I talked to Chris Gutowsky, owner of VйloSport Vacations, about what makes their Ride Provence trips different and memorable.
A CYCLING RESORT
PEZ: Tour companies that do Provence seem to be a dime a dozen. What makes your Ride Provence program different?
Chris: There are several differences, but the biggest one is that our Ride Provence program is a cycling resort, not a cycling tour. So for a week, you have a single home base where we provide the top-notch support of a professional training camp, but with more resort-style luxury worked in. There’s no other program like it in the area.
There… there in the distance… lies your destination – Mt. Ventoux – the Giant of Provence.
All guests stay at a 4**** residence hotel at the foot of Mont Ventoux in Malaucиne. The guided group rides leave daily from our fully equipped bike workshop there. You also have our office and Vйlo store, a daily breakfast buffet, and a massage room. Basically, we have Ride Provence set up so you can just unpack and relax into a week of great cycling and vacationing.
The other big difference is how we carefully accommodate a wide range of cycling abilities—from enthusiastic beginners to amateur racers. We divide the rides into different groups to account for speed and endurance. Then, and this is a key difference, each of those groups is accompanied by at least one of our professional guides. Our guides ride WITH our guests, making sure everyone gets in a good day of cycling on our select route. People can switch groups during the week to ride a bit harder or easier, and can even switch mid-ride. And cycling couples who ride at different speeds can each get in a group that suites them one day, then ride together the next day.
Yes – imagine yourself cycling out of this homebase for a week in Provence… not too shabby…
THE HOME BASE DIFFERENCE
PEZ: So you are based at the foot of Mont Ventoux for the entire week. What are the benefits of having a home base versus staying in a couple different hotels? Doesn’t this limit your riding?
Chris: The riding in that area of Provence—the Vaucluse and the Drome—is limitless. I’ve never been anywhere with such a variety of terrain, excellent roads, and easy access to it all. We have at least a dozen completely different rides mapped out and the guides can vary any route to add or subtract miles as necessary. Routes cover everything from flat vineyard roads to the gentle and gorgeous Nesque climb to the epic 13-mile ride up the H.C. Mont Ventoux. Some weeks the hardest part is deciding which rides we have to leave out.
With no packing-unpacking during the week, it’s easy to fit in both great cycling and other vacation activities during the week. So typically, the mornings are spent riding and the afternoons are free for recovery and discovery. You can actually get to know the area and we encourage guests to rent a car for the week if they would like to take afternoon excursions. For family and friends who don’t ride, this makes Ride Provence an ideal place to enjoy a vacation while their cycling cohort gets his or her daily fix.
That pointy thing in the back is your destination – some folks climb 3-4 times in a day!
CLIMBING THE GIANT
PEZ: Do you really climb Mont Ventoux once a week with your clients?
Chris: Yes, Mont Ventoux is the week’s ultimate challenge and typically we all tackle it together every Friday. After a nice warm up ride on a mini Col de Madeleine, we take the classic, Tour de France route up from Bedoin. Like all our rides, guests have their choice of different riding groups based on speed. Each group has at least one dedicated guide along with the support of our fully equipped follow car and professional soigneur. Our guides climb the mountain alongside our guests offering tips and pointers along the way. Since all of our guides have climbed Mont Ventoux a minimum of 20 times each over the past few years, they have valuable insights into how to master the mountain. In fact, of all the guest cyclists who have attempted the climb with our help, 98 percent of them have made it.
PEZ: Obviously the Ventoux climb up from Bedoin is the highlight of the week. But there are three routes up. What is each one like?
Chris: The three traditional routes up Mont Ventoux are from Malaucиne, Bedoin, and Sault. The Bedoin route is the classic side and the one the Tour always takes. It is 21.5 kilometers long with an elevation gain of 1610 meters and an average grade of 7.5 percent. Both the Bedoin and the Malaucиne sides have been used as part of the Dauphinй Libйrй. It is 21 kilometers long with an elevation gain of 1570 meters and an average grade of 7.5 percent. The third side up from Sault is the longest and easiest of the three climbs. It is 26 kilometers long with an elevation gain of 1220 meters and an average grade of 4.7 percent.
If you ever want to stir up a hot local debate, just ask a room full of local cyclists which side they think is more difficult—Bedoin or Malaucиne. Personally, I think they are both grueling but in different ways. The Malaucиne side does have some steeper sections – one that is about a 12 percent grade – but it also has some breaks and the views on that side are amazing for most of the climb. On the other side of the mountain, the Bedoin climb starts very gently. But about 6 kilometers into it–in Saint-Estиve–it gets hard and stays that way for all but a couple of meters towards the top.
The easy way out of the debate, however, is to claim that the hardest ascent is by the little known fourth “route forestiиre” or forest road from hell. Longer than the two hardest climbs, this ascent is steeper and the road surface is about as rough as they get for something called a “road”.
VeloSport Vacation’s guides are very familiar with the endless variety of cycling routes the area offers.
PEZ: And what’s this I’ve heard about climbing Mont Ventoux three or four times in a day? Whose idea was that and what is there to gain?
Chris: There is a Mont Ventoux brotherhood of sorts for those that choose to officially document their mountain madness. Local cyclist and Ventoux guru Christian Pic started the “confrйrie” in 1988 after climbing the mountain by the three different sides. He has continued to run the society on his own and added the four-peat in 1998 after he completed that challenge himself.
You have the choice of climbing the Ventoux three times by each of the traditional routes and becoming a Cingles (French for crazy) or four times by the three traditional routes and the forest road and becoming a Galerian (French for galley slave).
