Mont Ventoux (from Sault) ~ A super, super climb past lavender fields, pine forests and limestone rocks that look like the surface of the moon.

July 6th 2017 (Day 59) I took over 300 photos on Mont Ventoux  but with this year being the 50th anniversary of the death of Tom Simpson, I have chosen a photo of his Memorial as the featured photo for today. The memorial is located about 1 km from the summit, where Simpson collapsed on the 13th July 1967 during Stage 13 of the Tour de France. He had been suffering from diarrhoea and was unable to eat anything for days before the fatal stage on Mont Ventoux. The stage that day was 211 km between Marseille and Carpentras and by the time the riders got to Mont Ventoux, the temperature was over 30 degrees. Tom first collapsed about about 1.5 km from the summit but he asked to be put back on his bike saying “On,On,On”. He was in seventh position in the Tour and probably didn’t want to abandon the race when he was so close to the summit of the last climb of that day’s stage. But just 500 m later, he collapsed again this time unconscious and fell to the ground with his hands still tightly gripped around his bike’s handlebars. His support staff spent an hour trying to revive him before he was airlifted by the French police to Avignon hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Tom had been spotted adding brandy to his water bottle at the foot of the climb to Mont Ventoux. This was a common practice amongst cyclists at that time at the start of a long climb. But after he collapsed 3 ampoules of amphetamines were also found in his jersey pocket, 2 of which had been used. Officially, the cause of his death was listed as heart failure caused by exhaustion but almost certainly his death was caused by extreme de-hydration due to a combination of alcohol, drugs, heat and diarrohea. Amphetamines cause your heart to race and combined with alcohol, the heat and his diarrhoea, all of which are very de-hydrating, can result in a heart attack. Ever since 1967, his death has been blamed on drugs but had he not been ill with diarrhoea and not drank brandy that day, he almost certainly would have survived the stage. The combination of the alcohol, heat and drugs though pushed Tom Simpson’s body beyond it’s limit resulting in his death. His death was such a shock that it resulted in mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs at both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France the following year . Up until then, the cycling authorities had turned a blind eye to drug use amongst cyclists but that all changed when Tom Simpson died during the Tour de France.


Profile of the climb of Mont Ventoux from Sault. The climb from Sault is longer than from both Bedoin and Malaucene and as Sault is located higher up than both those towns, the average gradient is a lot lower than the 2 other routes. It only averages 4.5 % but the last 6 km from Chalet Reynard, the average is more like 8%.


Fields of lavender near Sault. From the centre of Sault, the road is mostly downhill for about 1 km or so until you cross the river Nesque and the climb then really begins. There are numerous lavender fields at the start of the climb and they are a lovely sight and add a lot of color to the parched landscape in this part of France.


Sign for Mont Ventoux. Signs in France normally understate the distance but this sign slightly overstates the distance. As this sign is near the Nesque river, it should state 24.5 km to Mont Ventoux and 18.5 to Chalet Reynard.


Lots of lavender fields near the start of the climb. The gradient at the start of the climb is gentle and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to start with. There are numerous clear shots of lavender fields elsewhere on my website but for this shot, I used HDR and it adds a dreamlike feeling to the photo. I was in dreamland too at finally getting to climb Mont Ventoux and even more so when it wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated.


Viewing point about 5 km after the start of the climb. All the photos on this page were taken on the way down Mont Ventoux after I had completed the climb and then assembled in reverse order. I was going so fast at the start of the climb I never even noticed this viewing area but I did on the way down and stopped to take a shot.


Thick forest of trees as you climb higher. There was lots of shade from the oak and pine trees on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux.


Statue of a stag about 10 km after the start of the climb. I didn’t see any deer all day but perhaps, if you climbed at either dawn or dusk, they would be more noticeable.


The pine forest gets thinner as you climb. The higher you climb, the more spread out the trees and the less shade you get.


Milestone showing an altitude of 1407m not far from Chalet Reynard. The 19 on the sign signifies 19 km from the centre of Sault. Sault is roughly 750m above sea level so by this stage, you have climbed 650 m with 500 m of climbing still to go.


Chalet Reynard about 6 km from the summit of Mont Ventoux. Chalet Reynard is located where the road from Bedoin meets the road from Sault. It was busy when I passed it on the way up and even busier on my way down.


Milestone at 5 km to the summit. The average gradient for the next km is 7%. By now the trees have give way to scrub and from here to the summit, there was no more shade from the sun or shelter from the wind..


Small museum located 4.5 km from the summit. The museum features photos and descriptions of the various flowers and shrubs that grow on Mont Ventoux.


Proud father dragging one of his sons up Mont Ventoux while towing another behind him on a trailer. There were all sorts of cyclists of all shapes and sizes making their way up Mont Ventoux but this was he most extraordinary sight I saw all day.  The young lad on the bike looked about 5 or 6 years old while the boy on the trailer was only 3 or 4. This was probably the boys first time on Mont Ventoux and I have no doubt they made it to the top as they were going at a reasonable pace. No doubt too there were lots of photos taken at the summit and one of the photos might even appear on TV in 20 years time, if one of the boys wins a stage  in the Tour de France.


Milestone 4 km from the summit. The average gradient for the next km is 5.6% but it felt a lot steeper as by now my legs were getting tired.


