Nothing prepares you for Mont Ventoux. Put simply it is a freak of geology, a genuinely weird place. Firstly, it stands alone at the south-westernmost tip of the Alps. You can see it for miles because the surrounding terrain is largely flat. It is not particularly high at 6,000 feet but imagine a childs drawing of a mountain and you will get an idea of how steep it is. The top two thousand feet consists of gleaming white limestone rocks, a consequence of soil erosion after the French stripped the mountain of trees to build ships several hundred years ago.
The effect gives the appearance that the mountain is permanently snow capped. Standing alone it is exposed to the full force of the elements with windspeeds measuring 56+ mph more than 240 days a year and the road to the top is closed almost as often as it is open.
The weird mountain attracts even weirder people, mostly clad in Lycra though on the day the GM Fundraising team cycled up it, a bloke with a black fedora hat and a mack was cycling down.
The Tour De France often features an iconic Ventoux stage, which attracts lovers of cycle racing and a more ghoulish element there to see people push themselves beyond their limits. Infamously, English cycling legend Tom Simpson died ascending Ventoux during a Tour stage in 1967. His memorial stands within sight of the summit and has become a shrine to the man as well as a warning to the unprepared.
Cycling up Ventoux is tough enough but remember the GMF team had to cycle to the beginning of the ascent from Aix-en-Provence, over 50 miles away.
After a quick lunch in Sault, the cyclists set off in three teams. Some had agreed to start as a team then spread out as they built up a rhythm. Others had opted to stay together. The early part of the ascent is through a twisty forest road, more mentally challenging than physical. Once past the treeline, however, the road steepens noticeably and the absence of trees means you can see the road ascending before you with tight hairpin bends. Afterwards a number of riders reflected that it felt like pedalling all the way to the moon.
Cyclists can be a bit anal about Ventoux. Some say the hardest route is on the North face rather than the southern route taken by GMF. Others say you should not put your foot to the ground or get off your bike. All we know is that every GMF rider summitted Mont Ventoux safely, some shedding a tear or two at the top where they were astonished to see David Featherstone, Chief Exec of Hope House and his wife Denise. They had paid their own way out just to pay a surprise tribute to the guys on the ride as they summitted Ventoux. It was a fantastic gesture and typical of the genuine high regard the people at Hope House have for everyone at GM Fundraising.
That night, as one of the riders sat at dinner he reflected that he had not found the ascent as difficult as he thought it would be. He had bought into the Ventoux folklore about riders "blowing up" and feared he may do the same. When asked where he had drawn the mental strength from to complete the ascent he simply replied, "I had to. It was for the kids". A comment that sort of sums up the attitude of everyone on the ride.