Brian, Dudley and Mont Ventoux

Following the death of Brian Skidmore we look back to happier times and a holiday he took in France with Dudley Moore. Read on for Brian's ride report – first published in the Woldsman – that includes their ascent of Mont Ventoux and the poignant visit to the memorial to Tommy Simpson.


Ventoux with a coffee connoisseur

Day 1

Dudley and I arrived at Colton, Leeds, in good time for the coach, courtesy of my neighbour Alan. The coach arrived shortly afterwards, bikes and backpacks were stowed as Dudley and I were quickly into our allotted seats and settled down for the long journey through France to Orange, breaking the journey on the ferry (a welcome relief). After many sleepless hours we arrive in Orange just after dawn with the sun streaming through the windows (wonderful). Bikes and backpacks were quickly unloaded and made ready for the journey ahead.

Mt Ventoux 1

Brian at the monument to Tommy Simpson

Walking the bikes the short distance into the town centre we found a restaurant and had breakfast and coffee. Was the coffee up to Dudley’s standard? I’m not sure; he was very non-committal about it! Later we rode out of Orange heading for Carpentras and our hotel stay for the week. The road was undulating and we were both uneasy with the traffic but by ‘eck it was grand to be back on the bikes with the sun on our backs. We arrived early in Carpentras, a commercial site used by early Greek merchants, known to the Romans as Carpentoracte Meminorum, as mentioned by Pliny. The town retains a RomanTriumphal Arch that has been enclosed in the Bishops’ Palace, rebuilt 1640. There is a great scholarly library, founded between 1735 and 1754 containing around 14,000 books known to bibliophiles all over France. Carpentras is also the centre of French Judaism and has the oldest synagogue in France, circa 1367.

On Friday mornings in the winter months there is a truffle market, but in September, when we there, most of the restaurants were closed. We did find one open and after a meal and coffee we headed for the Office de Tourisme, we needed a good map and some recommended routes. We had a walk around the town until it was time to check in at the hotel. Later that evening Dudley and I had a meal at a Chinese restaurant. I don’t know if it was the meal or the coffee but we did not go there again. After another short walk around the town centre it was back to the hotel and an early night. (Day’s ride 20 miles).

Saturday: Day 2, 50 Miles

Breakfast at eight o'clock; this consisted of two bread rolls, two croissants and one orange juice for each person, coffee for Dudley and tea for me, this was to be the norm for the rest of the week. After breakfast we collected our bikes from a very large garage with very large steel doors and a padlock to match, no trouble there then.

We rode out of Carpentras past the aqueduct along the D974 to Bedoin, in Roman times known as Comtat Venaissin, and from 1274-1793 the property of the Popes. Riding in single file as the traffic was quite bad, and the road surface even worse, we arrived safely in Bedion. It was Sunday and every man and his dog seemed to be going up Mont Ventoux. Stopping for coffees we sat in the sun for a while watching the world go by. Dudley and I had decided to have a nice easy day! Leaving Bedoin on the D19 to Flassan stopping at a junction to check the route, we decided to take the D217 to La Gabelle; did I say a nice easy day! Six miles of hard climbing later we crossed the D1 from Sault to Villes-sur-Auzon. It was at this point that Dudley decided to have a fight with the map – I think he lost. A young couple passing by said there might be a café in La Gabelle – no such luck! Then Dudley had one of his good ideas “Lets try Villes-sur-Auson.”

The D1A took us downhill until we joined the D1, a proper downhill(!) stopping at the Combe de L'Hermitage to take in the view. Whizzing down the hill again we soon found an excellent café, good one Dudley. The bikes were put in the garage by a young man and we were escorted through the café to the back garden, wow, it was lovely. We were sitting with others at tables under a roof of vines with an abundance of tiny grapes. The food and drinks (wine) were excellent. There was a humming bird hawk moth flitting along the borders from flower to flower – a rare sight. Yes, we did go back again several times.

Leaving Auzon we rode back through Flassan to Bedoin. Another stop, for an ice cream this time, then back to Carpentras for a shower and rest before going for a meal at an hotel recommended by the lady in reception which was a good choice but a somewhat overpriced for cyclists from Yorkshire! On our way back to the hotel we passed a Chinese restaurant and the decision was made that it was to be the one for tomorrow night. After a short amble around the town centre it was back to the hotel and bed.

Sunday: Day 2, 50 Miles

Breakfast at eight o'clock, this consisted of two bread rolls, two croissants and one orange juice for each person, coffee for Dudley and tea for me, this was to be the norm for the rest of the week. After breakfast we collected our bikes from a very large garage with very large steel doors and a padlock to match, no trouble there then.

