Estimated reading time: 11 minutes, 43 seconds
In this post you’ll learn how to do Les Cingles. I’ll show you exactly how to prepare for an attempt at smashing Ventoux 3 times in one day. Whilst this post focusses on Ventoux, the training and technical information lend themselves to any climb which means you can apply the practical advice herein to do Ventoux 3-Peats, Ventoux single-ascents, Galibier 5x or anything in between.
Les Cingles – What is It?
Les Cingles, or loosely “The Screwballs”, ascends the Ventoux 3 times in one day, from each of the 3 directions, Bedoin, Sault and Maulacene.
Who Can Do It?
I am neither crazy of mind, nor crazy fit (I am but a mere B grader), but one thing I do possess is sound planning and preparation skills. These allowed me to undertake this epic assault in July 2011.
Basically, with the right gearing (read my post about appropriate gearing for the big climbs in France), some experience or base fitness and some preparation and a strong will, anyone can knock the Ventoux over 3 times in one day.
It is not for complete amateurs though. Only those with a reasonable degree of conditioning (training, racing, many kms) probably ought to attempt it.
Ok, but WHY?
Since when does a screwball need a reason to do anything screwball-ish?!
I did it just for something to do, and to share my experience with my fellow VeloNomads. I’ve seen the Cingles talked about in almost reverent tones and wondered if really it was such a big deal.
I’ve proven to you it’s not some huge epic undertaking. With adequate preparation, most people with a bit of conditioning can do it.
For me, it was awesome training, plus a cool story for you all to read.
For many, it will just be being able to say they did it, and joining a pretty exclusive club.
How to do Les Cingles
Unless you already have excellent conditioning, I recommend some level of training.
I’ve covered training in other posts (see below), as well as an ebook Training for Etape. Whilst the ebook is targeted for Etape participants, the regime can be readily applied to anyone who wants to knock over the Ventoux as it focuses on being prepared for a lot of climbing.
- How you can Improve your Climbing and Save Money
- How to Improve your Climbing for Etape, France and the Mountains
Gearing is of utmost importance. Check out my effort at Les Cingles. It makes it pretty clear why you’d be madder than a cut snake to attempt this without compacts.
Unless you are a pro (if you’re a pro reading this, why aren’t you out training?) or super elite B/A grader, please, please, please, use compacts.
Big ringing up the Ventoux for the final 20km is a recipe for some sort of blowing up of the legs.
Again, read my post about appropriate gearing for the big climbs in France.
Logistics – Accommodation and Transport
There are a range of accommodation options in Bedoin. The three camping grounds (there are actually 4, but one is for “naturist” camping only) are discussed in this post which includes camping in Bedoin information.
Hotel L’Escapade is the main hotel in Bedoin.
There is also camping at Maulacene, as well as some hotels.
Sault has a municipal campground.
If you stay in either of the 3 Cingles towns, you won’t need transport as you’ll start and finish in the same town.
In The Days Before
In the days before, limit the amount of climbing you do; you may even want to taper. Check out my post here about tapering for Etape. It is quite indicative of how to taper for the Cingles.
I had fresh legs before my Cingles ride, in the sense that I hadn’t done much climbing. However, I think it’s critical you do some form of riding to keep the legs ticking over. My legs though fresh of climbing, were stale in the sense I’d not done much riding and had been driving a lot. This meant my muscles were stale, not limber and not primed for an epic assault of nearly 5000m of climbing over 120km.
Of course, if this is all a bit of a lark for you, by all means, climb your bum off in the days preceeding.
The Official Passport System
There is an official passport/stamp system.
The passport needs to be purchased for €20 from Sylvette in the Ventoux Bikes shop in Malaucene. You’ll also get get a card for the stamps, the rules (in French), and a badge for the bike (that only fits old aluminnium or steel bikes!).
The passport is stamped at a variety of locations in each village. Any shop or cafe will stamp the ticket (with their stamper that seem to be obligatory for a French business). You need only get it stamped once at the peak. They will also accept a picture of you at the top.
Upon completion you then post the card to a guy in Paris who then does some “stuff” and sends you a certificate and a medal. He also puts you on the Cingles website.*
For me though, this wasn’t important; I just wanted to finish the bloody thing!
*Thanks to reader Steve M from the UK for the information about the passport system.
The Routes and Where to Ride To
I rode from Bedoin as its where we were staying. The Bedoin side is allegedly the hardest, but personally, after climbing the Bedoin side 4 times and the Maulacene side once (admittedly after I was deep in the sore drawer), I reckon it’s a tie between the two. Both sides are very, very tough. The Sault side is pretty easy by comparison with a lot of false flat.
The turnaround points should be somewhere in town.
In Sault, I turned around in the middle of town.
I turned around just before Maulacene.
The smartest order would be Bedoin, Maulacene, Sault, or Maulacene, Bedoin, Sault. Leave Sault to last. It’s the easiest ascent and your legs will appreciate it.
It is possible to hit some very quick speeds on the Maulacene and Bedoin sides whilst descending; 100km/h is doable.
Before taking off, do a complete safety check to ensure your brake blocks have loads of wear left, and that all the necessary bolts are done up tightly.
If you need some new brakepads, you could do worse than get the super boss SwissStops (the green Pro ones). They’re what I use, they rule.
Chain Reaction Cycles also stock SwissStop, Yokozuna and SRAM Force.
