Cycling Mt Ventoux – Malaucène and Sault

mt ventoux from the north

CYCLING MT VENTOUX ~ from Malaucène or Sault

The first thing to consider about tackling Mt Ventoux from Malaucène and Sault is the small matter of getting there from Bédoin. Whereas the mountain is on your doorstep in Bédoin, Malaucène is 13 kms away and Sault an interesting 35kms. In truth, the early morning ride to Malaucène via the Col de La Madaleine is utterly delightful and really no more than a warm up.

Sault, on the other hand, does present something of a challenge. If you don’t have a vehicle to transport bikes you going to have to cycle and trust me, by the time you arrive at the start of the Sault/Mt Ventoux route, you’ll know you’ve already been on a journey. But nothing daunted, Sault/Mt Ventoux is the easiest of the three routes, so a bit of ride beforehand is not really a problem!

From Malaucène

As I mentioned in the piece about Bédoin/Mt Ventoux there is a debate about which route is the most difficult. Bédoin/Mt Ventoux is generally considered to be the toughest but, in my opinion, it’s its iconic status which somehow elevates the difficulty. Don’t underestimate the north face from Malaucène. For a start, the north is where the weather is. You only have to compare the vegetation with that on the south to know that it’s generally colder and wetter here. And, as I learned from experience, when the sign says ‘Route Barrée’ in the winter – it’s not a suggestion but an indisputable fact:

route barree at Mt Serein

In winter the Col des Tempêtes (the summit of Mt Ventoux) is often shut.
Approaching from the north, this is not a suggestion but a fact!

Nevertheless, lying on the 44th parallel, if you disregard the legendary winds, the weather is not a problem, certainly from May to October.

For me the great attraction of the Maulaucène ride are the views. On the south face you don’t get any until you reach Chalet Reynard and then, it’s not the views that are attracting you so much as your front wheel. At least for the first third of the ride from Malaucène, there are great views south over the plain towards Avignon and north over the mountains of the Drôme. And even as you near the summit, although the view to the south is obscured by the mountain, the view to the north remains breath-taking.

But what of the climb itself? The Bédoin/Summit route starts pretty gently and it’s not until you get to Les Bruns, about 5kms in, that the fun really starts. By contrast, the road from Malaucène is pretty steep from the get go, averaging around 6% to kilometer ten. From here on in it’s every bit as tough as Bédoin/Summit, with an especially challenging 10%/9%/11% three kilometer section just before the rest station at Mt Serein.

After this there’s a fairly tough climb up through the woods (much improved by a recent re-surfacing just before the ‘double dose’ of Ventoux in the 2021 Tour) – and then there’s the last four kilometers. Unlike the final climb on the south, where the observatory at the summit appears to remain only slightly above eye-line, here it rises vertically and menacingly above you. The final climb is not steeper than the south, but is psychologically much more daunting. I’ll be in trouble with the purists, but for me this is the only part of this famous mountain which actually looks and feels like one. In many ways this is part of the legend. Unlike most mountains, Mt Ventoux is all on its own. With its un-mountain-like Brazil nut shape and lacking the perspective offered by surrounding peaks, it flatters to deceive as nothing more than a big hill.  It’s only those last few kilometers from the north, as you are confronted by steep escarpments, littered with limestone scree, that you truly realise that you’re almost 2000m above sea level and cycling up the real deal.

At the summit 2023

Not looking my best
after Malaucène/Summit 2023

From Sault

GETTING THERE

As mentioned above, if your only way of getting to Sault is on your bike you have 30 odd kilometers to go before you can begin your attack on the mountain. There are two routes from Bédoin, but I’m going to suggest that you take the Gorges de La Nesque option. It’s in my top three rides any way and you may as well kill two birds with one stone.

Mt Ventoux from Sault

So you’ve tackled the Gorges de la Nesque and you’re at the start of the Route du Ventoux (D164) with the village of Sault, the famous lavender capital of Provençe, up on the hillside behind you. You’re thinking that you’ve been told this is the easiest route up Mt Ventoux but, as you can’t even see the mountain from here, it feels like a long way off. But trust me, it is the least challenging of the three because, unlike the other two which take ‘route one’ up the steep sides of the Brazil nut, this route follows the more gradual climb up its back.

Alright – it’s not a push over, whatever you do, you can’t avoid the final killer six kilometers from Chalet Reynard, but you begin on the gentle slopes through the lavender fields for which this valley is justly famous. Then you enter the woods and it gets a little steeper, 5 to 6%. But on this aspect of the mountain the woods are full of broad-leaf oaks and beech trees and there’s the occasional farmstead to add to the rather bucolic atmosphere.

Then, between kilometers 17 and 20 it ceases to be a climb at all. You pound up through the gears, swoop at top speed round a giant horseshoe bend and catch a glimpse of the Vaucluse plain and the hills beyond. You might even stop at one of the look-out points and feel a bit poetic.

A few kilometers further on and the Sault and Bédoin roads meet at Chalet Reynard. You filter in with other cyclists who have come up the hard way and begin the final assault, looking relaxed and making as if you have been with them all along. At the summit you might get a slight pang of guilt for having been a bit of a softy but hey, you’ve had an amazing ride and let’s face it; you fully intend to do the proper route one day – don’t you?