Imagine for a moment that there was only one more.
A single day, a final chapter, a last ride. Of all the miles covered and all the roads ridden, which would draw you back to experience them one more time?
VENTOUX ET VIN
Ex-pro, Eurosport Pundit // @nicolas_fritsch
The Last Ride would inevitably be a slightly sad affair; melancholic and no doubt nostalgic, but what luck to get to define this ending myself rather than simply have it pass me by unknowingly...I might as well make it a good one.
Cycling holds something special for me. It has the ability to add a sense of adventure, born from taking on earth’s elements, to a pure physical and athletic effort. Often riding alone, it’s more in the moments of sharing in these experiences that strong bonds and memories are created.
So if I had to go out one final time with my bike, it would begin by loading it into the back of my car with a couple of friends. We’d head off to a meeting point to join up with others, a few kilometres from the foot of Mont Ventoux. Not too close, not too far. At Beaumes-de-Venise for example.
Of course, it would have to be during summer: 30 degrees, cap backwards, giddy with excitement and anticipation, music blasting out and sweat beading down my face.
We’d be laughing along the first gentle 15 kilometres, riding between vineyards and fruit trees. We’d be laughing, but we’d all know, that a mountain, a true giant, would soon rise up before us. It’s hard to miss it, other than by keeping your head down fixed on the road.
As we approach Bédoin, silence would take over, and the impending physical challenge would dim our freewheeling laughter.
I’ve always liked nothing more than being alone in the mountains, like Fausto Coppi, “L’uomo solo al commando”, or, from my era, Marco Pantani. I’d like to experience this feeling one final time, something so simple, but that puts man in his natural place, that of an explorer, in a world where we think we’ve discovered everything.
Pedalling is like meditation in motion, without the need for books, teachings, gurus or self promotion. It’s natural and simple, if not easy.
Mont Ventoux stands above all other climbs, because it’s somewhere I’ve witnessed the temperature suddenly plummet; it’s somewhere I’ve felt the temperature suddenly soar; it’s somewhere I’ve had the wind force me to get off my bike; it’s somewhere I’ve seen lightning strike; it’s somewhere I’ve seen everything happen but at the same time I can’t be sure I have. This is why Ventoux will be where my cycling days will meet their end.
But they say that happiness is only worth it when shared, and it’s so true, and so it goes without saying that we’d regather at the bottom of the descent, perhaps in Malaucène, under the sun, around one of its fountains which have quenched many a cyclist’s thirst.
And if it really had to be the last ride, the very final one, we’d continue onto les Dentelles de Montmirail, and as a just reward, we’d sit down for a glass of the best thing that these lands have to offer; wine with a higher percentage than even the steepest ramps of the giant we’d conquered earlier, as ultimately there is more to life than the bike…
THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY
Writer & Soul Rider // @francois_paoletti
280 km around the Monts de l’Espinouse - 'Que l’ai va lo fa' - whoever goes there does it.
I don’t remember where I found this Occitan proverb, but I went there one day in July, and that’s where I return for my Last Ride. Setting off for a long day in the saddle, I’d ride across the toes of the Massif-Central, along the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Alone no doubt, I’d fill my pockets with memories picked up along the way.
At night, the road is ours and my most beautiful journey starts under the stars, before the first few flecks of sunlight begin to appear. They say that the night is silent, but fortunately silence does not exist. The night time has its own songs, we simply have to listen for them. Crickets make the perfect companions for such activities.
My route turns its back on the sea. Heading through the vineyards of Faugères and the Col des Treize-vent and the Croix de Mounis. Then up to the massif de l’Espinouse in the early hours. Whilst the blue turns to green, the passing kilometres begin to trace a line across the screen of my GPS.
One day someone decided that L’Hérault stops where l’Averyron starts. The road markers placed on the side of the road are a throwback to another time, when the département marked out the horizon for most people.
Cloudy skies, it’s almost cold. But that's always better than searing heat. I zip up my jersey at least as long it takes for the heat from the sun to break through. I stop at a café on the Place de Lacaune, sitting amongst the flies and the regulars. The smell of my coffee scares away the flies and masks my sweaty odour. My own sense of smell has disappeared, I’m not too sure when. The coffee is bad, who cares. That’s not not what I came to find, I came to find escape.
