Roads to Ride: Mont Ventoux

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Mont Ventoux Tour de France

As part of a series exploring the famous roads of cycling, here is Mont Ventoux, the venue for Stage 15 of the Tour de France. The idea with this series is to discover the road and its place in the world, whether its part in cycling’s folklore or to explore what it is like on a normal day without a race.

Having covered Alpe d’Huez and the Ghisallo so far in this series, Mont Ventoux is different. It dominates the landscape and the road leads to nowhere, just the summit. Apart from the view there is little at the top, a sky-blue vacuum to be filled by the imagination.

A fixture in the Tour de France and other races this is another Mecca for cyclists who ride up “the giant of Provence” every summer.

The Route
There are three starting points to reach the top but classic ascension of Mont Ventoux starts from Bédoin. This is 22.7km long and averages 7.1%. On paper alone this is a challenge but as the profile shows, a gentle start means double-digit gradients await. The summit stands at 1,909-1,912 metres depending on which sign you read.

Ventoux profile

The D974 heads east out town and begins to rise but it is gradual. The first part of the climb is more an approach to the mountain. But it gains in altitude, passing peach orchards and vineyards. After 8km it is at the village of Saint Estève that the tone shifts. A hairpin bend and the road climbs at a steep 9-10% through oak and pine woodland. The slope is irregular, consistently steep to constantly load the pedals but just enough variation to toy with momentum. It lasts for 10km until Chalet Reynard where the road briefly takes on an Alpine look with the ski stop and car park and the rider should follow the road round to the left. Then begins the most famous part as the vegetation gives way to calcified white rock, only broken by the strip of black tarmac that twists up towards the teasing summit for six kilometres.

The Feel
The mountain eludes photography. Shot from afar Mont Ventoux appears tame, a mere ridge; get close and you can’t get the perspective needed to see the enormity of the mountain. Only shots taken by flight seem to capture the scale. Here’s one courtesy of Allen Foster, aka @NoMapNoCompass:

Mont Ventoux from air

Ventoux as seen from an aircraft window

Instead of clicking a camera, clip your shoes in. The start is enough to make you wonder what all the fuss is about. Bédoin is a comfortable town that thrives on tourism and agriculture. The gentle start past vineyards and orchards is civil and gives no indication of what’s coming.

This all changes in the tiny village of Saint Estève, patron saint of low gearing. The road enters the shade of the forest and on a warm day the air has a pine scent. From here onwards the road becomes a test. For the unprepared the 10% slopes become a series of leg-presses: 50 reps a minute for the next hour. For those in better condition or just equipped with low gearing it becomes a winch-like effort. Any race quickly blows apart, the peloton loses its military unity and quickly resembles a troop of sheep scattered on the slopes. There’s very little benefit from drafting other riders, this soon turns into a private contest between power and weight. If your comfortable you’ll catch glimpses of the summit through the woodland, a monster hiding behind the trees. Unlike many climbs this one has almost no hairpin bends.

Chalet Reynard offers a fountain for those without a following car and a flat respite. Then it’s on to the exposed section. The experience will depend on the day. With luck you will have deep blue skies and mild weather and a chance to profit from the stunning views below you, especially when summer brings violet fields of lavender. But it’s often windy and the higher you go the worse the crosswinds. The wind is measured at over 90km/h for two thirds of the year and you can find yourself leaning at an angle to counter the wind, especially for the last few hundred metres which are steep. When viewed from afar the white rock looks as pure as snow but when riding close you’ll see vegetation clinging on.

The final ramps are steep and after the hairpin bend the road flattens in front of the observatory building. The view from the top is impressive, not 360°, but enough. Riders now have a dilemma, to descent back to Bédoin or to go behind the summit and descend to Malaucène.

History
Mont Ventoux older than the Alps. The white summit is the result of geology and limestone, it’s not snow. It was surely on Roman maps but the first writings come from the fourteenth century when the Tuscan Francesco Petrarca described his ascent. Labelled the “father of humanism” Petrarch, as he is known in English, is often cited as the world’s first mountaineer, a man who climbed Mont Ventoux just because it was there. Whether he did or didn’t is now disputed, some say his tale of ascent is allegorical. In 1783 Amélie de Sade made several expeditions to the top for the fun of it. Sadism indeed.

In the middle ages the mountain had seen prodigious production of charcoal. So many trees were felled that the mountain became bald and an early conservation movement began to protect the environment. But it was not until the 1850s that serious efforts to replant the mountain began. But this was a success, the wind helped to sow the seeds.

The first cyclist to ride up was Adrien Benoît, at least the first to be recorded:

The ascension of Mont Ventoux requires seven hours by car, six hours by foot and three and a half for a trained cyclist. The vertiginous descent, freewheeled, on the stoney slopes at 12% is a dangerous acrobacy. I burnt two brakes and a pair of wooden rims. Amateurs beware.

Charly Gaul Ventoux

Gaul declares war on Mont Ventoux in 1958

There have been buildings at the top for hundreds of years. The rectangular concrete weather observatory was built in 1968 and capped with a large TV antenna. From afar it resembles a giant syringe.

Race History
This is a famous climb of the Tour de France but it is used sparingly. It was first climbed in 1951 and has been used eight times as a summit finish and crossed six more times. It has been used in the Dauphiné and the Tour de l’Avenir amongst other races.

  • Charly Gaul won in the Ventoux mountain time trial 1958 on his way to winning the race outright that year. The Luxembourger won in front of a crowd of 100,000 but that year the mountain stages were televised for the first time. Popularity was never this thing and he later spent years living as a recluse in Luxembourg
  • Tom Simpson’s death in 1967 was the final straw that saw anti-doping controls introduced in the Tour de France. But it should be noted that the 1960s saw several other sports adopt controls and cycling had already used controls at the world championships in 1966
  • Double French champion and 1984 Vuelta winner Eric Caritoux never won on Mont Ventoux but today he runs a guesthouse and grows wines in Flassan on the side of the mountain
  • Jean-François Bernard won a mountain time trial in 1987. The Frenchman found himself cast as the successor to Bernard Hinault but the next year he crashed whilst leading the Giro and never quite returned to form, finishing his career as a domestique for Miguel Indurain
  • Non climber Eros Poli won in 1994. The tallest rider in the Tour de France, he set off early on the stage with the aim of building the biggest lead possible before he had to fight with gravity and held on to win
  • It was in the Dauphiné that the Mont Ventoux record of 55.51 was set by Iban Mayo in 2004, no doubt aided by more than a tailwind.

Height of Clichés
The summit might appear barren but it is littered with clichés. We can expect them to shine as bright as the white rocks this summer when the Tour approaches. “Lunar landscape” is surely the confection of those who have never ridden up because there’s nothing lunar about the pull of gravity for those who pedal.

Roland Barthes Ventoux

Barthes time

French post-structural philosopher Roland Barthes wrote about the mountain and the Tour de France in his 1957 book Mythologies, saying Ventoux is a “god of evil to which sacrifices must be made” and often no report is complete without some wild quote from him. Only I find a lot of his writing impossible, as if it was written at times by the Pomo Generator (be sure to read the footnotes if you go there). It’s as if we import Barthes because we struggle to understand the mountain.

Sadly Barthes’ mention of sacrifice brings us to Tom Simpson and his death in 1967 where exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines combined to kill him. He collapsed and could not be revived on the scene nor after a helicopter transfer to hospital. A cliché yes but a mention is obligatory and worthwhile. Apparently he died a little lower down that the spot where the memorial is placed but it’s more romantic to imagine him near to the top, so close. What if he’d died much lower down, would the memorial be so famous if it was hidden amongst the trees?

On a normal day
The summit dominates the landscape, ominous as a volcano. There’s little point in going to the top unless you’ve got the Petrarch or De Sade vibe. Locals have no need to cross over, they drive around. Despite the Ventoux AOC and Côtes du Ventoux wine label, there’s little agriculture on the slopes, the vines grow around the mountain rather than on it. The slopes are used for bee-keeping and truffle hunting. In the autumn wild boar are hunted. Otherwise it’s so quiet you can bury a body: the police have conducted excavations several times. Some claim wolves roam too.

Come summer and things pick up. Tourists picnic in the woodland. Cyclists winch up slow and descend fast. Benoît’s burning brakes are still relevant, apply the brakes for a 20km descent and rims heat and tubes burst. Meanwhile the mountain air is scented by burning clutch plates and brake pads, Dutch motorists and German motorcyclists are regulars. The road can be closed for car rallies – check before you go – and it’s long been place for motorsports too.

