Me, John and Ol’ Baldy – Climbing Ventoux from Sault

Have you ever thought about what makes a really great day out on the bike? Me neither, but I’m going to start right now, so excuse the stream-of-consciousness writing as I ponder and type at the same time. Following are the ingredients that, if available to you, will surely make a pretty decent day out on the open road.

Go Away

Riding the same old roads you always do might be pleasant, but there’s nothing like new surroundings to give you that wonderful feeling of exploration. Our ride last weekend, even though it was a familiar goal (Ol’ Baldy), began on the unexplored north side of the mountain. Here is part of the barren summit from where we parked the car.

The villages of Savoillan, Reihanette and Montbrun, which we passed within the first 10 km of our ride.

The field in the foreground of the last photo is lavender, by the way. This area (to the north and east of Ventoux) is one of the largest lavender-growing areas in France and is really something to experience when in season (June and July). The smell in the air is indescribable, not to mention the wonderful sight of the patchwork of purple fields that fill the valleys.

Start Early

OK, this one might not be for everyone, but if you’re a morning person, beginning your ride in the fresh coolness of the day, when most others are still in bed (and more importantly, NOT on the road), just feels right.

Choose your companion(s) carefully

I ride alone a lot, but sharing an epic ride, especially when there’s suffering involved, makes it more special. You’ve also got someone to share your war stories with and you might get more animated responses than the usual ‘hmm’ or ‘that’s nice, dear’. John, apart from being wide shouldered and strong (i.e. ideal to ‘wheel suck’ behind), is a good conversationalist, a morning person, and a car owner. In short, the perfect cycling companion.

It doesn’t hurt if your buddy has good hand-eye coordination either. John didn’t even flinch when I tossed him my camera for this Rapha-esque B&W shot.

John also doesn’t mind stopping in the middle of a long ride, as can be discerned from the next photo. We made a couple of strategic stops along the way to either fuel up or, um, empty out. I’m not sure this element is necessary for all great rides, but for long ones (nearly 100 km) like we did on Sunday, I’d say stopping to smell the roses might be something you want to add in.

It helps if it’s market day, too. This is Sault, where we had our coffee break.

Go to famous places in the off-season. This rule should apply to any type of travel and, of course, is not always practicable. France is the most visited country on earth and those visitors pretty much all come in July and August. The next photos might not have been possible a couple months ago, but on this day, much of our route looked like this – void of cars.

Throw an hors catégorie climb into your ride. I admit, not everyone will be able to do this, but I can and I know it always makes for a memorable ride.

Although this was my fifth ascent of Mt. Ventoux this year (I promise, this is really the last time I’ll blog about it till next spring!), it was the first time from the Sault side. Ventoux, for the uninitiated (or the uncaring), has three routes rising up its flanks. The first, Bédoin, is the one the Tour de France always uses and is also said to be the most difficult; the second, Malaucène, is the same length as Bédoin, and just as hard in my estimation; the last, forgotten road, leaves from Sault, already high up on a plateau, and is 5 km longer than the other two (26 km), but much, much easier, at least till you get to Chalet Reynard, where it meets the Bédoin road and you then have a pretty steep last 6 km to get to the summit.

Thanks to Steve and Tim for giving me another angle for my photography…I’m starting off with caution by taking this first one on a 10% grade, i.e. a virtual stand-still.

Have amazing weather. Perhaps easier to achieve in the south of France than some other places, it certainly helps in making a day on two wheels enjoyable. This was October 16th and it still wasn’t really cold on the top of Ventoux – 1912 meters up.

This was without a doubt one of the best rides of the season for me. I’m sure I could add a few more ‘ingredients’ to the above, but whatever it was on Sunday, it was the perfect recipe. Any of you care to add to my list?

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17 thoughts on “Me, John and Ol’ Baldy – Climbing Ventoux from Sault

  1. Great story, and nice tip about the strategic stopping. Is it just me or does John look like he is combining both the filling and er emptying functions?

  2. A very interesting topic, and one that leaves me wondering what my perfect ride would be. Like Tootlepedal, I’m fairly certain it doesn’t involve an ascent of Mount Ventoux. That would be epic, or incredible, or perhaps even foolhardy, but I don’t think “perfect” is the word for it!

