our pockets with food, and set off.
I had the Autographer wearable camera fixed on the front of my bike and it was snapping away silently as we rode through the early morning air towards Bedoin, where the traditional, and hardest, climb up Ventoux starts from. People were just starting work in the vineyards. It was perfect cycling weather, clear skies, sun just rising and not too hot. We’d made the right decision to leave early.
Getting into Bedoin we started to see more and more cyclists. My Garmin directed us to the base of the climb. It was time to stop, say one last good luck, and then start the climb. We’d each climb at our own rate so wouldn’t see each other until the top.
The climb up Mont Ventoux starts quite gently. I shifted into second gear and started riding, passing a few other cyclists. The evidence of the previous year’s Tour de France was visible on the road, fading gently in the sun.
Slowly but surely the climb started to steepen. I shifted into first gear. This was it, no more gears left. All in. The road entered the woods and the temperature dropped a bit. Normally, when the Tour de France comes through it’s later in the day and the woods trap the heat in. This time they were playing in my favour.
The road just kept climbing. Sometimes steeper, sometimes shallowing out a bit. Hairpin bends caused it to get steeper still, especially since I could not cut onto the other side of the road like the pro riders can and make the right handers shallower.
I passed more cyclists as I climbed, saying Bonjour as I did. One group of two French cyclists summed up what I was doing pretty well, the first saying Bonjour, the second merely ‘Wow’. My legs were still feeling good; as long as I remembered to keep eating the figs rolls (cycling food of champions) and drinking, then the climb should be OK.
Eventually I climbed above the tree line and into the moonscape that Mont Ventoux is so famous for. Reaching Chalet Reynard I had a decision to make. Originally I had intended to ride to Chalet Reynard, stop and let the legs recover, then continue. But my legs were still feeling good. I pressed on, maybe I’d be able to do the whole climb in one go.
After Chalet Reynard the road suddenly steepened and the protection from the trees was gone. It got a bit hotter. But the summit became visible too, the buildings shimmering in the distance as I continued to climb. The legs were beginning to hurt a bit now, it was time to grind out the last of the climb, head down and legs turning. I was starting to catch a cyclist in front and this gave me a good target.
As the moonscape got whiter so the summit got closer. I was nearly there. Past the Simpson memorial, turn the corner and up the final ramp. I’d done it – Mont Ventoux had been conquered! I’d climbed the 21.4km’s in one go, in 1 hour 59 minutes and 13 seconds.
I took a picture of myself at the summit, did a few stretches and then took in the amazing view. The weather was great, the sky was clear, and you could see for miles.
There were a lot of other cyclists and their families at the top and we got chatting to some of them. Most people could not believe that we had cycled up on Bromptons. One lady asked where the motor was. I just pointed to my legs 🙂 A few people took photo’s of us, to prove to their friends that they had seen a couple of crazy English guys on folding bikes at the summit.
We bought a few souvenirs, took lots more photo’s, and then prepared ourselves for the descent.
When we started planning the Mont Ventoux adventure it was the descent that concerned me more than the ascent. Tales of overheating rims and blown tubes filled my mind. Small wheels and long descents do not mix very well.
We started the descent, stopping to pay our respects and take a few photos at the Simpson memorial.
Then it was brakes off and down the mountain, stopping only once at Chalet Reynard to let the rims cool down. The looks on peoples faces as we descended were great; a mixture of surprise and astonishment mostly, as they climbed and we shot past. The fastest speed I got up to was 45mph, quite fast enough on a Brompton. Probably too fast, some might argue.
It didn’t take long to get to the bottom. We turned off before Bedoin and continued on to Villes Sur Auzon. It was time for a shower and a long, celebratory French lunch.
Recovery was then a few beers while watching the day’s stage of the Tour de France. I’d now got a new respect for the guys racing. It took them half the time it took me, to get up Ventoux last year.
I awoke early. It wasn’t the bed that was the problem, it was pretty comfortable and quiet. I’d not slept brilliantly; there were too many things swimming around in my head. What if we missed a train? What if the bike broke? What if Mont Ventoux was closed for some reason? The last dream I remember having centred around getting a puncture then looking at the wheel, only to discover that the rim seemed to be made of tin foil.
