Well, we wouldn’t have come all this way for that, would we? Gary probed.
The ride from Orange to Bedoin had been rather unpleasant, maybe not per sé but in comparison to all these amazing landscapes we had seen over the past few months. The roads lead through commercial and semi industrial areas, with high truck and car traffic, and the flat wide open roads didn’t offer much shade or protection from the already hot morning sun. I had never so much looked forward to the start of a climb and breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived in Bedoin. The lack of coffee might have also influenced my perception of the area. Yes, we had once again ran out of gas for cooking the previous day. The instant coffee, courtesy of nice German fellow campers at the car park near the Roman arch in Orange that morning, was enough to keep the caffeine withdrawals at bay but a poor replacement for my usual strong black brew that gets me going.
Only the first glimpses of Mt Ventoux cheered me up.
Bedoin, with it’s charming little cafes along the tree-lined and shady route enticed us for a short break before hitting the climb. Two proper coffees later we were on our way and my casually thrown-in comment It would be nice if the gradient stayed 3% all the way. prompted Gary’s retort. He was so right. We were not here for mole hills!
I had done my home work and studied the profile the night before and so I knew that the first 5km would be easy with an average gradient of 4.4%. But not long after I had thrown in my silly little comment, the road got steep and stayed this way just like they had described in the magazine, 9km with an average gradient of 9.4% to the Chalet Reynolds. From there it’s another 6 km with an average gradient of 8.1% to the top. That’s how I broke up the climb, into biteable chunks. But I was glad I had prepared mentally because this one is not called The Giant of Provençe for nothing. It is a tough climb.
Alberto decided to hang around. Gary decided to take photographs and hang back. I decided to just get on with climbing Mt Ventoux. I enjoyed it. It hurt but it was a satisfying hurt. Satisfying because the kilometres ticked away. Satisfying because my bike wasn’t moving embarrassingly slow. Eight kilometres to go to the chalet, seven, five… it was possible to keep up the rhythm, the speed, the enjoyment with every turn. Later I discovered that my 1h12′ for the first 14km to the chalet gave me a third place on Strava.
At the Chalet we regrouped with Gary, drank a Coke, and I bought myself a nice little Mt Ventoux jersey. Sure, I hadn’t been to the top, yet, but we planned to descend to Malaucene and therefore I wouldn’t get a chance to go back to the chalet for some souvenir shopping. I had no doubt I’d manage the last 6km to the top.
When we left the chalet, it was way pass noon and the sun sat high in the deep blue sky. There was not one cloud. The bitumen and white rocks radiated the heat and the white tower of Mt Ventoux in the flimmering air looked exactly how I had imagined. Everybody experiences the climb differently, and the conditions of the day will influence the ride. Cyclists have complained about the wind that can be an icy hit in the face or gusty as hell, throwing people off their bikes and making the battle to the top into a head wind so much harder. We had almost ideal conditions. Yes, the intense heat made the sweat drip down our faces and body, and the brightness of the whiteness hurt the eyes under sunglasses. But the feared Mt Ventoux wind was a welcome relief for us. Without the wind it would have been unbearable.
Like I’ve come to expect now, the summit was packed with day-trippers, hikers, cyclists, families, cars and motorbikes. Young and old had gathered to enjoy the magnificent views and the festival atmosphere. It makes perfectly sense to have a candy stall at such a seemingly remote spot and Alberto treated Gary and me to some local cookies before we started our long descend to Malaucene.
Time was flying and we were pushing four in the afternoon when we rolled into Malaucene. The main road was lined with cafes and restaurants where holiday-makers enjoyed an afternoon aperitif in the shade. We picked a place for lunch and were surprised when the Portuguese waitress informed us that the kitchen was closed. Too late for lunch but starving, she allowed us to enjoy the hospitality of a table in the shade and a drink, while eating brought-in sandwiches from the local mini marché.
The ride home back to Orange was much more enjoyable than the morning ride to Ventoux had been. A moment of confusion and wrong directional advise from a local turned into a longer but more scenic route through the vineyards of the Ventoux domaines. Instead of the planned 107km ride we ended up with close to 130km but there was no harm in that. We had plenty of water, plenty of food and the sunset was still hours away. There was nothing but a nice dinner at one of Orange’s restaurants waiting for us, and the medieval villages along the way inspired us for a second ride the very next day.
We had plans to also try the ascent from Malaucene but our gas situation, or lack thereof, made us press on to Marseille in the hope to find someone who could re-fill our German gas bottles. It proofed a bigger problem than expected and we deeply regretted not having dipped into Switzerland to refill the gas when we had been close to Geneva a few days earlier.