If you have even a passing interest in pro cycling you’ll probably have heard of Mont Ventoux. Despite having only being used in the TdF since 1951 (many of the giant climbs of the Pyrenees and Alps date from the early 20th Century) it is probably the most famous and feared of the great climbs of the Tour. Ventoux’s particular mystique is reinforced by the fact that it is used far less regularly than other monumental climbs, being neither in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, the mountain gained even more fame because of tragedy when, in 1967, top British rider Tom Simpson collapsed and died nearly within a kilometer of the summit. There is a monument near the spot where he fell that has become something of a shrine for those climbing from the southern routes.
Even if you aren’t a fan this mountain presents an awesome challenge and, unlike the big cols of the Alps and Pyrenees (actually, Mont Ventoux is considered to be part of the Alps, geologically), Le Geant is smack dab in the middle of ‘civilization’ – there are virtually no other mountains of any size nearby. This makes it simple to access and the climb is within an easy day trip from Avignon, Nîmes, Montpellier, Arles, Aix or Marseilles.
Note: For at least the entire 2020 season there is work being done around the summit of the mountain (new park, paths, rerouting roads, etc). Cyclists are allowed to climb to the top but cars are not. There is no through traffic for the entire year and potentially beyond, according to the local authorities.
- Height in meters: 1909
- Elevation gain in meters: 1617
- Distance in kilometers: 22
- Average gradient: 7.4%
- Time from Marseille Airport (MRS) by car: 1.25 hrs
- Roads (paved) to summit: 3
- Speed Mistral (wind) can reach in km/h: 320
- Feeling you get once you’ve climbed it: Incalculable!
The Three Routes
Most of us know the climb because of the Tour de France, and therefore we know the climb that starts in Bédoin. However, there are 3 routes up Le Geant de Provence and each one is special.
If you want to make sure you are riding in the pedal strokes of legends then this is your route. The most popular route by far is from Bédoin, a lively village on the southern side of the mountain. This is also a good place to stay if you are in the area for riding since the atmosphere is buzzing with riders all day long. The climb starts as the D974 turns out of the village to the east. You cannot miss the way to the summit- there are plenty of signs pointing you toward it. After you turn, start your computer. The climb is on.
Follow the D974 for around 6 km, through the hamlets of Sainte-Colombe, Les Bruns and finally Sainte Estève, where your road makes a famous left hairpin and the climb really begins. From here to Chalet Reynard, nearly 10 km away, the gradient almost never goes under 9%, and indeed stays closer to 10% for much of the way. It’s a relentless grind that will quickly let you know whether you’ve come to the mountain prepared or not! Don’t worry too much, though. If you have the time there are plenty of shady spots to stop and rest, many with picnic tables.
At Chalet Reynard you can take a rest, If you think you deserve it, then push on for the final attack on the summit. You are now above the trees and the bald, rocky peak is visible for much of the 6 km you have left. The gradient is a little less forgiving, but it can be ferociously windy at times (especially before the Col des Tempêtes, 800 meters before the summit), plus Ventoux saves the best for last, and the final 1 km is at, or just under, 10%.
Malaucène, much like its southern sister, Bédoin, is a most enjoyable town with a vibrant feel to it from spring to fall. To get to the top you take the D974, just like from Bédoin. After a gentle first 2 kilometers you pass a shaded restaurant (decent burgers!) on the right, cross a little brook, and begin the fun! This climb is not nearly as steady as the southern route, which means you get more breaks from the non-stop steepness of the Bédoin climb, but it also means it’s a little more difficult to get into a steady pace because the gradients change up and down. There is one particularly long section half way up this climb that is 11% and 12%, with a steep straight stretch that seems to never end.
Around 6 km before the summit you reach Chalet Liotard, with it’s great views over the Southern Alps (the views are generally better on the north side), then a hard right-hander takes you onto the road again for your final push. With only a couple km left you exit the trees and see your goal, along with the steep hairpins you need to negotiate to get there. This can either be incredibly motivating or unbelievably demoralizing. We’ve felt both, so much depends on the kind of day you’re having.
The route from Malaucène has a good number of riders at all times of the season, but it is far less crowded than the southern side. If you’d like the road a bit more to yourself, choose this one.
The forgotten third road up the mountain is the most serene. For those who may not want to try the other two, for whatever reason, Sault offers something of a ‘Ventoux-Lite’ experience, at least for the first 20 km. This route is the longest, at 26 km, but the first several of those are through the beautiful lavender fields of the Albion Plateau, below the pretty village of Sault. This is one our favorite areas in all of France, especially when the lavender is in bloom (early to mid summer).
Once you make your way out of the wide valley on its western side you start into the forested flanks of the mountain. It’s an easy climb and a very pleasant ride. Enjoy it because when you get to Chalet Reynard (meeting the climb from Bédoin), you have the same tough 6 km to get up as those attempting the first route above.
No matter which route up you choose, you will end up here, 1909 meters up – and that’s something you’ll never forget.
The Ventoux Triple
If you want a bigger challenge you can climb all three routes in one day. This would entail 72 km of climbing with over 4400 meters of vertical gain. If you can do it you will be able to join the Club des Cinglés de Ventoux (literally the Maniacs of Ventoux Club!).
This is a mountain that frightens even pros – getting yourself ready is essential if you want to do more than just survive. Obviously you should be in good shape physically. Think of Ventoux as a marathon (okay, maybe a half-marathon…) and train appropriately. The mountain will quickly expose your weaknesses, so come as strong as possible. Here are a few tips:
- Find the longest climbs you can where you live and train there
- Interval training
- Long, sustained rides near Lactate Threshold
If you have never climbed a mountain like Ventoux you should consider a Compact chain ring. These are pretty universal these days and all the rental shops near the mountain have their bikes set up with Compacts as a default. Consider a big cassette on the back, too (32s are available), although this will depend on many factors (weight, power, etc). Bring your own bike if you can, but don’t worry if it proves too bothersome; there are a couple of shops right at the bottom of the mountain that rent carbon-framed road bikes.
Bédoin – France Bike Rentals
Malaucène – Ventoux Bikes
Ventoux Tours and Guided Rides
44|5 Cycling Tours has been running tours in the Ventoux area since 2012. We live nearby, so we are able to offer cycling holidays all season long. We can support you on a single Ventoux ascent, or even a Ventoux Triple, but better yet, we offer short-stay, semi-independent ‘BreakAway Tours‘ that are reasonably priced and totally custom and private, meaning you can choose your own dates. The roads around Ventoux are stunning and not to be missed if you have the time. Our BreakAways include:
- A vehicle-supported climb of Mont Ventoux
- One or more guided rides in the beautiful countryside around the mountain
- Accommodation with buffet breakfast
- Bars/gels and water on all rides
- 44|5 water bottle