David Brulotte – Mont Ventoux 1 day climb (21.5km / 1620m / 7.5-12.5%) – 22 June 2015
For any serious cyclist, couch or saddle based, Mont Ventoux is synonymous with some of the most spectacular Tour de France achievements. No wonder that alongside half a dozen other ‘cols’ le Geant de Provence as they call the mountain, is a mythical climb for so many cyclists. This idea sounded fun enough for me to accept to go for a 1 day, in-and-out of Paris trip, to complete the climb, with a colleague of mine. The bad idea was attempting the climb after our Triathlon Des Boucles de Seine on June 21st.
It was a relatively sketchy endeavour as far as scheduling goes. The objective was to leave on the earliest train to Avignon, rent a car, drive to the base of the mountain, set up the bikes, do the climb, cycle down, grab a bite, bring the car back to the station, train back to Paris, and be at work the next day.
Ventoux can be climbed from 4 different starting points: Bedoin, Malaucène, Sault and a mountain bike ascent via the ‘Massif des Cèdres’. The traditional ascent is from Bedoin. It is the most famous one that’s been featured on the Tour so many times. Sault is realtively easier but we chose Malaucène as it’s easier to access via the highway (again, time wasn’t our best friend) and it’s technically just as hard as Bedoin.
To give you the figures, Bedoin is a 21.5km, 1620M ascent with an average slope of 7.5% and a max at 12.5%; Malaucène is 21.2km, up 1570m also averaging 7.5% but with an annoying max at 14%; Sault is 25.8km, 1210m of climb at 4.7 on average but with a respectable 12.5% max slope. If you own a VTT which I don’t, you may feel the urge to try the mountain route at 24.5km, 1620m climb averaging 6.7% and maxed out at 12.5%, but without the cars and pedestrians.
The whole journey down to Avignon was straight forward: pack stuff the day before (you NEED a bike bag on TGVs in France) drink coffeesss in the morning, train down to Avignon (we had bought our tickets + rented the car months in advance), then direct car rental on site, drive for about 45 minutes, find the lovely village of Malaucène, and, get ready! Journey was about 3-4ish hours. The village of Maulaucène is absolutely charming and totally bike-oriented. We had a very light snack consisting of gels, bars, fruits and lots of fluids as it was about 30-32 degrees, no clouds no wind and we stated our ascent at 2pm. It was hot!
The actual ascent is beautiful. You’re in the forest for most of the 25kms, therefore blocked from the wind which can be good, but also prevented from any cooling down. The first half was actually technically not bad. I was being both excited to be doing this spectacular climb but also realising that I’d still be doing the exact same thing, in probably more pain and on a steeper slope, in 90 minutes. Harsh truth!
Along the way you are reminded with little road signs of your progression. Once in a while, you are motivated by the sight of other cyclists coming down at insane speeds with the biggest smiles on their face! I was waving to them as I was going up, but thought people were a bit rude, not returning my touristicly-kind gesture. (I realised on the way down, that at 70km/h no time for road politeness!)
At around km 11, you feel this satisfaction of being almost half way and this is where I realised I still had quite a bit of energy so I should probably up my game. This thought was soon demolished when I took a turn and realised I was coming to the steepest part of the climb. KMs 12 to 17 are between 9 and 14%, no need to say, it’s pretty brutal. But once that’s done, you have a sweet passage at around 3%, which almost feels like being downhill at this stage. The rest of the climb seemed to me relatively simple. I was running out of water but had managed my food intake quite well so I felt thirsty but relatively balanced in my fueling. Once you get out of the forest, you start seeing the wonderful views that the mountain has to offer and passerby are cheering much more as there are only have a few kms to go. The landscape becomes lunar and, finally, you see the top. Alongside the cheer from cars, kids and other cyclists, it is incredibly motivating.
I reached the summit in 2h04. World record is held by Iban Mayo who did it in 2004 in 55:51 at a pace of 23.10km/h. I had read that the average climber does it between 1h30m to 2h30m. But at this stage I couldn’t care less, I had done it! I was quite thrilled …
… Until this funny guy arrives at the top on his mountain bike. He says he is in his mid-50s and he just climbed the mountain route, which is pretty rare. Yes, he says, he’s training to join the ‘Club des Galériens’! I should have known!
You see, there is always someone a little crazier than you out there. If you climb the Mont Ventoux from all 3 paved routes IN THE SAME DAY, you are invited to join the ‘Club des Cinglés’! If you do all 4 including the VTT one, welcome to the ‘Club de Galériens’. And, wait for it, if you do all 3 paved routes TWICE, in the same day, you are welcomed to join the other 116 people who are part of the ‘Club des Bicinglés’!
After a burger and a beer, we came back in a bit if a rush so we wouldn’t miss our train and the rest went smoothly. Overall it was a fantastic adventure that I highly recommend. It is also absolutely doable as a day trip. I had trained in hills a bit, but didn’t feel I was insanely well prepared. It got me a bit stressed at first but I realised that overall condition prevailed rather than explosive climbing skills.
If anyone feels mental enough, I’d be willing to try to gain a spot in the ‘Club des Cinglés’ next year!
Editor’s note: The Tour de France 2016 will make the climb…..read the article in Velo News here.