Stage 2 was scheduled to be 133km and 3300m of climbing, a summit finish on Ventoux via Malaucène. I woke up feeling good and confident that my cramps from yesterday were due to race rustiness, today would be better and my legs would be happier. That was my plan at least.
We were greeted to a stunning clear morning, less chilly than Stage 1, perfect conditions. Looking at the profile it didn’t look like there would be too much to split us up prior to Ventoux. Humble gradients most of the day and a potentially very fast course.
Out of Bedoin we were straight into the timed action after just 500m. The first part of the ride was a lot more settled than the previous day. No early attacks, the first few kilometres passed at a very smooth, stress free pace.
The first ‘climb’ was the 20kms or so up the Gorges de la Nesque. Jaw dropping, beautiful scenery all the way, an absolute pleasure to ride. The early stages of this climb had already reduced the field to a lead group of about 60. James and Paul had just missed the cut. Adrian was comfortable near the front and I was ‘firmly relaxed’ somewhere in the middle. Nesque is what you’d call a power climb or even a false flat. Lots of 2, 3 and 4% gradients and nothing to tax us too much.
Next we came across the charmingly named Col de l’Homme Mort. The meat of this climb was 5kms long with an average gradient of about 6%. Combined with the strong winds this had the potential to damage the group dynamic and it certainly did.
In the run in to Homme Mort there was a break off the front from about 8 riders. I was a bit too far back to have seen it in time. The gap got big quickly. This needed to be chased down. Adrian came through to get the job done. He’s immensely strong on the flatter stuff and the ideal engine to get us back. He worked hard and I sat in on his wheel. I didn’t look back at this point but I suspect that this is where our group of 60 would have totally disintegrated.
A flick of the elbow from Adrian, the signal for another rider to help and come through. No one wanted to, or perhaps weren’t able to, Adrian and I were hungrier than the rest. As the road ramped up I took over from Adrian. We powered up the ramp and made good inroads on the break. 2 minutes later we were back. Our lead group was down to about 25 riders.
Off another break went. This time just 4 riders, 4 of the top guys in GC but missing Kevin, the leader who was still back with us. No one chased this time. The break would stick. I was happy where I was, no one in the break was a concern to me whereas a couple of my rivals had been in the prior one.
Onto the main part of the Homme Mort. Really windy. Kevin needed to work on the front, he had a lot at stake. Nicolas Roux was there to help too, a super strong rider with pedigree. Riding as a Mavic ambassador. He and Kevin did the lion’s share of the work up that climb into a vicious wind. I hid behind them, constantly adjusting my position behind them to best exploit the sheltered enclave behind them.
Over the top and onto a magnificent and spectacular decent. As we’d crested we were down to a group of about 12. To ride with those 12 was a pleasure, the decent was fast and flowing and everybody knew what they were doing. We made good progress.
Just a few lumps now in the 40km that remained to the foot of Ventoux. I grabbed a crucial bidon from Ben at Alpcycles at the top of Col d’Aires. I’d got enough drink to the finish and a quick pee on the descent with a welcome push from Dan Sims and my primary needs were accounted for! Peeing on the go is a fairly crucial skill if you want to do well in stuff like this. Not too much detail on that one but the main ingredients to do it well are a gentle straight descent and ideally another rider to push you along.
My legs felt good. I felt good. This was a fantastic bike ride. We were all riding well in a fabulous environment. Roedi and Liam my ‘more mature’ rivals were there but no sign of Richard Scales which seemed odd as he’s usually wherever I am!
Getting closer to Ventoux. The pace remains firm, it needs to be, especially for Kevin if he’s going to have a chance of hanging on to his overall lead over the 4 breakaway riders.
We arrive in Malaucène. I can’t wait to get my teeth into this thing. 21kms at 7.5%. Big. Our group of 12 is sure to smash to pieces here. Kevin goes hard straight away. He’s in a different league to me and the rest of us in that group. I’m happy to see him ride away. I’m not so happy to see Roedi chasing him. I put about 5 minutes into Roedi yesterday but really want to finish close to him to preserve that margin. I decide to go for it, I ride across the gap to an encouraging shout from Liam behind.
I got onto Roedi’s wheel and he’s going hard. Kevin is away now but Roedi seems to be on a mission. I’m just about ok on his wheel but the power figures I’m seeing are alarmingly high. I can’t see myself sustaining this to the top, if Roedi can then good luck to him. The pace eases a little. We find ourselves joined by Thomas a young Frenchman who pipped me by a few seconds yesterday.
It’s windy but helping us more often than not. I count down the km markers, 14, 13, 12 to go. Still seems a long way. Then I see a big red sign ahead, 5kms to the finish! We’d been alerted last night that if the wind was too strong at the top there was a contingency plan to finish 6kms shorter, at the little ski station. So my 11kms to the top had instantly turned into 5kms. That suited me down to the ground. I sensed Roedi starting to tire and we were just starting the steepest section of the climb with plenty of double figure percentage gradients to keep us busy.
I put the hammer down and rode away from Roedi, I think he was spent and didn’t follow. I felt good and I knew I could sustain a decent effort over the last 15/20 minutes left. I was out of sight of Roedi really quickly. Up ahead I could see Louis Paul, one of the earlier breakaway riders. He was struggling. His efforts to stay away were taking their toll now. I rode past him and uttered a few encouraging words and asked him if he needed a gel or anything. He was ok, just spent. I rode on and felt stronger and stronger. Maybe there might be another straggler from the break that I’d catch. I didn’t catch anyone else but I rode fast to the finish churning a nice big gear in the final, flatter kilometre.
Over the line and very content. 5th on the day and plenty of time put into my usual rivals. Up to 5th in the GC and really happy with how my legs had performed on the day. This sort of a ride was a good indicator for Taiwan in three weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to that now more than ever before.
Great results too from Adrian in 19th, James 52nd and Paul 74th. Tomorrow we round of the event with a time trial up the classic Bedoin side of Ventoux. 22kms of pain remaining and hopefully about 80 minutes of effort. We’ll see!