I was on Mont Ventoux before I knew that I was standing in the shadow of greatness. Back in the 1980s, on one of my first visits to France, I worked in the kitchen at a small ski resort in the southern Alps. As the winter season closed, friends whom I had met working in the lodge, invited me to come to their old family farm in Malaucène. It sounded like a good idea. Little did I know that the village was in the heart of French Provence, let alone at the foot of such an iconic climb.
At the time I was only considering cycling as a sport for myself, and the mountain’s rich history was unknown to me. And although my stay was memorable, I do not even think I saw the Mont Ventoux itself. After all, anyone who has climbed the Ventoux knows that, by the time you descend into Malaucène on the edge of its north face, the summit itself is well out of view.
It was only in the ensuing months, as I became increasingly hooked on cycling and its history, that I understood I had, in fact, been staying so close to one of the sport’s most iconic climbs.
Fortunately, I have remained friends with both Jackie and Thierry. I have returned many times to the old farmhouse. And I have returned many times to the Mont Ventoux.
They call the Mont Ventoux ‘The Giant of Provence’, and in every aspect, the climb lives up to its name. Starting at near sea level, it rises to 1,909 metres in just over 20 kilometres, as the mountain towers over picturesque French Provence.
The most frequent path towards the summit is through Bédoin, the village sitting at the foot of the south side. And if this is the road most travelled to its upper peaks, there is good reason, for it is from this perspective where you can really fathom the Ventoux in all of its grandeur. In contrast to the Malaucène side, where the summit only comes into view in the final few kilometres, from Bédoin the summit of Ventoux dances in and out of sight constantly.