A classic south of France climb used by Lance Armstrong to test his fitness in the run up to the Tour de France.
- Departure point: Menton, Côte d’Azur
- Altitude at trail start: 7 m
- Length: 14.7 km
- Climb: 920 m
- Average Gradient: 7%
- Duration: 1.5 hours (or 30 mins if you’re Lance Armstrong!)
- Difficulty: Average
- Best time to ride: Year round
Col de la Madone Overview
This road bike ride in the Côte d’Azur climbs out of Menton on the Italian border for nearly 15 km. With an average gradient of 7 per cent, you climb quickly away from the Mediterranean, and you’re treated to ever-more spectacular views throughout the nearly 1000 m gain in altitude.
When he lived in Nice, Lance Armstrong used the Col de la Madone climb as a test to discover if he was ready for the Tour de France. Armstrong would hit the Col de la Madone two weeks before the Tour and know from his performance if he was going to win or not. If he was just a minute off the pace, he knew he wasn’t ready. In 1999, Armstrong recorded a time of 30:45 mins, six years later Tom Danielson broke this record by 23 seconds. Although Lance Armstrong’s route officially begins in the village of Les Castagnins, just outside Menton, purists will want to start the climb at sea level in Menton.
From the Promenade du Soleil in Menton, take the D22 inland sign posted for Sainte-Agnès. After 1 km take the D22 left along Route de Sainte-Agnès. The road winds out of Menton to the little village of Les Castagnins. 300 m beyond the supermarket, just across the little bridge is where Lance Armstrong and Tony Romingers would have started their stopwatches.
Continue along the D22 and after 5km of switchback climbing you’ll come to the pretty hill-top town of Sainte-Agnès.
After Sainte-Agnès the ride really comes into its own – the road gets narrower and the views get spectacular. The road surface does deteriorate however, but the grind to the top is helped by the regular signs telling you the gradient and your current altitude.
Besides the view, there’s not much to welcome you at the top – someone’s even stolen the sign, which judging by Lance Armstrong’s expression he’s none too impressed about. But you probably won’t want to hang around too long anyway, the ride back down is too much fun. Take care on those hairpin bends though, you never know what’s coming the other way.
Back down in Menton, the Mediterranean will be inviting you in for a well earned dip.
Driving directions to Promenade du Soleil, 06500 Menton, France.
- From Nice, take the A8 to Gênes/Monaco/Menton
- Take exit 57-La Turbie toward Roquebrune/Cap Martin
- Follow signs to Menton
- Head to the sea front, the start of this bike ride.