Col De Lussette and Mont Aigoul

“Would you ever take performance enhancing drugs?”

“Like most things, I’d try it. Just to see what difference they would make.”
“I’d try testosterone.”
“Apparently EPO doesn’t really do much unless you’re already fit.”
“I’d never take drugs in a race though.”
“Oh me neither.”
“Unless it was in the Tour.”
“Yeah, of course. Testosterone and EPO in the Tour.”
“Testosterone in Giro.”
“And the classics.”
“Well you want to win.”
“Probably in the local club race too, just to make sure.”
I want to go deeper. I want to go harder. I want to push myself. To see how hard the body can go. To see if I can push my body beyond the pain threshold. They say it’s mind over matter. Often it’s the opposite.
Today we have a big day of riding. Starting in Le Vegan we climb the Col De Lussette, then Mont Aguail. Then descend for about 30km back to Le Vegan. From a 75km ride back to Montpellier through rural France and two medium sized climbs. The distance would be no problem for me, but I’m still a baby in these mountains. Let’s face it, living in Perth, I’m a flatlander.
We depart Le Vegan slowly. Before too long, begin the first rise. The day before I’d been trying out a pedalling technique called ankling. This works, but my left leg is a little inflexible. Already I could feel it stiff. Also, I’m a big sissy. When you want to go hard, often the opposite happens. It’s difficult to visualise going hard or doing well in a place you’ve never been to before. These mountains demand respect. If you attack the mountain the mountain will attack you.
The scenery is stunning. Shane rides away. The switchbacks are regular. He disappears. I’m frustrated. Annoyed. I feel like a beginner. Like this was my first ride ever. I begin to blame the borrowed bike. Too heavy. Too big. I’m negative, but thankfully for the world, there’s no one to share it with. There’s little to do other than settle in as much as possible, wait for the summit to arrive.
At the top Shane is waiting. He’s happy. He has climbed faster than ever. Two days before we moved his seat back a little. Seems to have done the trick. His forehead has a line of dried salt. When I arrive I see he has dropped 20 euros on the ground. I stop over it and pick it up. Put it in my pocket without saying anything. We are surrounded by thin woods. We cannot see Mont Aigoul but that’s our destination.
The start of the climb to Mont Aigoul, two old ladies in team kit riding casually. We overtake them into a head wind. Shane rides off. Shortly afterward the ladies catch me again, see I’m struggling. ‘Grab my wheel’ she says, ‘don’t worry about taking a pull.’ Granny draft, nothing like it.
The final bend up to the summit of Mont Aigoul, the wind is gale force. A motorbike rider drops his machine in the carpark. His friend struggles and runs over to help. I am blasted up to 3 meters across the road. Forces me over to the shelter of the cars. There’s Shane. ‘The cafe is up there,’ he points. We walk into the wind holding our bikes. They fly horizontal next to us, whistling some alpine tune.
In the cafe an old friend of our’s doppleganger serves us chips and coke. We laugh, and laugh. Shane’s laughter ends when he empties his pockets and realises he’s lost 20 euro. This makes me laugh on the inside. He’s really annoyed with himself because he had lost another 20 euros a week before and this was his money decade. We’ve already ordered. ‘Got any money’ he asks? I pull out the sweaty blue note. ‘That’s mine’ he exclaims. ‘Sure is’ I say.
Shane explains his idea for a mountain with tunnels than turns small hills into high category climbs. ‘Perth needs a mountain’ I say. Luckily for me, Shane has the answer. We are good like this. We solve problems that don’t need solving. There are millions of problems out there already that do need solving, but we are unless in that regard. That’s our problem. Shane nearly buys some woollen socks made of polyester and cotton.
On the descent our good friend Richie returns. Every unsuspecting rider and pedestrian gets a blast of Richie as we pass. Even dogs. “RRIchchies.” “Alle Richie.” The sun is out and bees smack into your sunnies.

Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.


These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.


Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.


At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.


I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.


There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.


White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.


On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.



Day 6 and 7: Riding with Shane Starling in Girona.


