The road to Ventoux - Part 14

Virtual ventoux May 2021

The Ventoux3 challenge is all about raising money to support research into mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder) through the Out of the Blues charity. To make a donation go to

Next week is the May school half term. The plan had been for me to travel to Provence with my family to undertake the Ventoux3 challenge to ride all three routes up Mont Ventoux in one day. Then the pesky virus arrived and all of our lives have been massively affected. High rates of depression are reported in people who have had COVID-19, particularly those suffering from long COVID. It is predicted that mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety, will be “the pandemic following the pandemic”. Research into mood disorders and their treatment has never been needed more.

As a result of not travelling to France next week, I have pushed the attempt back to May 2022 (complicated reasons why: must be a school holiday: summer too hot; October too high a risk of strong winds on top of the mountain). However, I am going to need a series of challenges over the next 12 months to keep training motivation high. My next one is to ride the Northumberland Cyclone on 3rd July. I have entered to longest event – to ride 174.5 km and climb 3,281m (cycling measurements are more traditionally metric – I guess in honour of the French and other European countries that have traditionally led road cycling) or in imperial measures: 108.5 miles and 10,764 feet of climb. This will be my first imperial century ride! The route is pretty touch. Starting at the Newcastle Falcon’s group, then travelling North through Walton to Rothbury then Alwinton before a serious climb on the way to Elsdon. Then West from there to Otterburn, another climb and descent to Bellingham, eventually turning East to Chollerford. From there back to the Falcon’s via the infamous Ryals climb and a descent into Matfen. I am under no illusions about this route, having ridden several sections of it over the last few weeks. It will be tough and I will be going into unchartered territory with the distance.

In all this focus on Northumberland, I can’t lose sight on the bigger goal in 12 months. So, given the slightly dodgy forecast this weekend, and having got soaked the previous one, I decided to do an indoor virtual ride yesterday. I choose to ride a loop around Mount Ventoux on the Rouvy platform. This is a cool bit of software. It uses real GPS data and video footage of the route to create a very realistic representation of rides. The one I did started in Bedoin. This is the foot of the toughest climb up Ventoux. However, instead of going up the Mountain, the route South and looped round to Sault – the start of the “easiest” route up the mountain. This climb is the one I will do last in the Ventoux3 challenge. It is approximately 25 km (15.5 miles) and 1200m (3,937 feet) of unremitting climbing at an average gradient of around 5%. I was intrigued to see how I would cope with this when my legs were already getting tired! Prior to the climb the route travelled 80 km (50 miles) with three significant climbs and a total ascent of 1700m (5,577 feet).

I was really impressed with the Rouvy rendition of the route. I recognised lots of features and landmarks from having driven some roads before. The start from Bedoin was nice and easy though vineyards, and I was able to get into a bit of a rhythm. The climb to the first col was not too bad on fresh legs and it was followed by a short down hill section. The second was more intermittent with sections that were rolling but overall up hill, with a nice little section of 20% incline to keep me honest. The third col was the toughest. A steady climb for at least 10km with a short section at 15%. The reward, though, was a long descent through forests down to the lavender fields around Sault. Despite this, I was aware that I was starting to get tired. I had been cycling non-stop for 3 hours 40 mins when I started the Sault route up Ventoux. This divides roughly into three sections. The first is a fairly consistent 4-6%. On fresh legs this would be fine to get into a rhythm on. I managed this to some extent, but it seemed to take for ever to complete this section. Then there is a section where for much of the time the gradient is less than 3%, but with a few double figures sections to really hammer your legs. I am not good at getting out of the saddle when climbing, but I am getting better. I had used this to good effect earlier on in the ride. However, when I tried it half way up Ventoux my legs nearly gave way! Lesson learnt – need to work more on this!! This middle third section of the climb then ends with a km or more of easy climb to Chalet Reynard – a café restaurant stop frequented by cyclists (and there were plenty on the video as well!) – where the route up from Bedoin joins the road from Sault. It marks about 6km to go to the summit. If you are climbing from Sault, it is the hardest section. Mostly it is 6-7%, but with frequent sections that are 10-13%. The disconcerting thing is that every now and then you get a glimpse of the tower at the top of Ventoux and think you are nearly there, but you are not. I have to confess it was a real struggle covering those last 6km and I was mightily relieved to reach the top. A total of 105 km (65.3 miles) and 2905m (9,528 feet) of climbing done – the most climbing I have ever done in a ride indoors or out. The whole thing took me just over 5½ hours – the climb from Sault alone just short of 2 hours. I was totally knackered!

This has been an interesting experience! It has demonstrated just how tough the Ventoux3 challenge will be. In the challenge I will have cycled a little further, but climbed a lot more (2800m vs 1700m), before I start the Sault climb. Outdoors I will also have to content with wind, other road users. In addition, when climbing the steepest sections, in the virtual world you can go as slow as you like. However, in the real world if you slow too much you will fall off! On the video there were a fair few cyclists wobbling all over the place towards the top of the mountain.

Over the next month, I will be doing more outdoors cycling to prepare for the Cyclone. There is one other challenge that is going through my mind. Rouvy have another circuit of Ventoux starting at Bedoin. This one is longer and the ascent is from Malaucène – a very close second to the route from Bedoin in terms of difficulty: shorter than the one from Sault, but much steeper and a great total climb. Knowing how I feel today after the ride yesterday, I am not sure whether I will do this before the Cyclone, or if I will save it for a cold wet day over the winter…..

Don’t forget the site that provides a wealth of advice around dealing with isolation, self-management of anxiety and depression. Please have a look at the site and share it with others – there is something there for everybody.

I wish everybody the very best and I hope you all stay healthy. Whatever your situation, try to make exercise of one sort or another a part of your daily/weekly routine. If you want to get involved in the Ventoux3 for Out of the Blues challenge in any way, then drop me an email at

Hamish McAllister-Williams