Graffiti painted on the road up to Mont Ventoux. This piece of graffiti translates as ” I love you” and obviously was wrote by someone with a moustache or maybe for someone with a moustache.


Photographer from Griffe photos at the side of the road about 2.5 km from the summit. Griffe photos are based in Bourg d’Oisans near Alpe d’Huez but also often have someone on the other famous mountains in France. I got a card from this photographer but have been so busy i haven’t even had time to look at their website. When I get back to Ireland, I will have a look at all the photos from my climbs and buy the best one.


View about 1.5 km from the summit. You can just make out the Tom Simpson Memorial to the right of this photo. This is how close Tom Simpson got to the top of Mont Ventoux before he collapsed and may well have been the last image he saw before he died.


The Memorial to Tom Simpson who died on Mont Ventoux in 1967. The memorial was first erected a year after Tom’s death so has been here for almost 50 years. So no wonder why the writing (in French) is a bit faded but it says ”  In memory of Tom Simpson. He was an Olympic medalist, a world champion, a British sporting ambassador but it was at this spot that he died on 13th July 1967”.


Steps leading up to the Tom Simpson Memorial. The steps were added in 2007 to mark the 40th anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death. ten years earlier a small plaque was added by Tom Simpson’s daughter which reads (in English) “There is no mountain too high”. The memorial is lovely the way it blends in with the limestone landscape and a fitting tribute to one of the best British cyclists of all time.


One last photo of the Tom Simpson Memorial. There were many bottles and cycling caps at the Tom Simpson Memorial left behind by cyclists and others as a mark of respect. I didn’t have anything I could leave behind with me so instead I put my bike beside the memorial and took a photo as my mark of respect.


View from the side of the road not far from the Tom Simpson Memorial. The views from Chalet Reynard all the way to the summit are just incredible but as the road is so steep, I wasn’t able to take in the view on the way up. It was only on the way down when I stopped by the side of the road, that I was able to get this shot.


Road about 800 m from the summit. The last stretch on Mont Ventoux is really barren but luckily, it wasn’t too windy cause there is no shelter anywhere.


There were 3 professional photographers on Mont Ventoux today. There is almost always a photographer near the top of the big climbs but Mont Ventoux is so popular, there were 3 on the mountain today. However, I doubt if any of the professional photographers took as good a photo as the one above all day. It shows a young cyclist in a AG2R top glancing at the photographer as he makes his way up the climb. No doubt, the professional photographer got the closer shot but you can see how steep the road is from my photo something that won’t show up in the professional’s photo. I could not have timed the photo any better either as I captured the exact moment the cyclist glances at the photographer just as he arches his back to take his own shot.. The future Romain Bardet was going some speed and looked across at the photographer for less than a second. I don’t normally use burst mode and my camera is slow so this is the only photo i got as the cyclist passed the photographer. But it is one of my favorite shots from the whole of this year’s Tour as it is so perfectly timed .


500 m to go milestone. The gradient for the last 500m averages 11% and it really stings when your legs are so tired.


Summit of Mont Ventoux. The summit of Mont Ventoux is always crowded but I was suprised by the amount of hikers and car and campervan drivers at the summit. There were a few motorbikers but not as many as you would see on other climbs.


Sign at the summit. There is some dispute as to the exact height of Mont Ventoux as all the t-shirts and souvenirs at the summit displayed a height of 1912m. On some climbs, the sign is not quite at the highest point, like on the Grand Saint Bernard, but this is not the case on Mont Ventoux. The discrepency is probably caused by more accurate measurements carried out nowadays compared to in the past.


Time for some photos at the famous Mont Ventoux sign. There were loads of people on Mont Ventoux and one of the by-standers kindly agreed to take my photo. Just like on the Tourmalet, I hoisted my bike in the air but this time grabbed the front wheel so it didn’t swing round and hit me on the head.


Total distance cycled Thursday July 6th – 58 km. The total distance includes 4 km from the campsite to Sault and also 4 km back. It is 25 km from Sault to the summit and the same distance back. From the river Nesque near Sault, it is 24 km to the summit and that is the time shown below.


92 minutes to climb Mont Ventoux from Sault.. My target time was 1 hour 45 minutes so to beat it by almost 15 minutes was incredible. I had cycled 180 km the previous 2 days with Travoy and felt really tired starting the climb. But it was really cool at 8 o’clock in the morning in Sault and it got cooler as I made my way up the climb. Had I started the climb an hour or 2 later, I never would have reached the top as quick due to the heat.


Top 12% of all the times on Strava.  I knew I was on a good time as I overtook about 20 cyclists on the way up and was only overtaken once. My legs were fine the whole way up but the last 2 km, I thought my heart would burst so had to ease off slightly. Had I had a rest day before tackling Mont Ventoux, I certainly would have been fresher and may even have gone under 90 minutes for the climb. But never did I think I would end up in the top 12% of times. In my 45-50 age group, I am almost certainly in the top 3% of times on Strava. In Ireland, you get an A for 85% and an A+ if you get 95% in your final exam when you leave secondary school. Well, I didn’t get any A’s in my Leaving Cert exams but on Mont Ventoux, I now have an A overall and an A+ for my age group.


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