Col de la Madeleine via Col du Chaussy


Note: if you are looking a 2012 Stage 11 Preview of Madeleine – click here.

My first “trip” to a climb in 6 months. I decided to treat myself with something special. This “secret” back road to

Col de la Madeleine is as good as it gets. Vaguely shocking that Madeleine is ride-able in late November (although the road is officially closed).

I seriously bonked – but with a smile – on the last two kms to Madeleine. Almost 2000 metres ascent was nearly a climb too far on my “comeback” (I’m not even strong when I’m fit).

The Report

I started by climbing the “Lacets de Montvernier” – hairpins of Montvernier – one of the funnest, little known stretches of hairpins in France.

It is impossible to photo all the hairpins while cycling them or even above them. To get this photo, after reaching the church in the photo, I turned right and rode the bike over some fields to a path and hung over a cliff – scary!. Perhaps why there aren’t that many pics out there from this angle?

Les Lacets de Montvernier

It’s a fun, narrow, silly road but it’s only the beginning. Col du Chaussy is a difficult climb of over 1000 metres of ascent with some very steep stretches. The Lacets are only about 20% of the climb just to Chaussy, let alone to Madeleine.

Next at Montpascal if you look up at the mountain you can see the cliff road high above. It looks improbable that there is a road up there. And once you get up there it is just as impressive:

Great Cliff Road

After the cliff stretch there is still some hard work, up long winding hairpins – lovely stuff. It was just me and various sheep crossing the road at various points – and eventually Col du Chaussy.

After a small descent, the route turns up towards Lac du Loup (wolf lake). It’s a wonderful long stretch along near deserted road through high alpine pastures.

The other side of Col du Chaussy has been recently paved. You could certainly climb it with a road bike and then descend on a paved route that joins the famous Madeleine route after a long descent. Unfortunately, the more direct route to Madeleine that I took via Lac du Loup soon becomes unpaved.

Lac du Loup

The last stretches of this route are tough but with views to die for:

Getting high

View back towards Col du Chaussy nearing La Grolle before crossing over into the valley with Col de la Madeleine:

Col du Chaussy in distance

As the route crosses into the next valley above La Grolle (1800 metres) it joins a gravel road above St Francois-Longchamps ski station. After a couple of ridge kilometres I descended through the ski slopes and joined the famous Col de la Madeleine route at the second last hairpin (which is still 2kms and 200 tough metres ascent below the summit) – where I proceeded to seriously bonk. 🙂

Back road to Madeleine

But I was so close that I wasn’t too worried. Very occasionally a bonk can be almost enjoyed. I was near the finish of a great climb.

How ridiculous (and great?) is it that Col de la Madeleine can be cycled in late November? But yes, the late afternoon descent was freezing (four layers and double gloved)!

Col de la Madeleine
9.3 Awesome

Les Lacets de Montvernier are special. But it is only the start of a fabulous ride to Col du Chaussy, that then gets even better on the way to Madeleine.

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About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Very proud of your huge excursion!! But you don’t mention all the stuff you forgot?! 🙂
    So happy to see you cycling again.

  2. as my lovely wife points out, I arrived at the base of the climb and had forgotten a spare tire, a pump, gloves (essential now), and a jacket over the layers I was wearing (luckily I found a sport shop near the start).

    I guess I was too excited.

  3. Wow, that’s what I call committment, hanging over the edge of a cliff to get this magnificent shot of this amazing climb. You should get an award for this. It makes me all giddy with excitement. What a timely post, too. I just signed up for L’Etape next July. I’m keen to get more info on La Madeleine! Did you ride up the same route that the tour will take next year?

  4. Dear Groover,

    That’s fantastic.

    The Etape is a great route next year.

    Here’s some info:

    1. Here’s the side of Madeleine that you will climb (it’s a giant):

    Your descent I did today (see map): 40 hairpins and lots of steep fast straight stuff leading into them – especially the lower half. Very, very tricky. But not the Montvernier stuff (too nuts for racing).

    2. Col du Glandon next is one of my very favourite climbs:

    Col de la Croix de Fer is a 2.5 km continuation from Glandon (see post).

