You’re not mad if you climb the Ventoux, but you are if you go back there. (Provencal Proverb)
Stage Twelve: Montpellier to Mont Ventoux
Because of dangerously high winds (>100 km/hr) forecast for Thursday, Tour organizers have modified the course for Stage Twelve. Instead of finishing atop the Mont Ventoux which, on a good day, looks like a desolate lunar landscape, the race will end 6 kms earlier, at Chalet Reynard. That change may save the riders from being blown off the mountain-top, but it surely won’t protect them from almost 6,000 feet of climbing against a strong headwind. The ascent is still classified as HC (beyond categorization), and it’s one of the most fabled routes in Tour de France history.
Known locally as the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux has haunted Tour riders many times, beginning in 1951. It will be a long, lonely ride to the top, as the GC contenders try to keep pace with each other, desperate not to lose any more time to Chris Froome. If Nairo Quintana is to mount a challenge to Froome at all during this Tour, he’s going to have to strike at some point today. The climbers will battle tooth-and-nail for big King of the Mountain points at the end, which should make it exciting for us viewers!
Food and Wine
Throughout Stage Twelve the riders will traverse the area known as the Vaucluse, a mainstay of France’s agricultural production. The gorgeous fruit grown here – strawberries, grapes, and cherries –grace the tables of the finest restaurants in France and beyond, inspiring comparisons to precious stones. Locals affectionately call their cherries the Rubies of the Vaucluse, and celebrate each harvest with a Cherry Festival in the town of Venasque. The harvest goes on for two months, the festival a little less than that, but clearly there’s a lot of merry-making going on.
With respect to wine and most things, I suspect, the Giant of Provence casts a large shadow over the surrounding area. The South of France can be fiercely hot in summer, challenging winemakers to craft wines of finesse and elegance where it might be easier to make wines with lots of power and high alcohol levels. Mont Ventoux aids them in their pursuit of vinous perfection by exerting a cooling influence in its foothills. The AOC Côtes du Ventoux includes vineyards planted along the western and southern slopes of the famous mountain, some of which grow at elevations as high as 1500 feet, where it is decidedly cooler. This is predominantly red wine country (80% of production) with a little rosé and just a splash of white wine made. Red wines tend to be blends of the usual suspects in Southern France: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; and most of the pink wines come from Cinsault. Notable producers from the Côtes du Ventoux are Domaine de Fondrèche and Château Pesquié, both of whose wines are widely available in the US, and at reasonable prices. In terms of flavor profile, Ventoux reds will resemble those of the nearby Côtes du Rhône: lots of black fruit, licorice, spice, pepper. Great wines for a summer barbecue!
So pick up a bottle (or three) of Côtes du Ventoux wine, invite a few friends over for grilled flank steak and tomato salad, and toast to summer – and the Tour de France, of course!
Vive le Tour!