Col de la Madone

It doesn’t loom large on the skyline like Mont Ventoux, there isn’t a long valley road leading up to it and building the anticipation like Alpe d’Huez or Croix de Fer. It’s approached through some winding residential streets behind Menton on the Cote d’Azur. It hasn’t even ever featured in the Tour de France. But the Col de la Madone is almost as famous in the modern era as some of the huge mountains that have decided professional cycling’s biggest stage races.

Lance Armstrong arguably brought the climb to prominence – he cited it in his first autobiography “It’s Not About The Bike” as his test climb before the Tour de France – in conjunction with his coach Dr Michele Ferrari, Armstrong held the view that if he was able to tackle the climb holding 6.8 watts per kilo or above then he was on track to win the Tour. Trek, his bike sponsor at the time, even named their top-flight race bike after their climb. For obvious reasons, Trek and Armstrong have long parted ways, but their top bikes still carry the name of the climb. But Lance wasn't the first top pro to favour the climb, and he wasn't the last and with plenty of top riders including Chris Froome and Ritchie Porte being based in nearby Monaco and Nice, the climb remains a good place to spot big hitters getting their training in.

The Climb in Detail

“A fallen woman. Her name is tainted by the sins of the former lover" - David Walsh

The Climb

Despite its connotations with Lance Armstrong the climb continues to be used as a testing ground by plenty of top pros and amateurs as well as cyclists who just want to enjoy the climb. It’s easy to see why. The climb is far from easy, but it’s a near-constant 7 percent. On one hand that tough gradient is why the pros love to test their form on the climb. On the other, that constant gradient means that once you’ve found a good rhythm, you can just try and stick with it all the way up.

There are a number of places you can choose as the “start” of the climb. Some measure from Menton, down by the sea but that involves navigating a few turns through residential streets. Some kick things off at the supermarket a few km up the ascent. However the majority kick things off at the village of Le Castagnins on the D22, starting their timer at the bridge before the first switchback.

Tough but beautiful

For all the talking of testing your legs and doing the climb as fast as you can, it is at the same time a beautiful climb with great views. However there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First of all there are a couple of turnings on the way up. The summit is signposted, but the signs aren’t that big and you need to keep your eyes open. Secondly, the climb doesn’t give much shelter and in the height of summer can be baking hot with little shade so make sure your bidons are filled up before you hit the climb or try and time it so you’re not hitting it in the middle of the day.

Its place at the Tour de France

As we said, the Col de la Madone has never been used at the Tour de France. But that doesn’t stop it being used as a point of reference for many of the World Tour pros based in the local area. However, due to its links with Lance Armstrong, there is sometimes a degree of sheepishness from some of the big hitters when they post a fast time – in 2014 Ritchie Porte smashed Chris Froome’s record on the climb, clocking in at 29 minutes and 40 seconds, taking 30 seconds off his then teammate’s time but other riders have been more cagey about times they’ve clocked on the ascent.

“If I went to the Madone two weeks before the Tour and went as hard as I could, I knew if I was going to win the Tour or not” - Lance Armstrong

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Alpe D Huez (GVA,CMF,GNB)
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