On the Day
What Time to Go
To minimise the chance of being caught out in the wind, head out around 7AM. This means you should avoid the frequently present winds, which can get very strong.
If there’s no wind forecast, you could head out around 12PM (middle of the day heat) and finish in the evening which would be really nice.
In the middle of summer it will stay light enough without the need for any lighting until 9.30PM.
Stock up on your standard epic-mountain-assault food. My personal eating regime is a bowl of Kapai Puku (which I take to France, or wherever I am), a pre-ride SIS Carnitine gel (this is what I have pre-race, too) then a croissant/coffee on the way.
Eating on the Way
The more seasoned riders amongst you will probably have your favoured gels and bars as well as eating schedule.
For those who don’t, I use and recommend Science in Sport gels and Clif Bars.
I consume SIS Go Gels at the rate of 1 per hour (2 per hour if really hot) but don’t eat any food for the first two hours. The kidneys and other organs in the body, store enough energy for 2 hours.
I would have an SIS Smart gel before the 2nd and 3rd ascents.
Good Spots to take Breaks
Great Question, Ben. This will depend on how hard you’re doing the ride.
If you want a fast time, you won’t dally in the towns. But if your aim is just to finish, any of the towns that form part of the Cingles are great places for a rest including coffee, croissants, water and so on.
Of course, you’ll pass the Chalet Reynard twice, and the chalet has plenty of food, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, and Mars Bars. Oh, and they have a bar, so a mid-Cingles Heineken might take your fancy too.
Nutrition (amount of food you should take)
I’d budget enough food for 8-10 hours. Of course, you can always buy more food in the towns or at the Chalet Reynard, if you want to minimise the amount of food you carry.
Maulacene has a pretty good bike shop (energy bars etc) and plenty of cafes, so you won’t starve, that’s for sure.
Where to top up Bidons on the Route
A good question from Rhys of Mr Cycling World.
You can get drinking water from public fountains (look for “Eau Potable”) in Bedoin, Maulacene and Sault.
There are a few roadside water fountains on the Ventoux as well. The Chalet Reynard is also a good place to stop for tap water or bottled water.
As I have pointed out before, the weather in the mountains can change dramatically, rapidly.
At least in Provence, the weather is a bit more stable compared to the High Alpes, and you’ll know if it’s going to rain or not with a bit of notice.
However the temperature between Sault, Bedoin and Maulacene and the top of Ventoux can vary dramatically.
I’ve experienced searing heat in town (38 degrees) and been freezing at the top. The cold northerly Mistral wind can come flashing out of the north and cool things down considerably at the top as well as being dangerous to ride in. VeloNomad reader Damian from NZ told me he was blown off twice on his attempt in July 2011 (before bumping into Lance Armstrong).
As with all big mountain riding, pack a long sleeve windbreaker, or a vest plus arm warmers for your descent. In addition to protecting you from the wind, it may provide basic rain protection if you get caught out.
Options for aborting if it turns bad
Another great question from Ben.
If you’re part way up the Ventoux and the weather is getting very hairy, your best bet is to bail then ride around the base.
You can ride from Maulacene to Bedoin, and Sault to Bedoin (and vice versa in both cases) with little trouble.
Getting from Maulacene to Sault is a more lengthy ride.
Be aware the northerly Mistrals – check this site for the expected wind.
Check out the local newspapers for the weather forecast or the French bureau of meteorology, the Meteo.
What to Wear/Take
The lower parts of Ventoux will be very hot if it’s a warm day at the base, with a lack of wind conspiring to suck the water out of you very quickly, so pack 2 water bottles.
As mentioned above in the weather section, the chances are it will be quite windy, so take a windbreaker.
You’re in for a long ride, so it makes sense to pace yourself.
I made the mistake in my Cingles attempt at smashing the first ascent from Bedoin and paid for it later.
Aim to take 2-2.5 hours per ascent, with half an hour per descent.
There are a couple of dangerous spots on the Maulacene side; one comes after a long, fast straight and turns into a hairpin (I almost went through it). The Maulacene side is very quick, and generally pretty safe to let the bike run, but be ready.
The Bedoin side requires some caution particularly if the Mistral is present. There are about half a dozen places that require some heavy braking if you’re going quickly. Just ride with caution once you get into the trees. The top, exposed area is pretty safe to let the bike go as you have good visibility through all corners.
The Sault descent has a couple of hairpins but is largely a very safe ride albeit with poor road surface in areas. You’ll actually be pedalling the descent a lot as it’s not super steep.
Recovering properly from a ride like this is pretty important. For those who’ve purchased the Guide to Tackling L’Etape, the section on recovery is a great place to start.
For those that don’t have the Guide to Tackling L’Etape, you can get the Recovering from Letape guide here, which has a range of recovery things you can to to ensure your body is in peak shape as soon as possible.
I made a video especially about recovering from big rides, check it out here.
I strongly recommend that you get yourself a foam roller like this. I use it every day to do my ITBs, hamstrings, calves and glutes. They are light enough to take overseas and are a lifesaver for getting lumps out of quads and ITBs.
Here is a collection of VeloNomad articles that may help you in your epic adventure. To any VN readers attempting this ride, please send me your stories and photos afterward, so I can share them with all readers!
- Last Minute Etape du Tour tips (applicable to a Cingles attempt)
- How you can Improve Your Climbing and Save Money
- Mental Strength – Overcoming Pain in the Mountains
- How to Improve Your Climbing for France, Etape and the Mountains
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