Provençal Luxury Meets The Tour De France & Mont Ventoux

Last weekend when I was staying at my brother’s house in Yorkshire, my niece happened to be browsing through the travel section of The Sunday Times. She pointed out an article about ‘cycling-friendly‘ hotels, the first of which was in Provence, France and my ears pricked up. The article started as follows;

“Although the afterglow of the Olympics has faded for many sports, the boost given to cycling continues to reap benefits for the legions of two-wheeled aficionados, even in the world of travel, where more and more hotels are welcoming riders with secure storage, good bikes to rent, a range of interesting (and challenging) routes, often with local guides, and even dedicated cyclists’ menus.”

When I cycled from the UK to southern Italy back in 2010, the split between using campsites, people’s homes & hotels was roughly a half, a quarter and a quarter respectively. I made a conscious decision to only use hotels when in larger towns and cities or when I couldn’t find a campsite. I suspect that the split between the three types of accommodation will be similar for the trip along the Eurovelo 8 this summer although bearing in mind the areas I will be cycling through, especially in Italy, France and Spain, I should have ample camping opportunities presented to me and in those countries at least, I many end up spending most of my time under canvas. Well, it’s no longer canvas but you know what I mean…

hclb-gallery-1_153That said, if I see a sign for a ‘cycling-friendly‘ hotel en route, it may be difficult to simply pass by, especially if they do indeed offer the kind of services suggested by the article in The Sunday Times. So, back to the hotel in Provence. It’s called the Hôtel Crillon Le Brave and I have to say that it’s a stunner as you can see from this aerial shot of the place that was also used in the newspaper. I shall see how full or empty my bank account is when cycling through Provence as to whether I check in for a night or two of pampered luxury but here’s how The Sunday Times write-up started;

“The owners of the Hôtel Crillon Le Brave are keen cyclists, and they’re in the right place – on the doorstep of Mont Ventoux, one of the six mountain stages in this year’s [100th] Tour de France…”

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 14.19.48Mont Ventoux! Of course! It had been playing on my mind for some time that by taking a mainly coastal route from Greece to Portugal, I would miss out on anything akin to the climb to the Saint Gotthard pass in Switzerland that I conquered back in 2010. There are a few decent climbs in the foothills of the Alps and the Pyrenees (and I will certainly not be avoiding those areas) but nothing of iconic cycling status such as, for example the Alpe d’Huez which is a little too far north for comfort. Mont Ventoux however is indeed one of those iconic Tour de France climbs and it sits bang in the middle (well, more or less) of my planned ride. This summer’s Tour de France sees the riders climb to the top on none other than Sunday 14th July so it should be quite an event. My arrival in the area will be around two to three weeks later and it would make an interesting, no fascinating, no challenging, no… all three(!) diversion as I cycle across the south of France. My ‘planned’ route (it is anything but!) will take me along the Luberon valley to meet up (hopefully) with cycling enthusiast Loic Mallegol in Céreste which is only a few hours ride from Bedoin, the traditional starting point for climbing the Mont Ventoux.

Last night, I asked for thoughts about my tentative Mont Ventoux plan on Twitter and keen cyclist Tony Wilson – not the one of 24 Hour Party People fame as he is, err… dead – but perhaps Surrey’s answer to the mancunian music mogul,  Tony J. Wilson got in touch. Tony climbed the Mont Ventoux back in May 2011 and has provided the following detailed & evocative account of his experience;

montventouxsummit“We rode [to the summit of Mont] Ventoux from Bedoin – which is the traditional TdF route. Many books tell you the first 10 or so kilometres through the trees are the hardest – they are absolutely right. The gradient averages c.10% throughout these initial kilometres and is a sufferfest. There isn’t much talking between average riders – 100% concentration on each pedal stroke whether in the saddle or out whilst trying to ‘manage’ your heart rate ! There are no switchbacks to take the sting out of the incline – it just goes on and on …

If you catch someone or get overtaken there is an incredible level of camaraderie – everyone appreciates the difficulty of the climb. We encountered a few groups of ‘spectators’ who were clearly there to watch a loved one but offered encouragement to everyone grinding past – almost felt like being in a race but at half the speed of a professional!

Once you are above the tree line and reach Chalet Reynard (time for another espresso) the climb to the summit becomes much less arduous. This stretch of the climb is often described as a moonscape due to the bare stone escarpments. It is so barren but if you a riding with other people you do have energy for a chat.

There were a couple of professional photographers on this part of the climb who take several photos as you continue up the climb and, because most riders are travelling fairly slowly, run alongside you and tuck their business card in your back pocket so you can go on their web-site and order a splendid picture of you gurning.

DSCN0564Mustn’t forget to stop at Tom Simpson’s Memorial which is surprisingly close to the summit – he almost made it – a very poignant place.

When you round the final corner you hit probably the steepest part of the climb for a hundred metres as you reach the weather station and sprint for the imaginary finish line. Then it’s time to stop for yet another espresso.

We then descended to Malaucene for a well-deserved lunch and then rode back to Faucon.

I used a compact chainset and a standard 11-25 cassette so it would have been difficult to get moving again if I had stopped during this phase of the climb – which for purely ego-based reasons I didn’t want to do. I would advise perhaps going to a largest sprocket of 27 – it would have been much easier to stay in the saddle and get a decent cadence going.

There’s so much more to be said about the climb, weather, the area itself but I hope this gives you a flavour.”

It does indeed Tony. A wonderful description of one man’s quest to conquer a giant! I won’t have the luxury of being able to change my chainset and cassette (quite frankly, I wouldn’t know where to start doing so even if I wanted to) but I’m sure that Reggie will do me proud just as he is. One thing I could do to make the climb just a little bit easier (to say the very least), would be to base myself in the area for two nights, unburden Reggie of all the gear and then climb the mountain on a very slender looking bike. We would fly up the road! The alternative would be to cycle from the east on a route different to that described by Tony (and, according to Wikipedia the easiest of the three ways to climb the mountain on a bike), with a fully-loaded bike. If we were to do that then a night of pampered luxury at the Hôtel Crillon Le Brave might not be an option; it would be essential! As they say in France, on verra…

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