Day 6 was meant to be an easy stroll west out of Girona for 30km and then back as a sort of recovery ride from the previous two days. We rode about 5km up a road and then it turned to gravel. Riding further meant dealing with traffic and I couldn’t be bothered and threw in the towel. Shane tried to ride on but was back at the apartment not long after. Then it started raining and we were glad with our decision. 
 Day 7: Today we packed everything up and left Girona. We drove north to a little town called Roses and climbed up to a grand peak 20km from the town. We then cut through a valley and emerged at El Port de la Salva. A big bunch of riders caught up as we stood at an intersection and deliberated on a direction. These riders would catch and pass us on the way up a massive hill between us and Roses, where we would finish for the day. After the ride we found a bar that would put the cycling on for us and watched them ride up a mountain in snow eating steak, eggs and chips. 

Day 6: Cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Today we were to ride with Bike Break Girona, with Dave Walsh and whoever else rocked up. After the previous days effort I was probably better off either staying in bed or simply cruising around, which what the ride was meant to be. However as is with all group rides, the fresh people get carried away and the slower and less fresh of us get dropped. 


I struggled up the first small hill. My leg muscles were still recovering and getting stronger. Apparently we were to cruise to a cafe and then decide if we wanted to go on. 


I chatted to Neil Martin for a while in the bunch and then he and Dave decided to do a 9km climb. I was dropped pretty quickly and rode a slow steady pace to the top. Once there we turned around quickly and the boys descended like demons and one of them coming a cropper. Much sand and small stones on the corners. 


Coffee at the cafe and chatting bikes was fun, and then the long slow grovel back to Girona. 90km ‘rest’ day. 

Day 5: cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Rocacorba and Mare De Deu Del Mont

Before pain there is ambition. Before ambition there is desire. Without desire there are no obstacles. Take a mountain for example, it’s a big fucking obstacle. If you desire to climb it, there will be pain. 
One of the best things about Girona is that if you know where you are going, you can be in the countryside in about 15 mins, surrounded by poppies and hails and all the wins that get Dutch painters juices flowing. Our juices were flowing not only after we turned left out of Ardi and up a gravel road. Steep loose rocky paths slapped wet by little streams. Little mounds to stop erosion reminding us where not on the right bikes for this sort of terrain. A crossroad. What are we doing? We are we going?
The Rocacorba mountain above us. No way we’re taking the gravel road. We wind to the base of the mountain and find the sealed section. Shane wants to turn back, but when I call him a sissy and say I’m doing it, he quickly changes his mind. Sissy. The great motivator. Motivation, movement. These climbs require a different mind set to what I’m used to. I am a sissy. The hills I’m used used to are about a 1/4 of the size of these guys. You can normally see the top not long after beginning. However with these beasts, you turn hairpin after hairpin hoping to see relief. Respite for a km of two to regain composure, breath. 
At the top we see the Mare De Deu Del Mont. There’s a 30km ride between here and there and we stop for lunch near the lake. Shane is still stronger and takes the wind for the majority of the time. 
The final 4km of Del Mont really killed me.  

Day 4: Cycling with Shane Starling, Girona

Day 4: 
Squandering. Wasting time. Having fun. Shooting the breeze. Relax. The long life of a giant tortoise. 150 years? Sweat pouring over your sunglasses like a tap turned on. Armchairs wiped clean every morning. Astro turf swigging beneath as you walk, walk to the bay. A woman walks beside the metal railing high above the cliffs. These are not really walking roads. Undulating as hell. She has a backpack and two large carry bags like she’s just stepped out of a supermarket. 
Hard men of the cycling world. Italian hard men. Pantani, was he one? Apparently he would go starving if his mumma or sister were not home to cook for him. 
“Vincenzo” mamma says, waving her arms skyward, “why do you always dirty your clothes with the grease?”
“Mumma, the grease is like a oxygen, it gets in everything.”
“What about in the space Vincenzo? Why don’t you clean your bike in the space?”
There’s always a leveller. Someone or something to beat your ego to a pulp and ask you to start again. Burp. Burp again. These gases are uncouth. I take the descent into Tossa slowly. Shane goes fast. Shane burbs incessantly. He’s getting all the gas out between girlfriends. 

