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September 24, 2009

From Ventoux over Chasseral to Coe

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:00 am

My last few rides have been a bit different from the usual routine, to say the least.

First, the Mont Ventoux, or: le Geant de la Provence, aka de Kale Berg. What more is there to say about it? It rises 5200 ft straight out of the valley in 13 miles, it’s both a pro and amateur cyclist magnet, it has plenty of history (from Petrarca to Tom Simpson), the first part of the climb features the hot, humid, bug-infested forest and then follows the often cold, wind swept moonscape higher up…

I was staying nearby this big boy on a family vacation, so the temptation was obvious – a few weeks ago the riders in the Tour had battled it out here and the images of the brutal climb were still fresh in my mind. I wanted to do it together with my dad, but after some consideration it was clear this was a bit ambitious for his current level of training (and it’s not a good place to risk your health). So he decided to play support team car for me in the beginning and do the ride starting from Chalet Reynard on his mtb.

The first few miles are very pleasant, a nice road through vineyards with a mild grade. Then, after a tight corner, the road turns into the feared forest, and features a steep, relentless grade with long, demoralizingly straight stretches. It feels the climbing goes on forever but when the grade flattens a bit (meaning 6-7% instead of 9-10%), you know you’re getting close to the Chalet Reynard. This relative ‘plateau’ offers a nice breather to recover before the last couple grueling miles are served up. We were lucky in that it was a nice, clear day without much wind, so at the Chalet, which is located at the treeline, the weather conditions were near-perfect. And so the final push to the summit ensued, passing the Simpson memorial and with the last switchbacked corner dishing out the steepest grade of the day – I finished in just under 1 hour 40 minutes (starting from Bedoin).

One of the fun things (for those who prefer to do their suffering with others): you won’t be alone; I actually sometimes felt to be in an amateur event or race, so many cyclists are doing this any given day. There were even photographer dudes taking shots of you with their SLR’s that you can order online, and this on a random tuesday afternoon in mid-september.

After summitting I rode down a bit to hook up with my dad and joined him up again on those last couple miles of the climb. The descent into Bedoin was quite a blast and a nice reward.

Ventoux

A few days later, it was time to head home, though I had a slight detour in mind; I wanted to meet up with my former mtb- and ski-buddy Markus who now lives in Switzerland. In a former life, we both roamed the trails in the Bay Area and surroundings with the Mountainbike Schweinehunde. The bilingual town of Biel/Bienne in the Swiss Jura would be the rendez-vous point, and he had round up a few friends to explore and ride some of the best local trails.

Our host Patrick, living in Biel/Bienne, guided us to the Col de Chasseral and the namesake summit, one of the highest points of the Swiss Jura, starting by bike from his place. The climb was long but of a gentle grade, mostly on fireroad/doubletrack and paved road.

On clear days the Chasseral gives you fantastic panorama’s of pretty much the entire Swiss (and French) Alps. Not so today, as we were greeted by strong winds and sweeping clouds on the summit – we hid for the cold in the chalet and had some hot drinks and food.

The descent, following the ridgeline of the Jura, was memorable: a very technical, rocky upper section, followed by a mix of rocky double- and singletrack, here and there very tight, fun and technical. We were fortunate to have our host, guiding us around through the maze of trails that exist here, and serving us the best bits. A few short climbs and rolling sections later, it was time for the final descent back into Biel: a blast of a trail hugging tall cliffs on two sides at some spots – hence its nickname, Geiss Rucken (sp?) – or the ‘goat’s back’ – and ridiculously tight switchbacks! Fun, entertaining, challenging, and the best excuse for having a couple of beers with friends, what more does one need from a ride?

Goat's Back

Then, after the long trek back to the Bay Area, I found out about a local mountain bike race. And this in my most favorite local place to ride, Henry Coe. No way I could pass on this, if only to do my bit to help draw attention and funds to this awesome place, which is still under threat of closure due to the California state budget woes. My jet lag actually helped me to appear fresh at the start line, and you can read here how things went down (pretty well, in fact)… now, a few days later it seems that there finally is some good news for the parks – though I’m not going to underestimate the capability of myopic politicians to wreck things and will hold my breath some more before crying victory.