Haute Route 3 day events always finish with a time trial and this was a big one! 22km up the Bédoin side of Ventoux. 1600m of climbing in one hit. Lots of wind at the top. The leading riders would be looking at about an hour and 10 minutes of anguish with the bulk of the field looking forward to something closer to a 2 hour experience.
This would be just my second ever ascent of Ventoux from this classic side, my first in the Etape du Tour of 2009 was a disaster. Ventoux’s summit finish on that 174km stage destroyed me. I ended up having to walk some of the mid section in the forest, bad memories of a hill that needed replacing with good, new ones.
There was no pressure on me really. I was solidly established in 5th place overall. Louis-Paul Niemerich in 4th was 3 minutes up on me and Thomas Berger in 6th was about 5 minutes down. That meant it was unlikely that my position was going to change much. I had a healthy 6 minute lead over Liam in the over 50’s too so today was all about a well paced solid ride and not blowing up.
That pacing would be crucial. On Strava I was able to look at all the statistics and previous performances from my closest rivals on this climb and I knew it was a 75 minute effort for me in perfect conditions. High winds on the top half would stretch that out to 80 minutes. Most riders of my level get to know pretty accurately what they can sustain for 20 minutes and 60 minutes but an 80 minute threshold effort is more unusual. My 60 minute threshold is about 310 watts when I’m fresh and going well. An 80 minute effort with 2 big days in my legs meant I’d need to be very wary of capping my efforts to just under 300 watts for the early stages of the climb.
As per usual we all started in reverse order of our position in the General Classification. 20 second intervals between each rider with 2 minute intervals reserved for the fastest 5 riders. Paul, James and Adrian were all on their way. I’m used to doing these events with the 20 second intervals and therefore having riders up the road to see and chase. This time though my 5th place overall had ‘earned’ me a 2 minute interval. A much more lonely experience.
Off I went and into the first 6kms of gentle climb. So tempting here to push too hard. This was where a power meter was really useful, regulating my effort at about 290 watts. I felt like I could go much harder but it would come back to bite me if I did, be disciplined and be patient. I knew I’d be losing time on this section to bigger, more powerful riders. Adrian for example, would take about 30 seconds out of me on this section. No point fighting physics though, lighter riders like me would get our reward on the next section!
Around the left hander after about 6km and into the forest. The next 10kms up to Chalet Renard average 9% with no respite. Settle in, find a rhythm and try to occupy the mind with something! This section was the one with bad memories for me. Not a place to be with tired legs. Today was good though. My legs were good and all was functioning as planned. I scaled that section keeping a steady 290 watts. Sitting most of the time with little standing intervals to stretch the muscles a little. 40 minutes or so spent in that forest seemed to pass quickly. My 2 minute interval meant no overtaking or being overtaken, at least at this point.
As I got closer to Chalet Renard the wind began to blow. A chilly northerly that would be in our faces for much of the rest of this ride. Chalet Renard is 6.5km from the top. A change in gradient and environment. From this point on we’re into a desolate, exposed, treeless wasteland. Open to the wind. Slightly easier gradients to the forest section with an average of about 7% left to the top.
Every time we tacked right following the contour of the mountain the wind was right in our faces, brutally strong. Every time you turned left there was shelter from the wind and even a bit of tailwind. This was a section where my speed would vary between 11 km/h and 26km/h on the same gradient, with the same power output!
There is strictly no drafting in time trials but I could see riders ahead huddling and sheltering like frozen penguins, a bit of drafting was inevitable in conditions like this. I was catching lots of riders now, but mostly ones much further down the GC than myself. It was sometimes tempting to get a few moments of shelter from each of them but I needed to get on. Keep the power on and get past them all. Of my rivals, I only managed to catch Liam with a couple of kms to go. Kevin, 2nd in GC, overtook me a few minutes later, he’d started 6 minutes after me so was on a good ride.
My power numbers were still good, I’d paced it well. I had enough in the last km to empty the tank and forget my 300 watt ceiling. I finished strong albeit almost blown off the bike in the final ramp by the huge crosswind.
I finished in 1 hour 19 minutes. 7th place on the day and about 7 minutes off the winning time of Pierre Ruffault. Regardless of the result I was very happy with that performance. I’d averaged a steady 288 watts of output for those 79 minutes which gives me great confidence for my Taiwan KOM event coming up later this month. A little later I would discover that I’d taken more than 4 minutes out of Louis-Paul’s time so had managed to sneak up to 4th overall for the three days, a nice bonus. Roedi Weststrate had a return to form today finishing a minute ahead of me and fastest over 50 on the day.
Adrian, James and Paul all finished strongly and finished 19th, 57th and 78th respectively for the event. We got a few pics together at the top before escaping the ‘death zone’ at the top and getting back down to the welcome, warmer climes in Bédoin.
My Haute Route year is now complete and what an experience it was. Alpe d’Huez, Pyrenees, Alps and Ventoux. A total of 20 days of racing. I’ve been so lucky, 20 great days where a combination of good luck, no mechanical problems and good decisions meant that I could totally fulfil my potential. The friendly battles I’ve had this summer with the likes of Louis-Paul Niemerich, Richard Scales, Roedi Weststrate and many others have been amazing and so much fun. Sharing the experience with so many Alpine Cadence riders has been incredible too, most notably Jon Bray and Adrian Beer who I’ve ridden neck and neck with on some fabulous days. Alpine Cadence really has felt like a team this year and I’ve loved every minute.
Thank you to everyone at Haute Route who has contributed to an amazing season. Haute Route continues to be a wonderful experience both for it’s sporting challenge and the great people it brings together.
Long may it continue!
Now my focus shifts to Taiwan! Lots of blogging to follow as I prepare with 11 other Alpine Cadence riders for that little jaunt!