Haute Route Ventoux

By John Stirzaker:

I thought I’d put a little report together about Haute Route Ventoux and a little background into why I wanted to do it this year. I had been training since last October for Haute Route Pyrenees which of course got cancelled and I wanted to see where this training had got me, plus I’m booked on for HR Alps 2021 so we used this event as a test of my peaking process and how I responded.

I loved last year’s event with Alex of course but I did want to see how I could perform on the slopes of the “Geant”.

So, Day One dawned pretty warm but with the threat of rain in the air, but I felt good and prepared for a great day’s riding. The start of a Haute Route is always a bit of a scramble for positions and it started on Col de la Madeleine out of Bedoin and I didn’t want to go to deep to soon, I had already checked out the first 20 km and I knew it was tough (see profile below). The Col de Chaine starts with a 1.43km section at an average of 10% hell of a start for those on the compact course. Alex and I drove this section a few days later and divorce proceedings were discussed if she had ridden it ! Some of the descents were quite technical with a gravel-like surface so I knew I needed to be in clean air so I could pick my lines. I did see one poor soul who had crashed on a tricky s-bend.

The rain started shortly after we’d negotiated this section the rain began and the start of the wind, at times on exposed sections the wind nearly stopped you. But it was just a case of keeping going knowing that I had a tailwind waiting for me on the Ventoux climb from Sault.

I was also regretting now not getting on a group at the beginning but luckily one came by me and I jumped on their wheels up the Fontaube, we maintained a decent pace thanks to a French lad called Nicholas who was like a train, although still warm the wind and rain were getting worse and worse but I now began to think like a racer.

So at the top I attacked off the group which brought Nicholas across to me for the false flat to the start of L’Homme Mort (which means the Dead Man!!) I thought I would just sit on Nicholas up the climb and then dispose with him on the climb out of Sault. But no Nicholas was doing the compact, so off I set on the next 10km climb on my own.

Until I found Bernant from Barcelona and we kept each other sane and motivated while the wind and rain got crazier, trying to pick a line so you were hiding behind the hill and trying to keep the wheels moving was fun. I was a bit naughty and attacked again near the top only to get stopped by the Haute Route staff as they had called the race off due to conditions.

Anyway after a surreal experience of standing/squatting in a van for 40 minutes we got a bus back to Bedoin.

The team then had to make a decision on how to work out the results which was difficult and I ended up 82nd and 13th in my age group. I had work to do the next day!


Stage Two

So after a Storm Alex (go figure) affected Stage One I sat 62nd in General Classification and 12th in my age group, I knew I had work to do on Stage Two to achieve my goal of a Top Ten in the 50-59 category. A rather sleepless night with head turning over what had happened and what I needed to do probably didn’t help, but after breakfast and some reflection I decided I had to put the first day out of my head and concentrate on what I needed to do.

The start of a Haute Route stage is pretty mental the general idea is to not get left behind by the bigger groups as it’s harder to ride on your own, something I always seem to end up doing. So on Saturday I decided to ensure I got with a group especially as the second climb was a very gradual 15 kms.

Those first kilometres can be quite hairy but exciting as you pick lines round the roundabouts and watch out for riders from every direction.

Anyway I managed to join up with a group at the start of the long climb and although I ended up on the front it felt good to ride with others. The group were mainly Spanish including Bernart who had been my buddy on L’Homme Mort, we got “chatting” again and managed to bridge across to the next group on the road which included a rider I knew was above me in my age group. The plan was to do a “Quintana” (ask a cyclist) and just watch the guys ass for the next 50kms!

That worked for about 4 kms until a tight corner and some nice tailwind which seemed to only work for me. I flew up the group and ended up second wheel behind Frank Schlek (a former World Pro Tour rider) who after about 2km kindly waved me and another older guy through to take our turn on the front! So from watching backsides I was now leading the group and did what any sensible rider would do…

That’s it I attacked off the front to make a solo breakaway with about 4km to go to the top! I even used a corner to put a sprint on when I was out of view, to be fair there was a method to my madness I don’t descend the best and would rather have clean air in front and behind. My mate Bernant from Barca did bridge across to berate me calling me a “naughty boy” and then proceeding to stop for a “pee pee”.

