Pyrenees July 2011: St-Jean-du-Gard to Clermont-Ferrand

St-Jean-du-Gard to Clermont-Ferrand – 310 miles

The day didn’t get off to a good start when we opened the garage containing the bikes and found that Gaz’s front tyre was flat. We always make a point if having one or two of the aerosol foam inflators and Gaz’s tyre was quickly reinflated, albeit only to about 20 psi. The recommendation was that you shouldn’t exceed 50 – the purpose of these things is to get you to a garage and no further.

We headed for Ales and after a couple of fruitless stops at tyre places we found a Kawasaki dealership on the outskirts who had a suitable tyre available.

Rather than everyone hang around in the heat – they said it would take an hour – Andy and Phil set off on the D6 towards Bagnols sue Ceze. This was a good fast road with plenty of overtaking places so they made good time. Once through Bagnols a series of small roads took them over the Rhone, South of Orange and towards Carpentras on the D950. Before Carpentras they turned on to the D78 and rode to Malaucene, where they found a shady restaurant and stopped for lunch.

Gaz and the others followed the same route and all ended up in Malaucene for lunch, albeit in different restaurants. Mobile phones got both groups reunited just outside Malaucene on the road to Bedoin which is the start of the ascent of Mont Ventoux most used in the Tour de France.

Mont Ventoux is one of the most famous climbs used in the Tour de France, up there with Alpe D’Huez and the Tourmalet. The climb is 1,617 metres over 21.8 Km, an average of 7.4%. That however, doesn’t tell the full story. The gradient over the first 5.8 Km is only 3.9%. The gradient over the remaining 16 Km is 8.9%. The Tour has either crossed or had a stage end on the mountain on 14 occasions. The pros can climb it in around 1 hour. Most amateurs would struggle to break 2 hours. It’s perhaps most famous as the climb where Tommy Simpson, the British cyclist and 1965 World Road Race Champion, died on the 1967 Tour. There is a memorial to him about 1 Km below the summit which is festooned with cycling bits and bobs.

Phil and Kyle both have Mont Ventoux on their cycling bucket list, but on this occasion they climbed it by motorbike which was definitely a lot easier. The road up winds among pine and juniper trees but about 5 or 6 Km from the summit you come out above the tree line into a bare limestone landscape. Although the summit is covered in snow from December through April, it still looks snow covered throughout the year.

Having stopped at Tommy Simpson’s memorial to pay their respects we headed for the summit and had a 10 minute break. We still had a long way to go to get to Clermont-Ferrand so set off down the other side and back to Malaucene. We headed first for Aubenas via the D938, D576, D572, D107 and N102, and then stayed on the N102 and N88 towards Le Puy en Velay but bypassing it using the D906 and then rejoining the N102 through Brioude. We then picked up the A75 for the run in to Clermont-Ferrand, the home of the Michelin tyre company. There were so many Michelin signs about you wondered if they would stop you if your car or bike was using any other make.

This route was fairly good and we made good progress. It took a little time to find our lodgings for the night – Citea Carre Jaude – but after we’d parked the bikes in a local underground car park and got changed we walked the short distance into the centre of town and found a restaurant. A long day but worth the detour to Mont Ventoux.

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