One of the nice things about having to cycle on the trainer in winter is that I can ride anyplace I like courtesy of YouTube. Today, I rode to the top of Mount Ventoux, the famed “Giant of Provence.” It is a mythical place for cyclists, think of Mt. Olympus or Asgard, that holds a special status in cycling lore. In the 1967 Tour de France, Tom Simpson began to weave wildly across the road to the Ventoux summit before falling. He shouted at the spectators to “put me back on my bike!” He then rode to within 1.5km of the summit before collapsing and dying on the way to the hospital. Amphetamines were found in his jersey and bloodstream.
Lance Armstrong claimed to have gifted the Ventoux stage to Marco Pantani in the 2000 Tour. It seemed to mentally unhinge Pantani. He was never again a major factor in cycle racing. He died of a drug overdose in a hotel in Rimini, Italy in February 2004.
I had the opportunity to cycle on and around Ventoux in 2011. I stayed at Veloventoux a cycling friendly bed and breakfast in Faucon. It is 12km from the Malaucene route and 24km from the Bedoin route up Mont Ventoux which means your legs are warm and ready when you reach the climb. Craig and Vicky, an English couple from Lancashire, are incredible hosts, excellent cyclists, and great cooks. The morning breakfast will have you ready to ride. I ate dinner with them one night and the quality and value was far beyond what I paid. They highly recommended Le Laurier, the village restaurant, but I never managed a reservation during my short stay. I did catch the Pizza Man on Thursday night when the pizza van visited.
Craig and Vicky arranged a full carbon Scott road bike rental for me. I fear the bike was better than the bike rider. I attacked, and I use that word loosely, Mount Ventoux five times. I failed to reach the summit each time. I blamed the failure on having spent the year in Abu Dhabi where a bridge was treated like a Category 1 climb. Interestingly, I saw several cars, with bikes on their racks, driving by which may explain a few of the photos you find on the Internet of very fresh looking riders holding their bikes over their heads on the Mount Ventoux summit.
One need not conquer Ventoux to have a great time riding in the area. The ride from Faucon to Bedoin is lovely, you can go on to Sault or Carpentras, or explore the roads which take you through the vineyards in the region. The loop that takes you into Crillon-le-Brave is especially beautiful. Every town has a public fountain so you need never worry about water. Craig and Vicky had a supply of maps so I never worried about being lost.
I am looking forward to a return visit. Of course I have been saying that for almost five years but I really do have plans to return. Alla and I will spend the summer of 2017 in the region. She wants to paint there, just as so many of the great painters have in the past, and I want another round with the Giant of Provence. This time I will be ready.