We rode out of Carpentras past the aqueduct along the D974 to Bedoin, in Roman times known as Comtat Venaissin, and from 1274-1793 the property of the Popes. Riding in single file as the traffic was quite bad, and the road surface even worse, we arrived safely in Bedion. It was Sunday and every man and his dog seemed to be going up Mont Ventoux. Stopping for coffees we sat in the sun for a while watching the world go by. Dudley and I had decided to have a nice easy day! Leaving Bedoin on the D19 to Flassan stopping at a junction to check the route, we decided to take the D217 to La Gabelle; did I say a nice easy day! Six miles of hard climbing later we crossed the D1 from Sault to Villes-sur-Auzon. It was at this point that Dudley decided to have a fight with the map – I think he lost. A young couple passing by said there might be a café in La Gabelle – no such luck! Then Dudley had one of his good ideas “Lets try Villes-sur-Auson.”

The D1A took us downhill until we joined the D1, a proper downhill(!) stopping at the Combe de L'Hermitage to take in the view. Whizzing down the hill again we soon found an excellent café, good one Dudley. The bikes were put in the garage by a young man and we were escorted through the café to the back garden, wow, it was lovely. We were sitting with others at tables under a roof of vines with an abundance of tiny grapes, the food and drinks (wine) were excellent. There was a humming bird hawk moth flitting along the borders from flower to flower – a rare sight. Yes, we did go back again several times.

Leaving Auzon we rode back through Flassan to Bedoin. Another stop, for an ice cream this time, then back to Carpentras for a shower and rest before going for a meal at an hotel recommended by the lady in reception which was a good choice but a somewhat overpriced for cyclists from Yorkshire! On our way back to the hotel we passed a Chinese restaurant and the decision was made that it was to be the one for tomorrow night. After a short amble around the town centre it was back to the hotel and bed.

Monday: Day 3, 47 Miles

Mont-Ventoux Today.

Today Dudley decided he didn't want coffee for breakfast (!), he wanted Vervenne Thé, not a bad omen I hoped. The day started ok, the morning was cool but the sun was shining so what could go wrong? We made good time to Bedoin as the day warmed up, the overflow car parks were all but empty. However, the town was full of cyclists preparing to go up the hill and some already coming back down! We stopped at a café for a drink before heading off along the road, then the ordeal Started as by this time the sun was high in the sky and getting hotter. We made our way along the road towards Sault and after a short while we turned left (or was it up!) through the forest stopping at regular intervals for a drink and to let our heart rates drop a bit. A lot of young cyclists were passing us at regular intervals (!) then we found ourselves vying for top spot with a Dutch couple, a little younger than us. He was on a mountain bike and the lady was on a Dutch sit up and beg looped frame which looked as though it was capable of carrying a machine gun at the front and half a dozen squaddies on the back! At one point two Aussies Cyclists on mountain bikes, loaded to the gunnels, whizzed past us doing at least 7 mph, in fact the grass at the side of the road was growing faster than we were cycling!!

After a long hard slog we eventually arrived at the cafe, food and drinks were very welcome. We also refilled our water bottles for the rest of the ride. Just as we were preparing to start I noticed a cyclist putting on his helmet back to front – which set me thinking – does he know something we don't? As we started on the exposed section I was beginning to feel more comfortable with the ride, the grub I guess. Anyway Dudley and I made our way up to Tommy Simpson's Memorial. We had been wondering when we would reach Tom’s Memorial but it was still a surprise when we did come upon it, we stopped to take photos each with our own thoughts. I found it quite emotional, as Dudley did. By this time we were quite close to the top (another 2k and Tom would have made it). We rode on stopping a few feet from the top on a flat area to admire the amazing view and take photos. Putting the camera away I followed Dudley the last few yards to the very top joining many elated cyclists taking photographs and enjoying their moment. It was at this point that two French Jet Fighter planes flew overhead and swooped down the other side frightening us to death!

Mt Ventoux 2

Brian & Dudley at the summit of Mont Ventoux

After a short while we started the decent with Dudley’s words ringing in my ears “Keep pedalling or you will get cold!” Flying back down to the café we stopped for more drinks before descending down to Bedoin. At this stage one guy passed me at such a fast pace I nearly got off my bike to see what was wrong with it! We celebrated in Bedoin with a very welcome cold beer before legging it at around 20mph back to Carpentras. After a bath we were off to the Chinese Restaurant for a meal – and very nice it was too.

