Ventoux and Bonette are special. And both have personal significance.
Ventoux was the first major mountain I climbed. In 2009, living in Australia, I was 10kg too heavy for a cyclist with too many hours in the gym and not enough on the bike. I took a trip to the Tour de France which involved Ventoux for the first time and 2 hours or so of plodding saw me summit the Giant of Provence. I returned in 2011 I was back, those 10kg’s shed from overweight Australia and living in Barcelona.
On the way home from the Giro D’Italia I got chatting to mates in Italian mountains above one of the lakes, I found out about Strava. So I conceived a plan to detour to visit Ventoux – where else – and christen my new knowledge.My ego was peaked and I screamed – literally in the last few k’s as spooked tourists could attest – my way up half an hour faster than fat lad 2009 did. I also came down quicker – my first ever KOM on Strava, for the descent to Bédoin. If you were driving that black van in the last part of the forest that day…you cost me some 30 to 60 seconds which might still have me in the top spot! Happy days.
Of course with Ventoux, the obvious thought is Tommy Simpson. Obvious, but not something I ever make light of. I am always moved thinking of the events of 1967 with the monument, so well respected by those who love cycling, a poignant reminder. It inspired me to push on in 2011 when the screaming started and this year it just inspired me to consider how lucky I am to be cycling. Mont Ventoux and it’s legend has therefore been born, as with so many climbs, in the Tour de France. Stages have finish atop this mountain of 1912m altitude 9 times, with a further 6 visits during stages en route to other finishes, including that fateful 1967 tour. Of all those visits, all but one time it has been from Bedoin to the summit. The fabled route.
The solitary exception was in 1951 on the way to Montpellier. Personally, I find the Malaucène side the hardest of all three, but I did do that after a big week riding so maybe it’s not a fair assessment. The other, other side, is from Sault, which is far more gentle and gentile as you wind through the famous lavender fields gradually climbing to join the Bedoin route at Chalet Reynard.
Bonette holds a different sort of first. Again, 2011. Haute Route Alps. The first edition, for which I had been training all year with my mate while living in the pre-Pyrenees in Catalonia.
Sadly, 6 days before I got food poisoning, did not eat all those 6 days, nor until day four of the Haute Route. Best laid plans and all that. So it was on day five I felt ok, but day six was the first day I managed to ride how I felt I had trained. I rode with my training mate for the first time that Haute Route and it was on the great Bonette that we shared the pain of hanging on to the group we were in. We were perhaps above our level, pushing ourselves to stay in the group and avoid solitude into the raging headwind, but we survived, finding new inner strength. Especially myself after 10 days of inner struggles…!
The Bonette has been a Tour de France mountain far fewer times than Ventoux, only four times. And on all occasions only as a pass through towards another destination. This is, probably, in part due to the altitude and lack of much up there, making such logistics slightly tricky. But the Bonette is a beauty. It’s two names should be used as they give much to the characters of the mountain – as a route in particular The Col de la Bonette and the Cime de la Bonette.
The Col is older than the Cime. The Col being from the french for pass, or neck or collar, which makes sense as to why most climbs are thus named in France. The Cime, however, is a little loop road of barely a couple of kilometres that was added later and joins, like a lasso the highest parts of the Col road, around the summit – Cime – to make it the highest paved ‘pass’ in Europe, although it is a bit contrived. It is a stunning part of the world, contrived or not.
There was a mild irony that the last time I went, this June, the Cime loop was still blocked off by piles of snow as it was deemed unsafe for traffic, so only the Col was available. However, intrepid as we were, a few of us shouldered bikes over the snow block and then cycled the Cime loop to compile the Cime de la Bonette. Check!
These two grand names of cycling history are very different in both that history and character – to ride and as models of beauty. I will always find it hard to nudge Ventoux off top spot, though every visit to the Bonette has left me awe struck. Thankfully this last time – when I was working with La Fuga Travel - I didn’t have to choose between the two, I just went up them both.