Legends are central to any culture, ours perhaps more than most. The Ventoux is a French legend, rising 1912m above the rolling hills of Provence. The road is thick with the paint of Tours past and the names of giants. The grade is 7%, on average, though 10, 11, and 12% are routine throughout the middle section. The classical route begins in a small town, winds through the forest, and ends amidst the moon-like rocks of the summit.
My ride up the Ventoux was not pre-mediated, unless you count my wife’s comment as we boarded the plane “You know, we’ll be pretty close to the Ventoux,” she mused. The only cycling-specific thing I brought with me was my trusty Castelli wool cap. But once we arrived in Provence, the mountain stared at me. Riding it was the obvious choice.
It could have been a Mastercard advertisement. Bike shorts: 22 Euro. Bike rental: 25 Euro. Impromptu ride up the Ventoux in October: Priceless. Except the local bike shop only took cash. The LBS did have Hervé, who was more than happy to set me up and point me in the right direction. As I left the shop, he asked if I had everything I needed. “Vous avez d’EPO?” he asked. Before I could formulate a response, he explained that he always rides with EPO: Energie (energy), Pastis (French liquor), and Ouefs (French for eggs, which is slang for balls). “Oui, j’ai d’EPO”.
Many rRules were broken, perhaps more than the number of kilometers ridden. I did not look pro; I looked like the tourist that I am. I had a screw-top water bottle from the gas station and street shoes in toe clips with the straps cinched down hard enough to leave a mark on each foot that is still there 24 hours later. I did manage to pass a few guys in full kits and carbon frames. And then, I got passed in the last km by a 22-year-old kid in a local team kit, with no helmet and a fanny pack. The French, apparently, have their own rules.
Rules! Hear me fools: The Rules mark the beginning of the path to enlightenment, not the end. There are higher planes, expanding dimensions. Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.
Legends are things that lodge in memory, things that are unique enough to pause space and time. The best legends are those that transcend.
To ride a legend is to find that place, to connect the mystic with the real. Le Mont Ventoux, c’est une légende superieure.