Festive 500: Provence

For the annual Festive 500 challenge, there are few things left to say about a tradition for thousands of cyclists around the world. Countless stories and countless kilometers pour in annually for the endurance pilgrimage that pushes many to their limits. Dozens of factors can determine the completion of the 500 kilometer goal between the week of Christmas and New Years, including a bit of luck. The last two years, we have been fortunate to complete the challenge in the South of France. I just heard the entirety of Northern Europe, and large swaths of the US groan at this fair weather shortcut. But a busy family schedule around this time of year coupled with countless hours of driving, presented their own set of obstacles.

Planning was at the core of this years attempt, as we had backup plans for backup plans, squeezing in a ride anywhere it was possible. In fact, 2017 was the first year we needed every day of the challenge in order to complete it. Our journey would take us to 3 regions around Provence for various family obligations. Some areas we knew well, some we were excited to explore for the first time.

We kicked off the Festive 500 in the Luberon, the heart of Provence. The seasonal mistral, which can torment a rider at times was fortunately absent, replaced instead by lower than normal temperatures. If one had to choose, a few more layers for warmth is much more appealing than a soul draining headwind!

Festive 500 Luberon Day 1

Festive 500 Luberon Day 2

This is quintessential Provence. Hopping from one cliff-perched village to the next, we visited dormant vineyards and lavender fields which give this area its unparalleled beauty in the warmer months. The muted tones however took nothing away from the quality of the Luberon roads nestled in the shadow of the Ventoux, capped in snow and ice and stoic in the distance. Knocking out these first days are important to establishing a rhythm for the multi-day effort.

Our next family appointment was in Nice, along the Côte d’Azur, where we were hoping to get the feeling back in our fingers and toes. Unfortunately, the cold followed us for this section of the trip as well. The mistral also made a return as did some soggy weather. We did manage to catch a sunny ride on Day 4 and tackled the incredible slopes of the Col de Vence on Day 5. Overcast skies couldn’t dampen how much fun this mountain was. I am still wondering why it took me so long to have a go on it. I believe as of this writing, it is my favorite climb and descent not just in Provence, but maybe ever. A lunar and skree lined ascent morph into a descent with a pine tree canopy before winding you through the sinuous and breathtaking Gorges du Loup. It is a bucket list climb to say the least.

Festive 500 Nice Day 3

Festive 500 Nice Day 4

Festive 500 Nice Day 5

We left the coast and made our way back inland to wrap up the challenge, and the year, on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence. We plotted a number of shorter days, and found some terrific hidden gems that seem to have been forgotten on Strava heatmaps. Including a vicious Belgianesque berg near our house with pitches near 20 percent!

The finale of a Festive 500 should come with a celebration, not only of the achievement, but the year you are leaving behind. There was no better place to end our campaign than at the top of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. A towering limestone massif which keeps watch over Aix-en-Provence and the surrounding region. Though not the highest, or most difficult climb to be had, the Sainte-Victoire Massif is an iconic piece of Provence. Unmistakable in its profile as documented by the likes of Cezanne and Picasso, who lived out his final years on the mountain.

Festive 500 Aix-en-Provence Day 6

Festive 500 Aix-en-Provence Day 7

It is also a perfect place to look ahead to our future and adventures in Provence. 2018 will be a new chapter for L’Equipe Provence, as we again bring a team to train in the region this Spring. We will also be growing the site to share more rides, more photos, more stories and more Provence! We will also be launching some very exciting products which we hope capture the spirit of this part of the world like never before. But before all of that, lets just enjoy the view 🙂