The next 20 kms or so the weather got worse again with just rain and lots of it, but I kept going and managed to find another group of riders that I tagged on for a fast descent in the wet. There was no way I was losing this easy ride so I made sure I caught them up after every corner and used it to fuel for the climb of Ventoux.

The Malaucene ascent is really tough and many riders think it’s the hardest of the three, sadly snow on the summit meant we would have to stop at Chalet Liotard, but it was still a huge climb of 14.5kms and 1,000 metres of climbing including a section of 3kms that averages 12% or so. Conditions were pretty crappy by now as you climbed it got colder and colder and there were very few riders on the mountain. I kept seeing a salmon coloured jacket about 500 metres ahead of me but couldn’t catch him whatever I did.

After an hour of constant climbing at what felt like a snail’s pace the end came into sight through the clouds and I even managed to put on a sprint on at the end!

Haute Route were amazing at the end again the buses were ready for us with trailers to take our bikes, awesome organisation.

I was so happy with my efforts on the day and loved every minute of it, I was sure I had improved my position. On the day I was 37th on GC and 5th in my age group which put me 41st on GC overall and 4th in my age group!! An amazing result

Stage Three – Time Trial

Mont Ventoux is considered by many riders to be the toughest climb in the Tour de France, it’s just under 21kms and 1,500 metres of elevation gain. The climb can be broken into three distinct sections which makes it a bit easier to breakdown, a short easy section at the beginning averages about 4%. The next 10 kilometres is extremely tough averaging 10% with ramps of 12% and absolutely no let up at all. You just plod at whatever speed you can manage and listen to the sounds of your own gasping breaths! The last 6 kilometres can be really tough as it’s exposed and winds have been measured at 250kmh.

So the day of the ultimate test dawned and I had slept well, bike had been cleaned and I knew that my position in the age group was safe but I was hoping to climb some positions on GC from 41st. We had bags with warm clothes at the top so I didn’t have to worry about carrying loads of stuff including food, three gels was enough.

My plan was to ease into the effort as it would be easy to blow up over the 90 minutes effort, my previous best effort over that length of time was around 260 watts, I knew I could climb at 285 or so but for how long?

The time waiting for your slot can be nervy but I had warmed up a bit beforehand and got there with enough time to spare but not too early and after going through the pens (we were all masked may I add) I took my place on the ramp and focused on not falling off it!

The road aren’t closed so after getting slowed by two shoppers I was off through the timing mat, ensuring I didn’t go too hot, in hindsight I may have been too easy in this section but it may have saved bullets for later.

Riders are set off in reverse order on General Classification so the slower riders have longer to get to the top, my slot was about 9.30, so after a while you start to catch those riders. This is a great opportunity to encourage those riders, even a little hello can help motivate them.

The great thing about the time trial is that there is no way of working together in groups it’s just you against the road and trying to catch up with your rivals, thankfully I soon passed the rider just behind in my age group so I knew for sure my 4th place was secured. I was really chuffed with how I was able to maintain the power over the 90 minutes, staying around 290-300 watts.

The top was covered in cloud and as you got closer you could see the finish come into view, I sprinted for the end but may have been a bit late in starting my sprint!

There was then a mad scramble for places behind a van so you could change into some warm weather for the descent back down to Bedoin and the finishing ceremony. It was great chatting to a lad I had met at the first briefing, I had told him he would be addicted when he finished and sure enough he can’t wait to go again!

Another Haute Route Completed and a massive sense of achievement from how the three days had gone in terms of fueling, mindset, recovery and measuring my effort. So many positives to take despite never actually seeing the top properly, we stopped slightly short due to roadworks.

I want to thank my band of brothers who help me sort these events out in my head and on the road, Si Ollerenshaw, James Farrell, Ken Woodward and of course my coach Jody Warrington

Jody has taken my performance to a whole new level, 293 watts over the minutes was an all time record for me! I cannot wait to see what the next 10 months or so bring and what we can do in the Alps!

But most of all my absolute rock and the most understanding person I know, Alex Stirzaker, she keeps me sane when I need it and keeps me positive when I feel down. I know you weren’t on your bike but you were with me every inch of the way !

I hope you’ve found my posts interesting? They’re good for me to dissect what happened, but may also encourage others to have a go at Haute Route?? They were brilliant this year, as always, coping with COVID and Storm Alex.

Two weeks rest when I get home and the winter training starts again wegoagain ? ? ? ?

P.S. I finished 37th on GC!!!