D974 - ascent of Mt Ventoux

Summit of Mt Ventoux

Chalet Reynard, Mt. Ventoux, these days known mostly to cyclists, trail runners and walkers. Forty years ago and mostly annually before then, this modest cafe was one of the principal viewing points for a major motorsport event, La course de côte du Mont Ventoux (Mont Ventoux Hill Climb), the race to the summit of Ventoux, in the format of a time trial ie TT. First run in 1902, the roads were unsealed and the winning time over the 21½ km course up from the village of Bédoin (alt. 256 m.) to the summit of Mt. Ventoux (1908 m.) was 27 mins 17 sec.

Above the treees, Mt Ventoux

Bédoin fuel station

Times improved over the years, massive V12 engines and international drivers came to the mountain race and then Formula 3 cars and even some of the then Grand Prix motorbikes. The record, still standing, is 9 mins. 03 secs over the classic route; time set by Jimmy Mieusset, that averages 142 km/hr horizontally and 3.04 m/sec vertically.
These days, the D974 road is no longer closed regularly for motorsports. The cyclists rule the road, despite numerous casualties both road traffic incidents and presumed misuse of performance-enhancing drugs.
I’ve only ever spoken with one person who watched one of the motorsport race days, Piero of Peyrolles-en-Provence, who looked after my red CBR600RR. But some vestiges of the glory days remain, the remaining garage in Bédoin still sells high octane fuel although the workshop is now a laundry. The race route contimues to the right in my photo and the summit is visible over the rooftops to the left. There’s a good historical display at one of the forestry huts by the side of the road near the Pavillion de Roland. Some of the curves have been “improved” but the D974 is still well-graded and full of surprises. Running it a couple of times got me focussed, first run for sighting/photos and then two non-stop runs of the full classic course to the top. It wasn’t hard to think into the mentality of those pioneering road racers with their glorious machines, each with names and doting mechanics. The particular challenge of a long uphill race, the change in carburetion, the changing temperatures of the tyres as well as the breakthrough from the sheltered forest to the windy open rock above.
1973 was the last running over the original course of 21.7 km. It has been run since with both modern and historic vehicles but over a reduced course.
Hill climb continues to be a motorsport sponsored by the FIM that has passionate followers. But even the US’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) has less altitude climb (1440 m.) than the classic Mont Ventoux Hill climb (1652 m.).