My ride up Mont Ventoux

June 12, 2000

My plans actually started the week before when I was told that I would be going to southern France (Montpellier) for a system install. I knew that Mont Ventoux was not far from where I going. Since it was kinda short notice, I decided to drive it.

I did a bit of research on the net and found some course profiles and a route description. The route description page said where to start and the different assents of the mountain. I chose the one, of course, that the Tour de France takes.

So I set out from Neuchatel around 7:30am figuring it would take somewhere between 4 and 5 hours to get there. Turns out, I wasn't too far off. The weather was a bit nasty in Neuchatel and there was a bit of drizzle in the air. I hoped that it would be better at Ventoux.

On the way down, it rained a few times and got really windy. In the valleys around Mont Ventoux, the wind was howling at around 70 kph (40 mph). I thought there was no way that I would be able to climb Ventoux today. Ventoux is known for having high winds at the top and I knew this would be the case.

So, after getting lost and going the long way, I made it to my desired start spot of Carpentras. I've heard Phil Liggett mention that town a few times so I thought what a perfect place to start. I knew that it was around 15 km from the actual start of the climb so that I would have sufficient warmup before I started the climb. I found a nice parking spot right in the center of town. Other cyclists had also found this parking lot. There was another car from a group of mountain bike racers. I unloaded the bike, put on my cycling gear, and hit the road.

Coming out of Carpentras was quite a nice ride. A little bit of traffic but not too bad. The road, of course, is uphill almost all of that 15 km to the "official" start of the climb. And of course, I had a headwind. But the uphill was very minor and I managed to keep around 28kph (18 mph) - a good warmup.

All long the road, you can see the top of Mont Ventoux and the observation tower at the top. For today, it was visible sometime and covered in clouds other times.

The "official" start of the climb is in a town called Bedoin or Beduoin. It's spelled both ways as you enter the town. It's a very beautiful, historic village and very small. As I entered the outskirts of town, I passed a couple of older gentlemen riding toward Ventoux as well. We exchange hellos and I passed them (but not for long).

I followed the signs and entered the village proper. This was the slowest part of the ride as there was a village market that day and the town was flooded with people. I had to almost walk through town. As soon as I made the center of town and followed the signs, I knew that the climb had begun. The road turns up a bit and it's quite obvious that the real climbing has started - 22 km to go.

During the whole ride toward Ventoux, it's quite easy to see the mountain. It is always there on your left as you ride toward it. Quite impressive and today the top was shrouded in clouds. Another clue that the top would be kinda ugly today.

The first 5 or so kilometers are really easy. I was lulled into a kinda false sense that this would be an easy climb. The average of the climb is around 7.3 percent. I would later find that the top of the climb makes up for the easy grades at the bottom. For most of the climb so far, I've used a 39x17 or 19. At the six kilometers from the bottom mark or 16 km to go, the road turns up quite sharply. It's marked by the first switchback. As soon as you hit that switchback, the 10 percent grades start.

This part of the climb is very forested and very nice. It's cool and a nice breeze is blowing keeping me cool. There are quite a number of picnic areas around and since I started around noon, they are quite full. Many french people out having a nice afternoon dinner. It's so great in France - many people look up from their tables and shout "Allez!" meaning "Go!". One person, who has a bike on his car, shouts "Allez! Allez! Jolie!" roughly translated as "Go! Go! Looking good!". It gives me a bit of encouragement even though I'm hurting. At this point, I've hit the 39x25.

There are very few signs or markers of any kind. You have no clue how far you've gone or how far left to go. The only clue is that someone came and painted blue numbers in the road. Since they are going up and my computer agrees with them, I figure they are the kilometer markers from the bottom. Ugh, 14 down and around 8 to go. It's right about this point that one of the gentlemen that I passed at the bottom comes up and passes me. He's climbing very strong. I'm quite amazed.

The forest continues for quite a while and it seems like forever. I round a corner and see the beginnings of the Mont Ventoux that most everyone knows. The first 15 km are forested and, on a sunny day, would be nice. But today is cloudy for me and by now getting cooler. I'm starting to see my breath. At the 7 km to go mark, I come upon the last bit of civilization - a ski lodge and ski lifts. For the next 7 km, I have a lunar landscape to look at.

My one worry on the climb was the winds at the top. During the forest it was difficult to know the winds. But now, I'm exposed and suprisingly there is just a breath of wind (very suprising because later as I drove out of Carpentras, the wind was still howling). I continue climbing and stopping every so often to snap a quick picture. It's getting much colder and I really have to keep moving to stay warm.

At the 1.5 km to go mark, the observatory at the top is quite close. I know that the Tom Simpson memorial is very nearby so I continue to climb (for those of you not familiar with the story, Tom Simpson was a cyclist who in 1967 died while climbing Ventoux).

Just a 100 meters or so past the 1.5 km to go mark, I come upon the memorial. It's much smaller than I expected and you'd almost miss it if you weren't looking for it. It's set back off the road about 10 meters. As the pictures show, there are many gifts left there.

I hop back on the bike and finish the climb. It's a bit breezy at the top but not like the valley. I stop to take a few pictures and some nice people snap my photo. They ask me about the climb and about my camera and they are amazed that someone would climb this mountain on a bike (i'm quite pleased because the entire exchange was in French!). I put on my arm warmers and begin the descent.

Just before descending, I stop to snap a few pictures of the other side of the mountain.

The descent is not one of the best around. The top of the mountain is very rocky and there are many stones in the road so I can't get much speed up. As soon as the forest starts, I'm able to pick up speed but there are lots of turns and I'm being a bit cautious today. I decened back to Bedoin and begin the 15 kilometers back to Carpentras. This time it's a slight downhill with a tailwind and I'm flying at 45 to 50 kph - love it. I find the car, have a bit to eat, and head off to Montpellier for my system install.