Summer holiday planning is always fun. Endless choices abound. Two weeks on the beach with armbands and sunburn? A city break with a nice museum and hoards of coach tours? "Staycation" and pray for sunshine or an activity holiday?

I chose to cycle an extinct volcano in France three times in one day, otherwise known as "Les Cingles du Mont Ventoux." Often featured in the Tour de France, Mont Ventoux is iconic among cyclists. As long as I am cycling I have always wanted to go there. It's not for the faint hearted cyclist. Notorious for having its own weather system and mistral winds, it's not called the Giant of Provence for nothing. I love cycling. It really was an obvious choice! Wasn't it?

Michael Staines is great friend of mine and agreed to come with me. We had discussed the possibility of this trip over the years and it had always ended up on the long finger. We rounded up two more to join us, Noel Finnegan and Michaels brother Lawrence. Dates were picked,flights booked, we found a house on AirBnB, hired bikes and rented a car. Thank God for the internet. Job done!

At 6am on Saturday 23rd June 2018 three of the four of us set off to climb Mont Ventoux pour les Cinglés du Mont Ventoux. 137 kilometers ahead and some 4400 meters of climbing ahead. Unfortunately Noel had an accident on the Orwell Randonne and was nursing a broken collar bone. Thankfully he still came on the trip and was swiftly promoted to Chef d'equipe, that's means support car and help for the day.

The weather was perfect, the temperature would get high later on but our aim was to get two of the three climbs done before lunch. So there we were on a warm summer morning in France. Watching the sun rise over beautiful vineyards in Provence. Cycling our way to the top of this iconic climb that I had read and heard so much about.  

I felt really excited as well as a little apprehensive. I was bursting with joy and every time I caught a glimpse of the "lighthouse" at the top I would reassure myself that I could get there, (3 times!) I was a little worried of course wondering had I trained enough and then there is always the unknown. How gruesome would this be?

First summit from Bedoin: By far the easiest even though we were on the toughest side of the pyramid. I was so excited, adrenaline was coursing through my body so hard I think it infected my bike! It seemed to just glide along effortlessly. We were full of chat and enthusiasm. The scenery was spectacular and we could see for miles. Each time we caught a glimpse of the top it was getting closer and closer. I was pumped. It really is the only way to describe it.

Second summit from Malaucene: What goes up must come down. From the summit we descended into Malaucene for a cuppa and croissants. The descents are fast and thrilling. Then of course you have to turn around and go back up! I loved this side, there were 2000 Belgians cycling this road doing their own event. We had loads of people to chat to along the way making it very sociable. The gradient wasn't bad at all this way. I felt great, better than great in fact. I was in my element and well within my comfort zone. I love long climbs, they suit my personality. Put me on cruise control and away I go! As long as I have someone to chat to and things to look at I am happy out. I loved the approach to the summit from this side. It looked like tiers on a cake and I could see cyclists on every level. I couldn't wait to get to the top. I arrived in style and really felt elated.

Third summit from Sault: Descending into Sault was like a dream. We came out of the forest and were met by lavender fields. The scent just wafted in the air. It was so beautiful, I did my best to take a photo for you while cycling but it just looked rubbish! If you get the chance go. Provence is out of this world, you don't even need a bike. We had a proper lunch, bit of a rest, chats and laughs. Then it was time to go and get our third and final summit in. "Allez! Allez!"
​We were 25 kilometers from the top.

UPSET TUMMY - FEELING LIKE TOM DUMOULIN

I'm not sure when it started, I think perhaps about 10 km in. My tummy. A few gurgles at first. I thought it would settle down. Out of the corner of my eye I was trying to find a bush or tree I could jump behind. The stronger Belgians were on this side of the mountain too and there was just too many people. I was sure it was just indigestion and would pass. Sure we didn't have that far left to go. The third climb actually has a downhill section and it made me forget my rumblings momentarily which by now had turned into cramps. Of course after a bit of a decent we were straight back into a climb. The last 6 kilometers to be exact.

I was really worried at this stage, not about my fitness but my cycling shorts. If you look at the pictures you will notice that the top of Mont Ventoux is open, very exposed and like a moonscape. So any chance I had of finding somewhere to hunker down was now gone. I had to slow up. I always use my abdominals on climbs and I think I had really overdone the squeezing all day. I was just hanging on at this stage. I was so uncomfortable and was terrified to make any sudden moves. I was now dreading my beloved switchbacks near the top. I knew our support star was at the top already and was waiting on our grande finale. My two cycle buddies were just ahead of me and I was glad. As the only girl on this trip I did not want to have a Tom Dumoulin moment on front of them. (Tom famously had to jump off his bike in the Giro d'Italia whilst wearing the leader's jersey due diarrhea. He still managed to win.) I couldn't wait to finish. All I could think about was finding a loo. 100 meters from the top there was a row of portaloos. I honestly couldn't decide whether to keep going or stop now. It was a tough decision as I knew I might have to live with the consequences either way! It was a close call. I chose to sprint the last 100 meters. Arriving at the summit I threw my bike at my poor friend who was trying to hug and congratulate me.
"Don't squeeze me I need the loo!"
I was panic stricken!

​You will be pleased to know that I made it in time and my dignity was saved. Except I have made it public now!

Photos and presentations had to be done at the top. We needed the iconic picture of us at the sign telling us how high we are. I got fabulous, sparkling tiara as I was out Queen of the Mountain, the lads got medals and cups. (I actually bought these in the pound shop at home but we will over look that small detail!)

THE LAST DASH HOME

The Cingles doesn't finish at the top, nope it finishes after your third decent back to base. After photos and hugs, (post bathroom) we were ready to hit the road. I had a second wind as i was feeling better tummy wise. So only one thing for it, give it all I had. What a lovely way to finish an event, windy roads, stunning scenery and peddling hard. I was thinking Strava now, as if there is anything else to think about? I knew someone who had done it a week before me and I knew I could “beat” them. It actually was good to have a time / rough estimation in my head and I knew I had it in the bag. Sailing down to the flat I really put my back into it. I was flying along and was just elated to bring it home. Arriving back in Bedoin was glorious. I would love to tell you the whole town went wild but they seamed happy enough to go about their own business.

Offiical business first. Fill in our brevet cards and get one last stamp, put back on tiara and order some celebratory drinks. Manifique!

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