From Gaul to Garate: the Giant of Provence
What better way for cycling-mad Tour de France fans to spend Bastille Day than lining the 20.8km ascent to the storied moonscape of the Mont Ventoux summit.
The "Giant of Provence" makes its 15th appearance in the Tour de France this Sunday, the ninth instance of it being a summit finish, and the first time in Tour history that the climb takes place on the national holiday of Bastille Day. And while a journey up to Mont Ventoux undoubtedly meant tired legs and weary bodies no matter the year, this year's stage, at 242.5km, is both the longest of the 2013 Tour de France as well as the lengthiest day of racing in Tour history that ever included the climb.
Many of the Tour's iconic and tragic figures made their mark on Mont Ventoux throughout the years and 2013 seems primed to add yet another memorable chapter to the climb's oeuvre.
Mont Ventoux made its Tour de France debut during the 1951 Tour de France when it was featured in the 224km 17th stage from Montpellier to Avignon with the Greek-born, naturalised Frenchman Lucien Lazarides the first man to crest the summit in a stage ultimately won by Louison Bobet.
The climb would feature in two more Tours, 1952 and 1955, before its placement as a summit finish for the first time in 1958. That year's stage was a 21.5km mountain time trial won by legendary climber Charly Gaul, who went on to claim his only overall Tour de France victory that year.
Prior to 2013 the most recent instance of Mont Ventoux's inclusion in the Tour de France took place in 2009 when its summit served as the finish to the Tour's penultimate stage, the stage seemingly set for a final GC throwdown prior to the following day's ceremonial procession into Paris. However Alberto Contador enjoyed a more than four-minute lead over closest rival Andy Schleck and the two rode to a stalemate, with Schleck edging Contador for third place, both 38 seconds down on stage winner Juan Manuel Garate. The Spaniard was part of a 16-man break which escaped virtually from the gun, and the Spaniard survived to claim the biggest victory of his career. Does anyone remember who Garate outkicked for the stage win? That would be current time trial world champion Tony Martin, a fellow early escapee that day.
This is a rundown of the Tour's 14 visits to Mont Ventoux:
1958: Stage 15, Bédoin-Mont Ventoux (21.5km time trial), won by Charly Gaul (Lux)
1965: Stage 14, Montpellier-Mont Ventoux (173km), won by Raymond Poulidor (Fra)
1970: Stage 14: Gap-Mont Ventoux (170km), won by Eddy Merckx (Bel)
1972: Stage 11: Carnon-Plage - Mont Ventoux (207km), won by Bernard Thévenet
1987: Stage 18: Carpentras-Mont Ventoux (36.5km time trial), won by Jean-François Bernard (Fra)
2000: Stage 12: Carpentras-Mont Ventoux (149km), won by Marco Pantani (Ita)
2002: Stage 14: Lodève-Mont Ventoux (221km), won by Richard Virenque (Fra)
2009: Stage 20: Montélimar-Mont Ventoux (167km), won by Juan Manuel Garate (Spa)
Crossing of summit:
1951: Stage 17, Montpellier-Avignon (224km), Lucien Lazarides (Fra) first over summit with stage won by Louison Bobet (Fra)
1952: Stage 14: Aix-en-Provence - Avignon (178km), Jean Robic (Fra) first over summit with stage won by Robic
1955: Stage 11: Marseille-Avignon (198km), Louison Bobet (Fra) first over summit with stage won by Bobet
1967: Stage 13: Marseille-Carpentras (211.5km), Julio Jiménez (Spa) first over summit with stage won by Jan Janssen (Ned)
1974: Stage 12: Savines-le-Lac - Orange (231km), Gonzalo Aja (Spa) first over summit with stage won by Jos Spruyt (Bel)
1994: Stage 15: Montpellier-Carpentras (231km), Eros Poli (Ita) first over summit with stage won by Poli
Mont Ventoux facts:
Only rider to win a summit finish while wearing the yellow jersey: Eddy Merckx (1970)
Jean-François Bernard's victory in the 1987 mountain time trial propelled the Frenchman into the yellow jersey for the first and only time in his career. Bernard would surrender the maillot jaune to eventual overall winner Stephen Roche the following day.
Last Frenchman to win a Mont Ventoux summit finish: Richard Virenque (2002)
Did Lance Armstrong, runner-up to Mont Ventoux stage winner Marco Pantani in 2000, "gift" the Italian the stage win? A war of words would forever strain relations between the two about the circumstances surrounding Pantani's victory and the theme "no gifts" would become an Armstrong mantra in future Tours.
One of the most memorable ascents of Mont Ventoux in Tour de France history occurred in 1994, the year Italian gentle giant Eros Poli broke away early in the 231-kilometre fifteenth stage from Montpellier to Carpentras. Poli arrived at the base of Mont Ventoux with nearly a 25-minute lead over a complacent peloton and needed virtually all of those minutes to drag his 6'4" frame up the 20.8-kilomtre ascent in the race lead. Poli, a gold medalist in the team time trial at the 1984 Olympics and a force in Mario Cipollini's lead-out train, had a physique totally at odds with rapid climbing, but still maintained a couple of minutes at the Ventoux summit. Poli plummeted off Mont Ventoux to achieve a most epic solo victory in Carpentras, 3:39 ahead of the day's second-place finisher.
Charly Gaul's time of 1:02:09 for the 21.5-kilometre ascent of Mont Ventoux in 1958 would stand as the record for nearly 41 years until Jonathan Vaughters set a new best time in winning the third stage of the 1999 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, a time trial along the same course from Bédoin to the Mont Ventoux summit, in 56:50.9. Iban Mayo, the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi climber, set the current record in the 2004 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré's stage five time trial, ascending the Giant of Provence in 55:51.49.
No discussion of Mont Ventoux can be complete with mention of the tragedy which took place on July 13, 1967, when Tom Simpson died after collapsing on its slopes three kilometres from the summit. The race doctor tried for 40 minutes to revive Simpson on the roadside and the Briton was taken by helicopter to hospital in Avignon, but could not be saved. A memorial to Simpson stands approximately two kilometres from the summit of Mont Ventoux.
During Mont Ventoux's next inclusion, in 1970, maillot jaune Eddy Merckx tipped his hat while passing the memorial to Simpson just as Tour de France race director Jacques Goddet was leaving a bouquet of flowers at the memorial. Merckx was a teammate of Simpson in 1967 on the Peugeot-BP-Michelin team (although not a competitor at the 1967 Tour) and was the most notable professional cyclist to attend Simpson's funeral.
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