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Le Tour de France 2009 – Stage 20: Montélimar > Mont Ventoux, 167km

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Today was the famous Mont Ventoux stage… It’s 9:00 pm and we’re headed for the A7 “Autoroute du Soleil,” and the drive north to Paris.

Incidentally, the A7 is one of the most dangerous roads in Europe; so that’s a comfort.

It’s been a day-and-a-half, albeit I think we were all expecting more from the stage.

Mont Ventoux
Lovely part of the world this – peaches and oranges growing by the roadside, here we see olives groves, field after field of lavender… Photo©Ed Hood

But perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect that men are going to race like demons after three tough weeks around France.

We were up early and away, this morning – panic; traffic jams to the horizon, however, once we made the autoroute, things speeded up.

Breakfast was in the Tour Village; sausages, bacon, bread, fruit salad – parfait!

Mont Ventoux
Even crisps cycle in France! Photo©Martin Williamson

The plan was to get away early, to give ourselves loads of time to take pictures on the Ventoux.

Mont Ventoux
The yeti’s dancing on the sign-on stage. Photo©Martin Williamson
Mont Ventoux
This guy was cutting sausages up in his half car. Photo©Martin Williamson

However – we hadn’t gassed the car-up; a mad breenge off race route ensued, we resuscitated the wee Citroen and rejoined the parcours.

Mont Ventoux
Martin shows today’s L’Equipe at the start of the race marker. Photo©Ed Hood

Unfortunately, we were caught up in the race caravan, by them and had to sit it out.

Still, we bagged two wee bags of salami, three bottles of water, a key ring and three hats – result!

The rest of the day was spent nudging into the rear of the caravan.

Mont Ventoux
There she is. Photo©Ed Hood

The weather was beautiful, the scenery magnificent and the ambiance as we’ve come to expect from le Tour fans – warm, friendly, fun.

It has to be said though, that it’s warmer, friendlier and more fun, after the caravan has off loaded the goodies.

With the benefit of hindsight, if I was doing it again, I’d have missed yesterday’s stage – which was never going to be decisive – and gone to the Ventoux.

It was simply impossible to stop on the lower 60% of the climb, the crowd was perhaps the biggest I’ve ever seen at a bike race; apart from Alpe D’Huez in the early 90’s, when it was still, “Dutch mountain.”

Mont Ventoux
Two long lines of crazy, drunk, Dutch fans, rowing themselves to nowhere and singing along to the oompah band – just great! Photo©Martin Williamson

We got lots of shots of “crazies,” but had no opportunity to stop and chat to folks, take pictures of the countryside – and it would have been nice to wander round Bedoin, again.

Dave, Viktor and I were on the Ventoux in 1987, when “Jeff” Bernard won the time trial up the climb.

We took tents down but had to bail out of them and into the mini bus in the middle of the night because it was so cold.

The water bottles froze solid – by noon the next day, the heat was extreme.

We had to be on the mountain the previous night due to the road being closed at around 2:00 am.

Mont Ventoux
We’re going up there! Photo©Martin Williamson

I remember Bedoin being relaxed and friendly; there was an old gypsy caravan in the town square which had a wood burning oven that produced the best pizza we had ever tasted – and back then, prices in France were reasonable.

Bedoin was just a blur today, crowds, noise, heat and just glimpses of the town – ah, well!

The climb was wild, about the craziest I’ve ever seen.

Mont Ventoux
The view from the top – on a clear day, you can see the Med from here. Photo©Martin Williamson

It looks great for the TV but one has to wonder about the safety aspect – some stretches were genuinely scary.

Mont Ventoux
Garate powers through the last right-hander. Photo©Martin Williamson
Mont Ventoux
Bert has it won now, barring accident. Photo©Martin Williamson
Mont Ventoux
Garate won the stage today, sprinting past Tony Martin on the last bend, where we were stood!

It’s getting close to midnight now, so bon nuit.

Talk to you from Gay Paris, tomorrow.

Mont Ventoux
Tour 09 Stage 20 Map.
Mont Ventoux
Tour 09 Stage 20 Profile.

* * *

Al Hamilton

Hinault: “Contador puede ganar cinco Tours” that’s today’s front page headline in AS. Bernard Hinault thinks Alberto Contador could equal his five Tour wins.

The big question is for which team would he be riding for? The F1 driver; Fernando Alonso is serious about his project of having a Protour team by 2011 with Contador as the leader.

But what about 2010? If he stays with Astana for the second year of his contract, which will be with Vinokourov, he might not be able to ride the Tour.

Mont Ventoux
Contador has behaved with dignity and total professionalism.

Bad news was the loss of two Euskaltel riders; Amets Txurruka and Alan Pérez finished 30:58 after Mark Cavendish won the sprint and they were out of the time limit.

Their team leader, Astarloza, is battling for 9th place overall as he is only 1 second behind Le Mével.

De Cavendish al Ventoux.” The British sprinter won his 5th stage yesterday. Today the last battle”. The Mont Ventoux looms large on all the riders on the Tour and this could change the podium and the top ten overall.

The mythic mountain of death, not just Tom Simpson, but the many riders who have had problems on its slopes. The battles between Kubler and Mallejac, Gimondi and Poulidor.

Mont Ventoux
De Cavendish al Ventoux.

Then in 1958 between Gaul and Bahamontes who went on to be the first Spanish Tour winner the next year. The deception of Delgado in 1987 by Hinault and Herrera, more recently the triumph of Pantani over Armstrong and the arguments that caused! We can only hope there will be action today!

Mañana, Al.

Ed Hood and Martin Williamson
Ed Hood and Martin Williamson
Ed and Martin, our top team! They try to do the local Time Trials, the Grand Tours and the Classics together to get the great stories written, the quality photos taken, the driving done and the wifi wrestled with.

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