Getting back in the saddle, riding and watching the hours pass by. Life is broken down to the bare essentials : drinking, eating, drinking, taking photos, drinking, eating. All I have to do is pedal and follow the arrow on my screen, whilst rejoicing that my bike can handle the gravel when the road decides to pretend to be a doubletrack.
I’m at home here, without any chauvinism. Others prefer the Alps, each to their own, but I learnt to ride my bike on these lower mountains, where cars and people are scarce and things are from a simpler time.
Fatigue begins to set in, deep in my thighs and lower back. I know how it works, and the tendency for the feeling to yo-yo within me. The mind wanders. In the Département of Tarn, I can’t help but think of Jalabert. We think about a lot of things whilst riding, we think a lot about nothing too.
My ideal route would include a small siesta in the middle of the afternoon. Only a few minutes, in the shade of a tree. A few minutes, without acknowledging anyone. A few precious minutes of recovery.
The tourists dream about their beaches, my thoughts are made of boredom, and of epiphanies, doped on endorphins. I’d like to make notes about them for an article or a book, so as not to forget them but it would require stopping. Writing or riding, the decision is always hard.
AN AZUR AFFAIR
Le Barbu // @fredericgiovagnini
6am. It’s still dark outside and, as I take my bike out of the garage, most are tucked up in their beds, safe from the cold. I give my bike one last check before I mount it for what will be my Last Ride. I’ve decided to follow the coastal rode, heading east to meet the sunrise.
Almost on autopilot, I adjust my helmet, position my sunglasses, turn on my bike computer and attach the torch which will light up my path for the first hour of my ride, waiting for the sun to poke its head above the sea line. Then as I clip in my shoe I turn around as if someone wants to stop from leaving.
The first few kilometres feel like I’m being sucked into a black hole, the calmness surrounding me accentuates the sound of my chain going around like clockwork, and the small clicks of my gear changes punctuate the undulating road.
The light beaming from the front of my bike creates a moving halo on the road, my front wheel eats up the asphalt, and I have the feeling my body is one with the bike, of being alone in the world. Even though I know this coastal section by heart it feels somehow different today, as if I’m discovering it for the first time as I pass each corner.
Little by little the darkness lifts. I begin to see the horizon more clearly, and a feeling of excitement begins to swell as I know that soon I will witness the sun rise up in front of me one final time. Suddenly my legs begin to turn faster, my pedal stroke is harder as if a peloton were chasing me down a few kilometres from the finish.
The spectacle in front of me doesn’t disappoint. The sun casts down its first rays in front of me, as if it were wishing me 'bonne route' - its reward for all the kilometres I’ve ridden over the years. I can feel the heat on my face and I get the impression each turn of my pedals is making it stronger. I turn off my light; I’m no longer alone. The signs of life become more numerous as the kilometres roll on.
I begin to see cars, and as I ride through people’s villages they walk down the streets as if to guide me and I give them a salutatory nod as I pass by. The kilometres pass, and I glance down at my computer to reassure myself of my own state, to check if I am capable of completing this final ride. The fast and slow sections are indicated by how the road is on the landscape ahead of me. I make the most of each moment, taking in each changing view.
But as I follow the black band laid out in front of me, I begin to near the moment where I’ll pass in front of the gates to my house. The fateful moment when I’ll hang my bike back up for the final time. I should have gone slower, or perhaps taken a wrong turn at the final junction in order to not arrive back home so fast, as sadly the gates are now in front of me. The end is nigh. I slow down, and I leave my bike by the steps up to the house. A strange feeling overcomes me, a mixture of joy and frustration.
I stop my computer for the last time, to ensure I record this Last Ride. I hear the signature beep to indicate my journey has ended and that my ride is downloading. However, the beeping continues, getting louder and louder and it’s at that point I wake from my slumber, it was just a bad dream, and it’s that time again to get ready to go riding with my friends along our beautiful roads and cols of the Côte d’Azur.
The Last Ride is fortunately not quite for today, as there still many new roads to discover.