A Trip to One of Bicycling’s Most Iconic Climbs
By Terry O’Connor, KBC Insurance Coordinator, November 2017
I just returned from a three-week vacation in France, where I visited Mont Ventoux. No, I did not ride to the top of the 6,273 ft mountain but I did talk with three cyclists about their experiences. Here’s my take on the Giant of Provence:
- Mont Ventoux, a mountain in southern France, is a featured stage in the Tour de France because of its grueling nature, taking cyclists, like the KBC “hammer heads,” two hours or more to reach the top. Cyclists have died trying this climb. Come prepared!
- There are three routes (see map) to the summit starting from Malaucene, Bedoin, and Sault. Each route has a unique challenge. For example, Malaucene (the west side), which I traveled by car (that labored all the way up), is difficult but it has switchbacks that allow cyclists to “rest”. In addition the road is wider with a good surface and has well-marked lanes making it the safest approach. Bedoin (the south side) is the least suitable for us mortal cyclists because it’s narrow, twisty, and really steep (5 mph speed low gearing is essential). In addition, you battle with traffic from both directions, including bicyclists descending at 50 mph! The long route from Sault (the east side) is said to be the easiest at 26 km and “only” 1200 meters of climbing.
- The sommet (as they say over there) of Mont Ventoux is well above the tree line and has a crater-like landscape that looks other-worldly, as shown in the photo. The surface is bare limestone without vegetation or trees, which make the mountain appear snow-capped all year round from a distance.
- Did I mention that it’s cold at the sommet? The cyclists I talked with—including a very fit-looking German cyclist (shown in one of the photos) who rode Mont Ventoux from Malaucenein an hour and fifty minutes—put on windbreakers for the decent. He also recommended disc brakes, not regular rim brakes (which require alternating handbrake squeezing to prevent over heating). Some people actually try to ride all three climbs in one day! At the peak is a limited eating area and, of course, the mandatory profit-generating souvenir shop with plenty of jerseys and t-shirts. No I did not make any purchases.
- So, in Kalamazoo terms, how steep is Mont Ventoux? Imagine if 6thStreet hill (the steep part near the top) went on for mile after mile–at least a couple hours, and toss in the DALMAC “wall” for fun! Oh, and make sure it’s really windy the last hour with no shade at all!