Having researched the Caen to Nice cycling route as a future trip one of the options was a climb of Mount Ventoux. Our Autumn motor home holiday was to cross France and head down the east coast of Spain so it made sense to me to take a diversion and tackle one of the iconic climbs of The Tour De France.
After carefully planning the itinerary the weather forecast did not want to co-operate so a wet and windy forecast for my chosen date required a couple of days of extra long drives to catch a good weather window.
Arriving in Sault in brilliant sunshine we headed for the town centre car park and pitched up among plenty of other cars with bikes leaning against them ready to roll. The next dilemma was what to wear, the temperature was pleasant 16c but you did not need a degree in astrophysics to work out that the temperature at 6000ft would be considerably colder.
In the end it had to be the Tommy Simpson jersey with arm warmers and shorts and a rain jacket for the ride back down. So there I stand with bike all ready to roll but with Ventoux not visible from Sault I hadn”t a clue how to get out of the village or which road to take, as usual Kaye to the rescue with Google maps and a gentle push in the right direction.
After finding the D164 the first section was a decent out of the village but after that little teaser the road became a gentle twisting climb. The first mile was through lavender fields each side of the road that still gave a fragrant smell, a constant 5 or 6% gradient soon raised the temperature as arm warmers were discarded. From open fields the ride entered deciduous woodland but the gradient continued allowing you to get into comfortable rhythm. After 5 miles of continuous ascent the deciduous trees gave way to pines. I was pleasantly surprised at the good quality of the road surface that allowed the bike to roll easily and my mind drifted to thoughts of how bad a ride of that length and gradient could have been oh Hampshire roads. The road briefly flattened and a 2% gradient felt like a downhill sprint.
At this point I had seen no other cyclists on the road but had been overtaken by a constant stream of cars and camper vans.
At Chateau Reynard the road merges with the ascent from Bedoin and the final 6km really ramps up. The pine trees become sparse as the desolate lunar landscape takes over. I came across a lady sporting an English club jersey and slowed to exchange pleasantries, she told me she was living in France and had taken a couple of days leave to tackle the mountain. The brief meeting was a welcome distraction but adjusting your pace is very difficult and it was time for the final push at a pace I was comfortable with.
I saw a fleeting glimpse of the Tommy Simpson memorial as I passed and a couple of entrepreneurial photographers were positioned on the final bends to capture your final “sprint”, for a price.
Arriving at the top released a wonderful sense of achievement, hundreds do it each day but that does not diminish the personal satisfaction. The temperature had certainly dropped on the summit so after enjoying the spectacular views the mountain reveals and a few photographs under the summit sign an energy bar and a drink it was time to put on every stitch of clothing for the rapid descent.
The first stop was of course the Tommy Simpson memorial to pay homage to one of our greatest cyclists who died at that spot on the race to the top in the 1967 Tour De France, every day cyclists leave mementoes at the memorial which have to be collected up at the end of each day, testament to the high regard in which he was held. The rest of the descent was spent with hands firmly covering the brakes as speeds increased and by this time a steady stream of cyclists were making the ascent and this procession continued all the way back to Sault. As the tree line gave way to open fields the temperature rose significantly and it was back to short sleeves for the final climb back to the village.
A fabulous ride and although only 32 miles it felt like a 60 miler, chapeau to those TDF riders who sprint up it after 130 miles flat out and to all those who tackle the mountain, it is certainly one mountain every serious cyclist needs to experience.