A monumental feat, Rob Holden is familiar with two-wheeled cycling challenges, having previously tackled the Hour Record on a Boris Bike and ridden a New York CitiBike up Mount Washington. For this latest challenge, Rob faced his most testing ride, the ascent of Mont Ventoux, entirely out of the saddle. After meticulously preparing for the challenge, all that was left was to clip in and get in the sa...Or not.
The start of Mont Ventoux is relatively flat, did that cause issues when riding out of the saddle?
It may sound strange, but it’s almost harder to ride out of the saddle on the flat than up a climb unless you’re actually sprinting. With the right gearing and technique, I managed to ride the lower slopes using minimal energy, but that did require a fair amount of practice.
The climb itself, what were you thinking about during this effort?
It’s very very easy to waste energy when riding out of the saddle so mentally you have to focus on maintaining good technique to be as efficient as possible. There are moments when you’re particularly tired when giving up creeps into your mind. These are the moments when you reflect on the training and preparation, the time and effort put in by other people, the money that has been donated, and the expectation of sponsors. This enables you to push through the pain and discomfort and focus on being strong.
What was the toughest part of the climb for you?
Without a doubt, one kilometre from the top was the toughest part. It was cold, windy and the top of the mountain was shrouded in mist. I was completely alone; I couldn’t see or hear anyone. My hands were numb from the constant pressure on the bars, I was exhausted and I was desperate to change position.
There really wasn’t one specific part of my body that hurt most. My whole body hurt. It’s a full body workout! Also, the constant pressure on the hands and loss of blood flow means your fingers all go completely numb. Although not painful as such, it is an extremely uncomfortable feeling and mentally very difficult to deal with.
Mont Ventoux is notorious for its wind, what were conditions like on the day?
It was warm, sunny and calm at the bottom but by the time I reached the upper part of the mountain, the mist had descended, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped to just seven degrees. Just a few days after the challenge the wind speed at the top was recorded at 125 kph, so in retrospect, we got very lucky indeed!
Fuelling when out of the saddle, how did you go about doing this, if at all?
As I couldn’t stop or take my hands off the handlebars for the entire ride, the only way to fuel was to be fed by someone else. The solution was for Matt to run alongside me at regular intervals to offer fluids from a hydration pack bladder and squeeze gels into my mouth. Although I had to slow down each time the technique worked very well.
The finish, how did it feel to cross the line at the summit?
Pure relief. Emotional. Ecstatic. Knowing all that training and effort was worthwhile, and that you had kept your promise to so many people, it is a great feeling. I was also quite upset that the team had left me completely alone with one kilometre to go just when I needed some encouragement!
I proved to myself, and hopefully to others, that riding for a very long time out of the saddle is possible. I’ve learned that conditioning yourself to riding out of the saddle will make you a much better climber and more versatile rider, and I’m convinced road riders should do it more. If Sir Dave Brailsford is reading this, it could be your next marginal gain. Right now I don’t know what the next challenge is but I do know there are plenty more out there just waiting to be tried!
From all here at Sigma Sports, we'd like to congratulate Rob on completing the challenge. Make a donation to Prostate Cancer UK on Rob's JustGiving page.