This year the Tour de France will climb Mont Ventoux, not once but twice in a day. It’s famous slopes will once again test the best riders in the world to their limits, perhaps even beyond. But you don’t need to be an elite rider to reach the summit, we’ve encountered all sorts of bikes; fully laden touring bikes, unicycles and it has even been climbed on a Boris bike, before it was returned to London within the 24hr hire limit! Nowadays with the advent of electric bikes it really is accessible to all. So what makes this climb stand out and why are cyclists drawn from all corners of the world to take on this iconic mountain?
Known as the Géant de Provence, Mont Ventoux is heaped in cycling history. Ever since the death of Tom Simpson on the mountain during the 1967 Tour de France, Ventoux has been a pilgrimage for many cyclists wanting to test themselves on its famous slopes.
The Three Climbs.
The ascent from Bédoin, is the classic way up and arguably one of the toughest cycling climbs used in the Tour de France. With an elevation gain of 1621m over 21.5km it has an average gradient of 7.5% but it is the section from St. Estève to Chalet Reynard which is the most challenging. At Chalet Reynard there is a chance to recover in the Café or push on to the newly refurbished summit 6km away, from here the gradient eases slightly, well until the last 1 km! But there is always the famous Mistral wind or the afternoon heat reflecting of the rocky landscape, which can put an abrupt end to your day on the bike.
The Malaucene climb up Ventoux is slightly overshadowed by the Bedoin climb which is a shame as the views on the North Side of the mountain are simply stunning. Many argue over which climb is tougher, it’s the same length and gradient as the Bedoin climb but it definitely has one of the toughest sections on the mountain with 2km of over 11% average gradient…. we will let you decide for yourself!
However, our favourite days on the bike are spent with guests who had no intention of climbing to the summit, or thought it well beyond their ability. The climb from the historic town Sault is the easier of the three sides being longer and with a very manageable average gradient of 4%. After a short descent from the village the road crosses lavender fields before entering the forest and weaving itself up to Chalet Reynard where it meets the climb from Bédoin. The climb now becomes tougher with an average gradient of 7-8% but the summit is almost within touching distance.
Our Top Tips.
It’s a long climb! This may sound obvious but we are often passed on the lower slopes by cyclists only to see them again later in the day struggling before the summit. Pacing the climb is key, if you can’t hold a conversation at the bottom you are probably going too fast!
Avoid the heat… In the heart of the summer the temperatures on the upper slopes can be unbearable and an early start is recommended.
Watch out for the Cold.. I think we have now climbed Ventoux in every month of the year but even in July the temperatures on the summit can be barely above freezing, especially when the Mistral is blowing. Remember, it’s also a long way down and that wind proof may come in handy!
Oh and the wind! The famous Mistral wind blows from the North into the Mediterranean and it is funnelled down the Rhone Valley. Wind speeds of up to 320km/h (200mph) have been recorded at the summit and the wind has literally blown us of our bikes but it has rarely stopped us from reaching the top with a bit of forecast watching. In fact Mont Ventoux has always had a history with the weather. Whilst the hill was probably climbed in prehistoric times, the first recorded ascent was by Jean Buridan who, on his way to the papal court in Avignon before the year 1334, climbed Mont Ventoux “in order to make some meteorological observations”. In 1882, the meteorological station was constructed on the summit, though it is no longer in use. The iconic red and white 50-metre-high (160 ft) telecommunications mast was built in the 60’s. Current weather conditions live from the weather station at the summit can be tracked here.
Take water with you! There is limited access to water during the climb so remember to fill your bottles at the bottom! Bottles can be topped up at in the toilet block beside the cafe at Chalet Reynard but there is very little available on the Malaucene climb.