Saturday, July 26, 2014

Col de la Madeleine

On July 13th I rode my bike from Saint-Julien-Mont-Denis to Tournon, near Albertville, along the way crossing the Col de la Madeleine.

View Col de la Madeleine in a larger map

Two days before earlier, I broke a rear spoke on my rented road bike.That was the 11th, a Friday. The next day I rode down to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, the largest town in the area, in the pouring rain to try to get the spoke fixed. The large sporting goods store I stopped at had a promising bike repair facility, but the responsible employee told me he would have to order a spoke. What am I riding, a penny-farthing?

Looking back to Saint Julien from
Le Bochet.
The result was that on this day I still had a broken spoke, and as it was Sunday there was little chance of changing that (and the next day was a holiday, but one day at a time). By now I had put in 10s of km on the weakened rear wheel, and since the wobbly rim was always not-quite rubbing I would have known if it had got significantly worse. So I decided to just ignore the problem and enjoy the ride.

For two days now I had been looking across the highway at a little town called Le Bochet. I decided that, rather than take the busy main road up the valley, I would take the side roads through that village. After the previous day's frustration, that was a very enjoyable ride, first running past one of the giant factories in this valley, and then through the cluster of houses tenaciously hanging on to the mountainside.

Near the start of the climb to the Col de La Madeleine
I passed through Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, not stopping but not missing it since I had spent quite a while there the day before. Again I took side roads northwest through the valley to La Chambre, the base of the climb to the Col de la Madeleine. An energizing ride so far.

The Col de la Madeleine is crossed by the D213 road, connecting the valley of the Arc river with the valley of the Isère. D213 starts right in the village of La Chambre, at the intersection of a little shopping area. No bike shops, though.

The day was gloriously dry after the previous day's heavy rain, but on the lower slopes of this climb it started to feel warm. I stripped down to just a normal jersey, no undershirt, the lightest I had dressed this whole trip so far.

D213 winds up to the Col de La Madeleine
The road seemed to run through clusters of hairpins, followed by longer winding sections. There were occasional villages, including Saint-François-Longchamp at which I refilled my bottles with water and my body with a nice sugary tea or some such thing.

Nice marker showing the climb, not to scale.
In this direction the climb is 19 km at an average of nearly 8%. It's steady but long, just plain long. At least it got cooler as it rose.

At the pass itself there was the usual little clutch of stores and a restaurant, with a generous parking lot being used by hikers and other folks enjoying the sights. I ate a sandwich for lunch and headed down.

The north side of this pass is completely different from the south side. The geography is much more
A little village on the descent from the
Col de la Madeleine
dramatic, with the road clinging to steep mountain faces, and several villages doing the same. The road passes over fast-flowing streams and through picturesque woods. It's seems like a much more interesting and varied climb. Maybe next time I'll come this way.

On the climb I hadn't been thinking much about my broken rear spoke and wobbly back tire, but it was hard to ignore on the descent. Again the rear brakes were not very effective and worse yet unpredictable. Near the bottom of the descent I blew my front tire while braking for a hairpin turn, quite possibly because I was over-relying on the front brake. I managed to get the bike stopped without crashing, but it was close.

Once in the Tarentaise Valley I headed northwest toward Albertville, mostly following D990 but taking small unmarked roads when possible.

A country road in the Tarantaise
When I got to Albertville I remembered that it had been the site of a Winter Olympics, and that's about all I knew. I think I must not have seen the most interesting parts of town, because it certainly looked like there hadn't been any investment since those Olympics in... what, the 1950s? I was later reminded that the games hosted here were in 1994, which means I definitely must have missed the best of the city.

Looking back toward D201, from the road
climbing toward Tournon
My hotel was in Tournon, a village down the valley a few kilometers, then up a hill. The tiny B&B style place didn't even have a numeric address, so I didn't have a lot of faith in the pins the map services showed me -- they were probably just centroids of the village area. I peeled off of D201 onto some unnamed road, climbed a kilometer to D201c, then since this was the main road through Tournon I just continued climbing until I saw a sign.

The hotel was a quirky place run by an older couple in a converted monastery outbuilding. They greeted me warmly and we toasted my welcome
The hotel. A bed and breakfast. Not dinner, breakfast.
with apple juice. Unfortunately I had assumed that they had a restaurant, but as a small three-room hotel they only cooked for large parties. Since it was Sunday, relatively late and the nearest restaurant would be quite a climb away, I would again go hungry.

Well, nearly so: they kindly scrounged up a wedge of cheese from the nearby Abbeye de Tamié, and a cup of yogurt from a local dairy. Not too bad, actually.

This was also the night of the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. I fell asleep before extra time commenced, and therefore missed the winning goal.

Elevation profile
Today's ride was just over 60 miles, with just over 6000 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was somewhere in the middle of the climb, with an average grade of 9.6%. The climb of the Col de la Madeleine, as a whole, was definitely the most challenging climb of my trip, both as I experienced it and in the semi-objective rating of my analysis program.

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