Col de la Madelaine – Tour de France

Tueday 13th July 2010

Today was probably the hardest day in the 2010 Tour de France culminating with the final climb of the day on the Col de la Madelaine. My aim was simply to get early to the top of the col to watch the best racers in the world come though. This stage of the Tour started in Morzine and included four major mountain passes – La Col de la Columbière, La Col des Aravis, La Col des Saises and finally, the biggest of all, La Col de la Madelaine – which alone has a climb of over 1500m altitude.

On the day the Tour passes through a mountain pass the road is closed for several hours. Hundreds of camper vans will have already installed themselves in every nook and cranny possible along the road side during the preceding four days – with the mountain top completely jam packed. Despite the riders passing though later in the day, around 5pm, there are people already sitting along the roadside all the way up the 25km climb from early morning onwards – all staking out their vantage points for a good view. With the road closed to traffic from about 11am onwards it makes an ideal venue for cycling – and on this occasion there were literally busloads of cyclists taking full advantage of the situation.
I parked at the supermarket car park in nearby Aguieblanche not far from the start of the climb. It would have been possible to have cycled all the way from home at Aime, but being very unsure of the weather and the effect of waiting for several hours at the summit it seemed more prudent to drive to near the foot of the climb so as to be able to get home without problems later on. Early on the evening before there had been major thunder and lightning storms in the area! The supermarket is a good place to park because you can get a coffee, use the toilets and park safely for the day. 10 minutes after leaving the car park on the bike I was at the bottom of the climb up the Col de la Madelaine. Feeling good I went straight into attacking the climb and within seconds had my heart up at 170 and anaerobic. This was the first time in two weeks that I’d been able to raise my heart level so high easily and meant that I’d finally recovered from the Marmotte race and the training leading up to it. For the next hour and a quarter I was able to keep the heart rate anaerobic and maintain a really good speed. It was always very unlikely that I’d manage to keep that level up for the entire climb and sure enough after 16 kilometers my legs decided that they’d had enough. Over a period of a few minutes I was converted from being one of the fastest climbers to being one of the slowest – very much like happened on the Marmotte. One thing is very clear to me now – I cannot tell the difference between “bonking” and overexertion – they feel very much the same. It appears that at the moment I can maintain maximum exertion for around 70 minutes when fresh. Whether this 70 minutes can be spread out over sections of a longer race, or whether by breaking it into chunks it is possible to achieve 80, 90 or more minutes, I don’t know. It’s a little bit frustrating to not really understand what is going on. The only thing certain is that training with such high intensity will improve performance more rapidly than anything else.
At the top of the col Chris Harrop had reserved a restaurant table right beside the road with an excellent view. Chris was accompanying a group of 14 American (some from Japan and South Africa) clients from “Bethel Cycles” who were out for a week of cycling based in the Tarantaise valley. A local named Riccardo was employed as a guide for the group. Riccardo, with the skinniest legs possible, made his lycra cycling shorts look baggy – so he was clearly an excellent climber. The American group was actually bigger than this but not everyone had felt up to climbing the Madelaine. Fortunately the weather remained excellent and after a slightly chilly period of drying out clothing the sun seemed to get warmer and there was no need for an extra layer or anything warm to wear. I’d brought a rucksack with a warm fleece and rainproof along with camera and money etc. so either way I’d enjoy the day. Unfortunately the restaurant owners didn’t organise any television so we had no idea what was going on until the riders arrived – that was a very disappointing aspect of the day for me as there were some major battles taking place, especially lower down on the Madelaine itself. There was no 3G coverage in the area either so Chris couldn’t get TV on his mobile telephone. Everyone however seemed to enjoy the plate of Spaghetti Carbonara (vegetarian version also) despite it being ridiculously overpriced at 20 euros. They also overcharged for coffee at 3 euros. I dislike that sort of attitude and hope that the tour goes elsewhere next year. Last year when it came over the Col du Petit St Bernard from Italy there was none of that nonsense or greed – the restaurant owners being Italian, just a few yards over the border.
When the leaders in a breakaway group arrived at the top they were so fast and kept so close to the wall on the inside of the road that we saw nothing. We were looking down from above and the road was curving in towards us, but nobody expected to see absolutely NOTHING! A small amount of repositioning permitted everyone to be ready for the actual tour leaders arriving next, a few minutes later. I did manage to get a photograph of Contador and Schleck battling it out together and demolishing the rest of their competition – and also in the photo the bottom of one of the Bethel group.
The riders came through in small groups or individually from then on, but it was about an hour before the largest group came through with Mark Cavendish being supported and helped by most of the HTC Columbia team. Considering the vast amount of climbing on this stage I’d expected for them to be even further behind.
As usual Chris was jumping at the bit to get going and had the entire Behtel group ready on their bikes before the road was open and the race finish car and Voiture Balai had come through with the last competitor. This imprudence sparked the wrath of the gendarmes and some of the public – so fortunately they moved over to the roadside and waited – which was just as well as a whole bunch of dangerously fast moving vehicles streamed through just after the final rider. Chris and his group headed off down the other side of the col in the same direction as the racers into the Maurienne valley and I headed off through a massive crowd back in the direction that I’d come from. It took quite a while to move through the throng of thousands of people all seemingly going to the Maurienne side – the opposite way from me. On the descent there were traffic jams all the way down the mountain and I’m sure it must have been very late before it was all cleared. My only incident was when a motorcycle gendarme honked me from behind and I ignored him to overtake a camper. He wasn’t happy, but technically I was in the right anyway. I just nodded at his indication to slow down and continued to listen to my music and ignore him.

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