Tuesday: Day 4, 43 Miles

We left Carpentras making our way through the Roman Arch to Loriol du Comtat to follow a designated way-marked route to Aubignan stopping at a cafe for a coffee in the sun. Then it was on to Beaumes de Venise meandering along small lanes enjoying an easy cycling day. Following a few gentle climbs we reached St Hippolyte Graveyron and on leaving we cycled over a small stone bridge where a fig tree was growing at the edge of the bank. Dudley and I just had to partake. We were still following the way-marks climbing through a lot of vineyards back to our early morning stop indulging in a cool beer before making our way back to Carpentras crossing the busy roads and back through the Roman Arch looking for a bike shop on our way but with no luck. We had enjoyed a pleasant easy day rounded off with a very nice evening meal.

Wednesday: Day 5, 57 Miles

This was a ‘back to climbing’ day. We left the hotel and made our way through several typical French towns with the usual bars catering for the locals and the likes of us. We sat outside a bar people watching and taking in the atmosphere. Moving on through St Didier – Venasque – Malemort – Blauvac and St Esteve, breaking our journey at Villes Sur Auzon for lunch at our favourite café. Replete we started on a long climb to the Gorges Nesque passing through one or two small tunnels at which point, on rounding a bend, two motorcyclists passed where the route curved round to the left and then uphill to the right. It took them forever to reach the top and disappear. Dudley and I knew we were confronted with another mega climb and as we had planned a challenging ride on Friday it was felt prudent not to go any further. On our return we passed a lady from NZ with a fully loaded touring bike heading for the hills that we had chickened out on. We did warn her about the hills but she chose to carry on leaving Dudley and I feeling ‘wimpish’. Sadly I thought that at this point my camera batteries had run out, however, I found out later I had accidentally switched to the video setting (no more photographs for that day!). We headed back to Villes sur Auzon for coffee into a very strong head wind that necessitated two more coffees in Marzan! On the way back into Carpentras riding into dappled sunlight under some trees I rode into the kerb and did the best somersault that Dudley had seen in ages! No damage done to the bike or me.

Thursday: Day 6, 41 Miles

This was the day when Dudley wanted to visit Chateauneuf- du -Pape, his love of wine necessitating the visit. Leaving Carpentras through the Roman Arch once again we took a different route heading for Sarrians, Vacqueyras, stopping at Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The whole town seemed to be full of wineries and cafes. Dudley was in his element. Following lunch we strolled around Dudley trying to make up his mind whether it should be one bottle or two! We meandered back to our hotel through undulating countryside and busy towns.

Friday: Day 7, 57 Miles

This was to be a challenging ride towards Sault but we both agreed afterwards it was our best ride. Leaving Carpentras we took a busy road (D942) through a very industrialized area to Mazan and then on to Villes-sur-Auzon stopping at our favourite café again before taking the road up past the Combe de L’Hermitage. This was not my best start to the day as I was suffering from the intensity of the sun, nevertheless I plodded on behind Dudley over the Col-des-Abeilles and down the long drop on the other side stopping at Monieux where we had a problem finding the restaurant. The meal was excellent and this is where the waitress fascinated me as she appeared to float too and fro between the tables. I asked her if she was a dancer and she replied that she had been a jazz dancer. Dudley was not amused but we did agree on the menu and which way to go back taking a minor road to Nesque and various climbs which I enjoyed after my bad start. Dudley reckons I ride better after a good meal!

Later we reached a viewpoint where it was time for a photo shoot before descending down a narrow winding road to St-Hubert. The road became more winding with enormous long cracks which gave the impression that the road was likely to fall away into the valley below. We continued along until we reached Methamis where we stopped for refreshments returning via Malemort-du-Comtat to Carpentras. After welcome baths it was back to the Chinese Restaurant for another very good meal.

Saturday: Day 8, 31 Miles

Saturday was a wind-down day, a day when we went through d’Aubane and ambled through various towns along a lane which Dudley said was the right direction but only if you wanted to go into a field! On the return from the field we found a large fig tree where we proceeded to eat a few figs (!). Later we came upon a very nice restaurant at Seguret where we dined al fresco, the meal was excellent. Following a steady ride back we called at Sarrians for ice creams. As it was our last evening we decided to push the boat and go to the hotel again recommended by the receptionist at our accommodation. Another excellent meal and wine was very much appreciated by both of us.

Sunday: Day 9, 40 Miles

This was the day we returned to Orange for the pick-up at 6.10 pm. We chose a different route to go back which took us through Aubignan – Sarrianns – Bedarrides to Chateauneuf-du-Pape where we had lunch and Dudley finely bought some wine. Completing our ride to Orange we were later picked up by coach, delivering us to the Ferry. On arrival back in the UK the weather was extremely wet. There was to be a change of plans as we had talked of cycling home from Leeds but after a phone call a kindly relative came to the rescue and drove us to my home. We both achieved our goals and enjoyed doing so and Dudley was a good companion for our week’s adventure.

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