27 January 2013

Club des Cingles du Shiroyama

In France, long before the high passes in the Alps (or Pyrenees) are free of snow, cyclists can train for big climbs on Mt Ventoux.  To scale this monster, one ascends from only a few hundred meters above sea level to the summit at 1909 meters.  The mountain is visible from far, far away, the white rock of its upper slopes reflected in the sunlight throughout much of Provence.  And as every road cyclist and fan knows, Mont Ventoux has been the scene of many epic moments in cycling.

Ventoux has a special place in the heart of British cyclists.  The last time Britain was a strong competitor in cycling (until the Wiggins/Cavendish era we now see) was the 1960s, and Ventoux is the location where, in 1967, British cycling great Tommy Simpson collapsed and then died on the last stretch toward the top, his blood containing a mix of amphetamines and alcohol that likely contributed to dehydration and death.  Most recreational cyclists who do the climb will stop and pay homage at the stark granite memorial to Simpson, just a few steps up hill from the place where he came off the bike for one last time.
Tom Simpson, 30 November 1937–13 July 1967
Like many things in cycling, there is always a group that tries to take it to an extreme.  With Ventoux, it is the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux.  Entry into the club is simple -- just complete the climbs up (and down) each of the 3 paved routes to the summit of Mont Ventoux in a single day.   Pez Cycling has a good description of a day spent joining the club a few years back.   The Dutch and Belgians seem most taken with this Club.  Perhaps due to lack of mountains in their home countries worth climbing?

This morning, Sunday, was cold and clear, as Tristan, Tom and I headed for the rolling hills of Onekansen.  (James and Tim also rode the early part of the route, but did not head out Onekan, sticking instead to their regular route).  We found ourselves riding with two Japanese as well, trading places.  I was in the back on the hills, Tom and Tristan in the front, the Japanese usually in the middle.  Tom, of course, had ridden over 210 km on Saturday (Miura Peninsula plus some extra), and was joining us solely for a recovery spin.

Eventually, we made our way onto Machida Kaido, and started to discuss our destination for the day.  It would be too cold for climbing into the high mountains.  No Yanagisawa or Odarumi Passes today.  No Nagano or Chichibu for several months.  We needed to find a hill closer in, one where we could get our work in so we would be ready for big climbs later in the year.

All of a sudden, there it was, staring us in the face:  the ascent to Lake Shiroyama and Honzawa Dam.  There are 3 approaches, the "main road" from the South side, which meets Route 413 at a traffic signal within 500 meters or so of the dam across Tsukui-ko, and the 2 smaller roads up the East side, up parallel valleys that are deceptively gradual until the road rises to 12-15% grade for the last bit.   If one would ride each of these climbs, we would have our own Club des Cingles du Shiroyama!

We started on one of the East side roads and made it as far as a locked gate.  One of the Japanese cyclists -- riding a Canyon CF SLX -- was with us, and neither he nor Tom looked willing to hop the gate, portage over a few meters of snow, and continue up.  So we descended back to the bottom and did the other route up the East side, all the way to the top.  We said farewell to our Japanese friend, descended toward 413 on the South approach, took a left through a tunnel and looped around (and up over one of the shoulder of the great hill) to where this road joined the East side ascent near its bottom.

Sure, the climb is short and we had only done it one and a half times, but with the false starts and looping around the base, it felt almost as if we had climbed it three times.  So we declared the new Club des Cingles du Shiroyama, with Tom, Tristan and myself as its founding members.
Tom and Tristan, having just joined the Club, the awesome climb in the background.
We wound our way back to the Tank Road, then made a quick trip back down Onekan, said farewell to Tom, and Tristan and I had an even quicker trip with tailwind (and titanium travel bike + HED Jet 6 wheels!) down road along the Kawasaki side of the Tamagawa.  85 kilometers, almost 800 meters of elevation gain, and home before Noon.  What more could one hope for in late January.

*A check of Google maps suggests that there may be yet another way up, if it is paved and not blocked off so well as to deter even a determined cyclist.  If so, the club membership rules will be duly amended.  Then again, a check of the Club des Cingles du Ventoux rules page notes that there are 4 routes up Ventoux as well!  A climb up the 3 main routes and the Route Forestiere earns the designation Galerien, while a double Cingle (twice up each main route) in one day wins one the rare and coveted Bicinglette -- if a Cingle is extreme, a Bicinglette is crazy.

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