Sunday morning dawned with a cloudy start as we left Seurre for the days drive to Bedoin in Provence, one moment of major panic as approaching Carpentras I saw a sign saying the summit of Ventoux was closed above Chalet Reynard but the good folk on Twitter soon came to the rescue telling me it was still open to cyclists.
We have a week here so a leisurely start on Monday with a slow pootle around the area to acquaint ourselves again with the area and enjoy a bit of cycling with the sun on our backs. Monday is market day in Bedoin so I plotted a course to avoid the main town but I was shocked cycling out at the crowds of people walking to the market from the out of town car park. There were two distinct tribes, the older age group all wearing masks and keeping their distance and the rest, baseball cap back to front, no masks and not a care for the rest of the world.
Our ride was out to Flassan, Villes-sur-Auzon, Mormoiron and the wonderfully named Crillon-le-Brave, the roads were busy with cyclists and quite a few with full panniers suggesting that cycle touring is proving popular this year. The one worrying aspect was the number of close passes we had, more than all previous outings in France, lets hope drivers were just having an off day.
After lunch in the van an afternoon in the sunshine, well actually in the shade as the temperature climbed to the mid 30’s but the warm sunshine is what we had come for along with the cycling.
Tuesday, and another beautiful day for our ride through the Gorge-de-la-Nesque, running from Villes sur Auzon to Sault the Gorge is a 26km ride along twisting roads and tunnels with some spectacular rock formations. Very little traffic on smooth tarmac, a joy to cycle on and the area was completely silent, breathtaking does not do it justice, its not hard to see why it is so popular. Stopping at the top for a slurp of drink an energy bar and a Kodak moment, I had opted to return on the main road, the D911 which has quite a sharp climb but goes over the Col des Abeilles, all part of my Col bagging plan, Kaye was less enthusiastic about the climb but the descent on new tarmac all the way to Villes-sur-Auzon certainly made her smile. Back through Mormoiron we were just in time to catch the Boulangerie for a fresh baguette and the most delightful pan-au-raesen. Lunch, a bit of bike fettling and in a temperature of 35c some Egyptian PT to see out the afternoon.
Wednesday and another hot day forecast so I was out of the van before 08-00 for my solo climb of Ventoux, I prefer starting early if only to beat the crowds. I must say I found the climb to Chalet Reynard quite challenging and could still feel a twinge in my ribs following my crash 5 weeks earlier. I stopped briefly at Chalet Reynard for a drink from my bidon and an energy bar and then found the final 6k to the top much easier than envisaged, the cyclists mind is a strange beast.
Cycling up I had to negotiate a path through a flock of bell ringing sheep and passing Tom Simpsons memorial I noticed it had not been cleared from yesterday, there must have been over 200 items, bidons, caps, flowers and all manner of trinkets showing the high esteem in which he was held. At the top of the climb a cycleway had been maintained and a finish line, the iconic sign had been moved so cyclists could still get their selfie to share with the world. After waiting my turn it was on with the rain jacket for the descent back to Bedoin, as I rolled down the hill I was greeted with a steady procession coming up, including one guy who was running with a backpack, Im glad I left early.
Thursday and more of the same weatherise, I plotted a course out through the quiet back lanes to Mazan and Carpentras and back through Crillon-le-Brave. Not a breath of wind as we set off, through Bedoin and then to Les Baux, Flassan and Villes-sur-Auzon, the local vineyards seem to be starting the grape harvest with boxes on the edges of the fields and tell tale parasols between the vines. At Mazan we turned South to explore a few back lanes and a small airfield I’d noticed on the map which turned out to be Aerodrome de Carpentras. We stopped off for a few minutes for a drink and to watch a gyrocopter and small plane doing practice approach and landings. From here the route was again the back lanes to Crillon-le-Brave which were wall to wall vines. A couple of sharp climbs on the return as the temperature was climbing steadily but there was no rush so another detour through the ancient cobbled streets of Crillon. After a shower and lunch we had to re-supply so a walk to the supermarket at Bedoin, I could not believe the high prices for fresh vegetables and fruit, €4.99 for a small punnet of local grapes, the consensus was to blame Covid !!
Friday and this is the ride I was looking forward to the most, a solo circumnavigation of Ventoux, as I left the van at 8am the temperature was already 19c, from Bedoin it was wind assisted and a fast rum to Mormoiron before turning into the Gorge-de-la-Nesque for the second time this week. The Gorge must be totally sheltered as the wind had dropped to calm and again no traffic, the silence enhanced the beauty of the surroundings. The hairpins and winding road climbs gently and you can look down and trace your route, I could hear a couple of cyclists talking on the other side long before I could see them as the surroundings amplify the sound. At the top I stopped for a drink and an energy bar, remembering to take on fuel on a hot day is vital and I am guilty of forgetting. The town of Sault was the next waypoint and trundling through the town the car park was busy with cyclists readying bikes for a climb up the mountain. My route was along the very flat D942 to Aurel, on winding through the village the local cafe was already serving coffee and was proving popular with a line of road bikes outside.
There now came a lovely 4 mile descent along the twisting road all the way to Reilhanette, the main town perched high above as I continued on the D72 as it followed the Le Tourourenc river weaving its way through the valley. Approaching Savoillan and the road became the D42 as we crossed from Department of Rhone Alps to Vaucluse, on to St -Leger-du-Ventoux before river and road parted company and a long gentle climb began. At Pierreavon another turn onto the D40a to lose the altitude gained and back across the river and the very undulating back road to Malaucene and from here back on the main road over the Col de la Madeleine to Bedoin. A fabulous ride, 65 miles and some of the best cycling through stunning countryside in lovely weather, what’s not to like.
Saturday was our last day in Provence and Kaye wanted a shortish ride, so happy to oblige I plotted a route to Suzette which just happened to be at the top of the Col de Suzette. On the way out through Bedoin the main car park was full of classic cars, all with racing numbers they looked like they were going through scrutineering and cycling out over the Col de la Madeleine a long procession of groups of classic cars were heading to Bedoin, these were being held up by several group of road cyclists also heading for the town, I was pleased we were going in the opposite direction. I had managed to plot a route using a lot of back roads unfortunately the undulating terrain did nothing for my popularity with Kaye so at the top of the ride I was forced to seek a coffee stop. Suzette is a lovely hilltop town with stunning views all around and we found a small Bistro that also advertised wine tasting and served coffee. The owner was a rather jovial chap who had worked in London as a Somellier at The Savoy before coming back to work in the family business that included some of the local family vineyards, he was happy to chat and we eventually left feeling rather guilty that we had only bought two coffees and no wine, for these and an hours entertainment the bill was €3
From Suzette another very long downhill run that required not much effort all the way to Carpentras where we then followed familiar roads back to the campsite, a shower, lunch and a final afternoon sun bathing in Provence before pushing on tomorrow for the Gorge du Tarn.