At the summit of Mont-Ventoux there is an observatory and a small shop that sells typical tourist tat at inflated prices. To the right of the cluttered sales counter is a single refrigerated drinks cabinet that houses rows of ice cold cokes, with equally entrepreneurial mark-ups. But to the many parched and exhausted cyclists who have ground their way up to the top of the mountain, no price would be too much for a can of Coca-Cola with its cool seductive sheen of dripping condensation.
Along with the cyclists – of all shapes, sizes and nationalities – there were those aimlessly milling around that had been chauffeured to the summit. They fired off snaps from their giant SLR cameras of the valley below and the endless horizon, or idly fingered goat-shaped key fobs in the shop. They were simply stretching their legs after a tedious car journey.
A fat child was blocking my path to the drinks fridge. I had dreamt – near hallucinated – of the taste of ice cold coke on my tongue during the interminable minutes it had taken me to overcome the final kilometres of the climb. Half baked, half fried on the unsheltered slopes. The boy was trying on plastic sunglasses from a rotating carousel. “Excusé moi”, I croaked impatiently to get past. I grabbed a drink and turned to pay at the counter, fumbling with my change. But my path was again blocked by the same boy, stooped low in order to complete his thorough search of the most hopeless collection of eyewear in southern France. His fat arse very nearly found itself with a Mavic cycling shoe quite firmly wedged between its substantial cleft of flesh. Eventually I handed over my money; two Euros fifty was never better spent.
On a curb outside I sat and enjoyed every last drop from the can. However I knew I still had one more ascent of the mountain to make; so far I had managed only the first two. The full weight of the sun beat down, and on the hottest part of a hot day in a hot summer, I again mounted my bike to take on Mont Ventoux for the third and final time.
In 2004 it was a tsunami in Thailand. In 2005 it was a hurricane in Cuba. Now in 2010 my arrival in Majorca heralded the first heavy snowfall the island had seen in 25 years. Fortunately I had omitted to tell clubmates Phil ‘Steady’ Ember and Luke ‘Wünderkind’ Wallis that I was the harbinger of freak weather and natural disasters, and both joined me on the island for a pre-season training camp. For all of us it was the first time cycling there, and after hammering ourselves for miles on smooth Majorcan roads, we returned to face the forthcoming season with strong legs and absolutely no hint of a tan whatsoever. These are some of the things we encountered on our trip:
A mecca for all cyclists residing within spitting distance of London and its commuter belt, the Surrey Hills offer challenging climbs, pleasant rural roads, and most importantly, plentiful cake stop destinations.
The downside to all this picturesque riding is that the roads and lanes suffer in bad weather; prone to ice in the depths of winter, mud and puddles during periods of wet weather. So basically in the midst of this ‘cold snap’ it’s basically a no-go on a road bike. But generally rides out into the country are preferable to endless lapping of Richmond Park. And we all wave to each other too – must be something about being outside of London.
The good folk at my club, the Kingston Wheelers, have teamed together to produce a very valuable resource to anyone planning routes out to the hills. The map charts the various Surrey Hills landmarks – Horse Block Hollow, Leith Hill, Coombe Bottom – but more importantly a comprehensive cake stop listing. Doubtless it won’t be long before a Wheelers points system will be employed to rate moistness of carrot cake and piquancy of the brews on offer at each establishment.
Personally I’m rubbish at map reading, and will get lost no matter how detailed the directions. In fact, I used to get lost on my way to Richmond Park which is only a 15 minute journey. Recently I’ve come to terms with my incompetence, but found that it’s actually a great way to explore and discover. The added adrenaline – caused by the fear of never finding my way home again – also helps to add a little extra pace to my training.