As I wrote before, these days I am reading William Fotheringham’s “Put Me Back On My Bike – In search of Tom Simpson”. Like all books of Fotheringham, it is a worth to read book.
As its name suggests, the book is about Tom Simpson and his death on Mont Ventoux during the Tour de France 1967. But it also contains some other stories.
There are also a lot of worthy information about the “Giant of Provence”: Mont Ventoux.
As the name might suggest (venteux means windy in French), it can get windy at the summit, especially with the mistral; wind speeds as high as 320 km/h (200 mph) have been recorded. The wind blows at 90+ km/h (56+ mph) 240 days a year. The road over the mountain is often closed due to high winds. Especially the “col de tempêtes” (“storm pass”) just before the summit, which is known for its strong winds. The real origins of the name are thought to trace back to the 1st or 2nd century AD, when it was named ‘Vintur’ after a Gaulish god of the summits, or ‘Ven-Top’, meaning “snowy peak” in the ancient Gallic language. In the 10th century, the names Mons Ventosus and Mons Ventorius appear.
The climb by bike from Bédoin to Mont Ventoux is one of the toughest in professional cycling. From the book:
The road from Bedoin was opened in 1882, to great fanfare, to enable the construction of thew weather station, which took another seven years. Soon after its opening, Adolphe Benoit, director of La Provence Sportive newspaper, became the first to make it up to the mountain on two wheels. In his editorials, Benoit encouraged his readers to emulate him, and by 1905 they were racing up, in “Le Marathon du Mont Ventoux”. The marathon was won by a local woodcutter, Jaques Gabriel, a broad-shouldered young man who hauled his single-geared, fat-tired clunker over the 19 miles (30.58 km) from Carpentras to the summit in two hours, 29 minutes.
The Tour de France has finished at the summit of Mont Ventoux nine times (1958, 1965, 1970, 1972, 1987, 2000, 2002, 2009, 2013). The race has also crossed the summit six times (1951, 1952, 1955, 1967 – the year Tom Simpson was dead, 1974, 1994).
In 1955 Tour de France, foreshadowing the Simpson tragedy, Jean Malléjac, the talented Breton cyclist, who had finished second in the 1953 race and was lying ninth overall, keeled over onto a pile of gravel by the road, still turning one foot which had remained strapped to its pedal. ‘Pouring with sweat, haggard and semi-comatose, he zigzagged on a road which was no longer wide enough for him,’ the journalist Jacques Augrende wrote that evening. ‘He was no longer in the material world, still less that of cycling and the Tour de France.’ He was saved, but never raced again.
That day also ended the career of Ferdi Kübler, who had won the Tour five years earlier. The effervescent Swiss had sprinted up the foot of the mountain in his usual cavalier style, ignoring the heat, which was bad enough to melt the tarmac. He was warned by Raphael Geminiani: ‘Watch out, Ferdi, the Ventoux is not like any other col.’ Kübler replied: ‘Ferdi’s not like any other riders,’ and sprinted on. Soon, however, the gradient and the heat got the better of him. He wobbled to a halt, cursing in German and imploring the spectators to ‘push Ferdi, push Ferdi’. He did eventually get over the mountain, about 20 minutes behind the leaders, only to fall at least three times on the descent. Later in the stage he was seen entering a bar close to the stage finish in Avignon, where he downed one beer after another, then set off for the finish-the wrong way. That evening, covered in bandages, he called a press conference and announced his retirement with the words: ‘Ferdi is too old… Ferdi hurts too much… Ferdi has killed himself on the Ventoux.’