Coming from the Calanques, via the Camargue, Arles and Aix-en-Provence, it was time for what turned out one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I never had it on my bucketlist, but now that I have done it, I am sure it belonged there all along. Cycling Mont Ventoux – a legendary mountain in the cycling world.
Although I am an amateur cyclist that doesn’t even clock 1000 kilometers a year, I felt drawn to this mountain and its beautiful surroundings. So I took a quick break from vanlife, looked up a nice campsite in Bedoin (cycling is not that great when you don’t have a shower!) and started to get excited 😀
What's coming up
The Mont Ventoux – some background
So before climbing something, I always do some research first 😉 . So there we go.
The Mont Ventoux is a mountain in the Provence region of France that rises 1,912 metres high. It’s the highest mountain in the region. Its height and appearance has earned it the nicknames “the beast of Provence”, “the giant of Provence” and “the Bald Mountain”. The Mont Ventoux is probably most famous for being one of the most gruelling parts of the Tour de France cycling race. Many cyclists and non-cyclists alike will remember the death of Tom Simpson during the Tour. But, it is also a very interesting site to visit for those who aren’t fans of the Tour de France.
The area around Mont Ventoux has a unique and very varied climate; with Mediterranean temperatures at it’s base, temperate around the middle and then a high-mountain climate at the peak. The very top of the mountain is made up of bare limestone with no trees or vegetation. This makes it look like it is topped with snow all the time (even when it’s not). This is also why it’s sometimes called the bald mountain 🙂
Activities in the Mont Ventoux area
Because of these varied climates Mont Ventoux is also home to very diverse, and often rare, flora and fauna. It is therefore a great place to go hiking and explore the area! The area has been classified as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1990 and is a great place to explore many different types of vegetation as well as animals and insects. There are types of spiders and butterflies that are only found on Mont Ventoux, and it’s also a good place for sightings of the short-toed snake eagle.
As well as exploring nature and hiking the mountain (or cycling!) there are lots of different fun activities to do on Mont Ventoux! In winter you can go skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and snowboarding at the Mont Serein ski resort (on the northern side of the mountain) or Chalet Reynard on the southern side. In summer there are places to go karting, horse-back riding, trampolining (!), mountain biking and paragliding! This website has different links for you to find out about activities you might like to try if you’re at Mont Ventoux!
Bédoin – Staying at the foot of the Mont Ventoux
I decided to make Bedoin the homebase of my Mont Ventoux adventure. The town had a good and affordable campsite “Le Pastoral” and I headed straight there. I was welcomed by amazing staff and was placed right next another solo-girl traveller / cyclist 🙂 . In the end, I ended up staying at this place for 5 nights.
Next to the cycling, this also gave me enough time explore Bédoin. Bédoin itself is a super cute French town nestled into the foothills of Mont Ventoux. Technically it is part of the Vaucluse Department, Provence region of France’s south-east. It is about 35km away from Avignon; the region’s capital. The town is very pretty, with lots of narrow streets, old fountains and some Medieval buildings in the centre. The large Spanish-style church of Saint-Antonin draws your eye as it looks so different from others in the region, and there are also some other small chapels if you like to visit these.
If you walk up the hill behind the Saint-Antonin church you can see a lovely view over the houses and surrounding area. You can enjoy hiking and seeing the local flora and fauna in one of the biggest communal forests in France here too. There is a local market to enjoy on Mondays, and if you take a drive along D19 from Bédoin to Malaucène (a winding road through the forests) you might even see some llamas!
And, of course, Bédoin is one of the departure towns for cycling up Mont Ventoux. This means there are a lot of bicycle shops and you will see many cycling enthusiasts in the town! If you’d like to find out more about Bédoin here is the link for the official tourism website; although it only seems to be working in French.
The 3 Routes up Mont Ventoux
Now, if you’re interested in challenging yourself and cycling up Mont Ventoux just like the Tour de France athletes, then there are three main routes to choose from 😀
I had two main considerations. The first one was that I really like to do loops – I hate doing the same track twice 😛 The second was that I was staying in Bedoin. So either leaving from Sault or Malaucene would add some kilometers to the itinerary.
The Bédoin Route
This is the ‘classic’ route; the most famous and said to be the most difficult! This is the route that Tour de France usually follows and it is a distance of 21.8km with an average gradient of 7.43%. However, the first 5.8km fairly easy and then the remaining 16 are much steeper, and much more exposed to the wind. Mont Ventoux can get VERY windy; Ventoux does mean windy after all! This route is generally the least ideal for cycling tourists. Some parts of the road are very narrow and winding and you have to share it with cars.
