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Ventoux Unsaddled

Preparing For A Cycling Challenge Like No Other

On Saturday 6th October 2018 one intrepid cyclist set about taking on a challenge previously never attempted, to ride Mont Ventoux entirely out of the saddle without stopping. No mean feat so, with a support crew in tow, stock road bike and a carefully planned training schedule, the aim was; 1. See if it was possible 2. Raise awareness and money for Prostate Cancer UK. This is Rob Holden's story of how he prepared for this monumental challenge.

Rob Holden Riding a Gran Fondo

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your cycling history?

I’m a 51-year-old Exploration Geologist living in Teddington, Surrey. I grew up in Nelson, Lancashire, getting my first bike when I was 14 years old. From that point, I was hooked. I raced as a junior, taking part in time trials, road races, cyclocross, and even what was the first organised triathlon in the UK, in 1982, aged 16. I got heavily into triathlon during university and then again in my 30’s competing at Ironman level, including a GB age-group team spot at the long course world championships in Denmark.

After moving to Vancouver, Canada, I started mountain biking and raced endurance events for five years. When I arrived back in London in 2011, I got back on the road bike and, although my racing days were over, European gran fondo’s and setting personal cycling challenges became my main cycling objectives.

Can you tell us about your previous challenges?

Our first crazy challenge was to rent a London Boris Bike and see if we could take it down to the South of France, ride up Mont Ventoux, then return the bike to London within the allowed 24 hour rental period; we made it by a matter of seconds. This inspired us to try a bigger challenge, so the following year we set about tackling one of the toughest road climbs in the world; the Mount Washington Auto-Road in the US.

Rob Holden Boris Bike Hour Record Challenge

The challenge involved flying to New York City, renting a New York city bike (exactly the same as London’s Boris Bike), then drive it to Mount Washington, New Hampshire, ride the mountain on the city bike, then retrace our steps back to NYC and return to London, all within 36 hours. Despite multiple problems along the way and a missed flight, we landed with half an hour to spare to complete another successful challenge.

The following year was our final Boris Bike challenge. This time a more fun local one which involved setting a World (Boris Bike) Hour Record one week preceding Bradley Wiggins Hour Record at the Olympic Velodrome. Despite slightly breezy conditions at Herne Hill outdoor track, we set a distance of 19.44 miles.

Why did you choose to raise awareness and money for Prostate Cancer UK?

We have raised over £20,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support from the previous three challenges. We decided we would support a different cause this time. Prostate cancer has been very much in the news in 2018, raising awareness for men of my age and to encourage regular check-ups. I also have a close friend who has suffered badly this year from the disease. Given the irony of not being able to sit down during the challenge, we thought it was a perfect match for the out of the saddle theme.

Alberto Contador

How did the idea to ride a bike without a saddle up a mountain come about?

I’ve always been a fan of watching the Grand Tours on TV. I love the different styles of riders, especially over the past 10 years with riders like Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, and the debate raging….should we sit or should we stand? All the common industry advice says we should generally sit while climbing except when it gets very steep, but I wondered what the limits to riding out of the saddle actually were. Was Contador a freak of nature or was he onto something? Since no one has attempted to test the limits of endurance riding out of the saddle, we thought it would be an innovative and interesting challenge, and perhaps contest some of the commonly held beliefs.

Mont Ventoux

Why did you choose Mont Ventoux?

It’s quite simple really. We needed to choose a very long, tough and iconic road climb and Mont Ventoux ticked all the boxes. We’d also been there before, on the Boris Bike challenge, so knowing what to expect was extremely valuable from a planning perspective.

The bike you used, were any special adjustments made to it for the challenge?

We used a standard carbon road bike, albeit a very light high-end one, the Cannondale Synapse Dura-Ace Disc Road Bike. The handlebars were double taped for extra padding and made sure the stem height and brake levers were at a comfortable height and angle. The wheels were vitally important so we chose a pair of lightweight Knight Composites 35 TLA Carbon Clincher Disc Chris King R45 Wheelset which was fantastic. We didn't install bottle cages as they weren’t needed, and finally, we removed the saddle and seatpost.

We used the standard Synapse gearing with a 50/34 Hollogram chainset and 11-30T cassette. This is lower geared than I normally ride but was comforting to know there were very low gears should I need them. I’m happy to say I didn’t need the 30!

Rob Holden Strade Bianche Gran Fondo

Training, how did you prepare physically for this challenge?

Despite a fractured pelvis after a fall in the spring, I managed to get to the start line in decent shape. The training consisted of weekly core strengthening circuits in the gym; step machines, which are great at mimicking out of the saddle riding by strengthening the calf, glute and quadricep muscles, and longer, standing efforts on a spin bike which helped to build endurance. As I also do a bit of rock climbing I’m regularly at the indoor climbing wall which really helps build upper body strength and general core conditioning.

A few weeks before the challenge, I took my bike to the French Alps and rode a long, 13km climb. It was horrendous and I couldn’t manage more than 30 minutes without resting. That was particularly worrying and meant I went to Mont Ventoux feeling it was 50:50 whether the feat was achievable. 

Ventoux Unsaddled Support Crew

Who were your support crew?

Matt Winstone and Ian Laurie are the other members of the team. Ian shoots and edits the video footage, while Matt organises the logistics and makes sure I arrive at the start line fully prepared. Matt, for this challenge, would also make sure I was fed and watered at the right moments during the ride. We would also have great support from Craig and Vicky at VeloVentoux (cycling holidays) who would provide invaluable advice and support for the team throughout the weekend.

Bike prepared, training complete and support crew assembled, all that was left now was to head out to the slopes of Mont Ventoux to begin the challenge.

Ventoux Unsaddled Part One

About the Author

  • About Dan: After racing in Britain and France, Dan can now be found tackling gran fondos and riding around Dorset, Surrey and Essex.
  • Article Published On: 07 January 2019

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