Alexis climbed the Mount Ventoux by Bédoin In Real Life and on Zwift at 48 hours intervals. Still alive, still standing, he shares with us the story of his adventures and compares his ascent of the Giant of Provence and that of his pixel twin.
“Géant de Provence”, “Mont Chauve”, nicknames and qualifiers are not lacking to evoke this monument of the history of cycling and of the Tour de France. Ventoux. A name that makes the ears of us cycling stretch out. An ideal, a dream, a nightmare.
While wisely waiting to be able to participate in the 3rd stage of the event “L’Étape du Tour”, I decided to go to Vaucluse to try “In Real Life” the ascent of the Ventoux and thus be able to have an element of comparison between the Ventoux, the real, the unique, and its (new) virtual twin, the Ven-Top.
“A God of evil to whom one must sacrifice. A true moloch, despot of cyclists, he never forgives the weak, he makes himself pay an unjust tribute of suffering. ” – Roland Barthes, Mythologies
I will therefore try to answer, in a very personal way, the question you are probably asking yourself :
“ Mont Ventoux = Ven-Top”?
To try to solve this equation, I propose first a quick debriefing of my IRL climb of Mount Ventoux before proceeding to a comparison of scenery/immersion and difficulty with its little brother of pixels.
IN THE VENTOUX, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM…
22.70 kilometers, 1622 meters of difference in altitude, a myth, a wind often over 90km/h (50kts) and probably one of the most difficult road pass in France. The scene is set.
The first thing that strikes me upon arriving several kilometers from Bédoin is the fact that the Mount Ventoux literally dominates its territory. Majestic, loving, eye-catching and I confess, it intimidates me. I decide, to help me psychologically for the next day, to go on a scouting trip and drive to the top ; probably the worst idea of all.
The landscape is beautiful, the ascent begins gently with the crossing of two small villages, Sainte Colombe and Les Bruns, vineyards and the field of cicadas. A last hairpin bend in front of the restaurant “Le Mas des Vignes” marks the entry into the (magnificent) communal forest of Bédoin… and the beginning of hell. Trees lovers will be served, you will see only that for almost 10 kilometers. Long straight lines under the shade of trees, a constant slope at an average of 8, 9, 10% and safety barriers (which make me, for some reason, think of the German Nürburgring race track): the climb seems endless and I’m in the car. On the ground you find the names of famous riders and other inscriptions, witnesses of the history and the passage of the Tour de France.
Arrived at the chalet Reynard, demoralized and tetanized by the fear of never reaching the end in two mechanical wheels, I finally decide to take the air (and the wind) by going up a little on foot and then to go down again to let me the surprise on the last seven kilometers, if by chance I arrived there…
“Some lost their lives, some lost time, some lost the Tour. The Ventoux has a strong scenographic and topographical aspect. Up there, there’s nothing. Just the wind. There are no landmarks, no forest, no greenery, no landscape. Nothing. ” – John Lelangue, BMC Racing Team’s manager (now CCC Team)
SHOW MUST GO ON…
The next day, I’m there. There’s no turning back now. Tight shoes, helmet attached (I’m always amazed to see cyclists bareheaded; it can’t be repeated enough : you must always protect your head because even if it’s empty you need it !) gels in the jersey pockets, equipped with and my 11/32 sprocket, I leave Bédoin.
As I had sensed the day before, the first kilometers (the first step) is rather quiet, I decide not to force like an ox to keep some under the pedal; one and only goal of the day: to reach the top.
As Thomas Voeckler describes it, the ascent is really done in two stages: the most difficult part in the forest (the second step), the other (the last step), after the chalet Reynard, in full wind and sunshine. Once the latter is over, the trees become scarce and the desert landscape, lunar, settles little by little. The Mount Ventoux sets the scene. Between words limestone and calvary, in French there is only one letter… and a lot of suffering.
Note to myself for the next ascension: look good, smile and tuck in your belly.
Once past the chalet, and with already 15 kilometers of ascent in the legs, the slope resumes at 7/8% and the summit of Mount Ventoux appears in the distance. The antenna of the observatory, seemingly straight out of a Hergé’s comic, rises up, threatening. It is a moment of intense emotion, that of driving on a unique, mythical road, swept by the wind, dramas and failures.
If the most difficult part is however theoretically behind me, the observatory seems inaccessible and never gets closer, turn after turn. There are many photographers on the side of the road who immortalize for me this unique moment that is a first (and completed) ascent of Mount Ventoux. I try to look good, smile and tuck in my belly, which is rather missed.
Arriving in front of the stele of the English rider Tom Simpson and crossing my fingers not to suffer the same fate, I hang on because the last two kilometers are terrible with a slope of 9 then 10%. After the Col des Tempêtes, the “red flame“, finally. A few more pedal strokes and I reach the summit, liberated, delivered and with the feeling of duty accomplished.
The photo at the summit, so you can be a wise guy at the office on Monday morning…
Ascent time : 1h53 (STRAVASegment « Mt.Ventoux via Bedoin » – 20,03km – 1539m of altitude gain – 8%) –
IN THE VEN-TOP, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM EITHER!
Having recovered from my emotions of the day before yesterday, the last round of the« l’Étape du Tour » organised by Zwift, the first official opportunity for us to climb the slopes of theVen-Top, the occasion was perfect (and my memories are still fresh) to be able to compare the fidelity of the scenery and the difficulty between the new pixel giant and his big limestone brother.
FEELING OF IMMERSION / FIDELITY OF THE SCENERY
Let’s be honest, the wait and the scarcity of novelties that were worth the wait are now better digested. The work done by the Zwift teams is really to be commended, because overall, the atmosphere and the immersion are there.
