Today is our last day in Provence before we head up to Bordeaux. We’ve been having a relaxing time, enjoying the food, drink and fine weather. However I still fancied one final climb of Mont Ventoux before we depart, so this morning I woke early and headed out towards Sault leaving my wife and daughter still sleeping – two thirds of the family know how to do a holiday properly.
There are 3 roads up to the summit of Ventoux – from Bedouin, Malaucenne or Sault. I’d previously ridden the first two, essentially very similar 14 mile routes at an average of 8%, both with prolonged periods of between 9 – 12%. The Tour de France favours the Bedoin one.
The third route from Sault is the easier route to the top, as it not only starts at a higher elevation but is also longer at 16 miles, so the average gradient is just 4.5%.
After a week of sunshine, this morning was a bit overcast and windy making it difficult to dress for a long climb. I opted for a gilet but decided against overshoes and gloves, a bit of a mistake as it turned out.
Whilst the climb from the town of Sault is technically easier – I still had to get there from Bedoin first. This turned out to be 18 miles with 750 metres of climbing. Essentially the equivalent of climbing my local hill, the Mendips 3 times as a warm up. In total it took an hour and 20 minutes to climb the Category 4 Col des Abeilles and race down the long descent to Sault. By this point I was feeling not entirely convinced that this route was going to be easier than just riding the 14 miles straight up the steep road from Bedoin.
From Sault it was a very gentle ascent, through the damp and cold forest. I passed two riders in head-to-toe BMC kit who were descending to Sault. Neither returned my friendly nod of the head. A few minutes later I saw their team van, thinking to myself that it was quite funny for members of a professional sports team to go out training in full team kit but then ignore people who acknowledged them. My fingers and toes really started to feel the cold, especially with the the temperatures dropping the higher I climbed. With the relatively gentle gradients I also found it quite difficult to get my heart-rate above 140bpm, so was really struggling to warm up.
After 13 miles the road climbed above the tree-line and met the main route up from Bedoin for the final 4 miles of steep ascent across the barren, rocky landscape that I knew well. The big difference today was the strength of the wind – the infamous Mistral was blowing a strong headwind and then cross-wind as I zig-zagged up the final few miles. It was also a very cold wind and I began to lose the feeling in my fingers.
I’d agreed to meet my wife and daughter at the top at 11.30am, so I dug deep and slowly crawled my way to the top. I arrived at around 11.15am so immediately ran inside the little shop at the top to defrost. As I warmed, my hands felt like they were burning. Not pleasant. After 10 minutes of pretending to shop, I headed back outside to wait. I saw the BMC riders had arrived, the first headed inside the shop leaving his bike outside – it had his name on the top tube, Jurgen Landrie … not someone I’d heard of. The other rider was putting on overshoes for the descent so I asked him how their ride had gone. He was so off-the-scale for unfriendliness it was funny. Our conversation went something like:
Me: “Hi, how was your ride up?”
Him: [slowly looks up and stares at me] “Ok”
Me: “I saw you guys at Sault, are you riding up any other routes today?”
Him: [Waits to finish zipping up a shoe. Then looks at me as if he’s considering saying F-off. Finally speaks] “No.”
I decided to forego any farewell formalities and just walked off. Fortunately my wife and daughter arrived in the car shortly afterwards. Even more fortunately I’d put some cold-weather cycling kit in the boot for the descent so I quickly put on a long-sleeved top and gloves.
We headed a few miles back down to the Chalet Reynard cafe at the Sault-Bedoin junction to warm up with hot chocolate. I spoke to a couple of Swiss cyclists and told them about my encounter with the BMC riders. They said it must have been a lower-rank cyclist as the top pro’s are all generally chatty and friendly.
From Chalet Reynard I raced back down to Bedoin with my own team car in hot pursuit. Back at the gite I uploaded my ride on Strava and saw that I was the fastest rider of the day to the summit from Sault, ahead of a certain Jurgen Landrie by 5 minutes! Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that he’s just the team mechanic for BMC so not a significant scalp to take. However if the other rider who I’d spoken to was a pro and had ridden up in the same time then no wonder he was so bloody grumpy. Drafting up a mountain behind your mechanic and being beaten by some overly friendly English holiday-maker.
Having now climbed Ventoux 5 times, 3 from Bedoin and once each from Malaucenne and Sault, I can confirm that the Sault route is much easier. But with the obvious caveat that it kind of depends how you get to Sault.