Martin Malins writes…
This was my first sportive in 2005 and a ride I really enjoyed, not just because of the superb scenery of the Massif Central but also becuase of the impeccable organisation and friendliness of the local helpers. I did the 2005 event on my own so it was nice to have the company of Paul my clubmate with whom I did La Marmotte in 2006, and also Matthew my old L2B ridemate doing his hardest ever ride and having by his own admission not done enough training since the IOW.
We had heard rumours of the ride going to Mont Ventoux as well as the recognised 3 day event to Les Gorges de l’Ardeche so we decided to do all 3 rides in a 6 day schedule; along with a bit of sightseeing thrown in. Matt and I flew Ryanair to Grenoble while Paul went to Marseille 2 days earlier and we met up in the campsite at the eastern end of the Gorges where Matt tried out his new “2 second” Decathlon tent which you throw in the air to assemble (we had to take it back to the shop the next day to work out how to fold it back up )
The next day we all headed up the Gorges road where we had commanding views of the river filled with canoeists which are well catered for by the very good value hire shops in Vallon Pont d’Arc (#1 tourist destination in the valley; Paul L and self R)
Matt had decided to retrace after 20km so met us by the arch where we had a good geology lesson from looking at the water marks in the rock, the river originally went around the arch AFAICT. I returned via Barjac and a wonderful hilltop town above the Ardeche to make a 92km ride whilst Paul of course took the hilly way back; later we rode down to the riverside resto for Moules Frites
The next day we decamped up to St Felicien where the free roadside campsites were in full swing and we took advantage of a very hard to find disposable BBQ (even France has succumbed to this very ungallic form of cuisine but they tend to go for the grand piano sized affairs).
Saturday was race day and we were awoken as usual at 0500 by the melee of cars arriving for the one day event; before long our spot was full and we joined the snake of riders to take our place in the queue, still being allowed to push to the front by virtue of our 15000+ non French numbers (to the L of the railings here)
We only saw one other UK rider who was dressed in the trademark Tom Simpson Peugeot jersey and was one of the handful of lidless riders. We had elected to ride Les Sucs which is a slightly longer (223km; 4100m ascent) variant of the original 216km ride and combines the Volcanique and Velo Marathon loops. It was very hard as expected but had the usual coloured villages, bikes, ribbons, houses, animals, people, flowers etc etc.
Les Sucs featured a very quiet (in numbers of riders) section shared only with the VM but it more than made up with fantastic vistas. It had a fantastic Galibier style 9km descent before the punishng climb up le Col de l’Adechoise before joing the other return courses. Much of the ride was the same as my 2005 event; and by the Col de Claviere even the French riders were seeking shade under the trees in the searing 34oC heat. I was getting very concerned about Matt having left him as agreed on the very first col 3km after the start and getting no replies from texts.
Paul had of course streaked ahead having got bored of waiting for me to pathetically twiddle up on the compact on most of the hills and I did not see either of them until the end. I was very pleased to be able to descend the last 11km col with a considerable number of other riders unlike 2005, and having abandoned both the 10.15 silver placing and 11.00 times was pleased to arrive at St Feli at exactly 19.00 to log a 11.25 total time. I was also very pleased to see Matt who had completed the 120km Boutieres course a couple of hours earlier. We stayed for the raffle to depart empty-handed before the lovely cool descent to our camp spot and a sackful of beer strategically left in the river the night before.
The next day we did a bit of sightseeing; first an odd 3.2km railway tunnel in Le Roux which has been converted to road use having never seen a train due to the line having been abandoned in 1930, and then the highlight of the trip, Millau viaduct; there are many viewpoints from which to see it; all of them are infinitely better than that seen from paying the 5.60 € toll to drive over it but it’s still a “must-do”; even standing right next to it I found it hard to believe that it wasn’t a CGI.
We bombed back via a take away pizza to St Martin de l’Ardeche our original campsite where we caught the penalties of the Italy-Spain match over a couple of bottles of Leffe.
The next day Ventoux beckoned. I had got a perm card from Sheila so was going to Sault but Paul wanted to do the whole Simpson Bedoin thang. The Sault route was very easy with only a couple of hairpins and rarely rising above 5%; of course it all changes differently after Chalet Reynard when the Mont lives up to its fearsome billing.
There is a large graffito on the road “1967-2007; they never learn” with syringes but it’s situated quite a bit before the memorial so not too disrespectful; whatever your nationality or views the memorial is a sobering spot IMO. (Just watched the 2005 BBC4 doc “Death on the Mountain” which is an odd holiday movie)
I doffed my lid to Tom at the memorial before I met Paul at the top who declared that the top 6km is actually much easier than the Bedoin route . Matt twiddled up having driven up to Reynard before a quick team shot on the summit as we all went our seperate ways back down. The Sault return was lovely not requiring too much descending on brakes; I was particularly pleased to be able to see the observatory back in the town (just visible above me)
And we then continued the Simpson theme with a final evening meal of the trip in Carpentras before heading back to our respective airports (we came back from Nimes) the next day. Top trip