Col de la Madeleine by Galen Stilgebauer

Stage 13 of the tour had the riders starting in Bourg D' Oisans and finishing in Valence.  Since the race didn't start until 1:30 and we were staying so close to the kickoff, we figured we could squeeze in a little ride before the race got going.  That little ride would end up being the Col de la  Madeleine.  


From our hotel, the beginning of the climb was just about 12 miles of false flat riding away.  I figured it would take 45 minutes to ride to the base and then around 1.5 hours to knock out the climb.  A quick descent and then that same road back to Albertville just in time to see the riders depart.  We had some breakfast, got our things together and hit the road.


That plan fell apart fairly quickly.  My mind wanted to ride, but my body wasn't really having it.  Ann played her usual card of telling us how slow she was going to be and told us not to wait up for her.  Spencer seemed to have decent legs and rode up and back between Ann and I for a while before settling in on staying with Ann.  I was just plain struggling.  The Traildonkey is a fine bike, but it is not a climbing machine by any stretch.  Loaded down with a frame pack and some camera gear only makes the problem worse.  For the most part I'm fine with however long it takes me to get up a climb.  This trip was more about capturing images and exploration for me.  


The side of the climb that we rode is 25.3k long (15.6 miles) and gains 1,585 meters (5230') with an average of 6.2%.  Again, almost all of the climbs over here are very steep coming out of the valley and then there is some respite at some point.  I knew right away that I was going to have a tough day at the office.  When the gradient calmed down it wasn't too  bad, but there was a stretch towards the top that I was having some internal dialogue.


Normally, when I'm feeling good on the bike, if you look over your shoulder I'll usually be riding and taking a picture of something.  There wasn't a whole lot of that going on on this ride.  I did manage to grab a few shots though.


The race would be traveling over this climb the next day on its way to the Croix de Fer and the fans had begun the process of staging and pre partying.  There was a whole contingency of VW vans that we would see throughout the rest of the tour stages that we spectated.

As the road continued up, Ann and Spencer were long gone.  I decided to just try to manage my effort and scope out some potential photo opportunities on the way back down the mountain.  At my current pace, I also realized that there was no way that we were going to make the start today.



I finally made it to the top and Spencer, for one, didn't appear to be too worried about anything.  He was enjoying a 6 euro ice cream and the warming rays of the abundant sunshine.

Europe's tallest peak, Mont Blanc(15,777'), off in the distance.

Europe's tallest peak, Mont Blanc(15,777'), off in the distance.

I took a minute to compose myself and ordered a beer to begin the recovery process.  After discussing the fact that we'd not be seeing the start of the race, I suggested that we try to find a bar in one of the villages down the mountain where we might try to catch the tour on television.  We consumed our choice of treats, grabbed an obligatory summit photo and proceeded down to the lower slopes.



About halfway down, we stopped at the first bar we came to.  No TV.  Keep moving.  Next village, next bar, TV, stop for more beer and tour watching.  These two kids were hanging out by the pool table.  They both seemed so concerned with what was going on in the race, it was awesome.



An interesting side note.  There are many, many, many, black flies in France and nobody seems to mind them.  I found them quite distracting.  We finished watching the stage, drained our beers, and pointed the bikes back in the direction of our hotel.  We would have a short lived life of relaxation as we needed to pack up our things and drive to Les Deux Alpes a short 2 hour drive away.  As the saying goes, "no rest for the weary".