10 Roads to Ride

This blog’s road to rides section is enduringly popular and consequently there’s stream of email enquiries from readers wanting to know which ones are best, often people are planning a trip to the mountains or even a first visit to Europe and want to visit the roads featured. It’s always difficult to rank them, but for the fun of it here is a suggested top-10, some famous and some that ought to be.

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Mont Ventoux’s Summit Fever

A recent geographical survey says Mont Ventoux is not as high as previously thought. The road at the top is lower than 1900m despite signs proclaiming it sits at 1911m. It’s tempting to imagine Mont Ventoux collapsing under the weight of clichés piled on every time the Tour de France visits. It’s telling that if nobody can agree the height then there’s space on the mountain for dreams, mysteries and more. No other venue seems to capture the imagination.

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Roads to Ride: Mont Ventoux

Mont Ventoux Tour de France

As part of a series exploring the famous roads of cycling, here is Mont Ventoux. 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 except 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.

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The Steeper The Climb, The Easier The Race?

With the Giro d’Italia and Tour of California approaching the mountains, a moment to look at the subject of climbing.

There are names that stand out. Zoncolan. Angliru. Perhaps after the summer the Grand Colombier could join the club after the Tour de France climbs it for the first time. These are all steep climbs that are considered so hard that they are used sparingly in the big races, appearing only once every few years.

Of course there are other climbs that appear from time to time too. For example Mont Ventoux in France or the unpaved Colle delle Finestre in Italy but the climbs I’m talking about are famed for their pitch, with double-digit gradients. A ramp to the heavens, a “spaceship for the poor man” as Italian journalist Gianni Brera once wrote.

The names of these are used in whispered tones, as if some are fearful of upsetting the mountain gods. Certainly there is plenty for the riders to get angry about with relentless gradients, often well into double-digit percentages meaning these climbs are the place where three weeks of racing can be decided. They can be so steep cars are not used, instead race officials and mechanics hop onto motorbikes.

But if they are steep they are not hard. Their vertiginous gradients can be tamed by low gearing. Indeed the steepest of climbs can be the most predictable. Here’s a look at why the steepest climbs are not always the best.

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Mont Ventoux Madness

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 … Read more