Day 3: Cycling with Shane Starling: Girona

Day 3: 
“Put that in your blog.”
The drive to Girona was uneventful and swift. Many trees in this part of the world. Slightly lost entering the town. Shane slightly anxious because he wants everything to be right. Parked the car and walked up a steep slope. Found the place eventually. The top floor of a large house. A terrace looking towards a great grey cathedral. 
We walk to the cathedral and through the town. Pebbles and cobbles and not too many people. Icecream shops burst out onto the street in bright colours. A river runs through the guts of town. We stop and have lunch. We do some shopping. When we exit there’s rain. We walk in the rain to find the bicycle shop. Ciesta time. 
We ride. We ride up the hill behind us. The roads are wet. It’s not too cold. We coast down the hill on the northern side. The roads are wet. I’m descending. The bike swerves all over the road. I gain control. We ride a little further. Descent approaching a hair pin. I attempt to slow down again. Bike locks up. Swerves. The rear end fish tails. I cannot control it. I go down. A controlled fall. I get up and Shane approaches. I blame the tires. 
We contemplate returning. Not worth damaging someone else’s bike. Lets go on at snails pace? We go on at snails pace. Follow the railroad tracks to a dead end. Cross the river. Head east. Up a small hill. Winding narrow paths like palm lines. Up and down, repeat. Head back to town. Quick change then walk to bike shop. 
Semi-pro woman there. We chat to her. We chat to the shop dude. They’re cool. There’s a group ride on Thursday. Pro’s go apparently. 

Day 2: Cycling with Shane Starling: Montpellier

Day 2:

At 6:30 am I am woken by cats playing. I lock them in another room but the lock doesn’t work and they squeeze their paw through and pull the door open again. I make coffee, eat cereal, reply to emails, say goodbye to Emma and throw one of the cats into Shane’s room knowing he will wake him so we get on the road. 
At 9am I attempt to sort out the front derailer. It’s not pulling to the big ring. The cable housing has more bends than a river. By 10 the gearing is no better so I give up and get dressed. Have to sort it out properly later. Again down the spiral stairs carefully. Pull the big heavy door open like a cat. A thin strip of sunlight is visible in the alley. I stand there and wait for Shane
We plan a longer ride today. The gears work ok to begin with but about 15km from base they shit themselves again. Lose the nut in the grass. Find the nut. The bike I’ve borrowed has a triple chainring at the front. A novelty to for me but at the moment a pain. We cycle through a cross country running race. Up ahead cyclists and Wolf Peak. Having been off the bike for 6 weeks my back hurts slightly. My legs have no power. My lungs seem ok. We begin a 3km 5% climb and Shane sets a commendable pace. I drop into the granny gear and enjoy the view. There’s little point overexerting for a few days yet. 

Day 1: Riding with Shane Starling: Montepellier

Day 1:

Arrived in Montpellier just before 3pm. First time on a TVG and was impressed at how the train was going double the speed of the freeway cars. Stepped off the train expecting to see my cousin Shane; nuitrion journalist, runner, cyclist, writer, try hard French man. On the upper concourse he was no where to be seen. After five laps I thought, you cunt, you’re late, I don’t have your number and there’s no wifi at the station. Then wondered over to the balcony and realised there was another section to the station and after descending the stairs laid eyes on the man I would be forcing into a world of pain for the next week. 

First time in Montpellier too. Fancy buildings. Tight alleys. Trams. Partial stratocumulus blowing overhead. 
“That’s the Mistral. It’s like the Fremantle Doctor.”
“Ah Yes I remember you saying when you were in Perth.”
The Giro D’Italia was on. An important mountain stage. As I’d been following this tour intently I was keen to head back to Shane’s place, chuck the race on, get the bike ready and go for a belt around the countryside. We stop at an internet cafe to print out the hire car details. This takes 20 mins. Then we stop at a sandwich shop. This also take twenty minutes. There’s a woman in a frog suit in a small square having a fag on her break. We go upstairs. The tour has no coverage because the mountain is fogged out. We watch the final 200 metres as the racers emerge out of the fog. 
By now I have the hire bike pretty much ready. We gear up and descend the smooth marble spiral steps in our cleats. The town gives to countryside quickly. 

boatrace – featured story by shane starling

keith emerges from the hammersmith tube station, noonish. a man hunkers down over a black leather bag containing a video camera and a tangle of wires, tapes, batteries, plugs, cords, cables, jacks and a cellophane-wrapped sandwich.


