French philosopher Roland Barthes said of Mont Ventoux:
"Ventoux is a god of evil to whom sacrifice must be paid. It is a true Moloch, a despot of cyclists. It never pardons the weak and exacts an unjust tribute of suffering."
Wow! E-Bike anyone?
Set your alarm for well before dawn to climb Mont Ventoux.
The heat rises faster than you in the summer months.
You won't be alone. From every direction, riders appear, lights blinking in the soft dawn light before the rising sun. It's a great time to be alive, don't be late.
Mont Ventoux's surrounding landscape is some of France's most spell-binding and unique. Rolling roads, good weather, cycling history and heritage, and your own mountain to climb all make an attractive proposition.
Deep in the forests, protected from the blazing mid-morning sun, on the road from Bedouin with gradients touching 12%. You discover every kind of bike rider known to man, plus quite a few previously undiscovered species variations.
Unlike many other cycling climbs, the roads up Mont Ventoux don't go anywhere other than down the other side. With no serious through traffic making it a gift for cyclists. Less than a kilometre from the top on the south side, the Tom Simpson memorial removes any remaining doubt that this mountain belongs to us.
The upper slopes are devoid of trees or vegetation, leaving a simultaneously desolate and breathtakingly beautiful lunar moonscape.
Two of the three routes up Mont Ventoux converge halfway up the mountain at Chalet-Reynard. The road winds in and out of the folds in the mountainside as it slowly climbs upwards, creating sheltered sections where the heat intensifies as if in an oven.
Mont Ventoux is known as a killer mountain. Eddy Merckx will testify to that when in 1970, he rode himself to the brink of collapse and needed oxygen at the summit.
Previously, during the 1967 Tour de France, Tom Simpson wasn't so fortunate. Weakened by illness and dehydration, Tom collapsed and died within sight of the summit live on French national TV.
Thousands of visitors visit the memorial erected near where he died every year. It still resonates and, for many people, is a profoundly moving experience.
The Tour is an institution with significant influence, money and power. It has never cared much for the welfare of the riders it views as disposable. But the true power of the Tour lies not with the organisers but with the riders and fans. They breathe life into an otherwise cynical money-making machine. Without them, the Tour de France is nothing more than lines drawn on a map.
The constant daily trickle of fans sixty years after Tom Simpson died is a testament to how much fans still care for their fallen heroes.
Cycling has always had a sadomasochistic side.
It comes with the territory. Parcours designers always look for the hardest, most challenging climbs to test the riders to the limit. Human nature needs to witness its heroes overcoming these impossible odds. It's hard-wired into our DNA.
Tom Simpson's death demonstrates that the real-life price that must be paid to satisfy this basic human craving is often too high.