The Mont Ventoux – The Bald Mountain.
At 1,912m, it is the highest mountain in the region and has been nicknamed the “The Bald Mountain”. Situated among the villages Bédoin, Malaucène and Sault. After 1600m the forest ends and the characteristic ‘lunar-landscape’ starts. Here the wind has free rein and can blow violently. The view from the summit is breath-taking. Vaucluse is laid out for you and in the distance the outlines of the French Alps are visible. On a clear day you can even see the Mont Blanc.
The Mont Ventoux has become legendary as the scene of one of the most grueling climbs in the Tour de France bicycle race, which has ascended the mountain fifteen times since 1951.The followed trail mostly passes through Bédoin. Its fame as a scene of great Tour dramas has made it a magnet for cyclists around the world.
The mountain achieved worldwide notoriety when it claimed the life of British cyclist Tom Simpson, who died here on 13 July 1967. He was delirious and asked spectators to put him back on the bike, which he rode to within a half mile of the summit before collapsing dead, still clipped into his pedals. There is a memorial to Simpson near the summit, which has become a shrine to fans of cycling, who often leave small tokens of remembrance there. In 1970, Eddy Merckx rode himself to the brink of collapse while winning the stage.
There are three possible climbs to the summit.
- South from Bédoin: this is the most famous and difficult ascent, 1610 m over 21,5 km. The road to the summit has an average gradient of 7.5%. Until Saint-Estève, the climb is easy: 3.9% over 5,8 km, but the 16 remaining kilometres have an average gradient of 8.9%. The ten kilometers till Chalet Reynard have a gradient of 10%. The last 6 kilometres may have strong, violent winds, due to the ‘lunar landscape’.
- Northwest from Malaucène: 1570 m over 21,5 km. About equal in difficulty as the Bédoin ascent, but better sheltered against the wind. From our experience we can tell you that both Malaucène and Bédoin have their own characteristics and both climbs are tough!
- East from Sault: The easiest route with 1220 m over 25.9 km and the only climb that doesn’t offer a view of the summit. Sault is situated on a small hill and the climb actually starts with a short descent! The village is surrounded by lavender fields which offer beautiful views. After Chalet Reynard (where the “lunar landscape” of the summit starts), the climb is the same as the Bédoin ascent. Average gradient of 4.7%.
Cyclists that managed to finish all three climbs in one day and can prove this based on stamped ride maps, have access to the illustrious Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux.
…. And there is a 4th route, Route Forrestière or Forest Road. This is the unknown route. Put aside your racing bike, this route is only accessible by mountain bike. The crossing of the Massif des Cèdres is the reward for the hard day: no cars, no pedestrians, absolute quiet. The rider can cope with the loneliness and see twice a sneak peak of the giant. The start is in Bédoin. After 9 km from Bédoin, turn left into the Massif des Cèdres (at the beginning of the Forest road). Bar passage barred, except for residents. Continue for 11 km (road in poor condition and getting worse and worse…) to rejoin the road Malaucène to 1,5 km above the Mont Serein. Continue to the summit.
GPS is a must and the climb is at own risk. The climb to the summit is at least as long as the ‘regular’ climb from Bédoin, 21 kilometers and with equal gradient. But the surface consists of loose gravel and boulders, which makes it tricky.
After finishing this 4th climb, on the condition that you are a member of the Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux and a stamped ride map, you will become a Galerien. So far (since 1998) only 470 enthusiasts have gone before you. It really is a very tough climb.