Marc : “hey Loren, I’m riding Mt. Ventoux with my friend Marc Vallve, you coming?”
“Well, I’d love it, but I don’t really want to climb Mt Ventoux (twice) on my Gravelplus knobby 2.0 tyres”
And this is how our short trip to Mt. Ventoux started. We have been thinking for a long time about doing a weekend road trip to this majestic mountain in the French Provence, roughly 5-6 hours drive from our place. Marc just got a Strada PRO and my friend Loren is still riding the Exploro he has used with me (Marc Gasch) on some of the XPDTN3 trips, like the one we did in Morocco (and still sporting the same WTB Ranger 650x 2.0 tires). But nothing a quick wheel swap can’t fix, so I loaned him my backup wheelset, featuring 700c Discus wheels with WTB Exposure 30c tires, and we were ready to hit the road.
Gearing was anotherdiscussion we had before the trip. Marc’s STRADA has a 44T Sram 1x chainring and a 10-32T cassette, which should work ok for a 52kg pure roadie climber. Loren, on the other side of the spectrum, is a 75kg mountain biker riding an EXPLORO with a single 36T chainring Torno crankset paired with a 10-42T cassette.
Since the route was mostly about climbing, we decided we did not need to get a bigger chainring for Loren, as we probably were going to use the flats as a recovery from the monster climbs, not to motorpace at 60km/h. So 36×10 should be on the slow side (for a pro) but still ok-ish for us on this leisure ride (as it happened to be in the end)
Thanks to Booking.com, we quickly managed to find a cheap and cool B&B in the little town of Le Barroux, which would be our starting point for this nearly-150km nearly-4.000 m+ “fun” day, and will put us right on the first Ventoux climb of the day, the one that goes up via Malaucene.
Of course, we find no other bikes or groups in the hotel (or around) Looks like end of November is not the ideal time to climb up there. That’s why finding accommodation was so easy I guess.
Anyway, we were lucky with the weather this time, and after a chilly start in the morning, the sun started to appear between the clouds. Loren opt for the short jersey-shot bibs combo. An ex-adventure racer used to “heavy metal” weather conditions, today looks like a summer day for him. Some arm warmers and a thin baselayer should be enough. Marc, on the other side, will have to supplement the 4% body fat with some extra layers, gloves and winter jackets. The view of the two riders climbing together, one in “Tropical” style, and the other one looking like he’s coming from the North Pole is somehow comical… But I guess every body is indeed different, right?
After crossing Malaucene, our first Mt. Ventoux climb starts with a not very warm-up friendly steep section (9% avg) that puts the cold legs in the pain cave right from the start. Hopefully those numbers won’t last forever and the climb gets mellower after a few hard earned turns, while some clouds start to show and cover the sun, turning the landscape into a distant grey blanket.
Waving our route through dense forests, the first part is somewhat “boring” in the sense that you are expecting the classical “Mt Ventoux postcard”, with lunar landscapes and the building at the top. Not yet, we still have to sweat for a little while until we are out of the woods and can enjoy a different landscape. Up to the Belvedere point, the average climb is around 5-7% and even if we are starting to leave the dense forest and get into windy territory – open spaces, we are lucky and the famous wind must be in another part of France today. Merci.
Both Loren aka “Bahamas” and Marc aka “Siberia” start the climb together but soon the difference paces and gearing ask for individual climbs of the most steep parts of the road. Everyone settles on their own pace and hopes for the best.
After the 10km we found a “present” in the form of 3 km of a continuous 10% grade, which makes us suffer and wonder if we are going to be able to do the whole loop with a double climb. At this time, some of us are thinking that maybe one climb is enough? Another kilometre at a steady 11% after 13km non stop climbing help us think more about it… Luckily around km 15, the road starts to be more gentle with the Spanish crew and we can relax our legs a bit and grasp some extra air.
Mount Serein marks a division of the climb, as one of the few semi-flat spots, and after a few minutes (seconds?) taking a moment to enjoy the views, we set up to conquer the next part of the climb.
We only find 2 or 3 cyclists on the way up, confirming this is indeed not high season. Cars are anecdotal and we have the mountain to ourselves (for better or worse). A sense of isolation sets in as we approach the last part of our first climb and the characteristic antenna building on the summit appears in front of our eyes as a Tintin-esque rocket piercing the high clouds. Loren is starting to question his choice of summer clothing, but still going strong and warm in the non-stop climb. Spirits are high.
After summiting the first climb, we take 1 minute for half-challenge celebrations, and Loren decides it is now indeed cold, so out comes the wind jacket, and soon bikes are pointing down to the first descent of the day to Sault. It happens to be an amazing long downhill on a deserted road, no traffic, with lunar landscapes at the beginning and New England-style Autumn colors splashing between dry Lavender fields at the bottom of the valley. We are loving it.
