At the summit of Mont-Ventoux there is an observatory and a small shop that sells typical tourist tat at inflated prices. To the right of the cluttered sales counter is a single refrigerated drinks cabinet that houses rows of ice cold cokes, with equally entrepreneurial mark-ups. But to the many parched and exhausted cyclists who have ground their way up to the top of the mountain, no price would be too much for a can of Coca-Cola with its cool seductive sheen of dripping condensation.
Along with the cyclists – of all shapes, sizes and nationalities – there were those aimlessly milling around that had been chauffeured to the summit. They fired off snaps from their giant SLR cameras of the valley below and the endless horizon, or idly fingered goat-shaped key fobs in the shop. They were simply stretching their legs after a tedious car journey.
A fat child was blocking my path to the drinks fridge. I had dreamt – near hallucinated – of the taste of ice cold coke on my tongue during the interminable minutes it had taken me to overcome the final kilometres of the climb. Half baked, half fried on the unsheltered slopes. The boy was trying on plastic sunglasses from a rotating carousel. “Excusé moi”, I croaked impatiently to get past. I grabbed a drink and turned to pay at the counter, fumbling with my change. But my path was again blocked by the same boy, stooped low in order to complete his thorough search of the most hopeless collection of eyewear in southern France. His fat arse very nearly found itself with a Mavic cycling shoe quite firmly wedged between its substantial cleft of flesh. Eventually I handed over my money; two Euros fifty was never better spent.
On a curb outside I sat and enjoyed every last drop from the can. However I knew I still had one more ascent of the mountain to make; so far I had managed only the first two. The full weight of the sun beat down, and on the hottest part of a hot day in a hot summer, I again mounted my bike to take on Mont Ventoux for the third and final time. Read the rest of this entry »