Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux. Words by Max Burgess

We were passing through Provence on our way to the Pyrenees and thought it would be rude not to pay a visit to the ‘Giant of Provence’ – Mont Ventoux. Had it not been for a friend, I would have happily set off from Bédoin to climb the col and return back to our bed and breakfast. That plan had to change, the moment said friend informed me of a club you can only gain entry to, if you cycle the three routes to the summit in one day (there is a fourth, but you need a mountain bike for that one).

In order to prove you have completed the challenge you need to sign up in advance to receive a brevet card that must be stamped in the three towns at the bottom of Mont Ventoux; Bédoin, Sault and Malaucène as well as the summit.

Climb #1 – Bédoin – Summit

This is the classic climb that often features in Le Tour and this is immediately obvious by the road paintings that beckon up the peloton to the top. Once legs have been warmed up and a steady pace assumed, this becomes a joy of a ride.

The road from Bédoin to Ventoux showcases the different characters of the mountain perfectly. The vineyards at the lowlands gradually lead into the pine forest that eventually opens up to the quintessential Ventoux views; the rock covered, desolate mountain-top with a weather station accentuating the peak like a single candle on a birthday cake.

Before reaching the summit for the first time in the day you pass the memorial for the English cyclist Tom Simpson, who lost his life on the mountain trying to win a stage of the 1967 Tour de France. Paying respect to ‘Major Tom’ is the first respite from almost two hours of climbing.

Having started early, the first time on the summit is quiet, barring a few other cyclists that are either planning to do all the climbs or get to work after a morning ride. Taking the obligatory picture with the summit sign, I head off to find the route down.

Climb #2: Malaucène – Summit

Reaching Malaucène with a smile from ear to ear after a fast descent, I get the card stamped and turn back to begin the second ascent. An equal in verocity to the first climb at 1570 meters over 21.5km (compared to Bédoin – 1617 over 21.8km) this side of Ventoux has only been used in the Tour de France once, in 1951

It is halfway up this second ascent that the suffering begins and the doubt creeps into my conscience. Unlike the Bédoin climb, each kilometer marker has a gradient for the following section and while lower numbers bring some confidence back to the legs, the percentage gradually creeps up to sap the strength away. Luckily for my legs there are some flat sections near the top, even a brief mini-descent, but once the moon-like environment begins there is no relenting.

This time the summit is filled with even more cyclists as well as plenty of tourists, which makes it hard to fight my way to get obligatory summit sign picture two.

Climb #3 Sault – Summit

I hold my hand up indicating the number two as I have my picture taken by the sign, but in my head there is doubt that there will be a third version of this photo. By now the temperature has hit 36 degrees and it has sapped any remaining energy I had. The descent down to Sault follows the same path to Bédoin, but takes a turn at Chalet Reynard, just after the ‘Lunar Landscape’ finishes.

Recently resurfaced and with far gentler gradients the journey down quickly changes my determination to complete the challenge. The landscape takes on a completely different character from this side as the rolling lavender fields offer a far more ‘Provincial view’.

The initial plan had been to take a longer break at Sault to eat lunch and miss the hottest part of the day, but fear of legs freezing force me back onto the saddle after a mouthful of baguette and lapful of fruit.

I quickly realise that my legs have very little left to offer and the smaller gradients are still proving a challenge. If I let my mind wonder to the final few lunar kilometers, I will surely get off my bike, so I do what I rarely ever do during a ride – take out my headphones and listen to some music.

Sure enough the final few kilometers to the lunar summit are some of the hardest of my life and passing the Tom Simpson memorial for the second time offers a chance to stop and refocus my determination before leaving everything on the road to get to the top.

The weather station at the top is once again deserted, except for the final few tourists of the day getting ready to climb in their cars and drive home. In the tacky gift shop the keeper encourages me to go and drink champagne, as she puts the final stamp on the card. With that, I begin the descent back to Bédoin, where it all began several hours ago.

Advice

Sign up for the Cinglés challenge here with plenty of time to receive the details in the post. On the day, the earlier you start the better, the website even recommends a 3.30am start that would offer the sunrise at the top of the first ascent. I started at 7am in July and this still meant the third climb was at the hottest point of the day.

Check that the summit is actually open, as strong winds can often force it’s closure.

I would strongly advice the order; Bédoin first to experience the famous climb with fresh legs, the Malaucène ascent second and the easier route from Sault last, when legs will be weaker.

Good luck!

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