We have been working with Pic for a couple of years to help Ride Provence clients sign up for this official madness. First, you let us know if you plan on going for the “crazy” or the “slave” status and when you want to do it. Then we collect Pic’s small fee for the process and contact him with the information. He then sends us your confrйrie kit complete with stamp card, Cingles du Ventoux bike card, rules, and his best wishes. Once you are done, we will send your completed stamp card back to Monsieur Pic, who will then promptly send you your award. We need to know about your attempt about 4 weeks in advance of your Ride Provence reservation to get your kit in time.
Simple enough but there are some rules Monsier Pic is a stickler about. You have to do what you signed up to do. So if you sign up to become a Galerian and only do three sides, you do not get to just become a Cingles. Also, if you are feeling really perky on the day you attempt to become a Cingles and do the fourth forest road, you will still only be dubbed a Cingles. You also have to do the different sides and can’t just climb the mountain three times from Sault.
PEZ: Have you climbed the Giant of Provence more than once in a day?
Chris: Did my wife tell you to ask me this?? No I just haven’t had that burning need to do Ventoux laps. However, my wife has done the climb three times in one day along with another guide, Mike Ley, who completed the grueling four-peat. So yes we do have some crazed but passionate guides.
PEZ: What about the two “cyclos” that invite mere mortals to race up the Ventoux? What are those like and who does them?
Chris: Mont Ventoux is home to several timed touring challenges—”cyclos” in French. These annual mass rides attract a wide range of serious leisure cyclists and even some top amateur racers. Cyclos are well-organized events that typically include food stops, mechanical assistance, course marshals stopping traffic and police escorts for the top finishers. Courses range from approximately 100k/62m to 170k/106m and include the Ventoux and several smaller climbs for a total 8500 feet of elevation change.
The most established Ventoux cyclo takes place every spring. On Saturday, June 3, 2006, “Le Mont Ventoux Beaume-de-Venise” will bring more than 2,000 cyclists from around the world together to climb the “Giant of Provence” from Malaucйne. A relatively new and already popular cyclo called “Les Routes du Ventoux” takes place Sunday, September 10, 2006, and climbs the mountain from Bedoin.
VйloSport Vacations will join the 2006 Ventoux cyclos and offer registration for these ultimate challenges as part of our Ride Provence cycling resort program. Please contact us for more information or registration requirements.
Sure the week is about cycling, but it’s pretty hard to miss the local flavour.
ALL THE RIDING CAN MAKE YOU HUNGRY
PEZ: I would bet you have some good meals planned for your guests. What’s included in a week at Ride Provence?
Chris: Though our focus isn’t fine dining per se, the Ride Provence meal program has been a real hit with our guests. All breakfasts and dinners are included in the program rate. The specially catered breakfast buffets are pretty extensive – pastries, quiche, local fruit, cheese, meats, cereal, etc.
For dinners, we do 2-3 meals a week as a group, usually at a nice area restaurant. For the rest of the included dinners, guests have a choice of 3 restaurants in town – all just a 5-minute walk from the hotel. This allows everyone to eat with others in the group or more on their own as they wish. It’s also a great way to sample the Provenзal cuisine. If you really like a place, you can eat there every night if you want.
The relaxed and flexible itineraries leave plenty of time for off-bike activities.
TIME AWAY FROM THE BIKE
PEZ: What’s there to do when your not doing laps on Mont Ventoux?
Chris: Based in the Vaucluse, Ride Provence is central to everything from wine tastings and village markets to scenic hikes and donkey rides. From the Residence, you can explore Malaucиne or pick up several of well-marked regional hikes. There’s even a weekly midnight hike up the Ventoux for those who just can’t get enough.
The residence hotel where we are based is just a five-minute walk from Malaucиne. Though small, the village has a little of everything including several cafйs, restaurants and pizzerias in addition to two grocery stores, butchers, and three bakeries. There is a bike shop, newsstand/book store, Internet cafй, beauty shops, hardware stores, a photo/film developing store, a bank and post office. There are also several local artists with unique shops tucked into the old village walls. And every Wednesday, Malaucиne hosts a market with a great selection of local produce and handmade gifts.
Outside the village, this area of Provence is steeped in ancient roman history. It includes such sites as Avignon’s Palace of the Popes, the amazing 2,000-year-old Pont du Gard aqueduct, the roman ruins of Vaison-la-Romaine, and the roman theater in Orange. For a longer day trip, the Mediterranean beaches of the Cфte d’Azur are a two-hour drive away.
Dates and rates for 2006
VйloSport Vacation’s Ride Provence runs Sunday through Sunday during the following weeks: May 28-June 4 • June 4-11 sold out • June 11-18 •
August 27-September 3 • September 3-10 • September 10-17
Each guest pays a basic weekly vacation rate, either cycling or non-cycling. And though the minimum stay is seven nights, guests are encouraged to add extra days. Extra days are pro-rated based on the weekly rate plus the single supplement if applicable.
Basic Weekly Rates (per person)
• Cycling adult – $1895
• Noncycling adult – $1295
• Child (non-cyclist under 12) – $795
• Single supplement – $375
• Bike rental – $140/week
Note: Airfare is not included in the trip price. Transfers from the Avignon train station are available for an additional fee.
How to get there
To get to Malaucиne, it is easiest to fly to Paris and then take the high-speed train (TGV) to Avignon. Malaucиne is only a 45-minute drive from Avignon. We recommend that you read our How to Get There Details before looking into airfare.
For more information, contact VйloSport Vacations at P.O. Box 1235, Bloomington, IN 47402, 800-988-9833, www.Velovacations.com