We spent two days making friends with the Giant of Provence - Mont Ventoux, with one ascent on race day, and another ascent the following day.
We were fortunate enough to be travelling with Colin Lewis a former pro rider who was also Tom Simpsons domestique at the 1967 Tour. At dinner the night before our climb Colin took the time to share with us the story of the 1967 Tour where Tom Simpson died after a mixture of alcohol and amphetamines lead him to a heart attack only a few kilometres from the top of Mont Ventoux. Colin’s story was compelling and provided an insight rarely afforded to those of us outside of the Pro peloton and was one of the highlights of our tour.
As usual, the weather was perfect for both climbs and made for some great riding. The climb on race day was fairly thrilling, with hundreds of thousands of fans making their way up the mountain at the same time as us to watch the racing.
The first section of the climb gently lifts from the valley floor before heading in to the heavily forested section only a few kilometres in. From there, it’s a long slow climb in stifling heat until you break out of the forest on to the southern flank of the mountain and experience the moonscape on approach to the summit. In terms of climbing difficulty, it’s one of the harder climbs in the tour, with pinches well up in to the teens, but we decided that it was much easier to climb these large mountains with fans all around as they provide a constant and encouraging distraction from the effort required to get up the hill.
At the top, the gendarmes had the final 800m of the road closed, so the option was to try to climb the last section on a rocky path in our bike shoes, or descend back through the crowd to a local village and watch the racing roadside. I decided that we would be best getting down off the hill and to some lunch, so we took on a crazy descent in to the fans! Probably not something I’d do again- as we were travelling against the flow of the traffic at a pretty reasonable pace and it’s scary… really scary! We ended up making it just fine, but I was pretty happy to get off the mountain in one piece that day!
The second ascent was much quieter, with the mountain largely deserted from the day before. This is one of the things that really struck me about the Tour de France. One day, it’s race day and the towns are out to party, the crowds are there and the excitement is palpable. In the space of 4 hours the race passes through with the caravan, the official cars, the media entourage, the helicopters, planes, motorbikes and finally the riders, and then not a second after the gendarmes pass at the tail of the race it’s over. The roads are open, signage is souvenired and the Tour Route returns almost instantly (except for the lingering Tour traffic jams) to its natural state.
Our second time we were able to summit the climb and head over the back-side to a descent that’s described as one of the best in France. It’s beautiful straight road, perfect tarmac and gave us about 30km of no pedalling back to the base of the climb where we grabbed some lunch, met the bus and made our way back to the hotel. A far safer and more enjoyable way to get off the mountain!
So two days on Mt Ventoux for the history books! A great stage of the Tour and some great riding for us! Though one last surprise was in store on the ride with a sign indicating that we had crossed the Col d’ Madeleine during the day. I was pretty excited and stopped to take a photo until someone eventually took pity on me and let me know that there were actually two Madeleine’s in France and at around 500m elevation- this was not the one made famous by the Tour de France!
The final instalment of Chasing the Tour - One Sunday in Paris, in Yellow - will be here soon!
Cameron is the Club Captain of the Kangaroo Point Cycling Club and will be blogging his way around France with the support of Claire the Treasurer and Aaron the President of the Kangaroo Point Cycling Club.