Mont Ventoux: Ultimate Cyclist’s Guide

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A brutally steep mountain that pierces the Provence countryside, Mont Ventoux is an outlier that can be seen for miles, disrupting the scenic rolling hills and picturesque vineyards.

The locals refer to it as “le mont chauve” – the bald mountain. Blanketed by sun-bleached rocks in the summer or thick snow in the winter, the name is fitting.

Also known as “Giant of Provence”, it’s a worthy challenge for any cyclist and home to some of the sport’s richest history, and should not be underestimated.

With breathtaking panoramic views overlooking the valley of the Rhône, long climbs, and harsh conditions, if it’s not on your bucket list, it should be.

Located in the French Préalpes, there are three ways to tackle the climb on the road, with a couple of gravel bonuses. We’ll look at all of them, supplying you with the information you need to take on this challenge yourself!

In this Mont Ventoux cycling guide, we’ll be covering the following:

  • Cyclist’s History of Mont Ventoux
  • Cycling Routes Mont Ventoux
  • Mont Ventoux Vs Alpe d’Huez: Which Is Tougher?

Let’s dive in!

Mont Ventoux: Title Image

History of mont ventoux

Mont Ventoux has a rich history, with many writers marveling at its glory.

Philosopher Roland Barthes – an avid cycling fan – exclaimed,

“The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness, and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”

It is thought that the origins of this unique mountain’s name trace back to ‘Vintur’ after a Gaulish “god of the summits”.

Atop the summit lies a distinctive red-and-white-striped tower, almost resembling a lighthouse. Unfortunately, there will be no guiding light to the top; it stands as a telecommunications mast, first built in 1968.

“Venteux” is the French word for windy, alluding to the severe weather conditions at the summit. The wind blows at speeds of 90km/h (56mph) 240 days each year, with a maximum speed of 320km/h (200mph) recorded. The road over the mountain is often closed due to the high winds, so be sure to check before you set off.

In fact, the Stage 12 summit finish in the 2016 Tour de France was cut short after a weather forecast of high winds at the summit.

The summit of Mont Ventoux on an overcast day.

Mont Ventoux at the Tour de France

Mont Ventoux has firmly established itself in cycling folklore, with an impressive pedigree of Tour de France winners, including Merckx, Pantani, and Froome, amongst others.

Mont Ventoux was first climbed in the 1951 edition of the Tour de France and has appeared 18 times as of 2022.

That number had a plentiful top-up in the 2021 Tour de France when riders summited Ventoux twice in a single stage, which was eventually won in a superb performance from Wout van Aert.

On a boiling hot day in 1955, Swiss rider Ferdinand Kübler, who won the 1950 edition of the Tour de France and came second in 1954, attempted an audacious breakaway 10 km from the summit.

Unfortunately, he paid for it dearly.

After seizing up on the bike, he had to walk, losing the lead by 20 minutes. He then proceeded to crash three times while descending. Later that evening, Kübler retired; the “Beast of Provence” had taken its toll.

About a kilometer away from the finish, you will notice a memorial honoring the great British rider Tom Simpson; this is the location where he tragically died at age 29 during Stage 13 of the 1967 Tour de France. As the summit approached, he swerved across the road before he eventually collapsed, still holding onto the bike.

The official cause of death was “heart failure caused by exhaustion,” although it was later revealed that dehydration, alcohol, and use of amphetamines were all contributing factors.

At the time, riders would infamously use alcohol and amphetamines to dull the pain experienced on the bike, allowing them to push harder.

Simpson’s epitaph reads:

“His body ached, his legs grew tired, but still he would not give in.”

More recently, Mont Ventoux has been the setting for some of the most epic duels in Tour de France history. The cat-and-mouse battle between Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong at the 2000 Tour was especially memorable.

Cycling Routes Mont Ventoux

There are three routes to the summit, with a lesser-known fourth option by gravel. Pick your favorite, or do them all!

Le Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux is a prestigious group of riders that have summited Mont Ventoux from all three routes in one day.

Mont Ventoux Climb #1: From Bédoin

  • Departure Elevation: 315 m (1033 ft)
  • Finish Elevation: 1909 m (6263 ft)
  • Altitude Gain: 1594 m (5229 ft)
  • Length: 20.8 km (12.9 miles)
  • Average Gradient: 7.7%
  • Steepest 100m: 13.3%
  • KOM: Iban Mayo, 55:51
  • QOM: Illi Gardner, 1:07:11

The route from Bédoin is often considered the hardest of the three paved options. It captures the largest amount of elevation gain out of the three – although none are easy!

The first 5 km will lull you into a false sense of security, a gentle roll out of Bédoin, averaging under 4% until you hit the commune of Saint-Estève. Try to hold back on your exertion here; you’ll thank yourself later.

As you pass the village, the climb truly begins; you’ll be passing through dense forest, with the views awaiting you further up the climb.

This section is unrelenting, with over 9km of climbing at just under 10%. There are a few ramps of 12%, but it is the sheer consistency of the climb that will eat away at your legs. Remember to keep yourself well-fuelled and hydrated.

