Thierry Crouzet

Automatic translation from french

Since I go mountain biking with the band Balaruc-les-Bains, I happen to ride with Jean. Each year we must celebrate his birthday at the top of the Ventoux, each year we cancel for one reason or another, this time, for his eighty-second birthday, we attacked the giant of Provence.

Jean is a small branch of vine with angular nose, aquiline nose and clear eyes, often in blue outfit on his blue mountain bike. Former military, he keeps a peremptory side. When he has decided something, it must be done when he has decided and as he has decided, which often leads us into dead ends, which he only accepts to turn away when the obvious imposes on him after having first imposed himself on all, which is the consequence of his character to the extreme, a relentlessness which implies a dazzling, almost supernatural form.

For Jean, to give up is to die. So he continues to live as he has always done, denying old age who nails many others in a couch or precipitates them prematurely in the grave. At seventy-four, on August 27, 2011, he became the eldest galérien du Ventoux climbing four times in the same day the mythical mount of the Tour de France, considered one of the hardest, because without respite from the base to the summit, sometimes so hot that the oxygen seems to be lacking, sometimes cold when the mistral do not stop. On the morning of June 15, 2019, when we meet at six in the morning to take the road to Provence, Jean remains the oldest holder of this record.

Les galériens du Ventoux
The galériens of Ventoux

Initially, we are eight. Gerard, says the Boss, the youngest of ten-year-old Jean, his most faithful companion, shows an indefatigable humor, the only effective weapon against the rigidity of his friend. Nicolas is the youngster of the group, far from being thirty, while Yves, Thomas, Alain, Franck and I are more or less engaged in the fifties.

Les quatre routes, la Forestière en vert
The four roads, the Forestière in green

It is six o'clock, the day rises on Balaruc. Jean gets impatient. No question of being late, but he takes the time to gather for a mission briefing. He unfolds a sketch of the Ventoux where he traced the four ways to reach the summit by road: the most demanding route leaves Bédoin and follows the D974 (in red); on the opposite side, the D974 ends at Malaucène, second departure (in brown); the third being located in Sault, with the climbing taking place via the steeper D164, which joins the D974 at the Reynard chalet, four kilometers from the summit (in purple); finally, the one that Jean chose for us, La Forestière, leaves Bédoin, leaves the D974 after eight kilometers, before taking an old road transformed into a track, which cuts the massif to the north, to join the path of Malaucène ( in green).

It's eight o'clock when we arrive at Bedouin, invaded by a pack of Dutchmen in black shorts and orange jerseys. They are at least three hundred singing and bawling as we prepare. I had not imagined that the Ventoux had become a place of pilgrimage.

We take the D974 well after the Dutch, led by Jean, who already cuts us into two groups, leaving in great conversation The Boss, Franck, Yves and Thomas. The road climbs nicely between pavilions and fields until a hairpin that marks the real beginning of the ascent, with a beautiful 10% immediately, of what to put in leg. Jean plague against latecomers. "They did not take advantage of where it was easy, now that it's starting, they're already far away. "

At the entrance to the forest, a first Dutch waddles in front of us on his race bike. Nicolas takes the lead, with the desire to fight. Alain, who has often climbed the Ventoux, advises him to save himself. Still, we are inexorably approaching the Dutch, while we have won John and Thomas joins us. "They roll too slowly behind, it breaks my legs. In the mountains, it's a story of rhythm. It is sometimes difficult to pedal less quickly than its cruising speed, that's why we scatter on the road.

The Dutch do not do better. They dying one by one on the low side, until we found a good fifty gathered at a refueling point prepared for them, with a big sign: "Drinkpost". A perfect organization.

With our mountain bikes, we go up to 7 km / h average, without hurting us. After 8 km, we stop at the junction of la Forestière to wait for the stragglers, Thomas first, then Jean, then Boss, Yves and Franck. It's a bit like skiing: the last ones always have less time to rest. "Now it's every man for himself," says Jean. We are at the top. "

Thomas, Alain, Jean et Nicolas au départ de la Forestière.
Thomas, Alain, Jean and Nicolas leaving the Forest.
La Forestière
The Forest

Nicolas, Alain, Thomas and I take the lead. Very quickly the sky is covered, we fear that the storm announced for the early afternoon is early, which makes us press a little pace while Thomas is the rubber band behind us. The asphalt cracks, then disappears, remaining in scattered plates that we aim to enjoy the best performance. The percentages are less rough than on the D974, but we speak little, exchanging only some information. "700 m climbed, temperature 17 °, 800 meters, temperature 16 ° ..." When we stop to refuel, Thomas joins us and does not stop, continuing at his own pace. After a hunt that seems interminable, we catch up with it, then put it down. The sky is darkening more and more. I put my sleeves back on. The storm is near.

"1,150 m ascent. After about two hours of pedaling, we leave La Forestière and rejoin the asphalt road of Malaucène, when Nicolas plants an attack to leave me on the spot while I led the train for quite some time. Alain fits him in the wheel, then passes him and lets him go. Above us stands Bald Mountain with its lantern at the top of a sea of ​​pebbles where the road traces a Z.

