"When the 2021 Tour de France route was announced, it instantly got people talking about ‘that stage‘." Discover the course highlight.
Words: Joanne Clarke
As the most famous mountain in cycling, Mont Ventoux needs little introduction. Like a rite of passage, cyclists travel from afar to pedal through the beautiful vineyards and lavender fields of the Provence region before emerging above the tree line, revealing a surreal moonscape environment as the summit of the bald mountain looms above.
The climb first featured in the Tour de France in 1951 and since then, we have come accustomed to expecting the unexpected on this climb whenever it features in the race. Therefore, when the 2021 Tour de France route was announced, it instantly got people talking about ‘that stage’.
Stage 11 featured an ascent of Mont Ventoux not once, but twice. A first in Tour de France history, it quickly became one of the key stages of the Tour as people speculated. What could be about to unfold on this mythical climb?
We look back at some key players from the stage here and how they tackled the daunting Giant of Provence.
"Julien Alaphilippe made his first move on the climb ahead of Chalet Reynard."
The first ascent up to the summit was via Sault - the longer but easier side of the mountain. Would anyone attack on this climb knowing what was still to come?
Julian Alpahilippe had been ready to play all day, having already shaken the group up at every opportunity. He made his first move on the climb ahead of Chalet Reynard, splitting up the breakaway group before the road kicks up in gradient. The Frenchman averaged 24.9km per hour up the first ascent, followed by 68.9km per hour on the descent back down to Malaucène – including an astonishing maximum speed of 99km per hour.
As anticipated, the rider cracked on the second ascent having spent too much energy early on.
"If you believe in it then anything is possible."
Wout Van Aert
Wout Van Aert
“Maybe it is my best victory ever” said Wout Van Aert after making history and winning the first ever stage of the Tour to take in two ascents of Mont Ventoux. Armchair viewers around the world would certainly agree, having just watched the cyclist deliver a masterclass in climbing the Giant of Provence.
It was on the second ascent that Wout Van Aert pulled away, having demonstrated patience and persistence across the stage thus far. With the second climb averaging 8.8% over 15.7km, everyone predicted it would be here that the race could be blown wide-open, but few predicted it would be him out front. Just like in 1994 with Eros Poli (85kg and 6’4), Wout Van Aert was almost overlooked due to being a heavier rider than the climbing specialists. But as he said (and proved!), if you believe in it then anything is possible.
As previous Tour de France winner, Pogačar had thus far shown no signs of cracking but the second ascent of Mont Ventoux proved he was human after all. It was Jonas Vingegaard’s attack that sent him into the red and saw him dropped off the back. He later admitted to suffering in the final few kilometres to the summit and having to dig deep.
We can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the stage had finished atop Ventoux and how the peloton may have played the game differently
Throughout most of Stage 11, there was much speculation as to whether Mark Cavendish would even make the cut-off point. With the time limit at around 47 minutes, or 15 per cent of the winner’s time, the British cyclist made it within the cut-off and survived to ride another day.
Despite his own battles and suffering that day, Cavendish was seen taking off his helmet and tipping it in respect to Ben Simpson at his memorial site. Simpson, who was also a British rider and the first to ever wear the yellow jersey, died on Mont Ventoux in 1967. His death was deeply etched in cycling history and it has since become tradition for British riders to pay tribute as they approach the summit of the Giant of Provence.
The 2021 Haute Route Ventoux is coming soon. Find out more on this epic race on the Haute Route website.