But no day is ever normal. Unlike Alpe d’Huez or the Ghisallo there’s no bus service, no vans, no children being ferried to school. It is a real effort to get to the top and it can’t be done all year round. The road can be blocked by snow but the wind is the main obstacle. Local cyclists will avoid the climb and seek out the many alternatives in the region. See Youtube for an example of the wind, after 1m40s the rider in black get taken across the road as the wind roars like a jet engine across the top.

Say It

It’s often said Ventoux gets its name from “venteux” or windy. But now experts say the name is derived from Vin-tur meaning a mountain that can be seen from afar.

Access
The Rhone valley has Avignon and Orange, both stops on the high speed TGV line between Paris and Marseille. Carpentras is said to be a gateway to Mont Ventoux but it’s never looked too elegant so slam that option shut. Instead Bédoin and Malaucène offer plenty of places and also bike hire.

But my base camp pick would be Sault. It sits to the east of Mont Ventoux and is further away from the Rhone valley and its howling Mistral wind that blows most days of the year. From here riders can take the “easy” third route up Mont Ventoux but also ride to Bedoin to tackle the climb. Above all there are many other routes available from here when you don’t want to include the hors catégorie Ventoux. Indeed the best thing about the Ventoux is the region and you can ride for hours on stunning roads with the summit as a landmark to guide your sense of direction.

Summary
Mont Ventoux dominates the landscape of much of the Provence area. Unlike many mountain passes of the Tour de France which cut through the mountains, this stands above the landscape. It also looms large in the mythology of the Tour de France and for good reason given the gradient, cruel winds and its white crest

It will again be a place of pilgrimage when the Tour hits the slopes in 2013 at the end of the longest stage of the race and it will be a key test ahead of the Alps.

Next week, a smaller slope but one that is instrumental in the training of many riders as well as a scenic ride in its own right: the Col de la Madone.

Part I – Alpe d’Huez
Part II – The Ghisallo
Part III – Mont Ventoux
Part IV – Col de la Madone
Part V – Col du Soulor
Part VI – Passo Dello Stelvio
Part VII – Mont Aigoual
Part VIII – Col de la République
Part IX – Croce d’Aune
Part X – Strade Bianche
Part XI – Col d’Eze
Part XII – The Poggio
Part XIII – Arenberg Cobbles
Part XIV – Col du Tourmalet
Part XV – Côte de La Redoute
Part XVI – Col du Pin Bouchain
Part XVII – Puy de Dôme
Part XVIII – La Planche des Belles Filles
Part XIX – Col du Lautaret
Part XX – Col du Palaquit
Part XXI – Champs Elysées
Part XXII: The Col du Galibier
Part XXIII: The Lacets de Montvernier
Part XXIV: Hautacam
Part XXV: The Schelde Bike Path
Part XXVI: Col de Marie-Blanque
Part XXVII: Jebel Al Akhdar
Part XXVIII: Genting Highlands

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{ 66 comments }

ewan January 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm

A stunning ride. And the best thing is, if you cycle up it from Bedoin, down to Malaucene and back to Bedoin, you have to do a 200m climb up the Col de La Madeleine. Sadly I’ve never done the real one, but technically it is very easy to do the Ventoux and Madeleine in the same day.

Serge January 11, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I love Ventoux, couldn’t have summed it up better. Thanks again Inrng.
P.S. Sault is the place to stay for me, it makes the route to Ventoux a proper ride. Plus there’s an excellent Butchers that sell a cheese and boar pavé (as in Paris-Roubaix), and his wife runs the Cheese shop around the corner. There is a great little farmers market on Sundays too. A friend used to keep bee’s in a truffle field down the hill, I camped there after the 2009 E’tape. Bliss.

Tom Bachmann January 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I really want to go back to the Ventoux right now after I read this. I’ve done the Bedoin-Ventoux-Madeleine-Bedoin lap twice and can really recommend it. Only downside in the summer is -despite the heat: The Ventoux is very popular with German car companies to test new developements. BMW, Porsche and Mercedes are regulars their and the are sometimes really flying up their, prefering the side from Malaucene. As a cyclist you really have to watch out!

