Ask any cyclist about Mont Ventoux and they can probably recognize it instantly. Although it has only been used in the Tour de France since 1951, it is one France’s most monumental climbs. Unfortunately, the mountain gained even more fame because of tragedy when, in 1967, a British rider lost his life as he approached the summit. Despite this misfortune several people travel to Mont Ventoux year round to tackle this ride.
We rolled out around 8:30 in the morning from our hotel in Malaucene and had a nice casual ride to the base of Mt. Ventoux in Bedoin. This is the classic side that the tour uses, which is 21.8 km’s (13+ miles) and 5,300 feet of continuous, so I knew it was going to be a tough climb but extremely memorable. Even though statistically the average grade up Ventoux is 7.5%, that figure is a little misleading. To elaborate, the first 6 km’s are a gentle 4% average grade which means there will be pain up the road and that pain is in the last 16 km’s which are brutal 9% average grade.
After fueling up and getting my bottles ready, I started the ascent up Ventoux. Right from the start, I noticed there were a lot of people doing the climb along with a solid flow of traffic. All total, there were probably 300+ people cycling up Ventoux ranging from kids to senior citizens. With all these cyclists, this ride had the feel of a rally which made the climb even more special. Of course the congestion made it a little nerve racking, but everybody was very considerate and you never felt any pressure from the cars to get over. I guess even the vehicles understand that this is the mighty Mt. Ventoux and the ultimate king of the road are cyclists.
The first 2 km’s were had a gradual grade and the only easy section I was going to see over the 22km climb. At around 5 km’s, you hit a nice switchback and find yourself entering the lower forest. This is where the climb starts its most difficult stretch where the grade stays above 9% with extended sections of 11% and 12% over the next 10 km’s. Although the forest was very beautiful, it was hot and the sweat was just pouring off of me. While climbing these steep sections, I knew I didn’t want to push myself too hard as I was concerned about cramps as anyone who’s ridden in high humidity knows is a real concern. To be safe, I decided to slow down about ½ mile per hour to ensure I could tackle the rest of this magnificent climb.
At the half way point, I refueled again and got back after it. Surprisingly enough, I started feeling stronger and decided to kick up the speed. With about 6 km’s to go, the forest started to thin and you were able to get your first view of the top of Ventoux punctuated by the famous communications needle which is an amazing sight. Once through the forest, the landscape turns from a lush green forest to a barren landscape of white dirt and various rock formations that are as far as the eye can see up the pristine road that snakes its way to the top. I’m not sure if it was the cooler temps which were aided by the elevation and wind, but I started feeling stronger. Truth be told, it was probably the sight of the top that really got me motivated. At this point, even though the grade is still around 7% to 8%, I started flying up the hill holding 9 mph. With every peddle stroke, I felt stronger and excited. Once at the last 1 km, where the grade hit 11%, I knew I was almost there. At the last switchback, I got out of the saddle and hammered my way to the top. I did it, Mt. Ventoux in 1 hour and 57 minutes. Not a bad time considering I purposely went a little slower at the bottom to be safe. I wasn’t the one hour pro’s do but anything under 2 hours is considered very good and the benchmark for above average cyclists.
At the top, the scene was amazing. It was like a party where everybody was excited about the journey to Ventoux. At the summit, people were lining up to get their picture at the top of Ventoux. I was able to get an individual picture as well as one with several members of the Trek Travel group. After descending down from Ventoux, couple of the guys wanted to do a double and go up Ventoux from the other side. Although I was up for it, the heat at the bottom was over 90 degrees and I was concerned about pushing it too hard knowing I still had several big days ahead of me. Even with those factors in my head, I still decided to at least do half of the climb. Tired and hot, I held a steady pace up the back side of Ventoux and turned back after 10 km’s to meet everybody for lunch. After a pleasant 15 mile ride back, I got off my bike at the hotel and enjoyed a nice dip in the pool talking to my co-cyclists about an amazing day with over 8,000 feet of climbing.