The Col de la Madone is the climb used by many Monaco-based pros to test their form. If the top of the climb can be a finish line, it’s also a gateway, once over the pass a range of riding options open up. When riders want a longer and more Alpine style climb the Col de Turini is often the default choice.
Made famous by motorsport and picked by TV pundits Top Gear as one of the top-10 roads in the world it is also a superb place for cyclists.
The Route: there are three routes to the top. This is the “pro” one, or at least the route often used by those heading inland from Nice or Monaco, the south-eastern route. Starting in Sospel in the Alpes-Maritimes department in south-eastern France the D2566 heads north. 24km long, the climb rises 1,260m with an average gradient of 5.1%.
The Feel: the coast and its bustle is already a far away in Sospel. Just a few kilometres by flight but immeasurably longer if assessed by other metrics from population density, real estate prices or traffic. There’s enough to get water and food if you need it. The gradient is soft to start with, you quickly leave behind the town. Well appointed villas give way to crumbling and abandoned stone buildings.
In no time you reach the Gorges du Piaon where the road is cut into the cliff. The rectangular stone blocks by the road offer little to prevent accidents, the road has the feel of castle ramparts. Soon the first hairpins arrive, tight bends that allow the road to hug the cliffs and after several sets you reach a bend with a bridge over the road for the chapel of Notre Dame de Menour, an obvious landmark. It marks the end of the first climbing section, the road is only a gentle drag for the next part, you can get into a lower position if you want to make up time.
After the false flats the village of Moulinet appears. It’s name means “little mill” but mouliner is slang for pedalling with a high cadence and a useful tip because the road is about to rear up. There’s a café if you want a breather, otherwise some steep hairpins lead out of town. It’s after Moulinet that road feels more wild and the gradient gets steeper. The road is rougher, at times a patchwork quilt of repairs and there’s even a damp tunnel too. The road is increasingly shaded by pine trees, a sign of the altitude. Soon a series of wide hairpins begin, these are wide and well-engineered, a lot of work went into this road although it’s so empty. You’ve got more chance of seeing a pro from Sky, Tinkoff or BMC here than a car if you go on a mid-week morning. The final part of the climb, thanks to the increased gradient, seems to last a long time.
The “summit” is a proper place, a four way crossroads. Button ski lifts dangle idly, and across the road there are hotels and bars, one has erected a large blue sign to mark the col. But look beyond for the views of the Alps.
Ride On: if you’ve made it to the top then there’s no need to turn around and ride back the same way
- Turn right for the Authion, a dead end road which climbs up to offer more views, worth it for the scenery and views across the Alps
- Go straight to drop down to La Bollène-Vésubie, the car rally route in reverse, and from where you can loop back to the coast
- Go left, my tip, through Peïra-Cava and then, at Baisse de la Cabanette, descend to Lucéram. The route allows you to take a descent with an ingenious set of hairpins that stick out like military epaulettes on the shoulder of the mountain.
Fame: for cycling this is a training road but for motorsport the Turini is legendary for its importance in the Monte Carlo rally. The rally climbs up from La Bollène and then descends the climb described above. It’s one of the few mountain passes to feature in video games.
History: the area has seen plenty of fighting and has alternated between French and Italian territory over the last few hundred years, or at least the Kingdoms of Sardinia and Piedmont as proxies for what we know as Italy today. This explains the Italian-sounding “Turini” name.
It’s only been climbed three times by the Tour de France in 1948, 1950 and 1973. Newly retired Tour de France director Jean-François Pescheux (pictured) was asked if he had any regrets about his time as race route selector. There were two: that some cities had adopted too much street furniture to block the Tour from visiting; and that the Southern Alps in France were almost off limits given the area’s traffic problems. To cross the Turini and head towards Nice or another coastal town for the stage finish would meaning closing many roads for half a day and prompt traffic gridlock in an already crowded tourist destination. The road is closed for a motor rally but this is in January, a time when the area is hibernating.
Travel and Access: Nice is well-connected by road and rail and the airport has many connecting flights and from there it’s a ride over the hills to Sospel, you can drive or even get the train too. The coast can make a good base for a week’s cycling. Avoid July and August when many come for the holidays, the roads are choked by tourists although heading to the hills is to escape to another world.
Tip: The coast is famous for good weather and the mountains inland share a lot of this but the temperature drops with altitude and distance from the sea. It’s easy to start a ride at sea level in the sunshine and then get caught out in the clouds at 1,500m.
More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads