This ride can finish at any café in Carpentras where you can drink whatever ale they have on offer. Believe me, after completing this circuit on a hot sunny day I was that parched I was ready to drink just about any beer. I even considered water.
I have detailed this circuit as a touring ride because this is how I undertook the route. However, this is a tough challenge for a cyclist, though the reward and enjoyment are off the scale - this was not only one of the best cycle rides I have undertaken, it was one of the best days of my life!
From our base in Avignon, we arrived at Carpentras on the relatively 'new' train service that utilised an old freight line. Actually, passengers did use a train service here back in the 1930's before its closure before the Second World War. In April 2015 a complete refurbishment of the line and station enabled the rebirth of the route enabling cyclists a fantastic loop incorporating the infamous Mont Ventoux.
Celebrated for its inclusion as the battleground for memorable stages in the Tour de France, Mont Ventoux is dubbed the 'Giant of Provence.' Admittedly, after seeing the mountain so many times on telly, it had become something of an ambition to ride up the slopes that have witnessed great drama during the world's most famous cycle race.
Having climbed L'Alpe d'Huez and a few other tough climbs during the preceding days, La Goddess du Vélo rather sensibly decided to potter around Carpentras on her touring bike whilst I went to the pain cave on a hired Cannondale Supersix. I say she was sensible because, frankly, you have to be a bit mad to cycle up Mont Ventoux, a tortuous 21.8 kilometre ride up a slope that, in places, has a gradient of 11 per cent.
When you resolve to cycle uphill for more than 21 kilometres with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees you begin to realise the enormity of the task during the train journey from Avignon. Rather like a dental appointment you cannot put off, one starts to get the jitters as the train edges closer to Carpentras with the sheer size of Mont Ventoux looming on the horizon. The mountain looks gradually more menacing as the train gets closer to Carpentras. And, as you cannot turn back, you sense you are being delivered to your fate.
It isn't too unfair to describe Carpentras as a little shabby in places. However, the town has plenty of historical interest, notably a Roman Arc de Triomphe and the former Cathedral church dedicated to Saint Siffrein.
The town's origins can be traced back to a Memini oppidum located at La Lègue, about 4 km to the south-east of today's settlement. The only tangible evidence of the town's Roman occupation is the Triumphal Arch. In the Middle Ages this was moved to Place d'Inguimbert, in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice. One could argue that it should be moved again and that it should form the centrepiece of a main entrance into Carpentras.
Under the control of the Pope, Carpentras became the capital of the Comtat Venaissin in 1320, after which a fortified wall was constructed. One of four gateways into the town, only the Porte d'Orange remains.
The largely Gothic Saint-Siffrein de Carpentras replaced an older Romanesque Cathédrale that dated from the 6th century but had suffered from a collapse of the vault in 1399. Ordered by Benedict XIII, construction of the replacement Cathédrale began in 1405 and was completed in the early 16th century, though further work has been conducted over the centuries.
Carpentras is also home to a 15th-century Synagogue, the oldest in France.
Leaving Carpentras on the D974 you will pass beneath the 48-arch aqueduct erected between 1720 and 1734. Designed by Antoine d'Allemande with Jean de Clapiès, the structure carried water into Carpentras from the north.
The ride to Bédoin is nice and flat. though the traffic comes worryingly close when no cycle lane is available. And all the time you are pedalling the immensity of Mont Ventoux looms ever closer. At the junction of Chemin des Joncs there is perhaps a cyclists' last chance to pray, one of the numerous miniature places of worship dotted around the French countryside.
Just in case you forgot what you are doing riding towards Bédoin the public art on the roundabout entering the town serves as a stark reminder that the road is about to go up.
Once you get into the main part of Bédoin you can't move for cyclists. They are either loading up on carbs ready for the off or toasting their climb earlier in the day. There are a couple of bike shops, notably Bédoin Location which has an array of exotic-looking machines available to buy or for hire. This shop is also useful if you haven't already stocked up on energy bars or gels.
As my top tube bag was already bulging with energy stuff, I preferred the traditional approach and headed to the boulangerie for quiche and cake. If I was going to succeed at anything it was to stave off the 'bonk,' a term used to describe a cyclist running out of gas through lack of nutrition. Munching on my lunch, I headed into the myriad of ancient streets within Bédoin, a lovely medieval village. It would seem that no other cyclists stray from the main drag so the tiny streets offer a degree of tranquillity amid the charm of the colourful Provençal façades.
I pedalled up to the church dedicated to Saint Peter, a building that dominates the village's skyline as you arrive along the road from Carpentras. Replacing an older church, the building was constructed in the early 18th century to the designs of the Avignon architect Paul Rochas. The façade of the church is in the Jesuit style which is quite unique for this region.
Back in the village I cycled around the squares soaking up some of the vibrant atmosphere created by the numerous cyclists. If I'd had more time I would have paid my €3 and lingered in the peculiar-looking cycle museum. However, there was no putting it off any longer - it was time to head towards Sainte-Colombe, a small hamlet midway between Bédoin and the foot of the serious elevation of Mont Ventoux. At around 2% gradient, the road rises very slowly as you pedal out of Bédoin and this allows you to get into some sort of rhythm before the serious stuff. I chugged along at a steady 15mph as I didn't want to expend any excess energy at this early stage of the climb.
Everything will all be going according to plan and all working body parts will be in good working order until a bend in the road at Saint-Estève where one has to resist calling into Les Mas de Vignes for lunch and start digging in as the road rises rather alarmingly. Cyclists have to quickly get used to the sight of rising tarmac as this will be the case for the next 9½ kilometres to Chalet Reynard during which the average gradient is 9% with some sections rising at 11%. Consequently, all those working body parts that seemed to be whirring away nicely start to creak and groan.
The forest affords some protection from the sun but I was riding up during a really hot day and the heat is another element that has to be factored in during a measured effort up the mountain. Sweat starts to drip on thighs, top tube and the Garmin screen. And then the forest flies start to stick to exposed skin. It is all getting rather uncomfortable and one wonders if the plan is falling apart as the road rises relentlessly. Of course. the key is to remain calm, retain focus, concentrate on measuring the effort, regulating breathing and aiming for small targets up the road. Perversely, I was having fun making the catch with all the riders that had started ahead of me. It can take quite a while to reel in somebody who is climbing just a little slower than yourself but this helps to keep the mind focussed. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if some super-grimpeur was trying to reel me in but, thankfully, I was making good progress and wasn't caught by anybody during my ascent.
The yellow-and-white milestones help with morale and, featuring the elevation and distance, assist with measuring one's effort. The tree canopy thins out a little further up the mountain and once again the boil-in-the-bag effect returns as you toil uphill under the hot sun. And just as you think the temperature gauge cannot go any further into the red, the mountain's forest spits you out into the open scrub so that you are fully cooked and roasted.
Help is at hand however for it isn't too far now until the bend at Chalet Reynard where you receive encouragement from the crowd gathered outside the restaurant. Naturally, you have to look as though you are completely comfortable on the bike and whizz around the bend to show everyone that you are a grimpeur superbe. The fact that the gradient eases a little to around 7.4% helps with this biking burlesque.
I revelled in the final five kilometres. It may have been 30 degrees on the road but the sight of the summit getting closer was a real boost to morale. I was overtaking lots of cyclists at this point and, realising that the climb was "in the bag," I started to unload my effort. Water supply had run out by this stage but still the sweat kept coming, the result being that my skin glistened in the sunshine.
I paid my respects to Tom Simpson as I cycled past his memorial close to the summit. There was no stopping now and with one final big effort rode up around the steep hairpin and up to the finish.
The word 'awesome' is overused these days but the views from the summit of Mont Ventoux are nothing short of awesome. You feel like you are on top of the world. No doubt you will experience similar feelings within as you have just climbed one of cycling's toughest mountains.
And the reward for all that effort? Of course, it is the fabulous descent down to Malaucène, one of the great cycling downhill experiences. Mile upon mile of ultra-fast downhill sections with some lovely switchbacks - and all on an excellent road surface. This descent should be up there in your Top 5 all-time great times of your cycling life so, although you should ride safely, use the brake levers sparingly and go for maximum levels of exhilaration.
The downhill fun is seemingly endless as it is 20 kilometres down to Malaucène, a town similar in character to Bédoin in that it is crowded with cyclists buzzing from their ecstatic experiences on the mountain. There are more bike shops here and some clothing specialists. The most exotic boutique is that of Ventoux Bikes which is stocked with pocket-emptying bikes and equipment - worth going in just to have a drool.
As in Bédoin, I ventured into the quiet streets to soak up a little of the town's historic character. A former walled town, Malaucène has much charm tucked away in the narrow lanes with lovely old buildings, fountains and the characteristic lavoirs.
I bumped into one of the town's old lags enjoying a cigarette next to Fontaine Picardie, also known as Lower Fountain, erected in the 15th century and remodelled in 1770. The fountain was formerly part of a lavoir in an historic cul-de-sac later opened through the ramparts around 1826.
The 'Higher' fountain at Malaucène is named Le Téron and is located in a small square. The stepped street to the right of the fountain leads up to the site of a former ancient castle. Le Téron is thought to be the first of Malaucène's numerous fountains, though it has had to be rebuilt to the original specifications.
After the demanding climb up to Mont Ventoux, the joy experienced at the summit, followed by the exhilarating descent, my mini-tour of peaceful Malaucène was a lovely way to come back down to earth in more ways than one. As I headed out of town towards Carpentras I stopped to watch a group of local residents enjoying a game of boules.
The road rises up at first but soon you are back in descending mode as the D938 meanders alongside Le Gourédon. This is a lovely road to follow, though it is possible to head into Le Barroux on a quiet route that emerges on the main road further down the valley.
La Barroux is dominated by a 12th century castle erected to resist attacks from the Saracens. The fortification was damaged during the French Revolution but restored in 1929. The castle was further damaged during World War 2 and repaired once more in 1960.
