Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Greatest cycling climbs #4 Mont Ventoux PART 1/2

The Bald Mountain rules the landscape (photo: Touho Häkkinen).

Location: Vaucluse, Provence , France
Altitude: 1909 m
Length from Bedoin: 21,8 km
Vertical climb from Bedoin: 1611 m
Average gradient 7,5 %
Steepest kilometer gradient 10,5 % (between 8-9 km)

The legendary destination for road cyclists, Mont Ventoux (Ventour in Provençal), is a mountain in the Provence region in southern France, located some 20 km northeast of Carpentras, Vaucluse. On the north side, the mountain borders the Drôme département. It is the largest mountain in the region and has been nicknamed the "Giant of Provence", or "The Bald Mountain".

Venteux means windy in French and the mountain can get very windy on the top part, especially with the mistral. Incredible wnd speeds as high as 320 km/h (200 mph) have been recorded. Mont Ventoux, although geologically part of the Alps, is often considered to be separate from them, due to the lack of mountains of a similar height nearby.

The real fight from Bedoin starts here
(photo: Touho Häkkinen).
The Bald Mountain can be climbed by bike by three routes:

1) The climb from south, from Bédoin to Mont Ventoux, one of the toughest in professional cycling: 1617 m vertical climb over 21.8 km. This is the most famous and difficult ascent. The road to the summit has an average gradient of 7.43%. 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 last kilometres may have strong, violent winds. The ride takes 1.30 h - 2.30 h for trained amateur riders, and for professional riders take 1.00 h - 1.15 h. The fastest time so far recorded has been that of Iban Mayo in the individual climbing time trial of the 2004 Dauphiné Libéré: 55:51. The time was measured from Bédoin for the first time in the 1958 TdF when Charly Gaul was the fastest at 1:02:09.

2) The climb from northwest, from Malaucène: 1570 m vertical climb over 21.5 km is almosta equal in difficulty as the Bédoin ascent - but this side is much better covered from the wind.

3) The climb from east, from Sault: 1210 m vertical climb over 26 km. This is the easiest route up to Mont Ventoux. After Chalet Reynard (where the open "lunar landscape" starts) the climb is the same as the Bédoin ascent. here the average gradient is 4.4%.

The figure for the average gradients per kilometre can be found in many books and websites. The average gradient of the total climb and also the average gradients per kilometre differ slightly, depending on the source of the information. Accurate measurements from Bedoin side have resulted in an average gradient for the total climb of 7.43 %, based on a horizontal distance of 21765 metres and an ascent height of 1617 metres. The actual distance ridden is 21825 metres.

The mountain achieved worldwide notoriety when it claimed the life of British cyclist Tom Simpson, who died here in 1967 from heat exhaustion caused by a combination of factors including dehydration (caused by lack of fluid intake and diarrhea), amphetamines, and alcohol - although there is still speculation as to the exact cause of his death. He began to wildly weave across the road before he fell down. 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. Amphetamines were found in his jersey and bloodstream. 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, even the great Eddy Merckx rode himself to the brink of collapse while winning the stage. He received oxygen, he recovered, and he won the Tour.

Also see our article Mont Ventoux Part 2.

You can not miss the starting point in Bedoin (photo: Touho Häkkinen).

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