Touriste-Routier January 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm

The regular auto traffic can be treacherous even descending down to Bedoin. Regular motorists often swing wide to give the parade of climbing cyclists a wide berth, without noticing another cyclist is rocketing towards them on the descent… There is also the tourist factor of motorists just not paying attention to the road, as they look around. I found it is worse in the forested section lower down than it is above the tree line, as the line of sight is more obscured.

Trevor Ward January 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Thanks for that, it’s really whetted my appetite – am entered in this years Gran Fondo Ventoux, which will actually be tackling it from Malaucene, though I plan to tackle the classic ascent too. Veterans assure me it’s not the height or the gradients which will get me, but the wind!

Trevor Ward January 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

(Sorry, am posting again as I screwed up my website address previously) Thanks for that, it’s really whetted my appetite – am entered in this years Gran Fondo Ventoux, which will actually be tackling it from Malaucene, though I plan to tackle the classic ascent too. Veterans assure me it’s not the height or the gradients which will get me, but the wind!

Chris Walker January 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I did the climb up from Malaucene in July 2011. Fantastic – my first ever “proper”mountain climb. 35 degrees at the bottom and a very windy 7 degrees at the top! Gave me the taste to do La Marmotte in July last year, so I blame Ventoux for my suffering!

will January 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm

A favourite climb.

As you hint, it’s worth checking the wind forecast (and direction) before choosing which side to climb. The wind coming over Col des Tempêtes near the summit can be scary at times.

The most fun cycling event I have ever done is the Ventoux Night Sessions where a few hundred cyclists start in the middle of the night in different talent groups with the goal of everyone arrive at the top for the sunrise. Very friendly and well organized.

The event was canceled in 2012 but is back for 2013. Highly recommended – link below:

http://www.ventouxnightsession.com/

Enjoying your series,

HodH January 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Great article; my favourite in the series so far.

channel_zero January 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm

… If your comfortable you’ll catch glimpses…

If YOU’RE comfortable

As always, great content. Thank you.

cwardy January 11, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I am back to Ventoux again this summer – business willing! I am going to try the three ascents in one day. Just looking at the photos and reading the article bring a lump to the throat and the memories of when I was last there 3 years ago.

Duncan January 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Magic. I’ve ridden this and your description fits as well as plenty more to read. I can presume you’ve ridden this.

The Inner Ring January 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Thanks.

Someone was asking whether I’d written the Ghisallo last week. I don’t mean this in a bad way… but of course I have ridden these roads! It would be impossible to describe a place without knowing it. I have vague memories of a travel writer who made up some aspects of his travel (Ryszard Kapuscinski?) but rest assured these roads have been ridden.

Simon January 11, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Bill Bryson maybe?

Shannon January 11, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Check out http://www.clubcinglesventoux.org for a really tough challenge, climb the three ascents in one day or more if you can manage it, I did it this past September and was blessed with beautiful weather, what a day!!

Guy January 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I’ve also joined the Club des Cingles du Mont-Ventoux. This is the report I did for Pez in 2008: http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=6197
Well worth the effort!

Brian January 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I am hoping to do this ride in 2014! Wife and I are taking a trip to Europe and cannot wait! This will be bookmarked for the pertinent information!

Anonymous January 11, 2013 at 10:50 pm

I seem to remember that British riders would take there caps and now helmets off as a mark of respect to Tom, can anyone confirm this??

RichardW January 11, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I reckon so! Certainly I found the memorial strangely moving – I didn’t want to stop on the way up but spent some time on the way down and, perhaps becos’ of the strange landscape or the effort you’ve just expended to get there, it was a very affecting place.

My fave climb (so far) and wonderful series of article -many thanks.

Adam W January 12, 2013 at 11:04 am

Yeah, that happens. My training roads take me through the birthplace of Tom Simpson, a village called Haswell which is only a couple of miles away from my hometown of Hartlepool in County Durham. I always make a point of saluting Tom when I cycle through.

Ventoux is a challenge that’ll have to wait until next year as I am tackling Teide in Tenerife next month for charity. One big mountain a year is enough!

