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Mt Ventoux – Club des Cingles

Mt Ventoux – elevation 1912m

Mt VenteuxThere are two famous mountain climbs for cyclist in France, one being Alp d’Huez which we did last year and Mt Ventoux which we did on Sept 5th. The mountain is an occasional stage for the Tour and became famous when the English cyclist Tom Simpson died from exhaustion close to the top in 1967, albeit a banned substance being an attributing factor. Now with a single climb up to 1600m the challenge is to make all three of the ascents to the top in one day, just under 5,000m of vertical ascent and become a member of Club des Cingles. Having had two days of rest after Monaco 70.3 we were bound to give it our best shot.

A good description the mountain can be found at http://www.grenoblecycling.com/MontVentoux.htm

group.jpgWhen we arrived in Bedoin, the main center for this climb, on the day before the ride. About 200 riders tackle this mountain every day. The winds were extremely high in Bedoin when we arrived. We decided to go to the local bike shop to get some advice on how best to tackle this ride; best thing we could have done. We were told to cycle to Malaucene which was 20k away, first thing in the morning and do the north ascent. This was because the Mistral wind which comes out of the north can be quite strong in the afternoon and prevent you from getting to the summit. As it was the winds at 5pm that day had hit 150k and the entire summit area was closed to all travellers. It was suggested we then take the most difficult route into Bedoin and then finally the easiest route to Sault at the end of the day, more great advice.

There is a special certificate you get for doing all three ascents which goes along with membership in Club des Cingles . You are given a special passport and must get it stamped at the summit and each of the towns, conformation of your bragging rights.

On the morning of Sept 5th we were out of the road at 7:00 am for a ride from Bedoin to Malaucene, a nice warm up for the first big climb.

Malaucene Ascent
Distance: 23k
Vertical Climb 1550m
Average Grade 7.2%
Maximum Grade 11%

View From the SummitWe started the Malaucene climb bout 8:00 am. Our group of six spread out as we started up the hill. It had been cold in the morning and we all had dressed warmly. The climb was mainly below the tree line and zigzagged across the north face of the mountain. There were no real switch backs and just a continuous climb. As you rode up the mountain the climb got steeper. Every kilometre or so there was a marker with the elevation and gradient. There were sections hitting into the 10 degrees and when you hit anything at 6 degrees or less you felt like you were on the flats. About ¾ the way up my back was in agony and I could not find any level areas to stand up and stretch, you just had to keeping grinding on up. I finally got above the tree line and although being somewhat cold just kept grinding on to the top where we all arrived over a period of about 10 min, about two hours after we started the ascent. Now the elation of making it up this climb was soon over after all the heat generated by the activity to get up had dissipated and a bad chill overcame several of us. We made it down a short hop to the cafe shop and warmed up somewhat then to a rather fast descent.

I Think I CanOnce we had somewhat warmed up it was time for the first descent. The rest of the day would be spent on the south side of the mountain with the final 500m vertical climb and descent the same: barren, rocky windswept scree slope with no guard rails to prevent you from going over the down slope side. Lots of fun! This descent was interesting and you could get up fairly good speed except for the 90-150 degree corners. At the bottom of this descent, Le Chalet Reynard was a restaurants and a nice flat area were you could regroup, given the day, and add or take off layers of clothing. The top of the hill was less then 5C with a good wind, at the bottom it was in the mid 20s. At this point we had about 1100m vertical to descend in 16k.

This was the steepest part of the ride. One thing came to mind as we were flying down this part of the hill was that there were not many corners, nowhere that the grade fell off. It was about 10k of 8-10% relentless gradient, which was going to be fun coming back up!

Bedoin Ascent
Distance: 22k
Vertical Climb 1610m
Average Grade 7.1%
Maximum Grade 11%

After a quick stop at the bike shop for some small supplies and to get our passport stamped we started the second ascent at about noon.

Now the first maybe 5k of the climb is shallow about 3-5%. Then you hit the hard, 10+k of 10%, just relentless, no other way to describe it. It was going up here that I wondered if I could get the whole day in. Well I just put down my head and pedaled. Finally I was back to Le Chalet Reynard. I met up with the group, ate and drank a bit and put on more clothing for the final ascent.

