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Part Three: Sault to Bedoin
The 8km ride of the Col de Notre Dame des Abeilles is listed on the Etape website as 4%. That may be the average, but the first section is more like 8% and was a rude awakening after our stop in Sault. The climb soon settles back to 5% for long stretches, but the damage was done. On Etape day the sun will be high overhead and, with no shade on the climb, it will reflect off the cream rocks and your resolve will be tested. We found it punishing (though the pichet of Rose at lunch in Sault may have contributed to this). There's a false summit at 960m, followed by an ever rising roller coaster to a second 'top' at 980m and finally the real summit at 960m. When combined with the heat, these rolls will really sap your strength. You will have lost sight of Ventoux, still skirting round the southern flank and heading away from the summit: your elusive prize.
Your reward for the testing Col des Abeilles is a wonderful 12km descent to the Auzon valley, 790m below. No need to touch the brakes at all on this descent, provided you concentrate. Tuck in and let your wheels run and you'll easily be doing 70kmh. It's a great chance to admire some views across the plains to Carpentras, Avignon and beyond.
"History seems to be steeped in the region. After all, thirteen Popes resided in Avignon in the middle ages, Malaucene at the foot of Ventoux being their summer residence. Perhaps as a consequence it spurred noblemen of the time to build imposing stone castles on the top of hill villages, the sight of which somehow takes away the pain of the little climb to the village."
At the bottom the road flattens out and you'll pass through plane trees and vineyards before turning right to Mormoillon. The road climbs through this village and, at the other side, you're confronted by the classic southern view of Ventoux. The observatory at the summit is 1700m above you. You've got to find it in your legs to drag yourself up every one of those metres and, for the next few km, the route takes you, infuriatingly, away from the summit again as it winds across the plain to Bedoin.
It is here that the final rounds of your fight for the grand prize begin. The Geant de Provence has eluded and taunted you all day and now you are staring it in the face. Like Frazier battling to put Ali on his back and seal victory over the greatest of opponents.
In the last few decades Bedoin has become a popular rendez-vous for keen sportive riders. The pavement cafes of this classic Provencal village are packed with brave cyclists every day throughout the summer. There’s a feed station at Bedoin on this year’s Etape and the village will be packed with riders, their friends and supporters. Expect it to be a zoo by the time you get there, with exhausted riders searching for the resolve to tackle the big prize.