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16-10-2023 | Jean-Marie Henckaerts

Haute Route Ventoux 2023: the giant from three sides

The 2023 edition of the Haute Route Ventoux unfolded from Oct. 6 to 8 in the renowned cycling village of Bédoin, nestled at the foot of Provence's monumental peak, Mont Ventoux. The three-day gran fondo featured two stages and a challenging climbing time trial, totaling 280 kilometers with an ascent of 6566 meters.

Participants ascended Mont Ventoux from the well-known three directions, progressively increasing in difficulty: first from Sault, then from Malaucène, and finally from Bédoin.

Setting the pace too high

The initial 98-kilometer stage covered the lesser-known cols of Murs, Ligne, and Liguière, including the ascent from Sault to Chalet Reynard. What distinguished this Haute Route from others I've experienced (Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites, and Davos) was the rapid commencement of timekeeping, starting just after one kilometer. Coupled with the relatively short stages, this led to a lightning-fast start, disadvantageous for someone like me, more of a diesel, requiring about an hour to hit my stride. The initial hour saw me consistently pushing in the red, a choice that would haunt me later (literally, cramps!).

Continuous time measurement

Moreover, timekeeping continued uninterrupted from start to finish. This meant the chrono didn't pause during descents, unlike other Haute Route events. Consequently, there was no time for a pit stop at a feed station or for capturing a photo atop a col. This resulted in feeling cramps surfacing during the final climb from Sault to Chalet Reynard, and I found myself unable to keep up with my group. Progressing solo, I had to pace myself to conquer the remaining eighteen kilometers. Thankfully, this ascent from Sault featured relatively manageable gradients. As I crossed the finish line, raising my arms, cramps struck both legs. The challenge then became covering the last six kilometers from Chalet Reynard to the summit of Ventoux and cycling the final hundred meters as vigorously as possible—a task beyond my capacity.

The victors in the challenge achieved speeds of 22 kilometers per hour for women and 23 kilometers per hour for men. Winners of the day's stage went on to triumph in stages 2 and 3, clinching the overall standings. The men's competition remained gripping until the last day, with Stéphane Cognet emerging victorious, while Samantha Arnaudo secured the women's title. Both are members of the Officine Mattio cycling team from Cuneo, Italy, renowned for organizing the gran fondo La Fausto Coppi.

Redemption on stage 2

Taking the lesson to heart, I approached stage 2 with a more measured approach. In fact, it seemed everyone started a bit more cautiously, knowing what awaited at the end of that stage. Finding an excellent group, I relished the kilometers, rotating like almost genuine pros. Negotiating the cols of Suzette and Chaîne, followed by climbs to Veaux and Astauds, the picturesque villages in the Côte du Rhone wine region (known for wines like Gigondas and Vaqueyras) typically perched on hills! Arriving in Malaucène, we embarked on the 21-kilometer final climb—a potentially challenging leg, especially after covering 75 kilometers at a brisk pace with a few ascents and hills under our belts.

Averaging 7.5%, with three kilometers reaching or exceeding 11%, the climb posed no issue. With ample energy in the tank, I ascended at a reasonable pace (for me), free from cramps. Pure joy!

Time trial as the Grand Finale

Day 3 featured the individual time trial, held under ideal conditions—cool morning temperatures and nearly zero wind, a rarity on Ventoux. The route was straightforward: from Bédoin to Chalet Reynard, then onward to the summit of Ventoux's moonscape. The initial four kilometers posed minimal challenge; the true test began at the famous 'virage,' a demanding stretch of ten kilometers at a 10% incline. Reaching Chalet Reynard marked the end of the harshest suffering, leaving six kilometers at a 7-8% gradient. Having internalized the lesson from the first day, I still had reserves to stand on the pedals and overtake participants who had started ahead. A delightful sensation! Stéphane Cognet emerged as the winner, maintaining a 12-second lead over his closest competitor, Pascal Wiederhold.

During the awards ceremony, the CEO of Haute Route announced a shift in organizational responsibility starting in 2024. France Vélo Evènements (FVE) will take over and concentrate on events within France. This potentially marks the end of the Haute Dolomites, but alternatives such as the Giro di Kika and Giro delle Dolomiti are available in that region on our calendar.

CycloWorld is closely monitoring these developments and aims to share more updates soon.

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