Today is stage 12 of the Tour de France and it marks a special day for the French – Bastille Day, a national holiday and the hopes of a French winner on the famous mountain in a week where their footballers failed to deliver.

But it’s a special day for me too – it’s the first time the Tour has visited the Giant of Provence since my efforts in September 2013.  Whilst it’s not a national holiday where I live, I can assure you that I’ll be watching the stage somehow.

They’ve been building up to today’s stage for weeks with previews, special podcasts, documentaries, luring the viewers with previous escapades – Tom Simpson’s death in the 1967 Tour, Armstrong’s “gift” to Pantani in 2000, Froome’s battle with Quintana in 2013.

Not to mention the myths of the mountain as presented by riders and fans past and present:

  • The Ventoux as a God of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made.  It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”  Roland Barthes, French philosopher and cycling fanatic 1957.

These two sentences sum up my experience on the Ventoux three years ago.  I didn’t sacrifice enough to the “God of Evil”, although I like to think of Ventoux as a goddess.  She didn’t forgive my weaknesses and she certainly made me suffer like a dog.

  • The Ventoux has no in-itself.  It’s the greatest revelation of your-self.  It simply feeds back your fatigue and fear.  It has total knowledge of the shape you’re in, your capacity for cycling happiness, and for happiness in general.  It’s yourself you’re climbing.  If you don’t want to know, stay at the bottom.”  Paul Fournell writing in his book Need For The Bike.

I wanted to know and I found out.

  • Ferdi is too old… Ferdi hurts too much… Ferdi has killed himself on the Ventoux.”  Ferdi Kubler, announcing his retirement from professional cycling to the press after cracking on the Ventoux in the 1955 Tour de France.

Even the great Eddy Merckx suffered at the hands of Ventoux.

  • No.  It’s impossible!”  Eddy Merckx after winning on Ventoux in 1970.

Makes me feel a tad better now.

  • 1,900 metres up there is completely different from 1,900 any place else.  There’s no oxygen.  There’s no vegetation, there’s no life.  There’s no life.  Rocks.  Any other climb there’s vegetation, grass and trees.  Not there on Ventoux.  It’s more like the moon than a mountain.”  Lance Armstrong 2000.

But today, the moonscape won’t be experienced by the riders, with winds being forecasted at over 100km/h, the stage is finishing 6km from the summit at Chalet Reynard.  It’s disappointing from a purist perspective but totally understandable and absolutely appropriate.

So who will sacrifice their all to Ventoux today?  Will Chris Froome (Sky) stamp his authority on the race?  Will Nairo Quintana (Movistar) come to the party and justify his “nearest challenger” status?  Can Richie Porte (BMC) make a move for the podium?  What about a home win?  Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) or Romain Bardet (AG2R)?  But maybe, just maybe Dan Martin (Etixx Quickstep) will take the stage for the Irish – the shortened ascent might just suit him……

But I’ll end with my favourite cycling quote before planning my office vanishing trick:

Ned Flanders: “You were bicycling two abreast?

Homer Simpson: “I wish.  We were bicycling to a lake.”  The Simpsons, ‘Dangerous Curves’ (Episode 2005), first broadcast, November 10th 2008.

The Giant