The road from Saint Saturnin to Sault

When I left Saint Saturnin this morning, I was expecting a hard climb heading over the next ridge towards Sault. I knew Sault was about 400 m higher and in the next big valley north. It looked like a hard climb followed by a relatively flat section and then a bit if a descent. Instead of hard climb, the first half turned out to be one of the most delightful rides of this tour. The road, D943, climbed gently but steadily, at about 2%, first through woods and then along the side of a gorge. There was another road running along the other side and the two come together at the end of that gorge, made a gentle climb through meadows and then continued climbing on the wall of another gorge. Great riding!

Two roads to Sault

Looking back along the second gorge - the road is on the right

After roughly half the distance to Sault, the road went back to climbing through woods. Nice, but not spectacular like the first half. It eventually climbed to more than 800 m (from about 330 at Saint Saturnin and then descended into the lovely Sault valley. Just before the descent, Mt Ventoux came into views, and very shortly thereafter, the road was running through the first of the lavender fields that characterize this valley.

Mt Ventoux, first view

Lavender Field for Marylin Hastings

The descent was only about 100 m and the total climb to Sault from Saint Saturnin was about 550 m. My legs were feeling tired as I rode towards Sault and I was thinking maybe I would wait till the next day to ride up Mt Ventoux: My legs were tired, it was hot, etc. Then I met a real tourist at the intersection under the walls of Sault. I saw this man standing by a well used loaded bike, looking at a map, so I rode on over and introduced my self. Mostly, these days, that consists of "parle vous Englay?" and, if so, then we can continue.

He is Belgian, spoke English well, and has toured all of the world, including the US, India, Australian, Asia, and Europe. This guy made me feel like a wimp. He rode Death Valley in August on dirt roads during the day. He rode across the Australian outback during their summer. He rode across southern India in the summer. This guy is into serious heat and to riding where other tourists, and even the local, have better sense than to bicycle. He said Ventoux wasn't all that great a ride, but it was worth doing once. At that point, I had no excuse for not riding Mt Ventoux today.

I've adopted a French style for lunch, i.e. I make it the main meal of my day and eat it liesurely. In Sault, as in Eguilles yesterday, I stopped at a nice restaurant and had, by French standards, a light meal. The standard French lunch has four courses and takes two hours to eat. It would also make bicycling very difficult for the rest of the day! I have a single course with bread and wine and finish with an expresso. I enjoy watching the French eat part of their meal while I eat mine. Today I had a plate of Tortellini, a basket of bread and a quarter bottle of red wine. I rode away full, but not stuffed and had no, food related, problem riding up Mt Ventoux after lunch.

A bicyclist coming into Sault from Mt Ventoux

Sault, seen from across the valley on the road to Mt Ventoux

Riding up Mt Ventoux is fairly boring initially. The road climbs gently through forest. After a few hundred meters of vertical, the climbing gets more serious, and things are prettier. Then, at 1250 m, it flattens out for at least half a dozen km. Nice riding, but you know a nasty climb is coming. Finally, starting at 1500 m it climbs at 7 to 8% for six km. That part of the climb is above tree line and, at least today, very windy. The wind was nice at 1000 m, but at 1800 m it was cold enough that I needed my wind vest while climbing a 10% grade.

The initial climb

It got steeper at this marker

The prettier, flatter part at 1250 m

The view from 1260 m, Sault is in the middle

The start of the steep climb at 1500 m

This is hard work!

The final, very windy, stretch

It was a real grind into the wind for the last km or two. Not fun, just head down and keep pedalling. Relative to Vrsic, this was an easier climb. Except for the last section, with a strong headwind and very tired legs, my gearing was low enough to allow efficient climbing. Even on the last section, I was about to pedal at an efficient cadence. That wasn't true on the shorter, but much steeper, climb of Vrsic.

Looking back, the weather was not just windy, but also hazy at the top

It was much clearer, but still very windy, on the other side

Riding down the other side to Malaucene was, except for a very gusty wind which sometimes blew my bike around, quite nice. That side starts at about 300 m and climbs to 1900 m in 20 km. It is steep, often over 10%, and there are very few parts that aren't steep. A real grind climbing up, and a 20 km steep downhill going down. I was thankful my brakes work well - even if the front ones scream under hard braking - since not having good brakes could mean going off some really nasty curves at 50 mph or so. You'd fly for a long way before landing on the rock on some of those corners!

This section of road is smooth and nice, but, with a 10 or 12% sustained grade
and nothing to keep me from flying off the upcoming corner, it needs to be ridden with respect

Mt Ventoux is the southern most edge of the Rhone Alps
The view to the north is very impressive

When I reach Malaucene, I figured my legs had had enough for the day. It was less than 50 miles of riding, but with more than a mile of vertical climbing on a loaded bike, a good day. I stopped for a beer, and then checked into the Hotel associated with the bar. When I put my bike in the hotel's bike garage - and this is not a fancy hotel - I discovered more than half a dozen very expensive road bikes already in there. I bet they are all here to ride Mt Ventoux.

Looking down the valley towards Malaucene

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