Must Ride Climbs: #2 – Mont Ventoux

 

Summit area of Mont Ventoux in the Provence Region of France.

We are counting down the most legendary climbs, the ones that all riders need to tackle once in their lives. Check out the others in the list; number 5 – Col du Tourmalet, number 4 – Alpe d’Huez & number 3 – Passo del Ghisallo

What Makes Mont Ventoux so Special?

Ventoux is the hardest of all the legendary climbs in our list. Long sections of the climb are steep and you are either climbing in the forest that feels like an oven on a hot day, or in the lunar landscape of the top part of the climb where the winds can knock you off your bike. The challenge of riding this mountain is what attracts pros and amateurs here from around the world.

Unlike our other climbs, the Ventoux is not in a mountain range and is the largest climb by far in the area. As a result, you can see the mountain, with its famous weather station, from miles around and it makes this climb such a feature of the area.

Ventoux was first used in the Tour in 1951 and has been used 15 times since, so a stage here is about as common as an Olympics or World Cup. Huge crowds, close to a million people, pack the mountain to cheer on their heroes and the roads are still painted with grafitti urging on riders from past stages. So much history has been made on this mountain, most recently Chris Froome’s running incident in 2016 but the mountain will always be remembered for the death of Tom Simpson in the 1967 Tour. A stop at his memorial close to the summit is a small way of paying tribute to him and all the heroes that have helped turned this mountain into a cycling pilgrimage.

Location

Mont Ventoux is in the heart of Provence in southern France. It is well connected to the more popular tourist towns of Aix-en-Provence and Avignon and is just over an hour from Marseille.

Where to stay – There are numerous small towns to choose from near Ventoux. Our preference is Bedoin, its at the base of the most famous route to the top and is a charming market town.

Recommended Bike Friendly Hotel – Hotel la Garance & Hotel des Pins in Bedoin are our favourites.

Nearest Airport – Marseille (MRS) is just over an hour away.

The Climb

There are three ways up the mountain. We will start with the most famous.

From Bedoin: The climb starts just out of town as you go over a thin strip of cobbles on the road. The first few kms are relatively flat and open with good visibility of the climb to come. It is not until the 6th km that everything changes and the gradients ramp up for the rest of the way. By now you are in the forest with the occasional view up to the weather station on the summit. On a hot day, this section can feel incredibly humid with the trees keeping in all the heat. Depending on the weather, this section from the 6km mark to Chalet Renard is the hardest with gradients staying between 8 and 10% the entire time with some very steep corners. And then, just like that you reach Chalet Renard and you are out of the woods and in the lunar landscape that makes this climb so famous. From here to the top, the road sticks to fairly even switchbacks with flat corners and steep straights. This section is less steep than the woods but can be made very tricky if the wind is up. 2km from the top is the Tom Simpson memorial where riders leave tributes, normally water bottles. Then you just have the last km, possibly the steepest with a very steep last corner before getting to the top and enjoying the views. On most days the temperature at the top is chilly so bring something to keep you warm.

Distance – 21.4km

Average Gradient – 7.6%

 

From Malaucene: The climb again starts directly out of town and like the ride from Bedoin contains a wooded section and then opens up above the tree line into the rocky, lunar scenery. Unlike the classic Bedoin side, the gradients here are all over the place making it quite hard to find a rhythm. There are numerous flatter sections and then a steep part in the middle – 5km at nearly 10% average. This route is arguably prettier than the Bedoin side as the wooded area is less claustrophobic with more expansive views of the Provence countryside. In the winter, this climb stops at the small ski station of Mont Serein 6km from the top. From here the road surface is incredibly smooth and the mountain a bit more protected from the wind than the other side. A nice climb and a very fun descent.

Distance – 21.2km

Average Gradient – 7.2%

Mont_Ventoux_Malaucene_profile

From Sault: This climb is longer in length but considerably less climbing than the other sides. Sault is a full 500m higher than Bedoin so the gradients are much less severe. The route starts straight out of Sault and is similar to the start of the Bedoin climb as it winds through farmers fields with gentle inclines. The road is narrow but very well maintained and rarely reaches anything steep enough to get you out of your saddle for the first 20km. At this point, you reach Chalet Renard and join the Bedoin road for the final iconic 5km. Either the lack of steep stuff before hand will make this section a shock to your system or you will be well rested so you can blast passed everyone to the summit.

Distance – 25.7km

Average Gradient – 4.5%

Mont_Ventoux-Sault_profile

Other Climbs in the Area

While there are not mountains around Ventoux the area is by no means flat and there is plenty to explore for the pure climbers. There are multiple short (2-7km) climbs in all directions including the Col d’Ey (5.2km at 6%), Col de Suzette (7km at 4.1%) and the longer Col de Macuegne (9km at 5.1%). There is a magnificent ride around the base of Ventoux which is just over 100km and makes for a great day.

Sportives Featuring Mont Ventoux

There are surprisingly few great sportives featuring Ventoux. Haute Route are starting a three day race up Ventoux and there are smaller events in June & September,

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