Mont Ventoux is a legendary mountain in cycling yet, in over a decade of racing around Europe, I never set foot (nor wheel) upon it. I’d heard plenty about the desolate bleakness of the climb, and the cruelty of the wind adding to the gradient… and to be truthful, it didn’t sound at all tempting. But the Ventouxman Triathlon was well-timed as a training race for later in the summer, and therefore perfect as a trial run. After all, my resolve for 2017 was that this would be the year of returning to the mountains, and Mont Ventoux is unquestionably a mountain.
I shan’t bore the reader with a blow-by-blow account of my race but in summary: Ventouxman confounded all my expectations. The race course was beautiful, from start to finish. I spent most of the bike course simply marvelling at the scenery - the vineyards and flowers of Provence giving way to wooded foothills and then Mont Ventoux itself, which is an utterly gorgeous climb. Unfairly maligned for being bleak and harsh, I found the climb (we raced up the Bedoin side) instead to be scenic and gentle, and softly shaded by ancient knarled forest. The last few kilometres of open rocky moonscape was a novelty and the view of half of France below, disappearing into the hazy horizon, enough to distract from the wind. The run course was like the cherry on an already delicious cake: a challenging cross-country style 5km circuit which felt cruelly hard by the 4th lap. Constantly up and down on rocky woodland paths with glimpses of the summit of Ventoux and the flatlands far below… I was glad of the technical coaching from Gabriel and Judith at a Salomon trail-running workshop the weekend before!
My expectations of how I would perform were also quite low, and to win was therefore doubly happy. Unexpected victories are the best! The week previous I was mysteriously struck down by acute (and debilitating) back pain that came on quite spontaneously - 4 days before the race I had been unable to run for even one minute because it was so excruciating! Luckily for me, the physio kneaded the misbehaving muscles into line and ordered me to take 2 days off running… and that seemed to work. I felt great on the run: relaxed and enjoying the very technical XC-style course. Without trying to push the pace (I was saving some energy for the final lap when I was sure that Bilham or Ferrer would catch me and I’d have to try to sprint!) I actually had the 5th fastest run split overall - doubly surprising because I have been doubting my run fitness this year. I think that in this race, whatever my physical condition, I somehow found myself in a good mental place and simply focussed on enjoying the process, and on appreciation of the surroundings. I think this started about 10km into the bike leg when I found myself noticing the glistening dewdrops on the grass of the verge. From then on, I was simply marvelling at the beauty around me and revelling in the Maybe it was also that I was so far behind the race leader (Bilham, 7 minutes ahead) at the foot of Ventoux, that it seemed obvious I couldn’t win. In a funny way, that took the pressure off. So instead I just got on with it, and that seemed to work pretty well!
In conclusion: one of the friendliest and most stunning triathlon races I’ve ever done.