One of the highlights of our Provence, France Bike Tour is the opportunity to climb Mont Ventoux. If you’ve ever wanted to climb this “Giant of Provence” as it’s also known, we’ll let you know what it’s like and give you tips if it’s your first time up this famous mountain.
A little background: Mont Ventoux is technically part of the French Alps, geologically speaking, although few people speak of it this way on a day to day basis. The mountain gets its name of the “Giant of Provence” because it dominates the horizon from virtually all parts of the region of Provence. No other nearby peak comes close to its height and grandeur. The word “Ventoux” comes from the French word for windy, which holds true for this mountain. Even when it might be calm on the plains below. Mont Ventoux has become perhaps most famous for its inclusion in the Tour de France. Pro cyclists have battled their way to the summit in some of the most memorable finishes in Tour history.
There are essentially three ways to climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux: from the towns of Bédoin, Malaucène and Sault. Each route offers a different challenge and experience. Below we’ll cover what’s often known as the “classic” side, the one most used in the Tour de France: the climb from Bédoin.
The town of Bédoin is located on the southern side of Mont Ventoux. The climb up to the summit is just under 22km (21.8 km to be exact) and climbs 1600 meters (to a height of 1909 meters at the finish line). The average grade is 7.5%, but this number is a bit deceiving. The first 5 kilometers of the climb are relatively easy. As you roll away from the start line in Bedoin (marked on the ground with a white stone line across the road), the first kilometer barely exceeds a 2% grade. Even as the climb continues over the next few kilometers, you’ll feel your confidence build as the road doesn’t get too steep. Don’t get too confident, just yet. As you ride into the town of St. Estève, you’ll have a tight, left-hand switchback and the road will pitch up steeply. Your first thought might be that this a temporary steep section. You’ll look ahead, just up the road to see when it will level out a bit. Well, it doesn’t. Get ready for a steep 16 kilometers to the summit. Yes, there will be a few brief sections of road that are not quite as steep, but we tend to recommend to mentally prepare for it being a steady, unrelenting and challenging climb. With this in mind, you’ll be more apt to properly gauge your effort, especially if this is your first time up the mountain.
In general, with the big cycling climbs in Europe, we recommend that you pace yourself properly. Cycling up Mont Ventoux for example, can take a fit, amateur cyclist between 1:30 and 2:30 hours to climb, without stopping. So this is not a short effort! You must be sure to eat and drink enough! It’s easy to forget to take in calories while you’re climbing, so make sure that you’re either drinking more than just water (i.e a sports drink) and/or eat a sports bar, banana, or something with the calories you’ll need to get up this mountain.
Unlike some famous Tour de France climbs, Mont Ventoux does not have numerous switchbacks on its southern slopes. The climb tends to weave its way through forest on the lower sections of the mountain, with little to no view of the bald, rocky summit. At approximately 6 kilometers to go, you’ll emerge from the forest at the small restaurant and ski slopes of Chalet Reynard. Looking left, you’ll be able to see the famous summit of Mont Ventoux, with it’s white tower on top. Your first impulse might be to pick up the pace since the finish is now in sight and this section by Chalet Reynard is a bit flatter. We’d recommend you use some caution. It’s still 6 kilometers to go and this is often the windiest section of the entire climb. You’re now above tree line, riding along the infamous, rocky slopes of the Giant. The tower at the top will seem to call to you, but conserve your effort appropriately, because while it may seem close, you’re not quite done yet. Once you ride within the last kilometer, just to add to the challenge, the last 50 meters shoot up steeply as you climb a right handed switchback to the summit. (Tip: the road splits slightly here. Stay left, up the steepest part of the road. Ride all the way to the tower building). Congratulations! You’ve conquered the Giant!
Depending on the weather, you’ll be more or less inclined to hang around. Be sure to grab a photo of the summit sign and celebrate your accomplishment. You can actually descend to different directions off of the summit: back towards Bédoin or over the top and down the other side to Malaucène. If you choose to descend to Malaucène, you can loop back southward to Bédoin without having to climb back over Mont Ventoux again. This makes for a nice loop and allows you to see two of the three sides of the mountain. Regardless of which way you’ll go, you’ll want to have a vest and armwarmers or perhaps a light jacket with you for the chilly descent. Watch your speed and be careful, but also enjoy the ride!