I don’t know how many times I have climbed up the Mont Ventoux, be it on a bicycle, on the back of a motorcycle, or in car with a French journalist smoking a cigarette while passing struggling riders. In short, I have climbed the mountain many times.
And yet, there is always something special about this climb, known to cycling fans as “The Giant of Provence.” It simply inspires greatness. And almost always it inspires great racing.
Saturday’s third stage of le Tour de la Provence was the first time that the Ventoux has been featured in a professional race so early in the season. And as we approached the hulking climb, nobody really knew what to expect from the riders. For some riders at the race, Saturday’s stage three was literally their third day of racing of the entire season thus far. So, to race up a climb like the Mont Ventoux this early was, well, akin to sailing into uncharted territory.
Sure, the race was not finishing atop Mont Ventoux’s actual summit. But everyone agreed that the climb up to Chalet Reynard, six kilometer from the true summit, was nevertheless the steepest, most unrelenting part of this legendary climb.
After leaving Bedoin, the last village before the climb, the road starts rising steadily. And it was easy to feel the tension when I passed the pack on my moto in the kilometers just before they attacked the steepest pitches. Already the pack had dwindled considerably. Teammates were thinning out while others were accelerating for their leaders.
And nearly as soon as the riders attacked the real climb, with still about 10 kilometer remaining, Nairo Quintana’s Arkéa Samsic team went to the front. Clearly, Quintana came to the race as one of the heavy favorites. And in addition, Quintana wanted the to show that, although he opted to ride for the modest French team this year, his ambition to win remains the same.
Suddenly, with nearly eight kilometers remaining, Quintana launched, in a move that instantly proved to be sudden death to his competition, as the Colombian seemingly floated away from his chasers toward the finish. It was a poignant reminder of just how good Quintana can be.
Clearly he was happy with this early-season exploit.
“I’m really happy. All the team worked for this,” he said after the finish. “Today is a great day and I really savored this climb. I hope this will just be the first victory in a long series.”
Le Tour de la Provence Stage 3 (Istres – Mont Ventoux)
- Nairo Quintana, Arkea Samsic, 3:36:26
- Alexey Lutsenko, Astana, at 1:28
- Hugh Carthy, EF Pro Cycling
- Aleksandr Vlasov, at s.t.
- Eddie Dunbar, Team Ineos, at 2:11
- Sepp Kuss, Jumbo-Visma, at 2:12
- Wilco Kelderman, Team Sunweb
- Jesus Herrada, Cofidis
- Thibaut Pinot, Groupama-FDJ
- David Gaudu, Groupama-FDJ, all at s.t.
- Quintana, 11:24:12
- Vlasov, at 1:04
- Lutsenko, at 1:28
- Carthy, at 1:38
- Kelderman, at 2:16