Thursday, June 11, Valence-Mont Ventoux, 154km
David Millar is going like the TGV trains which hurtle across the Drome region – direction the Cote d’Azur – where the Dauphine has been these past two days.
We followed him briefly during yesterday’s TT and he was cruising at 36mph on the flat, with a favourable wind. He often rides with his head down but his coup de pedale – literally punching of the pedals – is as sweet as can be. Third on the stage was a good result behind Evans and Grabsch.
Today we left the flat terrain, ringed with low jagged hills around Valence, and headed south through the fragrant lavender fields and bushy green vineyards of the southern Drome and Vaucluse. The warm scent of pine trees to me evokes the true south of France, and memories of holidays on the Med.
If you get a chance ride the fourth category Col de la Madeleine, do so because it’s a very different prospect to its fearsome Alpine cousin. South of Malaucene, the village due west of Ventoux, it’s lined with pine trees and is beautifully surfaced with perfect bends and not too steep or long. It’s like a millionaire’s private training col.
Ventoux, however, is what all the cyclists are here for, and there are a lot of them at this time of year, tooling up and down its great flanks. Ventoux does not look that forbidding until you spot the tiny radio tower, atop a little bald patch of cream rock. Then it dawns how far away and remote looking is the 1909 metre summit. Up close the white painted square concrete tower and mast are big.
I was expecting to see Millar’s team mate Dan Martin put in a big ride on Ventoux but it was Millar himself who pedalled fluidly past us on a hairpin bend in the front group near the bottom of the climb.
He lost contact a while later but the stalemate between Evans and Contador played into his hands and on the unforgiving final ramps, where the trees are replaced by a uniform scree of bone-coloured rocks, he came back to the leading group.
I just had time to catch sight of the Simpson memorial and Millar’s ride today would have met with Tom’s approval. It also moved him up to fourth place overall.
Two years ago Millar and Bradley Wiggins rode past the memorial in this race a long way behind the leaders. Neither were team mates but they had plenty of time to doff their hats to Simpson as they passed the stone memorial.
Two years on it’s good to see both riders (see Wiggins in the Giro), now Garmin team mates, perhaps inspiring each other (and goaded by Cavendish?) to show their true potential at the highest level on the road.
Luke Evans is a cycling journalist, author and former editor of Cycle Sport magazine. In his spare time, he pilots top cycling photographer Graham Watson at the races. Currently, he’s taking Graham around the Dauphine Libere in France. You can see Graham’s photos in our gallery section.