‘yes, yes, that’s me – clyde.’

‘remember me clyde – i met you at a party a few weeks back.’

clyde’s not sure. he tries to stuff all the wires he’s holding into the bag, smiling.

‘you were there with vass, theo, ronnie, some others. you…’

oop, hang on, he’s got something…

‘…oh yeah, yeah,’ he says. ‘you’re the running man, marathon man. hey man, how is it?’

‘it’s good thanks. how is it for you?’

‘yeah, cool man. funny you should mention vass – i’m about to meet him. we’re going to stalk the boat race.’

‘i’m going down myself.’

‘well you might as well come down with us,’ clyde says still jamming wires into that bag.

‘sure,’ keith replies.

clyde has the camera at the ready now and side-saddles the bag. ‘time to stalk,’ he grins. they move to the teeming street corner. he emerges from the mass – vass. white leather casino shoes, goanna skin jacket and air force-issue shades. typing something into a mobile phone.

he’s in operations mode and takes in keith’s unexpected presence casually.

‘keith, good to see you. clyde. lola’s on her way then we’ll go. which way is it to the river? does anybody know that?’

‘it’s that way i think,’ clyde says pointing that way.

‘ok, good. so you’re with us then keith?’

‘for now,’ keith says.

soon enough, lola arrives, fighting the chill in a gigantic red scarf.

vass introduces keith to lola. they move off. vass stops to buy a chicken and mediterranean salad wrap. the camera is rolling. vass exiting shop. lola adjusting scarf. lola, keith and vass in discussion. vass pointing. lola, keith and vass pointing. a sign: we are argentinians, need tickets. beggars. street folk. folk. folk everywhere.

down footpaths, alleyways, under bridges they go to arrive at the murky, high-tide-swelled thames river under the hammersmith bridge. there is more pointing. east or west? the riverside pathway is jammed but a lot of people are moving away from the river.

‘when’s the race start?’ keith asks a stranger.

‘it’s over,’ the stranger replies in a south african toungue.

‘who won?’

‘dunno, we missed it.’ they move off.

vass and lola break into smirks.

‘let’s go this way,’ vass says. they enter the throng, moving west, on camera, seemingly surrounded by south africans.

by the thames is a rowing club that incorporates a pub: the blue anchor. young girls in navy aprons sell hot dogs from a room housing rowing craft. lola, vass, keith and clyde slip inside the pub. the place is busy, not packed, there is a long line to the crapper. rowing memorabilia on the walls. hunting paraphernalia. trophies, large sepia photos of people standing by river banks in rowing garb proudly holding heavy wooden oars upright, of people in panama hats, of people in athletic garb flying over hurdles, a bugle in a corner glass display with more pictures and the skull of a goat.

vass takes the camera while clyde heads to the bar.

keith approaches a young australian woman wearing a fake seal pup on her head. she is with another australian and an older canadian woman.

‘what have you thought of the day?’ he asks her.

‘it’s been ok.’

‘what happened when the boats came by?’

‘not much really – they just went past.’

‘did you know which boat was which?’

‘no, i didn’t really care. they just flashed past. light blue was cambridge i think…maybe, i’m not sure, i don’t know. do you know?’

‘no, we missed the boat. who won?’

cambridge, i think.’

‘what was the crowd’s reaction to the passing of the boats?’

‘everyone cheered. there was a lot of screaming. someone threw a full beer can at the boats. it didn’t hit them but i thought that was pretty stupid. even though it was only lunch time there were a lot of drunk people. it was kinda funny though. it was such an utterly dumb thing to do. some big rowing dude came and dragged him off. i guess it broke things up a bit. i mean the boats just whizzed by. it was an anti-climax really.’

