Words: Max Davis
Photography: Gil Lavi
Out of all the countries in the world where cycling communities thrive and great adventure abounds, perhaps the nation most celebrated for its association with the sport and its culture, is France. In addition to hosting the most prestigious cycling race in the sport, the Tour de France, Europe’s third largest country by land mass offers cyclists an overabundance of unparalleled riding destinations on a wide variety of terrains.
Some of France’s iconic cycling challenges most synonymous with the sport include climbs such as Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Col du Tourmalet, Col du Galibier, Col d’Iseran, the list goes on and on. Three mountain ranges: the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, claim home to the country’s most epic cycling challenges. Lest we forget the expansive bucolic countryside, rich with farmlands and rolling hills, and of course the northern Hauts-de-France region which hosts the most punishing and prestigious one-day race in cycling, the Monument: Paris Roubaix.
In addition to the endless natural beauty in France, one data point in particular distinguishes this nation from its neighbors: France’s road network. French roads traverse over 1 million kilometers in length, and form by far the longest road network in Europe, the 7th longest in the world, and nearly twice as long as Europe’s second longest road network in Germany. This network is also nearly 100% paved. The country was seemingly designed for road cycling.
Deciding where to visit and cycle in France can be truly overwhelming. You could print out a map of France, close your eyes, point to a spot, and when you open them, you’re likely to find some of the most epic riding you’ll ever experience.
Despite cycling for many years, and being fortunate enough to ride in many regions across the US and Europe, I’d never had the opportunity to ride a bike in France.
That was about to change in the high summer of 2023. A few months earlier, a Belgian gentleman named Stephane strolled into the RUBBER N’ ROAD brand house in New York City. It was immediately apparent that Stephane was a seasoned and passionate cyclist. Tall, thin, and with a glimmer in his eyes that every cyclist has upon meeting fellow enthusiasts, Stephane was keen on discovering all that RUBBER N’ ROAD had to offer.
As our conversation progressed, Stephane informed us that he, together with Dutch professional cyclist of team Jumbo-Visma, Steven Krujswujk, he owns a place in Bédoin, France, on the slopes of one of France’s most revered climbs: Mont Ventoux.
Stephane appreciated the dedication we put towards designing and producing our apparel, as well our love for coffee, and suggested we consider flying to France to visit his house in Provence. Fast forward a couple of months and we were packing our bags for the nation that each July hoists the sport of cycling onto the global stage.
Above: The summit of Mont Ventoux from the South, with the meteorological station built in 1882 at its peak. Mont Ventoux's unique, barren appearance is the result of deforestation, which began during the 12th century. Photo Credit: Gil Lavi
As Gil and I sat down to form a riding itinerary for the week, one could assume Mont Ventoux's iconic climb would be top of the list. Its nickname says it all: The Beast of Provence. It’s no joke. The mountain lurks above the entire region with an intimidating and palpable presence. Its barren summit can be seen for miles in all directions. In 1967, celebrated British cyclist Tom Simpson died on his ascent during the Tour de France, just 1.5 km from the summit. Each year, hundreds of thousands of cyclists make pilgrimage to its slopes to take on the challenge of climbing 20 km at an 8% average gradient to its summit, which tops out at over 1,900 meters above sea level.
Above: Alex Beckmann, dear friend and brave cyclist, approaching the summit of Mont Ventoux after over 90 minutes of riding up the climb. Photo Credit: Gil Lavi
I’m always keen on biting off the greatest challenge possible, therefore my plan would be simple and as follows: arrive in Bédoin and take on one of cycling's greatest challenges: The Mont Ventoux Triple, three consecutive ascents up the mountain in one ride. In total, an 80km ride with over 4,500 meters (14,750 feet) of elevation gain. Riders who complete the challenge get their name published on the website of Club des Cingle (Crazy Club).
Not so fast. Gil in contrast is more strategic, measured and thoughtful in his planning.
Having ridden in the region before, Gil suggested we commence our riding week with a spin to a lesser known, but just as mesmerizing destination nestled within the undulating landscape of Provence. This destination would become my favorite new road and offered perhaps the most breathtaking views I’ve ever experienced on a bicycle. This place is called Gorges de la Nesque.
Above: Two cyclists approach one of the three natural rock tunnels on Gorges de la Nesque. Photo Credit: Gil Lavi
Gorges de la Nesque was formed by several geological shifts from the river Nesque, which runs for 53 km through Provence’s Vaucluse department. The gorge is 400 meters high at some points. In the early 20th century, a balcony road was constructed along the gorge that offers spectacular views of the canyon. The balcony road along Gorges de la Nesque was opened in 1920, and traverses 22 km between the villages of Villes-sur-Auzon and Monieux. The cherry on top for cyclists is that the road was recently repaved with fresh tarmac.
We would go on to ride Gorges de la Nesque three times during our trip. The first ride was during a sweltering afternoon for route recon of the group ride we planned to host the following day. The next morning, we set off with an international group of about 30 riders from Pista Cycling Cafe in Bedoin. Among the riders who rolled up on the morning was Imke Menting, multi-time Dutch Junior National Road and Track Champion.
Our group set off from Pista around 9:00 am for Gorges de la Nesque. When we arrived, the weather conditions could not be better. Many riders from the group who had traveled to Ventoux several times had never ridden Gorges de la Nesque, which lies 24 km directly south of Ventoux’s summit. Once reaching the eastern end of the gorge in Monieux, the group headed south to return to Bedoin through Saint-Hubert and Methamis.
Later that day, in the early evening as the sun began to dip towards the mountain tops, my dear friend Alex Beckmann (Alex from Berlin) and I set out with Gil back to Gorges de la Nesque to photograph the latest launch in the RNRNYC™ Reverb Collection. The light leading to dusk was truly spectacular, and the views were mesmerizing. We essentially had the entire canyon to ourselves, except for less than a handful of cyclists and motos (motorcycles in cycling lingo).
Above: Gorges de la Nesque offers sweeping views in most directions. Alex Beckmann (left) and Max Davis (right) wear the new RNRNYC™ REVERB Race Jerseys. Photo Credit: Gil Lavi
Any cyclist traveling to the Provence region is highly encouraged to ride Gorges de la Nesque during their trip. The route is easily accessible, the climb is gradual, and the views are unforgettable. The best time to ride the gorge is either early morning or late afternoon/early evening in order to beat the crowds and the heat.
Above: RUBBER N' ROAD's Co-Founder Max Davis poses in the RNRNYC™ REVERB Race Jersey. Photo Credit: Gil Lavi
In addition to the unparalleled cycling that Gorges de la Nesque offers, the region is rich with diverse wildlife including the Golden Eagle, which can be, and was, seen soaring above the canyon. The area also contains many historical heritage sites including the 12th century Chapel St Michel d'Anesca, which is nestled at the base of the gorge, accessible only by foot.
For questions about riding in France's Provence region, email email@example.com.