Our Wheelbase Yorkshire head mechanic Ben Wood is setting off for the Giant of Provence tomorrow on his #roadtoventoux challenge.
Along with fellow Yorkshireman Andy North, the pair will set out from our store in Ilkley to ride 12,000 miles, through seven countries all the way to Mont Ventoux. The motivation behind the challenge is to raise money for CandleLighters Yorkshire, a charity which offers support for children facing cancer.
Ben took some time out from his heavy training schedule to talk us through the challenge.
What is #roadtoventoux?
Road to Ventoux consists of 2 riders travelling 1200 miles, travelling through 7 countries with 100’000 ft of ascent from Yorkshire to Mt. Ventoux self supported.
We have always been obsessed with adventure – the idea of just swinging the leg over the old push iron and setting off into the sunset and forgetting about daily life. Andy North and I had always wanted to do a self supported ride and a couple of years ago we just got together and started throwing this idea around. Where could we ride? How many countries could we visit? In the past we had always had a support team and this creates a different set of challenges. Riding solo or self supported riding brings another element to riding your bike. As you can imagine the old imagination runs wild and when we both get together we seem to push each other and egg each other on with a bigger or harder idea. There’s many times we have to step back and get real, but we just love bouncing ideas around. The idea of #roadtoventoux was born after we had achieved an unbelievable feet in 2015 when we set a world record with world record holders republic, riding up and down Mt. Ventoux enough times to ride into space. We called this challenge “Race to Space”. The idea was to reach the height of the “stratosphere” by bike, that’s 100’000 ft of ascent. The goal was to ride Mt. Ventoux 19.3 times in the fastest possible time individually. 3 of our team made this unbelievable feat over 4 days 16 hrs and 24 minutes with very little sleep.
So this year we decided we would ride back to Mt. Ventoux from Yorkshire and achieve the same elevation over a 10 day period and once again pay homage to “The Giant of Provence”, an old friend of ours.
Why are you doing this challenge and what’s the motivation behind Road to Ventoux?
Our biggest motivation for doing this challenge is to raise money and awareness for a charity very close to our hearts, CandleLighters Yorkshire. There’s no bigger motivation for us than riding our bikes in support of others. CandleLighters Yorkshire offers practical and emotional support for children dealing with cancer. What we are about to do is nothing compared to what children dealing with cancer are going through. For us this is a massive motivation. If we can help just one family in this situation it’s well worth it.
What training and preparation have you done for this trip?
The training for this trip started Autumn last year. At first it was plenty of base miles. In the summer I did quite a few long rides of 150 miles plus and plenty of 100 miles rides out to the coast and back. Sometimes the rides were long and slow, focusing on climbing and feet gained and other times it was about achieving a certain distance or back to back rides. As a full time mechanic at Wheelbase Yorkshire I’m on my feet a lot through the week and recovery is hard. Especially when you are riding in the morning and in the evening. Topping that off with long rides at the weekend can sometimes leave you feeling tired at the start of a new week.
Both myself and Andy North both practice yoga and do strength exercises off the bike and this really helps with our strength and flexibility, and keeps injuries at bay. With the plan of riding through the alps we have also been doing blocks of Altitude training and this has really helped with our overall fitness. We also had a great week in the Murcia region in spring riding mountains and generally building fitness and speed. This challenge will all be about how we manage being on the bike for 10 hours every day over a 10 day period. We have ridden a few tester days, carrying our own kit in spring. This was mainly to get a feel of how the challenge would work and give us ideas of how it feels to climb with more weight on the bike.
What is your biggest fear on a challenge of this scale and how do you overcome this?