Clearly it was time for a coffee and then time to get on the road. We loaded up the Brompton’s and set off.
We made good time to St Pancras, a pretty easy ride. Even the traffic lights seemed in our favour, being mostly green all the way. Checking in for the Eurostar was simple. I’d opted to bag my bike in an Ikea Dimpa bag which worked well, even when the security staff insisted that the Brompton’s needed to be placed in the small plastic tray’s to go through the scanners. Somehow we balanced them.
The Eurostar left on time and we made good time to Paris.
Disembarking at Paris Gare du Nord, we faced the first bit of navigation of the trip, getting across Paris to Gare de Lyon, in order to catch the TGV to Avignon. The route was planned in my Garmin, and fortunately was easy to follow, once we;d found our way out of the station. Paris has more cycle paths than London, and the drivers was pretty good too.
It was hot. Very hot. The ride to Gare de Lyon was short, about 15 minutes, but we arrived sweating even so. Time to pack the bikes back up, load them into the TGV, remember to ‘composter’ our billets, and then we were off. It was a double decker train, and the view from the top deck was pretty good as we sped through France.
Avignon to Villes Sur Auzon
We got to Avignon on time and unfolded our bikes on the platform. If we thought it was hot in Paris then it was hotter here. We’d arrived at 3:30, pretty much the hottest part of the day, and not we had 30 miles to ride to the campsite.
Getting out of Avignon on a bike, particularly from the TGV station, is not easy or fun. We ended up riding the first 300 metres on the hard shoulder of the dual carriageway ring-road, simply because there did not appear to be another way to go. The next 3 miles were on random shared paths, bits of cycle path, and occasionally pavements. There didn’t seem another option. Finally we escaped from Avignon’s grip, and settled into the route; a nice mix of D roads and small farm tracks through the countryside of Provence.
Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, there it was. In the distance the Beast of Provence reared up, complete with what looked like it’s own weather system on the top. It would not leave our sight for the rest of the ride. Closer and closer we got, and yet it was still in the distance.
We’d under estimated the heat and the ride distance. Although it was nothing when compared with the mountain itself, we were also climbing. We were getting tired, running out of water, and in need of a shower. Fortunately, just as things were beginning to get a little desperate (well ok, things were getting irritating, and hot), we reached the village of Villes Sur Auzon and our campsite. Success.
Next steps were booking in, eating ice cream, pitching the tent and then straight into the pool for a very well needed dip and a cool down. We ate at the campsite (despite the waitress asking us repeatedly whether we had a booking, despite the restaurant area being practically empty), then had an early night.
Tomorrow Ventoux. It would be hot. We needed to leave early.
At the beginning of the year I had an idea. I wanted to cycle up Mont Ventoux. The Beast of Provence. The scene of Chris Froome’s winning move in the 2013 Tour de France.
Once a decision is made then the rest is easy. Organise the right bike, organise the right kit, plan when to go, and book tickets. Simple. Too simple some might argue. Of course.
Getting to Mont Ventoux is relatively simple, especially if you don’t have a bike with you. You could drive, which takes about 10 hours. You could fly. Or you could get the train. I like train travel. Train’s rattle along at a decent pace, you get to look out of the window at the world going by, and you can get up and walk about if you want. Decision made, train it is.
The nearest station to Mont Ventoux is Avignon which handily is served by TGV from Paris, and even Eurostar in the summer. Getting to Paris is easy, that’s definitely Eurostar.
Now for the complication’s – booking bikes onto Eurostar is a pain. Especially when the Tour de France is on. All the bike spaces were booked month’s ahead, and sending the bike on ahead would mean a delay in Paris. Taking a full sized bike on a TGV isn’t easy either, it needs to be packed up in a bike bag, and hauling a bike bag across Paris, then finding somewhere to leave it in the South of France is a pain.
The Solution is Brompton Shaped
I’ve had a Brompton for a year now. I love it, it’s easy to ride, quick, not too heavy and really versatile. I use mine every day to commute to the office, multi-modal, combining it with a train into London. I rode it round the Isle of Wight in May, so I know it can climb (hills at least). So now a change to the plan forms – “Cycle Up Mont Ventoux” is now “Cycle Up Mont Ventoux On a Brompton”.