No doubt, we are in hell at Mont Ventoux ! From left to right :
TIER 1 = Bucolic Landscapes
TIER 2 = Forest as far as the eye can see
TIER 3 = NOTHING (except limestone)
The decoration of the stage with the Tour de France scenery and in particular the devil-shaped balloon (my favourite), a nostalgic look back to the German Didi Senft, an inseparable character of the Tour since 1993, adds a mythical dimension that is really appreciable to the climb. You almost want to run next to your bike like Christopher Froome or pushing like a mule like Lance Armstrong or Marco Pantani (only for those who have their blood’s pockets ready in the fridge).
The nostalgic look back to “El Diablo”, Didi Senft, a key figure in the Tour,
made my little heart turn (almost as much as the 7 kilometers at 9/10% average).
The beauty of the location will also vary depending on your configuration and the chances are that the experience will be more immersive with a computer with a good graphics card and a Tacx Neo than with a tablet and an entry-level home trainer ; and if you have an Apple TV 4K like me, whose graphics are shamefully under-exploited by Zwift, it’s so bad for you! (If someone in the Zwift’s team read this post…).
Seeing the Mont Ventoux thus overhanging the landscape is strikingly realistic,
all that is missing is the song of the cicadas !
Beware, if you are expecting a strictly IDENTICAL reproduction of the landscape, go ahead and save your legs! As much to say it, I sometimes wondered if the Zwift employees had ever set foot on Mont Ventoux, or even watched videos of the ascent. Throughout the route there are a few fictions that seem to have come straight out of the developers’ imagination, including the tunnel, the railway line and the various streams in the forest, the fortress and bridge in the middle of the climb, the cave a few kilometers from the finish…
A small overview of the different Zwift additions that do not exist in IRL
(unless you fill your gourd with something other than water)
This is explained (no doubt) by Zwift’s desire to “romanticize” the ascent of Mont Ventoux and to pass the time by adding these different fictional elements. As one Zwifter pointed out, it may be an anticipation of the melting of the glaciers and the rising waters! The purists of the Giant of Provence will no doubt find fault with it, those who have never been there could have found that there was too much forest. Let’s not forget that Zwift differs from its main competitors who want to be more “realistic”. After all, have you ever come across a Yeti in Alpe d’Huez ?
The last part of the ascent, from chalet Reynard to the summit, is in my opinion the most faithful in terms of immersion. There for the blow (apart from the cave and the stream) here we are, all you need is a battery of fans pushed into their retrenchments. The big and long bend in front of the chalet, the bends, the desert aspect, the observatory and its antenna that never seem to get any closer, the Tom Simpson stele, everything is there to make your legs pass by, a moment they never forget.
Realism and Fidelity Score: 8/10
The last part of the ascent, from the chalet Reynard to the summit, is really amazing !
After the question of the realism of the setting and the immersion, it’s now to the time to speak about the difficulty. I did the climb during the last stage of the “l’Étape du Tour” with, as in IRL, a 52/36 crankset, a 11/32 sprocket and a Tacx Neo 2T home trainer set at 100%.
Obviously you have to keep in mind that in virtual, there is obviously no wind and no altitude. I also did this climb as part of a Zwift event (which for many is synonymous with racing) and therefore with a tendency to always want to put in a bit more to finish as high as possible.
Here too, I must once again salute the work of Zwift, because the overall climb is very close to reality : it’s hard, it’s long (no pun intended). The ascent in the forest (the second part) seemed to me, at times, more difficult than in reality and the last 50 metres just before the summit were replaced by flat ground. Apart from that, the sensations are really similar, it’s surprising! I struggled in the same places, I was able to “rest” in the same places, the second tier is hell, the last two kilometers are unbearable …
Difficulty rating: 11/10 (yes you read it right!)
Except for a few steeper portions in the second one third
of the ascent and the last 50 meters replaced by flat,
the ascent of the Ven-Top is really similar to the Ventoux !
My improved perfomance can probably be explained by the fact that there is neither wind nor altitude (nor waste on the ground despite the presence of garbage cans all along the route!), nor the emotion of riding this legendary road, as well as by the “Zwift event” format which undeniably made me grow more than the day before.
Yes, the virtual and its percentages are always more difficult than in reality with a home trainer set at 100%, but I found a level of sensations and difficulty very faithful to my real ascent.
Ascent time: 1h42 (” Ven-Top (Zwift Insider verified) ” on STRAVA – 20,87km – 1530m of D+ – 7%)
VERDICT : “VENTOUX = VEN-TOP” ?
After the reproduction of the Alpe d’Huez, Zwift’s bet is clearly successful and it’s quite impressive. Leaving aside the scenery elements invented by the developers and the slightly higher difficulty with a smart trainer set at 100%, you’d think so. Ventoux = Ven-Top ? IMHO, Yes ! While it is certain that nothing will ever replace the IRL, the feeling of pride when you take your picture in front of the panel and the curvature of your torso when you get back down to Bédoin, you’re still very close to it and it’s really a “pleasure” to be able to say to yourself that you’ll be able to do the Ventoux every week this winter. So, go to your pain cave and warm up the home trainer !
To the Zwift teams: we want more now!
Immersion and general atmosphere
The bluffing realism of the last few kilometers
Faithful ascent over almost the entire climb
The nostalgic look back to Didi Senft
Fictional elements added by developers (if you are a purist)
The few missing meters at the foot of the observatory
Nothing will ever replace the feeling of the IRL and the photo finish at the summit