Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.

 

These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.

 

Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.

 

At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.

 

I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.

 

There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.

 

White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.

 

On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.

 

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Day 6 and 7: Riding with Shane Starling in Girona.

 

Day 6 was meant to be an easy stroll west out of Girona for 30km and then back as a sort of recovery ride from the previous two days. We rode about 5km up a road and then it turned to gravel. Riding further meant dealing with traffic and I couldn’t be bothered and threw in the towel. Shane tried to ride on but was back at the apartment not long after. Then it started raining and we were glad with our decision. 
 
 Day 7: Today we packed everything up and left Girona. We drove north to a little town called Roses and climbed up to a grand peak 20km from the town. We then cut through a valley and emerged at El Port de la Salva. A big bunch of riders caught up as we stood at an intersection and deliberated on a direction. These riders would catch and pass us on the way up a massive hill between us and Roses, where we would finish for the day. After the ride we found a bar that would put the cycling on for us and watched them ride up a mountain in snow eating steak, eggs and chips. 

Day 6: Cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Today we were to ride with Bike Break Girona, with Dave Walsh and whoever else rocked up. After the previous days effort I was probably better off either staying in bed or simply cruising around, which what the ride was meant to be. However as is with all group rides, the fresh people get carried away and the slower and less fresh of us get dropped. 

 

I struggled up the first small hill. My leg muscles were still recovering and getting stronger. Apparently we were to cruise to a cafe and then decide if we wanted to go on. 

 

I chatted to Neil Martin for a while in the bunch and then he and Dave decided to do a 9km climb. I was dropped pretty quickly and rode a slow steady pace to the top. Once there we turned around quickly and the boys descended like demons and one of them coming a cropper. Much sand and small stones on the corners. 

 

Coffee at the cafe and chatting bikes was fun, and then the long slow grovel back to Girona. 90km ‘rest’ day. 

Day 5: cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Rocacorba and Mare De Deu Del Mont

 
Before pain there is ambition. Before ambition there is desire. Without desire there are no obstacles. Take a mountain for example, it’s a big fucking obstacle. If you desire to climb it, there will be pain. 
 
One of the best things about Girona is that if you know where you are going, you can be in the countryside in about 15 mins, surrounded by poppies and hails and all the wins that get Dutch painters juices flowing. Our juices were flowing not only after we turned left out of Ardi and up a gravel road. Steep loose rocky paths slapped wet by little streams. Little mounds to stop erosion reminding us where not on the right bikes for this sort of terrain. A crossroad. What are we doing? We are we going?
 
The Rocacorba mountain above us. No way we’re taking the gravel road. We wind to the base of the mountain and find the sealed section. Shane wants to turn back, but when I call him a sissy and say I’m doing it, he quickly changes his mind. Sissy. The great motivator. Motivation, movement. These climbs require a different mind set to what I’m used to. I am a sissy. The hills I’m used used to are about a 1/4 of the size of these guys. You can normally see the top not long after beginning. However with these beasts, you turn hairpin after hairpin hoping to see relief. Respite for a km of two to regain composure, breath. 
 
At the top we see the Mare De Deu Del Mont. There’s a 30km ride between here and there and we stop for lunch near the lake. Shane is still stronger and takes the wind for the majority of the time. 
 
The final 4km of Del Mont really killed me.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Day 4: Cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Day 4: 
 
Squandering. Wasting time. Having fun. Shooting the breeze. Relax. The long life of a giant tortoise. 150 years? Sweat pouring over your sunglasses like a tap turned on. Armchairs wiped clean every morning. Astro turf swigging beneath as you walk, walk to the bay. A woman walks beside the metal railing high above the cliffs. These are not really walking roads. Undulating as hell. She has a backpack and two large carry bags like she’s just stepped out of a supermarket. 
 
Hard men of the cycling world. Italian hard men. Pantani, was he one? Apparently he would go starving if his mumma or sister were not home to cook for him. 
 
“Vincenzo” mamma says, waving her arms skyward, “why do you always dirty your clothes with the grease?”
 
“Mumma, the grease is like a oxygen, it gets in everything.”
 
“What about in the space Vincenzo? Why don’t you clean your bike in the space?”
 
There’s always a leveller. Someone or something to beat your ego to a pulp and ask you to start again. Burp. Burp again. These gases are uncouth. I take the descent into Tossa slowly. Shane goes fast. Shane burbs incessantly. He’s getting all the gas out between girlfriends. 
 