The road is still wet from the night so we have to be careful in the turns, but the lack of traffic helps us go down pretty fast to Sault, where we take a right turn to head to Bedoin for the second climb of the day. But before that, we are looking forward to riding on the famous Gorges de la Nesque.
I guess the Autumn colors are amplified by the contrast with the arid and grey landscape at the top where we come from. But we cannot help to keep shooting pictures and saying “wow” like the tourists we are. French provence rocks, and not only in Spring with the Lavender in full blossom, but also now in Autumn, where a different color palette is displayed in front of our eyes.
We ride through small villages , where french boulangeries make us stop for a quick bite, and get ready both mentally and physically for the upcoming challenge. An energy gel would also not be a bad idea right now. Just in case…
Les Gorges de la Nesque is an scenic drive that runs paralell to the Nesque river, with deeeeeep canyons carved by millions of years of flowing water. The road is classified on the dangerousroads.org website, but it looked more dangerous in a car than on a bike…
Narrow tunnels and sharp turn are present but don’t worry, nothing too scary.
The landscape is amazing though, still touched by the ocres , reds and browns of the falling leaves against the karstic rocks and cliffs, just meters from the side of the road. The 28mm tires on the Strada and the 30mm on the Exploro help soak the bumps and the small rocks all around and give confidence for a safe and fast descent to Bedoin.
Before we know it, we are back on the way to visit the French Giant again. After a sharp turn right just before Bedoin, we are back on the second Mont Ventoux climb of the day. The climb from Bedoin is probably the most famous one, and it’s a 21km ascent with a 7.5% average. It’s probably the toughest way to climb the mountain, but not by much compared to the Malaucene route.
The third one, the one we used to go down to Sault, might be the easiest one to get up there.
Same as with the other climb, this one also starts in the dense forests of the valley, and also starts pretty tough after leaving the valley and villages behind. I guess people don’t like to warm up over here…
After crossing small villages like Les Bruns or St Estève, one kilometer with a 9% average (12% max) wakes us up again and makes us use all the gearing. Loren is now happy for staying with the 36T chainring. It might sound like a mountain bike chainring , but when you are a “spinner” (and a mountain biker indeed) being able to run an easier gear and just spin to the top instead of dying trying to crush a big gear is a gift. His engine is running so hot he even decides to ditch the arm warmers.
Marc on the other side, needs to push a bit more the 50 salad plate on the climbs, but it suits his standing-up style of climbing.
Different gearings and options for different cyclists, that’s what it is all about. Don’t take forums or other advice for granted, just try for yourself what’s best for your style, your body and your fitness.
The worst part of this steep part was not the gradient in itself (10-11-12%). The worst is that this part of the road is built like a never-ending series of straight lines, so you take a turn, enter a 12% warning sign and then you see a massive straight road in front of you with no signs of ending soon. Survive, gasp some air, and after the next turn, you get to a similar nightmare, another 11% straight line that extends in front of you for more than a kilometer. That kills you mentally. Devastating.
I mean, I can stand the same gradient and distance if it’s done in a series of short turns, where you are kind of “entertained” navigating the road, turning, changing gears, watching the landscape, etc, but when the only thing you can do is to look at your front wheel cause you are scared to see what’s in front, well that’s tough.
Anyway, the team, again at different paces, survived the “forest nightmare” and got up to the famous Chalet Reynard, where the vegetation ends and the road got a little easier. It’s also the point where you can see the summit again, if it wasn’t for the menacing clouds and thick fog that was starting to build up.
At this point we were almost sure that the last downhill would be in the rain… Luckily the famous Mont Ventoux wind came to the rescue this time, and a light breeze kept the clouds sticking for too long, and allowed us also to take some amazing photographs of the last part on the climb in sunset lightning (#lightbro!)
Alternating between heavy fog and amazing alpine glow, we keep climbing the last meters of this climb, which are easier than the first part we just did, but the legs are burning after more than 100km already and lots (lots) of non-stop climbing.
Loren is now a bit cold again but he doesn’t even want to talk (or think) about stopping. Almost there. We pass the Tom Simpson memorial, which means we are close to the end, the clouds suddenly open and we can now see the summit again in its full glory!
After the 1841 m Col Des Tempetes, we face the last part, with a sense of achievement and fatigue mixed in our heads, amplified by the relative lack of oxygen and the blood pumping in our body. It’s getting late and cold, but at least the forecast of a downhill in the rain seems now gone.
Last meters for the team and we reach the summit for the second time in the day.
Laughs, photos, selfies, shivering, cold sweat, give me five, Double Ventoux done with its 1912 meters x2, which will put us at almost 150 km and a total climbing of around 3.900 meters once we get in our wind jackets and head down back to the hotel. Not bad for a Monday in the French Provence. Time to celebrate!
Enjoy the rest of the PHOTO GALLERY here: