Mount Ventoux, Redux

I recently read a social media meme concerning the Olympics, which made the humorous suggestion that every event should include one normal person as a frame of reference for the audience.  I think that is a splendid idea and with the Tour de France about to make not one, but two ascents up Mount Ventoux (Stage 11, July 7 th) I offer my own “everyman” experience from 2018 in contrast.   

Ride Length:   

The Tour de France length for Stage 11 is 198.8km.  They’ll ride 155km (including climbing Ventoux from Sault, generally considered the easier side (if there is such a thing) before arriving at Bedoin, where I began my ride.  So lets agree I had a slight advantage in that respect. After the 16km climb, they’ll descend on the same road I did, except after reaching my hotel at the edge of Malaucene, they’ll do a fun lap around the town before finishing.   

Ride Time:    

It took me 1:45 to reach a major landmark – Chalet Reynard.  It took me about 2:30 to reach the summit.  I’m told the pros can do this in about an hour despite cycling 155km and climbing the mountain once already.  Something to watch for.  In my defense, the tour almost certainly won’t be stopping for pictures or taking time to appreciate the Tom Simpson Memorial near the top of the mountain, which I did.  I dare say you will struggle to find a single rider staring off into the vista and enjoying the view, which I also did.  Did I take 90 minutes doing those things?  Not quite.   

Chalet Reynard. Stage 11 will pass by this place twice. I suspect it will be a mob scene and I wonder how early you would need to arrive to actually find a place here. Incidentally, the pros will not stop for photos at this point.
1,000 meters to go. The longest 1,000 meters I’ve ever cycled.
Celebrating with champagne at the top. The racers will not do this. More time lost to me, but I’d do it again!

It took me 40 minutes to descend.  Occasionally, my speed would tickle 40mph.  There was light traffic that day.  A couple of cyclists screamed past me, indicating what might be possible for an exceptional descender who knew the route.  For the pros, there’ll be 170 riders strung out over the mountain with a roadside full of crazy cycling fans.  Most prognosticators say the downhill to the finish argues for at least a small group to finish together.  It will be interesting to see how fast they can manage.  I’m guessing faster than 40 minutes.   

Rider Size.

The internet tells me the average Tour de France rider is 70-72″ tall and about 165 pounds (climbers are slightly smaller and sprinters slightly bigger. The average age of a mountain stage winner for the past nine years is 28. Yours Truly was 72″ and 215 pounds and 55 years old. ADVANTAGE: PROFESSIONALS.

Support Crew:   

Tour de France riders can count on an array of specialists, including a team director, a doctor, and a mechanic.  They are armed with a bevy of performance data and wireless communication to the riders to let them know precisely how they’re doing and what needs to be adjusted.  Spare wheels, parts, and entire bikes are available on a moment’s notice. I had John and Maureen.  There never was a finer team director/mechanic/doctor than John and Maureen was the best podium girl to ever grace the mountain.  ADVANTAGE:  STEVE.   

An example of the excellent technique provided by my crack support team (aka, John).
Maureen was relatively new to the Tour de France culture and had recently learned the significance of the red and white polka dotted jersey, given to the King of the Mountains. Lacking polka dots of any kind, she gamely wore a smashing red and white ensemble. Chapeau, Maureen!

In Malaucene:    

The racers won’t have the opportunity to do this, but I will be looking for glimpses of the following places that will remind me of a wonderful three days in Malaucene: 

Hotel Domaine des Tuilleuls (Hotel of the Lemon Fields). Our hotel at the base of Ventoux’s decent, near the intersection with the ring road around Melaucene. Noticeable by the green shutters and brown wall immediately next to the street. I can only imagine what the proprietor is able to charge for this night. The building is an old 17th Century farm house. For the record, I did not see any lemons.

The hotel. Riders will finish their descent on this road, heading toward the photographer. Aux Delices du Ventoux is out of frame to the right. Ventoux Finisher Bikewear is immediately to the rear of the photographer.

Aux Delices du Ventoux. At this same intersection, almost directly opposite the hotel, is a nice-looking bakery with the unique characteristic that it never seemed to be open at any time of the day or night. Their shelves were full of tasty-looking goodies but try as we might we never caught them open to buy anything. I did a quick google search on the bakery today and, sure enough, it announced that it was closed today. There’s a story here if I only knew the right people to ask.

Ventoux Finisher Bikewear. There are more bicycle shops per square meter in Malaucene than in any place I have ever been. In 2018, there were four of them within half a mile of each other. This particular one, at the exact same intersection we have been discussing – just across the street – is where I bought my Ventoux finisher’s jersey. The name of the store seemed appropriate for this task. It was also the only store with a European XXXL jersey, which is what I require in this land of small people. The store also had the smallest “dressing room” I’ve ever seen – literally a tiny shower curtain that could be pulled to isolate one tiny corner of the store. Still, it worked and I have my jersey. Bravo, Ventoux Finisher Bikewear!

Les Terrases du Ventoux. After completing their loop around the town, the riders will approach the finish on Cours des Isnards (I have no idea what an Isnard is). This is a lovely stretch of road full of outdoor dining and a small parking lot that is used as a market one day a week. This entire area will no doubt be unrecognizable to me as it will be packed with trucks, fans, and all the accoutrements necessary to run a finish line. Still, I will remember sitting with Maureen at this restaurant, watching the hundreds of recreational cyclists pass us by, while I celebrated my ride up Ventoux.

A little tired and very happy after the climb. The finish line will be right behind me.

The Calvaire (Calvary). There’s a small hill that dominates Malaucene and it sits inside the ring road the riders will circle the town on. There used to be a fort here, then some churches. Now there are icons for the stations of the cross and a small park. The helicopter should capture this nicely. I’m guessing it’ll be a good spot to watch if you can’t get next to the road.

One of the views from Calvaire. The Cours des Isnards and the finish line is directly below.

CONCLUSIONS.

Two hours and thirty minutes from Bedoin to the top. Forty minutes from the top down to Malaucene. Those are the marks the peloton will have to beat to overcome your “everyman cyclist.” Obviously, this won’t be even close. In reality, if I started about one km below Charlet Reynard just as the peleton reached the base of the mountain at St. Esteve Corner, it would be a good race. I would have to go seven kms and the pros would have to go 16. So yeah, they’re pretty fast. I’ll be looking to see if I could have made it into Malaucene in time to watch the podium ceremony.

I’ve cycled 187 miles in one day, pedaled all-out for three straight hours on the flat course at the Air Force Cycling Classic, ridden several 200km rides and many centuries and tours. Ventoux was the toughest thing I’ve done on a bicycle. It’ll will be fun to watch the Tour de France climb it twice as part of a 120-mile race, all the while remembering this is only one stage in a 21-stage affair. Simply amazing.

3 thoughts on “Mount Ventoux, Redux

  1. A great recap of your climb and nice plug for Malaucene, too. You even know the name of the bakery (sometimes open, I can confirm) on the corner!

    Look for me in front of Maison Sule (probably) as they pass by. Now if I can only find my mankini…

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