Sam January 14, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Yes, this is true. The British riders still do things such as remove their helmets in respect as they ride by Tommy Simpson’s memorial. In his book David Millar describes other marks of respect from the Brits – he describes throwing a cap at the memorial with an inscription he’d written to Tommy Simpson, Charly Wegelius threw a bidon etc. In the 09 Tour Wiggins taped a photo of Simpson to his handlebars for the Ventoux stage in respect and as a source of inspiration.

ave February 12, 2013 at 1:41 am

>photo of Simpson to his handlebars for the Ventoux stage in respect and as a source of inspiration.
Isn’t it strange that a “modern” cheater is a cheater, but Simpson is respeced and considered inspirational by the same guy?

Bundle January 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I fully agree with Sault being the nicest base camp around. South of Sault you get plenty of lavender-filled memorable rides, and going from Sault to Bédoin and back to Sault (of course through the top) must be unforgettable, and is on my list for this summer.

Roel January 12, 2013 at 5:29 am

Can’t wait to ascend the Ventoux. Probably in 2014 because I’m at the other side of the globe this year but already looking forward. Thanks for this post (and the series, it’s excellent). Now I’ll have to get a proper bike over here (singapore) and start doing my miles now!!!

Skinny Genes' January 12, 2013 at 6:09 am

Most excellent article! Merci.

MT January 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm

The views from the top are superb. On a clear day the Alps shimmer in the distance.

Two favourite memories:
1) Watching gliders circle beneath you from the top. Lends some perspective as to how far you’ve climbed.

2) The best can of ice cold coke I’ve ever had, bought from the little shop at the top. Also the most expensive.

Rooto January 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

A fantastic read, and a continually mouth-watering series. Great work!

For me mention of Ventoux isn’t complete without the story of Ferdi Kubler in ’55, who set off on a mad attack. Geminiani called a warning, something like “Careful, Ferdi – the Ventoux isn’t like other mountains. Kubler shot back “And Ferdi isn’t like other riders”. Needless to say le Ventoux won, and Ferdi collapsed, staggered around, stopped again, set off in the wrong direction, had to be helped to the finish and abandoned the Tour overnight. I remember reading somewhere that he was pumped full of amphetamines at the time and didn’t really know what he was doing.Here’s a picture of him struggling up, and the article I found to confirm some of the hazy memories. I hope the link works

The Inner Ring January 12, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Good anecdote. I almost used the “Ventoux isn’t like other mountains” but it’s one of those cliché quotes: often used because it’s true.

Technically the climb is different because the 10% gradient is steeper than most of the French Alps where 6-8% is standard and then the wind can be crucial, on the windy days it’s one of the few climbs where echelon formation works when climbing although more for the natural crosswind than the headwind from your riding.

Larry T. January 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Nice bit, thanks. We were there on the day Poli won…I can remember baking in the heat at the finish line. Ridden this climb from two directions – but have no desire to return, the lunar landscape just doesn’t do much for me when compared to other legendary climbs. Looking forward to your coverage of Passo Stelvio in the future – that one I’ll do every time I have a chance.

Angelo senza la o January 12, 2013 at 10:59 pm

I had the good fortune to be able to ride Mont Ventoux with Eros Poli in 2007. It was his first visit back since his stage win 1994. What an experience.

Video of Eros winning in 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxTnLaH3gVA

Eros now has his own bike tour company, http://www.eros-poli.com

eros Poli January 13, 2013 at 9:19 am

My best climb….ofcourse!!!!
Next year it will be the 20th anniversary of My victory, sambody wont to climb with me to celebrate that day?

Paul Jakma January 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Great post. One thing, all the footage and photos of Simpson’s collapse I’ve seen (and helicopter taking him away) appear to show it happening with a barren, rocky roadside. What reason is there to think it was lower down, in the forest? Just curious…

The Inner Ring January 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm

What I meant is that apparently he collapsed a short distance below the memorial, at some point between it and Chalet Reynard. The memorial sits higher up the road… but I’m not sure if it’s, say 500m or 1km nearer the top.

