Sunday, 27 May 2018

Lured from Ventoux

Friday afternoon on Mont Ventoux. The road signs said fermé, but the summit was heaving: cars, coaches, motards, and cyclists of course. The idea for the next day had always been to do the three ascents, but in this traffic I may as well have been riding around any town.

I’d spotted a road near Sisteron that looked like a nice ride, as a stop off on the way to or from Marseille airport. Its constant squiggles meant it could only be a climb. The Montagne de Lure was completely unknown to me, and plenty of others it seemed. On Strava, only 1000 people had ever made the ascent. Compare that to Mont Ventoux…

As Id ended up staying in Sault rather than Bedoin, exploring the Montagne de Lure would make for a good day’s ride: a nice loop through the Vallée du Jabron, over the mountain and back through the lavender fields. Along with the Montagne de Lure, Id have the shorter Col de l’homme Mort to cross, which is how I felt having only dined on a Reblochon pizza the night before (very nice though).

This is how I felt...

Down through the Vallée du Jabron, the slight descent compensated for a rising headwind, but by the start of the Montagne de Lure, I knew I wasn't on a good day. Turning off the D946 and crossing the river, I started the climb: 26km of 5%.

The Vallee du Jabron at the foot of the Montagne de Lure

The climb starts relatively easily, but its exposed so a headwind through fields slowed my progress until I reached the shelter of the forest. For the first 5kms there is no clue where the road is heading: it appears to be heading into a cirque with no escape, but veers off through into a forest. There’s no view, no sign of whats to come: only the km signs give any indication of where you are.

Not far to go!!

At ‘only’ 5% the climb may not appear severe, but factoring in the distance, the road surface, and the unevenness (it has several downhills and false flats) then it becomes a different proposition. The road is single track all the way – a lane. The road surface isnt great (and why should it be?): rough all the way to the last 3km, where it gets rougher still.

The Col sign at the bottom of the climb

Towards the top there are a series of hairpins – nothing fancy, just basic switchbacks – which lead to the Col du Pas de la Graille. Just like Ventoux’s Col des Tempetes, this col is about 3km from the real summit. 

Workman like hairpin. Note the road surface.

I missed the col sign, because its hairpin crested into a headwind and was shrouded in mist. The last stretch to the summit was a cold, windy and foggy drag made worse by the road surface. It may have only been 2-3% but it felt worse. The road surface looked to be a collection of stones from the mountain compacted to make a road. Which it probably was.

The summit shrouded in mist.

Before the descent starts, some false flats.

The summit has some interpretation boards and a track up to the Signal de Lure. After taking some photos I got on with the descent, not stopping at the nearby Abbaye Notre Dame de la Lure. After skirting the top of the mountain for a kilometre or two, the descent begins. It's a complete contrast to the last 26km: hairpinned, but wide and fast, with a much improved road surface.

I made it to the top!

The descent finishes in Saint-Étienne-les-Orgues where I had some food before the final 45km. The ride back to Sault was enjoyable: smooth roads, little traffic, and a slight tailwind. Good views too: a tree lined avenue in Ongles, and then some views of Mont Ventoux across the Lavender fields near Revest du Bion.

Heading back to Sault
Mont Ventoux in the distance

I couldn't help but wonder why the Montagne de Lure had never featured in the Tour de France? Or more precisely the descent: with a stage finish in Sisteron, you can see the Montagne de Lure setting up a crazy descent for Romain Bardet though the forest to become the first Frenchman in decades to win the Tour de France. Maybe.

Full ride details here: