We started off towards Col de la Madone from Nice. It was a nice day in early October with temperatures around +20C. The main motivation to ride this climb is obviously its reputation as a training or fitness test climb for many of the pros in the area. It’s known as the climb to benchmark your climb condition. Also Trek’s Madone is named after this climb.
The climb starts from the beach of Menton, near the Italian border. To get to Menton from Nice there is a nice climb (Col de Eze) starting from very near the center of Nice. Col de Eze is a nice 10km/500m climb going through small villages with quite consistent gradient. The added bonus is that instead of a classic tightening gradient towards the summit the climb actually gets easier near the top and gives a nice opportunity for a sprint race to the top. We actually ended up sprinting this climb whenever we didn’t want to ride a full day but wanted to do something nice and quick.
From Col de Eze you continue above the coastline through La Turbine (nice place for lunch or coffee) and begin the descent towards Menton. There is quite a bit of traffic on this segment but the roads are good and wide. And the views to the ocean from above Monaco are spectacular.
From the Menton beach boulevard you follow the sign towards Sainte-Agnès (D22). The “official” pro segment starts from a supermarket a bit more inland but the beach start is easier to locate.
The climb starts with a nice and mellow gradient easily giving a false impression of the toughness of the climb. After about 5km of climbing the road gets steeper and the real climbing starts. The higher you get the narrower the road gets and towards the top you ride through dark and narrow tunnels carved into the rock which definitely gives even more of a feel to the steepening climb.
The weather got mistier towards the top which definitely gave the peaks around you an eery feeling. “Welcome to Mordor”, I recall saying when I saw the Madone summit rising into the clouds ahead of me.
At the top we were in the clouds so there weren’t views to admire but once we started the descent on the other side and the sky broke we really took it all in. The old narrow rustic roads and amazing views were breathtaking. The type of riding that just forces a big grin on your face despite of exhaustion.
The descent is a long one all the way first to D21 and then riding along the bottom of the valley towards Nice and onto D2204. The tricky bit is to make sure you don’t end up on the motorway when navigating towards the center of Nice. The signs can be confusing.
In the end our conclusion was that Col de la Madone isn’t among the toughest climbs (like Il Carpegna or Col de Turini) but I can definitely see why it’s perfect to test your fitness. The gradient and the nature of the climb make it possible to ride it hard and squeeze out every ounce of energy in your body. But at the same time it’s possible to take it easier and enjoy the views.