Mark’s Reconnaissance Trip
Mark Davison recently rode the route of the Etape du Tour. Here is his story!
I rode much of the route over two days, staying with Craig and Vicky at Veloventoux in Fauchon, highly recommended if you get the chance to visit (www.veloventoux.com). Also easy to get to by train from St Pancras.
We are in for a real treat in July. For those who don't know the typography of this part of France Mont Ventoux, an extinct volcano, dominates the countryside. The Tour organisers have arranged that this giant is glimpsed repeatedly from different angles as we skirt round the base of the mountain, first with more than 100km cycling still to go. The weather was warm on Saturday and rather hot on Sunday with clear blue skies (30 deg). It's very pretty countryside, very much typical Provence, with olive groves, fields of lavender and yellow broom in bloom, and everywhere vineyards. The wine's not too bad either.
Day 1 Nyons-Bedoin
I started from Nyons which is a pretty town some 50km into the route. Leaving it we follow a valley up a 1-2% incline on a good road (or a 'false flat' where you are actually climbing although don't realise it).
The first real climb is the Col d'Ey at 5%, narrow road, good surface, winding up through vineyards. Nothing too much to worry about but some work required.
The descent from d'Ey is technical, and the road surface is bumpy, with some grit, although there was evidence here as elsewhere) that some new resurfacing is going on in anticipation of July; I almost came off on a sharp bend at speed when the front wheel hit a patch of running water.
Fontaube is an easy climb with a lovely smooth sweeping descent into the valley. The Aurel climb is a bit of a drag, goes on a bit, top is 878m (highest so far?).
Flat/down a bit to Sault, then short drop down. The climb up Notre Dames des Abeilles on a wide new road, a bit steep for 500m then very steady at 5%; as the rock on the right side is South-facing this climb is a real suntrap with no shade. The descent is very fast (80kmh+) to Villes-s-Auzon and could be exposed to crosswinds. I took a detour from the Etape route next (by mistake as I blindly followed my Garmin), via Flassan to Bedoin, through fields of trees of tempting ripe cherries. Into Bedoin, swarming with cyclists, from where I cycled the 40km back to Fauchon to call it a day (135km).
Day 2 Bedoin -Mt Ventoux
The following day I rode back from Fauchon to Bedoin to climb the Giant itself. The climb starts with crossing a marble line set in the road. Bedoin is at 300m which means over 1600m of vertical facing you on the way to the top. It begins gradually through vineyards; after 4km at St Esteve, the road kicks up to average a relentless 9-10% for 9km. First time on the whole route into the granny ring. Bad news is that gradient with no let up (unlike say Alpe d'Huez there are no hairpins to recover even briefly), good news is that the road has a great surface and, although narrow, is shaded throughout by oaks and cedars. It seems to go on forever until you suddenly emerge from the woods at Chalet Reynard; the gradient eases off and only 6km to go now to the top. You are now totally exposed in the famous moonscape of bare limestone rock, clearly it can be windy here although given the strength of the sun some wind would have been welcome on Sunday. Past the Tom Simpson memorial (I hadn't realised he expired only 1000m or so from the top) and then time for a well earned rest. My time for the 22 km was 1hr 50mins, which is pathetic in comparison with Iban Mayo who did it in under an hour in the time trial in the 2004 Dauphine Libere, but then he had artificial assistance ;-).
I then descended the North side to Malaucene which is fast. The Etape finish camp will be 6km down this road at Mont Serein. Given I felt strong I decided to ride back up again from the North side, a decision I quickly began to regret, although I made it up rather more slowly than the first ascent (110km and 4000m).
If the weather is anything like last weekend then hydration and filling the bidons will be key.