Mont Ventoux cycling weekend

Rising sharply out of the Provençale countryside, Mont Ventoux has become a pilgrimage for cycling enthusiasts wanting to test their mettle against the might of one of ‘le Tour’s’ most punishing climbs. And testing this is, with inclines on the way up averaging around 7 percent (and steeper in some sections) and the famously ‘bald’ summit at the mercy of the stinging mistral winds.
But while Ventoux might strike fear into the hearts of the Tour de France greats, with the right preparation and the support of a small group tour pedalling to the top is a challenge within the grasp of most enthusiastic casual riders.
And what goes up must go down; kilometres of smooth, glorious decent await those who reach the summit, with cyclists amply rewarded after their ride with the ubiquitous French lager – un pression if you want to sound in-the-know – or a café accompanying a tasty plat du jour. Vive les vacances, vive le Ventoux!

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Mont Ventoux cycling weekend in France

Mont Ventoux cycling weekend in France

Climb one of the Tour de France's most iconic mountains

From £859 to £1049 4 days inc UK flights
Small group travel:
2019: 29 Aug, 12 Sep, 3 Oct
2020: 14 May, 11 Jun, 27 Aug, 10 Sep, 1 Oct
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Mont Ventoux & Le Tour de France

The ‘Beast of Provence’ is the stuff of Tour de France legend; one of the most gruelling climbs on the tour circuit it has featured 15 times since 1951, with 10 stage finishes at its summit.

Dreams have been dramatically made and dashed here; in 2016 Chris Froome found himself jogging part way up the mountain after a crash with a motorcycle damaged his bike. And the memorial to British cyclist Tom Simpson, who collapsed just half a kilometre from the summit in 1969, offers a sobering reminder that this is a mountain to be taken seriously. Slow and steady most certainly wins this race.

What does a Mont Ventoux cycling weekend entail?

Typically, cycling holidays focusing on Mont Ventoux are short, taking place over a weekend, and will see you climb the mountain twice by two of the three different routes on offer, including the tough climb from Bedoin favoured by the Tour de France. Both routes involve around 21 km of ascent to the summit. These holidays may pay homage to ‘le Tour’ but they aren’t a race. Your achievement is measured in how you complete each climb, cheered on not by hordes of spectators but the camaraderie of your cycling companions and expert guide.

Andy Ross, cycling expert at our supplier Exodus:
“Tackle the climb in under an hour and prepare to turn pro or call in the UCI doing control. Under 1hr 30 is very good for an amateur. Riding all the way without stopping, regardless of time, is the biggest achievement in my opinion.”
While you can expect to be bathed in warm Provençale sunshine on the way up, Mont Ventoux is so-named for a reason (vent being wind in French) and its open, unprotected summit can be chilly. Sweaty bodies will need extra layers to keep warm, and to stop wind-chill detracting from the pleasure of those magnificent descents – of between 30 and 35km – back down.
On our small group tours, a support vehicle will follow your progress up the mountain and will be on hand with your spare clothing, extra water and handy bike bits and bobs to help you (although not tow you) to the top.
During a Mont Ventoux cycling weekend you’ll stay in family run, comfortable hotel accommodation in one of the villages nestled against the mountain’s base, with immediate access to main routes to the summit. Here the sleepy pace of Provençale life, sprinkled with the scent of lavender, is the perfect antidote to a day in the saddle. And traditional French bars and restaurants serve up a wealth of local fare to refuel hungry riders.

Mont Ventoux cycling routes

There are three ways to ascend to the top of Mont Ventoux, and while some nutters will attempt all of them in 24 hours, your cycling weekend will adopt the more leisurely approach, giving you the chance to tackle two routes, usually via Bedoin and Malaucène, over two days. Another longer route, and considered perhaps the easiest of the lot, ascends from Sault.

From Bedoin

Most famous as the route used by all but one of the Tour de France stages which have tackled the mountain, the ascent from Bedoin is also one of the Ventoux’s most challenging. The 21.5km climb starts on narrow, twisting roads and rises at an average gradient of 7.5 percent. The final 5km are the toughest, with gradients on the now-very exposed roads rising to a cramp-inducing 10.5 percent closer to the summit.

From Malaucène

While the route from Malaucène is less ridden it is a beautiful way to conquer the mountain and retains its own Tour de France heritage; the 1951 tour ascended Ventoux from here. From Malaucène the road to the summit rises 1,535m in 21.2km with an average gradient of 7.2 percent – presenting a similar challenge to the Bedoin route. However, the well-surfaced wider roads with marked cycle lanes make this arguably a safer route to ascend.

From Sault

The longest route at 26km and with only 1,200m of climbing, the ascent from Sault is often considered the ‘easiest’ of the three. However, this route tackles the same, steep final 5km as the Bedoin route and the long, steady 5 percent climb before you reach the iconic Tour de France summit section can weary even the strongest of cycling legs. Easier, perhaps, but certainly not easy.

Practicalities

How fit do I need to be to cycle Mont Ventoux?

While these holidays will attract a real mix of amateur cycling enthusiasts, you’re unlikely to be joined on these tours by anyone too serious about their bike. For most, Mont Ventoux will be one of the hardest things they’ve pedalled up so far. So, whether you’re a weekend club rider, bike-commuter or someone who regularly enjoys cycling as part of an active lifestyle, the challenge of Mont Ventoux is likely to be within your grasp and gasp.
With that in mind, however, if you do choose a weekend cycling holiday to Mont Ventoux then preparation will be key to your enjoyment of the trip. Simply riding as much and as frequently as possible before you go will give you a good head start on your way up the mountain.
Andy Ross, from our supplier Exodus offers his tips:
“Better to do regular short rides in week plus longer one at weekend, rather than only riding at weekend. Do as many hills as possible, even if it’s reps up and down the longest climb you can find, and get used to climbing at a steady, consistent pace.”
And remember, these weekends are designed to allow plenty of time for cyclists of all abilities to reach the top. Someone has to be at the back, and if it’s you, that’s ok.

Can I bring my own bike?

While it might be tempting to bring your own chariot for Europe’s longer road cycling trips, for a short weekend break to Mont Ventoux most cyclists choose to forgo the hassle and hire a bike locally. And this isn’t a bad option; the rental bikes are of excellent quality and experienced outfitters will ensure a good and comfortable fit. You are, of course, welcome to bring your own bike with you should you prefer.

When is the best time to do a Mont Ventoux cycling weekend?

Cycling Mont Ventoux is most pleasant if you avoid the hottest of the Provençale sunshine, with May, June, September and October all good options. Even during these times you’ll likely set of early to avoid the midday heat and any chance of summer afternoon storms.

If you want to time your trip to coincide with the Tour de France, then you’ll need to travel in July. And while nothing may seems quite so fitting as tackling your own cycling challenge a few days before watching Le Tour whizz by, you’ll need to be prepared for hot days in the saddle, especially on Mont Ventoux’s exposed flanks, busy roads and inflated accommodation costs.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pete Kavanagh] [Atop Mont Ventoux: Nicolas Aix] [Downhill: Robbie Shade] [Bedoin: Sjaak Kempe] [Summit: Robert Brands]
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