Races we love: Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge

First held in 2019, this is already a stand-out in our minds.

Photo: Chris Auld/Future Publishing via Getty Images

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First edition: 2019
First winner: Jesus Herrada
Last winner: Aleksander Vlasov

Some bicycle races are a labor of love. And that has never been more the case than with the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge. Only two years old, the Dénivelé Challenge, which is set in the heart of French Provence, is growing quickly, attracting numerous international stars in only its second year in existence.

Nicolas Garcera, a native of the picturesque village of Vaison la Romaine, along with his wife Lucie Hiegel, always dreamed of organizing a race on the mythic mountain known as the Giant of Provence. But while the Ventoux has long provided a classic stage to races like the Tour de France, Garcera envisioned the first one-day race that finished on the summit.

“We’ve been dreaming of doing a race like this for years. I’ve always lived here and always saw the Ventoux,” Garcera told VeloNews. “The region is one of the most-visited by all cyclists in France, but there is no race here. I just thought it would be great to have a one-day race here because climbers rarely have a chance in such races. And they should have just as much opportunity to raise their arms after a day as a sprinter.”

Garcera’s dream finally came true just last year, when the inaugural edition took place on the heels of the Critérium du Dauphiné, a key warm-up race to the Tour de France. And while the startlist was modest, Garcera did manage to attract top riders like Romain Bardet and international teams like EF Pro Cycling.

For 2020, the Mont Ventoux race was one of the big winners of the new post-COVID-19 cycling calendar. Held on August 6, it was one of the first races after professionals returned to racing, offering tremendous media exposure, not to mention a challenging race route that climbed the Ventoux twice. Any cyclist looking to get their climbing legs needed to look no further, and international stars like Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte signed up.

Hitting the climb for a second time, the pace accelerated and the pack splintered. Up-and-coming Russian rider Aleksander Vlasov launched a brutal attack just as the riders crested the treeline, before making their way to the barren rocky summit.

Behind, Richie Porte chased, seemingly closing the gap as the emblematic tower on the summit came into sight. But eventually he, like Quintana and others, faded as Vlasov powered on.

“I couldn’t have been happier,” Garcera said afterward. “It was a great race with lots of attacking, very open. We are race organizers, but we are bike fans first. You can never forget that.”

“From a sporting perspective and a media perspective, I couldn’t be happier,” he added. “We had a huge television audience. Such things make up for all of the work we did this year!”

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