‘would you come again?’

‘no, probably not. are you with those guys?’

‘which guys?’

‘those guys there, with the cameras.’


‘what are they doing?’

‘um, they’re…well…it’s a project they’re working on.’

‘what kind of project?’

‘well, they talk to people, ask them questions. they record things. they look for stories. links. they ask people questions and then get those people to ask questions of other people and webs are formed. they may well have a melancholic vision of life. it’s hard to say.’

‘what’s the point of it?’

‘i don’t know. there will be a website. maybe several websites. i think it will be called do you think that guy there asking the questions in the pilot’s sunglasses and crocodile skin boots looks a little like omar sharif?’

‘who’s omar sharif?’

‘doesn’t matter.’

‘he’s kind of cute though. there’s something about his eyes. it’s like they’re sad but he doesn’t care. is his life sad?’

‘i don’t know. quite possibly. but i think you’re right. he may well like it that way. where are you from?’


that needs to be discussed.

across the room the stalking has begun in earnest. clyde and vass take turns on the camera with big black spongey microphone attached. it’s significant that big black spongey mike. this is no videocam job; no doomed-to-fail frivolousness. this is something more significant than that. this baby’s got currency. people with honed skills and proper tools are in on this. don’t be fooled. this could be big. can you feel the excitement? people wonder if this is serious film making. let them wonder. let them eat film…people respond to the questioning. if only they knew how shitty that mike really is. people usually suspend disbelief. good. it’s a camera after all. the most alluring documenting device.

vass has begun to stalk the other australian female. clyde moves in that direction, camera rolling.

vass explains the format. ‘if you could ask anyone in this room a question what would that question be and who would you ask?’ the young australian woman chuckles, as she takes in what is being asked of her. zoom in.

vass continues: ‘i will then ask that person your question in complete anonymity of course. they will not know who has asked them this thing. is there someone here who’d you like to ask a question of? when you’ve got it look into the camera and ask the question as if you were speaking to that person in the flesh.’

after a moment of contemplation she points to a stocky man wearing sports raybans.

‘ok,’ vass says. ‘and the question?’

‘ask him…’

‘no,’ vass says firmly. ‘to the camera. ask the question direct.’

she smirks, adjusts her hair, casts quick glance at friends and faces the camera.

‘did you go to either oxford or cambridge?’

‘good,’ vass says. ‘that was great. thanks.’

he takes her name and e-mail details and moves to the bloke to ask the question, clyde in tow, camera rolling, suddenly the room’s fulcrum. vass has centred the room, defined it, rounded it, exploded its boundaries, made it uneasy. the camera rolls, lola chats to the canadian, keith, the australian.

the mountain man asks after panty colour. others are brought into the game. then it is time to move out into the grey, cold mist of the afternoon by the thames.

the footpath by the river is still rammed with people. we move through the crowd. south african. it’s exotic twang gives the air a certain charge. for some this is disturbing. ‘damn south africans,’ vass mutters. they shuffle along through the drunks, rolling, and the drizzle and arrive at another, larger pub bursting out onto a large lawn promenade. vass hyperstalks some others but the momentum is fading; the sadness is too diluted here. clyde meets some friends and bags the camera.

they encounter the television news broadcaster jeremay paxman hoisting a child onto his shoulders.

‘why don’t we involve him?’ keith suggests to vass.

‘no, it would take too long to explain to him and his family,’ vass says frankly.

‘good journo though, paxman,’ keith says before moving off through the crowds and drizzle toward some people he has recognised.

‘there needs to be a narrative thread. there needs to be a facilitative middle ground for events to unfold,’ vass says speculatively. ‘that is what provides. we seek the pure sadness.’

the rain comes down.

‘do you know who won the boat race?’ a stranger asks lola. ‘no, i do not know,’ she replies in her thick french accent, drawing in her big red scarf against the increasingly biting chill.

the bedrock imperative is fractal.

it’s time to go home. check the footage.