That a climb that has never featured in the Tour de France may still help determine the winner of cycling’s biggest race may sound like a contradiction in terms – but then, the Col de La Madone is no ordinary climb, and it’s where Mike Cotty has headed for his latest Col Collective video.
Lying above the Côte d'Azur in the southeastern corner of France, it’s a magnet for pros based in Monaco or Monte Carlo – most notoriously, Lance Armstrong, which led to Trek naming a bike after the climb – looking to hone their form ahead of the Tour.
Starting from Menton, the final village on the French Riviera before crossing into Italy, the climb is 14.5 kilometres in length with an average gradient of 6.7%. Topping out at 927 metres above sea level it's a solid half hour time-trial if you're in world class shape and, along with the likes of Rocacorba and Sa Calobra, it's one of the most famous "pro" climbs on the planet.
Although there are a few different ways to take on the early part of the climb, the most obvious is to head for the D22 towards Sainte-Agnès. If you're chasing Strava then you can start your watch from the coast, alternatively a popular segment for the pros starts at the Intermarché as you pass through the tiny village of Les Castagnins.....however, legend has it that a certain Mr Armstrong, the man that ultimately made the Madone as famous as it is today, would start his stopwatch as he crossed the bridge after Les Castagnins. Landmarks and virtual start lines aside, what's the Madone like to actually ride?
Well, the first thing that's likely to hit you, aside from the early 7-9% gradient, is the huge viaduct that you traverse as vehicles rumble past way above. It's certainly not going to win any beauty contests but there's no denying that it's a serious feat of road engineering and, once past, you really start to feel like you're onto the climb proper, quickly gaining elevation as you head towards Sainte-Agnès.
The real charm of the climb comes in the final 5 kilometres as the road narrows to barely more than a single lane and you're gifted with view upon view of the Mediterranean coastline. A couple of tunnels, and slight easing in the gradient, adds to its character and allows you a moment to catch your breath before your final push towards the top.
At the summit a monument made out of old artillery shells and shrapnel with the words '“Combat de l’homme, éclats d’obus, désormais ne soyez plus que Madone de la paix” - “Battles of men, shards of shells, from now on you are no more than a Madonna of peace” offers a moment of contemplation before you start your descent. Take care, from both sides the road is narrow and unforgiving on the way back down.
Length: 14.5 km
Start Elevation: 1,854m
Elevation gain: 915m
Max gradient: 10%
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.