Martin January 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Great article, thank you. Brings back some memories from when i did it a few years ago. I’d only been into road cycling for a couple of months and had no idea about the history of the climb before i went (an friend was doing L’Etape that year, and I went along too). I’d also climbed nothing more significant than Box Hill previously. It was a… challenge. I loved it though. Ended it up doing it from both directions. I recall the ascent from Malaucene to being much harder – or at least more harrowing. I have a vivid memory of being in my lowest gear, rounding a corner to be confronted with this seemingly endless road, straight as an arrow, ascending into the cloudy sky. I just stared at the handle bars and tried not to look too often, as it seemed as if i was going nowhere for a long time.
I also recall that I hadn’t really thought about the ride back down again. I got neck ache, cramp and ended up with burning through my brake pads as I went faster than I’d ever been before. Had to buy some new ones at the bottom!

diamondjim January 14, 2013 at 7:00 am

I rode across France back in ’89. I could Ventoux from the other side of the Rhone, and recall the odd feeling of actually being able to see a lifetime goal (to ride a famous TdF climb). I slept on the ground in the camping area in Malaucene, and went to sleep able to see the cloud forming as the wind rushed past the summit. In the morning it took me 2’20″ to lug my fully-laden touring bike up, non-stop. Above the treeline, gusts would blow me right across the road, and cars would slow behind me waiting for a safe passing place before accelerating and yelling out ‘courage!’ with a wave.
After a quick photo and sending a couple of postcards at the top, down I went and shortly discovered I’d ridden up the ‘wrong’ way (the Simpson memorial gave me the hint). Then down and down from winter at the summit into summer in the lavender fields outside Sault.
This is still one of my best life experiences.

david January 14, 2013 at 10:05 am

Does anyone have any recommendations regarding accommodation in the area?

eros poli January 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

I suggest you my favorit location during my Tours
http://www.chateaudemazan.com/uk/ 8 km from Bedoin

david January 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Very Nice! thanks for that I will check it out

Al-Bo January 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I had a slightly toned-down version of the experience seen in that YouTube video on Sunday. Rounded a corner on a climb and got blown off, only to be incapable of getting going again due to the power of the gusts. This tells me that I need tighter lycra.

Cracking update, by the way. Knowing all this stuff really adds to the experience when watching a Tour stage.

Al-Bo January 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Probably should have put ‘blown off my bike’ there…

Gerry January 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I’ve climbed Ventoux a whole bunch of times in the last two years and it’s always a different experience. I often think I’m going to get bored of it, but so far it never fails to deliver. Having three routes up helps, of course, but it’s just such a hard ol’ slog that, well, I think Paul Fournel puts it best (probably even better in the original language of the quote):

“The Ventoux has no in-itself. It’s the greatest revelation of your-self. It simply feeds back your fatigue and fear. It has total knowledge of the shape you’re in, your capacity for cycling happiness, and for happiness in general. It’s yourself you’re climbing. If you don’t want to know, stay at the bottom.”

simon January 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I climb Ventoux from Bedoin each year, usually in August, and have done for the past six or so years. I like to do a faster time each year and year and have, so far, managed it. But naturally each year it’s harder and harder – and sometime quite soon I will inevitably fail. Amazingly, every ascent I’ve done has been in calm conditions. Last year there was not a breath of wind, not even the merest zephyr, even right at the summit. It is a fantastic climb . . . .the emergence from the forested section to get a slight breather on the tiny flat at Chalet Reynard is always a great moment. It somehow makes the final push to the summit that much more achievable. That said, the last km is the longest last km of any of the many Tour climbs I’ve done. The other great thing about the climb is the sheer variety of riders – two years ago I saw a women in a flowery skirt on a sit-up-and-beg with a basket on the front past Chalet t Reynard who looked for all the world as though she had set off to the boulangerie for a baguette, taken a wrong turning and just kept going.

Guy H January 15, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Another excellent read, and great that it seems Mr Poli frequents these parts. One day I’ll climb one of these….

Ibwib January 17, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Brilliant read, one that brought back a few recent memories, thank you.

My in-laws booked a family holiday on Mt Ventoux a few years back, and spent the run up to the trip insisting I rent a bike and ride it as I’m a cycling fan and “it would be like going to Wembley and not kicking a ball.” I refrained from pointing out that I’m a boxing fan too, but I don’t go looking for a punch in the face.

Anyway, we finally got there and both sides changed their tune. They were suddenly daunted by the mountain and urging me to stay home, while I was struck by the sense of being on legendary ground and not wanting to waste the opportunity to see more of it. I left my poor wife worrying in our rented gitte and set off with two bottles of Volvic and a Snickers bar. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t make it, but I did have one of the most beautiful, memorable days of my life (a dead goat notwithstanding) and when I came back down again I’d turned from an armchair sports fan into a cyclist.

