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Sunday July 14th July sees stage 15 of the Tour de France, the longest in this year’s race. As if the distance of 242.5 kilometres wasn’t enough, the organisers have lumped the climb of Mont Ventoux on at the end – just to make sure no one gets the idea that July 14th is some kind of French holiday and an excuse for a day off work.

By the time The Breakaway reached Carpentras for the the Giant of Provence the mood in our travelling camp was like the weather around it: oppressively hot, shocked and scarred by rumbling thunder and bolts of lightening.

The morning of our ride up the Mont, however, and the weather broke, the cool and wet conditions at least partially easing the tension.

The late, great Tom Simpson

We had absorbed all of this mountain’s many myths and legends, including the tragic tale of Tom Simpson, who died on its slopes in the ill-fated 1967 Tour de France. As a result we had expected furnace-like heat, had spent months on end bracing ourselves for such a searing slog. Pedalling insouciantly into the rain and I couldn’t help but feel that it was all a little too easy. As I soon found out, on the Ventoux easy is wrong, just plain wrong…

Drew shifted up a gear and began to sprint, suddenly deciding that grovelling off the back was less than acceptable on this climb of all climbs. He took off up the road so I duly accelerated and pulled level, expending too much puff to be able to demand an explanation. Had he been faking earlier on, psyching me out or just warming up? Either way, I wasn’t about to dismiss the opportunity for a duke on the Ventoux. In turn I shifted up a gear and kicked hard, my move eliciting his mirror reaction. So we remained, locked together, front wheels edging each other out of the photo finish until the next ramp kicked right and Drew finally came off the gas. I relaxed back into the saddle, assuming the game was up, only for him to go again, three more attempts to drop me, somehow to no avail. As each ramp turned into the headwind, our hurt intensified and my satisfaction increased: pain was exactly what I wanted; pain was what the Ventoux demanded, all that it was said to be about.

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