Fat Can Stories: Stuart Hyde
Want to know what it's like cycling up "Beast of Provence"? Allow us to share Stuart's Fat Can story of when he recently completed his 26th trip up the Mont Ventoux.
“Mont Ventoux has been a part of my life for 20 years.
In the beginning, my friend Brian - a real bike buff - told me about the mythical mountain, a stone's throw from where my family had booked to stay on holiday. We were heading for a mobile home in a sleepy town in provence, which lived under the watchful gaze of the towering Ventoux. From the veranda of the caravan, we could see the top of the mountain.
To be honest, I had no clue what riding up a real mountain entailed. I’d done several rides throughout the Yorkshire countryside and beyond, but this beast of a hill was something completely new. Fortunately, I was assisted by Brian and my wife who kindly acted as support in the car, handing me water, snacks and offering a friendly, unexhausted face all the way to the top. Little did she know how that route, and her support, would become such a central part of our lives for the next few years.
It’s a huge ride with an ample amount of stops, snacks and motivational chants from French passers-by (anything is possible with enough “Allez! Allez!”). After kilometre upon kilometre of climbing pain, I felt, for possibly the first time in my life, completely weightless whilst ascending the final hairpin bend. My wife cheering from the top, the relief of knowing there was no more “up” ahead of me - every cyclist knows the ecstasy of reaching the top of a hill but this was completely different.
If the pride of hitting that finish line wasn’t enough, Ventoux greets you with a huge panorama across Provence, and on a good day, you can see Mont Blanc in the distance. The top also has a huge sweet table and a charming diddle shop, where you have to buy a Ventoux sticker for your bike from, so you can show it off to your fellow FatLads back home! You also get the joy of cycling back down. I take it pretty slowly, as I’m rather cautious, but you get overtaken by some true speed machines.
Since my first trip up Ventoux, the mountain has become something of a pilgrimage, and this year I completed my 26th trip up the hill, via the classic route from Bedoin. My children have all ridden it throughout their lives various times, and every time my wife has been there to offer them food, drink, and words of encouragement. For me it also acts as an annual health check - not crashing at the top usually suggests to me that my body is doing well for the next year.
For those who love a distance ride - there’s also ‘The Ventoux’ - which is a ride around the whole of the mountain. It includes the beautiful Gorges De Nesque, which provides the most stunning provencal scenery - far from any Lonely Planet guide.
Mont Ventoux has three main routes - Bedoin (very hard), Malaucene (slightly less hard, but more exposed), and Sault (higher start, longer, less steep). It always takes me several hours. I’m not a racer and being a FatLad means I go for constant progress rather than chasing or sprinting. Obviously, training and physical strength is key, but so much of the ride is completely psychological. I could hear the voice in my head saying “stop now, ride back down” so many times each trip up, but I never let it win.
I don’t break records or keep exceptional times on the hill - but I’m always proud of my achievements. As a large guy, I’m always overtaken by cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ages - occasionally it’s a Brit who loves to chat about Yorkshire - but mostly it's a jolly “Bonjour” from fellow cyclists taking on the challenge. Each ride is different, but I’m always lucky enough to end it with the best view in the world. It has well and truly become my “thing” - I own countless Ventoux jerseys (the french haven’t quite caught on to FatLad sizing yet, though), we have a picture of the mountain in our house, and every time I head on holiday to France I’m dreaming of that final hairpin, the violent winds that give the mountain its name, and the victoriously large ice cream I consume in the campsite when I’ve made it home."
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