“The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”
— Roland Barthes, French philosopher and bicycle racing fan
Target: Mont Ventoux
I’d been to Mont Ventoux once, in a car, and turned around halfway up. The wind shook the car so violently, I was nervous to even drive to the summit and forced myself not to peer over its steep edges—very obviously lacking guardrails—and into the abyss below. It was a particularly bad day for weather, but nonetheless a reminder of the powerful and often bizarre micro-climate on this barren peak that sits in the middle of lush plains brimming with rivers, trees, flowers and quaint villages. Yet none of this exists on the harsh and exposed summit of Mont Ventoux.
This trip was different. As a photographer and cyclist, I’ve seen thousands of images of Mont Ventoux, its narrow road packed with tens of thousands of screaming fans, the summer sun beating down on the backs of skinny and fragile mortals grinding their way toward the communications tower that dominates the peak. But now it was spring, so the sun was softer, the trees in bloom and the slopes hopefully less crowded.
We launched our first ascent from the town of Bédouin, where there’s a lot of cycling activity year round. This is the classic route up the mountain, which starts at an elevation of 300 meters (about 1,000 feet) and ends 21.5 kilometers later at 1,912 meters (6,273 feet), with an average 7.5-percent grade and 10- to 12-percent sections in the last 4 kilometers. While the ride starts out gradually, pain is all you can anticipate as the road quickly steepens before reaching Chalet Reynard.
From here, there is no vegetation, no life, just calcified rock scree; it feels uneasy and unnatural. On this day, the wind intensified and pushed us from side to side as we slowly covered the last grueling kilometers with more grit than grace. Iban Mayo covered this same climb in a 2004 Critérium du Dauphiné time trial in 55 minutes, 51 seconds, at an average speed of 23.1 kilometers per hour. We were a somewhat off that record. We then shook hands, met some other riders, took photos and ate the food we carried along while gazing out at the snow-covered Alps far in the distance.
Words/Images: Marshall Kappel