CLIMBS: Mont Ventoux (1912m)
An iconic climb in the Provence region of France
With 21 km and 1577m of climbing, the "Giant of Provence" is a great challenge for any cyclist. Since 1951, the greatest champions of the Tour de France have made history on the characteristic lunar landscapes of the last 6 kilometres. This legendary climb from Bédoin is something that every cyclist must do at least once in his lifetime.
However, one should not underestimate the ascent of the Ventoux. A highly trained cyclist will take less than an hour and a half to reach the summit. But for most, the effort will last two to three hours on slopes that can reach up to 11%. It is therefore advisable to be well prepared before making the pilgrimage to Bédoin. A beginner or little trained cyclist will prefer the ascent via Sault, much easier up to Chalet Reynard where the road joins the route coming from Bédoin.
Bike set-up is also important; as the name implies, the wind can blow very strong at the top of Ventoux, to the point of becoming dangerous. Avoid high profile wheels and use good gear ratios: at least 36×28, but a 34×32 will help any cyclist reach the summit in reasonable condition. Two bottle cages are also highly recommended to be able to hydrate enough during the effort.
How does the climb up the Ventoux break down? The first 6 kilometres out of Bédoin are relatively easy through the vineyards. Then it gets tougher: at Saint Estève, you turn left and the average slope is 9.5% until you reach Chalet Reynard (km 15). The road meanders through the woods but there are no hairpin bends for any respite.
It is advisable to stop at Chalet Reynard to refuel (there is a restaurant) and recover before attacking the final section which offers a radical change of scenery. The forest gives way to rocky outcrops and you can see from afar the antenna installed at the top of Mont Ventoux. The slope is less steep in places but fatigue and, more often than not, the wind slows down the progress. The antenna never seems to get any closer, but when you do finally reach the summit at 1912 meters you can celebrate your hard work.
The descent should not be underestimated either: it is long, the wind blows most of the time, and the effort involved to get to the top can reduce your reflexes in the descent. It is therefore important to recover well at the summit and to remain cautious, especially since you will come across a lot of cyclists and cars on the road.
Beware of the weather: good weather in Bédoin does not mean good weather at the summit. The wind can blow violently, the fog can settle in, or the heat can be overwhelming on the first slopes. It is therefore advisable to find out about the conditions before setting off (see this useful link to a local weather site). In terms of clothing, at least one windbreaker should be brought along; long gloves, warmers and a hat are greatly appreciated in case of bad conditions.
Early summer (June) and late season (from mid-September) are the best times to climb the Ventoux. The heat is less intense than at the height of summer and the traffic is more bearable than during the holiday period.
The Haute Route Ventoux takes place at the beginning of October and offers the ideal conditions for climbing Mont Ventoux: rider support that is usually reserved for professional cyclists, and a unique atmosphere of camaraderie that encourages everyone to give their best effort. The 2020 edition will take place from 2 to 4 October, more info on the Haute Route website.
Take a break at Chalet Reynard to refuel at km 15. And bring extra layers; it can be cold even while climbing on the unforgiving last few kilometres to the top.
A gentle start from Bédoin
A sign of things to come
While the trees offer some respite from the heat below, the slope starts to pick up
As you start to leave the forest, the lunar landscape comes into view
Just after Chalet Reynard, the last push to the top
The effort is finally paying off with an extraordinary view over Provence
The famous tower that never seems to get any closer
The memorial to Tom Simpson on the spot where he died on stage 13 of the 1967 Tour de France
The final 100 meters don't get any easier
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