It’s not as well known as L’Alpe d’Huez or Galibier, but Mont Ventoux is more notorious. The ascent to the “mysterious mountain” occurs infrequently in the Tour de France, but when it’s included, it’s always special.
The monster of a mountain will be included in the race for the first time since 2009 Sunday in stage 15 of the 100th Tour de France. And as the saying goes, the climb may not determine who wins the race, but it may determine who doesn’t.
What makes Mont Ventoux so mythical or magical and why is it known as “Bald Mountain,” “Tour of the Moon,” “Windy Mountain,” or “Giant of the Provence”?
Mont Ventoux is named after the French word venteux or windy. Although part of the French Alps, the mountain stands alone, which makes its primarily barren surroundings more conspicuous.
The mountain’s landscape was once a forest. But beginning in the 12th century, the plentiful wood was used by area shipbuilders. Although re-planting has occurred at lower elevations, winds recorded as high as 193 mph have swept away most of the vegetation. What’s left at the higher locations (the summit is 1,912 meters, 6,273 feet) is tantamount to a moonscape. The average gradient of the climb is nearly 7.5 percent.
Mont Ventoux was one of the “Ten Great Tour Climbs and Mountaintops” in Tour de France For Dummies, the 2005 book I co-authored with Phil Liggett.
Selecting the top-10 (we actually chose 13) was nearly as difficult as selecting the Tour’s top-10 riders. But considering various factors, Mt. Ventoux is part of the list that also includes:
Aspin, Aubisque, Courchevel, Galibier, Glandon, Izoard, L’Alpe d’Huez, La Mongie, Luz-Ardiden, Madelaine, Puy de Dome and Sestrieres.
Mont Ventoux has been part of the Tour de France only 15 times, and it has been the finish nine time dating to the 1951 victory by Lucien Lazarides of France.
Louison Bobet, Charly Gaul, Raymond Poulidor and Eddy Merckx have all been victorious in Mt. Ventoux stages. Marco Pantani (2000) and Richard Virenque (2002) also were victorious, with Lance Armstrong finishing second on both occasions. Armstrong eased nearing the top to allow Pantani the victory in 2000.
Mont Ventoux achieved global notoriety when British cyclist Tom Simpson died from heat exhaustion and a controversial collection of contributing factors including amphetamines and alcohol during the stage on July 13, 1967. A memorial to Simpson is located near the summit and it’s a shrine for cycling fans, who often leave small tokens of remembrance.