This sign, at the bottom of the climb tells you everything that you need to know and fear about this legendary monument to cycling’s greatest names. Like Le Mont Ventoux it dominates the countryside around it and is steeped in a history that stretches far back, beyond the earliest days of cycling.
As you climb it you are confronted by a challenge to both mental and physical ability. On the Wednesday morning that I rode out from Clermont the challenge was added to by a thick Auvergnat fog that hung heavy in the valley on the climb out of the town towards the fearsome lump of Volcanic rock.
This is where one of the most defining images of the era of Anquetil and Poulidor was taken:
It looks wilder and more natural than I found it. Modernity has smoothed the tarmac (it looks recently laid) and the paysage bordering the road seems more kempt than in the old pictures. Sadly modernity has also meant that the Tour de France no longer passes in procession to the Temple of Mercury at the summit (or the TV aerial which overlooks its ruins) as the circus has grown too big for this road.
One thing that remains the same is that this is one tough mountain to climb. I was pushing my lowest gear (34/26) from the outset and the gradient is relentless. On a couple of the bends you think it eases off but the respite is transitory. It’s only 42.km but it still took me the better part of half an hour to climb (if I deduct time for photo-taking and breath-catching). The view on a clear day is spectacular and even on a foggy, windy, rainy day it still feels very special.
The first section up through the trees is largely straight and sapping as it winds up one side of the mountain after a left at the bottom. As far as you can see there is no resting place or bend to aim for. Then it works its way round to the summit, coiling like a serpent and disorientating you as it spins you up. I wasn’t sure which way Clermont was when I reached the top.
I’ve wanted to climb this mountain for many years now and I felt glad to reach the summit but wish it had been in better weather than I had to endure. It felt slightly anti-climatic to do it on my own as well. On the day that I rode I didn’t see a single other rider on the roads until 6 hours into my ride.
I’ve put a few pictures on my flickr account, some of which you can see here. I’ll probably put some more up when I get a moment.