Cycling Ventoux: 10 Top Tips

Thinking of cycling Mont Ventoux? Camilla Brokking-Maltas climbed the Giant of Provence for charity. Here are her top 10 tips.

The legendary Mont Ventoux. Photo: Niamh Sage

The legendary Mont Ventoux – one of France's most famous cycle rides. Photo: Arnout Brokking

Mont Ventoux has a magnetic attraction for many cyclists. The lone giant of Provence rears up out of the French landscape to a height of 1912m. It is striking and instantly recognisable, the forests on its lower slopes giving way to a bald peak of limestone shards. It has featured some 14 times in the Tour de France, and in 1967 claimed the life of the British cyclist Tom Simpson. (See also William Fotheringham's excellent biography, Put Me Back On My Bike.)

I've long had my eye on cycling Ventoux. Up until last year, it still seemed like a unlikely dream. Then my husband enrolled for Alpe d'HuZes, a charity bike ride for cancer research, and I decided to cycle Alpe d'Huez myself. It was a slow and painful bike ride, but it ignited in me a desire to challenge myself. I wanted to ride Ventoux.

The ride offered me the opportunity to raise funds for Alzheimer's research. My grandfather, David Sommerville, passed away in 2003 after over a decade with Alzheimer's, and my favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett, had recently announced his own diagnosis, so it was something I felt strongly about. The Lilac to Ventoux bike ride was born, and I set the date: May 25, 2011.

Even from a distance, Ventoux dominates the landscape. As we approached Bédoin, I wondered whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. I wouldn't chicken out, though. Whether I thought I could reach the summit or not, I was going to get on my bike and give it my best shot.

By the morning of the 25th, I felt less afraid, and more excited. When I left at 5.45am, the sky was clear, it was cool, and there wasn't any wind at all. Aside from one other cyclist far ahead, I was alone on the road. Perfect conditions to get my head down and find my rhythm.

Camilla on Ventoux. Photo: Niamh Sage

Camilla cycling up Ventoux for charity. Photo: Arnout Brokking

It was a damned hard bike ride. I averaged only 5kph, and had to stop often to have a drink and a breather. The climb was a great lesson for me in patience, self-control and determination. It helped to have my husband and son as my support crew, cheering me on. I had also taped a list of names to my crossbar - my Grandpa, Sir Terry, and all my sponsors. Seeing those names every time I looked down was the reminder I needed to keep pedalling.

I still find it hard to believe that, one pedal stroke after the other, one breath after the other, I climbed one of the toughest mountains in France by bike. It was physically and psychologically challenging, but also one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had.

Thinking of taking on Ventoux yourself? Here are 10 things I learned along the way.

1. Know your adversary

There is an enormous amount of information available on the internet about cycling Mont Ventoux, including technical data and advice; Climb by Bike is very helpful. Searching for 'cycling mont ventoux' will yield many inspiring personal stories. IGN has an excellent Mont Ventoux map.

2. Ride, ride, ride

This might seem like stating the bleeding obvious, but you need to do some serious kilometres to make it up Ventoux on a bike. I cycled about 2500km to prepare, and it didn't feel like enough. Make sure you include hills. I didn't do anywhere near enough hill training, and it showed. Also, wear a heart monitor to learn how your body responds to hard work (and stress).

3. Bike fitness is only half the equation

Mental toughness is vital. You have to learn not only to control your desire to rush at the climb, but also to keep plugging away. When confronted with the climb, don't think 'Oh my God I can't do it'; think 'Let's see how far I can get'. You'll be amazed how often you'll discover that there is just enough energy to cycle to that next sign post ... then to get to cycle around that next corner ... and up that little steep bit ...

4. Speaking of energy ...

Make sure you eat and drink properly before and during your Ventoux bike ride. Even if you leave early in the morning, climbing Ventoux is thirsty work. Chalet Reynard, six kilometres below the summit, provides you with an opportunity for refills. I think I ended up drinking two litres, and I was heartily sick of energy bars by the end.

5. Know the bike ride beforehand

We drove to the summit of Ventoux from Bédoin a couple of days before my bike ride to get an idea of what was to come. On a test bike ride (the first six kilometres), I worked out what gear to use and the best pedal/breathing rhythm.

A deceptive shot of Ventoux's moonscape – there's nothing flat about climbing Ventoux . Photo: Niamh Sage

A deceptive shot of Ventoux's moonscape – there's nothing flat about cycling Ventoux. Photo: Arnout Brokking

6. Leave early

We saw people starting out on their cycle rides in the middle of the day; this seems like utter madness considering how hot it can get this time of year (I cycled in May). Leaving as early as possible will give you the advantages of the cool morning air and a quiet road.

7. Cycle slowly

This was a huge challenge for me, but it's essential. Pick a low enough gear on your bike that keeps you moving at a comfortable pace, and don't push too hard. Wear a heart monitor, and take rest stops if you need to.

8. Take a support crew

When toiling up an unrelenting incline, there's nothing quite so cheering as a three-year-old shouting "Hup, Mama, hup!" and waving a supply bag. Having my husband and son along was great for my determination, and it also meant I didn't have to carry as much food and drink on the bike.

