In 2013 we took our tour group to the hilltop finish on the Ventoux. General conclusion of the group-unforgettably good, a tour highlight.
The Ventoux is described as the ‘Geant de Provence’ and also as the ‘mythical’ mountain. It is a reputation deserved on both counts. Visible from most parts of Provence it is the dominating feature of an otherwise flat region. From a distance it appears snow-capped but in reality it is white rocks that up close look like they are part of a giant landscaping project. No trees grow here.
There are three approaches to the summit of the Ventoux. The Tour typically approaches from Bédoin. So of course we had to ride from that side! It was Friday so we had two days to explore the mountain before race day on Sunday.
Our base was in nearby Malaucène, also at the foot of the Ventoux. This gave us some great riding options. Being in the area in advance of the tour gave us the opportunity to explore the region and the mountain. Both villages are great fun to be in at any time, but exceptional during the week of the tour. Being Provence the weather was perfect. We took our breakfast on the terrace watching the passing parade of bikes heading towards Ventoux. Then at a gentlemanly hour we set off on our ride. The route from Malaucène to Bédoin is picture perfect and a great warm up before hitting the Ventoux. The route is variously canopied by trees, surrounded by vines or traverses rocky fields. All gorgeous. It was not yet race day so Bédoin was a great place to stop for a coffee and top up the bidons. The temperature was rising so we didn’t hang around too long. By now we were part of a great procession of bikes heading for Mont Ventoux.
From Bédoin it is 21.8kms to the summit with an average gradient of 7.4%. This is a little misleading because the first 6kms are relatively easy. After that with about 16kms to go the average is 8.9% with some pretty steep pitches in the mix. Today the climb was tough as expected, but lots of fun. The motor homes were already set up and the bored occupants were entertaining themselves by clapping and cheering the procession of riders making their way up the hill. When we finally emerged from the trees there was Chalet Reynard. A quick refreshment break and it was on to the summit. Now we were in a canyon of motor homes and spectators. And the race was still two days away! So on to the summit, a photo opportunity and a very welcome picnic. Then, just as the tour riders will do in two days time, we descended in the opposite direction to Malaucène.
As you can imagine a 21.8km descent is pretty awesome. Descending this way there are more trees providing shelter from the wind and sun. There is even a ski field on this side of the Ventoux. Back in Malaucène it was time to chill out with a beer and contemplate our reverse ride the next day from Malaucène to the summit. Almost exactly the same length and profile, but as mentioned a little more sheltered.
Race day. Another roll to Bédoin, but this time earlier in the morning. Lots more action in the town today. So we continued on for our third ascent to the summit. Today, it isn’t possible to stick together as a group so we buddied up, confirmed our rendezvous point and set off. We were in a sea of bikes, pedestrians, spectators and cars. It was great.
Today was not about riding hard or fast. It was a matter of getting as far up the hill as possible before the Gendarmes finally closed the road. They do this progressively and mostly are reasonable about letting riders continue on, but you never know when you are going to encounter an over officious gendarme blocking the road. That day the Gendarmes were very relaxed.
Our ride up the hill went well and we made it to Chalet Reynard with plenty of time for a refreshment stop before our final push to a viewing point near the summit.
We opted for a spot near the one kilometer banner. This was just past the Tommy Simpson memorial where we stopped to pay homage and get a group photo. Then it was party time on the Ventoux as we waited for the tour to arrive. First came the caravan with their throw away promotional items. We saw some near death incidents as people scrabbled (fought) for these trinkets. There were some professionals though with bags of goodies. We are still not sure how they carried them off the mountain. Mind you we did manage to grab a few souvenirs for ourselves.
Then the riders arrived. We had been hearing reports of who was leading and the position of the yellow jersey but we were still not sure who would get to us first. We were pretty excited to see the yellow jersey round the bend in the lead. It hadn’t been since the Lance days that the yellow jersey had so dominated a mountain stage, so you can imagine some of the banter.