On 7 May 23, 8 ALS officers departed from Andover for the south of France on Exercise VELO JUSTICE 23, a four-day cycling exercise in the surrounds of Mont Ventoux.
The exercise had many aims, including promoting cycling throughout the capbadge but it was most importantly an opportunity to act as a memorial to Maj Gavin Law. The exercise was a resounding success with all 8 participants ascending Mont Ventoux on two occasions, a feat of both physical and mental resilience and courage.
Day One was a 100km ride from our base in Buis-Les-Baronnies to the top of Mont Ventoux (where we intended to remember Gavin) and then back. Our ascent followed the ‘classic’ route up the mountain from Bedoin, which has been used on numerous Tour de France stages throughout the years. The weather at the top of the mountain can be described as changeable at best and certainly very different to that at the foot; whereas we were in sunshine and in excess of 20C before we commenced the climb by the time we got to top we were in dense cloud and experiencing temperatures that were around 0C due to the windchill. We nevertheless all made it to the top but decided that it would be best to undertake the memorial at a more suitable point on the way back down the mountain out of the cloud and wind. We commenced our decent at a somewhat rapid pace but were successful in finding a beautiful spot, which was still close to the summit. Once gathered we all took a sip of Talisker and remembered Gavin. It was a moving moment for all and combined three of his passions – cycling, mountains and whisky.
Day Two was, by comparison, an easier and shorter day in the saddle but still a challenge as we undertook the 66km ‘3 Cols’ route, which included a climb to the aptly named Col de la Croix Rouge. The weather was much kinder and we enjoyed sunshine throughout the ride. Day Three was our longest ride, a 113km circuit around the foot of Mont Ventoux, again in near-perfect riding conditions and included a fantastic ride through the stunning Gorges de la Nesque.
Having ‘enjoyed’ our ascent of Mont Ventoux so much, we decided that we would tackle the mountain again on Day Four our last day in the saddle but this time taking the ‘easier’ route from Soult; easier on the basis that one starts the ascent at a greater elevation and the average gradient is less. It nevertheless remained a challenge. The weather was far from perfect at the top but it was good enough to enable us to remember Gavin again with whisky. Having done so, we about turned and headed back down the mountain to Soult; Col Moreland and Maj Thomas made the most of the opportunity to race down, covering the 24.5km descent in just short of 28 minutes.
Ex VELO JUSTICE 23 not only developed the bike fitness, handling and skill of all participants, regardless of their experience but also offered a great opportunity to build team ethos and esprit de corps both in and out of the saddle. Whilst cycling we stuck together as a team, looked after each and got through some less than ideal weather conditions, all with a smile on our face. We also enjoyed good French food (as one would expect!) together both at lunch during our rides as well as in the evening at our hotel.
This exercise does not mark the end of ALS cycling. The intent is for VELO JUSTICE to become an enduring event in the ALS calendar. Planning is already underway for VELO JUSTICE 24; this event will follow the model of VELO JUSTICE 22 – it will be an event in the UK and act as a preparatory event for a more challenging one in 2025.
Accordingly, VELO JUSTICE 24 will be open to cyclists of all abilities, ranging from the absolute beginner to the seasoned rider and those who wish to give cycling a go but are not sure if they are able to manage a day in the saddle, the use of e-bikes will be permitted. Provisionally, VELO JUSTICE 24 will take place in early Jul 24 but further details will be disseminated later this year.