The pint-sized support crew (a future Ventoux climber?) Photo: Niamh Sage

The pint-sized support crew for Camilla's charity bike ride up Ventoux (a future Tour de France cyclist?)
Photo: Arnout Brokking

9. What goes up, must come down

I gave no thought at all to the bike ride back down. That was a mistake. I am a chicken when it comes to speed, and there is no avoiding speed on the way down. I didn't dare go fast, and braking constantly heated my bike wheel rims so much that my rear tyre blew out, ending my ride prematurely. Include descents in your training!

10. And finally ...

Don't forget to enjoy the view from the top of Ventoux!

The view from the top. Photo: Niamh Sage

The view from the top of Mont Ventoux – a reward for all that effort cycling to the top. Photo: Arnout Brokking

Camilla Brokking-Maltas was first introduced to the wonderful world of bikes by her father in the early 1970s, and has been a keen cyclist ever since. Originally from Zimbabwe and then Australia, she now lives in Belgium wth her husband Arnout and son Emrys, and spends her free time cycling around beautiful (flat) Limburg and dreaming about mountains. She plans to do something foolhardy on a bike every year to benefit Alzheimer's research. See Lilac to Ventoux for more on Camilla's Ventoux ride. 

Ventoux books and maps

The IGN map of the area surrounding Ventoux is a worthwhile addition to your bike pannier (UK, Fr). There is also a broader map that takes in the Vaucluse department beyond Ventoux. For general tourist information on the Provence and the Côte d'Azur region, pick up a Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or DK Eyewitness guidebook. 

For those interested in the Tour de France, Willliam Fotheringham's Put Me Back On My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson (UK, US) is the haunting story of arguably Britain's finest ever cyclist, and one whose memorial sits on Ventoux near the spot where he died. Tom Simpson's own autobiography was re-released by Yellow Jersey Press in 2009. Simpson's nephew, the cycling author Chris Sidwells, has also written about Simpson.

Sidwells, who wrote A Race for Madmen (UK, US), is also the author of Tour Climbs: The Complete Guide to Every Tour de France Mountain (UK, US)see how Ventoux stacks up against other famous Tour de France mountains. On a lighter note, Tim Moore cycles Ventoux in French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France (UK, US). For more great books, see our must-read Tour books.

More information on cycling Ventoux

See Climb by Bike and the excellent Cycling Challenge: Cycling in the Alps. For a personal take on cycling Ventoux (including more tips), see Freewheeling France contributor Gerry Patterson's blog.

If you need more help making up Ventoux by bike, see Stephen Lord's climbing mountain passes. Paul Henderson, meanwhile, has done the maths for Freewheeling France to see how Ventoux stacks up against other famous Tour de France climbs. See Cycling Ventoux from Crillon le Brave for other bike rides in the area (handy for your support crew or friends and family if they're not taking on the mountain).

Bike hire and accommodation in Provence

The bilingual France Bike Rentals has a shop, La Route du Ventoux, in Bedoin, which has road bikes, touring bikes and hybrid bikes for hire, as well as two Canondale tandems; they also have bike racks for cars. They will deliver to anywhere in the south of France. See also our bike hire listings.

Check here for links to accommodation in France, including hotels, gîtes, gîtes d’étapes, B&Bs, self-catered and campsite options, or zoom into the map below.

Organised tours of Ventoux

There are many companies offering organised rides up Ventoux. Some are guided and fully supported, while others are self-guided and come with pre-arranged accommodation, maps and on-ground support and advice. High-spec bike hire can usually also be arranged through your tour company. Many rides are part of a longer Provence itinerary, while Tour de France packages are also available. You can search our organised tours section here.

 

Comments (5)

  1. Anne:
    Jun 28, 2013 at 09:17 PM

    Thanks for your great tips. I read your account just before making my ascent of Ventoux, and it gave me hope of getting to the summit, which I did reach. Although I had trained on gently rolling hills, I had never encountered anything like this with the nonstop uphill, and at age 64, I wasn't certain that I'd make it. It was great to stand at the summit!

  2. Lyn:
    Jul 01, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    Hi Anne
    I can't tell you how happy I am that we inspired you just a little!
    Congratulations on such an epic ride!
    Lyn @ FWF

  3. Ruth:
    Jul 11, 2013 at 08:55 PM

    Hello,

    Thanks for the tips! I'm heading up in September :) you can track my progress here: http://www.grootverzettegenkanker.nl/deelnemers-2013/RuthGreenslade/

    Am a bit nervous!

    Ruth

  4. Lyn:
    Jul 15, 2013 at 08:08 AM

    Thanks for the link, Ruth - very inspirational.
    Good luck with the ride!
    Lyn @ FWF.

  5. Jean-Luc:
    Jul 15, 2014 at 02:55 PM

    I'm doing my fifth ascent in 9 years. Done Bedoin twice, Sault once with my wife (underrated), and Malaucene for the first time in 2006. it's a monster, but I love it. My mum and dad live 20km from the base, so it's always there on summer holidays saying 'je suis ice, tres pres, et je te veux'. Some years she gets me, others not. I always end up nearing the required level of fitness to do it because there is also some incredible cycling to the west (Les Dentelles de Montmirraille) even if she doesn't 'get' me. This year will be my fifth, and I feel up for it - (easy to say from my desk). I'm going up from Malaucene again where the roads are straighter, and feel really much longer. One thing that is never mentioned is that doing it makes you appreciate geography and landscape, time and geological process more. It makes you more 'animal'. It's all in your head that mountain. But the memories are ever-lasting. Just do it - its a beautiful thing.





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