Summit of Mont Ventoux in October 2013.  Note rime ice on rocks.

Le Mont Ventoux: The Windy Mountain

Le Mont Ventoux: The Windy Mountain

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Legends are central to any culture, ours perhaps more than most. The Ventoux is a French legend, rising 1912m above the rolling hills of Provence. The road is thick with the paint of Tours past and the names of giants. The grade is 7%, on average, though 10, 11, and 12% are routine throughout the middle section. The classical route begins in a small town, winds through the forest, and ends amidst the moon-like rocks of the summit.

My ride up the Ventoux was not pre-mediated, unless you count my wife’s comment as we boarded the plane “You know, we’ll be pretty close to the Ventoux,” she mused. The only cycling-specific thing I brought with me was my trusty Castelli wool cap. But once we arrived in Provence, the mountain stared at me. Riding it was the obvious choice.

It could have been a Mastercard advertisement. Bike shorts: 22 Euro. Bike rental: 25 Euro. Impromptu ride up the Ventoux in October: Priceless. Except the local bike shop only took cash. The LBS did have Hervé, who was more than happy to set me up and point me in the right direction. As I left the shop, he asked if I had everything I needed. “Vous avez d’EPO?” he asked. Before I could formulate a response, he explained that he always rides with EPO: Energie (energy), Pastis (French liquor), and Ouefs (French for eggs, which is slang for balls). “Oui, j’ai d’EPO”.

Many rRules were broken, perhaps more than the number of kilometers ridden. I did not look pro; I looked like the tourist that I am. I had a screw-top water bottle from the gas station and street shoes in toe clips with the straps cinched down hard enough to leave a mark on each foot that is still there 24 hours later. I did manage to pass a few guys in full kits and carbon frames. And then, I got passed in the last km by a 22-year-old kid in a local team kit, with no helmet and a fanny pack. The French, apparently, have their own rules.

Rules! Hear me fools: The Rules mark the beginning of the path to enlightenment, not the end. There are higher planes, expanding dimensions. Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.

Legends are things that lodge in memory, things that are unique enough to pause space and time. The best legends are those that transcend.

To ride a legend is to find that place, to connect the mystic with the real. Le Mont Ventoux, c’est une légende superieure.

// Cyclotourism // General // Routes // The Rides // Unforgettable Rides

  1. IMO, anyone who’s pedaled to the top of any of the sacred climbs looks pro.

  2. Chapeau!

  3. Jim, Congratulations on living this experience. Awesome. Also, it’s awesome that you have such a supportive partner to move through life. It’s nice when they accept your passion, however fervent, and realize both of you will be happier if it’s welcomed, not hidden or disparaged.

    Great writing and though we’re strangers, I smile thinking about how wonderful that ride must have been.

    Now…toe clips. Goodness. Good on ya. Secondly, Pastis? He should have provided some and, can I get away with riding with Becherovka in my pocket each ride? Incredible. “Got my multi-tool, got my house key, got my liquor…oh, I nearly forgot that.”

  4. I would say that in this situation breaking rules was worth the return.

  5. @jim – My chapeau is not large enough to do your ride justice.  The feel of the ride is there even though the travelogue included little detail about it – the imagery was all the better for the mystery. Great that you could make that ride and I only hope that one day I can complete a similarly memorable one.

  6. Chapeau indeed !!!!

    A man after my own heart.   I rode in toe-clips for many years as a callow youth, and still have them on my track bike, which is now doing duty as a commuter.   I have just come back from a ride on it.

    The Rules, are definitely the beginning of enlightenment, not the end. I may have even made a few recent posts with that sentiment.

    I was in Maui a couple of years ago, before the road bike bug bit, and while I did the ride down Haleakala, I deeply regret not riding up it. Maybe next year.

  7. @jim – rules? YOU rule! Chapeau!

  8. The rules are sacred, but the relentless pull of gravity observes only Rule V. It doesn’t care whether your spare tube is in an EPMS, if your saddle matches your tape, or if your guns are shaved. The mountain respects only force, grit, and unyielding will. To a cyclist, the mountain is the only true arbiter.

    Chapeau, indeed.

  9. Rules! Hear me fools: The Rules mark the beginning of the path to enlightenment, not the end. There are higher planes, expanding dimensions. Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.

    This might be the paragraph I read all month.

  10. Fuck yeah!

  11. On a more serious note, that reminded me of my trip to Alpe d’Huez in 2004.  I had my own bike with me, but I slept in a rental car at the foot of the mountain the night before I rode it.  Being there and doing it is the most important thing of all.  EricW summed that up nicely in his response above.  Chapeau indeed.

  12. “…a man, a mountain, and a bike.”

  13. Which side did you go up?  Didn’t you love those km markers telling you there is yet another km at 9-10%?

  14. @Mrdays

    Rules! Hear me fools: The Rules mark the beginning of the path to enlightenment, not the end. There are higher planes, expanding dimensions. Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.

    This might be the paragraph I read all month.

    +1

    Genius.

  15. Really great piece.

    This bitch of a climb is still very much on my list. We were there on the tour in 2009, but the sheer numbers on the mountain on race day scuppered our chances of getting to the top. One day Mont Ventoux, i’ll be back!

  16. @936adl

    @Mrdays

    Rules! Hear me fools: The Rules mark the beginning of the path to enlightenment, not the end. There are higher planes, expanding dimensions. Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.

    This might be the paragraph I read all month.

    +1

    Genius.

    There are The Rules and there is The Ride and whilst I believe in strict rule compliance, without The Ride we would be little more than fops.

  17. Jim, chapeaux, nicely written and what a ride. All the more special for having made the summit not on your own bike with the comfort of knowing it’s foibles and intricacies but an unknown rental.

  18. @936adl Ventoux is also very close to the top of my must ride list.

    Not that tricky logistically: Friday morning Easyjet to Marseille, hire car to Bedion, two and a half days riding, Sunday night flight home.

  19. Wow…..nice! Any more pictures?

  20. Fantastic, fantastic stuff. You lucky bastard Jim!! There’s a few climbs that I think all of us have on our “bucket list” (I despise that term), and le Mont is in my top 5.

  21. Thanks for this Jim Top job on a rental, clearly a shed load of ouefs in you! Now I’m feeling even more impatient. I’m booked up for a week in the Alps next June with tour company More Than 21 Bends. On the Wednesday which is to be our free day without a local guide, I’ve already scoped how to get me and my buddy from Bourg D’Oisans down to Malaucene to fit in an anticlockwise loop through Bedoin, up and over Ventoux. With the driving south then back north again it won’t be a big biking distance day but Le Mont Ventoux ensures that it will still be an epic.

    Alpe D’Huez, Cols – Galibier, Glandon, la Croix De Fer, Telegraph and others plus adding Ventoux. A weeks riding does not get much better than that.

  22. hi, i’m new here, with posting anyway. enjoyed reading a lot though

    is that a bianchi ml3 on the pic? that’s been my #1 for 10 happy years :-)

  23. ”Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.’
    This is a good Sentence, I like this Sentence.

  24. Nice one Jim, I really enjoyed your post. Climbed my first col this year on holiday in Mallorca with the family. Only slightly better prepared than you, I took shoes and bibs and hoped that ‘er indoors and the saucepan lids would be understanding of my need for a day off while on holiday, which they were. I was surprised how much more mind than matter climbing a mountain requires. I was constantly telling myself I needed to stop, but somewhere something else kept driving me on, the V perhaps, or maybe my favourite rule is starting to take effect. HTFU!!

  25. @Chris

    @936adl

    @Mrdays

    Rules! Hear me fools: The Rules mark the beginning of the path to enlightenment, not the end. There are higher planes, expanding dimensions. Beyond the color of your bar tape exists a man, a mountain, and a bike. This is where the world begins.

    This might be the paragraph I read all month.

    +1

    Genius.

    Of course, this also might be the best paragraph I read all month, too.

  26. Pure awesomeness and the EPO section nearly made me spit my tea out!  Chapeau!

  27. @Chris

    @936adl Ventoux is also very close to the top of my must ride list.

    Not that tricky logistically: Friday morning Easyjet to Marseille, hire car to Bedion, two and a half days riding, Sunday night flight home.

    How about a Ventoux Cogal in the spring?

  28. First post after reading for a few years (have always had issues posting from my phone).

     

    Looks great; I drove up as a 12 year old with my mum.  We spent our summer holidays driving over some of the great cols of France.  This was long before I got a road bike; I did mountain bike then but on a 32lb Townsend.

    I just posted this to my local (coffee and cake) club and sparked interest for a weekend away.  Has anyone experience of hiring a decent bike near to The Ventoux?  Also accommodation reccomendations?

    Vive la vie V.

  29. @Skip

    @Chris

    @936adl Ventoux is also very close to the top of my must ride list.

    Not that tricky logistically: Friday morning Easyjet to Marseille, hire car to Bedion, two and a half days riding, Sunday night flight home.

    How about a Ventoux Cogal in the spring?

    I’d be up for that too.

  30. These guys look good

    http://www.veloventoux.com/

    I may be up for this too, but there really needs to be a special slow group that I can hang off the back of.

  31. @gilly

     but somewhere something else kept driving me on, The V perhaps, or maybe my favourite rule is starting to take effect. HTFU!!

    Rule #5 is all anyone needs. The Ventoux in street shoes and toe clips, check. As Jim says, the Ride is bigger than The Rules. It’s good to be reminded of that often. 

  32. Chapeau! Great write up. Ventoux is magical, surreal, and ever changing. Glad I missed this day, though:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaRuW10EP2A

    Cinglé du Mont Ventoux #4651

  33. Love the write up!

    The anology of what you’ve written could pretty much sum up most rides, no matter how big the obstacle, whether it be a mountain or sheer physical limitations.

    Its in the Ride that we rejoice, the doing and then the done !

    Well played and thanks for posting.

  34. Ok, gratuitous hero shot of me on Ventoux! September 2011. Myself and Mrs DR were in Bedoin for 2 days with bike hired, we wake up and it is pouring, but not too cold. Bugger it we think. Come all this way, bit of Rule #9 and off we go with gillet, arm warmers and winter gloves in plastic bags for the descent. It rained for the entire climb except for the bit near the top where it was sleeting! The Mrs beat me up by about 5 mins (that’s normal, she has the power to weight ratio of an Exocet missile) and was just turning around as I summitted so I conned some poor unfortunate into taking a photo of me.

    It was freezing and blowing hard so I huddled near the building, put on the dry stuff and set off in pursuit of Mrs DR who is a more tentative downhiller than me and given the rivers of water flowing down the road was likely to be slower than normal. Anyway got to the bottom and no Mrs. Back to hotel, no Mrs. Shit. Drove back up to the Chalet in case she froze and holed up there. Nope. Fuck. Into town, back to hotel, nothing. Turns out in the mist and being mostly frozen she had taken the road to Sault! Found a goat farmer near the bottom, talked him into bring her back to Bedoin to the hotel we were staying in whoe name she didn’t know and whose location she had a vague idea of.

    Safe to say neither of us will ever forget that mountain in a hurry. The next day the sky was clear so we rode through the gorge to Sault planning on climbing that side. the locals informed us the wind was horrible at the top so we aborted and drove up instead to watch several people physically blown off their bikes at the top. Awesome couple of days!

  35. Chapeau!

    I did something very similar when holidaying in the Alps with my young family. We stayed in Bourg D’Oisans for a few days, which as you know is at the foot of the 21 switchbacks of Alpe D’Huez. One evening just as the kids were going to bed I sneaked out, hired a bike and cycled up with just a bottle of water and a banana, just because it was there.

  36. DR, if you ever feel like a 2 man Cogal in the Tweed, fly up. I’ll pick you up, put you up and show you my favourite rides.  If your wife wants to come, there are many good places to stay nearby at Kingscliff.

    No Ventoux, but a few solid hilly rides.

  37. How does one send a PM ?

  38. @Ken Ho The only way is to email the keepers and ask them to pass on a message along with your email address.

  39. @Teocalli

    @Skip

    @Chris

    @936adl Ventoux is also very close to the top of my must ride list.

    Not that tricky logistically: Friday morning Easyjet to Marseille, hire car to Bedion, two and a half days riding, Sunday night flight home.

    How about a Ventoux Cogal in the spring?

    I’d be up for that too.

    I’m very sorely tempted although spring might be a bit too close to KT14 and a bit windy/snowy still at the top. Franco and Dave did Ventoux on their way to KT13 and mentioned that it was a bit nippy.

    How about a late May / early June Cogal du Ventoux?

  40. @Chris

    I’m very sorely tempted although spring might be a bit too close to KT14 and a bit windy/snowy still at the top. Franco and Dave did Ventoux on their way to KT13 and mentioned that it was a bit nippy.

    How about a late May / early June Cogal du Ventoux?

    Yeah I have to admit I thought later would be better too – especially if the Alps have a repeat of the snow depth they had last winter.  Late May is probably better for me or even later in the summer as I have 2 weekend events in June already.

  41. Possibly broke every single Rule last Thursday  when I tottered up the Tourmalet on my girlfriend’s mother’s mountain bike.

    She was working and I had a day alone to amuse myself. It’s just 33km from Tarbes to St Marie de Campan. I only went for a look…

    Boardshorts, scruffy t-shirt, bike two sizes too small with no clips. Felt after like I’d gone to hell and back. In fact I’d done just the opposite.

  42. @pbw

    Except for Rule V.

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