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Day 2: Tour de l’Oc

There are some things in life that you know – as soon as you complete them – you’ll do only once.

Patrick battling his way up Mont Ventoux – all 21km of it

Cycling up Mont Ventoux is undoubtedly one of them. Standing significantly higher than the surrounding tree-covered mountains, and capped with white limestone scree, it’s striking to look at, but punishing to ascend: it represents an unbroken 21km uphill fight – the average gradient is 7.5%.

This was day two’s challenge of the Tour de l’Oc for The Benevolent – followed by another 80+km to a town south of Avignon called Tarascon.

The first three-quarters of the climb was hot, and contains some of the steepest ascents, but the surrounding pines shroud the challenge ahead, allowing one to tackle the ascent in short straight sections, each one severed by a tight turn.

Much of this part was spent standing up, lifting oneself high off the saddle, so each revolution could be aided by gravity, while ensuring one’s eyes faced the tarmac, and not the climb ahead.

Then the road opens out and just 8km separate you from the summit. You can see it, a sort of cuboid lighthouse sitting atop a great bank of bleached stones.

A cold wind reminds you that you’re really high now, and nearing the finish, but the landscape appears static – it’s just the sound of creaking metal that signals movement.

Another turn, then a steepening narrowing road, then a crowd, and then the end. There’s a tiny stone stating the summit height, and a stall selling giant sugar strawberries. That’s it?

It’s really cold. A heat haize blurs the view beneath, but drops of rain are falling – Ventoux creates its own weather.

Waiting at the top is Andy, our physio, who was sponsored, after quite a few drinks, to run up Ventoux. He’s done it in 3hrs, 20 minutes, and myself on two wheels: 1 hour 42. I turn to him. ‘This tops the list of pointless physical challenges I’ve done’. He nods. I ask him to take a photograph and I head back down.

Retracing exactly my route up, this time it’s easy – there’s no need to turn my legs, gravity is my motor.

I arrive at base camp: a village called Bedoin. Pizza, coke, coffee, this is the cyclists diet. We discuss the ride. I was first to the top, yes, but Mentzendorff’s James McKenna, who took an espresso at the bottom before we set off – and finished within a few minutes of myself – was fastest. A brilliant, driven, and unassuming cyclist, who I wish I’d done the whole ascent with.

Well done.

However, this was a day of so many stories. One concerns a bruised cyclist after a high-speed blowout, another a rickshaw driver who guided us through Avignon’s maize of medieval streets.

But everything else that happened today was overshadowed by that first two hours on two wheels. A self-inflicted challenge, a test of will, and something worth doing once, and only once.

You can sponsor me on the Tour de l’Oc here. For a report on day one, click here.

Click through for more pictures…

The long and painful journey

Patrick and James McKenna, from Mentzendorff, taking a well earned rest at the summit

The views that greeted the team perhaps made the uphill battle worthwhile?

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