Mont Ventoux Madness

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Mont Ventoux is part of cycling legend. The mountain is unlike others in France because it stands proud of the land, famous passes in the Alps and Pyrenees like the Galibier and Tourmalet merely snake their way from one valley to the next. Instead Ventoux dominates the terrain it occupies and the road reaches the summit.

I’ve ridden in the area before and crossed the summit and no photo on the internet does the mountain justice. The lens makes the mountain look more distant, the summit lower. Similarly, when I’ve ridden to the top, the last few kilometres reminded me of being in the window seat of an aeroplane, with blue skies above and the entire world below you.

A sporting history
The Tour de France first visited in 1951 and since then there have been eight summit finishes and the race has crossed the summit six times on its way to a finish line elsewhere. Infamously British cycling Tommy Simpson died on the slopes, exhaustion and dehydration came after amphetamines.

But the road is open for anyone to ride up. Only you need to check the weather as Ventoux sounds like venteux, French for “windy”. Mount Hurricane would be better. As Wikipedia says, “wind speeds as high as 320 km/h (200 mph) have been recorded. The wind blows at 90+ km/h (56+ mph) 240 days a year“. Indeed the last time I was there I made it to the stop only to see a car door ripped off by the wind: a gust blew the door open and it snapped clean off. It then took me 30 minutes to get off the summit, I had to place the bike in front of me like a zimmer-frame and carefully plant each foot and transfer my weight. Once I walked 200 metres down the road the wind was much calmer.

Three Routes
There are in fact three routes to the top. There’s one road over the summit, from the top you can descend via the north to Malaucène or south but head south and when the road reaches the forest, it forks and you can opt to head to Bédoin or Sault. Forget the mountain for a moment as the surrounding area is stunning. Bédoin has fine vineyards, Sault is famous for its fruit and honey. You can live well in this area.
The Madman’s Challenge
But back to these three roads. There’s a challenge where you ride all three sides in one go. Climbing and descending all three routes adds up to 140km, a hefty day in the mountains. Especially since you are tackling a fearsome climb. From Bédoin the route is very hard, it gradually rises past orchards and vineyards until you hit a hairpin bend and it’s toute à gauche, or the chain to the left, in the lowest gear. The same is true from Malaucène, it’s not a gradient steeper than most Alpine passes, often above 8%.

The challenge in question is called Les Cinglés du Ventoux where Cinglé means madman or nutter. It’s not as insane as it sounds but this is a tough ride. The weather played its part in my ride, I started under idyllic blue skies but this later meant searing heat and for the third climb the wind was making me think about turning back but having come so far I was gripping the bars and using the full width of the road.

You can take your time, you need to get a card stamped along the route as proof of your exploits. But this isn’t a race or a timed event. You can even stop for lunch in a café.

Once you’re done you send the card off and in time you get a small medal and proof that you’ve joined the club.

I’m aiming to repeat this ride in the coming months, it’s a beautiful day on the bike. Scenic, challenging and satisfying, for me it is not mad but rational.

For more on this ride, try google for some full accounts of the ride or see the official website at http://www.clubcinglesventoux.org/.

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