Ventoux is one of those climbs that left a lasting impression; for me road cycling Mont Ventoux and the summer is what road cycling is about.
I was 19 years old and in my first year as a pro, riding the Dauphiné. The Ventoux was my first experience of a truly big Hors Category climb and as we rode up from Maulcelene I was finding it tough; I suffered from allergies during the summer months, so my eyes were swollen and I was finding it hard to breathe. I remember feeling a sense of panic as I gasped for breath.
Bernard Hinault had already won five stages of the race and I was third in the GC but on that day he was a good teammate – he pushed me a couple of times when I was finding it really tough. Being able to stick with Hinault was a confirmation that despite not being on top form I wasn’t far off my best and that I could stay with the top riders.
Three years later I did the Dauphiné again. I was in the yellow jersey with Pascal Simon from Peugeot just behind me on GC. It was dry and really hot, over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, just like you imagine the Ventoux to be, with that heat haze coming off the white, limestone rock and that fierce Mistral wind whipping up the dust. I loved the heat, that’s what I thrived on and just like California where I grew up.
On that day I was feeling superb and I attacked Pascal Simon right at the bottom, just outside of Bédoin before you hit the forest. Simon came back to me, and so we road together swapping turns on the front. But then, towards the mid-section, he kicked and did this massive sprint. He was in his big chain ring, riding away from me up this steep climb. I tried to follow him but I just couldn’t do it and I blew up. It was the first time I ever blown like that on a climb. I lost a minute and half that day and the yellow jersey. Maybe I was a little over confident but he was so incredibly strong.
I wished we could have raced Ventoux in the Tour de France but sadly I never did. I have the greatest respect for the climbs where I suffered the most and on Ventoux I really did suffer.