My biggest fear has always been that I haven’t prepared enough, you always worry you haven’t done enough or you could have done more. Also the amount of times you think you have forgotten something or maybe should have packed this or that. I think practice makes perfect and if you practice packing your kit, or challenging yourself over multiple days, you soon start to learn how your legs will feel, or what you should have brought with you. If you forget it once and I’m pretty sure you won’t do it again. But you have to believe in yourself. You always have fear or self doubt, no matter what your goals or aims are, but sometimes it’s how you turn that round and stay positive. In training the amount of failed rides I’ve had when I just didn’t have the legs or the weather caught you out only adds to your inner strength. You can use this and draw on this when the ride gets really tough. In your head you can use this experience to build your character. I’ve been known to just start laughing when every bit of planning has some how gone out the window. Sometimes you have to pull everything back in to prospective and remember why you’re doing this. We ride bikes for fun and to have adventures. The amount of times I have run out of day light on a winters day and forgotten to bring my lights with me is just unbelievable, in my head I have 8 hours to get round and then somehow the weather has different ideas and I’ve had a head wind from hell slowing me down all the way home. All of these things can be drawn on when the going gets tough. Don’t be afraid to fail but also learn from your mistakes and put these in to practice in training. Eating on the bike takes practice, long rides take practice and if you don’t try to hit your targets then this is sometimes is where fear can creep in. Stick with it and look at long term goals. Little and often brings bigger rewards than just one massive ride weekly.
What kit are you carrying and how do you pack for a trip of this scale?
Kit choice has been so hard for a trip of this scale. 1200 miles through 7 countries brings lots of kit problems. Even with the amount of challenges we have done over the years, this trip at times has blown my mind when preparing kit. The distance we are travelling and the amount of different weather conditions we could encounter is off the scale. The hardest thing is knowing that we will have to carry spare kit with us over the biggest mountains in the world so stripping everything back and packing as light as possible has been really difficult, but not impossible.
We are using Alp kit bags and these bags will help us travel as light as possible. We are using a large saddle bag and this is where most of our clothes and spare kit will go. Then a smaller long slim top tube bag where spare tools, tubes, pump and nutrition will live. Currently our spare kit, food etc is weighing in around 3 kilos which is light including the bags, but I still feel this could be lighter.
My favourite pieces of kit from Le Col that we will be using is the pro jerseys and bib shorts. These are light and fast pieces of technical kit that will keep us warm and dry. Match that up with Le Col aqua thermal gilet, arm and leg warmers and you are ready to take on any weather and any mountain.
I’ve also stumbled on some amazing finds, the biggest issue for me was shoes. When you get to your hotel what do you stick on your feet? You can’t walk round in cycling shoes all night or go barefoot. What if you have to walk any distance for any reason when out on the journey. Most lightweight running trainers are at least 1/2 a kilo in weight. Plus the bulk and size of them. So I spent many hours looking for alternatives. I finally found something that would suit my weight obsession and would be still practical. Martial arts pumps. Black slip on socks with a rubber sole. 171 grams per pair. They fold flat and can be rolled up. It’s things like this that make this kind of challenge hard. You’re always learning. Some of our tester rides I was carrying trainers and it was such a dead weight. I knew I had to shed this weight and give me room for a spare pare of bib shorts etc.
Also layering up is the answer. Some coats, jackets are so heavy, yes they will keep you warm, but when you wrap them up they take up an incredible amount of space. I’ve opted for a gilet, arm warmers, leg warmers and a couple of base layers with a fully waterproof jacket to protect you from the elements. If the weather gets super tough I will stick every item of clothing I have on. My other favourite items are neoprene gloves and Spatz over shoes. When it’s raining all day these products are really worth their weight in gold.
Most of my small items like chamois cream, sun tan lotion etc I’ve found the smallest tub or sachet that will last over 10 days. The biggest issue we have had is nutrition. You can carry 10 gels with you, that’s more than a kilo right there. Stopping and re-fuelling naturally is the only way on a trip of this scale.
Bike-wise our Cannondale and Orbea bikes are equipped with Shimano Dura-ace / Ultegra groupset. Paired with Mavic Ksyrium Pro Sl carbon wheels. These wheels are super light but offer great comfort and amazing breaking performance in all weather conditions. Gearing wise we’ve opted for 34 – 50 ratio at the front and 11-34 cassette at the back. This gearing will really help in the mountains when carrying added weight. We have been testing and using Absolute black oval chainrings at the front of the bike and this has made a massive difference to both me and Andy. These rings help you turn the cranks easier in the 12 – 3 o-clock position and really help you get on top of your gearing specially when climbing. We have both found these rings keep your legs fresher for longer over really hard rides.
Photos courtesy of Kev Hiscoe Photography.