The first stage of the Haute Route Ventoux got underway this morning from the heart of Bédoin, heading South for a 119km loop with 3150M of climbing that would eventually take riders back round to the summit of Mont Ventoux via the ascent from Sault. Ascents over the Col des Trois Termes and Col de Lagarde awaited before the final climb of the day for the summit finish.
Dylan Demont from Switzerland was looking forward to the first stage this morning, back for another taste of the bald mountain after last year’s inaugural edition: “I’m better prepared this year I think, I’m looking forward to it,” he said, “the course is a little different, and it’s a great way to close out my season”.
The first 30km of the stage remained relatively rolling with a small hill through Blauvac before heading into the foot of the Col des Trois Termes for the first categorised climb of the weekend. Featuring just 349M of climbing over 9km for a 4.4% average gradient, this first climb provided the perfect introduction to the weekend of climbing that lay ahead.
“It’s a great first climb,” said Isis Mas from Spain, “it’s nicer to ride here than in Madrid, and we save the best for the end on each stage, it should be superb!”
After the descent from the Col des Trois Termes a flatter section of 25km ensued into the foot of the Col de Lagarde. The road snaked through the vineyards, small towns and wide open plains as the sun shone down on the riders, conditions proving perfect for this first stage.
The steeper and longer ascent up the Col de Lagarde provided another stern test before the descent past Sault and climb up Mont Ventoux. Johan Paridaans from the Netherlands was living the dream today, appreciating fully his first Haute Route experience: “It’s like being in a dream, it’s my first Haute Route,” he said, “and I’m riding in a group with Frank Schleck, it’s brilliant”.
After recovering on the descent and regrouping into small pelotons, the riders took on the final climb of the day up the mighty Mont Ventoux – 25km of climbing to the summit finish at 1909m above sea level. Most riders stayed in small groups and worked together over the first 19km of ascent to the Chalet Reynard. By working together they were able to ride faster and save energy for the final 6km of the ascent which would be steeper and exposed to the elements.
Emerging from the forest by Chalet Reynard riders were greeted with a glimpse of the summit and the infamous bald mountain, as they weaved their way along the edge of the mountaintop peppered with rocks and barren of almost all vegetation.
“It’s a stunning stage,” said Frenchman Pierre Ruffaut, “it’s even better than last year, and we haven’t got any wind this year which is great!”
Having reached the summit riders rejoiced in the achievement and drank in the views over the plains below, just about able to make out Bédoin far down below.
“It’s pure pleasure,” said fellow Frenchman Alexandre Menneteau, an experienced Haute Route veteran, “we couldn’t ask for more, finishing on the summit in perfect conditions.”
“I’m trying to appreciate the views now,” added Briton, Nick Le Cocq with a laugh, “I was mostly staring at the road on the final part of the climb so need to soak it in now. It’s a beautiful day, delighted to be here.”
After descending the winding descent back to Bédoin riders were able to enjoy the host of services available on the village, including a meal and a massage before heading back to their accommodation and recover for the two stages still to come.
At the front of the race today it was Ruari Grant from the UK who took the stage win for the men and Viviane Spielmann of Switzerland for the women. They both pull on the leader’s jersey for the event and will look to defend their position over the next two stages. In the Duo competition it was Team Panvanto Club who were fastest on this first stage.
The Coup de Coeur rider on the day was French Yachtsman, Franck Cammas, winner of the Route du Rhum and a member of the 2017 America’s Cup winning team. Riding this weekend for the Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque Foundation, Franck is raising funds for children around the world to receive life-saving heart surgery in France.
Tomorrow, riders will set off on a 133km stage with 3300M of climbing over the Col de l’Homme Mort and Col des Aires before summiting the Mont Ventoux from its toughest side via the town of Malaucène.