Mont Ventoux is one of cycling’s great monuments. The highest peak in Provence, it’s been featured 18 times in the history of the Tour de France and the source of high drama and tragedy. Every year, the mountain draws huge numbers of recreational cyclists wanting to test themselves on the climb and connect with a tangible piece of cycling history. This year, Paul Rozelle joined those ranks and tackled the mountain as well.
Rozelle is an American randonneur. He traveled to France this summer to ride Paris-Brest-Paris and decided to take a side trip to Mont Ventoux three days before the start of PBP. Rather than simply ride it once, Rozelle rode each of the three roads and the unpaved fire road that lead to the summit in order to earn a medal that the Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux awards for doing so. Adding to the extraordinary difficulty, Rozelle rode the whole thing on the only bike he’d brought for PBP, his fixed gear. Three days after completing the Mont Ventoux challenge, Rozelle went on to ride PBP in 80:01!
Rozelle wrote a great ride report on a randonneuring Google Groups listserv about his experience on Ventoux. He graciously gave me permission to republish the story here along with some photos he took that day. The report is long, so I’ve added links below to the start of each “chapter” to help you navigate and/or pick up where you left off if you don’t read it all in one sitting. Enjoy!
In 1982, John Marino gave start to one of the hardest, longest, Ultra-endurance races in the world. It has come to be called the Race Across America, but its first incarnation was The Great American Bicycle Race. The 2,968 mile route went from the Santa Monica Pier in LA to the Empire State Building in New York. Only four racers participated: John Marino, John Howard, Michael Shermer, and Lon Haldeman (the race winner).
RAAM has since grown in size and popularity with around 200 solo racers and many more two- and four-person team racers, but it is still a relatively-obscure, niche cycling event. Its modern semi-obscurity is part of the reason it’s so amazing that ABC’s Wide World of Sports was there to cover the very first race. And the Internet being what it is, some kind soul has uploaded the coverage of the race to Youtube in 10 parts.
Mark Thomas knows his randonneuring. The current head of the Seattle International Randonneurs (the largest rando club in the United States), former head of Randonneurs USA, and current RUSA board member, Mark has been riding brevets all over the world, organizing events, and promoting randonneuring for well over a decade. For those unfamiliar, randonneuring is a self-supported, timed, long-distance event where riders follow a set route 100-1200 kms long (roughly 60-750 miles) stopping at checkpoints along the way. It probably goes without saying that Mark and I talked randonneuring–specifically the highs and lows of long-distance riding, the progression of this niche-subsport of a niche sport, and what it will take for randonneuring to keep growing in the U.S.