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Col de la Madeleine

Written and photographed by Daniel Hughes for Epic Cols.

The stats:

  • Distance: 25.3 km 
  • Ascent: 1,585 m
  • Average gradient: 6.2%
  • Max gradient: 11.5%

In the Savoie region of the French Alps, the Col de la Madeleine is a high mountain pass with magnificent views. Although never a stage finish, it is renowned for its appearances in the Tour de France. This year, the Tour is climbing from La Chambre to the south, climbing 1,522 m over the 19 km ascent.

A steady climb with an average of 8% gradient and a maximum of 12.5%, the road meanders through a deep shaded valley, through wooded and open pastures to reach an area at 2,000 m altitude with incredible far-reaching views.

The history of the road begins with the Romans, who built the road to link the Maurienne and Tarentaise valleys. Col de la Madeleine first featured in the Tour in 1969. Although older reports cite the summit as 1,996 m, since the Tour in 2012 the signposts have included an extra 4 m. Perhaps they used a taller signpost this time?!

On an early morning in July, we set off with cool temperatures in the shaded valley, but with the sun brightly shining on the valley across. The surroundings were natural and unrefined; the tarmac seemed decent enough, but the shady undergrowth made for an untamed landscape.

After the first 10 km the road opened up with long and gentle bends, in part hugging the side of the mountain. Passing through quaint towns and alongside working farms, the road retained its gradient, and eventually the sun found its way.  

With less than 5 km to go, the Saint François Longchamp ski resort marked the beginning of the end. After a few turns, the buildings and trees disappeared, yielding views to the final corners above. Even to the last metres the ascent was steady and constant. 

On a day without strong winds, the summit is a gorgeous place to relax, drink coffee and eat pizza, enjoying the views before setting back off. You’ve earned it, and these views make the effort worthwhile.

 

While embarking on the descent to the north, there was a view of Mount Blanc in front and Glacier St Solin behind. On this side the landscape was quite different, rugged and rocky. The road on this side features long switchbacks and descends hundreds of metres before the landscape becomes more familiar. Through lush greens, pastures and forests speed was easy to come by.

As the elevation lowered further, old hamlets pop up frequently. In the hamlet of Celliers there was a water tap for refilling bottles. 

After La Thuile, there was an impressive set of switchbacks. Stone white with a smooth surface, these bends were perfect for practicing descending lines with speed. Then the road meandered through Bonneval, and where we found a more traditional set of wide alpine switchbacks before arriving at the base of the climb from the northern side. 

All making for a bittersweet ride, this descent had it all. With some technical and some easy switchbacks, the road travels through green pastures and alpine forests, over stone bridges and around the sides of mountains with cascading waterfalls.  

The pace that the Tour will carry down this descent will be electrifying. However, they will also need this time to recover as the next climb, Col du la Loze is just 17 km away.

To read and see more iconic climbs from around the world go to:  www.epicicols.com

@danielhughesuk Equipment:

Shimano Dura-Ace R9170

Di2 hydraulic groupset

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-P

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PRO Vibe Aero

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PRO Vibe Carbon

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

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@caralimccall Equipment:

Shimano Ultegra R8070

Di2 hydraulic groupset

ULTEGRA R8000 series is "pro-proven" as it is a direct trickle down from DURA-ACE groupset. As road bike component, the stress-free operation is one of the most important feature to lead all day riding comfort with braking and shifting.

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PRO Vibe Carbon

Stem

High-end, full carbon stem

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