Le sommet
The top

I do not change pace and little by little gets closer to Nicolas that I catch up to 3 km from the summit. I double it and start to hear him moan behind me. "I tried a bluff, it did not work," he said. I continue with Alain in the line of fire. No time to look at the landscape, dark, wet, threatening, just the smile of the photographers who shoot us and then give us their business cards for us to order commemorative photos. A cyclist with a racing bike is at my height. "It's an Epic? He asks, pointing to my ATV. I approve. "I have one too, an S-Works," he says proudly.

At Specialized, the S-Works are the high-end models, at 10,000 euros. The guy climbs with a Tarmac S-Works, another 10 000 euros, there is more economical as passion. In the United States, they say that cycling is the new golf, a sometimes ostentatious way of displaying one's social level. I do not have time to discuss this with my brief traveling companion, because with his lightweight machine and his 28 mm tires he gives me no chance to take the wheel.

Ma config pour cette sortie, pas de sac à dos
My config for this outing, no backpack

My eyes do not leave the light gray asphalt, which I skirt to the side of white pebbles. I do not even see the milestone announcing the last mile. Just if I hear the free wheels of cyclists thrown fully down the descent to Malaucène. Alain is only a hundred meters away. I am not thoroughly, but I do not have the courage to get high to join him. In my place, Jean would have ripped his guts, out of pride, out of competition, me, I do not ride a bike to prove myself something, but to test the world, to feel the camaraderie between us, so much even we are alone in our effort.

A final turn, I'm almost surprised to get to the top, Alain photograph me, I discover a huge crowd along the final ramp, applause as climbers finish, as for a stage of the Tour. The storm has gone away, the white clouds are cracking to let in the sun, but as soon as they get back on top it's cold, no more than 12 ° and a good wind sweeps us without us finding shelter. Casually, we are at 1909 m altitude. My time: 2:31.

Alain au sommet
Alain at the top
J'en termine
I'm finishing
Nicolas au sommet
Nicolas at the top

Very quickly, Nicolas arrives. I buy to drink, I look at sausages, but resists temptation. The wait begins. Thomas starts about fifteen minutes later. We are cold despite our windbreakers and our sweaters. Jean arrives fifth, about forty minutes after us. He is proud, resplendent, confident. "Not even tired, I climbed at my pace. He did it again. He is already talking about doing it again by road bike during the summer, and we swear to accompany him. We still have to wait for our last three friends for about fifteen minutes, Yves and Franck having stayed with the Boss, tried every meter to turn back. But everyone is here, everyone is happy.

Jean dans la montée finale
Jean in the final climb
Le Boss, Franck et Yves au sommet
Boss, Franck and Yves at the top

I tremble with cold when we attack the descent. We immediately leave the D974 to enter the crest line with red and blue sticks. Here we are surfing a roll of pebbles where our wheels want to crash as soon as we brake too hard. Jean goes to bed. "I twisted my ankle a little bit. But nothing stops him. We dive to the ski slopes that dominate the chalet Reynard, our next stop.

La ligne de crête
The ridge line

The trail splits in two, one lane remains in a ridge line while another rushes down the valley. With Nicolas and Alain, we choose the lower lane, finding ourselves on a mountain bike course with sharp turns and jumps. No one behind. We stop. Franck and Thomas join us. They do not understand why Jean, The Boss and Yves did not follow them and continued straight. "Jean did not want to know anything. "

We make turns and jumps to the ski lifts, then join the road and we stop in front of the chalet. It's sunny, but the dark clouds envelop the summit of the Ventoux. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. Where are they ? On my phone, I look at the map with the mountain bike trails in the area. I understand that our friends have gone to Sault. We call Jean. He too understood his mistake. "We went too far, too low, we have to go back up. They join us twenty minutes later, without really smiling.

No time for a drink or lunch, we fear the rain. We set off at a brisk pace in the Negro combe, a steep path where we veer between stony areas and soft carpet of dead leaves, quite frightening because they can hide treacherous obstacles. No more question of getting lost. At each fork, we gather, consult the map.

Already we welcome, rejoicing in the bright day we are living. A small climb of nothing at all, new descent at the bottom of the train before reaching the village of Saint-Estève, then to find the D974. Do not let Jean attack us in the descent. Never mind, we chase and run down freewheel to Bédoin, where it is sunny while before us the Ventoux range is black, the summit always invisible. We will come back for sure, I hope for a long time to celebrate the birthdays of John.

I'm blown away by its vitality, but I just have to consult the ranking of crazy Ventoux to see that he is not alone in possessing this gift. In 2014, at age 86, Link Lindquist climbed Ventoux three times in the same day. I have always heard "bike, it keeps" and I have proof. It's encouraging, a beautiful lesson in life. Jean has kept repeating: "We must never stop. Of course, the will is not enough, we must also pass through the drops, but there is no reason to give up his dreams, until the end. We celebrated Jean's birthday, and finally it was he who gave us a gift, showing us the way to a full life.

Notre route
Our route

PS: The climb through the Forest would have been perfect gravel, but the descent impossible, so mountain biking was the right bike for me.