Forgive me for linking, but there’s a blog with an account and some photos here:
http://www.pedalling-squares.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/what-i-did-on-my-summer-holidays-by.html

The Inner Ring January 17, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Well done. A limb like this “never leaves anyone indifferent” as they say in French

sea_biscuit January 20, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Superb stuff. A bit of an aside, but somewhat related to your series on the climbs. Given that many of the records for these climbs were set during the 90′s, ‘with a tailwind’ is there anywhere other than strava where we can get an idea what the sort of median or average time a pro takes to do them – if i can get within 50% of their time i’m happy.

The Inner Ring January 20, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Ventoux does have genuine tailwinds. But as a rough rule add about 10-15% to the times from the worst era of EPO and blood doping usage. This would take Pantani’s Alpe record from 37 to 41-43 minutes and Ventoux goes back to an hour, close to the time set by Gaul in 1958 of 1.02.09.

EsorRose January 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

This mountain sits in our back yard and haunts us – during the season we climb ‘the windy one’, often three times a year, once from each direction, yet the description given here is as fresh as the first day we rode up into the unknown some 10+ years ago. A few years ago the E’tape included it and I, along with 10,000 participants went up – it felt like a silent marching army. A few days later, we climbed again, this time from Sault and a runner with a backpack embroidered with “marathon des sables” kept pitter pattering up behind me, running along side me and even overtaking me….. you can only imagine how that felt on tired legs. I’ve never lived it down and have occasionally to remind myself that this runner was an elite in his field. I’m a female cyclist whose experience on the Ventoux is one of posturing and battles – I grind up Le Ventoux and occasionally pass a fellow cyclist. I feel your pain, but don’t use my passing as a challenge. To reach the top is a personal battle and achievement. We all toil, we all read every letter written on the tarmac, every name. However, watch the guys in the TdF peleton….some of them still have the energy to do a wheelie up the last 6km stretch from Chalet Reynard – and boy does that please the crowds. I kid you not. We may take sub 2 hours but those guys are in a league of their own. Big respect.

Craig March 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Not enough talk about the descent!!! It’s the bomb!! I can’t climb fast so I enjoy the death defying descent to Bedouin. No. 1 on Strava, average 60.9kmh. It’s a beautiful mountain.

The Inner Ring March 10, 2013 at 3:51 pm

It’s a great descent down to Malaucène too with more corners.

Doubter July 15, 2013 at 4:31 am

I hit 100 kph coming down this mountain.
I giggled for 10 minutes…..

sm April 6, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I didn’t enjoy it and not because it was hard (it wasn’t really – and that may have been my problem!).

I had a perfect day. I had trained for 3 months for the ascent and, worried by what was ahead of me, I took my time and cruised up the mountain far too easily, ‘sprinting’ when I exited the forest. I look back and wish I’d have pushed myself more, maybe I was too comfortable. As the article says, I was able to look up at the view, which for the most part is non-existent.

I’m not saying this to be different nor because it was too easy nor because I want to be respected for some kind of amazing time (it was average!). I really was bored. Quite the anti-climax after so much hard training.

The view from the top is quite something however. I’ll never forget looking over and seeing Mont Blanc in the distance. Wow. Maybe I’ll return someday and push myself more.

Goonie July 14, 2013 at 1:12 am

Yes, train hard enough, gear your bike low enough, and pace yourself conservatively enough and you can ride just about any mountain without pushing yourself to the limit. And, like you, I’ve been slightly disappointed to discover that.

But it’s actually a great opportunity, because you have the chance to ride the great passes and actually appreciate their beauty rather than undergoing an FTP test every time you climb.

If you really need to test yourself, pin on a number and try and beat other riders. You don’t need hills to make a race gruelling. Just ask the Tour riders about stage 13!

Chris April 29, 2013 at 6:14 pm

These pieces are extremely good. I’ve just come back to this for another read as I am thinking of going back and climbing Ventoux again having been up once 4 years ago.
It is a slightly impertinent request given the amount of high quality output from the site, but it would be awesome to have a Google Map – much like the Calendar – showing these sections. If I could then persuade Michele Acquarone and Christian Prudhomme to add gpx files of stages to their websites then it would make my summer holiday planning a lot easier… I wouldn’t neceassarily expect ASO to embrace the idea as it might cannibalise their Etape du Tour participation but the Giro – and Acquarone in particular – seem to embrace social media and free content a little more.