    • I think I might agree there, Steve. If it had been either of the two other sides Sunday, I’d probably not be using ‘perfect’. Maybe another ingredient should be ‘easier than you expected’, since the relative ease of the Sault side made my day all that much more palatable.

  3. Super post, thanks. The jersey looks great, the climbing looks even better, the villages and the roads much as I imagine, also wonderful. None of which helps in the acclimatizing-back-to-New-England process!

    • Thanks, Suze, especially for noticing the Rapha! It performed magnificently, I have to say. Warm when I needed it warm, and pretty breathable when it warmed up after lunch. Good luck acclimatizing. It might help to start planning your next Europe ride!

  4. Gerry – As always, another great post from the master of cycling blogs. For starters, there’s no such thing as a bad ride, just some are better than others. We cyclists say a bad day on the bike is better than a good day in the office.

    You mentioned “amazing weather” at the end. I hope this was in reverse order of importance, because no matter what route you choose, who you’re with, what you’re wearing, or what time of the day you start, none of that matters, if it’s cold and wet, especially on a climb like the Ventoux. So weather’s got my vote.

    Now assuming you have great weather like you had on this day, I couldn’t think of a better place to ride than Mt Ventoux. In fact, after a full season of training I would add one more criteria for the perfect ride. You ride balls out, breathing blood, heart pounding out of your chest, racing wheel to wheel with your best riding buddy up a hill like Ventoux and you both break your Personal Best times. Yea, that would be the best ride.

    It’s all about performance. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn29DvMITu4

    • Haven’t seen that video in a while…a nice mock of anyone taking themselves too seriously. Thanks for that.

      See, this is one the great things about the bike – It can be enjoyed by all sorts of people, from the pedestrian, shopping mom in Japan (that’s not sexist..it’s just the way it is in Japan) to the blood breathing, ‘all about performance’ types.

      I haven’t swung completely over to the dark side (or is it the other way around?), it seems, because my perfect ride still doesn’t entail coughing up any organs. I think I can blame that on the last two decades or so of touring. Well, Darth Vader didn’t convert overnight. I’ll get there!

      You’re right about the weather, too. I almost never ride in rain or nasty weather anymore, so I keep forgetting how important a factor that is!

  5. Wow! that would be a long hard climb!! I stayed in the little village of Caromb last year and our balcony looked up onto Mt Ventoux so.. so… high and spectacular in the evening light.
    Some of this scenery looks very similar to our walk to Le Barroux – did you pass near to there?
    I really admire your courage and strength and enjoyed the read from my arm-chair!! Well done.

    • Thanks, Diane. Love your blog, too. You seem to have travelled more of France than me, and I live here! By the way, we have one more thing in common (apart from a love for France) – I lived in Adelaide for a time back in ’95 – ’96.

      No we didn’t go through Le Barroux, but I’ve been through the Dentelles a couple times this year. That area is probably the most beautiful riding there is in the Vaucluse.

  6. Nice post. I definitely agree about the good weather aspect and for us, having a purpose to the ride gives it added fun – even if it’s only to a café or to collect fruit and nuts from the hedgerow. In fact, I agree with all your criteria apart from the HC climb!!

  7. So did you guys hammer it going up? I didn’t notice any mention of how long the ascent took you guys.

    For the record, I still think that Bédoin is harder than Malaucène. Bédoin has a rather constant slope providing little time to rest whereas Malaucène has a fair bit of flat-ish sections.

    • “Hammer” isn’t the word I’d use for MY ascent, but John left me in his dust after Chalet Reynard, so I’d say he was going pretty good. No, we didn’t time ourselves up that side since we figured Sault ‘doesn’t count’.

      Interesting observation on the two ascents, too. I think this may come down to personal preference in the end. I like the consistency of Bédoin more than the wonkiness of Malaucène, to bed honest. To me Bédoin is two climbs (before the Chalet and after), but Malaucène I haven’t really figured out yet. Maybe I need to do it again…

      • I will say that I found the views better from Malaucène. Also, my ascent time on Malaucène was the exact same time that I normally do on Bédoin, but I got to the top in better shape. A bit odd result if you asked me – one hand it would imply that they have the same degree of difficulty on the other hand Malaucène would be easier (based on my experiences.)

        Looks like it was a good day in the saddle (and café.)

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