    3. Your route climbs the easy side of Mollard and then descends it’s crazy hairpins. The lower half is full of turns maybe only 150 metres apart

    I’ve only climbed it …. but you’ll get the idea:

    4. Finally, La Toussuire will actually share the early slopes of Croix de Fer and then turn off. My best link: I climbed croix de Fer then turned back to do La Toussuire. But in my post I put the entire profile of La Toussuire. (there are two choices near the top, but it is close enough)

    Hope that helps. Happy to answer questions

    It will be a great but very challenging day for you!

  5. Thanks so much, Will! This info is invaluable! I’ll have to digest all this but it looks like I’ve got my training cut out for me over the next few months. Glad it’s summer here and I can get some solid k’s in my legs. 😉 So exciting!

  6. good, again, I am glad that estes of return and hoping that all the problems solved, from the distance missed the power flying the imagination with your adventures, greetings

  7. A fantastic ride and report. I just can’t imagine how you would feel after such a long enforced time off the bike. I haven’t been for a ride for 2 days and am getting all twitchy!

    I have put this route on my to do list when I’m over in Europe this winter “our winter”. I’m hanging out for some cols as we didn’t make it to Europe this year.

    Thanks for all your brilliant posts, they keep me inspired.

    Take care


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  10. Jeroen Verkerk on

    Hi Will,

    Great story, amazing route! I will be in that area this summer and I would love to do this route, including the shortcut to the Madeleine via Lac du Loup. However I only have a race bike and you say this route “soon becomes unpaved”. Do you know about the current situation? If not, do you have any idea how I can find out?

    Thanks a lot,
    Jeroen (from Holland)

  11. Hello Jeroen,

    Unfortunately I am quite certain that the route is still unpaved. It’s a long old gravel road that also gets a little crazy once you cross into the Madeleine valley. Unfortunately, it is far, far too long a stretch for a road bike – unless you really aren’t bothered by long stretches on bumpy unpaved roads.

    HOWEVER, you can still climb Col du Chaussy and descend over the top and and take the D99 to join the Madeleine route … but much, much lower down. The top part over the top of Chaussy was quite recently redone and is a good surface.

    Hope that helps,


  12. Jeroen Verkerk on

    That makes the route a lot harder, but I might still do it…. I guess it’s worth the extra climbing.
    Thanks a lot Will!

  13. Inspired by this post I have done this route. It was hard, great, beautiful, no trafic, for hours I have seen no people. Excelent view, the offroad part was scarry: only you, cows and the blue sky. Thanks.

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  17. Chester Scott on


    Is there a route to connect to Madeline on a road bike now? We’re planning this combo route for a few weeks from now but only have road bikes. Any new information is appreciated.



  18. Chet,

    Yes, you can go over Col du Chaussy and join the Madeleine route on a fully paved road, but you have to descend via the D99, so you join Madeleine route relatively low down. But if you have the legs, it’s worth it.

  19. Will;

    Thanks so much for all your brilliant work on this site. I am thinking of doing this route in early September but I’ve got very little time. Can you estimate how much slower it is than either doing the “normal’ Madelaine climb, or the Glandon and St Croix route?

    Also will a cyclocross bike with 28mm slicks handle the dirt?

    Thanks again for your great site.

    • Hello Chris,

      28 mm tires are OK, it will get a little bumpy coming over the top into Madeleine Valley — a few kilometres from the summit. If you are not too fussy, it should be fine.

      It is about 10 kms longer than the normal Madeleine route, but several of those are downhill kms. I guess it would take 30% longer (I don’t know). I’d do normal Madeleine in a couple of hours and this in 2′ 45″ or so — ex photo breaks :). But with Chaussy, Les Lacets, etc, this is a GREAT way up.

      Good luck

  20. Hey, I rode this yesterday on a nice sunny December day. Well I rode / walked some hard snowstretches on the last kms of the gravel road, crossed a ski-track but eventually I reached the Madeleine. On the last 2 km of Madeleine I was lucky to have a stretch of 1-2 meters wide of snow-free pavement. One of my best cycling adventures ever (and also the coldest descent)! This Chaussy col is such a remote and calm beauty. Thanks for sharing so much information Will. I have lots your tracks in the back of my head, great for planning my next cycling trip.

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