Mount Ventoux is outstanding. It stands, towering above the surrounding countryside, reaching nearly 2000 metres, looking as though it is topped by snow, so white is the rock which forms its top.
It is outstanding in the history of cycling, not only for the famous Tom Simpson story, and the Pantani/Armstrong duel in 2000, but also in the history of the Etape du Tour in the same year.
In the 2000 Etape, as riders approached the summit, the wind picked up and a hail storm broke, temperatures descended to 2 degrees above zero (yes in the south of France in July – really!), and many riders were turned back. This stage was probably the only Etape du Tour stage ever to feature in a full length Radio 4 radio play, such was its drama.
The approach to Ventoux is again expected to be following the tour route through Bedion, which will mean a climb with a consistent gradient throughout, the maximum being around 9% at around the half way mark. On one hairpin a thoughtful graffiti artist in 2000 had warned riders of the steepest bit on one of the bends, advising climbing the bend on other side! The warning was not really necessary!
The climb is pleasantly wooded, trees providing shade if the weather is hot, up to Chalet Reynard. Then we suddenly reach the dramatic open limestone scenery for the last few km of the climb to the top. On a hot day the limestone would reflect the sunlight, though it is very likely that there will be at least a breeze on the top of Ventoux!
The difficulties of climbing Ventoux are obvious, though it is, after all, just a mountain. It’s a long climb, around 1500 metres of ascent, so a correct, steady pace will be needed for all but the superhuman!
The main difficulty in succeeding on this Etape are not so obvious! It lies in the first 85 miles or so. The route up to the base of Ventoux has 6 smaller cols – none of them are too difficult – but the total climb due to these smaller cols amounts to 2000 metres! So most of us will need to take care to conserve enough energy for Ventoux!
On the last Ventoux Etape it was sad (or amusing, depending on your viewpoint) to see riders dismounting half way up Ventoux after trying in vain to winch their bikes up on too high a gear. Jeannie Longo, the women’s cycling phenomenon, 55 times French and world champion, changed her rear wheel for one with lower gears before tackling Ventoux in the Etape – she was, of course, the first woman to arrive at the finish line! It therefore worth having sufficiently low gears for the climb!
Clothing is a difficult issue on this route. The weather could be very hot or very cold.
Although you will no doubt do well in standard cycling clothes for most of the route, it is necessary to carry a waterproof layer, and very advisable to have a warm but light layer such as a long sleeved cotton top to put under the waterproof in case the weather deteriorates at altitude. If not, there may be first aid tents to rescue you!
Plenty of training will be needed to succeed this year! I plan to once again to publish monthly training hints taking to give you a few ideas on how train for the event, building up from an average fitness level.
I am organising a number of training events again in 2009, starting with rides over the Chiltern Hills, and building up to Cheddar Gorge then Snowdonia. Later in the year I’m planning to offer training trips in the Alps, and a reconnaissance trip. Keep an eye on the training events page for the latest details.
The 2009 Etape is set in one of the nicest and most interesting parts of France for a holiday, with its warm climate, pretty villages, lavender fields, monasteries, gorges, and mountains. It may be worth extending your stay and making a holiday of it!