Gallery: A day on the Giant of Provence

The mythic Mont Ventoux simply towers over picturesque French Provence and can be seen for miles around.

They call it the Giant of Provence — and for good reason. The mythic Mont Ventoux simply towers over picturesque French Provence and can be seen for miles around, providing a stage for pilgrimages for centuries. And it is undeniably linked to bicycle racing as so many epic stages in the Tour de France happened on these very slopes.

But it wasn’t until two years ago that the organizers of the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge proposed the first one-day race up this mythic climb. And it has met with stunning success as in only its second year, it boasted a field that included Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Miguel Ángel López (Astana). Climbing the mythic mountain not once, but twice, this year’s race was nothing short of a crash course for those looking to get their climbing legs back after months without racing due to the coronavirus crisis.

First looping around the Ventoux, the Dénivelé Challenge then blasted down the spectacular Gorges de la Nesque before tackling the Ventoux for the first time. Then just after coming out or the tree line, they turned and went back down for another loop around the Gorges before the final ascension toward the summit.

While Lopez and Quintana seemed to ride easily, the first serious attack came from French puncher Pierre Latour, who was soon joined by countryman, Guillaume Martin. But while many expected Lopez and Quintana to attack once the race hit the arid rocky final kilometers, the attack came from Alexsandr Vlasov, who like Lopez rides for the Astana team. Vlasov, only 24, already won a stage in the Tour de la Provence in February, and quickly proved that he would be the rider to beat.

Richie Porte was the first to react and he appeared to close the gap. But as the historic tower came into view Vlasov only rode stronger and the Trek-Segafredo rider finally folded, finish 18 seconds after the young Russian raised his arms in victory.

“Of course you want to win, but Alexander was very strong today,” Porte said at the finish. “He is a super talent. I am happy with second. I think it is a good sign for the next month.”