Mont Ventoux has a large place in cycling history – so when you get offered the chance to climb the Giant of Provence, there is only one answer you can give, right? Joining the Lost Souls on this trip came at the right time for me – it meant doing something for me, to help restore my love of being on a bike – boy, it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Who are the Lost Souls Cycling Club
If you don’t know who the Lost Souls Cycling Club are then founders Neil and Karl have set out their ethos better than I ever could
“At some point we have all felt lost, be it on the bike or indeed in life. That’s how the lost souls started. We welcome everyone to the lost souls, no hierarchy here just a friendly crew with members all over the world.“
The Lost Souls are a concept as much as they are an cycling apparel company – a revolution of independence, of inclusion and camaraderie and a celebration that not following the mainstream can actually be better journey.
We flew out from Manchester, the Lost Souls spiritual home, and in to Marseille, basing ourselves in Malaucène, a provincial French village at the foot of Mont Ventoux.
Ventoux is the highest mountain in Provence and has been nicknamed the “Beast of Provence”, the “Giant of Provence” and “The Bald Mountain”, due to its bare limestone summit. It has gained it’s cycling heritage through its inclusion in the Tour de France – in 2009 it was the scene of the first penultimate-day mountain top finish in the Tour de France, with Alberto Contador sealing his yellow jersey among others.
The Lost Souls vs. Ventoux
Day 1 – Ascent from Bedoin (the famous side)
The climb from Bédoin up Mont Ventoux is apparently one of the toughest in professional cycling, with an average gradient of 7.5% across the 21km climb, but its not quite that simple with sections ranging from between 4% and 13%.
We set off from the outskirts of the village (just after the roundabout which marks the official start of the route) after collecting our hire bikes. The first 6km of the ride is a pretty gentle introduction to the mountain, not too steep with the road taking you through vast vineyards used to make the local wines. From here you’ve got a farily constant reminder of the task ahead of you – the exceptional weather giving an unspoilt view to the summit and iconic weather station tower.
At around 5km, just after the famous Esteve bend, we entered the forest and its from here where it all gets all that much harder – the gradient hardly ever dropping below 9% for the next 10km. It’s a relentless climb which winds through beautiful forests – even with the tree cover the sun still hits your back and we found ourselves sweating and unzipping our jerseys. The steep sections never really gives you a break to recover and as such this is where our small group started to become strung out as well all found our own rhythms.
Once you exit the tree line, you ride in to the unique lunar landscape created by the bare limestone rocks. It’s not just the landscape that changes, coming out of the trees you notice the temperature drop and how sheltered you were from the wind. Graeme and I reached Chalet Renard – a welcomed food and water stop – at around 14km and agreed to wait so the band of climbers could regroup and head off again together.
The final few kilometres from the café are deceptive – the summit is clearly visible, within touching distance and liable to fool you about how long you’ve got left. While, the gradient doesn’t feel as hard, its the wind that saps the energy. Despite regrouping we quickly dropped riders again, the unprotected road, line by yellow and black snow poles gets battered by the wind. Winds as high as 320kph have been recorded on the top of Ventoux – although we didn’t have quite that speed, you could still feel the bike being pushed around the road. The final 1.5km ramps up again to around 10% as you begin making the final few switch backs. With around 1km to go you pass the Tom Simpson memorial on your right – Thomas Simpson was one of Britain’s most successful professional cyclists and sadly died during an ascent of the mountain. I punched ahead to try and repay the shelter Graeme had been giving me, but in the end we had to just take it at our own pace and grind it out.
The final bend to the summit car park is a punch to already aching legs, but once you’ve got your breath back the view makes that final effort worth it. It’s like you’re in an aeroplane, taking in vast views back down across Provence in just incredible. Standing admiring the views for too long is probably not advisable at this time of year, we quickly found ourselves running inside the small souvenir shop to try and warm up. In the 20 minutes it took for the final rider to hit the summit the weather had closed in we were in thick fog and being battered by a freezing wind.
On freezing legs we set off to tackle the fun part – the descent! The initial few kilometres back to Chalet Renard was blustery, not helped by my shaking hands and feet, and the wider sweep around the car park can be treacherous with cars and busses swinging in and out. Once you’ve cleared this and head back in to the wooded section is becomes a lot more enjoyable as you start to find some speed and can test your lines and cornering skill.
Just under 2hrs of climbing undone in around 30 minutes, but what a buzz.
Day 2 – Ascent from Malaucène
The climb from Bedoin is said to the hardest of the 3 routes up the mountain, with the long heavy section through the trees – however this route has its challenges too. It is a much prettier ascent but the ramps and gradients are much harsher, although slightly shorter thankfully.
The thing you notice is that the climb from Malaucene is much quieter, both in terms of other cyclists and road traffic, with wider roads. This combined with far superior views down the valley and over the Provençal countryside make this a ride not to be missed if you are in the area.
There is little warm up on this side, around 2km, before the gradient kicks up to 8% as you go in to the trees. What struck us was how variable to gradient of the climb was on this side – the kilometre markers telling you is ranges between 4% and 13% – making it much harder to settle in to a rhythm. As with the previous day, the group quickly broke up in to a number of groups with myself Trev and Graeme pushing ahead.
The 4km leading up to Chalet Liotard, situated at about the same height as the opposite Chalet Renard (1427 meters), is tough. We stopped briefly to take in the view, I’ve genuinly seen nothing like it. From here you can cycle up to the Mont Serein, however we turned right at the Chalet, on to a short but steep section – not pleasant after letting the legs stop for 5 minutes. Once beyond that, you climb at around 8% on average to the top and it’s these punches that make settling in to a spin very hard.
You attack the weather station from behind, with the last 2km being a hard work on the straights, the bends do however offer some sweet relief and the idea that you might actually be able to change gear. We had the wind in our favour for a little, once we’d made the final switch back, which helped the three of us largely stay together and hit the summit together.
Despite being a clear day the wind was far stronger and colder than the previous day and we sensibly took shelter by the garages, allowing the sun to warm us while the rest of the Soulers trickled up to join us.
We descended back down the mountain to Bedoin, as we had the previous day, so as to drop the hire bikes back. While the winds were high again, I felt a lot more confident to let the bike run on the descent. While it felt faster and more enjoyable the slight headwind back down made it actually a little slower. The final 4km in Bedoin is equally as fun, while flatter you can really push some watts, particularly if you chain gang it. Not so for me, Trev and Graeme dropped me as my thigh started to cramp up.
Sure Ventoux is a big climb, its steep and its hard work but if you can find a rhythm and a gear to sit and spin in, you will get up. The climbing was absolutely incredible, it certainly did not disappoint and as such I’d do it again without hesitation. That said, this trip wouldn’t have been what it was without the people, the Lost Soulers – friends on social media but strangers until now. The opportunity to take on a challenge with a group of like minded people and enjoy the social aspects as much as the climb was the key to the trip’s success for me.
Ventoux is a big cycling tick off the bucket list and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to do it, twice. Of course I always want more and definitely had the legs for another attempt. So thoughts now, inevitably, for me a possible turn to join Club des Cingles – All three main ascents in the same day (24hr period), by bicycle (an impressive 137km distance and 4400m of climbing).
What a challenge that would be, right!!
Find out more
Find out more about the Lost Souls Cycling Club and browse their shop at – https://lostsoulscyclingclub.com/ or, you can follow them on social media;
Instagram – @lostsoulscyclingclub
Twitter – @lostsoulscc
Want to take on Ventoux or your own cycling challenge?
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