Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bike Ride up Mount Ventoux in France: 6500 feet!!!!

In the middle of Provence, this giant stands alone in the plains of Provence, and can be seen from over a hundred miles away. A regular pass on the Tour de France (we have chosen the route that the Tour usually takes), it has its share of legends and drama.

(I must first say that I have not personally ridden a bike up this mountain in France (nor hiked it). My husband did, and this is his article and information that he wants to share.)

Mount Ventoux is most famous for is its combination of steep climb and unique climate - from scorching heat to freezing winds.

The route: the ride will start in Malaucène, a small town at the bottom of one of the three routes to the summit. You then ride to Bédoin, where the climb starts, gives you a false sense of security: the pleasant rolling hills, the vineyards, and the view of the mountain make up a leisurely outing.

The first few kilometers after Bédoin are hardly more difficult. But as soon as you enter the forest, the real difficulty starts, and the road gets increasingly steep: 8%, 9%, 10%, 11%... The trees provide little shade, and the sun and heat add to the difficulty. The road has very few switchbacks, and provides virtually no rest, with no sections under 8%. After 8 or 9 miles, the forest clears and the scenery - and climate - change completely in a matter of yards. The landscape becomes barren, and with no vegetation to block the wind, you soon understand where the mountain "Ventoux" gets its name from... With 4.5 more miles to go, you progress in a lunar landscape, with a view of Provence below you. The encouragements painted on the road for the races become more frequent, reminding you of the generations of cyclists, amateurs like professionals, who have endured this before you. Stop at the Simpson Memorial to pay your tribute to Tom Simpson, who died in the 1967 Tour de France from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and amphetamine use... At that point you only have one more grueling kilometer to go. One last hairpin turn, and you are at the summit, the weather station at 1909m. Congratulations, you have conquered Mont Ventoux!

After a moment of triumph at the summit, get ready for a downhill ride of a lifetime: the 12 miles down to Malaucène, with sections up to 12%, can easily take you upward of 50 mph! Before you know it, you are back at your starting point - the hill literally ends in the middle of the town. Go back to your hotel for a well-deserved rest and a celebratory drink!

Best time of year: Anytime between 4/1/2010 and 10/30/2010

Getting there: take a train from Paris to Avignon, and from the Avignon train station to Malaucène.

Elevation Gain: 1985 m / 6500 ft

Distance: 55 km / 35 mi

**Photo Credit: Flickr CC - Some rights reserved by Rob Patrick

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