 

Day 3: Cycling with Shane Starling: Girona

Day 3: 
 
“Put that in your blog.”
 
The drive to Girona was uneventful and swift. Many trees in this part of the world. Slightly lost entering the town. Shane slightly anxious because he wants everything to be right. Parked the car and walked up a steep slope. Found the place eventually. The top floor of a large house. A terrace looking towards a great grey cathedral. 
 
We walk to the cathedral and through the town. Pebbles and cobbles and not too many people. Icecream shops burst out onto the street in bright colours. A river runs through the guts of town. We stop and have lunch. We do some shopping. When we exit there’s rain. We walk in the rain to find the bicycle shop. Ciesta time. 
 
We ride. We ride up the hill behind us. The roads are wet. It’s not too cold. We coast down the hill on the northern side. The roads are wet. I’m descending. The bike swerves all over the road. I gain control. We ride a little further. Descent approaching a hair pin. I attempt to slow down again. Bike locks up. Swerves. The rear end fish tails. I cannot control it. I go down. A controlled fall. I get up and Shane approaches. I blame the tires. 
 
We contemplate returning. Not worth damaging someone else’s bike. Lets go on at snails pace? We go on at snails pace. Follow the railroad tracks to a dead end. Cross the river. Head east. Up a small hill. Winding narrow paths like palm lines. Up and down, repeat. Head back to town. Quick change then walk to bike shop. 
 
Semi-pro woman there. We chat to her. We chat to the shop dude. They’re cool. There’s a group ride on Thursday. Pro’s go apparently. 
 
 

Day 2: Cycling with Shane Starling: Montpellier

Day 2:

 
At 6:30 am I am woken by cats playing. I lock them in another room but the lock doesn’t work and they squeeze their paw through and pull the door open again. I make coffee, eat cereal, reply to emails, say goodbye to Emma and throw one of the cats into Shane’s room knowing he will wake him so we get on the road. 
 
At 9am I attempt to sort out the front derailer. It’s not pulling to the big ring. The cable housing has more bends than a river. By 10 the gearing is no better so I give up and get dressed. Have to sort it out properly later. Again down the spiral stairs carefully. Pull the big heavy door open like a cat. A thin strip of sunlight is visible in the alley. I stand there and wait for Shane
 
We plan a longer ride today. The gears work ok to begin with but about 15km from base they shit themselves again. Lose the nut in the grass. Find the nut. The bike I’ve borrowed has a triple chainring at the front. A novelty to for me but at the moment a pain. We cycle through a cross country running race. Up ahead cyclists and Wolf Peak. Having been off the bike for 6 weeks my back hurts slightly. My legs have no power. My lungs seem ok. We begin a 3km 5% climb and Shane sets a commendable pace. I drop into the granny gear and enjoy the view. There’s little point overexerting for a few days yet. 
 
 

Day 1: Riding with Shane Starling: Montepellier

Day 1:

 
Arrived in Montpellier just before 3pm. First time on a TVG and was impressed at how the train was going double the speed of the freeway cars. Stepped off the train expecting to see my cousin Shane; nuitrion journalist, runner, cyclist, writer, try hard French man. On the upper concourse he was no where to be seen. After five laps I thought, you cunt, you’re late, I don’t have your number and there’s no wifi at the station. Then wondered over to the balcony and realised there was another section to the station and after descending the stairs laid eyes on the man I would be forcing into a world of pain for the next week. 

 
First time in Montpellier too. Fancy buildings. Tight alleys. Trams. Partial stratocumulus blowing overhead. 
“That’s the Mistral. It’s like the Fremantle Doctor.”
“Ah Yes I remember you saying when you were in Perth.”
 
The Giro D’Italia was on. An important mountain stage. As I’d been following this tour intently I was keen to head back to Shane’s place, chuck the race on, get the bike ready and go for a belt around the countryside. We stop at an internet cafe to print out the hire car details. This takes 20 mins. Then we stop at a sandwich shop. This also take twenty minutes. There’s a woman in a frog suit in a small square having a fag on her break. We go upstairs. The tour has no coverage because the mountain is fogged out. We watch the final 200 metres as the racers emerge out of the fog. 
 
By now I have the hire bike pretty much ready. We gear up and descend the smooth marble spiral steps in our cleats. The town gives to countryside quickly.