Col de la Madeleine

There are two big, famous, relentless (add you favorite superlative to this list) cycling passes, that connect the valleys of the Maurienne with the valley of the Tarentainse, the Col d'Isere and the Col de la Madeleine. You might expect that both of these passes would be favorites on the Tour de France, not only because of the cycling and the scenery, but also the presence of large, developed ski towns which can accommodate all the race caravans.

Actually the Col de la Madeleine has been on the route 26 times, while the Col de l'iseran has only been on the route 4 times (up to 2012). Maybe the reason are the nearby Col du Glandon combined with the Col de la Croix de Fere. One after the other makes for a really massive climbing race.

The really unforgettable thing about this pass, at least during good weather, is a great far view of Mont Blanc. Seen from this vantage point, this is about as much vertical relief, as you can find on any mountain vista in the alps.

1.(00.0km,449m) START-END SOUTH: la Chambre on river Arc
2.(05.5km,830m) road on right goes to La Pallud, Montaimont and Col de Chaussy
3.(15.0km,1612m) Longchamp and first jct with D76 back down to la Chambre
4.(20.2km,1993m) TOP: Col de la Madeleine
5.(30.1km,1360m) Cellieres Dessus
6.(31.3km,1194m) la Thuile
7.(37.5km,933m) Bonnelval
8.(45.5km,433m) START-END NORTH: la Coulee: jct with N90


From South. When leaving la Chambre, there is a road cut visible on the opposite mountain to the north, that you can't help but notice. That's an alternate lower approach to this pass, the Montvernier Road, contains a short distance of unpaved road. But this profile takes the more direct route on the main road, and it will take a long hard climb to reach the altitude, that the other road across the valley has reached already. This side of the pass can be a fairly busy road. Not until the climb passes through the condominium towers of the ski area (and has merged with the alternate approach), does traffic quiet down a little bit. Now there is more peace to enjoy the far view of the les Aigles s'Arves, three horns that stick out of the landscape like horns on rhinoceros. These would be the greatest view to remember, if it were not for another scene that emerges at the top, the view of Mont Blanc.

The view is so overwhelming, it's easy to see why you could overlook the Col de la Madeleine sign - or the fact that it reads "altitude: 2000m". It seems somebody decided to round up this figure from the official 1993m. 2000 meters is often used as an arbitrary cutoff point for the really big passes. Big or not big - it's a great ride.

From North. (described downwards). This side seems to be a lot quieter, as far as traffic is concerned, and the road shows no signs of becoming busier as it approaches the valley. Further up two picturesque old villages, containing only very few modern buildings, line the hillside. Finally the road traverses down the wooded slopes of the Chaine de la Lauziere to meet the river Eau Rousse.

Col de
Mont Blanc from Col de Madeleine - telephoto view


A few historical notes

Like with all major passes in the alps, early history is a little fuzzy, except for on thing, these routes have been used for a very long time. Already in the 18th century, the pass was a destination for what you might call religious tourism ( there is a word for that - pilgrimage) They came here to visit a chapel, dedicated to Sainte Madaleine.

The road across the pass has a much more recent history, especially compared with nearby passes - and it's still a long history in a way. Between the decision to build a road across the pass and the actual completion, 20 years passed: 1949 to 1969.

History-Cycling: Right from its very beginning the history of the road is tied up with the history of the Tour de France. In road was inaugurated by a stage of the 56th running of the famous race on a stage between Chamonix and Briancon. Between then and 2012 this stage route was never repeated. In fact the race seems to find a new route for the day containing the pass, more often than not. That first year the tour was won by Eddy Merckx, but the leader at the time this pass was crossed was the Spaniard Andre Gandarias. This section of the race quickly got the reputation as one of the hardest mountain sections, in combination with adjacent stages over Col de Telegraphe and Col du Galibier. In 2005 the Tour de France crossed Col de Madeleine for the 25th time.

A day on an extended tour:

(<Col du Glandon|Cormet de Roselend>)
Col de la Madeleine: St Alban des Villards > St Etienne de Cunes > Col de la Madeleine > Moutiers > Aime 55.3miles with 6300ft of climbing in 5:50hrs (VDO MC1.0 m4:12.6.16)
Notes: tire problems during the last 5 km. I walked the last km

                                          de Madeleine

Col de Madeleine

                                          de Madeleine

Col de Madeleine
top left: section between ski town and top of Col de Madeleine
bottom left: climbing above la Chambre on east side

top right: les Aigles d'Arves from near summit
bottom right: village la Thuile, descending north side 

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