The Road to Ventoux- Part 16


The Ventoux3 challenge is all about raising money to support research into mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder) through the Out of the Blues charity. To sponsor me for this go to

I have been very remiss and not written a blog about the Ventoux3 challenge for two months, so this one is a bit longer than usual. While I have not been following a strict training regime during July and August, I have undertaken a couple of key rides in my development as a cyclist.

First up was the Northumberland Cyclone on 3rd July. This was 108 miles long and my first “century ride”. My previous furthest ride had been 88 miles. The route included a number of challenging climbs. Prior to the event I had cycled various bits of the route and all of the climbs, so there was nothing to surprise me on the day. At the start the weather was overcast, but reasonably warm and dry. I probably got carried away a little bit going too quickly over the first few miles. However, I settled into a good rhythm. I was greatly aided by my wife, Alison, and daughter, Ailidh, meeting me at various points along the route to keep me stocked up with fluid and food. Around half-way round, it started to rain and then never stopped for the duration of the ride. My feet got soaked coming down a gradual descent out of Kielder forest. However, my trusty support crew were able to supply me with dry socks in Humshaugh, which was blissful! The final climb was up The Ryals. All of the four Cyclone routes, from shortest to the 108 mile longest one went over this notorious climb that reaches a maximum incline of around 16-17%. By that stage of the ride, it was hard work, but I was really pleased that I coped with this in the knowledge that from there it was down hill then reasonably flat with no significant “lumps” to get over. It took me 6 hours 58 minutes of cycling, 7 hours 18 mins including stops. I was well chuffed with this “break through” ride. The Ventoux3 challenge is not quite as far, but it will take significantly longer……..

Having done one century ride, I felt that I should capitalise on this at the end of July by cycling from Morpeth to Portobello just outside Edinburgh, to visit some friends. This was a little further than the Cyclone at 116 miles. Unlike the Cyclone, the weather was absolutely gorgeous – bright sunshine and a light wind from the East. After applying loads of factor 50, I set off along the National Cycle route 1 up along the coast to Bamburgh, where I stopped for a cup of tea and a cake sitting outside from the castle. From there I started to cut inland to cross the Tweed at Norham. Feeling very full of myself for taking on this century challenge, I asked a couple of cyclists who pulled up next to me waiting to cross the A1 where they were heading. “Lands end to John O’Groats” was the reply, putting me firmly in my place! I stopped in Norham at the Mason’s Arms for a very nice toasty in a sun trap of a beer garden behind the pub, before crossing the river and entering Scotland up the “Bank of Scotland” – a short but sharp climb immediately across the border. From there I headed through some lovely countryside to Duns. This was where the work started, having to cross the Lammermuir Hills. There were three TOUGH climbs, starting in Duns. Again, the scenery was stunning, but I was increasingly just desperate to get to the top of the third one. From there the view was all the way over the Firth of Forth to Fife and I knew it was mainly downhill, just interrupted by a few pesky little “bumps”. It was bliss, when I finally arrived at our friends’ house to sit in their garden with a pint! 7 hours, 38 mins (excluding stops) so not too shabby.

August presented different challenges. Like much of the population, we went for a staycation in this country, spending a week in a cottage in Hawes in North Yorkshire, and then a week in another one in Broadway in the Cotswolds. Both beautiful and both offering cycling opportunities. However, it was North Yorkshire that offered the sternest challenges. Many cyclists will be aware of the book “100 Greatest Cycling Climbs” by Simon Warren, and then his subsequent “Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs” that describe some of the most challenging, beautiful and unique road climbs in the UK. There is both a book and App that lists the climbs with their average and maximum gradient and a rating out of 10 for their difficult based on length, gradient and road quality. Prior to my trip to North Yorkshire I had completed three of the top 200 climbs: The Ryals, #158 and included in the Cyclone, with a maximum gradient of 17% and rated 5/10; Cragpit Hill in Rothbury, #157, maximum gradient 16% and rated 6/10; and my favourite, Winter’s Gibbet climbing up out of Elsdon, #61, maximum gradient 10% (I don’t believe this – its nearer 13-15%) and rated 5/10. So, the toughest climb, according to Simon Warren, that I had ridden prior to my holidays was rated 6/10. Looking at a map around Hawes and there are several top 200 climbs, but little if anything down at the 6/10 level. Frankly I was terrified! I would not countenance the thought of getting off my bike, but how do you physically get up a 20-25% incline? At anything less than say 15% you can choose to push hard or easy. At 20-25% the only option to prevent you from slowing to the point where you fall off is maximum effort – at least that is the case for me! Anyway, I plucked up the courage and did a beautiful loop early one morning going down Wensleydale from Hawes to Leyburn, then over the hills to Reeth in Swaledale, then up Swaledale (with is bumpy!) to Thwaite. From there I took on the Buttertubs pass, famous for it’s inclusion in the Tour de France in 2014. This climb from the North (#49) is tough, having a maximum gradient of 25% and rated 8/10. It nearly did for me! On the steepest section, I lost momentum and swerved across the road, just as a car was overtaking. Fortunately, it was giving me plenty of room. The prize was then a descent from the top back down into Hawes and a late breakfast. Flushed with success at not dying getting up this steep climb, two days later I undertook Fleet Moss (#50, 20% maximum incline but long and rated 9/10). This was at the start of a beautiful ride from Hawes to Warfedale, Bishopsdale and then back into Wensleydale. Fantastic scenery, with plenty of 15-20% sections to get over after the main climb.

Cycling in North Yorkshire is not for the faint hearted, but it is immensely rewarding, both for the scenery and the sense of mastering in managing to get up such punishing climbs. It has helped increase my confidence in climbing. I also did a couple of lovely rides in the Cotswolds. There were still some significant climbs, but nothing on the scale of Yorkshire, but it was nice doing something a little easier!

August has ended with my favourite ride to date, plus Ventoux. The Saturday of the bank holiday weekend was gloriously sunny. I undertook a 66 mile loop from Morpeth to Rothbury, through the Otterburn Ranges to Elsdon and then back to Morpeth via Winter’s Gibbet. The ranges are fantastic places to cycle. They are only open approximately one weekend a month when the MOD is not undertaking any live firing. The roads are mostly in great condition and there is next to no traffic. Over around 15 miles of road, I saw three cars and three cyclists! It is really hard to imagine a more beautiful route than this one, with stunning views at every turn. I am immensely privileged to be living in such a beautiful county as Northumberland. The next day, to build up my strength endurance by training on tired legs, I cycled up Ventoux from Sault (the “easy” route) virtually. This has been a useful exercise in helping to get me focused on what my goal is.

Following this Ventoux ride, I have nailed down the dates for my attempt at the Ventoux3 challenge to Thursday, Friday or Saturday, the 2nd, 3rd or 4th of June. Accommodation is now booked. We just have to decide on whether we are flying or driving there (obviously all COVID dependent!). This has made it all feel a bit more real, so I need to start thinking about getting back into a more formal training schedule. Still lots to do to be able to be strong enough to cope with the challenge of joining Le Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux.

Don’t forget the site that provides a wealth of advice around dealing with isolation, self-management of anxiety and depression. Please have a look at the site and share it with others – there is something there for everybody.

I wish everybody the very best and I hope you all stay healthy. Whatever your situation, try to make exercise of one sort or another a part of your daily/weekly routine. If you want to get involved in the Ventoux3 for Out of the Blues challenge in any way, then drop me an email at

Hamish McAllister-Williams