Sunday, August 29, 2021

Le Gorge de Nesque and Mont Ventoux

We're in France staying in Tain l'Hermitage, a town we love on the Rhone midway between Lyon and Avignon. On Wednesday I planned to climb Mont Ventoux from the town of Sault. There are three ways up the mountain from the towns of Malaucène, Bedoin and Sault. While Bedoin is the classic TDF climb and hardest Malaucène is not much easier. I hadn't previously climbed from Sault and not being a fan of out and back rides I decided to start at Bedoin and make a loop through the Gorges de la Nesque to Sault where I would have lunch, then climb Ventoux before descending back to Bedoin.
Just before 10am I arrive in Bedoin to find it jammed with cyclists and hikers but luck out finding my usual parking spot. I pump up my tires with the loaner pump outside the Bedoin Location bike shop and see the train of cyclists heading up the mountain as I take the road to Sault.

It was sunny in the 70s and clear and it is nice to find the road through the Gorges de la Nesque has been resurfaced. It is a balcony road carved into the side of the gorge. There is a wall of rock on my left and an 18 inch parapet on my right protecting me from a near vertical drop into the gorge below. It is beautiful and I'm glad I have chosen this route to Sault.
Sault is one of those classic French villages built on the top of a rock! Great fun riding the last 400 yards to town on a 10% grade wondering if lunch really is that important.
Powered by a ham and brie sandwich and refreshed bottles I am on my way to MV at a touring pace. Yeah, it's not so hard from Sault. Just grind out 11 miles at 5% and you arrive at Chalet Reynard which is where the trees end and the stones begin. Here you can get anything from lunch to a Mont Ventoux jersey. Me, I fill my bottles again and finish my Sault sandwich before the fun part.

At Chalet Reynard the Sault and Bedoin roads meet and from here to the summit it is 3.75 miles horizontal and 1600 feet vertical, a little better than an 8% average gradient. Not having been in mountains for two years I had thought I might just short cut to Bedoin from here but the other side of the equation is that once you reach the summit you can descend the 13 miles to Bedoin without turning the pedals even once!

As I start for the summit it is becoming cooler, cloudier and breezy which is not so bad for the ascent. It is tough, I stop a few times to take pictures, yeah right, and as I finally reach the summit it starts to rain and my Garmin battery dies - coincidence or . . .? So, take a picture, get my jacket on (always take a rain/wind jacket when riding in mountains), take a rest, chat to other riders and off "Wheeeeee" go.

My descent is notable for sheep and rain. On the way off the summit just past the Tom Simpson Memorial shepherds are bringing a few hundred sheep across the road which is quite entertaining. The sheepdogs are an enormous breed called Patou known for their ability to protect the herds from wolves and bears The shepherds have made a couple of the dogs lie down in the road to stop traffic! 

 Continuing down through the clouds that have formed I find rain which makes for a slow careful cold descent into Bedoin.

Later we have a bottle of Ventoux wine with supper.

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