The Inner Ring April 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Hi, I’ve got a draft page which lists all the roads and one aspect I’m looking at is the map, just like you say, where you click on it and it brings up the summary details and then you can visit the page in question. Hopefully I get this done soon but the Giro could get in the way.

Trevor Ward May 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Hi,
Does anyone know if the climb from Malaucene has been used in the TdF? I’ve a feeling it might be just the once, during its TdF debut in 1951, but would be grateful to hear if anyone knows differently?

Thanks

The Inner Ring May 14, 2013 at 1:32 am

That seems to be right, the race crossed over that side in 1951 on the way to Avignon. Paris-Nice finished there but not at the top, only the Mont Serein ski station. It’s said to be easier but if it is, only just.

Trevor Ward May 14, 2013 at 9:26 am

Thank you! I’ll be finding out for myself next month when I attempt the Gran Fondo Ventoux which is climbing it from Malaucene……

Diecast July 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm

If anybody is heading out there and planning a route – I was recommended to take in the nearby gorge de la nesque. It’s beautiful. Coupled with ventoux and a hailstorm made for memorable ride.

ColinH July 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Can’t wait. I’ve got 4 days in the area starting on the 3rd of September.

Bring it on.

BC July 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Yet another ‘spot on’ description of a well known climb. It is certainly true, winds and temperature aside, that the initial 7 kms are a relentless climb through the trees with no respite.

Mark July 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Cool – only just noticed the link to the youtube vid, which I took of my mate Paul (in black).

The crazy thing was that we had not real notion of there being any serious wind that day as we climbed up, all was as normal until we turned the very last corner to ride the last 50m or so to the top.

And then wow…. as you say, was like a jet engine. The chap in yellow I ended up helping was pinned to floor, couldn’t move !

But some bizarre weather does happen on that mountain, I remember once descending to Malaucene in a massive scary thunderstorm with enormous hailstones machine-gunning us…..arrived drenched in the village at the bottom as if we had been through a war and everyone was sat outside the cafes eating pizzas and icecream on a calm sunny day.

John July 14, 2013 at 2:50 am

One other advantage to being based in Sault – lavender. Fields and fields of it, and the most fragrant variety you can imagine. I recall rolling down the car window and being hit with the smell of Heaven.

While the mountain is pretty quiet, in the summer there are many people who seem to drive up to have lunch at Chalet Raynard.

Gorgeous, unforgiving place. Simply a spectacular climb. After toiling in the forest for an eternity, you finally exit into a real no-mans-land, at the top of the world.

Arthur Alston July 14, 2013 at 7:10 am

Thank you for this series. I’m lucky enough to have done many of the cols you featured so far.

As you wrote (and others confirmed) the area around the Geant de Provence is just made for cycling. As others have said, an absolute must is the Gorges de la Nesque.

I rode up on two consecutive days via the classic ascent and also via Malaucene. Always descended down to Sault – where the scent emanating from the lavender fields is like a warm cloak (I also had near zero temperatures and 100 km/h wind at the top). These contrasting conditions (on one ride) make the entry to Sault so much more pleasant. The only thing you have to be aware of on the Sault descent is hitting one of the sheep that wonder the mountain seemingly freely.

I can’t wait to watch the stage.

Alice July 14, 2013 at 9:14 am

To Bedoin from Malaucene 100 times. The drive over the Col de Madeleine is hairy & more dangerous than Independence Pass in Colorado. The Madeleine has few guard rails. Thoughtless truckers
zoom down to scare the daylights out of a sedan driver. You can see that you are being forced too near a fenceless 100 foot mountain drop. Have seen the police and ambulance medics standing & looking down.

Greg July 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Your wonderful description of the climb, views and grandeur of the mountain definitely whet the cycling appetite! If you make it Stateside for some riding just point yourself to Colorado. I live on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and riding at least a portion of Trail Ridge Rd is a weekly staple. It rolls from Estes Park (~7,750 ft) to the highest point at Lava Cliffs (~12,250) before descending. The views are surreal, especially this winter when the park service had carved a bicycle sized lane into 20 feet of snowfall!

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