Even though a lot of people staying in Bedoin take this route going up and down, I decided to take this route the way down. The weather had been quite windy – I needed all my strenght to go up 🙂
The Malaucène Route
If you ride from Malaucène the total distance is a tiny bit shorter (21.5km). But the route is roughly the same in terms of gradient and difficulty. The only real difference is that this route is better sheltered from the wind for most of the way. For cycling tourists it is also less dangerous since the road is a lot wider than on the Bédoin route and there is a marked bicycle lane on the road.
This is the route I took going up Mont Ventoux. Because the road was better suited for cyclists and there would be less wind, this seemed like the best route for beginning cyclists. Even though it added some kilometers to my route, I still thought this was a good option!
The Sault Route
This is the ‘easiest’ route; although it is longest by distance (26km) the gradient is more gradual for most of the way, until you get past Chalet Reynard where it is the same as the Bédoin route.
Even though I did not mind some extra kilometers, the trip to Sault seemed a bit too much. On my trip through the Gorges des Nesques the previous day, I had already been able to inspect most of the route. And it seemed a bit too much for me 🙂 I guess if you are staying in Sault, this is a great place to depart from!
The real powerhouses do all three routes in one day!
Cycling Mont Ventoux – My Climb
After a hearthy breakfast, I left the campsite around 10AM. I had calculated around 4 hrs for the roundtrip, including a break on the top. I had some energy bars and a small sandwich with peanut butter with me for on the way.
My campsite was already on the road from Bedoin to Malaucene so my trip started right there! I really liked the road to Malaucene – it was not too busy and the views were beautiful. There were some really steep parts and one mini-col on the way, but generally it was very doable!
Once I arrived in Malaucene, I simply followed the signs and got to the starting point of the ascend. I almost reconsidered when I spoke to a dad and his daughter that didn’t make it up! But then again – failing was not an option. Off I went!
You see these signals every kilometer on the way up. They display the average ascend over the next kilometer, and how many kilometers are left. If you think a 5% incline is a lot.. keep reading!
The first kilometers I was already struggling, but I was in a great mood. The weather was beautiful, I was meeting cool people along the route and I was making progress. But halfway, my mood seriously dropped. I literally texted home: FUCK THIS MOUNTAIN. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Fighting back tears, I kept going.
After a couple of breaks to catch my breath and give my burning legs a bit of a rest, I was almost there. When I was at the 3KM point I looked up and was wondering how I was ever going to make it up there. But I rememberd my Kilimanjaro mindset. Pole Pole – slowly slowly, step by step. So I got back on my bike and kept going. The people in the cars and even the cyclists amongst each other would encourage the people going up.
And then, eventually – I MADE IT!!! I cycled all the way up the Mont Ventoux!
Because it was Sunday and a glorious day, it was very busy on the top. So busy that there was a big traffic jam and I couldn’t cycle all the way to the top. At about 100 meters before the top I had to get off which was kind of annoying – but I was still insanely happy!
Only when I sat down for a bit, I started to realize what a massive and intense trip this had been. My tears started flowing and I could finally relax. After I took some pictures, I had a coke and some choclate with some other cyclists and afterwards we rode down together. I made it back in one piece 😀
These are my Strava screenshots! As you can see, the cycling itself took quite a while 😛 Complete with the breaks and the long break on the top, it took me about 6 hours before I was back at the campground. A long day, after which I treated myself to a nice dinner in the town!
Some after thoughts
Would I do this again? Maybe, I’m not sure.. It was rough!
If I would take on this challenge again, I would definitely prepare a lot better. Practice more, get in better shape, find some friends to do it with. All these things will make it much more enjoyable!
Also, if you think the Mont Ventoux may be a bit too much of a challenge – check out my blog on the Gorges des Nesques and other tours in the Mont Ventoux area. There is so much beauty there, it’s not just about cycling Mont Ventoux 🙂
So is cycling Mont Ventoux possible for beginning cyclists? Definitely – but it is hard! I think it’s hard even for more seasoned or trained cyclists. A lot is in the mindset, but good legs will definitely help!
If you have any questions about doing the Mont Ventoux or need more inspiration, feel free to leave a comment 🙂