Cycling Mont Ventoux

It's claimed lives and livelihoods, broken hearts and shattered dreams – Max Wooldridge has this overview of climbing Ventoux

 Ventoux Richard IJzermans

The often heart-breaking road to the top. Photo: Richard IJzermans

See here for Ventoux cycling holidays

Some riders like to use the word 'conquer’ in relation to the Ventoux, but some humility, and caution, is advised; Mont Ventoux will always have the last laugh.

The professionals make it look easy. It’s not. It's a brute, and can even be a byword for masochism, with an average gradient of 7-8% going up to 10% in places. The mountain has claimed the lives of numerous amateur cyclists, as well as more famous riders such as Tom Simpson (you'll see a memorial to him on the way up). You do not want to be one of those poor souls who need rescuing, or requiring the use of the defribillator located two-thirds of the way up at Le Chalet Reynard café, donated by the wife of a Belgian amateur cyclist who died on an ascent.

Early on, the pine forest in the lower reaches of the climb will protect you from the worst of the blazing sun and buffeting winds. But once you clear of the tree line, you are suddenly exposed to the elements. Blazing heat can bounce off the lunar-like landscape right into your face. And, my, oh my, if the wind is blowing – be it the mistral or marin winds – you’ll wonder why you ever took up riding.

If you want to do it, you’ll need to be a reasonably fit cyclist, but truthfully it’s not beyond the capability of any regular rider. Just go at your own pace, and take supplies of food and water and extra warm clothing as the weather can change rapidly. I’ve seen cyclists reach the summit who appear to be seconds from hyperthermia. Ultimately, your time means nothing; the experience is everything. And take the descent carefully. It can be treacherously steep in places, and you may be so euphoric about your achievement that you forget yourself. This, and over-exertion, are the main cause of most casualties, according to emergency services.

And don't feel you have to ride the classic route from Bedoin, the way the Tour de France usually comes. There are two other routes, one from the charming town of Malaceune, on the north side of the Ventoux, and a so-called “easy” route from Sault.

A bad day on Mont Ventoux can redefine pain on a bicycle, and you'll rue the day you ever started cycling. But make it to the top (however long it takes you) and without doubt it will be the best day of your life so far – on or off the bike.

And, just for the record, the summit of Ventoux is 1,910 metres high, and not 1,912 metres as many road signs, postcards and pretty much every cyclist, states.

Max Wooldridge is a UK-based freelance writer who specialises in travel, sport and music. A keen cyclist, he divides his time between London and North Norfolk, which is not quite as flat as Noel Coward made out.

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.

Ventoux bike hire

See also our bike hire listings for bike rental outlets, or drop me a line via my bespoke bike hire service.

Accommodation for Ventoux

Zoom into our map below to see bike-friendly accommodation in the area, or browse our Where to stay section for Provence.

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. If you need help sorting your Ventoux trip, click here

More information on cycling Ventoux

See our top 10 tips for cycling Ventoux, and this information on accommodation in the area. See Cycling Ventoux from Crillon le Brave for other gentler bike rides in the area (handy for your support crew or friends and family if they're not taking on the mountain). We also have information on cycling in other parts of Provence.

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.

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