One Down, Two to GoHaving just finished the steep 10k@ 10% section my legs were burning, going up this final 500m vertical, 6km climb was going to be challenge. This was one were you just had to get in the lowest gear, where you were most of the day, and spin. There was a wind picking up which required extra effort when you were going north but helped on the eastern ascent of the switchbacks. This wind, the Mistral, would make the final ascent /descent very interesting.

We reached the top with out to much trouble turned around at the top and regrouped at Le Chalet Reynard for the decent into Sault. This was actually a pleasant long and fast descent and we arrived in Sault about 4:00 pm in the afternoon and readied for the final climb.

Sault Ascent
Distance: 26k
Vertical Climb 1210m
Average Grade 4.5%
Maximum Grade 10%

The climb on this section up to Le Chalet Reynard (20k) was actually quite pleasant. With the grade under 5% it felt like it was flat! As I climbed higher up this ascent I noticed my speed on the eastern directions up around 30k/hr in the climb, faster than I should be going given my effort. It wasn’t me; it was the winds picking up. The fun was about to begin.

We arrived at Le Chalet Reynard about 5:30 pm. By that time the crowds had gone and the restaurants closed down. There was no lingering on this rest stop, just time to take on some nutrition and put on a layer of clothes. The first 4km of the 6km climb on this ascent wasn’t too bad. Slower than the earlier ascent up this route, however the northern part of the long switchbacks was taking more time and effort. I was bracing myself for the last 1.5k.

About 1 km from the top there is a gap in the mountain which brings the full force of the north wind straight at you. When I turned into this section I was hit by the full force of Mistral winds. Here you are climbing a 8-10% grade, couple that with winds somewhere around 50km/hr at that point and your work is cut out for you. It was about 250m to the gap. I was using all my effort and then some to move forward. I knew if I made it to the gap, the change in direction at that point would mean a tail wind and I would be all right, it was just a matter of getting there. I pedalled as hard as I could, with all my effort I was down to about a 6km/hour speed, then that went to 5 and I had to stop, I couldn’t stay on my bike. I walked about 150m to the gap, turned to the north, got on my bike and started up again at about 10km/hr, with alot less effort. The rest of the ascent was fine until the last 100m. There was an exposed spot on the top and I actually picked out a large German tourist walking on the road and got behind him just enough to get me onto the sheltered summit. Drafting was legal here, I think.

Just after I arrived on the summit one of our group, John, arrived from a slightly different approach. He had actually got blown off his bike on the section I had walked, and he weighed 25kg more than me! I wasn’t looking forward to the descent.

We didn’t linger at the top this time. We put on all the clothing we had left. The temperature had dropped to 10c on the top and the wind was gusting to 70k/hr. I departed the summit with Brian and we braced ourselves for the short section that was fully exposed to the north wind. I hit the open area and had to quickly turn into the wind or get blown over. When I did this I put one foot on the ground and the back of the bike came off the ground and was literally flapping in the wind like a flag. I returned to where the road was sheltered and turned the bike right down wind and downhill. This got me down the 100m of exposed section.

The next 1km wasn’t too bad but coming back to the “gap” I unclipped one shoe and kept to the inside of the road, against the traffic for better shelter. I didn’t fancy getting blown over and did not want to risk me, or my bike, being blown down the open scree slope. The winds remained strong back down to Le Chalet Reynard. Once there you were in the shelter of the trees and it was a pleasant, and very fast trip back into Bedoin.

We had done it. Our triple ascent got us membership into the Club des Cingles open only to those who do this in one day. First stop at the bottom was into a local pub for a cold beer and wine (it is France) and start the “war” stories of the day.

Not a bad ride, we rode 155 k, ascended 4,850m, rode for about 8:45 over a 12:00 hour day, experienced temperatures from 3 to 28c with winds gusting up to 70km/hr . Even better considering we had just done one of the toughest 70.3 races three days earlier!

Author

Long time runner and tri athlete, currently residing in Moscow

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2 comments

  • Congratulations. I also did the triple ascent in 2006.. i am proud to say i am the oldest member of the club at age 79. May try to do the four attempts in one day this summer. Hope you will be able to renew your membership at age 79. Keep biking and stay healthy. LINK

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