CS Grupetto

We are a little bit different to most clubs in that we\'re primarily a group of friends who socialise off the bike, but we happen to share a common interest in cycling and cyclesport. We are based in Putney and have regular weekend rides out to Windsor and the Surrey Hills, as well as occasional trips elsewhere.

We have a wide variety of cycling interests amongst club members, from track riding to road racing, and sportives to bike polo. Several of our members have their race licences, and we\'re represented in every category including Elite

We regularly travel further afield to enjoy some of the classic races – this year quite a few of us have ridden the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix sportives, and then watched the pros follow our tyre tracks. We also try and get to see the Ghent and Berlin six day track events.

At the core of the club ethos is a desire to enjoy good rides with good friends.


Joining the Club de Cingles 2014


Two years ago I went on a last-minute cycling holiday to Provence and ended up cycling up two of the sides of Mont Ventoux. I knew then that I wanted to come back to complete the three sides ‘officially’ and join the Club des Cinglés.


I was accompanied for this challenge by Henry, a close friend of mine, and Dan, a fellow Grupetto member, who wanted to ride up it once….or maybe twice, but not three times.

We booked a three person apartment in the ‘Carpe Diem’ campsite in Vaison which was very basic and small but cheap and served its purpose perfectly…..once we’d found the hidden toilet roll.


Henry has a good sized van which seats three so we placed our fully built up bikes in the back, stacked our suitcases and drove down to Provence via the Eurotunnel in a single day. Unfortunately for Henry, neither Dan or I have a licence so he had to drive the whole way having had to get the sleeper train from Scotland the night before! We supplied the ‘entertainment’ for the 14 hour trip.

The next morning we went to the local market to buy saucisson, Comte, olive oil and some other bits for lunch. The weather was great but there was a gusty wind, not a great omen for the following day.

Before lunch we got out on the bikes for a 40k recce of the area. We actually ended up riding 6k up Ventoux from Malaucene just to remind the legs what climbing felt like, followed by the beautiful road between Maulacene and Bedoin, which takes in the Col de la Madeleine (no, not that one). The wind on the way back was pretty severe, especially as we were trying to save any legs we did have.

Lunch was fantastic – the local produce combined with the ‘carb-loading’ attitude meant a large amount of bread and a fair few saucisson were consumed. We spent the rest of the afternoon winding round the back roads of Provence, popping into notable vineyards that had been recommended to us. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and, now I’m back, my only wish was that I bought more cases!

In the evening we had a relaxing pizza in Vaison watching the sun go down. The summit of Ventoux had been shrouded with cloud all day, but as the day rolled round to dusk this started to gently slip away.

A beautiful bright morning greeted up when we woke up. We had planned to be at Maulacene for 8.15 to start the first climb, but even with thorough preparations the three of us managed to lose an hour somewhere.
We drove to Bedoin with the van so we had emergency food plus spare wheels and clothes if we needed them for the second and third ascents. Henry and I waved goodbye to Dan as we needed to get cracking and he wasn’t on as tight as schedule as us. We used the 10k ride to Malaucene as a warmup, which included a beautiful climb of around 200m, which provided the perfect warm-up.


The first ascent was great, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect and I felt pretty good once my body was over the shock that I was going to be climbing for a long time. There is a tough middle section of that climb where it lifts from 7-8% to 11-13% but strangely that was where I really found my rhythm and my body starting responding well to my efforts.
It really flattens out after that and I started feeling great. I knew I was on decent time if I kept this pace so I had a gel which had me feeling strong up to the top. A large amount of snow in the corner of one hairpin made me laugh – it was a strange feeling to be at a comfortable temperature in just bibs and jersey but with my breath visible in front of my face.

I climbed the first side in in 1 hour 29 mins, knocking 10 mins off my previous time – I had set 1 hour 30 as a sort of target so I was pleased with that. Henry came in just a few minutes later. It was pretty nippy up there so we got our ride cards stamped, layered up and hit the descent to Bedoin. This was the first mountain descending I had down on a carbon braking surface which took a bit of getting used to, but halfway down that side I was confident enough to start throwing myself into corners and enjoying myself. It was very busy with riders and cars coming up (the cars seemingly full people going up to Chalet Reynard for lunch) which meant a few hairy moments on corners but nothing dangerous.


At the bottom we grabbed some food and Nuun tablets from the van, refilled our bottles and got our cards stamped again before hitting the second ascent.
The climb out of Bedoin starts really gently before hitting a wall of 10 percent, which lasts for 10 sapping kilometers.
Starting this section Henry was tapping out a solid rhythm which I was struggling to maintain. This was the hardest part of the whole day – I was really struggling to keep plugging away as the gradient is unrelenting. It’s the warmest side to climb as it’s shielded from the wind by the surrounding forest. Without a breeze to keep me cool the sweat was literally pouring of me.
There is nothing to do but grit your teeth and keep going, ticking off the KM signs as they come. This was where riding with someone else really helps – a bit of chat and companionship through the pain. About 2kms from the end of this section I suddenly felt stronger, much as I had on the tough section of the first climb.
For me, mountain riding is hugely psychological. When you feel good there is almost no better feeling (well, in cycling anyway) but when you feel low it’s hard just to keep going. You just have to know that when you get through the tough patch it will at some point get easier.