I would be the last to criticise if you just keep on pedalling - after all, today was all about the bike and the joy of the ride.
Also known as "The Jewish Door," the Notre Dame Door at Saint-Siffrein de Carpentras is a richly decorated entrance in a flamboyant Gothic style. Above the crest of the former chapter house, the rats around the sphere symbolise time gnawing the world.
I quickly snapped this shot of this structure as I was heading out of Carpentras. This aqueduct was constructed between 1720 and 1734 and once carried water into Carpentras from the north.
Cycling on the flat road to Bédoin with Mont Ventoux looming ahead you may wish to consider a last prayer at the junction of Chemin des Joncs where there is a roadside place of worship and site of quiet reflection.
Just in case you have lost focus on the road to Bédoin the public art on the town's roundabout will remind you that there is some serious business to be conducted here.
Several firms have photographers posted on the climb so make sure you are looking relaxed when you approach the camera and remember to grab their business card as your ride by. Photographs can be downloaded on your return home and generally cost €16-20.
The quality of photographs produced by the ultra-expensive cameras used by the professionals on the mountain result in great images that are worth the money.
Don't forget to pack a camera in your back pocket, wrapped in plastic to protect it from the inevitable sweat running down your back. Then you can go snap-happy at the summit of Mont Ventoux.
I stopped once on the descent to take this photograph and then let go of the brake levers for the most exciting 20 kilometre drop to Malaucène. Reaching speeds of 80kph, you need to concentrate throughout but, wow, this is a fantastic route off the mountain.
Typical Provençal façades, ancient doorways, fountains and lavoirs are to be found when exploring the quiet streets of historic Malaucène.
A local resident of Malaucène enjoys a moment of reflection next to Fontaine Picardie, also known as Lower Fountain. Once part of a lavoir, the fountain dates from the 15th century.
This book is widely regarded as one of the best cycling biographies to have been published. The jacket notes read : "Tom Simpson was an Olympic medallist, world champion and the first Briton to wear the fabled yellow jersey of the Tour de France. He died a tragic early death on the barren moonscape of the Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour. Years on, hundreds of fans still make the pilgrimage to the windswept memorial which marks the spot where he died. An authoritative evaluation of Simpson's death, and of the life that led to it, this book was long overdue, the more so since cycling has been rocked by a succession of drug scandals. A man of contradictions, Simpson was one of the first cyclists to admit to using banned substances, and was accused of fixing races, yet the dapper 'Major Tom' inspired awe and affection for the obsessive will to win which was ultimately to cost him his life. In "Put Me Back On My Bike," Britain's leading Tour de France correspondent, William Fotheringham, revisits the places and people associated with Simpson, producing the definitive story of the death and life of Britain's greatest ever cyclist."
As you ride back into Carpentras you will encounter La Porte d'Orange, the last vestige of the town's 14th century defence wall. Measuring 26 metres in height, it is possible to climb up and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Whatever you do, don't send up an opportunity to celebrate your achievements with a nice beer. As soon as we arrived back in Avignon we headed for Bieres Gambrinus on Rue Carreterie for a selection of their Belgian ales. It is not easy to find interesting or artisan beers in this region so Le Gambrinus went straight to the top of our chart and we visited several times during our holiday. When we first cycled along Rue Carreterie looking for this place we had our eyes peeled but we needn't have worried about missing the place - as you can see, they have huge Delirium umbrellas outside. We tended to sit just outside the entrance but the interior has plenty of brewery and beer interest. The proprietor's Spotify playlist is also top-notch - the first bar in which we have heard Elf Power and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. There is a nice selection of ales on tap and in bottles. The Het Anker Gouden Carolus Classic was on tap and quite divine. And then I hit the XX Bitter from De Ranke. Oh well, I had burned several thousand calories on the ride! Very friendly service and a nice vibe topped off a most enjoyable drinking experience.
"The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering."
"The airman Laladier has just accomplished a remarkable feat. Whilst a motor car contest was in progress he landed on the Col des Tempetes, over 6,000 feet, the highest peak of Mont Ventoux, during a strong wind, which sometimes developed into a gale. This is the first time such a feat has been attempted."
"French Airman's Feat"
Aberdeen Journal : August 21st 1921 Page 6.
"Mr. Whitney Straight, the Cambridge undergraduate who broke a record by driving a motor-car up Mont Ventoux in Provence, the son of Mrs.
Elmhurst, of Dartington Hall. By his latest exploit he has beaten the record held by the German racing driver Rudolph Caracciola. Mr. Straight covered the course of 13 miles
740 yards, which rises from to 656ft. to 6,233ft., in 14min. 31 3-5sec., and thus beat Caracciola's time by 40 seconds. Mr. Straight has so many successes to his credit that
he has come to be numbered among the foremost racing motorists. He recently won race in Italy, and has broken lap records at Brooklands. He is a frequent visitor to
Dartington Hall, where he arrives by aeroplane."
Western Morning News : September 7th 1933 Page 8.