I am currently on holidays in France for two weeks with my wife and children. We spent the first week staying in a mas (farmhouse) in Provence with my wife's family enjoying excellent weather and even better cuisine. Luckily, I was able to rent a bike and sneak in a few rides.
Renting a bike here is quite painless and I ended up with a well fitting Cannondale Synapse outfitted with a Shimano 105 triple-chainring and Mavic wheels. Not too shabby until I realized that my brother-in-law was assigned a Cannondale Super-Six. Oh well, he would need the lighter and stiffer bike being 5 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than I am.
After a brief sortie into Les Alpilles for a warm-up, we set out last Tuesday to climb Mt. Ventoux. This venerable climb has been a mecca for cyclists and was last ridden in the 2009 Tour de France. It sits at the northern boundary of Provence and from the top, you have a clear view of the alps as well as the Mediterranean. While geologically part of the Alps, it really stands alone and is visible from most of Provence. Most people are well familiar with the moonscape appearance of the upper reaches, but the lower part of the mountain houses beautiful forests. It has been lovingly described by Graham Fife in his book, "Great Climbs of the Southern Alps" if you would like more information.
My cycling partner for the day was not an experienced cyclist, so we chose the easiest route to the summit from the east via Sault. After a short descent out of Sault, we slowly started climbing through fields of lavender and vineyards. The odour was amazing. This soon gave way to a winding road through mixed forest. The first 20 km were very mild and I enjoyed dancing forwards and backwards from my brother in law to snap pictures and take in the view.
After Chalet Reynard at 20 km, we joined the more difficult southern route and began the final 6 km ascent through the lunar landscape. By this time, it was hot and the road went steeply up with the gradient never falling below 7%. In addition, the mistral winds for which Ventoux is famous for were gusting quite strongly. I received permission to go forward alone without my riding partner for the last 5 km as I was on a mission not not use the small chainring on my triple crankset. The gradient was not an issue, but the wind gusts were enough to almost stop you in your tracks as you rounded the corners. Despite this, I never felt in trouble and sprinted up the last steep section to the summit where I was greeted by hundreds of other cyclists and tourists. I took in the views for a short time and then headed back down to pace up my brother in law, this time using the granny gears. When we were both safely at the top, I checked out the gaudy souvenirs (I'm a proud owner of a Mt. Ventoux snow-globe complete with cyclist), the candied fruit stands, and the fresh sausages!
While waiting for the rest of the relatives to reach the summit by car, I descended a short way down the north side and climbed the last 3 km up sheltered from the wind. Then it was a quick 25 km descent back to Sault before a relaxing lunch of pizza and rosé.
There is excellent riding in Provence including the rugged Luberon and Alpilles hills. Towns are close together and cyclists are almost always spotted in the cafés around the central square enjoying a coffee and pastry. Renting a high quality racing bike is easy and the opportunity should not be missed if in the region.