Exiting the forest you Cycle past Chalet Reynard and into the ‘lunar landscape’. The gradient actually lessens from the forest section but you then have to contend with the gusting winds. We were lucky that the wind was fairly benign (compared to how it often is) but unfortunately the summit had become wreathed in swirling cloud.

I had a gel and continued to feel good, but this was where Henry really started to hurt (so he told me afterwards) and he started drifting away. I would love to say I dropped back and gave him my wheel, but in the mountains you just have to climb how you can climb at that point. We had agreed before starting to ride at our own pace and treat anytime spent together as a bonus, so I don’t think he minded.

There were numerous riders climbing toward the summit at the same time including a big group from the ‘Flandrian’ club. They were having a great time, and as I passed them one said something to the effect of ‘Grupetto? You’re not in the Grupetto!’ and all his mates (and I) laughed. Well, it felt funny at the time.
I managed to keep a good pace while riding into the cloud. The temperature did drop a bit but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

At the top there are a few market stalls selling biscuits, sweets and, of course, saucisson. I’d run out of bars so I filled up with biscuits for the both of us. Henry was 4-5 mins behind me, and once we had recovered (a can of coke helped) we got going before a chill set in.

As we descended to Chalet Reynard we prepared ourselves for the long descent to Sault on a notionally poor (well, by French standards) road surface. Instead of that we were treated to possibly the smoothest blacktop I’ve ever ridden on – they had just resurfaced the entire road, almost the entire 26 kilometers. It’s a great descent and very different from the other two as it’s much shallower, you actually have to pedal down this one. At this point I really wished I had a standard chainset on as I kept spinning out on my 50t chainring. However it was still great fun, with some superb corners to test you. Nearing the end of the descent we left the trees into a field and I was enveloped by a cloud of lavender scent. It’s a shame that neither of us were using Raphas ‘Eau de Provence’ chamois cream!

We stopped for a baguette in Sault then had a slightly frustrating search for the bike shop, who then stamped our cards with a cheery smile.

The climb back up started in the open lavender fields, with nasty headwind for the first section of the climb. Once we got into a rhythm the kilometers just ticked along and as the road wound it’s way around the mountain we happily had the benefit of the wind pushing upwards. The road really flattens out near end and I had the slightly unusual sensation of riding uphill at over 30kph. Soon enough we were nearing Chalet Reynard for the second time, and this time the cloud had lifted around the summit. This gave us a nice mental boost as we had envisaged riding into a rain cloud (or worse), however the real struggle of the day was just starting.
The wind was much stronger this time which made switchbacks really nasty. Cycling up a 8% incline into a block headwind is quite a challenge, especially considering the 4,500 metres we had already done. However from here you can see the summit so the pain is almost over.
With 3kms to go my legs and body felt totally empty. The rest of the climb was one of the toughest times I’ve experienced on a bike. There were groups of family and friends cheering on their loved ones and they were giving every rider going past a huge amount of encouragement which kept me smiling. When I finally made it to the top, body shaking with the effort it was so beautiful (and warm!) that I tried to take it all in. The views from the summit are breathtaking (not that I had much breathe left). We both took photos but, as is always the way with these panoramic views, you lose so much of the scale and majesty. I just tried to soak up as much as I could while I was up there.
I sent Dan a text saying we had finished and he replied instantly saying he was in Malaucene with a beer. We didn’t hang around long after that!

This descent was almost empty of cars and riders. This is my favourite descent in the world…….and I knew a cold beer was waiting at the end of it. Henry had an worrying moment where we were speeding down a long straight at nearly 90kms an hour when his bike had a speed wobble. I was behind him and it looked like his bike was trying to shake itself apart. He managed to control it and slow down without any trauma but obviously he took it a bit easy after that. I was very happy on my sturdy metal bike at that point!

At the end of the descent there is a shop called ‘Ventoux Finisher’ where we got our final stamp. They sell a special Club des Cingles jersey there but the design is pretty awful so neither of us bought one – €50 is a bit steep for something you wouldn’t wear! We had a beer in the sun then had to cycle a final 10k with some more climbing to get back to the van in Bedoin.


It was a day I’ll always remember. We had incredible luck with the weather – the day before the wind was twice as strong and the summit was covered in cloud the whole time.

We had some superb, challenging riding, beautiful scenery, great food and drink and the company was alright too. In the evening we even managed to have a slightly drunken heated debate about doping. The boxes were ticked.