A road snakes through a granite gorge on the road to Mont Ventoux.

As you approach Le Chalet Reynard, the rivers of cyclists from Bédoin and Sault join together. Expect the climb to get busier here, although the views more than compensate for it.

From the Chalet, you have a further 6 km to go. Within the first 3, the climb holds steady at a relatively manageable 6% gradient, giving you a chance to breathe.

The last 6 km is often likened to a lunar landscape due to the barren environment and pale limestone rocks.

The last 3 km kick into gear once more, averaging just under 9%; depending on the weather, you may be battling a headwind or forming an alliance with a tailwind.

Congratulations! You are amongst an elite group of cyclists who have conquered Ventoux!

Mont Ventoux Climb #2: From Malaucène

Tackling Mont Ventoux from Malaucène takes you up the northern side of the mountain. One of the benefits of this ascent is that, on average, you are less likely to encounter extreme winds.

The serious work starts 2 km in, with the next 2 km averaging just under 8.5%.

Part of the challenge with this ascent is that it never enters a steady rhythm. Measure your effort and keep steady, despite the undulating gradient.

The next 11 km is a story of two halves.

The first section of 5.5 km hovers at a 6% gradient before ramping up to over 9% until you reach the Mont Serein ski station. This offers a brief respite and a chance to down some water and sink a gel before the last 6 km towards the summit.

The next 6 km averages just under 8%; keep your effort steady, you’ve cracked the hardest section, but there’s still a way to go.

The trees will soon become sparse, greeting you with spectacular views of the valley in which you started, as you approach the famous summit.

A sharp ascent on the Mont Ventoux climb.

Mont Ventoux Climb #3: From Sault

  • Departure Elevation: 705 m (2313 ft)
  • Finish Elevation: 1909 m (6263 ft)
  • Altitude Gain: 1204 m (3950 ft)
  • Length: 24.4 km (15.2 miles)
  • Average Gradient: 4.9%
  • Steepest 100m: 11.9%
  • KOM: Thomas LeMaitre, 56:53
  • QOM: Clara Koppenburg, 1:03:42

The Mont Ventoux climb from Sault is marginally easier than the other routes. But don’t think the ride from Sault is easy, either!

The climb from Sault is longer, although the gradients are significantly shallower, allowing for conversations with friends and a greater appreciation of the views.

You’ll find yourself cycling through lavender fields and forest, with a 2km flat section, before meeting riders from Bédoin at Le Chalet Reynard.

From here, you join the climb up the lunar runway toward the top! There’s no escaping the steep gradients from here, so hopefully you didn’t push too hard earlier.

Mont Ventoux Climb #4: From Bédoin (Gravel Route)

  • Departure Elevation: 315 m (1880 ft)
  • Finish Elevation: 1909 m (6263 ft)
  • Altitude Gain: 1,660 m m (5446 ft)
  • Length: 22.7 km (14.1 miles)
  • Average Gradient: 7.4%

So you’ve conquered all 3 in a day, but you fancy one more. Or you believe that road cyclists wear too much lycra and their bikes cost too much.

Either way, you’re considering tackling Mont Ventoux on a gravel or mountain bike.

The majority of this route is on Piste des Graviers Blancs (“Path of the White Gravel”). The route is beautiful and sparse, and you’ll likely only meet a few people on the way up.

You do not need a mountain bike to do this route, a gravel bike will be more than sufficient. After the gravel section, you rejoin the paved road for the final 4 km to the summit.

View of the road approaching the summit of the Mont Ventoux climb.

Mont Ventoux Vs Alpe d’Huez: Which Is Tougher?

A popular debate among Tour de France fans concerns which is the tougher climb of Mont Ventoux vs Alpe d’Huez.

Both are among the most iconic climbs of Le Tour, arguably rivaled only by the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees.

Famed for their grueling gradients and the legendary Tour battles they’ve played witnessed, Ventoux and the Alpe are both brutally challenging climbs. Both host hundreds of thousands of cycling fanatics each time Le Tour scales their summits.

In terms of outright difficulty, however, the general consensus is that Mont Ventoux is the more savage climb.

Though it features fewer than the 21 iconic hairpins of the Alpe, Mont Ventoux is longer, has a slightly higher average gradient, and has a sharper maximum gradient at a wince-worthy 21% (though Alpe d’Huez isn’t far behind at a maximum of 19%).

The famous hairpins of Alpe d'Huez.
The famous hairpins of Alpe d’Huez.

Enjoyed this Mont Ventoux climb profile? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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As a qualified sports massage therapist and personal trainer with eight years' experience in the field, Ben plays a leading role in BikeTips' injury and recovery content. Alongside his professional experience, Ben is an avid cyclist, splitting his time between his road and mountain bike. He is a particular fan of XC ultra-endurance biking, but nothing beats bikepacking with his mates. Ben has toured extensively throughout the United Kingdom, French Alps, and the Pyrenees ticking off as many iconic cycling mountains as he can find. He currently lives in the Picos de Europa of Spain's Asturias region, a stone's throw from the legendary Altu de 'Angliru - a spot that allows him to watch the Vuelta a España roll past his doorstep each summer.

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