04 June 2013

Three Sides of Mont Ventoux

When a mountain is too good to only climb it one way

Three Sides of Mont Ventoux - Part I of II.: This is the first part in a series about riding one of the best climbs in France - Mont Ventoux.

See Part II : Traveling to Mont Ventoux

Did you know that Mont Ventoux (Le Géant de Provence) has three routes to its summit? Technically two merge shortly before the top, and the remaining two roads are really one road which goes up and over the summit. Still you can approach the summit from three different towns, which is an excellent excuse to return to this mountain to climb it again and again.

The 3 routes to Mont Ventoux - steepest, hardest, longest. click image to enlarge.
Map created by Pedal Dancer®
The view to the summit on Malaucene side of Mont Ventoux. Only the very top is deforested. Most of the route has trees. ©Photo by Karen at Pedal Dancer®
The most well-known view to the summit on the Bedoin/Sault side of Mont Ventoux. Much of the top is barren rock. ©Photo by Karen at Pedal Dancer®
If you are really gung ho you can climb Mont Ventoux from all three routes in one day, and join a club called the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux for a fee, which come with rules. Or validate your personal achievement at this kiosk at the top.
Bravo! ©Photo by Mike for Pedal Dancer®
There is good reason to climb all three sides - but maybe on different days - allowing for time to take photos at the summit, check out the petrified cookies from the cookie/candy vendor at the top, visiting the Tom Simpson memorial (Bedoin side), and stopping at a cafe on the descent down the mountain to look at really nice bikes and people watch. Profile maps by ClimbbyBike click profile images to enlarge

Start Bédoin Length: 22.7 kms, Ascent: 1622 meters, avg 7.1%, max 11% -hardest.

Start Malaucène Length: 21.2 kms, Ascent: 1535 meters, avg 7.2%, max 12% -steepest.

Start Sault Length: 25.7 k, Ascent: 1152 meters, avg 4.5%, max 11% -longest.
Which side should you climb?

I'd say your first choice should be Bedoin. Second choice, take on the descent into Malaucene, either climbing up and back, or looping it in some form. Then include the ride from Sault simply because the scenery is different from the other two sides. If you climb from Bedoin, you will forever enjoy watching the Tour de France and seeing the riders pass by the now familiar landmarks along the route.

I have completed the Sault side twice (2003, 2007). It may be considered the easiest, but it is also one of my favorite rides anywhere (an-y-where!). The ride begins in the lavender fields, winds up through a forest, has a wonderfully engineered road which pops you out at the juncture of the Bedoin route. The two routes converge at a cafe to bring all cyclists (on the south side) through the moonscape rock, and past the Tom Simpson Memorial, to the summit.

I have also climbed to the summit of Mont Ventoux from the Bedoin side once (2010), and driven the Malaucene side once (2012) when I didn't have time to ride it on a bike (long story). If I return to Mont Ventoux, I would like to climb from Bedoin and descend into Malaucine. A descent reported by a BikeSyle Tour Guide I met last year in Malaucene, to be one of the best descents in all of Europe. click maps to enlarge

Or I would want to complete this LOOP ride: Recommended Ride: 100km around Mont Ventoux

Loop route of Bedoin to Malaucene Mont Ventoux
Fastest time on Mont Ventoux

The fastest recorded time was set in 2004 by Iban Mayo competing in a 21.6km individual time trial in the Duaphine Libere. He won the stage in a time of 55.51.49. Second place that same year was Tyler Hamilton (catching on?). It is a strange thing to go back and read the CyclingNews report from that race day after having read Hamilton's book The Secret Race where he speaks about doping in preparation for that particular stage. The Cyclingnews article never speaks of doping, reporting the times as if the men had achieved worthy records.

21 kilometers of thrilling up up up. ©Photo by Mike for Pedal Dancer®
To me, Mont Ventoux is about individual triumph. Being on that mountain is one of the most incredible places to witness the average man, or the well-trained man, give it their all. Languages are as varied as the time spent pedaling to the summit. Strangers and other rider's family members cheer for you as if you are their own. Young and old, first ascenders and repeat visitors - we are all there, to take on the mountain and take in the views. And to reach the summit.

Summit sign on Mont Ventoux. ©Photo by Karen at Pedal Dancer®
Mont Ventoux will be climbed, from the town of Bedoin, in the 2013 Tour de France, as Stage 15, on Bastille Day, July 14th. Expect big crowds on the mountain. The first year Mont Ventoux was used in the Tour de France was in 1958 and the riders climbed from Malaucene. The last time Ventoux was included was in 2010. Twelve other times in the years in between the riders have summited or continued up and over the mountain, mostly climbing from the Bedoin side.

Stage 15, Mountain top finish on Mont Ventoux, 2013 TDF. See the route of the 2013 Tour de France
The 2013 Tour de France will be heavily concentrated in this area of France.
This year will be the 15th visit and only the 9th mountain top finish on Ventoux, where snow has visited recently. The stage will be a climbers feast, and with a rest day the following day, the climbers should go all out. Expect the pack of GC contenders to reach the summit within meters of each other. No big surprises, just a lot of effort.

Yesterday my brother Mike, who is in France on vacation, climbed Mont Ventoux from the Malaucene side (he had ridden the Bedoin side twice before). He and his wife Suz have been sending me photos from their journeys this past 2 weeks. They are included in this post. Thank you!

Location of Mont Ventoux

Mont Ventoux sits on its own, rising above the vineyards and farm fields between the Luberon and the Vacluse areas in southeastern France. It is part of a thrust fault that is the Alps, but as the bird flies - the mountain is a long way away, at the edge of the alpide belt, from what most of us think of as the French Alps. I would hear about Mont Ventoux for years before I realized it is just a big rocky mountain sitting out on its own upon old Roman lands.

These maps are required studying for all cycling fans and anyone wishing to ride a bike in France. It took me years to know and have a good sense of the major cycling regions of France. I hope these maps help you follow the Tour de France, and most importantly, help you decide where you want to go ride a bike. I would describe this area as having one big ride, nice cruising rides, good wine and food, lots of tourist sites and needed down-time (if you want day after day hard climbing - go to the Pyrenees). click map to enlarge

Location of Mont Ventoux and the other major regions and climbs of the Tour de France. Map created by Pedal Dancer®
Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux, Alps. Map created by Pedal Dancer®

Today my brother Mike rode to the summit from the Malaucene side: the view as you reach the top is a bit different than the traditional side.
Nearing the top of Mont Ventoux in the cloud.  ©Photo by Mike for Pedal Dancer®

Read PART II: Traveling to Mont Ventoux Part two features recommendations for travelers to the area.
Also see: Recommended Ride: 100km around Mont Ventoux, or Event Rides (all from Mont Ventoux this week)

To read more about the history of Mont Ventoux and see pictures of the Bedoin climb, read one of my earlier posts from 2010: I love Mont Ventoux. To read more about the Malaucene side and photos I took in 2012 read: So what's up from France? Or more travel and photos from following the TDF in 2011: Tour Travel - Tour de France, Stage 15, also Guess Where? #4.

Recommended Reading: Ride Reports Climbing Mont Ventoux, By Gerry Patterson, Cycling Languedoc; also from Gerry Beaumes-de-Venise – Mont Ventoux Loop;Will from Cycling Challenge describes his ride here: Mont Ventoux – All Three Sides, By Cycling Challenge. More ride reports at Conquering the Beast, By the Wall Street Journal; Cycling Provence: Le Mont-Ventoux and Gorges de la Nesque, By Steephill.TV, and Rest Day, Up Mont Ventoux, by CyclingTips. Also for tourists please search through the blog Sablet House for more specific restaurant and tourist recommendations.

Related Pedal Dancer posts: Lots more pictures and previous stories I love Mont Ventoux, So what's up from France?, Tour Travel - Tour de France, Stage 15.