Col de la Madeleine Unpaved


A route planning tip: Sometimes I just look for a bunch of hairpins on a map:

My plan was to ride up to Col de la Madeleine via an unpaved hairpin-filled forest road north of La Chambre. This would lead to the high ridge above the standard Madeleine road – only joining the paved road at its last hairpin.

In the image below, my route is red (there is also a detailed map at the bottom of this post). The blue route shows the two paved ways up this south side of Col de la Madeleine.

The paved option on the left, via Montgellafrey, is scheduled to be in the 2020 Tour de France. It is the quieter, less famous option and it would be its TdF debut.

My climb begins on a little road just below the perched village of Les Chavannes du Milieu. It soon becomes a dirt forestry road. It’s a decent enough surface and has regular views of the mountains across the valley. I started the ride counting hairpins out-loud but stopped after 30 or so.

See here for details of four other ways up Col de la Madeleine. The three paved options, and my favourite: Via Les Lacets de Montvernier, Col du Chaussy, and then gravel via Lac du Loup (wolf lake).

At roughly 1300 metres altitude the route joins a paved road on the way to Lac de la Grand Léchère. It’s a beautiful stretch.

Just below Lac de la Grande Léchère

The lake is at 1680 metres. The paved road ends and it becomes a rough gravel road until just over 2000 metres altitude. Note, it’s possible to reach the lake on a fully paved route – see this ride.

Lac de la Grande Léchere – 1680m

After the lake it’s great cycling along the ridge parallel and high above the Madeleine paved route far below.

Throughout the ride I could occasionally see Col de la Madeleine far in the distance.

The gravel road peters out at 2010 metres at La Mère de l’Eau. It’s a hiking trailhead. From here it’s roughly 3 kilometres to a junction with the last paved hairpin below Col de la Madeleine. I’d estimate that between 25% – 75% of the trail is ridable depending on your ability.

Here’s me descending from La Mère de l’Eau.

Just below Mère de l’eau

When I was within 750 metres of the road, I heard something. Damn, a flat tire.

I decided to walk to the main road and try and fix it. I am an idiot. For some reason the valve on my spare tire was different than the valve on my pomp (I thought the pomp was reversible). I had a patch kit too but couldn’t find the hole. It was hot, I was out of water and thirsty. I asked a couple of cyclists if they had a mtb pump but no luck.

So …. I hiked down to Saint Francois-Longchamp. I found a very friendly hotel/restaurant that rehydrated me and found me a taxi willing to drive up a mountain and carry a bike down. Plan B would have been hitchhiking. Plan C would have been to hike/run another 20+ kilometres It’s only my 2nd taxi rescue in two decades of cycling the Alps.

Of course, what really upset me was that I didn’t quite reach Col de la Madeleine. 🙂


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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. gerald durkan on

    Been there, done it with the wrong tire pump. I was halfway up the mtb Mont ventoux 4th route and met a local French fellow walking down his flatted bike. Feeling generous I offered my spare but found it didnt match the pump valve. Quel dommage. I then spent the rest of the ride fearing a flat myself. Fortunately all was well and i had an excellent view of the sunset from the tower.

  2. Bad luck with the puncture Will. Another great post though. You made me smile when you said about looking for squiggly lines on a map, and counting the hairpins out loud. I do both those things! Usually I count the hairpins in French to get some practice..

  3. Raul Veldhuizen on

    I rode the lac du Loup variant! Though cannot remember to have seen any lake…..
    But the proof’s here!
    I don’t know how I found out about this one! And how I navigated. It was in my early years of mountaincycling….
    The one on the other side looks nice too. I have to go back there arghhhhhh
    Too bad I cannot include pic…..
    I had done the Lacets in another ride.

  4. Hi Will, yet another great ride to add to your collection!
    Do you know anything about the rideability of the two side roads/tracks at/near the Madeleine summit? They both look like they would take you higher but I can’t find any information on them.
    The first starts directly at the summit and heads south east for about 2km climbing about 200m before splitting into other directions downhill. Some maps have the road named as “Le Col”. The road/track is visible in the background of virtually every photo of the monument at the summit.
    The second looks much more interesting, and starts about 500m north of the summit, at the final hairpin of the climb from the north via D213. It heads north west for 2.5km climbing about 550m to a dead end (ie roughly 20% average?!). Some maps have the road named as “La Colombe”.
    I am planning a summit sunrise ride next year atop la Madeleine so wondering how feasible it is to climb higher!

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